Beautifully Twisted Live Art Weekender

Arnolfini, Bristol

Annette Foster’s Destiny

With the darkness of desire and sexuality, storytelling, fairy tale and Victoriana as its starting points, the Arnolfini’s Beautifully Twisted Live Art Weekender promises a reappraisal of the contemporary feminine. Trips to the woods, one-on-one performances and installations are on offer, giving a lot of ground to cover for the keen, while Saturday’s programme showcased two quite different approaches to its subject matter.

Annette Foster’s Destiny invites individual audience members for a private performance inside a white muslin-draped meeting room. On entering, it feels a little like a cross between a lapdance chamber and the inside of an automaton’s cabinet. Foster, clad in an enormous bordello-red crinoline dress and blonde sausage curl wig, comes to life giggling and peeping into a small round mirror, as Saint-Saëns’s Aquarium from Carnival of the Animals tinkles away in the background. Gradually the hint of madness in her attic emerges as she tugs off a red-stained white glove, plants a soft smacker on her punter’s (in this case my) knuckles and ungraciously shows off a bite mark she has made in her own arm.

This is a piece which plays with images rather than examining them, and the territory, the Victorian girl brimming with dark sexuality underneath her sumptuous, decorous exterior, while visually engaging, doesn’t feel particularly fresh. Did I feel anything at the end of my one-on-one glimpse into this fairytale world? I felt as if I ought to be disconcerted, but somehow wasn’t.

Elsewhere in the weekend mini-festival, Marcia Farquhar’s Black and White and Red All Over purports to take a look at the ‘magical meaning of glamour’ and the ‘semiotics of good girl/bad girl fashion’. So says the Arnolfini’s blurb which Farquhar wryly quotes from, before telling us that’s not necessarily what she has in store.

As we settle on seats, Farquhar peers out at us from behind the backdrop of what proves in the end to be a very functional set/installation: rows of carefully cut out life size paper-doll dresses made of red, white and black fabric. The good/girl bad girl fashion element emerges through the nuances of colour symbolism in women’s clothing, with Farquhar giving brief talks on each of the three tones, and a short spiel on glamour. She plays with contradictions, dressing her daughters up in a mantilla, ‘both pious and a little bit saucy’, and whipping out a Laura Ashley dress that dispels the link between sexiness and the colour red.

The result feels like a gloriously eccentric lecture with show-and-tell thrown in. Farquhar’s charisma dominates, alternating between playful delight in her own art (she proudly talks us through an art school video of hers showing the women in her family cavorting on Hampstead heath in the white paper-doll gowns) to moments of profound sincerity as she shares a passage from a Beckett play that moves her, and reads from French feminist Luce Irigaray’s work.

The audience participation Farquhar is known for comes at the end, when volunteers don the paper-doll dresses and spontaneously decide to go for a walk outside the gallery. As their shapes melt into the darkness and meld with the cavorting hen nights and revellers on the harbour, they look like a contradictory cross between gingerbread men and witches at a coven. Likewise, you go away feeling sure that you have seen something, though you may not be quite sure what.

Reviewer: Lucy Ribchester

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