Instead of wrapping up the narrative to Unexploded Ordnances, Split Britches does exactly what we need art that is set, and made, in troubled times to do - send us out with questions.

The prologue to the performance of Unexploded Ordnances is a ‘salute to history’ from Lois Weaver. It replaces the acknowledgement to indigenous peoples typically used in America and Canada – in Europe, they take a moment to acknowledge the history of the venue they are in. It is fitting also then to acknowledge the history, and resonance across the performance, of Split Britches themselves – formed in 1980 in New York City and working on feminist, lesbian identities. Both individually and as a team they have revolutionised and pushed forward performance art. Often postmodernist, deconstructive in their approach, they have been instrumental in driving both content and form, alongside influencing the academic analysis of performance.

Unexploded Ordnances Split Britches

Lois Weaver

In Unexploded Ordnances (#UXO), Peggy Shaw and Weaver perform as the bombastic general and ineffectual president, tying together the show across video clips, flights of fancy and audience interaction. Yes, audience interaction – the premise being that we are locked awaiting the end of the world. Rather than a ‘War Room’, we are in a ‘Situation Room’ and as a result (perhaps to try and solve the residual issues of our time), the twelve eldest audience members are invited to sit around the table and participate.

Unexploded Ordnances Split Britches
A performance which uses audience interaction to such a degree can clearly live or die on that – especially if it is not expertly managed. Weaver is deft at wrangling audience members, all of whom are engaged and willing – one even expressed he’d prepared for it guessing he might fall into the age bracket needed. Their participation is structured, in that their conversation is given specific windows, but open enough that anything could, and does, come up. From the broadly political – the exorcism of politicians being a popular theme – to the personal and touching,

“How do I raise my daughter as a feminist?

“How do I raise her not to hate me?

“Am I allowed to swear?”

This humour is carried across Weaver and Shaw’s interactions in the piece, a mix of drawing on their inspiration Dr Strangelove, a plethora of popular culture references (who doesn’t love a Big Bopper song?) and political nods. It’s a mixture of comedic sketches between the pair, referencing the relationship between the President and the General, and abstract discussions of relationships. In keeping with Dr Strangelove, Unexploded Ordnances is at times surreal, at times hilarious, but always engaging.

The idea of including the audience truly widens the discussion potential. But Unexploded Ordnances also offers a ‘safe space’ to air those grievances and propose solutions. We look to performance, to art, in times of great distress or political upheaval. The conclusion, by virtue of not being able to find an ending, is all the more powerful. Instead of wrapping up the narrative, Split Britches does exactly what we need art that is set, and made, in troubled times to do – send us out with questions.

 

 

★★★★★

Unexploded Ordnances runs at the Wales Millennium Centre, Cardiff until 31 March 2018, before coming to The Barbican Centre, London on 15 – 19 May 2018. For further information, please visit the venue website.