It is not often that a celebration of someone’s life includes a tribute by a belly dancer, four people smashing wine glasses with small hammers and two people with blood capsules in their mouths eating beer glasses with the result that apparent glass and blood spews down onto the stage, but Ian Hinchliffe was the sort of performance artist/comic/artist/musician/absurdist in whose memory this seemed an almost understated tribute.
Ian drowned while fishing on a lake in Arkansas on 3rd December last year.
An obituary written by his friends said he “was a performer who could bring a sense of menace, unpredictability and a surreal/absurd humour into any creative arena, unrivalled by any other artist of his time.”
He was indisputably – and perhaps again this understates the reality – mad, bad and dangerous to know.
Roger Ely was a friend and occasional co-performer. He organised yesterday’s six-hour event Ian Hinchliffe: The Memorial at Beaconsfield arts studio in London. As part of his tribute, Roger said Ian was “one of the most loveable people and one of the most difficult people” he had ever met. “He could be an evil sod,” he added, but one who created occasional “pieces of genius”.
Writer and performer Jim Sweeney was too Ill to be there yesterday, but sent a tribute saying: “He was the best of drunks and he was the worst of drunks.”
Dave Stephens is now a sculptor but was originally a performance artist often credited as an early forerunner of alternative comedy. He said that, in the early days performing with Ian, the routine was to “go down the pub, get pissed and see what happens”.
There were colourful reminiscences aplenty, including a tale of furniture being thrown out of a pub window and, when people went in to discover why, they found Ian with porridge coming out of his trousers because he was simulating an abortion.
I only met Ian a handful of times but, when I got chatting to Lois Keidan who was Director of Live Arts at the ICA in the 1990s, she told me he had once set fire to his own foot there. Why he did that she had no idea. But Why was perhaps always an unnecessary and unanswerable question in Ian Hinchliffe’s life.
Lois also told me a story about police going into the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith and saying to the staff: “There’s a man outside doing strange things in the roadworks.”
“Oh,” the police were told, “that’s just Ian Hinchliffe. It’s art.”
The police, to do them justice, apparently accepted this answer though exactly what “strange things” he was doing remain lost in the mists of anecdote.
At Beaconsfield yesterday, Simon Miles and Pete Mielniczek did a tribute performance in which a small plastic skull, perhaps not irrelevantly, quoted those famous lines from the Scottish play…
Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
The indomitable Tony Green told a true story about Ian Hinchliffe performing at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith and, not for the first time, Ian was naked. He got hold of a chair and cut about three inches off one of its legs so it was unstable. He then got a broom handle and broke it in half. He managed to stuff about six inches of it up his arsehole, leaving half a broom handle protruding. He then balanced a full pint of beer on the chair, put both hands on the sides of the chair, leant forward so that his genitalia were in the pint of beer and lifted his feet off the ground so he was balancing.
“You’ll never work here again,” he was told afterwards.
I presume the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith was not the first venue to have told him that.
There is a YouTube video of Ian Hinchliffe performing in 1990 here.