Sunday, December 13, 2009

Four Flew Into the Cukoo's Nest

In 1978 The Cramps played a legendary gig at Napa State Mental Institute, California, 25 years later, artists Iain Forsyth & Jane Pollard set about remaking the infamous video of that show... This is 'File under Sacred Music'

Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard's new film project File under Sacred Music takes as its starting point an infamous video that documents a live performance by The Cramps for the patients at Napa Mental Institute, California, on 13th June 1978. Captured on blurred and grainy black and white film, this unique social document has been swapping hands at record fairs and via the internet since the early eighties. Forsyth and Pollard began by re-enacting that legendary performance in order to film it and remake the rarely seen video document.

They consulted closely with a number of mental health arts organisations, before inviting members from Core Arts, Sound Minds and Mad Pride to attend the performance and filming, which was staged on a specially constructed set in the Institute of Contemporary Arts Theatre in London on 3rd March 2003. To re-create the on-stage performance by The Cramps, Forsyth and Pollard went to incredible lengths to work with musicians who understood the full context and spirit of the project. Eventually, a band was constructed featuring Alfonso Pinto from London-based punk band The Parkinsons as Cramps' vocalist Lux Interior, Holly Golightly, a legendary solo artist as well as a founder member of Thee Headcoatees, as guitarist Poison Ivy, Bruce Brand, a key figure in the Medway scene, as guitarist Bryan Gregory and John Gibbs from The Wildebeests and Holly's current band as drummer Nick Knox. The resulting footage was edited and degraded to meticulously re-create the content, spirit and damaged aesthetic of the original video tape the artists had purchased on eBay.

At a time when media technology has encroached on the live event to a point where few feel live at all, Forsyth and Pollard's project pushes beyond any simple re-presentation of a significant cultural moment to project an alternate testament of reality that examines 'liveness' beyond the limitations of needing to 'be there'. Their critique is less about then than now, reframing contemporary culture and pulling the their own generation into sharp focus. Forsyth and Pollard have pioneered the current art movement exploring re-enactment as an artistic genre.

Since their first live art project The World Won't Listen in 1996, to their critically acclaimed A Rock 'N' Roll Suicide (their seminal art event re-enacting David Bowie's final performance as Ziggy Stardust) they have had the timing and insight to key into contemporary society's increasing engagement with simulation as a part of cultural expression. File under Sacred Music marks a significant and ground-breaking development in their practice and addresses one of the most important questions facing all kinds of performance today: what is the status of the 'live' and the 'real' in a culture now obsessed with simulation and dominated by mass media and mediation?

Articles about File under Sacred Music have appeared in numberous publications including The Guardian, The Independent on Sunday, Art Review, i-D Magazine, Sleazenation and Mojo. The project has been presented at various locations including the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London, Site Gallery in Sheffield, Schaufenster in Oslo, National Film Theatre in London, Hull Time Based Arts Gage Festival, Royal College of Art in London and Foundation Adriano Olivetti in Rome. For full details of all past, present and future screenings please visit the seeing the film section of the FUSM site, or join the mailing list to be notified of future events by email.

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