97 Years

Parlour residency

In this interactive installation, one performer delicately works through a series of conversations between her and her Grandfather. Live audio and video manipulation creates a complex, carefully composed environment that explores the joys and sorrows, the tenderness and the violence of ageing. This is a poignant investigation of mental health that invites the audience to decipher a confused mind together with the performer.

97 Years by Jo Hellier is a piece of work unlike any I can remember seeing. It is part installation, part interaction, and part performance – though with a performance style so delicate and candid that I am still uncertain if it was performance or something purer. Recollection, perhaps. It deals with what happens to someone when narrative leaves them, through increments, at the end of their life. In this piece, story is purposefully split apart like over-ripe fruit and laid out in a line. We are left holding on to pieces of the line, certain that we cannot hold our place forever, but also certain that once we let go, the thread will be lost. In this piece, we are confronted by the fleeting nature of each moment, of how we need to hold on, yet know we cannot. We are faced with the question of what is left once all the stories are finished, when we can’t remember how events really played out, when all we have are a palette of vivid moments. Jo’s piece left me feeling quiet, strange, moved but not upset. I had been told a story – in a way – but it was a story without narrative, more than that, a story that denied narrative. With this piece the story might well have come first, but where it ended up going to – and where it took its audience – was far beyond a simple retelling of a sequence of events.

Richard Aslan, Mayfest writer in residence, Mayfest 2013

97 Years at Mayfest

Review from Catherine Love, Exuent Magazine

Review from Hannah Sullivan, Total Theatre

97 Years is a performance installation that I started working on in the summer of 2012 which was first shown at SPILL National Platform the same year. Within the installation there is film, sound and a structural element that the audience interact with.  97 Years is an investigation into the mental state of my grandmother that in turn examines dementia, decay and life cycles. It looks closely at the relationships we hold together through memory and what happens when these memories deteriorate.

The building blocks of the piece are recorded conversations between my Grandfather and me. Within the performance the audio is transformed and filtered in various ways resulting in a complex and beautiful, but overwhelming soundscape. Each audience member is given a string that allows them to manipulate the sound that they hear. This control gives the audience an unusual engagement with the content, imbibing a sense of responsibility for the politics of the piece. The idea is that the audience is involved with the deconstruction of this soundscape from chaos to clarity.

In developing 97 Years, I worked closely with Yas Clarke, an artist and composer working with computers to develop new ways for audiences to interact with art.

97 Years was funded by Arts Council England, and was supported by The Showrooms Project, Interval, MAYK and Pacitti Company.

It has been performed at, Spill National Platform, Buzzcut, Spill Festival of Performance, Mayfest, The Macrobert Arts Centre, Gateshead International Theatre Festival, Falmouth University, Battersea Arts Centre and as part of Battersea Arts Centre’s Collaborative Touring Network to festivals in: Hull, Thanet, Torbay, Gloucester and Darlington.


Photos in the black space taken by Pari Naderi & Poppy Illsley and in the white space by Paul Blakemore.