In September 2016 Conrad Armstrong VC showed a series of works called TENSION at The Saatchi Gallery in London.
The works were a response to the immediate aftermath of the Brexit vote.
To mark the occasion Vicious Collective assembled for an ad-hoc Sunday Service within the overtly 'professional' atmosphere of the Saatchi Gallery's START Art Fair.
Due to the institutional shock of having Artists actually present in an Art Gallery, the VC were quickly removed from the premises... But as it was a nice day, and feeling once again at home on the street outside a gallery (rather than inside), the VC then continued their Sunday Service attracting a large and expectant crowd of punters who were keen to see some contemporary art in real life, until they were once again shut down and the punters forlornly settled for going on inside of the gallery to see what was in the gift shop and use the facilities. Thus ending the VC's big adventure to The Saatchi Gallery. A beautiful day that many of their Oyster Cards will remember as the first time they beeped out west of Bethnal Green.
Robert Barry, wrote this review of their efforts for the Quietus on September 18th, 2016.
“…But we’re having a performance here in a moment –”
“– on the theme of tension…”
To a shudder of electronics from a small wedge speaker in the corner of the booth, Mai Nguyen-Tri, dressed in a cloud of white chiffon and matching swimming cap, her skin dusted with talc, perches on a silver dustbin lid in the manner of a frog preparing to leap. Tied to the lid’s handle runs a thin red rope, snaked across the floor.
A beat from the corner wedge. Nguyen-Tri strikes a pose, wide-eyed, her mouth a gaping O. She proceeds to dance balletically about the cramped space, coiling the rope about her as she does. It leaves marks on her arms where it’s rubbed off the talc. The tension of taut fibres mingles with the inner tension of the dancer’s pose, and – something else. A different kind of traction, coming from her interactions with the few dozen onlookers. At one point she proffers the upturned lid to each in turn. The gesture is ambiguous. What is she miming here? An offer of invisible food? Or the pan-handler’s plea for spare change?
The dance ends with a limp flourish, deflated upon the lid like an evacuated balloon. The music stops. The dancer springs up. “Thank you to Conrad Armstrong,” she declares, “and fuck Brexit!” A muted cheer.
Armstrong himself takes centre stage now, looking like a post-apocalyptic carnival barker. He wears a tartan jacket and cochineal-coloured hair cascading down to his nipples, past a necklace made of beads, safety pins, house keys, and the ring pull of a can of pop. “This is my work,” Armstrong announces, gesturing to the canvases on the wall behind him – taut ab ex smears and splashes, strung like burst bubblegum from edge to edge with the whole thing tied, BDSM-style, with a similar red cord. He describes them as an “emotional outburst” in response to Brexit and the breakdown of community then proceeds to read a poem of his own composition in deeply sincere tones.
Armstrong is the host and compere of the Sunday Service, a monthly “open platform” in Hackney Wick, for “anyone,” he says, “who wants to express themselves.” But today they are squatting in the booth of a gallery called Unit G, upstairs at the Start Art Fair."
Performance: Mai Nguyen Tri
Film: Katia Ganfield