Simon Whitehead has always been an intuitive sort of artist. He’s never been that interested in the limelight or big dance scene, and instead has preferred to work intimately in his village. Working slowly, working patiently, being calm.
But then the irony of Whitehead’s practice, the ruse of the dialectic.
The more Whitehead explores the smallest patch of stubbled earth in his village, the more his work opens out to the world. The more he is connected. But to what? Well to everything. A cosmopolitan local, a ‘glocal’, as the sociologist Roland Robertson might say (but with a completely different meaning and sense).
Students come to speak to Whitehead; they borrow his ideas; they want to do PhDs on home and homing.
When I think of Whitehead, I think of Ursula K. Weise’s book Sense of Place, Sense of Planet (2008). In that text, she argues for a new cosmopolitanism, an openness to things. Maybe instead of seeing place as a thing, we should see it, like Whitehead does, as a weather pattern, systems moving in, fronts moving through, an indivisible sense of pressure, a kind of flowing ‘flesh’ of the world, something we can’t think ourselves out of because we are always in it. Inspiration, exhalation, a kind of breathing, then.
Maynard Come Home was a performance festival curated by Whitehead and Rhowan Alleyne in Abercych in May 11-12, 2013. The theme of the event was given in the title, and the point was to explore what it means to be at home at today. Perhaps the phrase ‘be’ at home is misleading, for home in the performances I saw was never seen as simply a place that one arrived at or returned to. On the contrary, home for these artists at Maynard Come Home was a bodily process, a duration, an infinity of practice, a becoming.
Stop the doing, stop the dancing, stop the moving and home would disappear in the blink of an eye.
The event was inspired by Whitehead’s discovery of an old table in the church hall he practises in. On the bottom of the table, engraved by a pen knife from a schoolboy in what I like to think was some moment of listless turpitude as he went through his Welsh grammar (again), was the word ‘Maynard’. A name.
Maynard Come Home was an attempt to bring Maynard back, to return the ghost to the village, to create a space for something gone. But this Maynard was no rustic ghost, he was magical, an astronaut, someone who defied the spirit of gravity. This connection was evident in the performance that opened the event in which Whitehead spun the table on its side and narrated a story that started with an embryo and ended in the cosmos with the Apollo 9 Space mission, the same mission that brought back the iconic blue marble image of the earth.
For Whitehead, home was a fabric, a weave, in which things mix and merge – bodies, stars, ravens, David Bowie singing ‘Star man’. In this home, everything is spinning, interconnecting, interdepending.
In other performances during the opening day – and here I think of Jess Lerner and Tanya Syed’s extraordinary film Daughters of the Mountain, and of Karine’s Décorne and Simon Proffit’s culinary performance Bwyd Sonique – home was a matter of the body, a thing of the senses, something evoked. In Jess and Tanya’s film, two female dancers, a mother and daughter, slog their way through mud and rain in a mad Sisyphean act of exposure in order to reach some deserted mountaintop. Like King Lear and the Old Testament prophet Abraham but in reverse. No violence here, no need to kill a son, no desire to spurn a daughter. Just a kind of bond, a getting through, enduring it all. A film to affect you; a film to breath with.
Karine’s performance, installed in the living room in 2 Penrhiw cottage, was very different. Home as sensual pleasure; home as taste; home as sweetness. The performance was simple. While the kitchen was miked up and broadcast, Karine cut up some fruit, fried butter, made crêpes, added honey. She feed it to us. We ate ‘home’, or some childhood memory of it, feeling it in our bloodstream, a solid disappearing, a nutrient being consumed.
The first day ended with a twmpath: the artists and village dancing together, learning steps, trading gestures. I see the dancer Eeva Maria Mutka with a bucket, moving like crazy, going mad. The Gower Allstars and Julie Murphy playing…
Mads Floors slept in Simon and Sterling’s greenhouse.
‘And the World Shall Come to Abercych’, ‘Calling Occupants’ (The Carpenters).
The Sunday was wet, and we went out for a walk through the wood, following Whitehead on his daily walk. We crossed a river, and Whitehead reenacted an old performance Dulais Remixed in which he drags an electric guitar through the river allowing us to hear invisible frequencies, refrains of wind and water.
Elizabeth Grosz in her beautiful book Chaos, Territory, Art: Gilles Deleuze and the Framing of the Earth (2008) suggests, that art’s role is to offer new ways of perceiving the cosmos, quantifying experience, opening new territories, discerning possibilities. Dulais Remixed transformed the river into a virtuality, unfolded some latent possibility in, made it different from itself. It also gave that experience, that place, a consistency, ordered the chaos for a little while….made the world intimate, made it a home perhaps…but only for a bit.
On the way back through the rain, we looked for and saw the artist Ben Stammers siting in a tree. We followed him as we waded through the river, playing his sad harmonica and disappearing downstream. Melancholy performance, performance that somehow made the world seem fragile, that made you feel unhomely, some premonition maybe of a world, a home, that we all someday have to depart.
Maynard Come Home impressed me, it left a mark. And as I write these words 6 months after the event, and distanced from that time in Abercych by a blazing summer, I am aware of not being able to do justice to all the artists that performed in the event. I have only listed performances that stayed with me, that remained as impressions. But this is not to discount all those other performances that I have failed to remember, failed to describe.
For those performances, the ones I haven’t talked about, contributed, too, to the mood or atmosphere of Maynard Come Home. I guess, they haunt me, in some way, folded as they are in some crease of memory, hidden now, but ready to emerge when I least expect it, when I least will it.
Fittingly, I think of home as I think of my time at Maynard Come Home as an entanglement of emotions, an intertwining of bodies, a nexus of stuff – material stuff – that always remains somehow opaque, and is always on its way elsewhere. Home is not as a place; it is a state, a fragile state, real but elusive. Like a cup with a crack in it; you can’t keep anything in it. Useless to try, but the only thing worth doing.
– Carl Lavery