Review: Suspended, Chelsea Theatre
Atop a ladder, cloaked in a sheeny black shroud, sits Natasha Davis. Strands of her hair stand out from her scalp, tied to string attached to the ceiling. She looks almost like a shampoo advert frozen mid-swish, but there’s something calmer, more peaceful and meditative about her. She seems entirely natural, almost fantastically so, like a woodland fairytale creature; wise and old and rooted. A half-smile of half-contentment plays across her lips. She is settled. A good job, really, since any rapid movement, any slip from the ladder would tear her hair from its roots.
For all her seeming happiness, then, she is caught. Her lot is one of contentment within constraint. The question is whether to stick or up sticks in search of more, potentially risking the security and serenity of her current position.
The scissors in her hands testify to her decision and, strand by strand, she sets about snipping herself free, at times inviting us to take part in the process as well. She cuts not the string, but the hair itself, just below the knot. Wisps of her hair remain hanging from the ceiling, dangling around our heads in the promenade space. This is a literal uprooting for Davis, who emigrated from her native Croatia before arriving in the UK in 2000, but it involves leaving pieces of herself behind. It is a gorgeous, pensive and clear image, swamped in its own space and time.
From that point on, however, Davis’ work become blurrier and – rare for a performance so grounded in its realities – almost sentimental. She is so intent on making us feel the tangibility and viscerality of her performance that she undermines her intentions, which are less than clear in themselves. Everything is lingered over sumptuously and slowly.
What starts autumnal and rosy, as she stands half-steady on a platform of loose apples and sings, grows colder and harsher. She empties salt into a ritualistic circle on the floor, adding a layer of grass. She wraps herself in a series of protective jackets, fashionable but also armour. She squeezes, in a tiny image of transfixing violence, meat through a mincer so that it bubbles and squeaks with blood.
This is a wrenching. The darkness of Davis’ imagery suggests a tearing of the self, as if, having left part of herself in her homeland, it has been stretched too far and too thin. The process of migration, Davis suggests, undoes a person at the seams. When she hammers three nails through a map of Europe – first Croatia, then Greece, then England – we see the tear. Wherever one goes, there exists a longing for elsewhere. A pull in different directions that works like a rack.
But it ends in peace. Davis, lying flat on the floor beneath the sheeny shroud, inches her way through the crowd, pulling herself along by the movements of her shoulderblades. The artist becomes an oil slick or an incoming tide. Slow and steady, considered and calm – though not without effort – it suggests a coming to terms. Perhaps, in that balance of peace and exertion, movement without discomfort, Davis is suggesting a happy medium. Sure, it is not a full return to the total, still quietude of the first moments, but it is noticeably full of composure and poise. Tumult, Davis suggests, is a necessary process in seeking self-improvement. Suspended seems a call to arms for a happiness more full, if not as satisfied or content.