Text by Lauren Velvick
In a small, high ceilinged room at the Chinese Arts Centre, various tools and implements are aligned neatly on a table, whilst a loop pedal joins a shaver and a mysterious pile of hair on the floor. Rosanne Robertson is performing research into risk and gender, taking Yan Xing‘s solo exhibition that took place in 2012 as a starting point. Robertson singles out one work as having been a particular inspiration; DADDY Project (2011), a documentary film whereby Yan Xing is shown with his back turned, singing a melancholic love song – or so it seems from the translated lyrics – and recounting painful memories from his childhood. The film and performance are enhanced with anxiety and risk when we realise that Yan Xing’s father is there in the audience, having been invited by the artist, who nevertheless did not expect his presence. In the film, Yan Xing remains with his back turned, describing how his father’s presence is making him anxious, but continues with the performance.
Robertson’s initial experiments have involved playing with sound, familiarising herself with the space, and ascertaining how different tools will react when employed towards noise-making. Her practice often involves the manipulation of sounds and noises towards longer pieces, and thus far Robertson has created a series of droning soundscapes by looping and editing her initiative recordings. On one track the artist breaks with her previous practice by using her own voice, having been influenced by Yan Xing to investigate how singing might intensify, or add layers of risk to a situation or performance. Robertson describes how, for her, singing in front of others is a nerve-wracking experience, and it is intriguing that this action should hold such fear for a seasoned performance artist, and musician. Having been in contact with Yan Xing, Robertson was surprised to find that he didn’t feel any need to discuss his use of singing, as for her it is integral to the emotional power of DADDY Project (2011).
Robertson’s previous sculptural explorations into risk and gender have involved the use of explicitly gendered props, such as moon-cups, and although continuing to work with the same themes, she is now seeking to avoid the use of such conspicuous symbols. Shaving implements, and the act of shaving are a way to play with these themes, without referring definitively to either, or any gender. Shaving is a complex and loaded concept, with its manifestations ranging from empowering and decorative to oppressive and painful. Robertson recounts a childhood memory of attempting to imitate her father in shaving, only to end up with a cut chin, which has been an inspiration towards this research, with the artist recording herself shaving her head, then using the sounds towards further work.
The residency will culminate in a performance on the 9th of May, which Robertson intends to be sound-based and will feature at least some improvisational elements. Her previous performances have often been visceral and multi-sensory, such as It’s My Birthday and I’ll Cry if I Want to, whereby artist and audience were brought to tears by a chemical reaction, and the bittersweet melancholy of birthdays was laid bare. Robertson’s current experiments invoke her chosen themes through abstract gestures; the act of shaving is amplified and grows monstrous with the use of blades and saws alongside shavers, whilst disembodied hair appears as a dead thing. Yet, the gentle and vulnerable act of singing contradicts such violent imagery, and it remains unclear whether the risk will pay off.
Rosanne Robertson is the current Whisper artist and will have her studio open daily between 3-5pm for the public to participate with her work at the Chinese Arts Centre in Manchester until 12 May 2013.
Performance: 9th May, 5.30-7.30pm
Open Studio: 10th May – 11th May.
Lauren Velvick is an artist, curator and writer based in Manchester.