Samiir Saunders is a multidisciplinary artist, hailing from Birmingham his practice fluctuates between illustration, writing and film making. His work ‘Mind Control Victims Anonymous’ is the result of an artist’s residency which took place at Braziers Park, which in itself was a weeklong research project of experimentation and collaboration.
Mind Control’ is a spoken word performance, it relies on audience participation; an experience which can make many people feel uneasy but Saunders presence is calming, he sits in front of the 17th century fireplace, the audience forming a circle around the parameters of the room, and begins the performances:
There is a noticeable shift in the atmosphere, the words placating any suspicions or feelings of conspicuousness in any individual. Eyes glance at each other in acknowledgment of a shared experience, people relax more and Saunders continues:
These two lines are a junction in the poems narrative, the audience is asked to choose between the two by signalling – an open palm for the first route – a closed fist for the second.
The audience casts their vote, Saunders tallies and continues the narrative along the route chosen by consensus. This is the format that proceeds; Saunders reading aloud, periodically offering a choice to the audience made electorate, who steer the poem along its journey to its ultimate destination.
The poem enters a dreamscape narrative, a first person account in search of an understanding of their place in the world. Saunders poem at times draws on elemental forces like fire, earth and air, connecting body with natural environment, it strips the mind of contemporary associations of politics, architecture, manufacturing processes, nationalist boundaries invented by governance; whatever those associations maybe. It is an act which is subtly disarming, one connects with the reader, the imagery envelops forming a space which to inhabit, one which is prehistoric, in these instances the body dissolves into nature.
At other times the poem delves is to images of ritualistic practice;
In these instances one is thrust into an imaginary past, forming images of distant ancestral customs, possibly used as a rites of passage, important in the initiations into tribal collectives, important in the formation of group identity and important in connecting with ones identity of self and of history.
At one point of the reading the poem is passed to a member of the audience, putting the responsibility of navigating the journey into another person’s hands. It brings the group closer together in spirit and makes the experience more democratic.
The poem continues to cast is spell as images and ideas are conjured and dissipate. Motifs reoccur throughout giving the structure a cyclical sensation, some ideas are embedded and some concepts begin to take root. It’s difficult to know how much time passes but as it does the poem begins to reveals itself.
This poetic journey becomes a hallucinatory meditation on the conditions of the self, its ties to history, ethnicity, ancestry and ones relationship with such ties. Through dream logic it brings about the idea that self is a connective process of past and present, incapable of escaping the past and incapable to escaping how the present contextualises it. We live in a society that has a predetermined notion of what a person is based on their skin colour, heritage, economic background, believes, class.
Individuals can fight against such conditions, they can also form groups with whom they identify with and to find solace, groups can fight against larger conditions of this system through democracy or activism….but it all works with the parameters of a system and it is difficult to act in a way that doesn’t reinforce the system.
It is with these lines that Saunders concludes the performance. A group discussion takes place, made all the more easier because of this shared experience, in which people talk about their interpretations of the poem. People interpret the experience in different ways, connecting with aspects of the poem which resonate on more personal levels and Saunders speaks openly about the work. One point of discussion centres on the feeling individuals had when they found themselves in the voting minority; a momentary sense of dissatisfaction and an inability to correct the course of their desired route, the timeliness of which does not need pointing out. Saunders also confesses to a deceit at play in the heart of the performance, as he purposefully miscounted votes to shepherd the journey at his will. The audience member who earlier took the reins of the performance for a while also confides in how they when unsure of the system and on occasions failed to account for every vote.
‘Mind Control Victims Anonymous’ is not just a highlight of the Supernormal Festival but stands out as one of the most engaging, thoughtful and illuminating works discussed on After View so far. Difficult as it is to articulate the intricacies and depths at which this performative poem operates, writing about it can only allude to just how powerful an experience it is.