Overview: This isn't a lecture

Niki Russell's overview of the Lecturama series

Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday. With reassuring regularity we take our daily dose of Lecturama. Every morning at eleven we stand in line to be eased into the packed Inbetween Time schedule. Playfully self-reflective, Lecturama reveals in multitudinous dimensions the way in which life infects the performative character.

Maybe we're not always in the mood for a lecture, or perhaps in the morning some of us are more delicate than others. So at this sensitive moment within Inbetween Time we have been carefully and appropriately provided with: eBay PowerSelling; fear; sexed robots and the exaggerated physical violence of slapstick. Not everyone's cup of tea, but it seemed to go down a treat.

The series started with AC Dickson's eBay PowerSeller, this edification in the ways off the online marketplace transformed me from eBay novice to eBay buyer in the space of 24 hours. What a difference a day makes. That makeover would continue as the days passed. The following morning my steak preference, inability to multi-task and answers to a batch of other multiple choice questions would lead to me becoming a monster, a vampire to be precise. My contribution to Gob Squad's research, intended to reveal the fear-personification inside of each of us, and delivered as Me, The Monster.

Two down, two to go, and already the differences were glaring. The eBay PowerSeller was AC Dickson, not simply Andrew Dickson, although the difference between the two was not as clear-cut as I had expected. This clarification would have to wait until I met the 'real' Dickson. In contrast Gob Squad's laidback demeanour was certainly intended to convey that Johanna Freiburg, Bastian Trost and Simon Will were being 'themselves.' Excepting that the whole concept of being yourself in any situation is a murky one, a problem further polluted when stood in front of a crowd of people expectant of provision. Scrutinising the various personas, AC Dickson was the most performative character in the Lecturama series, a self-help guru in the world of e-commerce. Perhaps it is this very mimicry, this confusion of form (corporate seminar as performance lecture), that necessitates this blown-up character rather than any infidelity to Dickson's self. In contrast within Gob Squad's approach it was appropriate to make a point of simply talking to the audience, a method mirrored to varying degrees by both Paul Granjon and Howard Matthew's contributions to the programme.

These shared tactics were embedded in a real research ethic. For Granjon and Matthew this was entrenched over considerable time, long-term interests in robotics and slapstick respectively. Granjon took us on a journey of discovery, from BBC micros in skips to the development of increasingly complex robots with whom he interacts. Curiously along the way he also tried to light a fire, Neanderthal-style (if you excuse the glass jar); and sang us a love song on his homemade electric sitar. Diversions, but we were not lost, as we begin to understand what he might mean by “reflections and experiments on the co-evolution of human and machine.” Matthew explores a whole other world through his alphabet of silent slapstick. We enter a hyperbola of violence as he invites people to strike him with a champagne bottle and then a chair, but with “cheap gags all the way.'

Uncertainty and an undermining of expectations were rife within the Lecturama. The stage set-up for Matthew's show included a lone-standing doorframe; perched on top of the door was a familiar sight, a carefully balanced bucket. We all wait for the 'inevitable', as Matthew progresses through his alphabet until he reaches W is for water. He explains that this has been left until the end so he doesn't have to complete the presentation soaked through. As he elaborates on X for eXit, we begin to see a carefully constructed grand finale in sight. He confidently emerges from the doorframe; the schoolboy prank has purposefully backfired, the bucket remains fixed to the top of the door. In a similar way AC Dickson retains his position at the top of the eBay pile, despite earlier assumptions that it was purely a satire with little reality in his PowerSeller status. I might not have got what I expected but this did not mean that I didn't get what I wanted.

That this strand of Inbetween Time was truly entertaining is irrefragable; myriad sources of humour were to be found. In fact wit was quite prominent across the festival. So Lecturama and the festival could well be seen as elixirs, both for their amusing preoccupation with 'meaning', or for positing meaning and entertainment as mutually exclusive. However, at times this humour was disconcerting, as with Granjon's Sexed Robot threesome, a presence that caused an acute perturbation in sexual relations; at others it was wonderfully educational.

The performance lecture has become ubiquitous in Live Art in recent years, and despite what could seem like formal limitations within the approach, it continued to highlight possibilities. At one point Gob Squad offered up the potential for a mass public action, a protest against fear, where all are encouraged to kit out as zombies and take to the streets. This was a passing comment, but at the same time it managed to take me somewhere else far beyond the confines of the lecture theatre, in fact far beyond the confines of Inbetween Time. A space where the 'audience' is stolen from the everyday, the 'event' spills out in all directions and the opportunity to remove a passive mentality is within our grasp.

It was in these, as well as numerous other ways, that Lecturama was a welcome panacea for the night before. I enjoyed each morning session at eleven, but never understood the suggestion that it functioned as a the publicised way “to ease your recovery.” Thinking about my “hectic night before”, where on different days I attended Miguel Pereira's Top 10 [Bristol], Part 9 [nobleandsilver] and grieved the cancelled Duckie show, I can only see these as anti-climactic and (to varying degrees) disappointing endings to the day. Rather than Lecturama being a way “to ease your recovery from the hectic night before”, I began to wonder if the rest of the festival ever recovered from the Lecturama morning before.

6 February 2006