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Franko B – The Place, London

Reviewer: Jessica Sabatini

[rating:4]

FrankoBThere is no question of artist Franko B’s gift for generating live imagery of almost alchemical imagination. The conception and arrangement of Because of Love Volume 1 are striking in themselves; but it is the performance – in which he brings to bear his neutral, cohering presence and consummate, wordless candour – which finally endows this work with its uniquely moving qualities.

He arrives on stage in sandshoes, white singlet and shorts as the back wall flickers with a montage of political conflict, sparing us neither war atrocities nor anodyne Fifties’ ads. No dancer, he paces, jogs, stands. The images pass with minimal comment from his body, and when they cease, we are sunk in a silence which dominates much of the rest of the show.

Franko B presents himself in poses of stark simplicity, colonising the audience with his gaze. He draws a line on a blackboard and permits us to ponder it for a good five minutes; he stands on profile, staring into the wings for five minutes more. That the audience is palpably captive is a testament to some uncanny truth about human presence, his lightness of touch, and an almost metaphysical wisdom in letting time and space speak for themselves. He is a performer you trust absolutely, immediately, for his unadorned vulnerability. No pretence here.

As he kneels and draws a length of cotton chord from across the stage, the piping song of a child reveals fragmented episodes from his ‘autobiography’. Each one comes as a sudden surprise, and what is literally personal, or vicarious, or ‘appropriated experience’, is both unclear and of no final importance. All is deeply felt, and shared.

As he repeatedly lies and rolls off a table, hot water bottle flopping and dropping beside him, life has sent him tumbling, it seems. He cannot get comfortable, and the mood of the piece cradles discomfort, saturates it in awareness. Discomfort is the fact it presents without horror, and with this comes the immediate, paradoxical effect of soothing and union.

Franko B knows how to range beyond humanity, too. The plight of a hapless space dog unfolds as a stretch of eclectic magic, in all its unsuspecting innocence, oblivion and lonely adventure. There are taxidermised fox heads too. He chooses animals that are troubled and severed, in danger somehow. Consider the ten-foot polar bear: a remote-controlled robot and the show’s magnetic centerpiece. One wonders by what arbitrary force it assumes archetypal resonance, but it does. The performer’s communion with it peaks in a dance to a stuttering, ultimately carnivalesque piano piece by Othon, two figures reconciling a hinted absence in their mutual colour of amnesiac white.

Hailed as a departure from previous work, Because of Love Volume 1 brings life’s intimate pain and strangeness to the stage and transmutes it, with a universalizing gaze, simplicity, acceptance and reassuring calm.

Photo: Hugo Glendinning

Runs Until 5 March

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