By Nicola Roberts, BA Music performance & commercial composition student.
This academic year, I had the privilege of attaining my first professional performance role working as part of The British Art Show 8 in Southampton. This touring exhibition provided a dynamic overview of the most exciting contemporary art produced in this country and I had the opportunity to activate artist Cally Spooner’s piece Damning Evidence Illicit Behaviour Seemingly Insurmountable Great Sadness Terminated in Any Manner every weekend from October 2016 – January 2017 which was exhibited in Southampton City Art Gallery.
I had the choice to sing one of two six minute librettos each week which explore moments when public heroes dishonoured themselves; reactions to Beyoncé lip-syncing at the Whitehouse and to Lance Armstrong having taken performance-enhancing drugs. The librettos were made up of outraged fans’ YouTube comments strung together to create a disjunctive narrative which explored the nature of speech online, which activated through operatic singing was a task in itself. I had to become a different person, opinion and righteous mind within every sentence. These librettos were programmed into a surtitle display (commonly used in opera) and were on a constant loop throughout the exhibition.
The open space of the gallery had beautiful acoustics and it was a fantastic confidence boosting experience as every single week was different, with a varying number of people entering the gallery. I now often find myself eager to burst into song in open public spaces! Hopefully this doesn’t become a habit of mine… The nature of Damning Evidence meant that the activation wasn’t advertised, because of this, the highlight of this experience was the wide range of reactions from the public walking around the gallery. You wouldn’t have known I was about to sing unless you looked it up in the artist booklet, so it came as a shock to many which was a great feeling – I often had to suppress the urge to laugh! Another rewarding experience I had was an artist approaching me with a drawing she’d sketched of me during my performance! Overall, being part of The British Art Show was a one in a million experience and I would do it all over again if I could!