Bristol Old Vic has commissioned artists to produce short “experimental artistic adventures” under the general umbrella title of Sudden Connections. These have been released gradually over the last five weeks and remain available until the end of November. As might be expected from a non-constraining brief this is an eclectic set of pieces although that doesn’t prevent them from tackling some difficult topics.
All The Threads You Left Behind is a meditation on the passing of a friend in a piece that is both very long visually and concurrently very short aurally. Performance artist Anna Rathbone sits alone among some of her fabric creations sewing something intricate and abstract; the video is silent and lasts for over three hours. Separately, and at any point during the video chosen by the viewer, there is a five minute spoken piece which is virtually a poem. It is a eulogy to the departed person who shares the narrator’s passions and view of the world; the speaker lists all the things she would like to say and not to say to her. There’s a reference to an inquest implying that the death is through suicide. I’ll be honest and say I did not watch the whole video but found the spoken element a poignant memorial.
The Season Of Burning Things is a collection of what seems to be, to my untutored eyes anyway, randomly chosen still and video images. Artist collaborators Asmaa Jama and Gouled Ahmed have taken aspects of Somalian heritage to produce a visually striking collage but about which I can say little given that I have no cultural referencing points. Maybe that’s the entire point that they are making in which case I can only apologise for my lack of understanding. Despite that, I found it arrestingly different, and it can certainly just be appreciated for its visual opulence.
I was back on safer ground with Retail Therapy by Ash Kayser which plays out as an animated drawing of a mobile phone screen. A new shopping app promises instant delivery and the protagonist is quickly sucked into a world of spending beyond current funding; this leads to demands for rent not paid and the sinking feeling that all those moments of instant gratification are of rather less worth than they appear. Even deleting the app doesn’t end the company messages. It’s a darkly witty little fable that for many people will have a ring of unfortunate truth. Indeed, as someone who is currently struggling with getting a package delivered I could identify completely, though I have to say that instant delivery just might have solved my problem. This one is only available through Instagram’s TV facility and is a delightful short watch.
Lessons Taught To Boys And Girls by Muneera Pilgrim concerns what society hands down and teaches us about rape. In some ways it is the most instantly theatrically recognisable of the quintet as it is filmed on the stage of the Bristol Old Vic. However, there is no narrative arc or sense of characterisation. The five “performers” are women of differing ages which shows the problem’s universality. It’s really a subject that can’t be encompassed within a piece of less than five minutes but perhaps it is a useful reminder of how society can apparently normalise such activity for both women and men.
There have, by now, been plenty of pieces which deal either literally or metaphorically with coronavirus, but I think A Love Letter To Penelope Cruizer must be the first I’ve seen about the debilitating effects of long Covid. Caroline Williams is a sufferer, although she once used to climb mountains as a hobby. No longer able to, she often has to use a mobility scooter which she nicknames Penelope Cruizer. Her tale looks at the relationship which builds between them particularly through the “voice” of the vehicle (engagingly spoken by Monica Vieru). It’s a quirkily enjoyable piece which uses familiar tropes from rom coms to put its message across and reinforces that for a proportion of the population the effects of the virus will be ongoing throughout their existence. It’s good to see Williams’ wry take on all this because it can’t have been an easy realisation to have come to.
Sudden Connections is the sort of project which doesn’t take a great deal of time to engage directly with but will leave you contemplating its various messages and ideas for much longer afterwards. And if it can get us to think more carefully about suicide, cultural heritage, financial capability, rape and the ongoing effects of the pandemic then it will have achieved its aim.