Review: The Spirit, Thibault Delferiere & New Perspectives

Gyrating defiantly from the stage to screen, Thibault Delferiere’s aptly-named trilogy of work, The Spirit, attempts to radically condense the essence of effort, destruction and freedom pulsing through the body of the artist. The Camel (Part 1), The Lion (Part 2) and The Child (Part 3) were all captured on film at Battersea Arts Centre just before lockdown, and are now part of the venue’s ‘Going Digital’ programme.

What permeates across each of Delferiere’s performances are his precarious choreographies of balance, suspense and failure; multiple efforts towards stillness, always and predictably resulting in a cycle of loud and heavy collapse. This translates materially in his delicately balanced constructions of wood and rock sculptures in Part 1, or his heavy use of his own weight in Part 2, and then more figuratively, for example, in a powerful monologue delivered with childish innocence that flirts with sexual corruption until it descends into complete visual explicitness in Part 3.

As a multimedium artistic endeavor, The Spirit also seeks tensions and harmonies between different forms. Delferiere shares each stage with a different live, musically improvised accompaniment, each skillfully stretching the experimental capacities of their chosen instruments. Following Giuseppe Lomeo’s cinematically plucked and inventively bowed guitar in Part 1, and Steve Noble’s fiercely fragmented drums in Part 2, Sharon Gal’s vocal and electronic improvisations are perhaps the most challenging; a creepily playful offering to the trilogy. There is a risk involved in implementing improvisation, each sound continuously navigates the stakes of coming up against the rhythms of the visual action, occasionally overstepping territories of tension into complete distracting dissonance.

Painting is another popular and powerful form in Delferiere’s work, finding canvases of wall, skin and paper throughout the trilogy. A particularly captivating yet disappointingly short moment in Part 3, where Delferiere clumsily dances around a precariously suspended canvas, with every stroke of the paintbrush pushing the canvas swinging away from him, could last a lot longer. 

Delferiere’s work also interrogates the balance between hard and soft states. More subtle methods resonate the most, such as when, in Part 1 after cutting up an apple, he shares the literal fruits of his labour whilst directing spectators towards exactly which slice to take. The more darkly explicit and rather more angsty expressions of hardness in Part 2 (the artist screaming and breaking down the metal cage that holds him, or the huge slab of meat suspended above it before it’s torn down with various weapons and eaten ravenously) are more difficult to connect with, translating as overtly cliché masculine images of primal escape and survival.

Following the hard aesthetics of wood and metal that dominate the spaces of Parts 1 and 2, the colourful, balloon-flooded atmosphere of Part 3 is a welcomed soft yet still delicately tense change of scenery. Here, Delferiere charmingly extends his perpetual glances at the audience in Part 1, almost searching for approval and accountability for his heavy labours, into more childish self celebration each time a playful task is performed. Using the sometimes difficult physicalities and choreographies that come with his cerebral palsy, requiring him to, for example, slowly construct a platform before mounting a rocking horse, or take extra repetitive care when dressing a teddy for a tea party, Delferiere explores the controlled chaos of universal work that must go before or into the joys of play before we allow ourselves to indulge. 

With definitions of productivity and fulfillment under the cultural microscope of new and slower lockdown routines, narratives highlighting strenuous amounts of labour for little payout penetrate every part of The Spirit in an especially timely way.

The Spirit is available to view until July 12. For more information, see Battersea Arts Centre’s website.