Performance review: Flow Forms at Spitalfields Summer Festival

Dennis Severs' House

Dennis Severs’ House

Originally published on The Upcoming on 23rd June 2013

Curated by experimental electronic musician and audiovisual artist Gazelle Twin (aka Elizabeth Walling), Flow Forms was as much a historical tour guide of Spitalfields as it was a collection of audiovisual performances. Bringing together four occasionally jarringly different site-specific pieces, Flow Forms provided a truly unique glimpse into the rich tapestry of one of London’s most historic areas via secretive and unseen spaces, nesting unassumingly around Spitalfields Market.

The audience was split into four small groups and each given a tour guide to lead them on this unforgettable journey packed with more interesting historical facts than you could shake an encyclopaedia at.

The first stop on the tour was the crypt of Christ Church, dating back to the 16th century. The party was led into a small, dark room, sparsely lit by six candles. This gave the effect of shrouding avant-pop cellist Laura Moody in an eerie half-light, casting dancing shadows on the walls and ceilings. Moody proceeded to deliver a breathtaking set which completely engrossed the listener with first-rate playing and a haunting, melancholic voice reminiscent of a mourning yodeller.

The next venue was the basement cinema of historic pub, The Water Poet. Here, award-winning composer Anna Meredith played a brooding electronic set of material from her debut EP as well as tracks from her upcoming release, Jet Black Raider. The sound was characterised by dark, stabbing synths and foreboding progressive sequences that seemed to build forever, with visuals provided on the cinema screen of what looked like a cult Japanese monster flick.

The third stop on the tour was Dennis Severs’ House, an 18th century building that is seemingly frozen in time. Upon entry all of your senses were assaulted by ghosts of the past; an unmistakable musty aroma pervaded the thick atmosphere, historical ephemera adorned every crevice and cranny, and the spooky parlour music of experimental a capella trio, Juice, lulled you into a semi-stupor. The trio then proceeded to lead the audience on a small tour of the still-life drama of the house, lit exclusively by candles and at all times underscored by their menacingly angelic tones.

The tour concluded in the excavated remains of Charnel House, the crypt of St Mary Spital priory (namesake of the area of Spitalfields), which was built in the early 1300s. This unique location is found under the streets of Spitalfields Market and provided an effective backdrop to Gazelle Twin’s specially created audiovisual installation, Psych Tears, which draws upon themes abstracted from John Dowland’s historic Flow My Tears. The almost primeval, guttural soundscape was accompanied by found footage relating to burials and cremations, providing a fitting if morbid conclusion to the event.

The four performances were each so intense and yet so different that forcing them en masse on the psyche of the audience created a disconcerting cognitive dissonance – a blitzkrieg upon the senses that was at times bewildering. Though each performance was sombre and melancholic, each was its own transformative, immersive experience, taking you to a different world, a different time and exploring different emotions.

 

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