Artist Maeve Rendle’s work shows a recurring fascination with sounds sculpted by the human voice and its co-option as a means of expression and tool of communication. It also repeatedly returns to her fascination with mimicry and learning by rote as an essential component of language acquisition.
Her new performance ‘What Cannot Be Turned Aside’ (2018) was prompted by physicist David Bohm’s influential tract On Dialogue (1996). In it he suggests ways to democratise social discourse to engender a greater mutual empathy between the subcultures within society. A theme with a certain urgency considering the partisan tone of contemporary political discourse.
With only four public performances at Touchstones Rochdale, compacted into two days, the event involved approximately 50 theatre and music students who, organised into three groups, performed for a much smaller seated audience.
The raw material for their vocal delivery consisted of drastically edited outbursts of pre-Brexit rhetoric from the House of Commons, words from an equine training book, and a more self-consciously ‘literary’ description of a scene from a BBC thriller.
Explosions and elisions of choreographed words, fragments of speeches, looping repetitions of phrase – all culled from the three sources – appeared to randomly pass around the performers. There was obviously a structure, or at least structuring trigger points, directing the piece. Occasionally, a sustained and professionally delivered musical note punctuated then pacified the clashing and overlaying of words. The experience was efficiently destabilizing but strangely musical.
Prior to the first public performance, photographer and film-maker Simon Pantling made a digital recording of the three groupings of performers with the intention of transcribing this theatrical event into a three-screen installation.
The removal of the performers physical presence will obviously subtract from the suggestion of a claustrophobic court room interrogation implied by the real experience of the work. However, by augmenting the visuals with high-quality sound recordings of the performance, a series of ghostly art gallery deformations and re-stagings of the event may well resonate in the social-ether long after its actual physical incarnation.
The considerable success of the work lay in Rendle taking regimented, disciplined and contrary social uses of language and using the friction between them to suggest that in these gaps, these contradictions and oppositions, there can live nuance and playfulness. An indication of a very human struggle towards a genuine voice.
Maeve Rendle’s ‘What Cannot Be Turned Aside’ was performed at Touchstones Rochdale 28-29 September 2018.