performance work

ICA, London
20 February 2007

Re-enactments of historical events have become a cult form in current art. Urban cultural memory, documentation's tricky relationship with a transient event and the meaning of authenticity in a culture full of mediation are often its themes. And it also gives everyone an excuse to replay history the way they want it - wish fulfilment as a critique of the way things have turned out. Artist Jo Mitchell's Concerto for Voice & Machinery II, the re-enactment of a concert by members of the Berlin post-punk industrial band Einsturzende Neubauten at the ICA on 3 January 1984, perfectly embodied the peculiar mix of unreal euphoria and sober self-reflection that lies at the heart of such impulses.
As a teenage fan I'd always read about this legendary gig at the ICA, where Neubauten's Marc Chung, Alexander Hacke, F.M. Einheit and associates - including Genesis P Orridge and Frank Tovey - began with a musical score for drill, angle-grinder, cement mixer and other tooling, and ended with a confused half-riot and the ICA staff pulling the plug on the PA. The gig's odd place in the band's history is full of misapprehensions; advertised as a Neubauten concert, it turned out to have been specially commissioned by the ICA from Chung. There is no film or audio record of it, and little photographic documentation: it survives only in (contradicting) recollections.
So the re-enactment is a strange experience. There's the voodoo of being in a place which has already witnessed what is about to happen. Actors walk on under bright lights, pick up various power tools. Drills howl into concrete blocks, an arc of sparks flies from the grinder worrying a metal rail; it's loud, impressive and random. Then a road pounder is started up, its huge bass rhythm putting the other noises into a sort of structure, and everything weirdly teeters on the edge of becoming music; you remember why Neubauten's post-music is still so effective, and why it was so extreme back then.
After a while things lose shape and coherence, and it's not clear whether the gig has ended; a piano gets smashed up, and the narrative of an event's disintegration becomes the event itself - one actor, as then-ICA staff, remonstrates with others, in the role of the then-ICA crowd, as they perform the tearing up of the front of the wooden stage, while we, the now-ICA crowd, look on amused, embarrassed and uncertain of what we're witnessing, and the now-ICA security guy has to step in to stop one of the 'real' audience join in with the staged stage-smashing.
Unexpectedly Mitchell's Concerto was also a re-enactment of the ICA as it existed in 1984, played against the ICA of today, highlighting how much looser and unscrutinised marginal culture could be back then, and the constraints that institutions like the ICA now have to operate within. This time, precautionary earplugs were handed out, even though the sound was hardly extreme; this time, the whole event only just satisfied the demands of Westminster City Council's killjoy health & safety officer; and in our health-obsessed present, we walk grinning out of the gig into the ICA's now ice-white bar, where smoking has just been banned.
Towards the end, some witty member of the audience shouts, "Encore!"; the tone is self-mocking, ironic, aware of the absurdity of the situation. But in the same moment, the call for more is sincere and hopeful, knowing that if such a moment of avant-grade elation happened once, it could happen again; even in these culturally soporific and straitened times.

© J.J. Charlesworth 2007 for Art Review, Issue 11, May 2007

(excerpt from)
Time-Out No. 1908, March 14-20 2007

It's a Tuesday evening in the ICA theatre and the atmosphere is palpably tense. The billed performance, 'Concerto for Voice & Machinery II', is already ten minutes late and among the mainly young (with a smattering of fortysomethings) audience, there are a few who are vocalising their displeasure at the delay with shouts and whistles. There's a knackered-looking piano on the stage, but that's the only recognisable instrument in a set-up including drills, saws and a cement-mixer that looks part scrap-metal merchant's and part builder's yard.
When the seven performers finally appear a few minutes later, to appreciative whoops and hollers, the reason for the optional earplugs becomes clear. For the next ten minutes bricks are violently split apart with drills, the floor is mercilessly pummelled with a jackhammer, lumps of rock are lobbed into the cement-mixer and logs of wood and metal fencing are attacked with a chainsaw - causing clouds of sawdust and spectacular hails of orange sparks that shoot across the stage. The audience watch politely, if a little nervously - with the exception of some rather aggressive jostling from a tall young man with slicked-back blond hair, who's hyped up, edgy and seems on the verge of exploding into violence. Just as the sounds almost start to become rhythmic (with the piano being battered with a crowbar) a scuffle breaks out, and the blond man makes a lunge for the stage and starts tussling with the performers, trying to grab their equipment. Within minutes he's ripping the front of the stage apart. Others in the crowd join in until another man from the audience gets on stage, appealing for calm. As the band exit, there's still an air of apprehension, and we're not quite sure whether the performance has ended. Eventually we all file out silently to the bar. If most of the audience seem strangely unperturbed, it was because we knew what was coming. This wasn't a performance that had spiralled out of control; this was an example of an increasingly popular form of art: re-enactment.
Tonight's apparently chaotic events have actually been painstakingly reconstructed using photographs, first-hand accounts and rumour relating to a 1984 gig by industrial post-punk German band Einsturzende Neubauten, on the same ICA stage. The original performance of the composed concerto had descended into anarchy when the band hit upon the decidedly unorthodox idea of drilling through the stage to get to a system of tunnels underneath, which supposedly led to Buckingham Palace. The audience, feeding off the band's energy, joined in and began ripping the stage apart.
The version I've just witnessed has been orchestrated by artist Jo Mitchell using performance artists and actors, as part of the ICA's performing arts programme. Mitchell is interested in the way the original gig became mythologised, with conflicting accounts of who was on stage and who initiated the mayhem - and wanted to see if and how an iconic event like that could be re-presented. Her performance is the latest in a series of commissioned re-enactments spearheaded by the ICA's recently departed performing arts director, Vivienne Gaskin. 'Re-enactment resides in the space between myth-making and cultural memory, and is about a repositioning of the artist within performance,' Gaskin explains. 'The artist is no longer on stage but off-stage, and in a role that's more director than author. I'm interested in closing down the distance between audience and performer, and it seems that the best way to do this is to be able to suspend disbelief. These kinds of events create a virtual reality in which it's possible to achieve that and if you can suspend disbelief, something very magical happens.'…………………
Back at the ICA, the gig's post-mortem is underway at the bar. I've found a photographer who covered the original event for the music press…..'The original was a lot scarier', she admits. 'Not only because there was a lot more dust and fumes (health and safety restrictions had prevented that this time), but also because no one knew how far it would go and where it would end. And the performers didn't really seem to give off the energy of the original band.' I'd agree that the event lacked real edge, but Jo Mitchell doesn't feel this means that the re-enactment had failed. 'The fact that we had to adhere to strict health and safety regulations highlights other issues about then and now, in relation to social and bureaucratic changes,' she says. 'In a way, the impossibility of recreating the event was part of it. As is the fact that maybe people feel it didn't live up to the original. I don't think that diminishes it, because it means that the myth continues'.

© Helen Sumpter 2007

Dada-anarchy choreographed or please don't hurt the piano.

To learn the value of what is lost
to learn not the value of meaning
but the value of what cannot be reproduced
or seen (again).

Peggy Phelan, Unmarked, p. 152, 1993, Routledge, London.

Jo Mitchell's cheerful re-construction of de-construction was a success because it was underpinned by der Fehler, as was the original, now mythologized event.
The chain saw 'fucked up' in true Cageian style for as the guru said, if you amplify a cactus you must surrender control to the cactus. Jo's first reaction was disappointment - the actor had travelled repeatedly from Glasgow for rehearsals, she explained - she felt that she had let him down but true to the original intensity, he found other ways to clear a space through the piano and the error became the saviour from gleich.

However, as Peggy Phelan noted such a revisiting must begin with the knowledge of its own failure for it cannot be achieved. Performance's only life is in the present. Hence, such an enterprise seeks to experience and engage with desire for that which is already lost, and of that fact, Jo Mitchell seemed very aware. She could only be, as Jane Blocker expressed  in What the Body Costs (2004, University of Minnesota Press, London ppxi,xiii), a 'second degree reader…engaged in the task of reading others' skins, of texts, of images…the inevitable gaps, unexplained or half-forgotten details'.
Jo's performance became a supreme example of Roland Barthes' image of the disappeared event  (The Pleasures of the Text) as a provocative momentary glimpse of flesh where the garment gapes; her actors briefly grasped the elusive rawness and power of the original and through this fleeting presence,(it is this flash itself which seduces, or rather: the staging of an appearance-as-disappearance) and her ragpicking of the tattered threads of the archives, Jo thus created an intermittent erotic excitement, where absent bodies flirted with those present, leaving us as partially satisfied voyeurs.

We were three days into the Apocalyptic year of 1984, with Reagan and Thatcher's terrifying friendship making me wish that I had invested in a kitchen table large enough to shield my husband, daughter, pregnant self and cat from the consequences of their button-eager fingers, (despite two reassuring visits to the USSR where I found peaceful, friendly, busy folk bringing up kids too).  The ICA, on the frontline of safely transgressory arts, decided to present a Concerto for Voice and Machinery as part of the Big Brother Rock Week. Commissioned by Michael Morris, the site programmer, with Mark Chung of Einstürzende Neubauten, the work was scored by Chung and F.M. Einheit for cement mixers, jack hammers, chain saws, angle grinders, breaker drills, banyo hammers, road drills, a metal locker room cabinet, a section of a tree trunk, milk bottles, bricks, loud hailers, a gently quiet upright piano and performers, Frank Tovey, Mark Chung, FM Einheit, Gila Groeger, Stevo, Alex Hacke and a ICA- banned Genesis P.Orridge. Blixa Bargeld made a last minute appearance to scream 'sehnsucht' into a microphone amidst the sawdust, petrol smells, smoke, sparks and chaos as the ICA officials unplugged the power and closed the show.

Varying reports suggest that Einheit jumped from the stage inciting others to drill through to the Royal Family's nuclear hideaway under the ICA's dressing rooms, that Stevo was goading  the onlookers and that an audience member had called for an attack on the 'fascist institution' and attempted to initiate this. Others suggest that the 25 minute long concerto was all but finished, the players had left the stage, and that it was a few spectators who attempted a bit of de-construction jeopardising the PA system. Eye witness accounts differ wildly about everything from the length of the event, who was present (many still expected a full Neubauten gig despite the hand written notice disclaiming this, pinned to the door) and who did what owing partly to the consumption of 'mother's little helpers', the movement in and out of the space (Mark Chung mentioned the illicit late arrival of scores of people through a side door) and the dust filled air.

So  every account of this post-Punk Dadaism differs - hence the legend and the creative impossibility of Jo's task despite her incredibly thorough research through bootleg recordings, photographs, witness statements, the availability of Mark's score and her imaginatively close direction of the event.
The attention to detail extended from the carefully arranged 'set' of useful beauty to the 'costume' with Joel Cahen (Chung) and Nick Rawling (Einheit) wearing tailcoats and Jacopo Miliani's (Bargeld) thin frame coated in black, with Caveian fallen- preacher dog collar, shocked hair and hunched stance over the microphone.

 Was bleibt?

Certainly the mischievous nature of the original coupled with its extreme intensity and unplanned spontaneity can be partially grasped from the 'archives' - there is (thankfully) no video evidence so the myths can co-exist. Regardless of whatever actually happened and those there cannot agree citing a 'if you can remember the sixties' attitude, the revisit was of immense fascination and excitement, both because of the sincerity of the creator/director, Jo Mitchell and because of the committed and very talented participants who came from a cross section of the performing arts world.

Having badgered Jo to let me into rehearsals for my PhD on Einstürzende Neubauten, I was immediately caught up in the edgy excitement of a work which in some ways had to exceed the original in being a conglomeration of recalls and attitudes. Here were art-based folk, on average thirty years my junior, children of those dark times, as I had been a child of the sixties' lost promise. Yet within those with whom I spoke, there was still a 'sehnsucht', a joyful anger, a willingness to use their art to transgress. I felt as one who had not survived the flood, who had gone under, and here were those who had emerged and still wanted to swim against the tide. Here were representatives of those generations to whom I had taught Drama often doubting that my planted seeds of questioning could fight off the proliferation of glittering consumer weeds. Seeds, from somewhere, had obviously rooted.

They were eager to point out to me that the original players were cheerful in their destruction, one even quoted Walter Benjamin; they focused my eyes on the smiles and lack of aggression camera-caught  (and arranged like a storyboard across the black walls) on doers and watchers as that line of spectatorship blurred. (Unlike the rather unfortunately posed looks of moody anger on these performers' faces in the press photograph for the re-enactment on ICA's website which gave a rather different reading, or did it? One re-collector stressed that the adjective 'aggressive' was the only suitable one which she could apply to the original performers.)
These 2007 interpreters enthusiastically talked to me in Artaudian terms about the Dionysian immediacy, the desire to go beyond rational thought, while still maintaining a discipline within the direct connection with the activity. They yearned to infect themselves and the new secondary audience who would witness this replay of performer and player-audience. They also saw the ICA officials  in the role again of the potential spoilers who must be appeased and these latter seemed willing to wear the caps of the  oppressors insisting that the carefully muted dress rehearsal viewed by the Westminster Health and Safety inspectors was repeated 'on the night'.
Yet this dress rehearsal was still most memorable as a performance; by then I knew how carefully scored and rehearsed the work was while still leaving Löcher/holes for possibility; it was not about Dionysus dismemberment or brief relief but more a Nietzschean dance against gravity, it was not a quaint historicisation which I feared but a new gig, a new explosion and the edginess of the ICA staff reaffirmed this. If this carefully prepared machinery, all these protective measures of gloves, masks, air extractors, fire extinguishers would fail, would the audience step in again, would the planned silence produce new shouts of 'you started it'?  How could the original failure be successfully failed again or fail differently or fail better? What could be expected of a 2007 audience and what were their individual motivations for attending?

My observations deduced that there was a great age and dress range, many carried coats and rucksacks as if they had come from afar, many arrived late, very few wore the traditional Goth aura of a Neubauten concert; they remained quiet, still, attentive, even during the long opening wait and breakdown mid action, they did not riot but applauded at the end as if at the theatre and quietly filed out to the bar. Some were reading the booklet with care. A few left early - difficult with an event of around 20 minutes. On their part there was no transgression; they observed the Mohicans's well-executed onslaught and frustration as a recreated performance much as they would a NT actor knowing that he is in role again, as yesterday, as tomorrow, but when s/he goes home tonight they do not fear that he will smother his wife or bargain too long for her son's life. The potential for a new Millennium riot talked about by the performers did not seem even remotely possible; no longer was shattering the harmony a route to shattering the social system. This sober wine tasting spectatorship knew the rules and the boundaries; the ICA had nothing to fear. The Apocalypse was long gone dead.
Virginie Sélavy (interview with Blixa Bargeld speculated beforehand can the artists really conjure up the same dangerously exciting atmosphere or will it just be a sterile, sanitized retread of the events? Will the crowd be mainly chin-stroking art types taking in the infernal racket with blasé detachment or will the performers stir up another riotous reaction in the audience? If her first descriptive of the spectators became fairly accurate, then so did her first descriptive of the performance itself, for the noise, smell, dust, sparks, the gleefully, committed, intense yet  playfilled performances of the those dopplegangers, the erotic thudding of the earth pounder and screams and wails of the ghosts of Gila and Tovey gave me a secondary glimpse into a seductive missing void of absent bodies and brought into focus my work on EN and those throughline questions- is this still musik? what noise does this make? will this collapse structure?

Another missing event conjured up by two members of Neubauten and on which my study also focuses, took place inside the steel cavity of a Schöneberg autobahnbrücke on June 1st 1980; it has been carefully and lovingly described to me by Andrew Unruh with images of bikes with baskets, quests to borrow batteries, long dawn hours from midnight to 6 am, screaming, beating, striking, strumming, unwitnessed, unrepeatable, cassette-recorded; then recreated a year later for a video evidence. This too, was about transgression; a forbidden space, a non-musical site, a playful anarchy in 'is this music?'

The ICA brevity, in comparison, with those long dark-dawning hours of June 1st 1980, asks the same question in a more public fashion in a space which cried out to be challenged, in spite of, because of, its very liberalism in the face of Thatcherism; both lost being theres challenge the hatespeech of the Cold War, of a divided world encapsulated in Berlin, a post-conflict generation struggling to create a parent-free identity which would not/could not repeat the Horror, crying out for some kind of utopia.
The gig which balances these and the one at which I was 'there' has to be the Supporters' Grundstueck (November 4th 2004), for it was still pushing out the boundaries of what is music, still playing the site, although if the first example metaphorically deconstructed the icon of Western Capitalism borrowed from Hitler, (the autobahn of free travel/ commerce and escape), the second literally hacked at the all too compliant liberal Arts Establishment, this last took on a controversial structure, iconic for the losers, condemned to 'ruckbau' by the winners in their rewrite of history. This time, the site was not attacked but gently tapped, stroked, coaxed, amplified, softened with light and filled with a 100 voices in a melancholic yearning for a social utopia; its rusty intestines taking on a new beauty which somehow captured the long claimed positiveness of Neubauten's life-filled destructiveness.
And here too the audience refused to leave, feeling that the gig was incomplete, but instead of (possibly) putting their energies into dismantling the site, they continued to play on Unruh's drum tables with a physical commitment and dedication worthy of Neubauten's own ethos, proud of their resulting 'wounds' and blisters.

One ICA official commented to me after the Concerto Re-enactment that it was successful because it had been exactly the same as the previous day's rehearsal! I prefer Alexander Hacke's recall of the original - it felt ritualistic, meditative, like we were samurai….so we failed……(The Guardian, 16/02/07).

In 1984 it had been 'Squatters' music' both as children's play and (to butcher Heiner Müller's quote on Pina Bausch), a thorn in the senses; given its new head, its afterlife could still make  a difference or (to butcher another quote- Bargeld's this time) offer 'the unthinkable'. Perhaps, it needs to be more thorny so that we have to again, hören mit schmerzen.

© Jenny Shryane, 23/02/07.

This is a Q & A which took place with Pil & Galia Kollectiv, April 2007

P&G: Were you aware of Vivienne Gaskin's other re-enactment projects when you applied for the ICA commission? What similarities and differences do you see between your work and Iain and Jane's, Jeremy Deller's or Rod Dickinson's?

JM: Yes I was aware of all the re-enactments although have never seen/experienced any of them 1st-hand and obviously Jeremy Deller's being an Artangel one and not an ICA one. Ok, without wanting to sound obvious the similarities in terms of re-enacting would of course be an interest in scrutinizing a cultural event which for various reasons and to varying degrees, has taken on a broader mythical status but also has a specific, peculiar and pertinent relationship to each artist. Whereas Deller & Dickinson have more of a connection with the folk-art side of re-enactments and have turned their attention to socio-political events, there seems more of a tendency in Iain & Jane's work and my own (so far) to look within a more pop-cultural archive for certain reference points and narratives. I think one of the most crucial distinctions arises when one considers what might be a pivotal aspect of re-enactments which is the "suspension of disbelief" and a point that Vivienne raised in the panel discussion - which interpreting it in my own words; possibly posits that phenomenon as the zenith of the experience. My work was specifically and strategically "staged" in the (same) ICA theatre (as the original) and as much as it was a "musical" performance was almost primarily and evidently, a "theatrical" construct although I was always interested in how this might bleed out.
Ultimately, maybe I doubt the "suspension of disbelief".

P&G: Is there a particular relevance to music in your practice in general? Is music an especially apt medium for re-enactment?

JM: Music or associative aspects of it surface in my work from time to time as do filmic references and film music because they offer iconic moments, images and text from which to explore other narratives. Also for me it is a relationship between the personal and something more symbolic but in terms of the Concerto, the music was only one aspect of the whole concept albeit a very pivotal one.
Yes, I think music is a very apt medium for re-enactments as it's the art-form that probably repeats itself the most, quite narcissistic really.

P&G: In the discussion panel at the ICA some of the speakers expressed the opinion that re-enactments are in part an attempt to rekindle the 'magic' of the theatrical event and to re-discover a moment before the apathy of the audience. Do you agree with these assessments? Why do you think audiences find it harder now to relate to performances?

JM: I don't agree with this viewpoint or rather it is not particularly relevant to the Concerto; a re-kindling of some kind of "magic" only makes sense coming from a romantic and almost nostalgic position which possibly some of the re-enactments tap in to but which wasn't of interest to me. If anything they and it may create a rupture in our viewing and witnessing in relationship to the idea of the authentic experience and in this sense challenge what might be seen as an apathetic consumption of experiences. I am more interested in how they problematize the relationship between the "real" and the "represented", more akin to a Brechtian notion of the estrangement effect and this might fluctuate through experiencing an event such as a re-enactment.
I'm not entirely convinced that audiences find it harder to relate to performances now but if indeed they do, then maybe this has something to do with their existential and phenomenological possibilities which technology on the whole has co-opted now and we find it safer and easier not to be confronted with ourselves through "live" performance. Or maybe it's just a culture of cool that conditions us as slightly distant and indifferent.
Are we all too nonchalant?

P&G: The original music of Einsturzende Neubauten was already seen as a nostalgic lament of the loss of the heavy industries from Western European view. What does it mean for you, then, to re-enact it today in the capital of the creative industries which replaced them?

JM: I think it's important to say here that I wasn't technically re-enacting Einsturzende Neubauten or specifically an intrinsic Neubauten performance per se. This was Concerto for Voice & Machinery past and present and so must be seen within a broader context, which was back in '84 already a one-off commission by an arts establishment with (as Michael Morris suggested in the panel discussion) a certain ironic title given by himself. This is possibly why Blixa and other EN members weren't interested in taking part (initially anyway) and why there has been a reluctance by them to embrace it as part of their repertoire - it/ their music was already being co-opted and frame-worked to a certain extent by an increasingly liberal and developing artistic centre. In a way for me it is taking it full-circle, a natural "conclusion", an inevitable insertion into our fabric now, "acting" as a reminder to what has gone before but also signifying an aspect of redundancy too. Redundancy of that kind of nostalgia, redundancy of the ravenous craving for the new and the next thing and maybe even ultimately, a redundancy of re-enacting. A friend of mine was over from Berlin for the re-enactment and found it hard to relate to it as a music composition because of the over-familiarity of the noises/machinery which she is surrounded by on a day-today basis in a rapidly developing city and having rehearsed for 3 weeks next to a building-site in north Hoxton, the Concerto could well be seen as the soundtrack to our lives right now.

P&G: Is history always written by the winners?

JM: "He who controls the present, controls the past. He who controls the past, controls the future."
George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four

P&G: Since the event on the night was not confined to what happened on stage, at what point did you know the re-enactment had ended? Or are we still 're-enacting', stuck in a weird time loop between now and 1984?

In relationship to Michael Morris' citing of the psychoanalytic understanding of re-enactment as an acting-out of that which is repressed then maybe we are always and still, re-enacting within and beyond this particular "weird time loop". As far as the Concerto is concerned, there was definitely no particular point at which the re-enactment ended (which is what I was interested in) and as far as I know my "acting" but "real" ICA official was still defending his actions of closing down the gig prematurely long after the theatre doors were closed when he was enjoying a beer in the bar.

P&G: How important to you was the understanding of what actually happened at the original gig or did you pay more attention to rumours and stories?

JM: My understanding of what actually happened at the original gig was exactly through the rumours and the stories, both conflicting and consensual - that was very important.

P&G: Has the real ever existed? Has Baudrillard killed it off in 1978?

JM: And maybe it can rise again, resurrected through his death!

What did you think of what was suggested in the discussion, that the re-enactment gave the EN gig cultural value that did not exist in an otherwise unimportant event?

JM: I don't agree that the original EN gig was an entirely unimportant event, it might well have not existed as a successful and important music performance within Neubauten's repertoire and/or the industrial scene at the time but it had an impact and its resonance has proliferated. If the re-enactment has added to its cultural value then this is good (even if this doesn't extend far beyond the reaches of an "art audience") and there are very conflicting reports already as to whether this is true or not but the fact that it has instigated a certain amount of debate and re-consideration is of value.

P&G: Are we doomed to look back henceforth? Was progress an aberration, or is the notion of the end of history just a phase? Will art ever regain its faith in primary events and the myth of originality?

JM: A Janus type creature indeed, looking back always as we move forwards which is why science-fiction can't help but look retro and progress should embrace this oxymoron.
Faith in anything is there to be challenged from any angle and if potent enough then it grows stronger and understands itself more.
Originality and repetition are intrinsically bound-together so both myths can co-exist and be believed in, simultaneously.

© Pil & Galia Kollectiv & Jo Mitchell, 2007

The following text is a Q&A which took place between Jo Mitchell & C.S. Leigh for Syntax's Spectacle issue. September 2008

CS: How long did you think about CONCERTO before actually putting it together?

JM: The Concerto was an idea and a work which I developed in specific response to an open call for submissions which the ICA had put out for proposals for a re-enactment to be commissioned by them. This would be part of their Live & Performing Arts programme & would follow on from other re-enactments such as Forsyth & Pollard's Ziggy Stardust & The Cramps which I knew of but hadn't seen 1st-hand & Rod Dickinson's re-enactments. I had always wanted to do a re-enactment and since alot of my previous work had touched on notions of re-staging such as my early Girl on a Motorcycle photograph, it seemed like an inevitable development in my practice & a way of exploring another medium (performance) within a specific context. Immediately I knew I only wanted to negotiate something, some past event which had a direct relationship with the commissioning body (the ICA) and so my decision process was almost immediate when coming up with the Concerto. I have an interest in Neubauten's music anyway and this was a now mythologised & sub-iconographic event, which had gone done in recent history as a somewhat notorious performance & was an event that I'd always known about although in such little detail ie. 'didn't they trash the stage & nearly destroy the ICA before the gig was pulled'! This was my only knowledge of this legendary riotous affair and it seemed such an exciting proposition to try to get the ICA to re-commission (the original event was also a specifically commissioned gig) a performance which had already proved problematic to say the least. From submitting the proposal in Feb 2006 I continued thinking about its almost perfectly cyclical and inevitable return before being awarded the commission in the April. The rest, they say - is very recent history.

CS: Do you think of the piece as a remake or reenactment or does it feel like a totally new piece to you or is it both?

JM: It was commissioned as and performed within the context of a re-enactment but it challenges the very notion of what a re-enactment constitutes as it was always (going to be) impossible to re-enact in any mimetic or conventional way. This of course is partly why I chose it. I'm not sure what the difference might be between a remake & a re-enactment but if I were to assume that a remake takes an essential premise, story or narrative & reconfigures it, whereas a re-enactment 'attempts' to re-stage a specific event almost transplanting the historical context into the present to attain a degree of authenticity; then I would say the Concerto is situated somewhere between the two. This of course does constitute it as a completely new piece aswell especially since the intention (my artistic intention) was so different from that of the original performers.

CS: Was it difficult to get the ICA to agree to the reenactment?

JM: I was never convinced I would get the commission at all really - not because I didn't think it was a good idea or wouldn't be an interesting project; but because it would challenge all the institutional guidelines that had been challenged before and more so being 2007 instead of 1984. Because we live in a much more bureaucratic & Health & Safety-conscious/obsessed age now, I honestly thought that this would prove too challenging in those respects. And it was in a way, the piece was heavily compromised by those constraints but it happened and they were elements that went to making it a new piece of work and something very relevant to our age now, instead of a completely 'transplanted' simulacra from the 80's. That was an absolute impossibility and something that I wouldn't have found interesting at all. I was convinced it should happen because of its historical connection to the ICA itself and since the ICA always prides itself in being an avant-garde and cutting-edge institution, it obviously thought the same as me and realised that it would be an exciting project. I want to say though that I definitely didn't chose that particular event to pander to the possible vanity of the commissioning institution; for me it was absolutely part of the conceptual premise for realising a specific re-enactment, otherwise I think they can become quite incidental.

CS: Were there people at your reeenactment who were at the original? If so what were their reactions?

JM: Yes, there were actually quite a few people there at the re-enactment who had been witness to the original and 2 of those were part of the new Concerto stage performers. They had been teenagers at the original, watching and experiencing an amazingly chaotic & potentially dangerous performance who wanted to take part in the re-enactment - either as a way of re-living something influential from their younger years and/or being part of history in the re-making. It was fascinating just how much between the 2 of them, their accounts and memories differed as to what might have happened at the original and it was these discrepancies that became pivotal to the whole construction of the performance. There were also other people in the general audience who had been at the original too. A photographer who captured the 1984 gig for the NME and provided me with alot of images for my research & who came along to the re-enactment to photograph it again and whose images are on a music-pictures website. Unfortunately we had a falling-out and so her reactions to the event became very negative and this proved a big learning-curve for me in terms of working with so many different kinds of (professional) people. She had this belief that she almost owned, had copyrighted the original performers' actions by photographing them which is very extreme and tried to imply an authorship over aspects of the Concerto by saying she recognised stances or poses from her images. This was a difficult post-Concerto period. On a more positive note, there were a few of music journalists present who had been at and covered the original which was illuminating and I have to say, gave mine alot of press in an understandably very measured & questioning tone. One of the original performers and ex-member of Neubauten came over from Germany for it which was an honour for me as he had conceptualised and written the original and had been very supportive of my project, He loved it but said we got the 3 drills completely wrong which I tried to pursue him about but maybe I had taken it as far as I could by then.

CS: What do you think the piece means to an audience who does not know the original?

JM: It probably differs slightly as to whether they're coming from an art of a music background and interest, and I know at the re-enactment, there was definitely a mixture of both. At the panel discussion which we held at the ICA a couple of weeks later there was alot of discussion about the relationship between the original and mine, about authenticity, suspension of disbelief etc., and it became a very comparative debate for a while. A young, ex- fine-art student of mine who I don't think was even born then and certainly has no nostalgia about the 80's was very emphatic about the fact that he and his peers were much more interested in the actual constructedness of the (new) performance and how one would go about such a thing. It was definitely seen as a new and unique performance but obviously one that of course couldn't be thought of or talked about outside of its referential context.

CS: What were your fears if any about doing the performance?

JM: My main fear about the performance was not being able to 'pull it off'. It was the 1st time I'd worked on a live performance piece and the 1st time I'd worked with so many people, needing to manage them, choreograph them, enthuse them and just co-ordinate the whole thing. But not that that in itself proved difficult; I had such a great group of individual performers and personalities who were so totally committed to and enthused about the project anyway that they made that relatively easy and certainly incredibly enjoyable and fun. However, it came with a huge responsibility to them, the audience & myself that I really wanted to be able to do it justice, which in itself is a complicated & vague notion. What and/or how could it fail or succeed? There were no guidelines & the original performance in many ways was already seen as a 'failed' event and I'd chosen it partly because of its inability to become a mimetic & carbon-copy performance. Of course other fears accumulated as it developed such as budget, finding enough documentation etc to give it substance & the dreaded H & S issues which dominated the whole thing the nearer it got to the performance itself.

CS: Is the video representation another remake or do you consider it documentation?

JM: The video representation is not another remake as there was never any original moving footage so in this respect it is definitely documentation of a performance as opposed to Forsyth & Pollard's remake of the actual bootleg video footage from The Cramps concert. However, I am very interested in the possibility of it having its own life now as another artwork in itself and has been shown as part of a video & sculptural tableau and which, if I take the word 'remake' in your question to mean remake of the re-enactment, then this is definitely a possible status for it. It is a video edited from 3 different view-points of the Concerto and instead of showing it as a full-screen projection, I exhibited it on a monitor which represented the TV that was on-stage in the performance. The monitor was placed on a unit of steeldeck which represents the ICA stage and sculptural props of both live & fake drills were displayed alongside some concrete slabs similar to those in the re-enactment. This display then became both a representation of the Concerto as well as a re-staging of it albeit in a different form - object as event. This was activated further by a performance intervention from one of the Concerto performers drilling up the concrete slabs as part of the tableau.

CS:In which way/s do you feel the piece was successful in relation to your intention?  Were there disappointments or surprises?

JM: The piece was a mixture of successes and failures definitely and on a simple, really positive note - it was a complete success for me when it 'kicked-off' 15 mins late at 8.15pm; there were so many reasons why it could easily have not happened at all. Being more critical about it, I wished now I'd pushed it further and as I was discussing recently with a friend - it was very hard to gauge at what point would be too far for the ICA, for Westminster Health & Safety. This meant that the last few weeks especially were more or less consumed by incredibly compromising but to some extent, practical concerns and I suppose I wished I had been more resistant to and challenging of these issues & constraints. In terms of narrative, it did what I wanted it to do including the mix of choreography and improvisation from the performers and this worked really well, however there was a major fuck-up with the chainsaw which meant that the whole in the stage didn't happen towards the end which is a real shame. I was really disappointed about this on the night but when I mentioned it to the ex-Neubauten guy who was there, he said that he saw that fuck-up and failure as an authentic part of the re-enactment. They had many more machinery malfunctions on the night in 1984 apparently. The nice surprises were things like the interplay between staged and real audience and the roles that the real ICA security had to play alongside my staged ICA security. This became suitably confused. A really nice note was when one completely 'convinced' audience member challenged my fake ICA security back in the bar afterwards for pulling the gig early which of course was all part of the script. He really didn't know and I'm not mocking him for that it just meant that for me, it was a continuation of the interplay between stagedness & authenticity that I was hoping for but hadn't necessarily expected. In this respect I can't say I know exactly when the performance finished as apparently it was easier for my ICA security to apologise to the miffed audience member than to explain the construct of the re-enacted Concerto.

CS: How did you cast the Concerto?

JM: An open call for performers/musicians/artists/actors was sent out by the ICA (from a blurb I had written explaining the project & what would be involved) which ended up on lots of emails, newsletters etc so without having to do much myself, I was inundated with lots of phone calls daily and which went on for weeks. I'd have a 20-30min chat with everyone to get a feel of where they were coming from, what their interest was etc etc and then I made a short/long list for interviews out of that. the interviews/auditions were held at the ICA over a 3-day period (each lasting approx 10-15mins each) with myself, my partner & an ICA director on the panel - in the theatre space, so it was in the room where the performance would be happening. They were fun on the whole if a little exhausting with a whole range of performers/artistes who came along - some were amazing, some were really odd and lots thankfully were perfect & really fascinating people. A few really talented & successful performers were rejected almost because they would have too much of a personal agenda already, almost too fully formed in their own right. Alot who took part in the end had very specific experiences, backgrounds & interests but (& this of course was important) were able to a certain extent, relinquish a degree of control & personal identity - to become this eclectic group who formed & embodied the Concerto. Both stage & audience members alike.

copyright Jo Mitchell & CS Leigh 2008