Simon Starling: At Twilight (4 stars)

Daring conceptual artist makes first theatrical work for The Common Guild

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Simon Starling: At Twilight

credit: Ruth Clark

Simon Starling's latest commission for The Common Guild is bold, but in many ways such an undertaking is to be expected of the artist who famously paddled a shed down the Rhine. A lot of things have made their way into the English conceptual artist's repertoire, but not theatre; that is until now.

At Twilight sees Starling return to handcrafted Japanese masks, first making an appearance in his work for Project for a Masquerade (Hiroshima) at The Modern Institute in 2010. These masks were supposed to read as if for a "proposed play" that would never actually happen. More recently however, curator Katrina Brown convinced Starling that actualising a play might be an avenue worth exploring. Fans of Starling's highly discursive brand of conceptual art will be curious to see the artist's treatment of theatre. Starling assures us it won't be theatre as we know it, but a sort of collage with the play shape shifting into different formats. It will, he says, be more reminiscent of a lecture at times.

We can prepare for the play by immersing ourselves in the rich and wildly meandering narratives that present themselves at the correlating exhibition. Often it is said that Starling's work requires too much explanation; it is interesting then that the show serves as a sort of grand explanation of the performance, with the artist's research laid bare and presented as work. The knowledge that the props-cum-art objects will be activated through performance gives the work a vitality and urgency that persuades us to persevere with the density of information. It won't be for everyone, but At Twilight holds its own with or without an engagement with the script. The masks alone – this time representing characters for Starling's Noh-inspired play based on W.B. Yeats' 'At the Hawk's Well' – are worth a visit.

The Common Guild, until Sun 4 Sep.

Simon Starling: At Twilight

New work inspired by and referencing WB Yeats's play At the Hawk's Well, which was first performed in April 1916.

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