The joy of Sanctum is never knowing what’s on – 24 hour performances of art. It’s addictive. On a wet Tuesday we turned up and were unable to gain entry through the stone arches into the structure. We discovered the joys of the King’s Head with its original panelled snug complete with Victorian gas lamps and hard benches to sit at.
When we gained access to see a band it was the wooden structure built by the Theaster Gates team that overwhelmed us. Built from recycled windows and, large floorboards it resembled an upturned boat or a Cathedral, and given that we were in the bombed out Temple Church, it seemed appropriate to see the innards of the building on show. Galvanised bolts, and long struts thrust down into the guts of the structure. The windows leaked water. Inside this intimate space, backlit by recycled windows is a perfect showcase for art performances
It took me less than 5 minutes to decide this one wasn’t for me. But on Saturday night I took a chance and got there early. The queue was ominously long and I waited for an hour or so. I’m good at waiting.
In the queue was a man with blue glitter on his eyelids, a waistcoat the colour of a Turkish cushion. A Performer? I wasn’t disappointed – he was and he didn’t disappoint. Sanctum offers a queueing system at busy time. Once you get in you are stickered and politely asked to leave after a certain time.
The band, Ushti Baba were amazing. I caught a glimpse inside the honey colour wooden Sanctum space. A woman in Turkish style costume swirled shot green silk around her head. She jumped on a wooden box and belly danced. It was a sexy, sweaty, gusty performance from the wonderful Ushti Baba with fiddle, guitar, jazz and gypsy folk notes that made you glad to be alive. The man with glitter on his eyes in his velvet trousers did not disappoint. Everyone danced and although I was only there for the last two songs I was glad to be alive, picking up on the riotous energy of the performers. What followed was a big brass band, the Presidents of Parp. The tuber player, balding, bearded, pork pie hat moved his whole frame as he played.
It was a great night.
The following morning I got up at 7 to see the dawn rise over the church. The bombed interior of Temple Church is so poignant. During the November raids on the city in World War Two the ancient church took a direct hit and the faded picture outside with firemen standing ankle deep in ash is a reminder of the trauma. The grey light filtering through Sanctum structure and beyond through the sturdy stone pillars reminded of what was lost and forgotten. So many of my friends weren’t aware of Temple Church’s existence or location.
The music that cold wet morning was plinky plonky, and after the excitement of a 7 am start it left me cold, staring at a bearded youth cross legged on a work bench rocking back and forth and nodding to his computer as he twiddled with the buttons. Synth music isn’t much fun to watch. The music was soothing but like me many people left when the storm clouds and angst noises began to disturb the pace
We were told to come back at 10 for ‘something special’, but were surprised by tea and papers on offer with a group which described this as a meeting similar to the Quakers. I was rather apprehensive that I was in the hands of religious gathering but had to stay as I’d dragged friends and family along. We were asked to read out headlines that made us angry or moved us. A bearded young man facilitating the event read out his headline and encouraged us to speak. After very British silence someone spoke out about the John Lewis Christmas ad, kids being streamed at 8 years old, tax avoidance, refugee crisis, Calais camps and so on. Anger and sadness built in the space and were given space. Suddenly we stopped observing and became contributors.
It seemed fitting to remain quiet for the 11th November remembrance day. Our silence was interrupted by that urban ubiquitous sound of the ambulance siren, all the more poignant for its warning sound of danger.
Then we had a bit of role play with the organisers pretending to be politicians. What would you say to Theresa May? In the background some rude guitarists began practising for their next set whilst we wrote our headlines on bits of paper and handed to the organisers. Suddenly flames leapt from the archway outside as our headlines were burnt and the guitarists began strumming angrily. I’d been had. It was all part of the performance and these were not religious or social activists but actors.
I’ve started going after work and pre or post social events. I’ve heard stories – notably a wonderful piece from a woman in North Bristol Writers Group about a homeless man who died in the cold, tricked by a mysterious woman into lying still, and wonderful music. I’ve had the opportunity to listen and experience music I’d never normally come across and have the freedom to leave if I want to or stay if I can. People have told me they’ve cried.
“It’s the randomness of the programming that delights – the ability to be in an audience and listen or to leave if you want. In this way performers find their own audience and the audience find their performers.”
I write short stories and flash fiction and novels and put my name down in a big blue book to see if I could perform. No-one’s called yet, but some writing friends who know my work have given me a 5 minute slot with North Bristol Writers’ Group. I couldn’t be more delighted. It will be a highlight of my year.
Please don’t leave us, spirit of Sanctum.