Performance: Stanshall rides again

Cyberschwartze ICA, London
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The Independent Culture
It's good to know that Vivian Stanshall is alive and well and living in the body of Ronald Fraser Munro. Stanshall may have spontaneously combusted in Muswell Hill in 1995 but his gifts for comic and linguistic subversion, so perfectly realised in his film Sir Henry at Rawlinson's End, plus his penchant for tasteless Nazi SS uniforms, his love of bizarre mutant music, and a fruity speaking voice as English as treacle tart, have all been resurrected in performance by Munro. There's only one catch; isn't Munro supposed to be a "performance and video artist" rather than a comedian?

That Munro is "schwartze" only adds to the fun. As he stood, satanically garbed in monkish robes intoning mock-liturgies in front of a squatting audience, slides flicked on and off behind him; they included images of Renaissance statues of Mercury, skulls, gum-diseased Tony Blair poster pastiches, and various video junk. TV monitors played something called "Gun Ballet": scenes of carnage, spliced together. Before Munro and behind there were two semi-circles of monoliths not seen since Stanley Kubrick's 2001; the outer semi-circle of black blocks seemed oddly reminiscent of Stonehenge.

Munro proceeded to wander through the audience with a (fortunately unactivated) cattleprod masquerading as pilgrim's staff, which he claimed he had bought along with a pistol and machine-gun "only five minutes from here", gesticulating vaguely towards Whitehall. Changing into hip-hop clothes while Bavarian oompah psychopop blared in the background, he said he was now a policeman and, waving a Luger, challenged the audience to let him know "why the government had banned hand guns". A conspiracy theory loomed among the techno-beats.

Distorted cliches, replacing the Star Trek moniker "the final frontier" with the "final front ear", or producing a fascist version of drum 'n' bass called "Jung-Heil Music" was all pure Stanshall, as was the vaguely threatening physical presence. However, much of this English Dada charm seemed awry in the film that filled the second half of the evening, when two television screens and one big screen took the brunt of a "world premiere" of his latest video work entitled Dschungel!, a collaboration with LA film-makers EZTV. In this, a Nazi musician beloved of the Fuhrer is cryogenically frozen, only to wake up in present-day California, his Aryan blond looks turned negroid. Munro himself takes on the central role. He instigates a Fourth Reich through pop culture and a hit record. This is very much state-of-the art LA alternative film-making, radically edited, but it doesn't really suit Munro's Englishness. It's a good idea that vacillates between narrative and cut-up; between polemic and self-indulgence. Just how "experimental" can you be when you have serious political points to make? How can an artist be that flabby when up against the steroidal muscularity of fascism?

The ICA have set up a Web site link to an Internet page about the film and the performance, which depicts images from the Cyberschwartze slideshow, which you click on to find extracts of Munro's Stanshall-esque script. It's fair to say that it's better live, since Munro is best appreciated in the flesh rather than cryogenically preserved on the Net or on videos filmed in thrall to "the great Satan". Munro is less likely to set himself on fire than Stanshall; but then again he is more likely to be burnt as a witch.