Marvin Gaye Chetwynd


Marvin Gaye Chetwynd, after she took my class to the V&A as a guest tutor, asked me to be a ‘baddie’ in her upcoming performance.


We kept in contact by email over the summer before she contacted me with dates for her show, inadvertently making me the liaison between Chetwynd and the rest of the class, who I kept informed with facebook posts.


When I first entered the Studio Voltaire gallery space, the walls were being decorated with large black and white photocopies of cats, fish with gaping mouths, reptiles and plants. This was the set of her Chetwynd’s work Hermitos Children 2. I helped complete this transformation, carefully applying tape to the edges of the paper before attaching them to the walls.


Subtitled “The Case of the Poisoned Dildo”, this piece is one part of an ongoing project that takes the form of an experimental TV programme featuring a female detective, Joan Shipman as she uncovers and solves sex-crimes. The film combines staged filmed sequences with footage of live performances. Rather than documenting events chronologically, Chetwynd blends both scripted and live elements into a single overarching narrative. This began with the large-scale live performance at Studio Voltaire.


Chetwynd has become known for her absurd carnivalesque live performances, which feature a variety of friends and family in homemade costumes. These performances share elements of the bawdy anarchy of sixteenth-century wandering troupes, referencing moments from art history and culture.


Her work combines ambition with an off-the-cuff aesthetic that often inspires mirth. Admirably, the humour does not contradict the work’s social commentary. Chetwynd has commented her work is ‘almost political’ which I interpret as meaning she doesn't take an overt political stance, but does communicate some kind of attitude about the way we live in the world. Chetwynd herself has said “The phrase ‘almost political’ was a joke, as I thought it summarises the paradox or conundrum, that is, sets up the parameters for nonsense and humour. To make an agenda for ‘a non-accountable outcome’, to try to have ‘an experimental time to no avail’. To make a pointless spontaneous event and to enjoy it”. I find this approach inspiring.


The dance rehearsals, a day prior to the performance, were fun and slightly shambolic, though Chetwynd held the group together at all times. Her approach is sometimes interpreted as 'wilful amateurism', but she has explained she wants to maintain a sense of fun and excitement in the work, even if that means the result being bit ramshackle. Her approach at all times during rehearsals was professional, overseeing all elements confidently, driving the project forward.


On the day of the performance, I set out the tables for the Iron Age Pasta Workshop. Julia, my friend and classmate created an elaborate pasta necklace which, once completed, was then presented to the Discerning Eye, sitting high on a wooden mound. The black cloaked figure would hold each necklace made at the Pasta Workshop up to the light to examine it and choose either to return it or throw it to the ground dramatically, amid cheering or alternately booing from the audience. Some looked genuinely disappointed their necklace never made the grade. Julia's passed.


The Pasta Workshop was followed by other forms of entertainment, above all acrobatics loosely inspired by Minoan bull-leaping. These were performed by the artist, wearing nothing but a red cape. I was lined up to leap the 'bull', but there wasn't enough time for me to go through the training before the performance. So disappointing.


Chetwynd somersaulted above a “charging” black bull with golden horns (its parts just about held together by a few men), after being roused by beating drums. As the incense burned, this became a spectacle designed to stimulate all the senses.


Part of the performance element was inspired by Sholay, a Hindi 1970's cinema classic, in particular a scene where the female lead dances barefoot on shards of glass. This catapulted us from Minoan Crete to Bollywood, in an imaginative leap that Chetwynd managed to pull off.


As I knew the lyrics, at the last minute, I was given a spot with Joan - the star - . Julia and I attempted to lip-synch and strut our stuff as we danced around to Gossip's 'Listen Up', dazzled with enthusiasm and by the neon lights which bathed the scene in a warm pink glow.



Chetwynd’s work expresses hope, joy and faith in community, something I would like to emulate I think these are sentiments are scarce, and her work is all the more important for it. Watching her work was informative and inspiring in terms of the ambition she has for her work. Chetwynd’s reputation has grown over the years, with her nomination for the Turner Prize in 2012.


I admire how her work looks at things within a cultural and historical framework, while having an absurd slant. I was impressed by the way she made things happen and held the group together and her enthusiasm was infectious, experience was immersive in nature. She advised about being strategic in approach, and I was also struck by how she had made her email address 'decisive person@....’.