THE HOUSE OF EXTRAVAGANZA lies at the end of a narrow lane that slopes up toward the volcano. “You made it,” Fiorucci Art Trust director Milovan Farronato greeted me shortly after I arrived on the opening evening of the ten-day Volcano Extravaganza festival. Getting to the remote Aeolian island of Stromboli from Saint Petersburg in a day certainly felt like an achievement. But losing a night of sleep seemed a small price to pay to hang out with fellow lotus eaters on the terrace of the whitewashed villa at the foot of the volcano.
Lest I forgot this was meant to be work, someone motioned me to take a seat inside a small projection room with a low-hanging chandelier-like sculpture casting shadows on the wall. I was handed a pair of 3-D glasses. Even once I worked out how to use them, Trisha Baga and Jessie Stead’s “spaghetti western,” filmed on Stromboli in the run-up to the festival, was a bit of a blur. The anguished harmonica sounds, a train chugging along, gunshots, a horse neighing didn’t quite tally with the black sand, the lava rocks, and the bare-chested, bearded women lounging about in cowboy hats (Baga chief among them). “I don’t do serious,” said Baga in an interview with the online NTS Radio.
The mood was more somber yet every bit as eerie during the ambient noise performance that followed, which featured siblings Celia and Sam Hempton playing electric guitar with a sawed-off drumstick and copper pipe against the backdrop of the cloud-capped volcano, perfectly framed by an agave, prickly pears, and other garden shrubs. At times the throbbing noise became indistinguishable from the sporadic rumblings of the volcano. Nottingham-based guitarist Sam Hempton of the former drone-pop quintet Six by Seven used a range of pedals to feed back certain sounds, including ones recorded on a bus journey in Hackney, and a beautiful loop meant to convey the idea of freezing lava in the entrancing final sequence.
Volcano-electromagnetic effects have as peculiar an impact on electrical equipment as on people, according to Celia Hempton. Three days prior to the concert, the neck of Hempton’s guitar snapped at the top; the artist eventually resigned herself to bolting the broken parts together in a delicate operation in which a group of people had to “huddle round it like surgeons” at the villa, after the local carpenters failed to fix it using clamps and glue.
Undeterred by the mishap, the intrepid artist ascended the three-thousand-foot-tall mountain carrying a box of brushes on her back to paint in short bursts, in full view of the erupting volcano. The resulting series of volcanic paintings, titled “Ejecta,” bear scratch marks from falling debris, and will be shown at the Gwangju Biennale next week.
“Stromboli has a touch of hell about it,” Tabitha Thurlu-Bangura neatly summed it up in the inaugural NTS Radio broadcast from the island, part of the overall “Forget Amnesia” concept. Curated by Farronato in consultation with artist Haroon Mirza, the festival’s fourth edition emphasized experimental sound, electronic music, DJing, and, yes, clubbing, its title riffing on the legendary “Amnesia” club in Ibiza, which started life in 1976 as the “Workshop of Forgetfulness.”
Next morning, as some of us gathered back at the House of Extravaganza for the first part of Cypriot choreographer Lia Haraki’s Record Replay React workshop, there was talk of boat traffic to and from the island being suspended due to weather. While surely a logistical nightmare for the organizers, the prospect of being stranded on Stromboli for a few more days, practicing “forgetfulness,” was not without appeal.
The villa used to belong to Marina Abramović, and I’d like to think that at certain points during the two-day workshops—a blend of group meditation, standup comedy, automatic writing, movement, and voice exercises in preparation for individual performances drawing on autobiographical materials—we did Marina proud. My favorite moment, at the start of day two, came in the shape of a trancelike state, partly induced by continually moving from volcano- to seaside, mirroring each others’ movements, at first in line and then in pairs, and partly by a rhythmic sound track cooked up for us then and there by Haraki’s sound designer, Christos Hadjichristou.
The workshops turned us into insiders sitting in on Haraki’s performance, The RRR Show, staged in the garden later that night. Made in collaboration with Hadjichristou, the multilayered show rested on the technical possibilities offered by the loop station that the artist would activate with her foot to “record,” “replay,” and “react” to the sound of her own voice. The words “Wait,” “Stay,” “Wait a sec,” “Hang on,” “Here, or here?,” “Like this, or this?” returned with each new cycle of repetition, variously embodied through movement and gesture. Conceived as a dialogue among the performer’s present, past, and future selves, The RRR Show played havoc with temporal markers.
The next morning I sat on a bed of ropes, nursing a hangover after Eddie Peake, Prem Sahib, and George Henry Longly’s Anal House Meltdown party and inhaling fumes from the back of a ferry bound for Naples. As Stromboli receded into the distance, Louise Bourgeois’s words inscribed in capitals on a handkerchief rang in my head: I HAVE BEEN TO HELL AND BACK AND LET ME TELL YOU, IT WAS WONDERFUL.