JVA at Jerwood Space, London
16 March–21 April 2011
by MK PALOMAR
In her catalogue essay, Williams explains: “there has been a resurgence of interest in performance within visual art practice, leading me to ask how emerging artists are using performance, and how this fits into … visual art practice.”2 While Williams outlines the procedure of the exhibition that “each performance in Show will be documented either through text photography or film”,3 she also addresses the sometimes problematic relationship between live art and documentation. “Documentation is often seen as a secondary to performance”.4 Some artists intend their performance to be a momentary act, and they might also require a record of that act. Other practitioners prefer an action to exist in, and of, the moment, and as Peggy Phelan tells us “Performance’s life is only in the present”.5
Artist Graeme Miller eloquently articulates the difficulty between live performance and the requirement of a record of the act, “the desire to capture … severely … affects the work … like collecting butterflies with pins, you're going to be peering at some kind of surface that is contradictory to the kind of monotype immediacy of that witnessing experience …”.6
There appears to be no such anxiety with classification in Bedwyr Williams’s work. On the contrary, Williams embraces the slip between real and imagined, performance and another alternative dimension. Images projected behind Williams; a spinning, flaming wheel triggers a 1960s sound track7 and a country farmer watches barbers’ knives walking through the clouds, has his audience conjured into a realm of strange connections. All this before he has begun his dialogue, delivered to a nattily dressed art dealer (shiny shoes, shades and a panama hat), and then we are imagined into a collective tribe of moles sent tunnelling through his history of performing. From King’s Cross to Charing Cross, we scramble underground across the North Sea to Holland, then out to witness his performance before dinner in a wealthy art dealers’ mansion. There’s a debutante with a club foot, a fat red man boiling, and the kitchen is so large that Williams imagines living under the counter. “The people would probably pay me if I pitched it right,” he snipes. All manner of types inhabiting the surreal “canyons of his mind”8 are playfully chastised, and we are only half surprised when he concludes his dialogue by having us run over by a lecturer on a bicycle. Afterwards a sparkling lady, long glowing hair and shimmering jewels, introduces herself as Williams’s representative, surely a character from his performance. Does this mean we are always Williams’s moles flattened to the road?
I have been enchanted by Williams’s tale, and relieved to find Jack Strange’s Zip and Zing is the Jerwood Space with feet on the ground, only slightly trembling. In balletic pose, two legs protruding from a false wall jitter as though wanting attention or frustrated by the lack of it. In her essay Sarah Williams tells us: “Strange’s performance is as much about the endurance of performance as it is about reading the movement as a form of active sculpture.” While Williams is reminded of Martin Creed’s Runners, The Tate Britain 2008 Duveen Gallery Commission, Work No: 8509, in which “a person will run as fast as they can every 30 seconds through the gallery,”10 Strange’s Zip and Zing performs the opposite of Creed’s dash with adrenalin. Strange’s silently twitching limbs are anonymous to the audience and even dislocated from their own bodies, while Creed’s runners enjoyed a flat out expression in full view of the audience. Yet in Strange’s performance there is an unsettling tension twitching in those limbs, and playing on our minds.
The mind and its comfort in the organising of things is prime in Edwina Ashton’s Peaceful serious creatures (lobster arranging) 2011. Ashton describes the work as “a parody of being an artist”, and explains that she chose a lobster because she “… didn’t want anything cuddly”. Like the artist’s preparation prior to making a work; rearranging, ordering, engaging in the placing and or settling of things – this physical and psychological action, undergone by each maker as a way into the act of making itself, is echoed by the natural behaviour of the lobster, “they move around their space, rearranging their cave”11
The deliberation of the slow creature, cloaked in tied-together costume (reminiscent of Spartacus Chetwynd’s constructions12), is cobbled by its limited sight and cumbersome claws. Yet still the Lobster’s attempt to set its various things into place engages the audience to consider how the mind and body are abled by satisfying their sense of order, and also (resonating with Japan’s current plight), disabled when their order is destroyed. Ashton tells me that earlier this week she saw a photograph of a Japanese woman sitting in the middle of what used to be her town, now there was nothing except rubble and mud all round her.13 These extraordinary events generally focus the spectator’s attention on the spectacle, while the rupture of mind caused by chaotic disorder may be overlooked. With a wry yet gentle touch, Ashton’s Peaceful serious creatures recognises the value of engaging in a considered sense of order, and whether we set things straight, or put our ducks in a row, it is not so much the controlling of, or placing and moving of stuff that is the primary concern in this procedure, but the comforting of the mind in relation to its physical surroundings, that allows for a manageable and sometimes creative life.
Whether seeking enchantment, an unsettling tension or the careful placing of stuff to comfort the mind, this Show, while constructively bending the barriers between the live and the imagined, asks us to expand our thinking on contemporary performance and to readdress what our role might be in relation to the process of making work, the recorded and the live.
1. Jerwood Visual Arts press release text.
2. Sarah Williams, An essay on Show, Jerwood Visual Arts, 2001: 1
5. Peggy Phelan, Unmarked: the politics of performance. London, Routledge, 1993: 146
6. The author in conversation with Graeme Miller after his Participation in Performance talk, ArtAdmin, Chelsea Theatre, 4 May 2008.
7. This Wheels on Fire written by Bob Dylan and Rick Danko, 1967 from the album ‘The Basement Tapes’ Columbia 1967, recorded by Julie Driscoll with Brian Augur and the Trinity, Marmalade records 1968. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uA0Z-5jXBL4&feature=related
8. Vivian Stanshall and the Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3hcZ4s9cvpw
10. Sarah Williams, An essay on Show, Jerwood Visual Arts, 2001: 2
11. The author in conversation with Edwina Ashton at Show Jerwood Space, 15 March 2011.
12. See image of The Lizard: http://www.saatchi-gallery.co.uk/artists/spartacus_chetwynd.htm
13. See Associated Press image- http://www.brisbanetimes.com.au/environment/worst-crisis-since-wwii--japan-pm-20110314-1btje.html
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