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Brighton festival: Nick Steur Achieves The Impossible

Tuesday 02 June 2015

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Words Ailis Mara

We were intrigued by the synopsis of artist Nick Steur’s performance, though unsure of exactly how a man building towers of stones would hold an audiences attention for, surely not the 40-70 minuets advertised?


Staging the show in the ‘Friends Meeting House’ was inspired; a place of worship for the cities Quakers since construction in 1805 the grade II listed building is surrounded by apeaceful and lush garden. The serenity of the venue contributed perfectly to the creation of a wrapped, respectful silence from the audience.


On arrival at the venue the audience was held outside in the gardens. Just before being ushered inside we were asked (at the artists request) not to film, take photos, (before during or after the performance) or to bring refreshments into the venue. Those in the audience who had brought stones with them were asked to step forward and present them to the artist, only when they felt the time was appropriate.


Once inside the main room of the venue we were welcomed by four rows of seating on the long side of the room. The floor had been covered in sheets of white A3 paper with a gap with roughly 2” between each sheet. Running down the center of the room were six mirrored boxes. Placed at regular intervals between that sheets of paper were large mostly flint based stones. All of this was reflected back at the audience by the mirrored boxes.

“The audience had settled into the rhythm of the piece and many were trying to figure out if they had been tricked”

After everyone was seated chatter gradually increased as everyone wondered when the artist would arrive. With brilliant timing, (just as the gathered audience began to get fidgety) the artist reveled himself. He had been dressed as one of the ushers the entire time. This was the first indication that was going to be a supremely well-devised and engaging piece.


Combining audio, (which the artist referred to as text) and performance ‘Freeze’ explored the concept of loosing oneself in the act of creation. In becoming still and contemplative so as to comprehend the innate structure of physical objects in order to create with them.

Divested of his disguise the artist paused (next to what transpired to be a speaker) in apparent contemplation. Briefly closing his eyes whilst the sun shone on his face the artist subtly pressed play. Engaging and humorous the text was devised to distract, as it informed the audience later.


As the artist’s voice mused as to why he’d chosen to speak in English instead of his native Dutch he moved around the room engaging fully in the task at hand. Placing an individual stone on top of each of the mirrored boxes initially without apparent care the artist moved around the room keeping the audiences eyes busy following his movements, while the text engaged the mind.


The first stones placed the artist continued to search for the next suitable stone to balance. Form here on in he seemed to deliberately choose, or was offered the most unwieldy of the stones to work with, but every time to the audiences disbelief he made the stones balance. The stones themselves seem to waver and then move from precarious impossibility to solid undeniable matter before the eyes.


Six piles of stones had been created on top of six boxes. Each one more impossibly balanced than the last. The audience had settled into the rhythm of the piece and many were trying to figure out if they had been tricked.


And then it happened.One pile fell, then a second and a third, but it was the forth pile which revealed the mastery behind the work. With a crash the pile fell smashing and shattering the box beneath.  Shocked out of our reverie we were suddenly aware of the fragility of the boxes. Constructed from thin sheets of mirrored glass, they were not solid as previously been supposed.


The artist achieved the impossible; changing our perception of the matter before us, making stones as light and malleable as air and panes of mirrored glass solid and unbreakable.


Nick Steur is a rare and engaging talent. We would recommend taking the opportunity to see one of his live performances at the earliest of opportunities.