ARTYFACTS: Day 2 - Round 2 – Welsh and Palahnuik

Monday, May 08, 2006

Day 2 - Round 2 – Welsh and Palahnuik

‘Stories in Motion: a revolutionary new multimedia happening’
That was the billing under ‘Books and debate’ in the brochure. Well this is about as far from Clarissa Dickson Wright as you can get (she is, apparently, a leader in the Green movement!). I’ve met her – she’s not. You knew you were in for something different when being handed a leaflet on entry that warned about ‘content of a violent and sexually explicit nature which some people may find offensive or disturbing’. They got that right.

The audience stood in the middle surrounded by podiums and hanging sheets for projection, more nightclub than theatre, and that’s the point. This was not a ‘happening’ maaan, it was something far more interesting. The audience were very young – and I suppose don’t now see art compartmentalised into books, music, performance, theatre and dance. They have it all, and want it all.

Fight Club as Night Club
The two writers sat opposite each other on podia looking out across the audience between. Phil Hartnoll (Orbital) and Nick Smith, stood as DJ referees. The entire audience was in the ring. The music got the heads, hands and feet moving – Welsh stood up and opened with a series of jabs, reading a list on how to avoid excessive masturbation, he’s used to this and his forays into Acid House events are well known – then a thumping dance piece that got the audience going – Palahnuik fought back with a ferocious attack to the body – ‘Guts’ is his infamous short story about masturbation and pegging gone wrong, so horrific that many have fainted just reading the text from a book – many more at live readings. True to form they started to fall as Palahnuik punched out truly disgusting images onto the floor. The first was a heavy metal kid in full black, helped by an elderly security guy to the paramedics at the back. The staff were clearly prepared for this. Then a constant stream of ashen-faced revellers left the floor for some air and medical help. Guts lived up to expectation. Welsh was shaken but back on his feet with a tale about a young man having to have sex with a huge, elderly witch in exchange for some magic spell – no fainting this time but plenty of laughs – comedy refief to balance out the horror. A fantastic dance piece in the interval, then Palahnuik came back with a long piece called Hot potting – all boiled flesh being scooped out of hot sulphur pools. We got our BBQ Beef air freshener cards to add to the atmosphere - literally. A lone violinist provided a lilting score to this story and finally a haunting song by a beautiful girl from another corner of the ring.

The Mess is the Message
Spoken words, electronic music, live violin, live singer, projected stills, film, even smells – we got it all in spades. These crossover events are hard to produce but a great deal of effort had gone into making it as seamless as possible. Even so – the mess is the message. This is the new world of digital abundance, where media are mixed and audiences want more than dull theatrics and polite encores. What it did lack was a finale. It came to a very sudden end.
Would have worked better after midnight as it needed an audience fuelled with something more than Festival enthusiasm.

This is what the festival should be about - surprises

4 stars

To read Guts….


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