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Moving Pictures

What’s that you see out of the corner of your eye? Is the painting . . . moving? In Florence Peake’s “Factual Actual,” the artist and her collaborators break down the boundaries between inanimate objects and living people with calm assurance and a dash of whimsy.

 

Performance

Florence Peake: “Factual Actual” 

Place

Fruitmarket, Edinburgh, UK, October 22, 2023

Words

Róisín O'Brien

Eve Stainton, Katye Coe, Charlie Ashwell, Rosalie Wahlfrid in Florence Peake's “Factual Actual” at Fruitmarket Warehouse, Edinburgh. Photograph by Chris Scott

Both an installation and performance, “Factual Actual” was first performed at the National Gallery in London in 2021 and then re-interpreted for Southwark Park Galleries. It now comes to the Warehouse space of the Fruitmarket Gallery in Edinburgh on a bustling Sunday afternoon, the whine of the trains in Waverley station dimly audible in the background. The arts continue to suffer in Britain (this morning, Greenwich Dance in London announced it would be closing by the end of the year), but the seats all around the edge of the warehouse for Peake’s performance are filled up. A result, partly, of the free entrance fee perhaps?  

In the space, heavy, painted canvasses are suspended from the exposed beams. The dancers (dressed in a mixture of scribbled tunics, neon leggings and crisp blue jeans with white sneakers) begin the performance by operating a series of pulleys to lower and erect the canvases at different speeds. The intricacy of the operation increases: the ropes start to cross and carve into the space, breaking up the monotony of the viewing field. The dancers start to interact with the canvases, getting caught underneath the crumpling shapes or wrapping themselves up in folds. 

Katye Coe, Rosalie Wahlfrid, Eve Stainton, Nikki Tomlinson in Florence Peake's “Factual Actual” at Fruitmarket Warehouse, Edinburgh. Photograph by Chris Scott

At points, they rush out to the audience to cover them with a canvas, almost like a chid with a blanket-tent at a sleepover. As the cover is pulled away, the dancers stay stuck in their reaching shapes, creating a new architecture to apprehend, the constricted stillness made starker through the contrast of their previously busy bodies. In amongst this playful sculpting, one dancer covered in luridly painted cardboard moves, ever so slowly, around the edge. Painting comes alive.  

Indeed, there’s such a finely tuned aliveness in the performance, I wonder if the dancers likewise change their roles or positions for each performance. All of the performers take their tasks of remoulding the space with care and without too much solemnity; their interactions with front row audience members are kind and gently conspiratorial as they ask them to pick a line of text from one of the books on art theory they offer around the room. Later in the performance, the audiences’ selections will be read out by one of the dancers, now topless, who is smeared with blue paint by another performer.

 

Iris Yi Po Chan, Katye Coe, Rosalie Wahlfrid and Charlie Ashwell in Florence Peake's “Factual Actual” at Fruitmarket Warehouse, Edinburgh. Photograph by Chris Scott

The dance initially seems the weakest part of the performance, losing some of the specificity of the opening, until the dancers start to move from individual shapes (perhaps emulating arch or overwrought bodily positions within painting) to syncing up in the centre. They link limbs together, breathing and sensing each other. The introduction of a loop pedal creates a fun mixture of body sounds, throat singing and object scraping that adds to the complex unravelling of the room. The performance ends with the moving painting stepping back onto their central plinth, and the canvases re-erected but with the space slightly messier than before. It’s a satisfying dramaturgical and visual closure. 

Iris Yi Po Chan, Katye Coe, Eve Stainton, Rosalie Wahlfrid and Charlie Ashwell in Florence Peake's “Factual Actual” at Fruitmarket Warehouse, Edinburgh. Photograph by Chris Scott

I really enjoy the performance. I enjoy the precision of the world’s mechanics. I enjoy the play between stillness and movement, allowing the painted world (which can seem so abstract or unreachable behind a display case) to come alive and be imbued with humour, to be anthropomorphised as we search for the human shapes in the crumbling canvases. I can see what the performance is doing (and it is doing it very well), but I am unsure what the effect is. The answer is perhaps an academic one, or is not needed—perhaps the immersion in the curated world is enough. And yet there’s something in the performance that seems to want me to make this jump to theorising—maybe the dense blurb in the programme notes, or the use of historical and theoretical texts within the performance. For now, I’ll stick with the vivid blue plaint and the creaking ropes, and see if something else emerges in time. 

Róisín O'Brien


Róisín is a dance artist and writer based in Edinburgh, Scotland. She regularly writes for Springback Magazine, The Skinny and Seeing Dance, and has contributed to The Guardian and Film Stories. She loves being in the studio working on a new choreography with a group of dancers, or talking to brilliant people in the dance world about their projects and opinions. She tries not to spend too much time obsessing over Crystal Pite.

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