(SPAM Cuts) Poem Brut performance, by Mischa Foster Poole
In this SPAM Cut, Colin Lee Marshall reels through the pyrotechnic scriptures and performative ‘failures’ of Mischa Foster Poole’s performance at Rich Mix, London in July 2019. The performance formed part of Poem Brut, a festival of artistic creative writing and neurologically-expansive poetics, curated by SJ Fowler.
> The performance begins with Mischa Foster Poole donning a cumbersome-looking headpiece, on each side of which is affixed a tightly rolled sheet of paper. One by one, the sheets of paper are unspooled onto the floor, thus transforming the headpiece into something like a full-body cloak—one that hilariously flouts even the most basic principles of vestiary ergonomics. In staggered enfilade, Poole fires off party poppers that are arrayed atop the garment. The amped up bathos of each “explosion” feels pantomimically sad, throwing into relief the pathetic, sublimating core of these plastic pyrotechnics. Glacially and clumsily, Poole advances through the aisle of the audience, his movement inhibited by his preposterous attire.
> What is denoted by the Cabaret Voltaire-esque garment, each side of which is marked with calligraphic streaks that buckle under the weight of asemy? What is the “thing” represented? Although evocative by turns of spectre, lummox, and machine, this thing is not any of those things; it repels all but apophatic approaches. Rather uncannily, the thing seems at times during the performance to partake in the bafflement of the audience. Faceless though it appears to be, it comes close to approximating human expressions of thought—it stops, turns, “looks around” as though in contemplation, seemingly aware that even the extreme prosopagnosia that it elicits will not override the anthrophomorphising instinct.
> What is beautifully odd and poignant about Poole’s performance is that it not only implies failure within its field of representation, but that it also itself fails qua performance—that is, it fails to render the failure as cleanly as it might. This second failure is to the credit of the piece—is, indeed, the very thing that makes it so enjoyable. As Poole cuts through the aisle, histrionically palpating chairs (and even, at one point, an audience member’s head), the gestures of orientation effect a mural flicker, a breaking and re-erecting of the fourth wall, an awkward in-between state buoyed by the audience’s confused sniggers. Then we are treated to the supreme climax of the performance, the collapse that we can tell is not quite organic, a ridiculous and oxymoronic trying to fall over that seems suddenly to tip into actual falling over as Poole loses control of the attempt. Such badsthetic moves degrade the piece until it reaches the sweet spot.
> Poole ends up on the ground, brought low, plainly visible under his outlandish body cloak, waiting for too long—way too long—for the initiatory clap to signal that the piece has, in fact, finished. It is this double collapse—narrative and performative—that allows Poole’s piece to transcend its potentially glib post-Dada stylings and to emerge alive, resonant, and genuinely funny.
Text: Colin Lee Marshall
Image: Still taken from SJ Fowler’s video of the performance.