Backwoods and Boulders performance at Talbot Rice Gallery

Backwoods and Boulders is a live performance of creative writing based on Lucy Skaer’s sculpture series ‘Sticks and Stones’ in her exhibition The Green Man at Talbot Rice Gallery. The performance, like the exhibition, is based on the ideas of translation and rumour. ‘

Sticks and Stones’ consists of eight pairs of sculptures made from different materials, laid on the wooden floor of the Georgian gallery of Talbot Rice. These pairs have been created by eight different artists, inspired by original planks of mahogany which Skaer recovered from the Belize river after lying there for over a century. From Skaer’s original mahogany pair eight twin sets of sculptures were created, each adapted from the pair before it. Skaer’s sculpture, therefore, provides a base for the next pair, made from ceramics, and so on until eight interpretative pairs lie between the initial mahogany and the final slate.

In the Backwoods and Boulders performance, these twin sculptures are personified with eight speakers delivering their individual takes on the pieces in an array of narrative, comedy, poetry, and short story. This combination of different writing styles compliments the use of varying materials used in Skaer’s ‘Sticks and Stones’. As mahogany turns to tiles, poetry turns to comedy; as aluminium morphs to slate, the narrative becomes a short story. Each speaker presents a different piece, drawn from an aspect in the piece before it. The relationship between the speaker’s words feels fluid, just like the sculptures they describe.

This concept of evolution from the first sculpture to the last is reflected in the process of writing the performance piece. Two of the performers had previously seen Skaer’s piece and from it, they formulated their own writings. From these two scripts, six other speakers wrote and performed their own individual piece based on the work of the author before them. This translation of stories was fascinating to experience and extremely relevant to ‘Sticks and Stones’, embodying the ideas of individual interpretations and translations. Each speaker presents a different, unique, and (at times) random approach. Some bring out a sadness, some a calmness, and some crippling laughter. This is symbolic of the exhibition, with each sculpture similar from the surface, yet individual and unique when its audience takes the time to look closer, to appreciate the complexity of the materials and the intricacy in their making.

The performance is certainly one which would appeal to the creatively intuitive and open-minded. The seamless flow between speakers and the intimacy of the venue lets the imagination and perception of each audience member carve its own path, and experience the pieces in an individual way. The clever mix of media made for an extremely entertaining and thought-provoking experience which I believe was the aim of the performance. High praise is deserved for their success in portraying this difficult and complicated task.

Image: Ella Roch-Perks

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