ROUTINE by They Are Here

by Valentina Orrù


Laughing Matter (24 May – 10 June 2018) was an exhibition by collective practice They Are Here at Studio Voltaire, a gallery in South London. The project included the performance work ROUTINE (2018), comprised of a series of stand-up comedy workshops attended by those negotiating the precarity of living in London. These workshops culminated in three live performances 1 – 3 June, during which the gallery was temporarily transformed into a comedy club.


That’s interesting to hear, a number of attendees have talked of finding the stand-up routines funny, but with an underlying pathos in the overall experience – something we alo felt and were aware of throughout the process. One of the elements that distinguishes ROUTINE from a typical, first-timers open mic night, is that we asked each participant to pen their own biography, that was then printed in the programme. So the work was not solely the workshops and live performances, but the communication and self-narration of their stories at all levels. This expanded context enabled this sense of pathos, as an audience member you’re more aware of their story than listening to a typical comedian new to you. Many of the performers used autobiographical material as part of their routine. One of the reasons we focused on stand-up is that it’s a form that typically prizes first-person narratives, like rap or first-generation performance art. . . so this self-portrayal is inherent to the form and was encouraged by Logan Murray, the comedian who led the workshops in which the participants developed their stand-up routines. However, it was important that each participant did so on their own terms and revealed what they felt served their act. ‘Act’ is an important word, as they are constructing their own comic persona. For the ‘act’ to connect, it needs to be rooted in their truth, so that we, as an audience, perceive them as genuine, but it’s also a means to get you on side and ultimately laughing.


White-walled galleries are intentionally clinical spaces, Studio Voltaire is a little different in that its recognisably a former church. The acoustics are very apparent. We could have staged the nights in a local comedy club. However, siting the performance in the gallery puts the work in dialogue with the other text and sculptural works in the exhibition. It also contributes to a longer ongoing question about how gallery spaces can be used differently and what constitutes art from both our perspective as artists and that of visitors to the space. At the top of our list was ensuring the atmosphere facilitated a good night of comedy, without trying to erase the elements that make it recognisably a gallery in the first place.


There are always many unknowns from the outset of each project, as we are determined to create permeable structures that can embrace and be modified by new twists and turns. ROUTINE began with the circulation of a flyer inviting potential participants to a trial stand-up comedy workshop. We didn’t know who would be in the room until the first workshop. Nor how they would gel with each other. Some of the works in Laughing Matter emerged directly from the comedy workshop sessions and dialogues with participants, so rather than placing too much weight on expectations, we were trying to be attentive to what emerged week-by-week and bottle that. Logan wisely and purposely discouraged anyone from fixing their material too early, so we only heard their material on the last session – two days before the first public performance. This gave a livewire quality to the public event, but the biggest anxiety was if anyone would find this funny. It was big relief to a hear a room full of laughter.


That’s the best way to think of it. If we all acknowledged our ‘inner idiot’ we might be more self-knowing, it could revolutionise society and unpick some of the damaging preconceptions around what it means to behave like an adult! It’s drawn from an exercise Logan set the group, but we were fascinated with how it might resonate differently when decontextualised. Text works recur throughout the show – which also includes a piece originally developed in 2010, STAND HERE UNTIL YOU FIND SOMEONE TO REPLACE YOU, we have long been drawn to those Fluxus type works which hop between score, koan, joke and poetry.

Google the Ballet-Pizza vid!


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