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Cover Story: Exquisite Corpse

Written by Michael Carr on July 21, 2009

“I think it was Kandinsky who had ideas about going back into the womb,” Exquisite Corpse founder James Shirlaw tells me, “but, with the prospect of hosting a handball handslam however, l ignored this inspiration for a 1st birthday performance.”

Held in the gallery bar of the Oxford Art Factory, Exquisite Corpse started out as a weekly event combining performance art, live music, DJs and projected visuals, and quickly built a following due to the (mostly) good music, free entry and confronting spectacles offered on display.

James himself is a raging workaholic and a large part of why the night has experienced such success. He runs Exquisite Corspe, handling everything from the music to the flyer art, as well as booking for Oxford Art Factory and working on other projects like Siberian Nights. However when I mention his inhuman workload to him he shrugs it off.

“Adding promotion to the role of booking/organising sometimes come at a strain but it can be simpler to look after the majority of the workload yourself,” he laughs.

Concerns for his health, hygiene and sanity aside, all his work has paid off with the night now old enough to… well, wet itself and say dada. With a whole year behind him I ask James about some of his more memorable moments as organiser of EC.

“My first performance at Oxford Art Factory, in April 2008 was quite memorable,” he begins. “Aside from the intentions and the more conceptual points involved in that performance, in regards to being most memorable it helped l was stark naked. Despite covering the outside of the cube in wrapping paper l was quickly exposed to the entire club, two nights in a row actually, and soon after it landed me a job booking bands.”

But nudity-inspired job offers and mass litter aside, EC is not all about the art. The music and often the musicians themselves put on quite a show for the punters, some artistic, others hedonistic and some full blown satanic.

“After the Warhorse riot in November last year; l’d have to say another significantly memorable evening would have to be the Taipan, Chemical Deth, Nigga Faggot Jesus Band show in January this year. Chemical Deth supplied the night with a collection of utterly horrific visuals, hurled animal entrails all over the audience and had an enormous weightlifter pumping iron in amongst the band as they played; no one was left unimpressed and that was before a pentecostal exorcism went down in the cube.”

Art and music aside what Exquisite Corpse is really about and what all good events should be about, is having fun and involving the audience. In a city where art can be considered by some to be a dirty word, the need to find a middle ground where people who may be a little less artistic can enjoy the performances is tantamount.

“It’s worth remembering by placing art and performance in a busy, thriving, energetic nightclub environment the performances then that may be dubbed ‘silly’ generally do succeed in prompting a good reaction from the audience; absurdism is very important in winning over a nightclub crowd via performance. The ‘silly’ performances often excite and disgust; there has to be an element of humour a lot of the time.”

My personal favourite such event was when one night I saw a man piss on a woman in the cube. I’m not a pervert, I just respect people with the courage to do something like that in public.

“The audience certainly got a kick out of that,” James reminisces with me. “They so often do with the illustrious ‘SandS through the hourglass’ duo.. hmm it reminds me l need to speak to Lucas Abela; he’d be great and just as poignant performing on the floor space or in the cube!

Well public urination, exorcism, nudity, gift wrapping and entrails has led us all to Thursday July 30th, The Exqusite Corpse 1st Birthday Extravaganza, an event which promises to deliver a mix of hedonism, music and art so potent and spicy that Dionysus himself would not be able to sip from it,
his stomach lining having deteriorated over an eternity of alcoholism and eating rich food.

“Yep lots on for the Exquisite Corpse 1st Birthday,” James answers brightly in a somewhat disturbing way almost as if he had been sleep taught the information. “We’ve got a very special Limited Edition Exquisite Corpse compilation featuring tracks and collaborations between all the bands on the bill; i like cats, Ghoul and Danimals. Liam O’Donnell will be hosting the The First Annual Handball Handslam, and Joel Burrows will be presenting two short films; Aquarium and Short Thread Count. The night’s festivities will be intertwined with DJ sets by Tron 5, Gibbon Ranks, The Wog Jesus, and Leon Specs.”

So fang yourself a danga and get ready to party like it’s Thursday July 30th, because it will be, bitches.

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