Good Cop Bad Cop return from Potsdam
26th March 2010
On their return from Potsdam we asked Richard Morgan of Good Cop Bad Cop "what happened?"
What was the festival all about?
A. Not entirely sure, it was called 'Spieltrieb' and advertised itself as follows.
For some hours from 5:30pm onwards international artists and companies will present unusual formats, durational performances, fancy dresses, intimate concerts and funny “computer simulations” in real time. We invite you to come and see and play. But attention: besides long running formats, there are also performances, running only once, which means early appearance is recommended. Inbetween fabric Café invites you to enjoy delicious food and drinks.
Where was the festival?
A. It was organised by Fabrik Potsdam, primarily a dance and movement venue celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Initially located in the city centre and established as an artists collective in a squat after the fall of East Germany, it relocated to an old brewery in an area that has since undergone major renovation, with buildings converted into cultural use. These include a theatre, a music venue, rehearsal studios, a Fluxus museum and a fantastic visual arts gallery that we performed in.
How did gcbc get involved?
A. Frauke Niemann, who works at Fabrik was present at the British Council showcase in Gijon, Spain, last year where we had been invited to perform.
What was the piece that you performed?
A. The piece is called 'Mas o Amser'. I'd prefer not to translate, but as they did in Potsdam, i will - 'out of time'
Have you performed this piece before?
A. Well, yes and no. Frauke saw a version of 'Mas o Amser' in Gijon, liked it and asked us to perform at the festival. Well, when I say she saw 'Mas o Amser' in Spain, she saw a version of it. Unfortunately my partner in crime, John Rowley wasn't able to make that performance at the last minute and with a contractual obligation to fulfill I had to bring in other performers, none of whom had ever seen the work before. Fortunately I was also part of Marc Rees' 'En Residencia' project that was also part of the festival and was able to draw on Marc, and the excellent performance duo Melville Mitchel who were also part of Marc's project. Also I had Louise Ritchie, who has worked with us on 'Phantom Ride', there as our production assistant and she also very bravely came forward to participate. We did a four-hour version as a kind of tag team version, with two people working at any one time.
This four hour version was not originally intended to be four hours. We had originally been asked to perform a piece of work on each day of a proposed three day festival. Knowing how hard it was to do the previously performed one hour version of 'mas o amser' we offered to do it on just one day - throwing in an extra hour free of charge!. Ironically, it turned out in the end that all companies only needed to perform once, so in effect they got three free hours!
So what Frauke had seen, and liked, and wanted to book sort of didn't really exist. We did try and get the budget to do a four or six person version for her but it just wasn't financially viable.
So, working backward, the original version of 'mas o amser' was a one hour performance presented in the Stiwdio at Chapter arts centre, Cardiff in 2007. How that came about was that the British Council had asked us if we had any work we would like them to consider for their 2007 Edinburgh showcase, and what we did was condense some of the work that we had made for Chapter's Experimentica 06 performance 'Restricted access'
Simple question, no easy answer! Each of these pieces are related, but the 'piece' doesn't really exist!
Describe the performance, how many involved, what do you do?
Ok, as you'll see from the above history, there is no quick and easy answer! It's probably best to start with 'Restricted access" and work forwards to the present.
John and I had been talking about making a performance referencing the 1980's 'protect and survive' government information films using sandbags, doors, suitcases etc, and also Daniel Defoe's 'Journal of the Plague Years'. We had also been thinking about making a performance inside a very large black box that would mainly be an audio piece, with occasional opportunities for audience to see in when we would use an electric drill to make holes, before then plugging them up and drilling some more.
Practicalities, mainly financial, got in the way of that idea.'Restricted access' was made at a very difficult time in my life. All my belongings were packed up in IKEA black boxes and these, complete with contents, seemed like a practical and neater alternative to the sandbags and other debris. One thing we really liked about the black boxes was that while they looked identical because of their various contents, books, cd's, papers, clothes, crockery etc, they all weighed differently. There was no way as a performer of knowing what you would have to deal with when you picked one up.
So, 'Restricted access' was a 6 hour improvisation made in the SWAS room in Chapter just seeing how we could make a kind of 'performed sculpture'. It was fairly relaxed. I seem to remember we talked to each other a bit, but mainly it was just built on our shared performance history - knowing when to help out, ignore, or disrupt each other.
There was no audience in the room. We were able to transform the drilling out holes idea by whiting out the windows between the room and corridor, a la 'protect and survive' advice, and making periodic 'spy holes' so that one or two audience members could see in at a time. The soundtrack was mixed live from a variety of sources - manipulated 'protect and survive' film soundtracks, ticking clocks, collapsing buildings and other things i forget. What anyone saw, i don't really know, but we were basically experimenting with what we could do with these boxes keeping themes of paranoia, safety, armageddon and the like in mind.
Oh, i forgot to say, we were naked. This was partially practical, we knew it was likely to get hot and sweaty, but also informed by John's memory of walking back to a hotel early one morning, in Amsterdam i think, after a night out with Forced Entertainment and seeing a baker at work wearing nothing but boots and an apron.
The other thing to say about that performance was that we made a decision to light it only with hand held torches and the ambient light coming in through the windows. It was performed at dusk, so the ambient light went from daylight to the sodium glow of street lights. That's when we put the torches on.
So, onto the first real 'Mas o amser', as I said this was made in response to a request from the British Council as to whether we had anything to go to their Edinburgh showcase in 2007 that they could come and see. We didn't, so we made it. We worked quite to distill the parts of 'restricted access' that we had enjoyed, or that worked for us in some way, into a one hour performance. This was highly structured, choreographed even, and performed at a pretty brutal pace. This time the audience were in the Stiwdio with us, able to see the sweat, hear the effort, smell the garlic and embrocation - it was kind of theatrical, but still because of the effort, very real and quite edgy. For me, the most amazing thing with that performance was the light. Once again it was dusk, and the fantastic light in that room, the street lights and use of torches to highlight detail was just fantastic.
We didn't do it in Edinburgh. Instead I made a scale model out of balsa and lead (to vary the weights as in the real performance) which we demonstrated to international delegates and promoters.
And so to Spain. We really wanted to make sure we could get the light right there and spent months examining photos for the best location. In the end we settled on a fantastic new art gallery, beautiful white walls, smooth marble floor - completely in contrast to the rough and ready venue in Chapter and with excellent ambient light. As i said, at the last moment John couldn't come and so it was going to be a very different animal. Not only that but the gallery was full of a sculptural work made of hundreds of pieces all over the floor, so no chance of using it. I found another space and recruited my volunteer company.
What i needed was people who had worked together before. The work is very much about shared knowledge - how would you be able to work together in a time of emergency? I've worked on and off with Marc over the last 20 years, mainly with Brith Gof, and trust him to make intelligent performance decisions. And can be relied on to get his kit off in the name of art. Louise had worked with John and me on a very different show, but knew she was strong and an intelligent and sensitive performer. Melville and Mitchell have collaborated together on very physical work for a number of years and work as one. I had my tag team. As i said before, none of them had actually seen the previous work so when I set off on the four hour performance at the pace John and I had performed the one hour work nobody knew any better. Thank god we did half hour rotations!
It was a very interesting experience for me, being able to sit in the audience during my time outs and seeing this work John and I had created, and was actually part of, from the outside. I felt like a bit of a sadist. Then realised i probably meant masochist, and got stuck back in.
So, that's what Frauke had seen, and ideally, I would have loved to have been able to at least partly recreate in Potsdam. In the end, it was just me and John. John hadn't performed it since 2007. Something i should explain here is the multiple meanings behind the title. 'Mas o amser' doesn't just refer to some imminent, unknown threat and apocalypse. It also refers to the fact that this is a deliberately 'old school' performance - think Stuart Brisley on his metal ramp. More significantly it refers to the fact that when we first made the work in 2007 John and I agreed that we were both getting too old for this hard core physical work. That was three years ago. When we met up a couple of weeks before going I told John i'd been to the gym to try and get a bit fitter.
He told me he'd been eating cakes.
And he had. Anyway. We improvised. Remembered some things that had felt good before. Made some mistakes we had made before. Came up with some interesting new material. I vomited. John looked like he might have a heart attack. But mainly we pulled it off. Bottom line, its a performance about two people with a shared history. We might do it again.
How did it fit in with everything else that was going on?
No idea. Apart from a tent with a wii dance mat and projection onto the side of the tent it was in that we looked at as we drank our post performance beer, we didn't see anything else. This is always a problem with being part of a festival. There is probably good stuff going on that you never get to see.
Did you have any trouble raising finance to go there?
No, apart from not being able to pay for any additional performers which might have made our task easier! No, we got a decent fee from fabrik and they provided accommodation and excellent food, and they got the British Council in Germany to help with flights and freight of the boxes. Having said that, raising the finance to make this kind of work in more of an ongoing concern -
John's back working with Forced Entertainment, i'm not sure where the next income is coming from. It's more a matter of faith than a business plan that creates this kind of work.
How did the work go down?
Apparently very well. It's always difficult with a durational performance, those there at the end are only a proportion of those who saw the work, especially when there's other things to see. And again, its perhaps a question of quality of response rather than quantity. A woman randomly came up to us as we were having a beer to tell us "i love you guys". We'll wait and see.
Well, as i said John's working on Forced Entertainment's new show, I'm off to Berlin in June to do a solo performance, good cop bad cop have submissions in for the Eisteddfod and we have a Chapter commission coming up. With this last one we're currently trying to get additional funding to try and pilot a collaborative networked performance idea that we have that will be seeking the collaboration of culture colony members. Don't worry, you can keep you clothes on....if you like.
Also see -
Good Cop Bad Cop profile
Richard Huw Morgan profile
John Rowley profile