The artist in a monkey costume presses a button in an elevator. "Ground floor. Doors opening" announces the pre-recorded female voice. It is the beginning of the journey. The artist travels repeatedly between floors, never utilising the lift's purpose of transporting us from one destination to another where we then exit and proceed to the outside world. Ground to first, to ground, to first, to ground, to first, to ground. On the last stop at the first floor, the artist mumbles "um. ground floor", apparently realising the futility of his journey. An quiet yet authoritative voice responds "Are you ok?" to which there is no reply. It is evident that the answer is negative - the human monkey is confused, lost, unable to exit the space that exists between two destinations, neither here nor there but in a constantly mobile equilibrium. Yet, after being questioned, the final scene suggests the journey is over and the artist wishes to leave. Up, down, up, down, a sensation that we can all relate to - in our human relationships, our emotional/psychological wellbeing and the reoccurring physical travels from A to B we undertake. SHAFT highlights the sense of isolation, uncertainty and futility that is sometimes experienced within the inane human journeys we make on a daily basis.
Mark Wallinger's practice has slowly moved from a socio-political conscience (seen in Oxymoron, his Irish flag coloured Union Jack) to a concern with the personal identity - of the way we relate to ourselves, our perceptions and our human spirituality, and it is this aspect I am most interested in. Wallinger infiltrates the public world around him, whether through business, commerce and ideals of value (his race horse named A Real Work of Art and accompanying miniature - an extension of Duchampian philosophy as another apparently non-art object is claimed as a work of art) or exploring the spiritual values of the modern commuter (his Bible-reading journey up a London escalator in Angel https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_f6SXh1KXPU). Wallinger's work exists within a mythical palette - exploring ideas of strangeness, otherness and the abject in a contemporary context. For example, Time and Relative Dimension in Space consists of a life size TARDIS (of Doctor Who fame), a modern relic that Wallinger has altered, covering the once familiar object with mirrors, and Ghost, which although could be taken for pseudo-medieval imagery of a unicorn is in actual fact a negative image of a 20th century photograph, a false horn attached to a horse. However, this sense of contemporary mysticism is but one facet to Wallinger's work - through his use of pop culture references, public space and symbolic imagery, there is a strong interest in identity - in what makes us individually and culturally human. Together with Angel; Hymn and Prometheus make up the Talking in Tongues trilogy, in which Wallinger's alter-ego 'Blind Faith' explores identity in terms of religious doctrine and spirituality. In Sleeper, however, Wallinger focuses on identity within a historical, geographical and cultural context. In an interview for the Tate (www.youtube.com/watch?v=LD05OVIRkNY), the artist expands on some of the symbolism behind his 9 day residency in a Berlin gallery, dressed as a bear - the name itself refers to espionage (a reference to Berlin's world war history), the bear itself is a symbol (and possible linguistic root of the name itself) of the city as well as having a link to the artist's memory of children's fantasy TV series The Singing Ringing Tree. So, the initially slapstick scene of a man in a bear costume walking, running and falling becomes a more complex assemblage of symbolic references and cultural perspectives. This is my intention as I continue to produce my own performance video work - to consider the use of costume, props and actions forming subtle associations within the context of personal identity, popular culture. Like Wallinger, I aim for my practice to exist in the space between the ordinary (relating to every day human experience) and the extraordinary (constructing events, scenes and images that surprise or intrigue). There are three further elements to Sleeper that I feel my practice is increasingly concerned with - restlessness (as a human and of the artist), travel/a journey (can often give structure and/or a narrative to the piece) and a sense of pointlessness (not in what the artist is saying but in the physicality of the piece itself - a journey that goes nowhere, and action that achieves nothing).
Recently I was invited to participate in a small collaborative project with Nyne Derricott, another Falmouth-based artist. The project consists of a dialogue between the two artists in the form of video works. The work is free to be taken in any direction as the artists respond to one another one video at a time. At the time of writing we have began our conversation with one video each - low production value pieces which, to me, explore themes of isolation, confusion and altered states of human wellbeing as the performers make guttural noises, flare nostrils (Nyne) and pour vodka down their exposed body (Tom). I think this project will allow me to indulge in an unpolished and dynamic exploration of ideas whilst in my individual practice I can concentrate on producing a more conclusive (in terms of specific ideas and themes) body of work.
In this piece, the artist attempts to simultaneously use a shower and blow drier. His hair can never be dried whilst the water continues to run, and this pointless performance becomes an exploration of the self-destructive behaviour that can be observed in every day human life. The title comes from the Latin phrase 'Cupio Dissolvi', used to discuss the Christian desire to become one with Christ and, in a more secular context, masochistic desires of self-destruction and suicide. The performance embodies this macabre symbolism, as the act is physically dangerous with its combination of an electrical appliance and running water and painfully aware of its own futility - it is clear to the audience, if not the performer, that no practical outcome will transpire from the dual use of the two appliances. As the camera's lens begins to steam up towards the end of the video, the performance itself becomes obscured and the piece is concluded with an undertone of abject confusion.
John Wood and Paul Harrison's collaborative practice meets at a point between the formal simplicity of FLUXUS and a post-modern playfulness that allows them to amuse and intrigue an audience with their mastery of props, bodily movement and the studio space itself. I feel there can be comparisons made with the work of Bas Jan Ader - like the Dutch conceptualist, Wood and Harrison impart a sense of human vulnerability within the purist ideals and occasional slapstick execution of their works. For example, in Crossover (I Miss You), the artists explore their relationship with one another by means of a wooden table between them, and in Breathe, the action of a single exhaling of breath provokes questions of a fundamental nature - again, the theme of vulnerability seems to be raised here. Although Wood and Harrison take interest in the clinical environment of the white cube studio and my work is often set in the context of public space, there are significant comparisons between practices. Firstly the desire to bring an emotive quality into the domain of conceptual performance art - in some ways my piece Relativity (Trying Not to Cry) addresses similar issues of human fragility as Breathe does - very much relating to the viewer on an emotional and physical level. There are parallels to between the pair's 3 Legged and my own ORGY - although differing in subject matter and materials, both address ideas of human vulnerability and violence in the way that objects are thrown at the defenceless artist. There is also a shared sense of aesthetic in the monotony of repetitive movement and the construction of a journey - seen for example in both Circular Walk (in which once of the artists films his feet repeatedly traversing a circular black line on the floor) and Kicking a Cheesestring Through a Tunnel. Furthermore, there a few elements of Harrison and Woods practice which I feel could play a role in my own: the use of performance and video art as components within a larger installation - such as in Pavement, the use of preliminary drawings and plans, perhaps even presented as pieces in themselves alongside the performance/video work and finally the possibility of a return to the studio environment and the way in which the artist can subvert and play on the qualities of such a space.
In NIQUITIN, I explore ideas of excess, consumption and vice. After attaching a pack of Marlborough cigarettes to a disposable dust mask, I attempt to engage with the futile task of smoking them - due to the amount of cigarette smoke and the hindering functionality of the mask, it is a futile task, resulting only in the discomfort and failure of the artist. https://stoptober.smokefree.nhs.uk
Taurus: the name of a 1968 song by psychedelic rock band Spirit. Parts of the track bear remarkable significance to Led Zeppelin's Stairway to Heaven, and it is this parallel that interests me. Stairway to Heaven takes the listener on a journey of mysticality and spiritual self-discovery, reaching powerful emotional crescendos as Robert Plant sings of "a lady we all know/Who shines white light and wants to show/How everything still turns to gold". Then, in contrast to this poetic language and near divine imagery, Taurus seems more rooted in its worldliness: an instrumental track constructing very human ideals of love, loss and desperation. In the same way, my performance piece of the same name has a distinct duality to it: whilst the viewer may interpret my naked ascension of 111 concrete steps (Jacob's Ladder, Falmouth) as an homage to biblical imagery of heavenly pathways (such as Jacob's Dream by William Blake), exploring themes of religious symbolism and the artist as an angelic figure and complex spiritual identity, there is another more physical context to the work. Litter is blown around by the wind at the foot of the ladder, the quality of film is that of a home movie or YouTube clip, and before the artist appears as an angelic figure in the distance it is clear that he is very much human - naked, vulnerable and without meaning.
Bad Behaviour, a book published for the 2003 exhibition of the same name, explores the boundaries of acceptable behaviour in contemporary art - excess, anti-social conduct, sexual taboos and political subversion all feature across various disciplines. Interestingly the roots of such work reveal the ephemeral nature of 'shocking' work - Works such as Picasso's early collages (Still Life with Chair-caning for example), Duchamp's Bicycle Wheel and Carl Andre's Equivalent VIII, although now considered modern masterpieces, at the time were gross acts of social taboo, undermining the artistic sensibilities of the times. Bad Behaviour looks at artists who although are not perhaps shaking the very foundations of art history, are however acting as 'social irritants', subverting and toying with ideas of art, humour and politics. The idea of subversion appeals to me and is a tool I use in much of my own work - the subtly of rearrangement, changed perspectives and perverse semiotics such as PINK, an anagram made from the UKIP party's logo. In the slideshow below I have included the works from Bad Behaviour I have found most relevant and some work of my own I feel has been influenced by the emerging themes.
In Zeitgeist, the skeletal remains of a seagull's beak take the place of ears on the head of a toy rabbit. Emanating the famous duck-rabbit drawing used by philosopher Thomas Kuhn to illustrate his concept of paradigm shift - a fundamental change to the assumptions of the leading scientific theory of the time - the piece comments on the arbitrary nature of our human knowledge and subjectivity of the apparent facts we accept as foundations of our entire social existence.
I made FAG after reflecting on the physical mechanics of smoking a cigarette - the movement of smoke through tobacco seemed ephemeral, something beautifully immaterial and intangible. I filled a Perspex tube with twigs, whilst the mannequin hand becomes not just a plinth on which the assemblage sits, but the universally anonymous hand of 'the smoker'. The viewer is invited to participate in the piece by spraying the canned smoke through the tube, as demonstrated by myself in this short video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I56nBzL7Fk8&feature=youtu.be).