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Edinburgh review: Weird Seance (Forest Fringe)

Axes, woodland and people back from the dead, Daniel Oliver's piece is a self-satirising critique of art's obscurity

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
Daniel Oliver, Weird Seance
© Guido Mencari

Live art is dead. Long live live art. Daniel Oliver's solo show pretty much kicks the entire form into the bucket. A tongue-in-cheek mock séance for the live art scene, it slams home a stinging, self-satirising critique of art's obscurity, insularity and, ultimately, its irrelevance.

"You're all here for the séance thing, right?" Oliver has to check, he explains, because sometimes the odd straggler from a local dogging group wanders in. If we laugh at that – us cultured sorts knocking them pervy oddballs – Weird Séance highlights our hypocrisy.

Dressed in a sweat-stained short-sleeved shirt, beardy as Bigfoot, Oliver's a wild, off-road presence. Imagine a young Daniel Kitson gone postal and living in the woods. He's holding an axe. There's a snick of danger to him; doubly so, when he slams the axe down on a chair. Two audience members in high-vis stand as a reminder of the health and safety checks in place.

Handing us branches, and guiding us into "the woods", Oliver asks us to think back to today. Remember, he says, that show years ago at Forest Fringe – this show – that triggered a bloody military coup. "We lost a lot of great live artists that day," he consoles – including two members of his audience. Weird Séance attempts to bring them back – even though, obviously, they're already here. Naked but for branches, and covered in strawberry sauce "blood", Oliver yells out their names into the dark. They – "the dead" – answer back.

It's one helluva skewering: a self-referential tailspin of a show. Imaging a future to look back to the present, Oliver turns the room into a stand-in for deserted woodland that is, in turn, standing in for the same room. Conflating the two flags shows just how far removed all this is from anything and anyone else, and the idea that small-scale live art – for all its talk of changing the world – could trigger a revolution becomes laughable. And yet, somewhere, somehow, the possibility still just about exists: that ‘remember when' is also an ‘imagine if'.

The doubleness is beautifully done: fiction punctured by reality until it flattens out. You look around the room: Oliver, naked and sweaty; audiences, looking on, laughing. At the end of the day, we're just a bunch of pervy oddballs wanking off in "the woods".

Weird Séance runs as part of Forest Fringe at Out of the Blue Drill Hall until 14 August.

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