As part of its ‘Contemporary Art In Focus’ series, CVAC supported a performance piece entitled Eustace’s Loop, written and presented by Ant Macari in the Norman Chapel of Durham Castle on November 29, 2014
“How am I to flow like water (when) lost am I, in a time stream of my own thoughts, not flowing but sinking in this stagnant pool.”
This, the central philosophical question that Ant Macari posed in his experimental mystery play, is a timeless one, but particularly relevant in our ‘information age’. The idea of flow and consciousness is prominent in both religious literature and the currently fashionable ‘mindfulness’ meditation practice derived from Buddhism. The aim is to be naturally in tune with our purpose and environment, but it is difficult to develop our lives in the flow with a consciousness mired in thoughts.
Eustace’s Loop was a performance piece that explored metaphysical ideas. The artist – inspired by the secluded Norman Chapel and in particular the carving of a stag atop one of its magnificent stone columns – focused on the myth of St Eustace, the patron saint of hunters. Originally a Roman captain named Placidus, Eustace was converted to Christianity when he came across a white stag with the crucified Christ between its antlers, while hunting in the forest. In Eustace’s Loop Macari explored the theme of grace. Placidus is offered the state of grace when we meet him; he is at a crossroads, confronted with his own destiny and martyrdom he struggles to understand what is required, what is on offer and what attitude he should take to it. The artist acted out Placidus’ quest for sacred knowledge by writhing along the chapel floor holding a mistletoe plant (the golden bough) to consult with four of the stone columns representing the sceptres of the gods. No answers were offered; the narrative was simply looped back seven times to the discussion about grace and the quest. The play considered the nature and power of myth and ritual and the performance echoed the repetition that is central to both.
Placidus’ impressive costume with its soft white cloak and feathers and its golden helmet and body armour helped the artist to dominate the space. There was humour: we were gently reminded of the unfamiliarity of a single god when Placidus wrongly identified Him as Plato, Diana and Jupiter in turn. A joke at the expense of the Bishop was rendered powerless in its constant re-telling. However, this was a work of gravitas. Macari is a prodigiously talented artist and acting in performance was a departure for him. It is commendable that Durham University provided him with the space and funds to develop his practice in this way. He belongs to a vibrant community of young avant-garde artists and musicians based in the North East, and to end his commission he curated an evening of site-specific experimental music in the Norman Chapel on December 5th.