Grace Corry takes a look at Paddy Cahill’s exploration of Amanda Coogan’s durational performance art practice.
The one-man production that is Paddy Cahill returns in homage to long-time friend and collaborator, Amanda Coogan in this intriguing, frank depiction of a life dedicated to an uncharted art in Ireland. Cahill, who shoots, directs and edits all his own work has been crucial in documenting Coogan’s performances, beginning with Yellow, which premiered at the Dublin Film Festival in 2012, followed by this seminal piece which focuses both on Coogan’s life and work, the influences that brought her to where she is now, and her lifelong study of the body’s language.
At the centre of Long Now is Coogan’s most notable performance to date, I’ll Sing You a Song from Around the Town, an ambitious undertaking whereby Coogan performed in the RHA Gallery for a gruelling 6 hours a day, 5 days a week for 6 weeks. The piece was an exploration of durational/endurance performance, the likes of which had never been seen in Ireland before. Such was its popularity that it became the most visited and successful exhibitions in the gallery’s history.
Performance art, hinged on time and site, combines a range of visual arts with the human body at its core. After training under Marina Abramovic it is no wonder that Coogan’s interests lie in the sensational and the risky, often politically and religiously charged.
Time is of the utmost importance to Coogan’s work – it is something she explains as a concept, a facilitator to the relationship between audience and performer. It offers, she believes, an infinity through the repetition of her movements, a slow and enduring style that both performer and filmmaker propose as an ‘infinite loop’ by which the audience can imagine the performer continuing to perform, long after they have left the space. The art form itself is exquisite, and is presented so by Cahill, who cuts and angles his shots to challenge our ever decreasing attention spans, as Coogan does, lingering, dwelling on the images that are not particularly cinematic but are true to Coogan’s design. The opening ten minutes of the film, for example, are close up on Coogan during I’ll Sing You a song from Around the Town, unflinching, her condition not even allowing a single blink, her movements contesting the speed at which everything must be consumed in modern society. She asks us to slow down, to breath. Cahill adopts this mantra by upholding the principles of performance art in his film – long, worshipping and often beautiful shots of Coogan with her work, with other practitioners performing her pieces. This breaks occasionally in attempts to offer a candid moment with Coogan, but at some of these points she seems disengaged, perhaps removed from her work, from the reason the camera was there at all and if the film fell down at any point it was these comparatively hammy depictions of Coogan’s ‘daily life’.
The accounts shared by Coogan throughout the film were carefully selected by Cahill, pieces he recorded of her talking to others, often students of hers, to eliminate the formalities of the interview and questions that would seem contrived had they been asked by Cahill (he would have known the answers all too well). I would have liked to see a single, if short, conversation/address from Coogan though, a more clear cut expression of the woman behind the art as opposed to selected sections of exchanges with other people. The answers may have been known to Cahill but probably not to the layman. Coogan the artist was present but the person behind it didn’t truly appear.
Having said that, Cahill captures sublimely the nature of the work created by Coogan, her love and respect for her art and in doing so has made it meaningful and most importantly, accessible to Irish audiences. It’s a lovely film, and will undoubtedly last as a record of the avant-garde existing in Irish culture, a snap shot of performance art stepping into the light.
Amanda Coogan: Long Now screened on Saturday, 18th February 2017 at the IFI as part of the Audi Dublin International Film Festival