Peer Review 1

By Natalie Waldbaum

Michelle Horacek is a performance artist whose work centers in the feminine aspect and in the performer's body under duress. With the 21-day durational performance Imbolc Horacek took her work into the public sphere independent of a gallery institutional and beyond the enclosure of an exclusively artistically versed audience. It constituted a series of improvised choreographic movements, developed over a year of physical research, performed every morning between 7 and 10 am in various locations across central London, from 1 st to 21 st February 2008. Beginning at dawn on the day of the Celtic celebration of the quickening of spring, the performance aimed to bring the mystique of ancient rites and an awareness of the natural cycle of the turning seasons into the centre of the modern metropolis. An elaborate costume, consisting of multiple unfolding layers in black, white and red, designed by Fernando Mialski, and crowned by a long headdress over a face painted white, gave the performance a reminiscence of Japanese Noh.

The performance covered the twilight and morning rush-hour periods and struck a contrast to the hectic pace of pedestrian and commuter traffic, moving slowly through streets, parks and around monuments, encountering early morning joggers and dog walkers, businessmen and women, tourists, shop keepers, street vendors and officials. Horacek referred to her performance persona as the Seed Queen, calling the spring into awakening. As such she interacted with the site in which she was situated, but never maintained eye contact or spoke to onlookers, making it necessary for her to be accompanied by a mediator/guard/guide at all times to communicate with audiences, answer queries and negotiate with officials.

Audience responses ranged from curiosity, puzzlement and delight, to occasional hostility, while some chose to ignore altogether this unexpected break in their morning routine. For many this spectacle was beyond comparison to any previously encountered artwork, and it was interpreted varyingly as a performance, a theatre promotion, a ritual, a meditation. Due to the 21-day duration of the performance, the possibility arose for audiences' chance encounter and reencounter of the performer in various locations across the city, each time raising more curiosity and discussion. Horacek refused to accept money from her audience and performed Imbolc as a counter-consumerist gesture, in stark contrast to the flashing lights of the McDonalds and Diet Coke advertisements at Piccadilly Circus, where Horacek performed on 16th and 17th of February.
The performance culminated in Regent’s Park, where Horacek struck a majestic figure emerging from the early morning mist amongst the order and tranquility of the gardens. She was joined on the last day by Alice Kemp, who accompanied her with bells and recorded sound samples for a five-hour finale. While the first days of the performance in early February started in darkness at 7am, the shift of the sun over 21 days, and the longer duration of the final day's performance brought the Seed Queen from the dream-state of early morning twilight into the fullness of day. This brought the work into a state of waking consciousness, attracting a different audience of workers on their lunch break and families with young children, and changing the dynamic of engagement and response to the performance.

Peer Review 2

By Rebecca Weeks

When I begin to recall the Imbolc performance, I see Michelle Horacek in my minds eye; no longer herself, swirling silhouetted against a bright blue sky on London Bridge. Her figure is a black, red and white form against the blue plain of the sky. She spoke to me of a fierce need to be, and to do what she must do.

Through Horacek’s performance the general absence of simple acts of relation, and the importance of these acts, has been highlighted for me. The lack of these acts is intrinsically linked to the lack of public spaces that are available for people to move within, to sing within, and to generally express themselves within. I have come to understand that the fear between people grows when silence between people becomes normal, and when it is read as the prelude to an act of aggression to make eye contact. This resistance to communication had to be skilfully negotiated and worked with.

Horacek intended her actions to contrast with the mechanistic nature of the city, to be at odds with the rush to work, to be at odds with the social psychic and spiritual limitations of a society ordered around productivity. Through the incongruous nature of the spectacle she presented to the city, through her juxtaposition of the artist’s need and the human need to weave meaning into the everyday life  -- and the inhumanity of the city, Horacek achieved an intervention. People stopped, people looked, people took flyers. The curious approached us and I spoke to them in the midst of the pedestrian morning charge to work, in the midst of the fear of the stranger. For a moment something else held the audience’s attention and suggested other motivations for doing, other reasons for being.