The Live Art Development Agency’s new initiative ‘LADA Screens’ offers a series of free, online screenings. With this initiative, LADA aims to widen the visibility of ‘rarely seen and exclusive’ performance documentation, works to camera and archival footage. Featuring works from Oreet Ashery to Ron Athey, LADA Screens give voice to the less heard and the less visible canons of performance art – those histories and methodologies that aren’t necessarily taking place within the confines of the clinical white cube.
Their most recent screening offered a series of films that presented the work of the late Adrian Howells. Often seen as an international pioneer of intimate, one-to-one performance, Howells’ extensive body of work premises notions of care, trust and kindness. His work is an ‘intimate theatre’ often taking a single participant on an intense, personal journey. Howells’ body of work is vast and the screening offered a glimpse of this prolific artist, whilst also marking the book launch of Dominic Johnson and Dee Heddon’s dedication to Howells’ legacy, ‘It’s All Allowed: The Performances of Adrian Howells’.
We are told that Howells’ only prerequisite in performance was, in many ways, the negation of any prerequisites – ‘it’s all allowed’. Anything goes. In Howells’ manifesto, he calls for proximity, bringing it forth, while simultaneously embracing the embarrassment, imperfection and awkwardness that any call for togetherness proffers. Before watching any work of Howells, I am generally always wary of the potential awkwardness and embarrassment of one-to-one performance – the potential to over share, over-care perhaps – is it really possible to form any significant bond with another person in the space of an hour, under the aesthetic guise of performance? Despite my own cynicism, I am always denied this response in watching Howells’ performances. They are born of sheer generosity and trust and use humour to replace any sense of artifice perhaps inherent in the rhetoric of the hallowed ‘encounter’.
‘Adrienne’s Room Service’ shows Howells in his camp, Danny Le Rue-esque alter ego, Adrienne. He brazenly talks to the camera whilst applying his make-up and sipping a coke. He prunes and pouts, talking to the mirror by way of talking to the camera; ‘I have had this make-up on since 6 o’clock this morning.’ The layers of make-up imply the unseen labour involved in this form of intimate performance. He tells the camera that the eyebrows aren’t perfect, but in fact he likes the fact that ‘Adrienne is a bit imperfect’.
This lack of perfection extends beyond Adrienne’s make-up – it is the aesthetic of the film itself – a DIY, kitsch yet mischievous tone with lift music playing in the background. Finally, Adrienne makes his way downstairs to the kitchen; he collects the room service tray and comically practices uttering ‘Room Service’ in hushed tones. His persona is flirty, charming and endearing. Once inside the room, he puts on a CD and sits aside his client who slowly eats his dinner and drinks his wine. His client lies in bed and Adrienne delicately asks ‘so, how are you?’ As they both devour plates of food, we catch snippets of conversation, half-closed utterances and responses through the quick editing of the film. They discuss body politics, exercise, toilet practices and dental hygiene over dessert. In many respects, it is a banal conversation – a discussion one might have with someone before bed, yet the connection between the two strangers is glowingly genuine, slightly daring and unfalteringly heartfelt.
While watching an intimate one to one performance on a flat screen in a large building in Hackney Wick, it is difficult to formulate a politics of intimacy and whether and how these can be felt through video documentation, representation or intervention by forms of technology. Yet, somehow the intimacy is still increasingly present as Howells glows in front of, and with the camera in the dark of a blisteringly hot evening, allowing this intimate archive to continue providing a space for collaboration, affect, affirmation and closeness.