12 November 2015
Aaron Williamson performed his Unlimited-commissioned work Demonstrating the World at Experimentica15, a five-day festival which took place in Cardiff 4-8 November. Chloe Phillips entered this bizarre world, finding plenty to both baffle and delight a range of audiences.
The first thing that struck me about this piece was the many ways in which it could be perceived: for fellow artists, a piece of conceptual art; for punters, a (rather absurd) furniture demonstration; and for disabled observers, a comment on a world that, by design, excludes us.
The performance is formatted as a live YouTube how-to video, which instantly creates a sense of familiarity for most, but within this framework the content of the demonstration is quite alien.
Williamson has constructed a very literal language that involves describing specific hand shapes – an in-depth analysis of the physical movements one undertakes to complete specific everyday tasks.
The furniture he showcases is unique to say the least – a chair with 'selfie' capabilities, a shaving cabinet-cum-vacuum cleaner, all with a sci-fi retro feel as if they were out of a Martian 50's Habitat.
The absurdity of being told exactly how to sit in a chair or open a door appeals on different levels: to non-disabled observers it's entertaining and unique, giving the sense of the familiar juxtaposed with the unfamiliar.
For those of us who recognise that those 'everyday' movements aren't universal, and in fact can be incredibly complex for some, the performance is like a cheeky wink to tell us we're in on the joke.
Access is clearly paramount to Williamson, who is keen to include as much audio description as possible and had many showings BSL-interpreted.
The style of literal description he employs for his physical movements is ideal for AD, and in future developments I'd like to see this language applied when demonstrating the furniture itself. It seemed to me that the furniture design and one's physical interaction with it were two separate concepts – it was explained first how you operate the furniture, then the pieces with their quirky multi-functions were shown. Although it's important to acknowledge this hand-shape descriptive language as a conceptual device in its own right, I think that the performance might have been more cohesive access-wise if this language were applied throughout the entire performance.
Many passers-by weren't sure whether this was a furniture demonstration or a performance. Williamson is concerned for it not to be a 'show' – blurring the lines between performance and reality – and his flexible and terrifically engaging style of delivery accompanied by a 'set' that is mobile, adaptable and pertinent (a trailer) facilitates this.
For me, this is important in conveying one of the key messages: what most people think of as a simple action is broken down into many component parts. In explaining it this way the audience is made to think about the reality of that process in a different way; we perceive a different reality, one that is at once 'other' but 'same'.
It's definitely a piece that stays with you. It's thought-provoking and engaging with a strong conceptual artistic vision and, equally, generally very accessible. Aaron Williamson's intelligent multi-layered piece will appeal to a very wide audience.