Immersive Performance Art

Immersive Performance Art
Chapel Perilous III — With cosmic performance art piece Chapel Perilous III, photographer and musician Eleanor Hardwick will take you on a trippy journey through your senses.

Chapel Perilous III is a one-off performance art piece curated by zine-maker, photographer, musician, writer and Rookie magazine staff contributor Eleanor Hardwick, and stylist and art director Alex Moon-age.

Keen to explore the relationship between artist and audience, Eleanor and Alex are producing a psychedelic installation that combines set design, costume, performance art, dance, smell, taste, touch and visuals in an immersive environment that the audience can lose themselves in for over thirty minutes or so.

Performance art – whether it’s GG Allin, Miranda July or Marina Abramović – often intends to unnerve and alienate as much as it wants to include and embrace, so we caught up with Eleanor to find out why exactly she’s a fan of the avant-garde medium and what viewers can expect from the multi-sensory show at The Peckham Pelican, London, March 20.

What exactly is Chapel Perilous III and how did it came about?
Alex Moon-age, who I’m co-curating with, had put on Chapel Perilous events in London previously. The name Chapel Perilous is taken from a Robert Anton Wilson book, and refers to the point at which the mind spirals into new worlds, to the point of no return. My band, Moonbow, played the last one in Hackney, and so she asked whether me if I would like to co-curate this one. I think we both feel really passionate about wanting to create an event that presents music in a multimedia way, that makes it collaborative between not only artists, but between artist and audience. I go to a lot of experimental gigs, and I think, particularly once I started performing live myself, I found the environments where these events take place rather inconsiderate to the intentions of the performers, especially for smaller experimental artists starting out. This set up of a band playing on a raised stage, and the audience stood staring back at them, to me it feels very isolated. I wondered why an exhibition space for visual art is carefully curated, lit, arranged, and yet for a musician, there is this routine in how you play live, how you release your music. So we want to break down those conventions. Alex and I decided that we wanted the artists to be in control of their environment, and creating a world that includes the audience, making them part of that world, rather than a voyeur. In addition, we were both keen that the lineup of collaborators for the event be very balanced in terms of gender. To me, there still seems to be a strong male dominance in a lot of experimental electronic music.

Who are the other performers and why did you want to include them?
I feel like the lineups of Chapel Perilous are always quite communal. There’s a lot of friends, or friends of friends of friends who play. It gives this sense of community and inter-collaboration between acts that I really like. There is also something really lovely about bringing people together and introducing them to each other’s work.

Eva Bowan is a friend of mine from Brighton, she makes incredibly ethereal soundscapes that sit awash in layers of effects and haunting vocals. I first knew Memorial Bench through his other project Adventure Elephant. I really loved the sound collage elements of his work. I also feel like Chapel is very open to people trying out new projects, so I’m excited that his new project will be unveiled here. Ayesha Tan-Jones is a friend of ours who played the last Chapel Perilous. This time she is building a small installation, where the viewer enters inside the installation and listens to music through headphones whilst watching visuals. I really love that her idea mutes all the madness of the event, whilst an individual hides inside her piece unaware of the rest of the world, fully absorbed. Additionally, my good friends Flamingods, and my boyfriend’s project Cardinal Fang, will be djing. I always trust them to come out with mixes that are mindbending, introducing something new, but always having the right, fun vibes. Alex is also screening a film she made with Charlotte Rutherford, and Alex Mckenzie, a sound artist and filmmaker who introduced himself to us is showing a short film too.

For Moonbow’s performance, I reached out to set designer Amber Scarlett to work on a one-off set design for us, and my close friend, fine artist Mirren Kessling to work on visuals. Alex & Alice Colley are also going to be doing some interactive choreography alongside our performance.

Why the multi-sensory approach?
I really like that many sound performances incorporate visuals, and I think it’s interesting to take it one step further; making the audience feel immersed in this world and story created by the performer. They hear, see, smell, feel, and perhaps even taste, all of these things which piece together to create an intentional world created for thirty minutes. Particularly for Moonbow’s performance, the element of scent will help enhance the concept of the piece.

I think there are some musicians whose medium is solely sound, and telling a story entirely through sound, and others who cross over mediums and sound is just one element of it. I am finding the latter more appropriate to me. I like this idea of doing everything to create one thing.

Have any musicians or performance artists inspired this piece?
For me, discovering Kate Bush’s music is what initially made me start experimenting in sound. I taught myself to sing by putting all her CDs in my car, just after I’d passed my test, and singing while driving. Additionally, Bush’s approach to her single tour that she did (The Tour Of Life in 1979) was so meticulous: the choreography, the set design, the costume changes. I have always been drawn to art that tells a story and becomes a whole self-contained world within itself. I love the aspect of art being able to last ten times longer than the actual length of the performance, because of the afterglow of thinking time that the viewer feels when they come away from something. To me, that’s really strong art, when it has the staying power even after it’s over.

I’ve also been recently very infatuated with Geneva Jacuzzi, who, when I saw her live, stood on a school canteen setup, singing into people’s faces whilst spitting food at them. I love this combination of theatre and music. I also really like that she was doing something pretty conceptual and out there, but the music still has a poppy hook. It’s not alienating.

With that said, I’ve been most inspired by Throbbing Gristle, and their performance-art approach to music, because they were originally artists who then wanted to make sound into art. Their constant re-evaluation of how to present the work and shifting the conventions between the audience-performer-relationship are really inspiring. However, where Throbbing Gristle aim to make the audience feel uncomfortable, I want to make them feel comfortable and included. I think art has gotten to a point now where it’s expected to be shocking just because they think that’s what strong art is. I think now it’s more important to make art accessible, inclusive and immersive.

Miranda July & Marina Abramovic are also inspirations for performance art (from less of a sound angle and more of a performance art angle). Their constant re-evaluation of pushing the limits, of gender, and crossing over the personal with the comments on society and audience inclusion are really interesting to me. The audience is a part of their pieces and I always respect the freedom they give to the audience, to interact and become the piece itself.

You mentioned wanting to take art off the internet and into a physical space. Why?
I have spent my whole life uploading everything I do to the internet, and now I am starting this new project, I just want to try something else. I am just finding the pace of the internet unnecessarily fast. It makes art feel disposable, and people listen to music while multitasking, skipping through a song as it plays out of cheap laptop speakers. Presenting your work offline gives you more control of your environment as an artist, which means that the work is understood properly too, rather than with half an attention span. And I think that makes art more powerful. I have cried looking at paintings in galleries before, but I have never cried looking at an image on the internet. It’s being there, in that moment, when all reality blurs and your sole focus is on this one thing in front of you, and becoming immersed in it.

I am starting to find some beauty in ephemerality, the concept of creating a whole world for thirty minutes, and if you missed it, then it’s gone. Too bad. And that’s what I aimed for at my Twenty Thirteen exhibition in December too. I think quality beats quantity, and getting the hype up for one rare event is more magical than churning out the same thing in a spoonfed way constantly. I think people like that sense of not wanting to miss out on something, and the tangibility.

Why do you think it’s important to have an active audience and not a passive one?
Again, it goes back to this idea that if you can have everything you want, when you want it, you’re not perceiving it properly. The amount of times I’ve been to gigs, and suddenly found myself realising that I’m thinking about doing chores at home, or I’m looking down at a text on my phone, and I’m thinking, “What the fuck am I doing?” We live in a world where people’s minds need more and more to stimulate them and make them focus more, rather than multitasking, so we want to heighten the senses, or completely numb them and strip them back, so people can listen and take something away from the work.

What is the feminist angle to the show? I sometimes feel like the more avant garde representations of gender alienate a lot of people from that important conversation… what audience do you hope this performance reaches?
The feminist angle firstly comes from, what I feel, is an imbalance between male performers and female audiences in electronic music. I wanted the lineup to be much more thoughtfully equal, and prove that girls are capable of being tech geeks just as much as the boys!

Secondly, it comes in more so in Moonbow’s performance. Our performance isn’t going to be a conventional setlist of songs, but rather a performance art piece with sound at the forefront. The piece is entitled Evaporation/Equilibrium and the idea is that, inspired by the concept that in tarot, water is a feminine element, and air is a masculine element, the setlist that we play will sound as if it is slowly evaporating from water sounds into something more airy. What we are interested in is this transformation from one form to another, and the unknown, undefinable forms found in between those two things on either end of the spectrum. It’s like the form of the elements, and the genders, are being broken down.

But I hope that by making the event free, we won’t just be reaching an audience already open to and knowledgable about avant-garde music and art. The venue we chose is actually a cafe by day, and a live music venue or makeshift cinema by evening. They also have pop-up exhibitions on the walls. What I like is it is a regular meeting place for drinks, so I hope that people who don’t know about the event will come by and feel inspired or introduced to something new too. I also feel like, at least with Moonbow, we don’t try to present our music in too experimental a way. We play around with intuition and experimentation, but we want the music to speak in a language that people can understand. It’s more important to sacrifice a little of the avant-garde in order to get your message across, than to create something so complex that it is only just comprehensible to the most advanced art junkies.

What do you hope the audience take away from the show?
I hope the audience will feel more included. I hate this idea that it’s all about the band’s egos and not for the audience. I think performance needs to show some consideration for the fact that without a viewer, the work would be like a tree falling, did it even make a sound because no one was there? Sure, some art is therapeutic, and solely done for self therapeutic purposes, but if you are performing music live, you have an understanding that people will be there to listen. And those listeners are important. I hope they will feel like they were part of the performance, and also as if they take the performance away with them afterwards. If the concept of the performance is clear, then they will think about that. And if it’s not, they’ll spend a while trying to work out what it all meant. I think either of those things is a success.

Do you have another projects in the pipeline?
I’m working on a lot of music videos at the moment. I am becoming more and more interested in combining mediums to tell a story. I think there will also be future Chapel Perilous event ideas in the pipeline, but they are like little rare gems, so try and catch them when you can I guess.

You can find out more on the Chapel Perilous III Facebook event.

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