PROCEDURE (FOR DATA USE ONLY)
Sighle Bhreathnach-Cashell, George Thompson, Richard Martin, James Stephen Wright, Euan Ogilvie, Heather Purcell and Helen Tubridy, Sinead Bhreathnach-Cashell, Jamie Clements and Giovanni Giacoia
19th February 2011
Review by Eoin Dara
Nestled comfortably somewhere between a childhood dream of Pat Sharp’s ‘Fun"House’ and an Orwellian nightmare of dystopia, Sighle Bhreathnach-Cashell’s Procedure project at The Station in Belfast on 19th February was an experience one is not likely to ever forget. Shrouded in mystery from the outset, in early February interested parties were invited to apply for tickets in advance to attend Procedure, and inscribed on each ticket was the following (the only information offered before the event):
“You are required to attend STATION (21 QUEEN STREET) for PROCEDURE
on SATURDAY 19TH FEBRUARY 7PM-10PM.
You will progress through the STATION undergoing psychological tests,
completing challenges and facing temptation, to determine your status.
This will be FOR DATA USE ONLY."
Upon entering The Station, via a solemn security check at the gate, the successful applicants surrendered their tickets at a reception window and were swiftly ushered into a waiting room by a stern looking female equipped with a long white coat and clipboard, who snapped the door behind each group as they were shown in. Refreshments were provided from a corner of this holding area which was decorated sparsely with only a few chairs and also, curiously, a large wooden coffin which rested at waist height on unknown supports in the centre of the room. Small cymbals embedded along each side of the casket sparked nervous laughter from unwitting individuals brushing past and inducing this macabre percussion section, but before further thought could be given to such a curious
piece of interior design, the clipboard and coat matron would re-enter and select at random individuals to begin their 'Procedure’.
In these groups of three or four, the audience then plunged into an all-encompassing sensory environment, guided, controlled even, by more staff in long white coats and other austere apparel. In hindsight, it was startling how quickly one fell into the submissive participant/patient role after being assigned to either group A or B, following a brusque personal interview from a shady bearded individual sat in what seemed to be an old broom cupboard with a desk and chair squeezed in. The questions used to determine the interviewee’s ‘status’ ranged from “What is your favourite colour?" to“Do you believe in the existence of evil?”
Moving around the labyrinth of derelict rooms and corridors in this unique space, one felt acutely aware at all times of the history of the building, which was purpose built in the late nineteenth century as a children’s hospital and then converted into RUC barracks in 1933 before closing in 2000. Evocations of these former environments were exaggerated during Procedure through the use of the medical garb of some of the supervisory staff, and the less tangible air of offbeat authoritarianism that pervaded throughout the evening. As groups progressed through the three stories of this building, it seemed a breaking away from the orderly fashion with which affairs had initially been conducted was almost essential in order to experience fully the performances, installations and participatory work on display. With joyous abandon, this author witnessed formerly subdued and tense individuals eagerly scrambling through Heather Purcell’s tunnel of pregnant latex udders to then come across James Stephen Wright in the throes of a hypnotising performance involving green lycra, stale bread, dead pigeons, and the Mary Poppins original soundtrack. The same crowds then went on to dance in George Thompson’s eerie disco room where familiar faces loomed out of Facebook inspired portraits covering the walls whilst The Flamingos ‘I Only Have Eyes for You’ played on a loop.
Certain works, like Bhreathnach-Cashell’s enormous board game where Group A candidates were pitted against Group B, and other spaces where an orderly queue had to be formed in order to gain access, reinforced to a certain extent some semblance of order and regulation, and made sure that the participants, now heady with visual, aural, olfactory and gustatory delights, did not lose their heads completely. In what seemed like a blink of an eye, 10 o’clock arrived, and the congregation of this spectacular service filtered down to the ground floor and back into the waiting room, which had now transformed intoa raucous Irish wake, complete with a trad session from local musicians and two artists keeping rhythm by shaking the cymbal adorned coffin. From here, a procession of mourners/revellers formed, and with the maker of the coffin, George Thompson, being carried atop his chiming creation, Procedure and it’s subjects marched proudly out of The Station to continue research at the nearest reputable drinking establishment.
The brilliance of Bhreathnach-Cashell’s ambitious project staged in this otherwise derelict edifice in Belfast city centre, lay in its ability to at once resurrect the building’s former identities as institutions of both nurture and oppression and to create a brand new, unique disposition for the space, specific to the spectacular goings on of 19th February 2011. Procedure will now forever be imbued in the fabric of the corridors, walls, and rooms of 21 Queen Street.