I’ve been working as a dramaturg with Andy Edwards on his new performance In Burrows, premiering at the Tron Theatre in Glasgow in March 2018.
A man enters carrying a music stand, which he sets up somewhere on the far side of the stage. He stands back to look at it before returning to adjust – he’s in no rush, and it’s not entirely clear what warrants these alterations. Eventually he’s satisfied, and turns to look at us. Picking up an envelope, he says something about a photograph that’s inside: about its size (“six by four”) and how he’s never seen it before. He takes it out, puts it on the stand, and begins.
I look at the clock – four and a half minutes has passed.
As with any improvised performance, there’s a charm to only seeing the work once (a weird ephemerality – usually a bit subtle – not so dominant to the context as a ‘set’ work might be), but also in experiencing it a number of times (to be able to sit with it in different ways – to be a fan – to get a sense of the logics and tastes that lead the artist to whatever choices they end up making).
Andy describes a photo. His gaze locked onto the object before him, his language emerges as a tumbling stream to which we can dip in and out. The image changes with each performance; sometimes it offers an endless richness of detail for him to burrow into and sift through. Sometimes it’s more brute or banal: as he struggles to find what else to say, the activity at hand is exposed and challenged. We see him strike again and again, trapped with the same words, struggling to get past this rock, to try find at pry at its edges, perhaps to reveal the hidden rich soil beneath.
Andy recieves a phone call. He listens and speaks to the person on the other end. Some time later he hangs up and puts his mobile aside.
He closes his eyes and attempts to describe the room in which we’ve gathered. Our attention shifts around the space, following its echo in his memory. He accounts for the obvious (the white walls, the large windows, the scarred floor), and details that might have already caught our notice. He gestures to the pillar, far to the right of where it actually stands. We turn to look at things from his perspective. His blind gaze sits parralel to our own, and brushes up against us.
A quote that Andy has posted on a blog that documents the making process:
“If you are not being touch at all, then speech is the closest contact it is possible to have with another human being” Olivia Laing, The Lonely City
A writer presents himself on stage. This simple act disrupts the common relationships between the act of writing and moment of performance. We might know of Andy as a playwright – his words preceeding and dictating the movements of a play – or as a critic, where his words follow and frame the performance event, passing judgement from a distance. We imagine that both of these activities are undertaken alone – the power relations that surround them are shaped by their isolation and the fixity of the words they produce.
But here, we see this writer before us, presented in the act of composition. Are these words special? Are they any good? They tumble and circle – we see their emergence, the suggestive shape of literary patterns, their continual re-writing. There’s a vulnerability here: an inverted dance, performed by eyes that see, hands that type, and a mouth that speaks.
My friend asks if the title is a reference to William Burroughs. The performance sits close to this very seductive yet questionable image of the writer – a nervous energy, endlessly burrowing deeper, a male authorial genius – a narcissistic mix of vulnerability and power wrapped up in its visions and melancholy. The priest, the conductor, the politician, the poet, the man in charge, the man first to speak, the man with the final say. A seemingly unapologetic use of this position unfolds out and repeats this tangle: as he stands before us and asks our attention, the work makes no attempt to hide the power it holds, thereby inviting this critique. Does this agitate or satisfy our concerns? Power and powerlessness chase one another.
‘In Burrows’ is the latest in a series of works in which Andy Edwards figures out what it means for him to perform.
“Yes, it was certainly more stimulating, we faced terrible risks – doing things that were basically not that important. This is what was going on: the feeling of being a shaman, a bit of a magician, who became a showman, who took everyday objects and put them back toether in slightly different situations.” Alighiero Boetti, in an interview by Mirella Bandini, 1973.
I’m looking at a photograph by Andy Goldsworthy currently on display in the Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art: a line of upturned leaves placed on dense patch of bracken, the stark white undersides standing out from the vivid green of the forest. It doesn’t impress the viewer in how it has aqcuired huge or rare or precious materials, or on how many people the artist holds in their command, or even in how it has hoodwinked and mocked the institution that houses it. No sustained physical committment was required to produce this; in fact, the action so simple that we can imagine the exact steps with which it was undertakent. The gesture points towards the artist themself as much as any marterial circumstance or image.
Is this an alchemical transformation? Do we percieve the artist as a magician, effortlessly transforming reality around them? This can only be determined on a case-by-case basis, depending on the individual viewer’s tastes, affiliations and readiness to go along with the trick. What’s more clear is the particular sense of romance, of the poetic, within the artist: of the ways in which they read charm and delight in the world around them. Perhaps in this work – and obviously I’m talking about ‘In Burrows’ too – the artist is inviting us to briefly see the world through their eyes – not as a way to seduce us, but to share with us a way in which we might allow ourselves to be seduced. We stand before an intimate proposition; the individual’s un/abashed offer of their very personal relationship to beauty.
In Burrows premieres at the Tron Theatre, Glasgow, on the 23rd & 24th March 2018.