An unstoppable force vs. the immovable object – Pierce Starre on making art within restriction
Pierce Starre is a live artist. He has also been an actor, an award-winning filmmaker and photographer. I caught up with him on the seafront in Waterloo where we chatted about ‘Spill Yer Tea’, a live art scratch night he is pioneering, and how he uses his experience in his art.
The name ‘Spill Yer Tea’ came from a moment during an argument Starre had with his mother when he was growing up. His frustration at her refusal to make eye contact with him when they were signing, resulted in him deliberately spilling a cup of tea on a brand-new carpet. It was a cry for attention and an expression of how he felt.
Starre has navigated his way between hearing and D/deaf worlds throughout his life. A child of deaf adults, he grew up an intermediary and facilitated communication for his parents and he has carried the weight of this responsibility throughout his life. British Sign Language was his first language. He points to the visual, tactile and colourful nature of growing up in a predominantly silent household as the start of his creative life.
“Growing up as a child of deaf adults I always feel as though that experience was very much like being in an involuntary performance. When I was with my mum and we’d be signing, people would look at us, and that almost felt like I was in an everyday performance. My mum was telling me to pretend they weren’t there as if there was a fourth wall and we were playing out to a crowd.”
Starre struggled throughout his education. Apart from a spell on a performing arts course where he consistently achieved distinctions in his work, he felt restricted. “At home we had a lot of touch. It was a very tactile home, lots of pointing, whereas at school, it was very much about personal boundaries and very much about ‘pointing is rude’. I found it very difficult to fit in with hearing children because I found it very different and they saw me as being very different.”
Starre has used his art practice to explore this experience of restriction and sense of being other. At university he explored the dichotomy of developing an experimental art practice within the restrictive nature of an academic institution.
‘Restrictus’, a live art work produced in his second year exploring the intersection of photography and performance, produced the most complaints one of his tutors received in twenty years of teaching. Starre created a performance space within an area intended for a conventional photography exhibition and wore a camera, the footage of which was simultaneously streamed live on Facebook and fed back through a monitor within the exhibition space. “It was a very difficult period. I was being met with a lot of resistance. Growing up in a family where I had completely been exposed, made to be in an involuntary performance my whole life, I wanted to know how that might make somebody else feel if they were put into an involuntary performance. So for me I think that was a really interesting experience.”
One of his tutors told him, “it’s like the unstoppable force meets the immovable object”. “It was very much like that, there was this real power struggle and I think the struggle was me trying to retain a sense of ownership.”
It was also at university where Starre discovered he was dyslexic, something which only recently he has decided to own. “I thought, this is the type of person that I am and maybe I hadn’t really come to terms with my dyslexia since coming out of university. Well I’m going to own it now.”
Owning his dyslexia has taken the form of challenging the accessibility of the applications and proposals processes for funding and artist opportunities.
Starre recently challenged a call out for artists to submit proposals for work about protest. He explained to the organisation how the process was inaccessible and how he wanted to deliver his proposal and they accepted it.
“The idea of the piece is that it’s a protest against the applications and submissions process of arts organisations across the board. I think that’s the only way I can articulate that whole experience. I think it’s important because there are a lot of artists out there not just dyslexic. My ultimate aim would be to see organisations like the arts council change the way that they do their applications process. At present they will provide you with somebody who will write the application for you. I find that quite demoralising. For me to go to somebody else and say can you do this, I don’t feel very empowered.”
It is the spirit of empowering and supporting artists which runs through Spill Yer Tea. “We’re asking artists to propose and share. As we go on we’re going to be looking at making ourselves as accessible as possible, to meeting every artist’s needs. We’re looking at video, online and face to face interview if that works best. At the moment there isn’t a selection process, it’s first come first served and we then curate working with that group of people to see how each of them would work together.”
Starre recognises the experimental history of live and performance art in the city and wants to revive it with an event which can create a supportive community for live artists. “The whole point of this event is to go back to Liverpool’s roots of experimental live art.”
Starre isn’t showing his own work at the first ‘Spill Yer Tea’ event “The first event, I’ve decided I don’t want to show work, because I’ve decided I want to oversee this event and make sure it runs smoothly and I need to understand how it’s going to work.”
Spill Yer Tea is a live art scratch event at Constellations in Liverpool. The first event was on 1 August. Check out www.facebook.com/DRIPLIVERPOOL/ for future events.