JOYCE MCMILLAN on ARCHES LIVE! at the Arches, Glasgow, for The Scotsman 13.10.14.
4 stars ****
THE WORD ‘POWERS’ is all around us this month, as Scotland debates its new post-referendum political settlement. So it’s perhaps a sign of times that the concept of power seems to underpin almost all of the shows in this second-week crop of Arches Live! productions, one of the most varied and impressive in the venue’s recent history; although for Arches’ artists, the approach to the subject is never obvious.
F K Alexander’s Recovery, for example, is not so much a show as a sustained 50-minute piece of 21st-century music and sound, performed to an audience lying on the cold floor of the Arches Playroom, on an array of cushions, under slightly magical swinging lights. Yet the sound – a combination of electronic soundtrack and exquisite ringing bowls and gongs, played by the fairy-like Alexander and four other musicians – is so intense that it seems to lead us deep into the inner place where human beings find the strength to face up to the onrushing crises of life. The bowls used in the show, significantly, are the same ones brought back from Tibet by NVA for their ground-breaking 2000 show The Path, at Glen Lyon; and it’s that kind of continuity that adds a strange richness to Scotland’s compact, energised creative life.
There’s sharp satire on the whole idea of purely personal empowerment in Thomas Hobbins’s entertaining and beautifully-crafted spoof motivational show, Max Powers Says; and a gradual edging towards wider societal history in Amy Conway’s beguiling interview-based piece 30:60:80 – co-created with Victoria Beesley – about Amy herself, her mother and her grandmother, all of whom celebrated big birthdays this year. There’s Hey, I’m Alive! by the young Edinburgh-based group Creative Electric, a brief half-hour experience which explcitiy seeks to give a higher profile to the issues faced by young cystic fibrosis sufferers, but achieves its aim by delving deep into their private experience, and encasing four of its five young performer in huge plastic bubbles that evoke their powerful sense of social and physical isolation.
There’s the personal and political journeying involved in Stephanie Eiaine Black’s hugely powerful and sorrowful fragment Dowry, which uses both visual and sensual imagery to involve each audience member in the experience of women veiled, laden in gold, and bartered away in marriage. And in a final, breathtaking burst of explicit politics, there’s Emilia Weber and Claire Healey’s There They Carved A Space, in which two brilliant young women, standing at microphones, take a long look through text and visual imagery at the political history of space, land ownership and housing in Britain.
What emerges is a richly poetic litany of theft, and of profiteering on a common asset, from the enclosures of the 18th century to the recent story of Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games development; and a fierce, unapologetic lament for the period of the welfare state, the “truce between capital and labour”, when just for a while, spacious and striking homes were built by government for the people, and rented to them at prices that did not mortgage them for life to a system never designed to serve their best interests.