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IMG_3864Robinson Crusoe  deconstructed

It all started with a sculpture. And a chat – when Gail Borrow, the founder and the power behind the St Leonards experimental theatrical events, Explore the Arch, and sculptor Bernard McGuigan talked about  working together creatively. The seeds having been planted, they just needed a project. As the 300th anniversary of Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe was imminent, that is the venture they developed. Intrigued, HOT’s Lauris Morgan-Griffiths talked to Bernard McGuigan.

Gail might be the overarching presence but Bernard is the cornerstone. It is a bit of a jigsaw of a project. In the Explore the Arch house each artist has their own room to perform in; their own reactions to the book Robinson Crusoe; their response to Bernard’s sculpture musically, lyrically and with movement. There are five artists – four musicians/composers and one dancer: respectively Bev Lee Harling, Oliver Cherer, Vladimir Miller, Otti Albietz, and Yumino Seki – performing on different nights.

Separately and together they have been building up a Cubist-type hour-long performance, filleting the book, designing their room, picking one or more of Bernard’s sculptures and weaving the material together. “Each solitudiner has a different room in the house to be alone with their thoughts on the story of Robinson Crusoe and to respond musically, lyrically and with movement to the presence of my sculptures , these seemingly ancient figurative standing stones”.

28 years on an island, 28 performances

Footprint Bernard McGuigan

Bernard’s footprint.

We all think we know the book but I don’t think we do. I have to admit that I didn’t. The extent of my knowledge was Robinson Crusoe, shipwrecked, alone on a desert island and finding Man Friday. However, the book is darker than that. Themes within it are survival, materialism, money, spiritual growth, self-sufficiency, hard work, British Empire, colonialism, racism, slave-trading. Solitude, fear and hope.

Bernard has never done anything like this before. He is, as said, the cornerstone of the project. A baptism by fire – but he has embraced the opportunity in his humane, gentle manner, working respectfully, collaborating, having illuminating, revealing discussions about the themes and times of Robinson Crusoe and  facilitating what the artists need to realise their vision.

His normal practice is working alone, carving, mining the stone, discovering the figures within. His sculptures are strong standing in their own power. Some are figurative, others abstract. The overarching theme of The House of Crusoe is solitude. Just as Bernard works alone, the artists do too.

Solitude does not necessarily mean loneliness. Solitude is someone alone in a place, or an activity that is done and enjoyed alone. Loneliness is normally thought of as an inflicted state – sad because you are alone, in an isolated place.

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Otti Albietz

Each space and performance has evolved and, when I spoke to Bernard, was still evolving. Beth Lee Harling said, “Reading Crusoe inspired so many questions…How resourceful can a human be? Alone with only your wits to count on and some washed-up objects, what can be created? How does your relationship with yourself and your environment change after such a long period of isolation? If you have a connection to spirit, are you ever truly alone?”

She knew from the start that she wanted to create some sort of beach hut. Each day she went beachcombing on her own, picking up washed-up debris to decorate her glass performance space. Some objects were lucky finds – a fishermen’s wellington boot, a single shoe, some metal tubes which she has been able to fashion into instruments. She loves natural sounds – seeds in a drum evoke sea and rain; her foot pump organ creaks like the timbers of a ship. Part of her performance shows the hard work of survival on a desert island – the task of simply making a loaf of bread – from sowing the seed, creating a cooking pot, making a fire and finally the bread.

Magical room

The room is quite magical, as I am sure they will all be. And although one performer is only there one night at a time, each room will be arranged so the audience can have an experience of them, if not the actual event.

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Yumino Seki

Vladimir has created a shipwreck of a room where the audience comes in and picks a chair to sit on. Yumino, who is an intuitive and internal performer, looked around her small room, rearranged a few chairs, sat down and suddenly the whole atmosphere changed. Bernard sensed her going into herself, experiencing the space, wanting to explore different ideas. He took the hint and left her to herself.

Bernard also has his own room, a make-shift studio with stone, tools, mallet, chisels and files to demonstrate where all the work emanating from.

Early in the process Bernard found it odd was that one thing that had set his imagination racing had not been picked up by the artists; that moment when Crusoe, after years of being alone, discovered the footprint of a human being. He was not alone. So, one day he went to rehearsal, poured some sand into a picture frame, took his shoes and socks off and stepped into the frame. The effect of that footprint was powerful.

It is a very exciting, exhilarating, creative project, consequently difficult to describe, that needs to be experienced.  There is much Bernard will take away from this – not least a song, written by Bev, dedicated to one of his sculptures: She cries blue tears.

Crusoe  was 28 years on an island. There are 28 performances running from 6 to 25 April. Tickets are available from Eventbrite and independent bookshops Printed Matter and the Bookkeeper Bookshop. Alongside the performances at ExploretheArch there is also A Town Explores a Book festival around St Leonards (4-22 April).

Posted 18:21 Wednesday, Apr 3, 2019 In: Performance

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