Bluecoat, Saturday 4th June 2016 2:00pm – 3:00pm
Words by Steff Cain
Frances Greenfield is a comedy producer based in Liverpool, and creator of THAT comedy blog. With extensive experience working from comedy tents at large festivals to open mic gigs, you would be forgiven for expecting a slant in favour of the comedy aspect of the exhibition. This is, in fact, far from the almost philosophical experience rendered.
The tour concentrates on the video elements of the exhibition, enabling an easy reflection and comparison to the traditional live comedy performance.
Immediately, the role of the audience is the first to be addressed and innovated. Art is usually open to a diverse range of responses. Comedy is expected to evoke one particular response. This pre-empted outcome brings into play ideas of hierarchy, what is classed as art? And why are people staring sombrely at Kara Hearn’s re-enactments, when they would be guffawing watching them on YouTube at home on their couches? Maybe it’s an issue of context, as well as audience.
Taking into consideration the live comedy performance tradition, the video elements of the exhibition seem almost futuristic. Greenfield encourages you to enjoy, but also look beyond, whether they are funny or not. It becomes apparent that medium and context add other facets which make it hard to classify. It’s subjective.
In ‘I Can’t Go On, I’ll Go On, I Can’t Go On, I’ll Go On (Karen) by Common Culture, a comedian performs a complete hour long set to an empty room. If you stay for long enough you will witness the comedian break down, struggling with the lack of audience and therefore control. The unusual part is that the feeling is mirrored in the viewer watching the cold video footage. There is an uncomfortableness in being unable to satisfy the usual role of active audience member, as opposed to passive viewer. It is very uneasy watching. Although, comedy does often come from sharing failure, or at least pseudo-failure. Usually, this comes in the form of the successful inclusion of a large number of people with an inside joke or outright self-depreciation
Greenfield at one point quotes Douglas Adams, “[Flying is] learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.” to illustrate this point. However, the removal of the audience in this piece, equals the removal of the performer’s authority – their ability to manipulate the elasticity of audience response and timing. It completely alters how the piece is perceived and could be considered the perfect blend of art and comedy.
The final point brought to the forefront by the tour is the idea of representations of comedy. Comedy is largely about movement, hence why it works so well live, but even the still piece ‘Got a Salmon On (Prawn)’ by Sarah Lucas has the feeling of motion about it; and repetition – also a widely used comedic device. Whether you like to laugh, contemplate representations of genres, or both – Double Act: Art and Comedy cleverly appeals to duel expectations and tastes.
Each individual will take away something different. Unusual for comedy, which thrives off collective consumption. The tour with Greenfield enhances this, reminding you that you are allowed to laugh whilst adding even more complexities. You’ll have plenty of food for thought long after you’ve left the gallery.
Double Act: Art and Comedy runs until 19th June. You can keep up to date with Frances Greenfield through her blog THATcomedyblog.com, or through matchboxcomedy.com which will be hosting a preview season of Edinburgh Festival Fringe shows at the Lantern Theatre from 15th-19th July 2016.
Related event: Double Act Book Launch, 8th June
And read our interview with the curators here.