23 July 2012

Author Lesley Taker

Being told you are about to perform most days for two and a half months can be a bit daunting, especially when those performances include head-dresses, crawling and asking strangers potentially intimate questions. Even for the most ridiculously megalomaniacal and over exuberant human being, that's quite a big ask. So you can imagine my untrained horror when this was exactly what FACT's new exhibition The Humble Market asked of its Gallery Assistants.

After two intense briefing days during which we explored the gallery spaces, shared secrets, and (somewhat grudgingly) touched each other's bellies in a quick-response bonding exercise, the show was handed over to us by the trained actors and artists who had created it.

In my experience so far, I have been stunned at how quickly people have taken to the unfamiliar and sometimes challenging gallery spaces that we navigate together. It has also surprised me how quickly the galleries have become a performance space, debating room and therapist's couch.

Lying on a mound of astro-turf with four women I had never met before, I asked them about their lives, their religion, and their thoughts on death. Instead of muttering clichés or flinching away from such unspoken topics, they opened up completely to one another, and to me. They spoke of the best years of their lives, their belief in God and their concept of the human soul, and I, in turn, told them of my unflinching atheism, and the surprising comfort which I find in my belief of the lack of an afterlife.

Other days, I have encouraged people who seem shy and retired to wear extravagant feathered headdresses and parade around the building, before sitting alongside me in a taxi sharing our political and ethical views at the demands of a barking Brazilian voice on the radio. I've also asked people to remove their shoes as a sign of respect for a faux-sacred space and have been delightfully amazed as they do, without question.

This show is all about trust, belief and taking a bit of a chance. This could seem trite, or contrived but realising that the action of allowing yourself to be a creative part of something - and realising that you are integral to it - can never be clichéd. It can also have unexpected results.

This show is part of the Cultural Olympiad, the London 2012 programme of cultural events across the country inspired by the upcoming Olympics and presented by FACT and the innovative Abandon Normal Devices (AND) festival, which last year presented us with Kurt Henschlagers' ZEE.

Whereas ZEE (which was also about belief and trust) promoted an insular self-reflection and a purely individual experience, The Humble Market very much places you within a community, be it your locale, that of Brazil, or simply that of your small tour group. You are asked to consider yourself as an individual who is also part of something bigger, and how that alters your behaviour, approach, and even your thoughts.

This is very much a psychological, and philosophical experience which seems almost like a Michel Gondry (as noted by Chris Fagan in his review of the show for The Double Negative) version of the afterlife. Instead of throwing you straight in front of those questions people don't tend to answer, the show moves through various stages, allowing time for contemplation and adaptation to each space. And this is why the experience takes as long as it does: any shorter and one would be left feeling incomplete, snatched and rushed; remove one room, and the parallel universe crumbles.

Whereas ZEE (inspired by the fog and light of mountain life) was inescapably intense, whether positively or negatively, the show created by Zecora Ura, Alistair Eilbeck, Jeremey Bailey, Jorge Lopes Romes, and Persis-Jade Maravala, slowly draws you in and attempts to keep you, and your psyche, safe, from the abstract carnival through to the conceptual grave.

The Humble Market: Trade Secrets  is open now until the 26 August. Experience it yourself via a free choreographed tour available seven days a week. Find out more online via The Humble Market project page.