Our arts correspondent, BELLA BARTOCK, on some perhaps surprising use of council hand-outs
Cash-strapped Croydon Council teamed up with the Arts Council England this summer to hand out public-funded grants totalling more than £50,000 in cash and kind to a festival which included an “interactive performance” which, according to the organisers…
“contains a series of modified butt plugs. Always sculptural and gracefully schizophrenic, each sex toy will embrace a different mood, from poignant to playful. The actions and objects are designed to enrapture rather than repel, in an effort to demystify the anus”.
The artist “demystifying the anus” was someone called Joseph Ravens.
Another set of performers, called Arianna Ferrari, went on stage at somewhere called “Matthews Yard Gallery”, where they no doubt wowed their rapt audience, but only after some very careful backstage preparations, which the festival programme helpfully describes:
“After ingesting a quantity of laxatives and diuretics the performer inserts a catheter in their bladder and a tunnel plug in their anus. The performer loses control of their sphincters. A number of contact microphones are attached to the performer’s belly, detecting the sounds of their intestines.”
Apparently, “Arianna Ferrari has been active in body art since 2011… Ferrari body-based works explore ‘situations’ which merely allow the body to manifest itself. Their practice is an attempt to remove the performer from the performance, and allow a performance of the flesh.”
The uncontrolled sphincters and butt plug shows were just part of something called the Biennial of International Performance Art and Noise, produced by an organisation called Tempting Failure.
The festival ran for 14 days during the hottest of hot spells in the summer heatwave, and also took in venues including The Front Room, Turf Projects, and the Spread Eagle Theatre.
Arts Council England has confirmed to Inside Croydon that it paid a grant of £38,000 to the organisers.
Croydon Council contributed a further £10,000.
The council also provided the festival organisers with the use of the Grade II-listed Braithwaite Halls, the David Lean Cinema and even the Town Hall chamber for what amounted to nine whole days’ worth of free venue hire – which based on figures from the chief executive’s office are estimated to be worth at least a further £7,000.
Plus, of course, the cost of the deep clean the venues might have needed after the performers had exited the stage, hopefully able to regain control of their bodily fluids.
A cheery council letter, dated March 13 this year, and seen by Inside Croydon, told the festival organisers, “There is also the offer of assistance of our Arts Participation Officer should you require any help.” Maybe they needed someone to pull the plugs?
“With the current closure of the Fairfield Halls,” the council official wrote in confirming the £10,000 grant from the Town Hall, “it is important to Croydon for projects like yours to flourish and keep the tradition of great theatre in our town alive.”
You could almost imagine council leader Tony Newman dictating such tosh.
The organisers described their festival as, “A showcase of over 70 artists representing 20 different countries … each responding to the provocation of fractured bodies.”
The artistic director, Dr Thomas John Bacon of Middlesex University, said, “It gives me so much pride to ensure that the festival will be exclusive to Croydon this year. Hosting such a wealth of local, national and international talent in my home town means a lot to me personally.” So that’s nice.
Other festival highlights included, “An experimental audiovisual performance with a progressive audio collage composed of found sounds, field recordings and live sources visualised through a sound-reactive tapestry of live video manipulations of MRI imaging.”
And there was a gig called “Behind Closed Doors”, which was described as “a site-responsive, participatory walking audio tour, that explores mental well-being, auditory hallucinations, social cleansing and suppressed voices in regenerating cities. Participants, armed with just a pair of headphones and a handheld digital dictaphone, loaded with a mixtape of music tracks and audio instructions, set off together for an audio walk around an area undergoing regeneration.”
Sounds right up council chief exec Jo “We’re Not Stupid” Negrini’s strasse.
There was also a couple of shows featuring the controversial Austrian avant-garde artist Hermann Nitsch, who uses bucket-loads of animal blood, body parts and crucifixion in his work. The internationally respected Smithsonian website has said that, “The performance art of Hermann Nitsch, a man revered and reviled in equal measure, is not for the faint of heart.”
As much of this Tempting Failure festival clashed with the later stages of the football World Cup, it seems that Boozepark was a bigger crowd-puller in Croydon in July than Tempting Failure.
According to a response to a request under the Freedom of Information Act, between July 13 and July 21, Croydon Council-owned venues staged 33 separate performances or exhibits as part of the Tempting Failure festival. In some cases these started as late as 10.30pm, and therefore may have required special arrangements, and overtime payments, to keep the public buildings open. “The council covers costs for cultural events it is supporting in council venues, therefore no costs were passed on to the festival,” the council said.
Croydon Council has refused to reveal which member of the council cabinet or senior council officers were responsible for signing off on all this expenditure for the Tempting Failure festival. Timothy Godfrey was the cabinet member for arts and culture at the time the council awarded the £10,000 grant, while Paula Murray is the council official who oversees the borough’s cultural “offer”. Godfrey stood down from the council in May. Murray is still drawing her six-figure salary.
The council has also failed to say how many people turned up to witness Arianna Ferrari losing control of their sphincters, nor what the size of the audience was when Joseph Ravens and his butt plugs took to the stage.
Nor has council leader Newman issued any virtue-signalling tweets about the festival. Imagine the selfies he could have taken with Ravens.
This morning a council spokesperson refused to comment on rumours circulating on Katharine Street that, as part of Newman and self-proclaimed “regeneration practitioner” Negrini’s £5billion promised redevelopment of the town centre, the council-run arts centre, Croydon Clocktower, is to be re-modelled as a giant butt plug.
Still, at least the council can pat itself on its own back and say that, having managed to close down the Warehouse Theatre and shut the Fairfield Halls (probably for at least three years), it is keeping “the tradition of great theatre in our town alive”.
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