Thoughts: Get Stuff Break Free

Written for Exeunt

Wow there’s a lot going on this year. THE DIAMOND JUBILEE! THE OLYMPICS! THE SHARD! “It’s good the Shard opens before the Olympics begins. I was worried we wouldn’t have enough hubris in London this summer,” tweeted Andy Field and boy is he right.

According to a dictionary definition of hubris it means ‘overbearing pride or presumption; arrogance.’ That seems to fit the bill 2012 is an unusually preening twelve months isn’t it. Celebrate! CELEBRATE!

If you detect a note of sarcasm in my tone you’d be right. Who are we kidding? We liberals feel rather grumpy about all this money-sucking, altar-to-capitalism building, royals-on-a-boat style celebration.

The idea of hollow celebration is key to Made In China’s new show (although it is powered by something much more hopeful than that). Get Stuff, Break Free highlights society’s penchant for ‘bread and circuses’ – keep us diverted and distracted and we’ll play nicely. The piece involves party poppers, cucumber sandwiches, jugs of Pimms, balloons, sparklers, a dance and fireworks.

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But what is it actually about? I have spoken to them about this; I should know this.

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Tim: “We’re being cagey about this because it’s a bit like if you say that [earlier show] Stationery Excess is about superman…”

 Jess: “It ruins the show.”

Honour: “Absolutely. Yes. But so….how do I write about it?”

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Made In China are Tim Cowbury and Jessica Latowicki. They are passionate, involved, politically aware artists; ‘Look at this world you are so willingly a part of’ they challenge ‘Just notice it in all it’s problematic and grotesque glory.’

Get Stuff Break Free has been called a helpless acknowledgement of societal appeasement. But I think it’s too engaged for that. It’s a state of the nation piece.

It takes the form of a Q&A with a band who’ve seen it all. Maybe they are London; maybe they are society; maybe they are revolution; maybe they are a failed revolution; maybe they are human; maybe they are us.

Get Stuff Break Free is not a resigned shoulder-shrug to the schlock filled opium of the masses; its a clarion call to open your eyes and break out. It talks about large scale events from the capital’s past and present; riots, fires, weddings, funerals.

It’s Jess and Christopher Brett Bailey again (We Hope That You’re Happy (Why Would We Lie)) but this time it’s also Nigel Barrett and Sarah Calver. Four figures looking like a folk rock group standing on a roof top of the National Theatre. I’m told people can see them when crossing Waterloo Bridge.

They look secure in clumpy ox-blood Doc Martens but also vulnerable, precariously perched on a platform so exposed the wind could lift them up at any moment. Safe and unsafe, I think it’s a metaphor for life – but is it?

It’s definitely both cocky and fragile; they’re like revolutionaries who’ve lost their way but still have flames in their eyes. “The world is explosive and full of greed. It won’t encourage questioning and it won’t give you space to be different.” It says. “But fight for that space because it CAN BE DIFFERENT.” It also says.

My use of capital letters here is not ironic. Made In China never are. Though they satirise the greed of the world, they are earnest in their call for the possibilities of change.

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So, sorry, what is it about again?

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I can’t stop thinking about the first of the Twelve Steps. ‘The first step is, admitting you’ve got a problem.’ That’s what Get Stuff Break Free is about.

Once we all do that, just think of what else we can do.

Made In China: On consumption, collaboration and the rules of creation.

Written for Exeunt

Made In China’s Tim Cowbury and Jessica Latowicki share their sentences in the same way they are hungrily sharing a piece of quiche during the get-in for We Hope That You’re Happy (Why Would We Lie?) at the Battersea Arts Centre. That is, seamlessly and efficiently. Their work is “like a tennis match” a bubbly Latowicki explains, “where we’re just shooting the balls back at each other.”

Since 2009, when the pair were thrown together at Goldsmiths College, Cowbury and Latowicki have been making shows that are at the ‘juncture of playwriting and live art’. Whilst the initiative was a bold move on Goldsmiths part, this successful partnership was the result of a lucky and unique alchemy. “All of the playwrights had to collaborate with all of the performance makers from two different MA courses” Cowbury says while looking wryly at Latowicki “and I think we are the only ones in the history of, however many years that it’s been happening, that’s ended well. Because I think playwrights tend to be scared shitless of the performance artists…” He pauses and Latowicki continues with a laugh: “and the performance artists don’t want other people writing their words down for them. There’s a big fear that if you don’t write your own words it’s not your work anymore. But I was like ‘Oh look! Someone who writes better than I do! Useful.’”

Their relationship works so well because they do not adhere to these prejudices and concerns, instead finding a freedom in the fluidity of their collaboration. Their ability to defy expectation is perhaps one of their strongest talents; it’s interesting how quickly I find myself falling into the standard idea of how their creative backgrounds will define the roles they play within the company; I automatically assume that the structured nature of their work comes from Cowbury’s playwriting background. In actuality nothing could be further from the truth: “It comes more from Jess as a performance artist actually.” “Me!” Latowicki breaks in, “I really like structure. I think that by having a clear structure you can get away with things.”

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