Art & Photography

Megan Rooney: COS x Serpentine Park Nights

The Canadian-born performance artist reflects on her latest project, SUN DOWN MOON UP, produced for this year’s Park Nights programme

My first performance for the Serpentine was in 2015. Entitled Last Days. Last Days. Last Days., it took place inside the Duane Hanson exhibition at the Sackler Gallery, and ever since the curatorial team at the Serpentine has been on a journey with me, attending many of my performances and exhibitions. I feel I have been developing with the institution and sharing a dialogue with them that extends beyond the individual projects

My performance for the Park Nights programme – SUN DOWN MOON UP – has been constructed specifically around Frida Escobedo’s Pavilion – it is our site and provides the intention, the skin of the piece, holding everything inside it. Escobedo has designed the Pavilion with four entry points, and it encourages movement very naturally.

Over the past few years Nefeli Skarmea and I have been working on developing a universe of movement that is attached to my writing. Parts of the movement have evolved from the very first performances, dragging forward small details. Some things have been forgotten or omitted or lost. Some things have also changed and evolved. For this performance, I’ve written a new text which deals with the present moment: the festering chaos of politics with its myriad cruelties and the violence of our society, so resident in the home, in the female, in the body. It uses the body as a site of resistance and as a site for storytelling.

Megan Rooney

The pavilion has a slippery quality to it – the material language of the breeze blocks feels, at first glance, very open and light. But after spending a number of days roaming round the space it started to take on a cage-like quality, where views are obstructed and the inside bleeds with the outside through a series of peep holes that surround the interior space. It led me to develop a new narrative that incorporates a world where everything is swinging very dangerously to the right. I saw magpies exploring the space and remembered Gioachino Rossini’s tragicomic opera, La Gazza Ladra (The Thieving Magpie), which tells the story of a French girl accused of theft who is tried, convicted and executed. Later the true culprit is revealed to be a magpie. I used this as a starting point for the characters.

This piece involves a lot of collaboration and as such it means we are knitting the work together, calling in all the elements from the text, to the movement, to the sound. It starts as this trickle of ideas and references and research and it gets very locked down and specific in my mind. Then I pass on and share these ideas to the people I’m working with and I force myself to let go of it for a while, because each person involved has to have agency to respond and find their way into the world I am trying to create inside the piece, otherwise it’s fake and empty and it feels dead. There is something powerful about involving others in my making process. It breathes into the work positions and experiences that belong to a number of voices.

For me, performance is about sharing an experience with a group of people. It’s about the bodies in the room. It’s about the journey. It’s not about documenting the piece and watching it later or scrolling through images on the web. I’m interested in the experience itself, in the violence that comes with something happening just once, after which it is lost forever. You can’t sell it. You can’t own it. You can only be there. Very few situations in life give you that feeling. I want the experience to linger with you, so that months later, when you’re doing the dishes or sitting in bed or taking a shit, something you heard or saw comes back to you.

Megan Rooney, Back to breath. Back to wind. 2018, installation view, Palais de Tokyo. Photography Aurélien Mole.

Park Nights – staged within the unique Serpentine Pavilion in the heart of Hyde Park – is an experimental programme of live performances by compelling multidisciplinary artists from across art, architecture, music, film, philosophy and technology. At COS we are constantly inspired by the worlds of art and design, and for us it is an honour to support the Serpentine Galleries’ public performance series for a sixth year this summer.  

Mexican architect Frida Escobedo is the youngest architect so far to accept the invitation to design the pavilion on the Serpentine Gallery lawn and we are excited to see Park Nights come alive in what she has created. Her pavilion has focused on the subtle interplay of light, water and geometry, creating an atmospheric courtyard which draws on Mexican architecture and British materials and history, specifically the Prime Meridian line at London’s Royal Observatory in Greenwich.

– Karin Gustafsson, COS creative director

Megan Rooney’s performance will take place on Friday 14th September. COS x Serpentine Park Nights 2018 runs on selected nights throughout the summer. For more information please click here.