Seminar – Anna Harpin on ‘Being a Mess: Performance and The Tender Loneliness of Kim Noble’s You’re Not Alone’

In the second paper in our 2021/22 seminar series, Anna Harpin from the University of Warwick examines ‘being a mess’ as not only personal catastrophe but political, public event.

CW: abstract contains explicit content

In Kim Noble’s 2014 You Are Not Alone, performed at the Soho Theatre, we see inside the shower cubicle at his father’s care home at bath time. We hear audio of his neighbours having sex via a microphone drilled through the boundary wall. We watch Noble shave his balls and create a fake vagina out of a skinless chicken breast as part of his practice of sexting as ‘Sarah’. We see him shit in a church. We listen to Keith, the cashier at Morrison’s, gratefully receive his numerous local hero awards from Noble. And on. Structured around a series of futile attempts at grasping intimacy, the performance strews Noble’s life across the stage in the form of tender provocations. As an audience, we are invited go where we ordinarily do not or are not supposed to. Private actions, feelings, experiences, spaces are thus made public, available, visible. In their cumulative exposure to the daylight, Noble’s social-artistic experiments prompt a re-evaluation of the politics of the hidden, the concealed, the shut away. This paper is interested in the presumed ‘insideness’ of difficult feelings and what might be lost by understanding experiences such as loneliness or distress as interior phenomena. In particular, through an examination of Noble’s performance work, I aim to draw attention to the paradoxically relational and world-directed nature of loneliness. In so doing, I will argue that Noble’s work turns our attention to both what emotional pain is and also what it wants. If we accept that ‘being a mess’ might be a political, public event, as opposed to simply a personal catastrophe, then we can begin to ask what such an event is calling for and calling upon us to be or do. Put more simply, this paper will consider how far Noble’s work stages the political value of turning ourselves and each other inside out.

Anna Harpin is a lecturer at the University of Warwick. Recent publications include her monograph, Madness, Art, and Society: Beyond Illness, an article on Katie Mitchell (CTR) and a chapter on Shane Meadows’ cinema (The Routledge Companion to Literature and Disability).  She is also a theatre maker with her company, Idiot Child.

This seminar will take place online.

All are welcome but booking is required. Please click here to register your attendance.