Company Profiles: Charlotte Jarvis and Clemency Cooke

[The Mantilla Foundation, Image by Jamie Archer]

Undoubtedly one of the most frustrating things about the Official Edinburgh Fringe Festival and its biblically long Festival programme are the absurdly over-simplified categories shows are required to pigeonhole themselves with in order to get into it. Early on in the process companies are forced to decide whether they want to be considered Comedy, Theatre, work for children, or ‘Dance and Physical Theatre’, the festival’s tentative catch-all for anything that has a lot of moving around in it.

Now I’m sure from a marketing perspective its great to be able to split everyone up, give them a category and a colour-coding tell them to be on their way. Yet surely this is kind of the opposite of everything the festival once stood for? The Fringe was, after all, a fringe once. It was an edgeland, somewhere wide open, unpredictable and risky and new. It was a land of outcasts and misfits, a place where work that defied conventional categorization could find a home.

You tell audiences something is Comedy and they will go expecting Comedy, you tell a company that people are coming expecting Comedy and they will feel like they should deliver Comedy. And frankly I don’t think that’s all that healthy a way to make something.

We want to give artists and audiences that space of unpredictability back. We want to make mongrel theatre; work that is funny without being Comedy, that is theatrical without Theatre, that is artistic without being Art, physical without being Dance (or indeed Physical Theatre).

Charlotte Jarvis and Clemency Cooke
are the perfect example of this. CJ and Clemency are graduates of Edinburgh College of Art, where they studed Fine Art and since graduating they had a number of succesful gallery shows in both England and Scotland.

Yet much of their work has always played in the space between the gallery and the theatre. One of their first projects was the creation of the Mantilla Foundation, a bespoke cremation service for regretted pieces of art. In the guise of this mysterious entity they appeared at a number of major art events across Europe and North America, decked out in sinister umbrellas and veils, encouraging artists of all kinds to submit any work they are ready to see the back of.

Live Feed, another later project, was a performance dinner party in Madder 139 Gallery in London, exploring the bizarre rituals and power structures that dictate the way we eat. The evening involved amongst other things eating Sushi of a naked man who then stood up, was brushed down, dressed and sat down to eat with the rest of the guests, later the guests were tied up and fed by an anonymous hand poking through the table and at the end the excesses of the meal were recorded in a series of theme park style action photos displayed in a special commemorative cardboard frame. The whole thing was as fascinating as it was disturbing, a gloriously grotesque (and highly theatrical) parody; a dinner party aware of its own absurdity that set about deconstructing itself one course at a time.

At Forest Fringe things are hopefully only going to get more gloriously confusing as they present a performance lecture on their new creation Thought Art. Thought Art is the lovechild of conceptual art and theoretical physics in which the actual physical art work is once and for all annihilated and replaced with a delicate, intimate art that exists only as a thought shared between people. Like all Clemency and CJs work together the idea is brilliantly balanced between absolute earnestness and gentle self-mockery; it is fun, but serious fun. Yet beyond this play there is something quite personal at stake as well; an attempt to reunite two people divided by the very physical barrier of the Atlantic Ocean. This is maybe the thing I love most about the idea, that something so knowingly conceptual becomes equally something quite localised and intimate and, well, emotional.

And like Paper Cinema and their hand-made live-action Cinema, like Action Hero and their performance come recreation of a daredevil stunt, like any number of the beguilingly strange things happening at Forest Fringe, its joyously unclassifiable. And I love that. I love its defiant wierdness.

Hopefully Forest Fringe, lingering suspiciously as it does on the fringes of the official fringe, is the perfect home for the this kind of work. A space for the unclassifiable and the wierd.

Thought Art: A Lecture by Charlotte Jarvis and Clemency Cooke will be at Forest Fringe on Thur 14 August at 1pm.

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