“He is naked and covered in paint, like a living De Kooning”: Live Import/Live Export — Reviewed


At Liverpool Biennial Fringe, and bombarded by a throng of artists, C. James Fagan tries to differentiate between performances in a hot and cavernous Victorian reservoir…

It’s humid, and I’m sweaty. These are my twin concerns as I rush to get to Toxeth Reservoir for 6pm, for the live performance of Biennial Fringe event Live Import/Live Export; billed as a “a night of performance work in exchange” between students from Royal College of Art and Liverpool John Moores University.

This moist train of thought continues through the damp air, as – after a short wait – the small crowd is let in. There’s no indication of how tonight will pan out, though. At the moment, there appears to be two people stood in the far corners of this expansive Victorian water facility, under arches, and a bloke has started to drop a stone into a bucket.

The sound of which reverberates throughout the space.

Now, there’s a golden lady gliding around us, touching people’s faces. Hope she doesn’t touch mine – I’m too sticky for that sort of thing. It’s started, I guess, and all at once. At least three different performance pieces, or one big piece, I don’t know.

“‘Are you a performer?’, I whisper. Yes, she says, she is”

I don’t know where to concentrate in this large empty space. Though my body decides on how tired I am, and that I would like to sit down.

While I’m shifting back and forth on the balls of my feet, I’m approached by a girl who cheerfully compliments me on my notebook. Wait – was that a thing? Or just a nice girl with an interest in notebooks? “Are you a performer?”, I whisper. Yes, she says, she is.

As this is happening, other things are happening. The archway people have swapped arches. Another performer, delicately carrying a tray of milk, places it on the floor and then goes to fetch some rope. Mr Bucket continues to drop his stone and the Archway People have met in the middle.


I wander over and become acutely aware that I’m blocking people’s view. Feeling as much a part of the show as any of the performers, I suppress the urge to sing a chorus of Jolly Good Company and do some hooffing.

I mean, there’s no clear indication that I’m NOT meant to be doing that…

Into the mix comes a white-suited man intoning “inside/outside”, and then painting his hair blue. I begin to consider doing something I don’t often do when watching live art: asking someone ‘in charge’ about what’s going on. So I approach someone who looks like they’re directing something. Though he explains that as many of the works are being performed for the first time, there’s no information about duration or which artist is which.

“That bloke with the painted hair is now eating a banana, then he starts to straddle a ladder”

While this can reflect the nature of live art, it does make it hard to focus. To know where to aim my concentration. Of course, these problems may be more pronounced for me, as I am here to review and I currently feel unable to grant proper attention to works unfolding around me. If there’s an aim, other than the simple and pleasing act of showing live art, it is unclear.

That bloke with the painted hair is now eating a banana, then he starts to straddle a ladder. Meanwhile, Milk Tray Woman has been rolling in and out of the milk. Did I mention there’s someone sitting in a velvet armchair? Well, there is.

Strange sounds come from the other side; a woman is stretching Sellotape between pillars, which reflect the yellow reservoir lights, and quite prettily too. The Archway People are wandering around – is their bit over?


At this point, about halfway, I realise I’ve reached an impasse. I’m feeling a little drained by trying to differentiate between performers. If my descriptions sound glib or off-hand, it isn’t a reflection of the quality of the work; rather it’s the fact that I’m switching my attention from one piece to another. Having to create a kind of shorthand for each performer.

I nearly walk into the path of another performer; he is naked and covered in paint, like a living De Kooning. He’s setting fire to sheets of paper. Singing a kind of plain song, he makes his measured way around the edge of the Reservoir. This seems to mark a shift in the audience that seems to have gathered around this particular performance.

It’s not that others have finished; Bucket Man is still dropping his stone. Sellotape Lady is sat at the base of a pillar amongst clouds of hair or dust. There’s someone new in the archway; it’s the fellow I asked for information earlier. He’s throwing a carryall bag in the air, emptying it of what looks like dust.

“The audience do seem to be moving as a group from one performance to next, as soon as new one appears”

The audience do seem to be moving as a group from one performance to next, as soon as new one appears. From Bag Man we move to a woman having passport photos of herself glued to herself. While the hive mind of the audience are here, they are yet to notice the red painted women chaining herself to a pillar and casting flour from a shiv.

While Naked De Kooning is still making his way around the edges of the space.

It’s about a half hour to the end. I’m trying to pull this all together. It’s been strange, not in a WTF way. Individually, I can see lots of strong work works which appear to have been well considered. If seen individually, the beauty of the Naked De Kooning could have been highlighted, or the pathos of Milk Tray lady. It might have alleviated the sense of frustration I had, if I was able to give them the full attention they deserve. This doesn’t mean having performance one after another, but rather an idea of how long an individual piece might last would provide a way of allowing me, as viewer, to feel I’ve given ample attention to the effort of each artist.

And reduce my fear of missing out.

Things seems to changing, running down. I’m looking around wondering what would will mark the end. From one end of the space, Naked DeKooning slips back to wherever he came from. Performers from earlier appear with beers in their hands. Bucket Guy is still going, though the time between drops appear to be longer; Golden Lady is also still pacing through the puddles.

That’s it, there’s some applause, it’s finished.

C. James Fagan

Images from top: Alice Jacobs; Jade Blackstock; Whiskey Chow. All images courtesy Jesse Shen

Chris saw Live Import/Live Export – a night of performance work in exchange with the Royal College of Art’s Performance Pathway and the Fine Art MA/BA course at Liverpool John Moores University — Saturday 9 July 2016, 6-8pm, at the High Park Street Reservoir, Liverpool 

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Posted on 27/07/2016 by thedoublenegative