Marvin Gaye Chetwynd

These impressions from Chetwynd’s Iron Age Pasta Workshop at Studio Voltaire appeared on

Marvin Gaye Chetwynd, Iron Age Pasta Workshop, 2014. Performance view, Studio Voltaire, London, September 6, 2014.

AS I LEANED over the table to assess the respective merits of two equally intricate pasta necklaces that were being fashioned before my eyes, a participant in Marvin Gaye Chetwynd’s Iron Age Pasta Workshop spoke my thoughts out loud: “It’s like kindergarten.” Her painted face (and arms), homemade costume and headdress seemed to bear this out. Other similarly disguised Chetwynd familiars and some laymen were applying themselves to the task of stringing and gluing together an assortment of painted pasta, mostly of the tubular variety, laid out for that purpose on two makeshift tables.

Only this was adult entertainment in the making. Serge Gainsbourg’s “Sea, Sex, and Sun” greeted me upon arrival at Studio Voltaire and, stepping inside the main vaulted gallery space (a converted Victorian chapel whose walls had been decked for the occasion with large black-and-white photocopies of blown-up feline creatures, fish with gaping mouths, reptiles, palm fronds), I found myself on the set of Chetwynd’s Hermitos Children 2. Subtitled “The Case of the Poisoned Dildo,” the first installment of the trippy crime drama starring Joe Scotland, the director of Studio Voltaire, as female detective Joan Shipman had received mixed reviews at Nicolas Bourriaud’s “Altermodern,” the fourth Tate Triennial, in 2009.

Footage from Saturday evening’s live performances, continually recorded by a member of Chetwynd’s troupe (in full costume), will feed into the second episode, which will be shown at Studio Voltaire October 12–December 14 alongside props and stage sets used in the production. Hermitos Children 2 promises to feature, among other things, “catting (similar to dogging, but solely with women and on boats).” But for the time-being we had to content ourselves with pasta-necklace making.

Once completed, these were then presented to the Discerning Eye, seated high up on a mound, at the bottom of which some tangerines and baked figurines had been placed, presumably as offerings. The shrouded black figure would hold each necklace up to the light and carefully inspect it, before emphatically demonstrating its approval or disapproval by either returning it to the supplicant or dashing it to the ground along with his or her hopes, amid cheering or alternately booing from the audience gathered near to witness the trial.

The Iron Age Pasta Workshop and accompanying rituals, which dominated the first half of the evening’s proceedings, directed by Chetwynd herself, periodically gave way to other forms of entertainment, above all acrobatic feats loosely inspired by Minoan bull-leaping. These were nimbly performed by the artist, wearing nothing but a red loincloth and a patterned swashbuckling cape, which, if anything, made her look like Spartacus, the Thracian slave whose name she took on in 2006 and discarded last year in favor of Marvin Gaye. (This is meant to be her last, but give her a few more years, I say.)

Together with a fellow aerialist, also topless, Chetwynd would leap into the air and somersault above a “charging” black plush-toy bull with gilded horns (its discrete parts barely held together by a crew of dedicated two-footed bodies), suitably unnerved by being repeatedly struck beforehand with olive branches to the sound of beating drums and amid drifts of incense—a spectacle designed to stimulate all of the senses.

“We come from Imagination,” a young woman remarked, after I made conjectures about her distant Greek origins, largely based on what she was wearing: a white tunic with stark geometric patterns in a palette of blue, ochre and yellow. In fact, the next “number,” riffing on the Hindi cinema classic Sholay (1975)—and in particular the famous scene where the female lead Karisma Kapoor dances barefoot on shards of glass—catapulted us from Minoan Crete to Bollywood, in one of the imaginative leaps Chetwynd effortlessly makes, even if she doesn’t always quite pull it off.

She did on this occasion. As the event drew to a close, I stopped trying to add it all up and let myself be dazzled. Chetwynd’s merry band of revelers, wanderers of the night, had won me over in the end with their infectious enthusiasm, their shoddy outfits, their childish talk of “baddies,” their pathetic attempts at lip-synching as they strutted their stuff and danced around to an eclectic mix of pop tunes. Orange and white neon lights bathed the whole scene in a warm pink glow, as if to encourage those present to see the evening’s antics through rose-tinted glasses.

Marvin Gaye Chetwynd’s Iron Age Pasta Workshop occurred on Saturday, September 6, 2014 at Studio Voltaire in London.

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