Mark Greenwood: Lad Broke?

In the first of two parts, C James Fagan reflects on a remarkable durational performance piece by Mark Greenwood…

“Gone forever to the races, Pull your money out, Call your mother, Tell her something, Never go without, Pause a moment , Just a moment, Smoothing down your hair, Gone forever to forever, Feeling like despair”

The Races –The Bird and the Bee.

This quote from the song The Races by The Bird and the Bee has been floating around in my head ever since I was informed of Mark Greenwood’s 48 hour durational performance piece Lad Broke. Why? The statement of the song seems to echo the themes of a cycle of aspiration and despair associated with gambling. In particular the world of horse racing, where as a cashier in a betting shop, Greenwood had a box seat seat for this daily performance. The experience of gamblers caught, hoping and expecting the next big win, fearing the next big loss. All this in sharp contrast to the glamour of multi-millionaire horse owners and ladies in elegant gowns sipping champagne on the turf.

Of course this is merely idle speculation ahead of getting to grips with the performance. When I arrive at the Camp & Furnace venue, 13 hours of Greenwood’s performance have elapsed, I find the space empty. Though empty isn’t the right word. Though Greenwood has temporarily left the space, a recording of a race commentary fills the air with excited words; this turns out to be a record documenting the life and times of legendary racehorse Redrum. Though this soon ends and the piece is sound-tracked by the needle skipping in its terminal groove.

Strands crisscross the ceiling, suspended from which are betting slips with the names of, I presume, horses written on them. Though not being a racing aficionado it’s hard to tell, it could all be gibberish. Pages of racing papers are spread evenly across the floor displaying the livery of the runners. In the middle of this lies a small table and chair, a desk of sorts. On one side there’s a shattered mound of discarded pens, evoking some kind of frustration perhaps. As much as the balloons that are dotted around the space hint at celebration.

Mark Greenwood enters the space and takes measured steps towards the table and chair and methodically takes out a pen and begins to write on a betting slip. When he finishes he discards the pen. I wonder if this is a foreshadowing of the violence that has been suggested by the text surrounding the piece. I am not sure but I do feel a tension I can’t quite place. As Greenwood continues on at his steady pace this tension eases but doesn’t completely disappear. In watching Greenwood reenact this ritual of filling in the betting slip and hanging it upon the ‘washing lines’ covering the ceiling, there’s a sense of him either placating or submitting himself to this activity.

As I spend more time within the space I begin to feel more and more like an observer, a zookeeper in charge of some animal that at any moment could turn on its keepers. This sense of observation is compounded by the fact that the two other people in the space are also writing in their notebooks; taking stock of this runner (or rider) in a one horse race. There are moments when the observers become the observed, as when Greenwood stands with his back to the wall, carefully scanning the hanging slips. During these moments I get the sensation that I too am being scrutinised, my form being measured.

“I get the sensation that I too am being scrutinised, my form being measured”

The small amount of people who have chosen this moment to observe Lad Broke lends this initial glimpse into the piece an intimate feel. How will this change when more people come and observe?

I take a break. On my return very little has changed, Greenwood has been supplied with a mug of tea and the metronomic clicking coming from the record player has increased. He is still enacting his ritual, pacing around the space, stopping occasionally to contemplate some unknown question, some undiscovered formula, before leaving the room.

This gave me time to look again at the habitat Greenwood has created. The betting slips which float around my eye-line are filled with apparently nonsense words. It’s like Greenwood is attempting to come to terms with them, within a system (in this case gambling), by recreating and spitting out the terms that shape it. Whether this helps or hinders is unclear but it appears to be an action which needs to be undertaken.

The cycle is broken when Greenwood is handed a horseshoe; that old symbol of good fortune. He approaches the gathered audience, engaging them in some kind of tug of war. When it comes to my turn, I feel that I have become involved in a ritual, possibly to do with the transference of luck. But in which direction? Who knows, the true meaning is locked within Greenwood himself. It’s clear that a ritual has occurred, one that calls to mind the use of ritual and arcane knowledge displayed in Matthew Barney’s Cremaster cycle.

More people have entered the space; they wander around, begin to chat and seem only partly aware of the figure of Greenwood scraping his plastic chair around the edges of the room. They seem to be surprised when he appears at their backs. This is the preamble to something, another ritual, Greenwood lays down two sheets of the Racing Post side by side and proceeds to throw his pens onto the paper in an action reminiscent of the I Ching. A random act to determine a random result.

It’s followed by a process where he inflates some balloons and lets them fall to the ground. Once this task is undertaken he proceeds to wrap his head in the pages of the Racing Post anointing himself with water to turn the paper into a papier mache mask. He then begins to repeat REDRUM like some kind of invocation and he falls silent. Whether this is a process of transformation for Greenwood is unclear, and this element seems slightly out of step with what I have already witnessed. Greenwood then tears away his paper cocoon and having emerged, takes the horseshoe to the newer members of the audience. I begin to see this as a way of judging our validity to be witness to what unfolds.

Greenwood then reveals the nature of the talisman. That horseshoe once belonged to the famous racehorse Redrum. So throughout he has been transferring the power and the vitally of that racing legend. In a sense we have been blessed with the winning streak of Redrum. Or like all good gamblers we have a totemic belief in an object’s ability to affect forces beyond its and our control.

Once he has informed us of this fact he returns to the ritual of the betting slip. Then I’m presented with a problem after seeing this element of the performance and then seeing Greenwood return to the foundation of this durational piece. I feel that I‘ve been returned to an earlier state that my presence in the audience is unnecessary, the ritual will continue without me. Such is the nature of this kind of performance, the balance between audience and performer is always shifting; I take this moment to leave Greenwood to his ritual knowing I will be back to bear witness tomorrow.

C James Fagan

The second and concluding part will be published tomorrow.

Posted on 25/04/2012 by thedoublenegative