Esther Draycott reviews the recent project Performance/Wallpaper by Sonia Boyce at Eastside Projects and looks ahead to the next one on 7 April.

Boyce is one of the leading figures to have emerged from the British Black Arts Movement during the 1980s. She studied at Stourbridge College and has since exhibited internationally, been awarded an MBE and elected as a Royal Academician.

Boyce’s work forms part of Production Show, running at the gallery until 22 April.


Sonia Boyce, Eastside Projects, Birmingham. Photo: George Torode; Courtesy: the artist and Eastside Projects


From around 7pm on 17 February I joined a crowd emitting occasional bursts of applause and sympathetic groans as local skateboarders raced around Eastside Projects for a show arranged by artist Sonia Boyce. The main space had been transformed into a skate park for the night as part of her ongoing project Wallpaper/Performance. Some skateboarders – only ever one or two at a time – were playing ukuleles. The score, played by performers seemingly at random and alone rather than in unison, was written by composer Jorge Gomez Abrante. He claimed he had started writing music specifically for playing the ukulele while skateboarding after he was forced to start tuning the instrument while skating his way to music rehearsals. The evening was documented by photographer George Torode. His photographs will be collected and reimagined as wallpaper by Boyce in a process she calls ‘recouping the remains’.

With all that in mind there seems to be a lot to explain but when I ask Boyce to do so she seemed determined to focus on the simplicity behind the performance. “It’s just fun”, she explained. “I have thought a lot in the past about how there are so few ways for people in adulthood to be playful. Initially I wanted to fill a gallery with people skipping, but Gavin [Wade, Eastside Project’s Director] was interested in skateboarding so we decided to go with that instead.”

Boyce was equally keen to emphasise, as she has done frequently in the past, that the performance element of her work at Eastside Projects involved little input of her own other than the bare bones of the idea: Abrante’s ukulele music was his own project, and most of the skateboarders performing visited the gallery for the first time on the night itself with no set choreography or rehearsal. Just like the rest of the audience, her role during the performance was simply to observe what would naturally unfold over the evening.

Instead it is in the transition between the two elements of the entire project – the performance and the wallpapers that are on display – that you get a real sense of Boyce’s practice as an artist. By inviting the audience to reflect on the way she has transcribed the event we observed alongside her into a permanent artwork, Boyce turns what started out as a simple, enjoyable, at points confusing evening into a reflection of memory itself: how our minds tend to distill real events into embellished, reordered, often completely different versions of themselves.

Visitors are welcomed to Eastside Projects on 7 April when once again skateboarders will be descending on the gallery for the evening, ostensibly to do pretty much the same thing. There will be a few minor changes: this time the performance will be filmed, recorded and will play out to the backdrop of the wallpaper Boyce has created from documentation of the previous performance, evoking a strange feeling of déjà vu even for those who didn’t make it to the first event.

Judging by the first performance, I would urge you all to go – but then again it will probably be nothing like how I remember it.


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