Category Archives: performance art

Eva and Franco Mattes aka 0100101110101101.ORG, Freedom (2011)

Freedom from Eva and Franco Mattes aka 01.ORG on Vimeo.

In the terms of the ongoing wars, there is really only one side you or I can be on in the infiinte struggle between freedom and tyranny.

But Eva and Franco Mattes have questioned the extent of that freedom, with a novel approach to playing networked console game Counter-Strike.

With Eva at the controls, the pair have found themselves in a virtual town somewhere in the arab world, dealing with an endless parade of heavily armed American gamers.

She too has the right to bear arms, as you would expect the genre of this game. And so we view the landscape from behind the barrel of her revolver.

Yet she looks for all the world like a terrorist (certainly not a freedom fighter), and she uses a real time messenger window to plea for clemency on the grounds of being an artist.

“Please don’t kill me,” she says time and again. “This is a performance art piece.” But she doesn’t survive long. There are limits to what you can get away with in a war zone.

“You don’t want to be in this game. Go and play in paint,” suggests one of the counter-insurgents. One other, sounding for all the world like half of Beavis and Butthead says “Shut up, Matisse.”

The title of the piece, “Freedom” is a rallying cry dropped by US soldiers running by in the distance, before he turns to gun down the immobile artist. It is too perfect.

But as Eva asks at one point in the game, “What are we doing here?” At time of writing 54,000 people are currently playing Counter-Strike.

That is only 14,000 less than the total number of real troops in Afghanistan. What can it mean that so many people are waged in an invisible war from the bedrooms and front rooms?

There is total moral freedom in these environments. Bullets are scattered left, right and centre. Compared with the gunshot in this earlier performance piece, the results are total bathos.

Freedom can be seen in Anonymous, untitled, dimensions variable at Carroll/Fletcher, London, until 18 May, see gallery website for more details. For my review of the whole show on Culture24, click here.

Sarah Maple and Beverley Knowles, It’s just like any other job really… (2012)

It turns out that despite ourselves, even the most urbane and politically correct audience can still love a beauty pageant.  The sequence of young women in swimsuits could not be more easy on the eye

It is obvious what heterosexual men might get from this. But women too were enjoying it. There were no shortage of volunteers to strip off, while their fully clothed sisters looked on with vicarious pleasure.

But context is everything. Each of us knew this was a performance by a feminist artist, Sarah Maple, and a feminist curator, Beverley Knowles. So that was okay.

Also, the swimsuit, sashes, and tiaras were balanced up by the fate of each Miss America. After parading past the extensive glass windows of La Scatola, they went to stand facing a wall.

Here they reminded the viewer of children in disgrace. It was as if they had blown their moment in the limelight by using their platform to make an off beam comment about the recession or the war.

About 20 women took part, only coming to life every five minutes when a burst of Sinatra or maybe Bert Parks cut through the silence and then cut out with just as much abruptness.

When the music played and the girls were up, it was all eyes in their direction. The rest of the time they were to be seen and not heard. The choreography was impersonal and brutal.

As the title of the piece and a corresponding handout suggests, to be crowned Miss America or Miss World entails a year of hard work. Just like artists, their levels of dilligence might surprise the public.

Gallery director Valentina Fois is not sure how this glass box of a space was used before. But last night it was not hard to imagine a car showroom, with bonnets for the girls to drape themselves over.

Clearly we have come a certain distance since the time men crooned about beauty queens and no car ad was complete without a dolly bird. But not so far we could not recognise our role in this piece.

It’s just like any other job really took place at La Scatola gallery on 30/03/12. For more on the players visit the websites of La Scatola, Sarah Maple and Beverley Knowles.

Plastique Fantastique, Impossible Diagrams

What to make of a flicker between a bandaged head and a face carved in a brieze block. Or an unshaven mouth which hi-jacks a news report. Or self-immolation illustrated as if for a kids’ book.

Quite a bit happens in the Plastique Fantastique show at Grey Area. Not all is easy to describe and even less is easy to interpret. The entertainment above is on a reel called PFTV.

On this channel a masked and spangly demon pops up, curses us, and with a voice garbled-by-vocoder intones: “There is not and never has been anything to understand.”

It transpires Plastique Fantastique are into the philosophy of Deleuze and Guattari. The love of nonsense and invention of mad schemas with which to overlay reality may come from there.

So a nearby video installation breaks down PFTV content into idiot-proof diagrams. Captions such as “You taste the object/ The object tastes you,” are still stupefying.

Still, you should never dismiss the incomprensible. Two Plastique Fantastique performances, documented here, the ritual punishment of a victim by a band of futuristic savages.

Hanging the man from his feet may be aim at inverting the status quo. But if not, these scenes still feel urgent and deep in meaning. It’s a feeling; there may be no point understanding it.

Impossible Diagrams is at Grey Area, Brighton, until May 29. See gallery website for more details.

Liberate Tate performance @ Tate Britain

Image (c) Immo Klink, http://immoklink

Disclaimer: this is not an eyewitness account, but then an eyewitness account would be missing the point. This is a response to a press release and a news story.

By all accounts, the unendorsed performance went like this: two veiled figures poured an oil-like liquid over a naked man in the foetal position on the gallery floor.

The wider context for this was an exhibition dedicated to the human body, and this show, Single Form, is sponsored by controversial oil company BP.

The even wider picture is that one year ago a BP drilling mishap caused the deaths of 11 workers and spilled nearly 5 million barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

Needless to say, the company does some other bad stuff: from drilling in the Arctic to risky tar sands extraction in Canada, the stuff of an environmentalist’s nightmares.

One way to offset such bad PR is to sponsor fine art: Tate say their arrangement with the corporation fits with their ethics guidelines, but has yet to disclose full details.

Well, I have not been able to talk about the performance and the photo without talking about the important message. So Liberate Tate has staged a properly good stunt.

Nevertheless, it looks like art. It features a nude and litres of paint. It was carried out in full seriousness. But when the performer got dressed, only a black stain remained.

Okay, so they hi-jacked the rarefied atmosphere of one of the UK’s leading art galleries for their own ends. But they appear to have got away with it and who else does that sound like?

There’s a full story on the Liberate Tate blog and for further news about BP-related goings on from the Art not Oil campaign, please go here.

Edwina Ashton, Peaceful serious creatures (lobster arranging), 2011

Edwina Ashton, Peaceful serious creatures (lobster arranging), performance, duration: three hours intermittently, 2011

Most of those lucky enough to see Edwina Ashton’s performance at Jerwood Space in the next five weeks will be, presumably, non-plussed. How else to react to people dressed as lobsters?

For three hour stretches the lobsters may be seen to rearrange objects. There may be more to it, but that’s the gist. It’s a response to the little known fact that real lobsters rearrange their caves.

This is an extensive a tribute to a crustacean whose most famous fan was the 19th century French poet Gérard de Nerval. It was him that characterised them as  “peaceful, serious creatures.”

Said term might of course also apply to artists. In which case, the piece is a good demonstration of “the choreography of positions between artist, artwork and audience.”

It is only through this arrangement, according to Catherine Wood, that dancing lobsters and the like can be comprehended. This curator’s essay is well worth reading in the online catalogue.

And this rule applies to painting and sculpture just as much as performance; performance merely foregrounds it. The implications are incredible and a little frightening.

Positions on a dancefloor or indeed a stage change all the time. The movement of the audience will therefore determine the meaning and certainly the value of any piece of art.

But of course we are being moved around in our turn by the artist, via whatever channels they hope to communicate, and the various appearances of the work.

If proof be needed that the quality of your aesthetic experience boils down to social context, look no further than lobsters and a second essay, this one by David Foster Wallace.

The novelist points out that until the 19th century, lobster was dished up in prisons. Many said it was inhumane to make the inmates eat today’s delicacy more than once a week.

You would think that a taste for food might be less subjective than a taste for art. But as lobster numbers dwindled they became more desirable dance partners. Inevitable really.

We can only be non-plussed for so long and no one can respond to a piece of art in isolation. Other people’s discourses are then part of what we are looking at. It’s lobster, after all. Eat it up!

I haven’t even seen this piece yet, by the way. I’m planning to next week and will report back. It’s being performed at Jerwood Space  as part of SHOW, until April 21 (Tuesdays and Thursdays 2–5pm). See gallery website for directions.

Marcus Coates, The Trip (2011)

Marcus Coates, The Trip, 2010. Documentary photograph, Courtesy of the artist

Towards the end of this 35 minute film, a horrible thought occurred to me. Maybe Marcus Coates is making the whole thing up and playing an unethical trick on a terminally ill man.

In voiceover, with a view from a hospice room, he describes a trip up the Amazon in vivid detail. It is lush, green, benign, too good to be true, almost like a meditation tape.

This is reminiscent of earlier films where Coates goes on imaginary journeys to commune with the natural world. Having put questions to animals, he now claims to put them to the Huaorani tribe.

But despite the inclusion of ten inch wide dragonflies, this is no drug trip. It is a real life adventure-to-order for the pleasure of bed-bound Alex H. Intelligent, realistic, yet game, he is a good foil.

Still unable to be sure this trip happened, I even wonder if Alex is in on the joke. Both he and Coates sound close to laughter as the trip gets recounted off camera. Is he even dying?

This, however, may be what joy sounds like. Artist and subject have shared an amazing journey. And one person has gone well out of their way for another, evidently a good thing.

Not a million miles from shamanism. But Coates here finds a less equivocal way that artists can be socially useful. This trip ends with a blackout and a song. Let us hope that is the way for all of us.

Click here to read my interview with Marcus Coates from last year.

The Trip can be seen at Serpentine Gallery, London, as part of their project Skills Exchange: Urban Transformation and the Politics of Care. See gallery website for more details.

Rory Macbeth, The Wanderer by Franz Kafka, 2011

Looking at art and reading can seem poles apart. Galleries are public spaces in which we move from one room to another. Reading is usually sedentary and usually in some way private.

But The Wanderer by Franz Kafka, by Rory Macbeth, suggests otherwise. The title promises a mobile activity, while the reading which took place held many gallery goers in one spot.

In case you were wondering, this does not represent the discovery of a lost masterpiece by Kafka.That is a home-made book, a translation, and Macbeth claims not to speak German.

Gregor Samsa crops up, so we may take this to be a version of Metamorphosis. And we may also take it that in every act of reading some translation, or metamorphosis, takes place.

Of course, reading does get done in galleries. We read plaques, interpretation boards, even the works themselves. But this work suggests it may all stray from the path of intended meaning.

The modernism of Kafka et al may be to blame. And this may be a warning, given the outcome for his best known protagonists. Wanderings can only go so far, after all.

NB: That’s not the artist in the photo, but someone he delegated to perform The Wanderer at the launch of Display Copy at Kunstfreund Gallery, Leeds (29/01/11). The show features work by Rory Macbeth and Ross Downes and runs until 12 February. See gallery blog for more details.

John Maeda is the Fortune Cookie, Riflemaker

Despite better intentions, this blog post is all about me. And you can see none other than myself in this Polaroid taken by artist, academic, and sometime futurologist John Maeda.

I met John earlier today in a sandpit where he is spending four days in performance as a sort of live interactive fortune cookie. That is his advice to me, scrawled beneath the picture.

My consultation lasted ten minutes and ran contrary to expectations. I had meant to ask about the future of art and the future of journalism, but within 30 seconds I was blethering.

I also had a theory that oracular wisdom belonged to literature, just as beauty might have belonged to art and perhaps emotion was in the realm of music. So was this piece to be a literary crossover?

In fact, it had more in common with music. It had emotional affect. And those emotions were fear plus a sense that, as Maeda wrote in the sand before me, things were slipping out of control.

And then at one point he wrote the word “dancer” and by way of explanation said that I showed an awareness of my own body of which I had up to that point been quite unaware. Hmm.

But it was hard not to believe the Rhode Island School of Design professor, as he drew me out and summed me up in a format which was like therapy with Don Draper from TV show Madmen.

There were reservations. Despite what Andy Warhol said, I’m not a fan of convergence between art and business, and major brands have indeed come to Maeda for his blue-chip advice.

Then there was also confusion when the artist handed me this Polaroid. I had requested a more anonymous photo of a drawing in the sand, so I got more than I paid for with this signed portrait.

For whatever reason, I was not about to argue. And the 10-minute appointments, free so long as you buy an artwork, already contain generous amounts of Maeda’s energy and insights.

Since this is such a first person account of the experience, I should mention that my ex also had her fortune told earlier in the day and was happy for me to blog about that also.

As you can see from this photo of them both, he calls her an integrity chameleon. As far as I am concerned, where she is concerned, he has really nailed it there. In that at least, I can be objective.

This four day only live exhibition (16-19 November) at Riflemaker, London, is already fully booked. But if you like the sound of John Maeda’s work, you can follow him on Twitter, get some free downloads here, or watch him give a very engaging 17 minute talk.

Antti Laitinen, The Bark (2010)

Around the last corner of his show at A Foundation, you stumble upon this workshop of nature-loving Antti Laitinen. The scene is not filled with charm or wonder, but rather shock and horror.

Something unexpected and industrial is going on. There are gas cylinders and what look to be tar bricks. Work has suddenly stopped, hence the volume of wood shavings on the floor.

The boat looks crude. It would do. Its main constituent is bark from the floor of the forest in Finland where Laitinen lives. To make this vessel seaworthy is requiring some violence.

A week after the show opened, the artist rowed this very boat up the River Mersey for three and a half hours. His trip combines elements of the magical and the manic.

Perhaps all ecological statements need a little of either. Fairy-like, the trees shed their bark for our use. Termite-like, humans will work with whatever they can get.

Other works in the show feature the artist digging a burrow into the soil and, apparently, eating ants off the end of a stick. More horror results, but you would have to call Laitinen a survivor.

The Bark is a new commission by A Foundation and the Liverpool Biennial 2010 and can be seen in Laitinen’s show at the former until November 28 2010.

You can read more about the artist on the blog Big Fat Failure or the artist’s own website. Here is also a film on YouTube about a previous 19-hour voyage he made in a bark boat.

Tehching Hsieh, One Year Performance 1980-1981 (1980-1981)

A man enters a room and punches a clock every hour on the hour for 365 days. It is like something from the Guinness Book of Records. The achievement is so athletic it transcends art.

But there is nothing quirky or sporty about the current exhibition of Tehching Hsieh’s performance. More than 8,000 documentational photographs reveal an expression of unvarying seriousness. He wears a uniform. He does not cut his hair for a year.

Owing to sleep and other factors, Hsieh misses just 1.52 clock-ins per day on average. The New York artist set out to achieve something both mad and surely maddening.

By punching the clock with insane frequency he is raising the stakes in the system of labour relations. His performance is a frenzy. It threatens to break the machine, or at least you hope it will.

No one can look at these timecards and these photos and not wish for some relief for the artist, and a bit of freedom for all those who work long or difficult hours.

After one year, this record of suffering is all there is to show. But it can still be used, and, unlike our time, it cannot be taken away.

There is an exhibition about One Year Performance 1980-1981 at FACT, Liverpool, until 28 November 2010. For more details see the gallery website. The show is part of Liverpool Biennial 2010.