The Viewing by Martin O’Brien and Sheree Rose – Review

Posted on 23 November 2016
By Abbie Rooney
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Review of Martin O’Brien & Sheree Rose’s 24hr ‘The Viewing’ at the Bluecoat

It’s that time of year again where Liverpool’s world leading Disability & Deaf arts take over some of the trendiest, creative spots within the city.

Saturday night begun the turn of O’Brien & Rose with their 24 hour durational performance piece at Liverpool Bluecoats, aptly titled The Viewing.

The Viewing is the final part of a trilogy that was created by Rose and her late husband Bob Flanagan. Flanagan suffered with cystic fibrosis, something the three pieces address as they examine his inevitable, early death.

Flanagan lost his battle against cystic fibrosis in early 1996 with only one of the death trilogy realised. However in 2011 O’Brien met Rose which led to a collaboration of the second part of the trilogy entitled Dust to Dust which was released in 2015.

This year’s DaDaFest marks 20 years since Flanagan’s death, one which Rose honoured by releasing the third and final part of the trilogy, which is another collaboration with O’Brien.

The performance piece was advertised as Rose attending to O’Brien who is presented as a corpse. The picture was that of a body covered with a white sheet. Here at Purple Revolver we expected to go into a room and see exactly this, O’Brien lying on a table acting as a corpse.

However instead we were faced with a visual, fantastical performance. The show was held on the second floor of the Bluecoat art gallery. The plain, grey, closely walled stairs leading up to the performance only added to the ambience of what was yet to come. It almost felt like you were walking towards a real morgue.

Upon entering the gallery you were faced with a projector screen playing a short film and canvas sheets covered with photos of body parts; a chest, a scar below a nipple and tattoo’d genitalia. The projector screen showed a short film that was both auditory and visually stimulating.

The screen showed flashing images of zombies, corpses, militia, which was cut into short snappy scenes. Bright colours filled in the images with the audio becoming slightly chaotic the faster the scenes moved. The audio consisted of autobiographical excerpts and creepy, haunting songs. One of the most prominent of which was the changing of the lyrics to the infamous Mary Poppins song ‘supercalifragilistic’ to ‘supercalifragilistic-cystic fibrosis’.

The footage left an uneasy, chaotic, almost unnerving feeling, which matched the topic perfectly. One could almost liken the experience of watching the footage to the chaos of the mind when living with cystic fibrosis.

Following this footage, the visuals were suddenly replaced with a live webcam stream of O’Brien lying naked inside a coffin. Hands cuffed and a black hood over his head. The feed consisted of 4 webcams, dividing the screen into 4 different angles of footage. The audio was also cut out leaving an eerie silence that almost signified the silence of death.

At 6:30pm Rose and a fellow female performer entered the scene wearing lab like jackets. Here they caressed O’Brien’s body and provided him with a red leather whip, with each tassel containing a nail. O’Briens hands were up cuffed and the hood removed from over his head. They then left the room and O’Brien began whipping his back whilst looking at the camera overhead and counting each whip.

This continued for roughly around 15 minutes, upon which the two women entered the room again, standing over the coffin. With that, the performance finished.

With the performance finished it was understandable to question what it was you had just experienced. Whether you liked the piece or not, there would be no denying that the performance would stay with you and play on your mind for a long time.

The detachment of watching the footage on screen and not in person could be viewed as our detachment to observing cystic fibrosis without living with this horrible disease. The uneasy feeling we were left with could symbolise how one would feel living with cystic fibrosis, something chaotic and messy that they can not escape from.

Overall it was a great experience, an experience you want to talk to people about and in that it shows that Rose and O’Brien have done their job perfectly. Purple Revolver have told you what we thought but how about you? Did you get a chance to see The Viewing and what was your interpretation or thoughts? You can let us know in the comments below.