Megan Rooney on her performance SUN DOWN MOON UP

15.09.2018 | Blog | BY:

London-based artist Megan Rooney premiered a new performance SUN DOWN MOON UP yesterday at Park Nights at the Serpentine Pavilion.


Rooney is a storyteller whose cross-disciplinary practice encompasses painting, sculpture, installation, performance, written and spoken word. Her imaginative, narrative works are deeply rooted in the present, considering, questioning, and critiquing crucial social and political issues. Political chaos, gender and the body, the ephemeral self, humanity and nature. Her performance Sun Down Moon Up, in which a group of female magpies invade Mount Athos, explores the human subject and the natural world, boundaries and transgressions of space.

In collaboration with Nefeli Skarmea, choreography, and Paolo Thorsen-Nagel, sound. The piece was performed by: Temitope Ajose-Cutting, Daniel Persson, Leah Marojevic and Megan Rooney.

Park Nights takes place at the new Serpentine Pavilion each year and requires artists to respond to this environment. How has Frida Escobedo’s 2018 Serpentine Pavilion influenced your performance and how will you interact with it? And in this space, how will you physically and performatively explore more metaphorical themes of boundaries, forbidden space, transgression, etc.?

SUN DOWN MOON UP has been constructed specifically around the pavilion, that is our site and that provides the intention. It becomes for me the skin of the piece, holding everything inside of it. Frida’s Pavilion has four entry/exit points, so it encourages movement very naturally. I’ve written a new text which deals with the present moment:  the festering chaos of politics with its myriad cruelties and the laden violence of our society, so resident in the home, in the female, in the body.

“I saw you dropping eggs out your car window

Passing through the stop signs

Yielding to blue sky  

Praying for a pay rise

You were honking and choking

Singing out malarkey

True as god”

This performances uses the body as a site of resistance and as a site for storytelling. I am interested in the transferring of the myths, in the boundaries between real and fake in the construction of new stories. This work is responding to the present moment, to the complication and confusion of it. Things are swinging around violently and moving further and further to the right. The characters are resisting.

Your works have been described as fragments of a larger whole. How does SUN DOWN MOON UP fit into your larger body of work and or propel it further?

Yes, I think of the performances as chapters in an ongoing story. I am interested in the movement of stories, and what happens to stories overtime, which stories are preserved and which are lost? We are at a difficult moment in the story and as a result things have become quite stark and stripped back – only the urgent things remain.

I like that idea of focusing on what’s urgent or imperative. And that’s really apparent in your work, in the subjects that recur and the characters that often return. Gender and the body, the female body and femininity in particular, and the natural world and environment seem to always play an important. How do they manifest in SUN DOWN MOON UP?

I write about the things I know, the things that I experience in my everyday life. The things that I see in the people close to me. The stories I hear.

My performances occupy a slippery territory, I want you to come and see them. Not to look at static single pictures of the work on Instagram, not to watch documentation – although, of course, we do this all the time. But this is something that unfolds in real time and that is important. It’s about the bodies in the room and the bodies in the piece. It’s about sharing something together. There’s something very powerful in that.

For Park Nights, you’re working with Nefeli Skarmea on choreography and Paolo Thorsen-Nagel on sound. What was this process of collaboration like? What have you achieved together?

I met Nefeli Skarmea three years ago at the Serpentine when I was working on another performance called, Last Days. Last Days. Last Days. Over the past few years, we have been developing a universe of movements that relate to the texts that I write. I see the performances as different chapters in an ongoing story that is constantly changing and evolving but that drags that past with it. Nefeli and I have developed a number of pieces over in past few years in very different locations.

Similarly, I’ve also been collaborating with Paolo Thorsen-Nagel across different projects. His understanding and intimacy of sound really changed the way I hear the world. We started sending sound files to each other, creating a landscape of sound for the performance to live inside of. I’m interested in the transfer of sound between bodies and places and across time, how we can trap and store sound and then use them as tools for communication. The wail of an angry child, the sound of a bus engine, the howl of a dog tied to a rope. The relentless hum of crickets chanting in unison. The blocking out and isolating of sounds. When the roll of a wave takes over this invisible landscape. How water sounds in different places and the different types of words for describing this sound. For example, on the west coast of Finland, you can hear the roar of the sea in the distance almost like a constant hum – only discernable when you isolate it but after impossible to ignore. They call this the brus. Like a storehouse of sound attached to memory.

I spend a lot of time in the studio working on my own. Performance is my chance to be social and I love that feeling. The studio is full. Everyone is picking each other’s ideas apart, and we’re building something together. Performance is also about orchestrating something – about bringing the right people into the situation and working it out together. You have to have a vision, of course. It can’t be everything – it can’t be a soup. It has to sing. It’s about having control and losing control for me and sucking the thing out of people that you see in them.

Why Mount Athos? Why magpies? Where did the inspiration come from? How did this setting and these characters connect for you?

Many years ago I saw an opera by Giannetto De Rossini called La Gazza Ladra – The thieving Magpie. It tells the story of a French girl accused of theft who is tried, convicted and executed. Later, the true culprit is revealed to be a magpie. La Gazza Ladra is best known for the overture with its use of snare drums. This section of Rossini’s overture evokes the image of the opera’s main subject – a clever, cunning, thieving magpie. Magpies are extremely intelligent, ancient birds that are surrounded by myth and superstition, especially in Britain. There are always bird references inside my performances.

And Mount Athos?

I read a news article about Mount Athos a couple of years ago. It’s situated in Northeastern Greece, a peninsula that extends its boundaries into the sea. A place women are banned from entering, including all female animals. It’s been inhabited by a group of Eastern-Orthodox Monks for over a 1000 years. Athos becomes a kind of literal, visible boundary. One that is shrouded in secrecy and perhaps can be interpreted as having little consequence. What impact if any does banning woman for this place really have? You could argue very little. But I think we can use this to speak about invisible boundaries and invisible violence. Access. Isolation. Separation. Distance.

Humans have always had the impulse to create barriers. To say you can go here and not there. This belongs to you. This belongs to me. This is mine. That is yours. You cannot enter here. The idea of boundaries are forever caught in a wave of absurdity – and yet every aspect of our lives is wrapped in this basic idea of territory and belonging.

It’s not really about Mount Athos. I did go there this summer or to the closest town Ouranoupoli. I went on this boat cruise around the peninsula, 500 meters from the shore, which is the closest women can get to visiting the monasteries. The Monks ride out from the monastery on a speed boat and board the main ferry that holds about 350 people – with suitcases full of merchandise that folks can purchase. This loud speaker describes the different monasteries, explaining all the incredible relics inside that you don’t have access to. I did a lot of filming on the boat. You can buy beer and sandwiches.

I think you have to go to places to make references real. To observe the people in those places. To sit on a night train clutching your belongings in your lap, surrounded by drunk men. The trip itself was intense and difficult at times; at other times, it was totally banal and very fucking hot. I watched this singed landscape blowing past the window, stopping where wildfires had scorched sidewalks into carpets of ash.

Megan Rooney, Park Nights in partnership with Cos at the Serpentine Pavilion, September 14th.

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Megan Rooney, SUN DOWN MOON UP

10.09.2018 | Blog | BY:

This weekend Megan Rooney will conjure an immersive world at the Serpentine Pavilion as part of their Park Nights series. 

The performance will centre on the story about a group of female magpies who invade Mount Athos, exploring the idea of transgression within forbidden space and investigating metaphors offered by nature.

Rooney is widely known for her fluid and expansive narratives. The artist brings together a rich catalogue of expression, from painting and sculpture to spoken word performances, in order to convey her imagined worlds. And while her settings may feel apart from the everyday, her themes and topics are deeply rooted in the current political and social sphere. 

This performance will include choreography by Nefeli Skarmea, and sound by Paolo Thorsen-Nagel. 

Buy tickets for Megan Rooney, Park Nights at Serpentine Pavilion, 14th September, here. 

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