Motor Vehicle Sundown (Event) (1960) by American conceptual artist George Brecht is an early Fluxus event score (the first one with ‘event’ in the title), and, as the title suggests, is to be performed in and around a vehicle at sunset. We took this iconic work as a starting point to create our final live performance prior to the COVID-19 lockdown at Kinetic Festival in Salford (February 2020), a performance that also included new realisations of Andy’s Tea Towel (2014) and Private Hire (2011), Carolyn Chen’s near-silent Adagio (2009), and our collaborative balloon duet for Sharon d’Aire (2018–19) alongside the Brecht. The venue was a freezing cold former MOT garage and our entire performance took place in and around an electric car. We were inspired by the imagery of two people being in a car together, including pop culture clips of romantic ‘parking’, nostalgia for drive-in movies, and the projected backgrounds of early cinema. This also connected to our practice of performing everyday activities in concert situations, layering ideas and behaviours, and reframing everyday activities to create new musical performance art.
Motor Vehicle Sundown (Event) consists of performers undertaking a randomised sequence of straightforward actions, printed on cards, in and around a car. American art historian Liz Kotz describes it as resembling Dadaist ‘simultaneities’ of the early twentieth century in its “complex orchestration of simultaneous actions and chance interactions” that are “diffuse, multifocal, chaotic”. This collage approach and structure directly informs how we adapt other pieces to this specific setup, and is our equivalent of ‘standard repertoire’ that contextualises our other, more recent activities. This led us to consider it appropriate to reframe the Brecht, usually performed as an outdoor event, into a more concert hall-like space with a distinction between audience and performers.
The global COVID-19 pandemic forced us to adjust our plans to develop this performance further, and our response has been to create a video piece which adhered to the stringent lockdown conditions. This new 20-minute film includes four of the works from our original performance, Tea Towel, for Sharon d’Aire, Motor Vehicle Sundown (Event), and Private Hire. The works were filmed separately at home by our respective live-in partners for subsequent editing and assembly by filmmaker Oli Clark. This further develops our cinematic vehicle starting points and the contradictory notions of a car as cocoon-like sanctuary or as enforced confinement (a commuter’s ‘prison’), now also serving as a metaphor for the lockdown that so many people across the world were experiencing (and, at the time of writing, still are).
The juxtaposition of two different vehicles, sometimes edited to seem as if they were one, and further confused when we are shown from two different angles simultaneously, extends the impression of the surreal and uncanny that is a feature of our work which freely blends the natural and stylised. Although motivated by our desire to maintain the momentum of our collaboration and find an outlet for our creative energy during lockdown, the project has proven to be a natural extension of our methodology, despite not being able to work directly together. This film is a natural consequence of our chaotic simultaneity, now asynchronous and entirely separate. Through the video is the suggestion of all the different layers in our work up to this point, hinted at by the shifting of locations and time periods, and the blurring of separation and closeness. As well as a stand-alone artwork, we now plan to incorporate this film into our subsequent live performances, as the process of layering continues.
Our work as a duo is inherently exploratory, connected to both a tradition of experimental art-making and broader experimental methodologies, and both of our practices have remained fluid throughout our collaboration. Andy’s creative process, as well as his approach to performance, is largely rooted in spontaneity followed by rigorous critical reflection, whilst Kathryn is pre-occupied with professional training in instrumental performance practice, long-term correspondence, and concerns around physicality, exercise, and ableism. These two approaches have equally informed our work. The transformational creative relationship has proven to be symbiotic, allowing this work to naturally evolve and continue. We are very grateful for the support from the Help Musicians Fusion Fund which enabled us to create this film. It is also essential to mention the positive psychological impact of this activity; making new creative work is so important to our wellbeing and this has evaporated during lockdown.
This text first appeared in The Sampler in October 2020.