Iona Kewney & Joseph Quimby

C James Fagan finds himself left almost dumbstruck by a performance demonstrating the incredible potential of the human form…

Part of the programme accompanying Gina Czarnecki’s retrospective exhibition, and featuring in the exhibition itself, Iona Kewney is renowned for performing with an idiosyncratic combination of movement and sound.

Kewney collaborates tonight with musician Joseph Quimby, their unique brand of sound and dance  starts with the audience gathering outside the Bluecoat’s performance space, where we are given a brief introduction by Czarnecki herself, explaining their artistic relationship. Soon after, we are ushered into a darkened ante-chamber; through the window in the door I see a grungy guitar player (Quimby) swaying back and forth silently plucking chords. Then he is switched on and the tones come pulsing through the door.

As the audience streams in, I rush towards a seat at the front, passing Kewney: small, lithe, dressed in floral lace and already contorted. In what feels a split second I try to take in my surroundings. In one corner lays a white block; in the opposite, tin foil and a large bottle of water. Quimby plays with his back to us, to another invisible audience and of course Iona. There’s a dream-like quality to the scene before me, like I’ve stumbled into some arcane ritual.

Kewney begins to canter, throwing her arms in the air, doubling over and falling to the floor. During this part of the performance there are times when she appears dragged across the floor by forces not of her body. Not that she gives the impression of being out of control; rather she has ultimate confidence in herself, and that she understands the possibilities of her body. It is this confidence and understanding which appear to endow Kewney with the ability to transform, making it more an experiment with the human form. She contorts into a series of what I can only describe as evolutionally possibilities; it’s border-line hallucinatory. These are movements I feel I’ve only seen previously in animation.

Advancing across the stage, Kewney creates a series of bodily cryptograms – the results of an experiment to connect emotion with movement. Every expression seems witnessed for the first time, but somehow the motion is correct. Crushing the white block into chalky powder and smearing it across the stage, backing into the limits of the available space, Kewney marks the curtain lining with her chalk covered hands. It feels right, almost perfect.

She not only has total control over her body, but over the space she inhabits; demonstrated when she pulls up the mat she has been performing on and lifts it over her head. This moment is a declaration of control; within this space Kewney is everything. Quite rightly the focus of our attention, she slaps the mat back and the music stops. Leaping, and hanging from the wall, we hear her breathing, hard and quick – haven’t we been hearing this throughout? – she drops from the wall and turns to a corner of the space and begins to wrap her head in tin foil. It’s an absurd moment but somehow doesn’t jar with the rest of the piece.

The lights go out and it’s over. I’m surprised the whole thing has flashed past, like I’ve been lost in an adrenaline rush of movement. Privy to the possibilities of the human body, on leaving, I realise how hard my heart is beating. There is little doubt that this performance has affected me, excited me,  with its overt and powerful physicality, it has left me with sensations which are as hard to ignore as they are to describe.

C James Fagan

Images courtesy Ben Hopper

Posted on 02/02/2012 by thedoublenegative