Living Statues

June 3, 2009 at 9:06 am (Interview, performance) (, , )

picture: hans s

picture: hans s

A lot of work goes into standing still – perfectly and completely still. Self-discipline is the key. You have to uphold constant control of each limb, each muscle. Physically it’s exhausting. But living statues must remain unaffected by their surrounding environment even if it is a bustling audience willing them to move. No nuance of thought is allowed to register on the face. They have to hide their breathing.

For Jason Maverick it’s just another day at the office: “The worst aspect is getting the body paint off – red or black make up is very difficult to remove. It’s just a case of scrubbing.” He admits it can be tricky when people try to make him laugh. While he has never cracked, he thinks people have probably detected a smile a couple of times: “because sometimes people do genuinely funny things”.

Today living statues line the Thames or other tourist destinations in most major cities. People may stop for a look and perhaps even throw a little change into the upturned top hat. Few realise that this art form has it’s roots in Renaissance where “tableau vivants” or living pictures would be used to entertain royalty.

Jason recently performed at the Watchman premiere. He was painted fluorescent blue and was wired up so that electricity shoots out of him, Doctor Manhattan-style. Seven hundred people attended to watch Jason stand. He is used to large crowds. He’s performed at a range of high-profile events, from the Queen’s Golden Jubilee to Sting’s private party. He won’t go into detail on either: “there’s a certain amount of privacy that you have to uphold”.

picture: Carlos Lorenzo

picture: Carlos Lorenzo

Jason trained in mime. The living statue utilises those skills. “The beauty of mime is that you can cross language barriers,” says Jason. “I have performed in India, Africa, Asia. I performed in a village in Africa and I really wondered how it was going to come across but the humour travels. I was surprised actually.”

Jason does a lot of different statues. Lord Nelson is popular and his Bollywood statue goes down well. One statue has an elaborate piping system which pumps water out of an urn. But his favourite statue is the Golden Doorman. The Doorman wears an expensive golden suit with painted mannequin-style face. “You get a very strong reaction because you look like a person but the make up has blanked out all your features – you put it across your lips, over your eyes, everything. When you move people find it quite disconcerting.” It was the Golden Doorman won Jason second place in the annual Living Statue Contest in Holland two years ago.

What can he think about when he’s performing? “I do concentrate quite a lot when I’m doing it. Sometimes I’ll focus on different parts of my body, so I’ll think oh my calves are really tense, or my shoulders or I’ll think about adjusting my body position. If you’re body painted of course people can detect you breathing so I try to shallow breathe. That’s a whole other area of concentration.”

Has a bird ever landed on him by accident? “That’s the most random question I’ve ever been asked,” smiles Jason. “No.”

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The underrated art: Beatbox Battle 2009

May 14, 2009 at 9:21 am (music, performance) (, , , )

Last week the Beatbox Battle Online World Champion was announced: Canadian Julia Dales, 17. The YouTube based competition saw people from all over the world – Japan, USA, Norway, Belgium – go head-to-head in the Wild Card competition. One vital question emerges: does it hurt?

A Short History: Beatboxing, “a form of vocal percussion which primarily involves the art of producing drum beats, rhythm, and musical sounds using one’s mouth, lips, tongue, voice, and more” is today firmly rooted in hip hop. But it goes back much further than that, though the origin is contested. Some trace it back to the Indian tradition of bol, or the Chinese tradition of Kouji, a performance art which uses the vocal organs to mimic everyday sounds and is 2,300 years old. African and Native American traditions use the vocal tricks and the body in rhythmic performance. It’s kinda universal, in all senses of the word.

Modern beatboxing has developed since the 1980s, and gets its name from mimicry of the first electronic drum machines, known as beatboxes.

Although he didn’t make it into the final five in the Wild Card competition, this guy makes it look effortless. Which it is NOT (I should know. I tried, alone in my house. Felt silly).

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Can you sculpt the public into art? One and Other by Antony Gormley

March 4, 2009 at 2:44 pm (art, performance, sculpture) (, , , , )

Antony Gormley's Angel of the North

Antony Gormley's Angel of the North

One and Other is the newest project from sculpter Antony Gormley (of Angel of the North fame). Instead of using steel or marble his new sculpture will be made out of people. Lots of people.

From July 2,400 individuals from around the UK will have the chance to stand on the fourth plinth of Trafalgar Square, and take part in living artwork. The plinth is usually reserved for kings, queens or generals. But this summer it will be home to various people for one hour each over a period of one hundred days. That’s 2,400 hours of standing in total.

The idea behind the project is the democratisation of art, a chance for normal people to look at the world from the “elevated frame” of a work of art itself. Gormley hopes it will produce a portrait of the UK: “Using this little plinth as the lens through which we see what the UK is like now.” The applicants will be screened to make sure all ethnic minorities are represented.

People can take anything they like up with them, as long as they can carry it without help. In an interview with in the Telegraph, Gormley said: “It will be an experiment. I imagine that there will be extroverts who will see this as an opportunity to do the biggest party trick ever. But I have no expectations. I would be absolutely happy if somebody got up there with an umbrella and just stood still for an hour.”

Gormley’s idea beat big competition from conetmporay artists Tracey Emin and Anish Kapoor. It embraces many elements of contemporary society – reality televison, vodcasting, the idea of celebrity – all on one little plinth. It is making art interactive and accessible. Genius really.

“There is a danger in which this thing is seen as a spectacle in the manner of David Blaine, or I’m a Celebrity… Get Me Out of Here!, or Big Brother,” Gormley says. “I think it uses all of those idioms, but to a very different purpose. I’m interested in how people’s view of the world changes by being that exposed in such a public place.”

“This is also me testing myself, calling into question everything that I’ve done. Is this sculpture or isn’t it? Can you use time as a medium? Can you use real life as a subject?”

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Bandstand Busking with The Hours

February 24, 2009 at 6:00 pm (music, performance) (, , )

The Bandstand

What could be finer than a free music concert on a crisp Sunday afternoon?  Bandstand Busking is a couple of guys who believe in using bandstands for what they were made for – bands. Playing instruments. With people watching. Former performers include the Black Lips, Gregory and the Hawk and The Leisure Society.

But in this case, The Hours were unplugged.

The Hours

Watching a band in this way felt almost too intimate. The music is all acoustic (bandstands are lacking in plugs) – not even a microphone –  so there are no heavy riffs disguising dodgy harmonies. Raw talent is very much on display. It’s a refreshing way to watch a band and even better as it’s free!

Girls Watching

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