Anna McNay

Interview with Rose English at Camden Arts Centre


Interview with Rose English

Rose English: A Premonition of the Act

Camden Arts Centre

12 December 2015 – 6 March 2016


Camden Arts Centre

11 and 12 March 2016

Rose English (b1950) came to the
fore on the 1970s feminist art scene, in particular with her 1975 performance
Quadrille, a ballet for six horses and hoofed dancers presented at a dressage
show – and her work crosses boundaries between performed installation,
vaudeville, film, spoken drama and opera. She has appeared on stage and in
films and has been writing, directing and performing for 35 years.

English has been working with
Chinese acrobats for more than a decade now and her collaboration with them has
evolved through various performances and exhibitions, including Ornamental
Happiness – a show in song and circus – at the Liverpool Biennial in 2006 and Flagrant
Wisdom commissioned by the National Glass Centre in 2009. Her current
exhibition at Camden Arts Centre, A Premonition of the Act, is described as “reconfiguring
elements of a major yet-to-be-realised performance”, hinting towards two
live performances that will take place after the show has been taken down, on 11
and 12 March 2016.

The centrepiece of the exhibition
is the sound work, Lost in Music, an operatic piece for 10 voices and
percussion, scored by Luke Stoneham for English’s libretto. It plays in a
darkened room, on the walls of which extracts from the score and English’s
notes, as well as images of the acrobats at rehearsal, and glassware being
blown, are displayed in lightboxes: image juxtaposed against word; sight
against sound. Next door, three screens show breathtaking footage of the
acrobats, performing complex and almost unimaginable feats with the specially
made glass vessels – a selection of which are displayed on a table nearby. A
girl carries a tiered tray of champagne flutes on her feet; a boy tosses a
seemingly weightless vase lightly into the air. One slip and disaster would

The work as a whole has been
described as “a meditation on the temporality of ephemeral work” and “a
meditation on the correlation between word and image, inspired by the Sister
Sledge hit Lost in Music and a resonant line from the writings of Walter Benjamin”.
Studio International spoke to English about her inspirations, aspirations and
the practicalities of producing such complex and enduring – if ephemeral – performance

Watch this interview here