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
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
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 stripped 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