Bbeyond is dedicated to performance art in all its variety. Established in 2001, the Belfast organisation chooses to complement its regional support of Northern Irish artists with a commitment to fostering dialogue between international communities. Its newest exhibition is ‘Recorded Action Web’ or ‘R-A-W’, which celebrates the organisation’s 20th anniversary. Curated by Sandra Breathnach Corrigan, this online series of performance works continues the organisation’s tradition of international collegiality, featuring artists from a wide variety of countries, including the Ukraine, Spain, Belgium, Germany, and, of course, Ireland. Beginning on 15th January, RAW released two videos every day on its Vimeo channel, and now the entire catalogue of forty performances is available.
Many of the performances originated in 2020, so the major themes of the global pandemic provide the show with its conceptual architecture. Isolation and solitude are dominant forces. Rachel McManus’ ‘Dancing At The Quarry’ (2020) depicts a small figure dancing alone at the foot of an immense building. Her distance from the camera serves to both emphasise the extent of her seclusion and the sense of her insignificance by inviting comparison with the scale of the industrial premises. The image also sounds a note of caution, insofar as the rusting plant machinery speaks to the demise of industry and civilisation. In ‘A Legal Tentative To Be Together’ (2020), the artist Guillaume Dufour Morin stands among tombstones in an empty cemetery, as though only the dead could be safely counted upon for company. Noel Molloy ritualises his solitude in ‘Sink’ (2020) by transforming his kitchen into a semi-sacred space, where activities like boiling the kettle and listening to the weather report have become so prominent that they aspire to the status of private ceremonies.
Not all of the pieces were produced last year, but it is impossible to imagine that Breathnach Corrigan’s selections weren’t informed by the exigencies of lockdown; many of the performances appear to be vivid responses to our present circumstances. While the experience of loneliness in lockdown has become characteristic, the frictional overexposure of quarantined partners is just as quintessential. The exasperation at the root of this experience is visible in Marta Lodola and Valerio Ambiveri’s elegant ‘+ 5 - 3 = 2’ (2018), involving two naked bodies that transition from a carefully maintained distance to a claustrophobic intimacy. The agony of closeness is further explored in Abel Loureda and Nieves Correa’s work, titled simply ‘Heads’ (2018), in which the artists wrap dozens of elastic bands around one another. Every iteration increases the pressure that crushes their faces together, constructing a prison that is both physically and psychologically arduous.
Not every rite of disquiet in ‘R-A-W’s catalogue is so bombastic. On the other end of the spectrum, Emily Lohan’s cyclical ‘Reincarnate’ (2020) begins in mud; the artist appears expressionless and barefoot as she repeats a path that vanishes as it culminates. Hori Izhaki collaborates with Chen Cohen and Jasper Llewellyn to fashion a diptych of silent dependence. ‘Intimacy’ (2018) sees the nude artist juxtaposed by her male counterparts: in one scene she is submerged beneath a moving body of water and in the other she is cramped into a small, featureless room. ‘Getting Into’ (2018) by Alison Farrelly is a standout work from a young Irish artist. Farrelly’s reputation has been growing steadily due to her creative partnership with Aoife Ward and her productivity on Instagram, the constraints of which she pushes to their extreme by experimenting with performance and video. Her contribution here is one of a series that features the artist struggling with items of clothing which are fixed in place by bungee-cord hooks. In ‘Getting Into’, a black-lace negligee is suspended in a cold, unfurnished room. Farrelly contorts her body to dress, woollen socks sliding on the polished floor, and positions herself facing upward, her arms and legs squared as she arches her back. As the blood rushes to her head, her breath grows increasingly ragged, her slim frame shaking before her inevitable collapse. As with much of Farrelly’s work, ‘Getting Into’ packs a punch: in three minutes, she creates a magnetic artwork that fuses eroticism, sexual anxiety, physical discomfort and domestic labour.
Three minutes is the length of most of the performances. Some are shown in their entirety, while others are only shown as fragments of a larger artwork. Rather than diminish their impact, the shortened duration leaves the viewer wanting more. The bitesize length of the works also means that, unlike some online exhibitions, the show invites the audience to view all the performances in one sitting. It strikes me that this structure is uniquely appropriate for the strange kind of distracted attentiveness that lockdown permits. Each performance makes a solid impression and then passes in quick succession, creating an effect that is at once distinct and fleeting. At the end it’s as though you exit from a dreamlike reverie, disoriented in time, only to find that you have lost yourself among artworks for an entire afternoon.