The last time I went to Anatomy at Summerhall, there was a piece called Uranus. A naked man lied sideways singing ‘Nessun Dorma’ while clenching and unclenching his bare bum cheeks to make his arse look like a mouth. He pulled up his pants, then enacted a passionate sex scene using his fingers, before delivering a short rhyme about the importance of wearing contraception. He stood up, opened his eyes properly for the first time to reveal some of those creepy cat contacts, then spat into his hand and launched himself into the audience. He spent several minutes clawing his way through the crowd, writhing around and constantly proffering his spit drenched palm. I have never been more uncomfortable in my life.*
Fittingly, then, the next Anatomy I attended was titled: NO, ANYTHING BUT THAT. **
Anatomy is ‘Live Art Music Hall’. As descriptions go, it’s a little pretentious, but it’s on at Summerhall where I have yet to see anything that isn’t at least a little pretentious. Anatomy probably is a wee bit pretentious, but it’s also completely aware of it’s own ridiculousness and that makes it amazing. It’s a bunch of short pieces over the course of a few hours performed in an old lecture theatre, each piece bookended by the ever-charismatic duo of Ali Maloney and Harry Giles as compères.
On Friday, the atmosphere was gorgeous. Ali and Harry sit in chairs opposite each other and suggest performance ideas, all of which are absurd (“The Chilean Mining Disaster recreated as an immersive interactive dining experience?”). After each suggestion, the other compere will shout ‘NO, ANYTHING BUT THAT!’ This keeps going, and eventually the audience join in. The Panto tone is set. Whenever anyone utters a ‘no’ the audience erupts. This escalates, making heckling a frequent feature and giving the whole evening a slightly riotous feeling.
There is a hula-hooper, who is spurred on to complete a trick by an old man in the back row giving Yoda-like advice. There’s a film in which a woman sews through her own skin. She would stitch a bit, then the silence would break as someone squirmed and made a ‘squee’ noise, then everyone would laugh at the ‘squee’ noise, before returning to stunned silence only to have the cycle repeated again. A woman dressed as a geisha wearing a gas mask did a Burlesque style dance, complete with petals and parasol. There’s another film about a hen night that descends into a chicken-burying fertility ritual. There’s a dance called The Graceful Warrior which is charming and very simple. There’s a sound based musical thing with a lot of synth and very pretty lightbulbs that flash. There’s a person covered in tinfoil with flashing ball things coming out of his head as he writhes around a bit like one of those Chinese Dragons on parade while there is also some projection. All the while, there’s a woman hanging in a net just outside the hall covered in crickets singing as a piece of durational work. In between these things, Harry Giles gets very excited about cicadas and Ali Maloney teaches us what garlic can be used to cure.
My own personal highlight was Pubic Hair Scarf and Matching Ear Muffs for Cindy (or Similar Sized Doll) by Rebecca Green. I was not expecting to like this because it has the words ‘Pubic Hair’ in the title, but it was possibly the most charming thing ever. Rebecca made a tiny scarf out of pubic hair because her life lacked direction. There’s a PowerPoint presentation about the process involved in creating the item and a game of Bingo to win the scarf, and it really feels like we’re all totally supportive of this weird thing because it’s fun and oddly relatable. She claims it’s poignant as a joke but in many ways it actually kind of is.
I am not going to properly evaluate all the things showcased, because that seems a bit mean-spirited. Of course I didn’t like everything: Anatomy is curated to create a diverse programme of all sorts of mad shit. I don’t like all things and all styles so if I went to Anatomy and liked every single performance they’d be doing it wrong. Nearly everything I’ve watched here has elicited a strong reaction, though, and whether that’s a rush of affection, sheer repulsion or turning to a friend beside me to mouth ‘What the ACTUAL FUCK?!’, it’s an exciting event that lets you speed through so many emotions as an audience member.
Anatomy is a brilliant forum for messing about and meeting new people and seeing weird and sometimes wondrous things from emerging talent. It’s also a joy to attend, with real heart and excitement at its core: a proper gem of the Edinburgh arts scene.***
(I really wanted to end on a joke to do with the NO, ANYTHING BUT THAT! title, but I can’t think of one that isn’t terrible. If you could pretend there was some really punchy and yet hilarious pun here, I’d really appreciate it.)
*If we’ve learned anything from this blog (and my life in general) it is that I fail to deal with intimacy and sexuality to a fairly high degree. Apparently, this performance was very good if you can handle people being near you while not wearing many clothes, but I missed the point as I was preoccupied with trying to escape from my own skin.
** props to my friend Ferny for this line.
*** I’ve spent the last week dealing with a lot of press releases. Apologies if this sounds lame and cliched, but I fear that has become my language. Please know that I do very much mean this.