When language fails: an interview with Lucy Beech and Edward Thomasson

Issue no2
April - May 2022
countryside & biennale guide

On Saturday the 29th of October project-space 1646 in The Hague presents a new performance and exhibition by London-based artists Lucy Beech (1985, Hull) and Edward Thomasson (1985, Stoke-On-Trent).

The two artists, who have been collaborating on performance projects since 2007, present their new work Public Relations 2, which is the second work in a series of works that feature an all male cast of performers. The first work, Public Relations, was presented at the beginning of 2016 at Maureen Paley gallery in London’s East End.

Their shared work investigates how individuals engage in collective activities when words are simply not enough to describe interpersonal or emotional problems. Judging from the titles of previous works – like 7 Year Itch (2015) and Passive Aggressive 1, 2 and 3 (2013-2015), this often entails uncomfortable situations and awkward, funny behaviour.

Curious to find out more about their practice, I scheduled a talk with the artists during the rehearsals and spoke with them about their shared practice, the subject of white male guilt and the importance of liveness.

Debbie Broekers: Before going into your new performance work, I wanted to ask about your collaboration. You’ve been collaborating since 2007 on multiple performance works, how did this collaboration came about?

Lucy Beech: We started working together, having just left Chelsea College of Art in 2007. We didn't make collaborative projects at college, but worked very closely. Initially our decision to work collaboratively was born out of a desire to think through a shared interest in performativity through the construction of live works.

Edward Thomasson: Our performance based projects that we work on together punctuate our independent practices. We have moved between these two modes of working over the past ten years. In this period our collaborative work has developed into a central part of both of our practices. Each mode of production actively mirrors its thematic focus. Our independent work focuses on ideas of separation and independence within group situations. Our collaborative work, which is developed largely through discussion, focuses on the ways people come together to negotiate interpersonal problems. These three separate approaches are totally interdependent and feedback into one another.

Lucy Beech: Working in this way has continued to be really productive, as we work through ideas about identity, collectivity and alienation in contemporary life.

DB: How has your shared practice developed over these years?

LB: We have developed works for galleries and theatres as well as domestic, institutional and other offsite spaces. Where previously, works have been constructed in direct response to the environment in which they were staged, more recently we have focused on constructing performances that are self contained and adaptable, where action is thought of as an object that can be learned, rethought and performed in a number of different configurations.

DB: Could you tell a bit more about your upcoming performance at 1646?

ET: The piece is titled Public Relations 2 and it is the second in a series of works that feature an all male cast of performers. We have been thinking about what men do together, how they might work with and against each other.

In this instance, and in light of a current atmosphere of fear and anger, of people in power trying to demarcate boundaries, and organise movement, we are thinking about what it means to be white and male right now.

We began by thinking about how power works on and from the individual straight white man’s body and, moving from the political to the personal, we’re thinking how an ordinary man might manage the power given to him, and the potential ways in which he might negotiate the guilt attached to this power.

LB: We’re making an imagined therapeutic system that men might use together with each other, a game that makes public the private face of a social system, in order to see how it works.

DB: Like a therapy session?

LB: Yes, there is something therapeutic about this idea. As with many of the live works we've made together, there is a sense in this work that the performers are using the audience as a component part of a problem solving process, as if by presenting their actions to a gathered audience, something is being aired and so worked though.

DB: Your work is characterized by choreographed group activities that look at how movement is used when language fails or seems hard to summon. How did you come about this subject?

ET: We often work to describe strategies that are put in place in the world when words are not enough to describe or solve occupational, emotional and interpersonal problems. We refer to a number of situations in which this is the case such as therapy, team building exercises and various initiative of self help.

DB: You often perform in the works yourselves, is this also the case for the upcoming work?

ET: No, we’re not featured in this piece. We find that in order to be able to see the work, to understand the mechanics and how the group might function within a productive system, we have to be on the outside and look in.

DB: How important are qualities like humour or awkwardness in your work?

LB: We prefer to think about the idea of entertainment which covers a number of different audience responses. It is key that the audience are engaged with the work that is being presented.

ET: Making people laugh and constructing uncomfortable situations is one of a number way of implicating the audience directly which is why we return to these strategies again and again.

DB: Are your performances carefully scripted?

ET: The negotiations of the performers are presented to an audience within game-like structures, in which they appear to be acting as agents for one another’s experiences.

In order for the system to come together and create a recognisable soundscape often the choreography has a mathematical logic where the demonstration of learning is presented to an audience.

This mathematical approach to choreography provides a way to continually question how control and vulnerability co-exist within performance as well as interpersonal experiences.

DB: Following the live presentation, a site-specific video documentation of the work will be installed in the gallery. How important is liveness for you?

LB: We are interested in attempting to explore the problem of how performance is staged as an exhibition. Our video works that are exhibited are different versions of the choreographic objects that make up the live work. What’s been exciting about working at 1646 is attempting to conflate the two simultaneously.

ET: Concerning liveness, the work is never finished until it is performed in front of an audience! The exchange between performer and audience is central to the way meaning is made in the work.

Live performances at 1646 in The Hague on 29 October, starting at 21:00, every hour

RSVP [email protected]

The exhibition until 27.11.2016

The performance is part of Museum Night, The Hague 2016.

Debbie Broekers
is art critic

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Metropolis M Magazine for contemporary art No 2 — 2022