Plastique Fantastique All the Fantasies of the People
Performance at Wysing Arts Centre, 31 August, 2013.
I went to Wysing Arts Centre’s festival ‘Space-Time: Convention T’ yesterday, keen to schmooze and network with some arty people from the East of England (such as Aid&Abet and OUTPOST) and in particular because I wanted to see Simon O’Sullivan and David Burrows’s performance as Plastique Fantastique. I wasn’t the only groupie, and there were plenty of PF’s followers present at Wysing.
Before the performance we gathered by the door of the ‘Black Box’ space, lured by the smell and smoke of incense sticks burning in the drain outside. The background noise was equally enticing: a pseudo-spiritual intonation which, I saw as I entered, came from the PF accomplices, who made up a cross between the percussion section of an orchestra and a pop group, twanging sound and making rhythm fill the box-like room. Visitors walked in and seeped up the different senses: this ritualized sound, the dim lighting in the room (which added to the atmosphere), the smell of incense, the taste (of viscous air solidified with incense, ingested by breathing it down the oesophagus. It’s rather like swallowing massage oil) and touch (this malleable thickness in the air, which chafed the skin).
Suddenly Simon, who was sitting down in the corner, stood up. He positioned himself in a prominent but lop-sided position in the performing area. Upright, a firm plank amidst the groovy air-molecules that wavered with the smoke, and dressed in black, Simon gave the impression of a sage who was about to speak his aphoristic opus. Of course, this was partially comical, and yet highly serious. And we were not disappointed.
David, his accomplice, immediately began to coat Simon’s embodied clothing and any revealing bits of skin with flour, followed by sticky dollops of honey, and then black glitter. Soon Simon’s entire body, his head, and his limbs were simultaneously blackened, coated with powder and thick swashes of honey, and also shimmering as the minimal lighting (set by John Cussans a collaborator who was carefully holding a torch) reflected on the glitter.
Thus warmed up, Simon began to speak. I did not understand everything he said, until he said There is not now and never has been anything to understand. Up to this point, I had missed that point. Here were All the Fantasies of the People. Simon pronounced (slowly) ideas that seemed to play and rejig the sense of capitalist consumer conventions with a schizophrenic, dare I even say (and remember, there isn’t anything to understand) polymorphic vision of reality. His speech was set alongside the backdrop of a video projection with images, characters and words that danced and moved in synchronicity (and, obviously, divergence) with Simon’s persuasive enunciation.
So what was it about? Clearly there was a scientific theoretical hypothesis occurring (rather than being represented) in this performance. Something to do with anti-signification and the gap between signs and things. But it would be boring and imperceptive to think that PF are primarily concerned with rupturing thought à la Deleuze et Guattari (or not). Indeed, as the heat was rising in the space, the air turned into a hazy fog (that was almost a smog) of burning, choky odour. Amidst the dim there was the occasional spark of light, which glistened off the crystals of glitter that David had plastered onto Simon’s skin (particularly on his face).
Although I was not quite sure what to make of this sensuous, visionary, experimental performance, it was deeply affective, serious and amusing. Towards the end the orchestra had transposed their spiritual intonation into very loud bangs. Soon the space was throbbing. Meanwhile, Simon stood as still and stiff as a post, continuing his mantra.
All The Fantasies of the People[!]
Subkast Koffke (or Starbucks)
By now Simon was shouting, even yelling. With all the banging, I could hardly hear what he was trying to say. I looked at his hands, holding his script – he was shaking. Such intensity.
I could see wrinkles on his forehead, from cracks in the black glitter and his tight grimace (frowning) as he spoke.
Faked up crystal energy for the coffee table
All hail to the great gobbah!!
Immense intensity – I began to have deeply tactile sensations as the sound, aura, smell, and smoke reached a crescendo and pummelled my sense organs. These were quasi-synaesthetic and palpable multi-sensuous experiences.
Simon by now was practically hyperventilating, although so calmly. He was in a trance. We were all in a trance. It was epic.
Then he reached the end of his speech. Two of his accomplices put a mask with wooden branches mask on Simon’s face, covering it entirely. We couldn’t see his face. In fact, we couldn’t see anyone’s face, since they were all wearing masks. This was clearly a theoretical position, on the one hand, in relation to Deleuze’s ideas about faciality and the probe-head. In brief, faciality is all about the signifiance, subjectification, coding and totalitarianism. It’s not a good thing. But a probe-head is ‘a living block’ that dismantles nasty faciality and opens ‘a rhizomatic realm of possibility effecting the potentialization of possible.’ I think the masks of PF, and particularly Simon’s one at the end, were all probe-heads, and they were supposed to set us all free (although, Simon’s had tree branches, which is an arborial (thus teleological) rather than rhyzomatic logic, surely)…
So, did they set us free?
The video then stopped and it said on the screen:
Someone opened the door, and we all went out to get some clean air, which was a relief, but also a disappointment. I wanted to see (and sense) more…
‘Plastique Fantastique is a mythopoetic fiction – an investigation of aesthetics, the sacred and politics – produced through comics, performances, text, installations and shrines and assemblages.’
Wysing Arts Centre provides alternative environments and structures for artistic research, experimentation, discovery and production, out of which emerges an ongoing programme of exhibitions, public events, family and schools activity.
Our large rural site near Cambridge includes a gallery, education and new media facilities, artists’ studios, project spaces and a 17th century farmhouse.