Live performances

Memory theatre at Sunny Sands Beach, Folkestone

The artist Helen Kirwan conducted Memory theatre performances on Sunny Sands Beach, Folkestone on 11th of October and 5th of November 2017 during the Folkestone Triennial Fringe.

During the performances, the artist attempted to empty the sea with buckets. This process of seemingly futile and endless repetition is part of Kirwan’s ongoing exploration into the themes of mourning and memorial. The performances were scheduled according to the tide tables for Sunny Sands Beach as the artist explores tensions between the body, outdoor sites and the haptic. In the fog of bereavement, contact between the body and environment is a form of mapping or re-orientating.

While the artist has often used the landscapes of Kent in her work, this was Kirwan’s second performance series in Folkestone. Kirwan’s And May There Be No Sadness of Farewell (2014), with Simon Pruciak, was shot between Folkestone and Sandgate for the Folkestone Triennial Fringe 2014. Responding to curator Lewis Biggs’ theme ‘Lookout’, for the triennial the video installation incorporated footage of the sea with Lord Alfred Tennyson’s poem ‘Crossing the Bar’.

Memory Theatre (2017) consists of a series of videoed performative pieces undertaken by the artist in Dungeness and Joss Bay, Kent, Merzouga, Morocco, and The Burren and Connemara, Ireland. The artist, dressed in black, repeatedly undertakes futile tasks. A sound piece by the award- winning Dublin-based composer Tom Lane was commissioned for the video, and is the product of a long-standing collaboration between the artist and the composer.

Memory theatre at The Space Arts Centre, London

Initially created as a 44-minute two channel video, Memory Theatre, has now been separated into seven separate fragments for a multiple video installation at The Space with live simultaneous performances by the artist and the composer Tom Lane.

By sharing this installation-performance-experiment with the audience, Kirwan opened up the experience to multiple interpretations, which are at once collective and singular.
The decision to expand Memory Theatre both physically and conceptually beyond its initial form, marked the artist’s long-standing exploration of diverse media to convey memory, repetition and archive and stimulate multiple readings. The recorded and repeatable nature of the videos stand in contrast to the singularity of a live performance.

Kirwan’s performances are based on seemingly endless repetitions of absurd and futile activities which express what the artist has described as ‘the physical traces of mourning.’

In the fog of bereavement, physical contact with objects and external surroundings serves as a form of mapping or orienteering.  Her performative work explores the haptic and tensions between the body and sites. She explores the idea of the trace as a mark that has barely been made or that may disappear, and asks was something there, and was something left behind?

Memory Theatre is underpinned by Kirwan’s inquiry into the concept of the ‘philosophical fragment’. The German Romantic philosopher Frederich Schlegel posited a radical definition of this fragment as a dynamic process of fragmentation for its own sake. Intrinsic to Kirwan’s futile reiterations and journeys is the essential incompletion which is itself the mode of fulfilment.

Memory Theatre as a live performance-installation-experiment took place in London at The Space Arts Centre on Saturday 6 January 2018.