Tempting Failure: London’s performance art festival where something is bound to go wrong

FK Alexander writes Samuel Becket script in her own blood

FK Alexander writes Samuel Becket script in her own blood - Credit: Archant

Richard Herrins in on the bill at a festival where artists and audiences are encouraged to take risks

Risk averse audiences should stay away from the Tempting Failure festival where shows include comedian Richard Herring playing himself at snooker, an artist writing Beckett in her own blood, and another completing a marathon musical lipsynch with her vagina.

Now in its fifth year, the fabulously titled city-wide performance art festival encourages both audiences and performers to take a gamble on something very different.

Artistic director Thomas John Bacon started the festival: “To create a platform for more challenging or difficult practices that were not getting seen.”

He said: “I don’t want to programme failure, but I want to give people a space where they can possibly fail and for an audience to join them for that journey, getting a taste of what it is to go right to the edge and tip over.

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“Some artists do fail in their actions but that’s Ok. The festival celebrates that they were given that chance to go there.

“More often than not it’s an exciting thing for artists and audience.”

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The line up at festival venue The Hackney Showroom includes radical queer performance artist Rosanna Cade exploring feminism and her sexuality through a 24-hour vaginal musical lipsynch.

Bacon adds: “The lynchpin for me is her agreement to stay in this space for 24 hours including toilet breaks in front of the audience.

“It becomes something else, about exhaustion, fatigue, endurance and starts to raise questions about identity through the action.”

He hopes comedian Herring’s debut performance art piece, based on his podcasts Me 1 Vs Me 2 in which he plays snooker alone in his basement, will attract new audiences to the experimental art form.

“He’s done the podcasts for a few years and says he’ll keep going until everyone unsubscribes, which felt like a good resonance with Tempting Failure,” adds Bacon.

“He’s agreed to put it in a live space and play three frames of self-playing snooker saying - no joke - that he would like to win the Turner Prize.

“Obviously it’s with some humour – performance art can be funny.”

Over four hours, Helena Goldwater will slowly fill the Hackney venue with tonnes of earth, while French Algerian artist Kamil Guenatri explores his own ability and disability: “presenting and confronting the audience with what he has to live with every day.”

While a noise art piece sees 20 professional string musicians play a composition inspired by the sounds of aeroplanes taking off from Heathrow.

And body artist FK Alexander’s Not (I) sees her explore “futility, isolation and female madness” as she writes out the script of Samuel Beckett’s famous monologue in her own blood to an intense soundtrack.

“In drawing her blood and writing it out she’s exploring the limits of her own endurance – these actions are not rehearsed they are conceptualised and tested live with audiences wondering how it’s going to play out.

“It’s seeing the artwork being made live before you,” says Bacon, who describes performance art as “the artist performing less as characters more as themselves.”

But in programming it is not a case of anything goes. The festivals’ strict ethical policy avoids “indecency, and anything to do with harming animals,” says Bacon.

Artists making invasions into their body or playing extremely loud sound are risk assessed.

“A big part of any festival like this is the investment an audience brings to the work.

“It’s as much about you tempting failure as it is about artists taking risks.

They get to discover personal truths, likes and dislikes together. You join in a communal investment.”

Tempting Failure runs Until July 29 at various venues. Temptingfailure.com Festival passes £60 day passes £10.

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