Some friends hosted a little tour for you around the art and art spaces of Peckham last week. You live nearby but have never really got to know the burgeoning Peckham art scene (you know what it’s like, you venture abroad to exotic climes while overlooking that which is right under your nose.)
After touring the Hannah Barry gallery, The Sunday Painter, AMP gallery, a couple of spaces and galleries in ‘The Nines‘, as well as the ‘Bold Tendencies‘ open-air venture, along with its bar/restaurant ‘Franks’ on the roof of a multi-storey car park, you are invited to return to The Performance Studio in The Nines to witness ‘Terminal’, a performed by Pil & Galia Kollectiv.
A few days later you are sitting, in an audience, in a darkened, post-industrial space, with a glass of craft beer in your hand. On stage are Pil & Galia Kollectiv, performing Terminal, – a “… Miracle Play with Popular Music from the End of the World” .
Though the piece was written in 2012 it all seems very apt, very NOW. The Kollectiv play dark, punky, folky, abrasive and plaintive songs using simple instruments: drums, an un-tunable home-made guitar, and someone appears to be using a bone to play a hurdy gurdy.
The weird music, like a medieval British version of Velvet Underground rehearsing in a Shropshire cowshed, complements strange scenarios projected in crude B&W video on a wall at the back of the stage.
There the Kollectiv play out a scene of a future/past England where society appears to have re-mythologised and re-formed into new factions and hierarchies. People speak a grandiose pre-scripted language apparently drawn from one heroic age into another.(There are echoes of Jennet Thomas’ film ‘The Unspeakable Freedom Device‘ – discussed here Blog post Number 20 – as well as a reminder of Ryan Trecartin’s use of quasi-meaningless, deadpan speech)
Cultivated perversities – of costume, props and gesture – all confess to a candid, comic, clumsy and yet strategic amateurism, which operates like Brecht’s ‘interruption’, empowering the audience, leaving you to experience and criticise, leaving you with your own mind while evading any spectacular, ultimately rhetorical impact imposed by a ‘masterful’ performance or ‘high production values’.
News from “The End Of The World” is almost as bad as the actual daily news in 2016 Britain. As we watch this “Miracle Play” the “miraculous” Welsh football team are finally being knocked out of Euro 16. Meanwhile, the Tories seem to have managed to wipe out all forms of political opposition, other than those who are to the Right and to the extreme Right of them.
In 5-6 years a particularly mendacious, even ‘slimy’ form of Cameroonian Toryism has constructed a Little England for itself out of a Great Britain, making a a land where Tories of varying sizes and shades of extreme (from The Royal family all the way through to Nick Griffin) either run, would run, or will run (in addition to the government) all schools, all health and welfare, prison and judicial services, all new mayoralties and police commissions etc.
Meanwhile any ‘opposition’ (an essential part of any modern democracy) will apparently be employed to polish shoes, iron suits, drive carriages and variously wait-upon the entitled and empowered – who are, after all, the really and truly ‘British, English, ‘decent’, patriots’ etc. simply regaining (“taking back”) their natural place and position, following, what for them has been a barbaric age of bungled socialisms and repugnant multiculturalism, feminism, liberalism etc. etc.
Sometimes, watching Pil & Galia Kolletiv you feel their clunkily crafted nihilism open up a new layer of hopelessness beneath your feet, only to discover there a brief glimmer of a different kind of hope, even a kind of wicked, Nietzschean joy derived from the sheer miserable drama, the truly abyssal nature of our political predicament.
Where there is chaos, it seems, there is (strangely) hope, but where there is illusion and delusion i.e. any kind of simplistic and superficial belief or spectacle that fools you into believing that things are NOT as bad as they ACTUALLY are, there, then, there is NO hope at all, there, then you are doomed, doomed! – Terminal!
On this evening it feels more than ever as though Britain has recently sleepwalked into a 21st century variant of fascism, a political nadir that everyone could see coming but which, when it arrived was nevertheless an unavoidable, nauseating shock, a real kick in the guts and a distortion of modern democracy.
All our lives we have been vigilant, manning the anti-fascist watchtowers, whether as thinkers, artists, politicians, teachers and writers, or simply as ‘politically correct’ monitors of our own behaviour, morals and language. We have cried out “WOLF!” numerous times only to find that fascism does not arrive as an identifiable or singular figure or form, nor by dramatically banging down our door (unless of course you are receiving a dawn visit from ‘Immigration Control’ this week), rather it seeps up from the earth like a foul gas, it is immanent, arriving via cupcakes at a Cheltenham fair as much as at an EU Referendum husting – until one day it simply surrounds you, even pervades you.
But – as Brecht repeatedly taught us- fascism is also undeniably absurd and we may survive and respond to it by cultivating our own absurdity or extending the boundaries of reason. The most poignant scene in Terminal portrays a ruler, frustrated by his border guard who explains that the ruler technically, no-longer has anything to rule as borders have evaporated and a change of consciousness has rendered any established notion of territory redundant. The ruler is thoroughly undermined, distraught in fear of losing his very identity, given the evaporation of his beloved borders.
It is impossible to do justice to this timely scene without a script to quote from but it brilliantly articulates magnificent progress made by post-WW2 generations in thinking through and thinking away all of fascism’s own extremely dangerous delusions.
And so, despite the rout that we have experienced and continue to experience, there is hope at least in the knowledge that, even if we appear to have lost almost all of our actual, physical and economic political territory, we at least retain this conceptual arena as an enduring and elusive resource, something which – hopefully – cannot be taken away from us (even as Neoliberal capitalism proves so adept at twisting Liberal gains to Conservative ends)
With many thanks and appreciation to Oscar Mac-Fall and everyone at The Performance Studio in Peckham, a noble venture, based on skills-exchange, ACE, and other forms of ethical funding and support. Run by independent curator David Thorp it “…allows an open-ended freewheeling environment for the exploration of ideas with performance centre stage as an artistic discipline”
Pil & Galia Kolllectiv are a busy, emerging art group, who you seem to have been glimpsing and passing for several years without actually seeing and meeting them beofre. Several of your own shows, and sometimes your teaching, have been either preceded or proceeded by a P&G event, so it’s great to actually, finally see them, and to fill in the gaps in your vague knowledge of them. They work in a collaborative pair that occasionally expands to work with more temporary or satellite members.