Anger is one of the most frequently occurring yet least discussed emotions. It can seem like the most immature, the most undeveloped of our feelings. Holding on to it is always something we are told not to do and being angry can suggest you are petty or lacking in forgiveness. And ultimately, the anger you feel apparently does more damage to the person feeling it than it does to its object.
But wait, because here we are not really talking about actual anger, we are talking about the GUILT we layer on top of it. We feel guilty about being angry because we cannot be the imagined type of person who rises above it all, letting it slide down one’s anatidae back in a smooth demonstration of compassion. When we discuss anger we often actually discuss the guilt that comes with it, rather than the anger itself. The basic premise of Hannah Sullivan’s show – a first attempt at articulating anger – seems like a straightforward one. Yet we do this so rarely and the ‘first’ in the programme notes suggests this suppression nicely: it can take us many years of our lives to finally get around to exploring our own emotive reactions.
Anger gets pushed inside and forced out of people through plosives pushed through pursed lips. There is a lady on a train platform – is she going to jump? – with all the tenseness coursing over her teeth. This hydraulic roar ricocheting within a body, finally reaching the surface in a hot spring of cursing. Sullivan shakes, the bells on her back vibrate warnings of what this energy, this anger will do.
The last time I saw Sullivan perform was with Echo Beach at last year’s May Fest. Echo Beach was sad. A show full of childhood interrupted by adult arguments and the muteness of children made to witness things only partially understood. Standing here this time, with her hair bleached white and a metal case of bells on her back she seems far more vibrant and the performance is denser, she has been made more solid. Anger, according to myriad definitions given on mental health and meditation websites, can be a useful emotion when channeled in the correct way. Sullivan’s show is in itself a fruitful demonstration of the vital energy that anger can produce. The anger that causes people to demonstrate on the streets, topple statues and demand elections. Anger is least encouraged in demure women and we therefore needed it for the suffragettes and Take Back the Night marches and Rookie and all the other stuff. With her new hair colour, there is something of the punk about Sullivan and her new show, it makes me think of ‘zines and Blondie and – as her words come out faster and start to sound like spoken word poetry – of Patti Smith at the beginning of Horses.
Sullivan tells us of a dream where she was “cutting at the sky with my finger tips’”. Her words echo those in Isaiah (34:2 -4) when “the indignation of the Lord is upon all nations, and his fury upon all nations…And all the host of heaven shall be dissolved, and the heavens shall be rolled together as a scroll: and all their host shall fall down.” But unlike the destructive anger of the Old Testament God and smashing up of the whole universe, Sullivan’s anger seems paradoxically creative – necessary even, like clawing through ‘glass ceilings’. “Cutting at the sky with my finger tips” and turning the clouds into origami cranes.
This show was part of the Solo Showcase 2015.