As i continue to look for ways in which i can create work that may exist outside of the gallery environment as well as within it, i cannot help but write a few words on the work of Marcus Coates. Coates is a modern shaman, interested in the relationship between nature and man-made processes, social structures and psychic dimensions. Although i am less interested in his concerns of nature and shamanism, Coates is an influence to look toward in terms of the way he brings contemporary art to every day life - for example his experience with the residents of a housing estate in London (Vision Quest - A Ritual for Elephant & Castle, 2009), in which he brings performance art and mysticism together with a genuine concern for social change and wellbeing. Although performances such as Journey to the Lower World (2004, in which the artist performed a shamanic ritual in the front room of a Liverpool towerblock that was scheduled for demolition) can seem absurd, the artist aknowledges this yet insists that the work is far from irony and that "Eventually something serious comes through". There is a real sense that behind the eccentric costumes and bizarre rituals, there is humanity - an art practice that wants to communicate with people, to celebrate beauty and to provoke discussion on the things that we are passionate about (in Coates' case this tends to lean towards nature). Through developing a visual language that utilizes ordinary items of clothing and ordinary people in a way that they become extraordinary, Coates delivers his idosyncratic brand of anthropocentric performance and installation art. Coates' use of costume has influenced my own work - ideas of identity, the artist's role and the engagement of the audience all come into play when considering the reasoning behind how i am dressed in a performance or video work.
Contained within my artistic practice is both an obsession with pop culture (the clichéd motif of Elvis, the energy of the punk movement, the unavoidable barrage of TV, advertising and Disney magic that meets me as a 21st century human and artist) and a growing performative quality (the immediacy, the intimacy and the honesty of expression I find in performance art). But how to bring these together as one? Various conversations on this topic have led me to research some artists who seem to have done so. Firstly, Warhol - through his film, the communal comings and goings of The Factory and his work with the Velvet Underground, he pushed pop on to a stage while the performance art of Fluxus was still in its early days. In the Exploding Plastic Inevitable, we see pop come alive in a grandeur construction of art, noise and bodies. William Pope. L parodies american culture, playing with ideas of race, urbanity and art. In The Great White Way, Pope. L utilizes the archetypal american symbolism of superman to do so, donning the costume and crawling 22 miles along Broadway, Manhattan's longest road. Spartacus Chetwynd celebrates film, television and theatre, devising elaborate group performances full of colour, costume and visual references - the main prop in her piece Brain Bug pays homage to 90s sci-fi epic Starship Troopers. Paul McCarthy, however, uses pop references to satirize and undermine the political establishment. In Piccadilly Circus, performers are dressed in exaggerated forms of world leaders and run amok causing chaos and gradually destroying their own forms. I wrote recently about the work of Mathew Sawyer and his 'documentary works'. Sawyer is a socially conscious artist, interested in interactions and reactions between himself and others. Cultural references have become a tool to do so, such as 'It'll All Come Out in the Wash', in which he plants lyrics from David Bowie's Heroes in a strangers pocket. To date, my only foray into a pop/performance crossover has been Transmission, in which I re-enact Ian Curtis' iconic dancing, exploring ideas of communication and replication. I am currently developing plans for further performance pieces in which pop references can be used to engage the viewer.
Nine Derricott and I have begun our second collaborative performance project. Creating 2 cubes of solid concrete in our respective body weights, we plan to pull one another's weight around for as long as we can, documenting the performance with photography, film and the relics left behind (chips of concrete, plans, wooden moulds etc.). The work emanates experiences of personal burden, isolation periods of depression and the relationships and coping mechanisms formed as a result. The work also explores ideas of awkwardness, inconvenience and public interaction which I have been concerned with throughout my practice (for example in Exodus (Taking the Toaster for a Walk), 2014). In terms of critical links, I have looked to other demonstrations of burden and public awkwardness - Francis Alÿs' Sometimes Making Something Leads to Nothing (pushing a large block of ice until it melts), Gabriel Orozco's Yielding Stone (rolling a ball of plasticine in his own bodyweight, picking up detritus on the way), William Pope. L's Tompkins Park Crawl (crawling on the pavement holding a potted flower) and, in Greek mythology, Sisyphus' eternal struggle pushing a boulder up a mountain
Signer is an 'engineer-artist' - like Jean Tinguely and Fischli & Weiss, he builds constructions that result in destruction. Controlled destruction though, he explains. Not for its own sake, but to explore and entertain. Using every day objects, he creates works that exist between pop art and land art, punk sensibilities and engineering processes, child-like playfulness and anarchic maturity. They are performances (almost always) without a performer. Objects are thrown about, from toy helicopters to chairs, as Signer toys with scientific ideas of cause & effect, experimentation and the process of discovery. I feel that his brand of humerous and (paradoxically) considered anarchy could be applied to the more personally expressive, emotional contexts within my own practice - utilizing similar processes and mechanisms to explore themes of failure, falling, isolation and boredom is definitely something to consider.
For me, the act of falling is deeply symbolic of our every day human experience. Our failures, our fears, our self destructive behavior. Bas Jan Ader acknowledged our insignificance - by falling from a tree, off a roof and into a canal, Ader becomes human, his actions the inevitable result of the universal force of gravity. In Leap into the Void, Yves Klein plunges from a building, embracing both the liberation and the pain that comes with a fall, both physical and metaphorical. Kerry Skarbakka sees the act as an illustration of uncertainty - he explains that "This lack of control from an individual perspective is a big part of the message". Skarbakka's photos become all the more poignant when you know they are self portraits - a moment of personal vulnerability yet a relatable human experience is experienced, a moment that I am trying to achieve in my own falling work. When an artist falls, there is an immediate moment of engagement on the audience's behalf - surprise, fear and amusement were all evident when I performed I FALL, a piece in which each individual audience member, one at time, witnesses me fall to the floor. I am fascinated by this paradox - the point at which comic and tragic meet, where suffering exists behind a slapstick facade, humour as a tool to convey sadness. When Charlie Chaplin falls over, we laugh because it's funny but he frowns because it's not. From this, there is a tension, an atmosphere to be drawn in the relationship between art/artist and viewer that I am interested in exploring further through performance and installation works.
LISTEN: Teenage Fanclub & De La Soul - Fallin'
Silent, the artist stands. Dressed in white, in a white room, he remains for an hour. Eyes closed, he is aware of each audience member entering only by the sound of the door. Instructions outside dictate:
ONE VIEWER AT A TIME
WAIT HERE FOR 10 SECONDS
ENTER FOR 10 SECONDS
When an individual enters, a few seconds pass before the artist collapses, sudden limpness that results in the slap of flesh to wooden floor and the stillness of a fallen body. In this state he remains until the viewer's departure, before righting himself once again, ready for the next fall. Does he want to fall? Does the audience make him? Does he want to hurt himself? Unanswered questions. This piece illustrates feelings of personal failure and self deprecation. Relationships, careers, plans - ended in the self destructive mechanisms of a human being. We fall. I think the atmosphere created was effective - a tension, a fearful curiosity and an expectation. Hinted at by the title, the audience have the beginnings of an idea of what events may unfold but remain surprised nonetheless. Some try to catch my body on its way, some scream, some attempt conversation. Most are amused in the aftermath yet there lies a trace of somberness beneath. It is slapstick, yet unsettling. The clinical room, the physical pain, the unknown. This is comedy and this is tragedy.
3 collages I made today. They're landscape as opposed to portrait as most of my other collages. I was planning to work on a performance piece this week but I lost patience. Making collages is a therapeutic process. Cut + paste. These will probably sell as well at some point. £££
Francis Alys is an artist whose practice I reluctantly appreciate. He is concerned with 'land based poetics', 'resistance to the subjection of common space' and 'cyclical repetition'. This bores me. I do not want to create work that flirts with elitist art world language and philosophy as much of the broad area of performance art so often seems to do. I want to perform and film acts that speak of a relatable human experience - of failure, boredom, sadness and sex. I embrace ambiguity whilst also hoping that something in the work can be understood by everyone and anyone. It is at this point where some of Alys' works meet my own philosophy. Alys carries balloons, pushes ice and cardboard boxes and walks along the road as paint drips from his hand. For me, these actions embrace a vulnerability - they are futile, seemingly pointless actions that explore an urban environment using inane materials that everyone can recognize. Works such as this seem more socially conscious, more moving, a step away from the bourgeoise pretentiousness of the 'performance artist'
Richard Dedomenici's practice lies on the point at which performance art, written word, souvenir vending, public interaction and stand up comedy meet. He is an artist for the everyman, tackling issues of legality (painting over fly posting spots in The Big Flyposter Draw), social structures (masquerasing as a council worker in Pedestrian Congestion Charging) and politics (writing an informal letter to Tony Blair). His playful subversion explores modern life in a way that I feel is relatable, contrary to the institutionalised white cube elitism that the phrase 'performance art' can infer - Dedomenici says "leave the avant garde behind". He has a decidedly punk sensibility in his artistic process, giving such advice as:
• Some people deserve to be offended
Nine Derricott and I have altered the format of our our collaborative conversation. We were exchanging short performative videos via the internet (xtube), but due to technical difficulties and a gradual wane in enthusiasm we have now gone back to basics and have begun a process of exchanging letters with instructions enclosed within. I began yesterday by delivering an action man's clothing with the instructions to burn it and return the remains. I like the concept that the remains of items produced in the process will become documentation of the piece - self documenting art! When Nine came up with the idea I immediately thought of of Ray Johnson, who pioneered a similar concept yet instead of a collage\visual basis we are meshing Johnson's Mail Art with a shared interest in performance and our collaborative artistic vision.