Fringe festivals are all about trying something new, and I’ve come to realise that the Amsterdam Fringe embraces that concept more than most. So I was excited about my first foray into the world of “live art” – which in this case saw a vast charcoal sketch improvised from scratch, in response to a thumping soundtrack that’s also created live on-stage.
The show begins, not with anything visual, but an explosion of sound. Musician Arnold Kooij makes plentiful use of his loop pedal to build a swelling, mechanistic auditory backdrop, reminiscent of the brain-numbing repetitions of a dark satanic mill. It’s not exactly pleasant, but it’s ideally matched to the industrial-feeling space at Club Up – where a blank canvas waits, casually taped to an unremarkable wall.
But when Levi van Huygevoort finally appears, sticks of charcoal in his hands, the mood changes. The artist’s arrival triggers a burst of disco lighting, which continues to pulse throughout the show. It’s a bold statement to make, but it’s the ideal match for van Huygevoort’s wilfully overstated performance: he struts and poses, throwing himself at the canvas with the showy confidence of a rock star. It was entertaining from the outset, although – I’ll be completely honest here – I found it a little more humorous than I think I was intended to.
Yet there’s something irresistible about van Huygevoort’s boundless energy, and his unwavering dedication to the artistic process he’s chosen. His antics might be attention-seeking, but they’re not in any way contrived; I genuinely believe that he arrives on stage empty-headed, and waits for the musical muse to consume him. And over time, I too found myself being swept away, persuaded to switch off the more rational and more cynical voice at the back of my brain.
For me, a lot of the fun lay in guessing just what van Huygevoort was going to do next. Lie on his back and wave his legs in the air? Grab an instrument? Eat the charcoal? All these things happen, and more. But his grandstanding diminishes the diffident Kooij, who’s reduced to a supporting act at the side of the stage. Considering that the art’s supposedly a response to the music, it would be nice to see Kooij’s contribution more obviously celebrated.
As for the image van Huygevoort finally produced – an arachnid horror looming out of the wall – I wouldn’t have been surprised to find it on display in a provincial gallery. It was intriguing to see the structure of the image grow out of some initial formless scribbles, and I left Club Up with a newfound respect for both the artist and the mode of performance. After all, he seemed to be having fun, while I certainly had fun watching him. And in the final analysis, isn’t that an art of its own?