In Harold’s Cross, a Performance Artist Prepares to Dance on the Street

Francis Fay holds up one arm as though he’s raising the black shutters of the Mart HX Studios with his mind.

Inside the building, his exhibition’s curator, Ciara Scanlan, has pushed a button.

“There’s a drama, there’s a drama here,” says Fay excitedly, splaying his fingers out. “I just thought, the shutters are gonna go up, and I’m going to perform.”

There are two large red wheelie bins in front of the shutters too. Part of the performance?

“No,” laughs Fay. But he reconsiders. “Actually, I was thinking about using the bins. I did use a bin before in a performance in Belfast where I got into a bin and I hid.”

He cocks his head to the side as the shutters close again.

“Look, I’m not going to say I won’t, because you never know,” he says. “I just might. At the moment, no. Anything could happen.”

Ahead of any performance, Fay has a rough outline of what he wants to do. How he will meld his dance and surroundings. But otherwise, he says, the energy of the evening will tell him.

“It’s not rehearsed, you know, it doesn’t have to go a certain way, I’m not going to be disappointed if it doesn’t go a certain way,” he says.

It’s guided more by a feeling for a direction, he says. “But, you know, along the way if something comes and takes me to another direction, I’ll follow it.”

He already knows that for his coming performance the next day, he’ll be covered in white paint from head to toe and dancing the Japanese dance form of Butoh, he says, which expresses angst and distress.

“It will be ritualistic. The movement will be very considered,” says Fay.

The title, Queering the Landscape, hints at the calm humdrum of Greenmount Lane, the terraced houses and local residents quietly starting and ending journeys out on the easy footpath – and how Fay’s performance will quake that peace.

“It’s to do odd things, strange things or queer things in spaces that you may not expect them,” says Fay. “It’s to, I guess, take people out of their everyday, their ordinary, just maybe for a minute, or a second.”

Inside the studio, Scanlan prepares. She lays wood on the floor. It will prop up a mirror, flat in the centre of the room, she says.

“So he’s going to come in and then he kind of taps the mirror and breaks it,” she says.

With his hand? A hammer? “With his head,” she says.

Fay’s work skirts themes of pain tolerance, which prominent performance artists often incorporate into their work. But that’s not an area he’s interested in exploring too deeply, he says.

“I’m not setting out to injure myself. I think the most you can say about what I do is that it can be uncomfortable.” he says, laughing with the hint of an edge.

In the small white cube of the exhibition room, matte prints lay under their designated spots on the wall, ready to be hung.

Like an image of Fay walking up yellow marble steps on his knees, candles in each hand. That tested the limits of his endurance, he says, and he wasn’t eager before the performance.

“I didn’t want to do it,” he says. “I’m sure I could have figured out something else that would have been nicer or easier.”

Had he worn knee guards, the performance may have been dismissed by the audience, he says. Not so on bare knees.

“That would get someone’s attention. They’d go, ‘Oh, that’s hard.’ There’s those sorts of things that really matter when performing, I think,’” he says.

The shutters are open again. A cheery breeze scatters the litter of materials, as Scanlan and Fay bend to hold the prints to the floor, rearranging the order and teasing out the themes that string them together.

“We’re just kind of deciding where the images are on which walls in which order. So it makes sense to the viewer,” says Fay.

The images chronicle Fay’s performance pieces over the years, from holding candles in stretched-out arms for four hours in a cell in Kilmainham Gaol, to dancing animal-like and semi-nude after shoving his face into a cake in a house on Henrietta Street.

Having a curator makes the process easier, he says. Fay’s friends have noted how unusually relaxed he’s been in the last few weeks.

He doesn’t normally have this support. People from Mart Studios painting, lifting and drilling for his exhibition, says Fay.

It may allow the luxury of a quiet hour before the performance, to take in the feeling of the space, and mindfully prepare for the audience.

“Most of the time, I am the technician, and a performer and you know, I’m shopping for stuff I’m running around, I’m doing it all, you know,” he says. Plus, it’s in his spare time. “I’ve always held down at least two jobs at a time.”

In the entranceway, Julieann O’Malley keeps her eyes shielded as people pass with silver metallic door curtains and pieces of timber. “I don’t want to see anything. Anything. I just want to go in and not know,” she says.

O’Malley, a performance artist, is visiting for a few days from Liverpool.

She loves Fay’s work, she says. “He’s very practical, but he’s also very sensitive to the work that he does.”

Fay used to work with enamel prints, drawing outlines of homoerotic literature disguised within the pages of physical health magazines from 1950s America.

“Once you did that, their original intent became obvious. Extremely erotic, looked like something from Kama Sutra when you pull them out like that,” he says.

O’Malley didn’t know Fay was a print artist. But she is always impressed with the lasting images he forms in the piece, she says.

It’s striking, she says. “That’s what kind of sticks with people. You’ll see a piece of his work and you’ll be like, what he created was a beautiful image.”

Unrecorded performance art is about the experience, she says. “It’s that presence that you would never experience from documentation. It’s about experiencing that moment with that artist in that space.”

Fay says the audience are part of the work, he says. “They give off an energy that I pick up on.”

It’s a conversation, he says. “I’m not there to entertain, there might be elements of that that happen, but if they do it’s unplanned.”

Although the art is ephemeral, it lives on, he says. “It lives on in people’s consciousness, when people talk about it.”

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Claudia Dalby: Claudia Dalby is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. She's especially interested in stories about the southside, transport, and kids in the city. Get in touch at [email protected]

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