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Unpeeling Reflections - B. Catling

The strange shore of performance art is rich, fertile and flickering in contrasts. The retreating tides of visceral demonstration and camp ironic cabaret have gone after encouraging a fleeting, but desiccating wave of lecture based events; bone dry academic sermons that do little to inspire the next generation who are trying to find a physical voice. This of course means it is a prime moment for a few real individuals to take the beach. Holly Slingsby is certainly moving that way by progressing a series of powerful works that grip the viewer with visual strength and the audacity of their confrontation.

Part of the intensity of her unblinking pokerfaced posture comes from the depth of her short performance history. She never developed her physical language with the single purpose of captivating an audience; that was a by-product. She transformed what had been a delicate beginning in dance into a tensile stance of susceptibility by finding gesture to confront grief; internal action to battle anguish. The fact that she chose to haunt these tortures in public had nothing to do with therapeutic sharing and everything to do with the tempering of an imagined reality in the glare of critical reaction. The kind of emotional forging which artists used to be famous for.

In the last three years she has used those attainments to construct a more objective vocabulary, so that she can take on wider definition and more universal tropes. Stepping back from the passive glare of the audience and dragging them with her into more nervous tableaux of uneasy archetypes. One of the great devices she has mastered for this captivation is Deadpan. The apparent total lack of expression on the performer’s face. We have all seen the power of this in the flickering distance of film greats like Buster Keaton and Harry Langdon. Watched the genius of minute twitches of expression and shadows of gesture being able to amplify an astonishing array of communications and sympathies. But that was all made for a very distant camera.  It is virtually unknown in a female performer, let alone in a contemporary Fine Art one. 

When Slingsby invites the viewer to enter the proscenium of her event, they confront a distortion of theatrical posture that is caused by invasion of seeming normality. The open kitchen door, the shop window or the water of a lake framing a familiar distance while magnifying that difference. The strangeness of the actions we see is not created by lights and effects, all the smoke and mirrors have been striped down to kindling and glass. All of her costumes and props are made of discarded tat. Bristling with the instant of their making and the rejection of their cheapness. Some are empty; some bear the names of goddesses debased to brand logos of hand cream and washing up liquid. All of them are exposed as much as Slingsby herself, who will transform them with humour, pathos and longing. Before your very eyes. Into instruments and altars of the trampled sacred and the enigma that all great mysteries shelter in conspicuous fact.


Grand Rapids, 8th April 2015