Spill Writing

Spill Stains: The Machinist

by Anna Mortimer

Consumed by consumption. It is much too much! Or is it all too much?


The anxiety, the battle, the obsessive mind, the struggle, the anger, the pain, the abuse – they are all here in Guinnane’s new work at Spill 2015 situated in large studio space at The National Theatre Studios. The Machinist of the title, is a reference to the actor Christian Bale who lost over 60lbs when preparing to play a part in the film and to the performers who from the 17th – 20th Century starved themselves for the entertainment of their audiences. These were mostly male.

At Spill 2014 in Ipswich Guinnane’s performance took place in a cell in a disused police station; the site was an integral part of the work. Here the bare brick walls seeping rain water and etched with time and the economical use of props held her and us in a timeless sense of total desolation and dissolute despair. Wrestling with clay, milk, flour she played out the monumental struggle that is the daily battle field of the obsessive mind. It was cruel and shocking, an exposure and a discomposure.

In 2015 the carefully placed props and clutter, paraphernalia of every kind, too many to name, echo the themes from which Guinnane continues to fashion her work tackling issues of body dysmorphia, identity, consumption and rage.  There is still the little piggy, the food, the clay, the water and the weights; the pacing, the eating and the rituals but the work has become more complicated. There is still the struggle; the weight and punch of the piece reverberate through the introduction of other complex issues which seem to bathe the work with added layers. Replacing the grunts of exertion, the raw sounds of slapped flesh and the splash of liquids is a recorded soundscape with voices, music and nursery rhymes. This has an intriguing, distancing effect between the action and its witness.

Guinnane invites us to enter her nightmare world; she pulls us in only to push us away. The audience becomes spectator and the experience of empathy and engagement with her suffering becomes more fragmented in this new space; the mirror along one wall reflecting back on us; the drawn out actions of visual withdrawal and the long periods of inactivity. We wait, peckish as she munches at her apples. We wait, fearful as the clay sits inert in the fridge. We wait, expectant as papers stick to her feet. We wait, fidgety as she disappears inside a crinkly ‘Space Blanket’.

It is interesting to note that over the past year Guinnane has been mentored by Kira O’Reilly, who has worked extensively with the interplay of the performer and the audience. In writing about her own work she has said, ‘they become collaborators, complicit from the moment they make the decision to be there. Each performance feels like some kind of contract between myself and the audience, clearly negotiated by each party.’ This echoes throughout Guinnane’s multi-layered, complex work.