Thursday, 8 May 2008

Performance Endurance Art

It's been a while since I saw a piece of really influential, truly amazing performance art, but the other day I went to see a treat at the Endurance body-art weekend mini-festival held recently at VIVID.

The piece by William Hunt called "Call John the Boatman" involved the following;

The room is silent aside from the drips of water from 4 paint pots held aloft by ropes which run to a central point close to large black bin. The Artist enters though a side door, to kneel and tape two tape recorders to his knees. He then stuffs earplugs into his ears and nostrils. He clips his harness onto the ropes and leaps up the back wall, inverts himself and slowly dunks himself headfirst into the large black bin of white paint.

He then lifts himself back out, the paint pots acting as counter balances, and hangs suspended above the paint bin - head now white, hair trailing paint onto the floor. He clips himself in place and takes out the earplugs. (I notice that in other performances, Hunt uses a buoy as counter balance but the surrounding pots of paint hanging two either side of him, used in the VIVID performance, suggested his enclosure in an art space, at the center of which Hunt literally soaks himself, which I kinda liked.)



Straining, he presses record on the tape recorder on his left leg and sings what sounds like a sea shanty calling John the Boatman, who is asleep. He then rewinds and plays the tape, while pressing record on the machine on his right leg. The artist sings 'a round' variation of the song (row, row, row the boat style) over the initial recording which is recorded into the second tape player. He then rewinds and plays the new recording while singing over it again and records this over the first recording, transferring the song between the two players, while adding new parts.

As he repeats the process, the recordings grow increasingly distorted and layered, and Hunt gets progressively weary, hanging upside down, as the audience watch paint dry over his facial features and dripping hair. To me it suggested distortion through analogue recording, copying and duplication, or the strength of oral tradition as the words and tune remain the same despite the degradation of the recording. The inversion certainly added an element of stress and increased physical presence, straining his singing as the piece develops. When the round is complete, he unhooks and lowers himself to the floor, then leaves.

The rest of the show included an absolutely A grade mix of moving image pieces from the very best in performance art; including Stuart Brisley, Vito Acconci, Marina Abramović, Ron Athey, Chris Burden, Tehching Hsieh, Valie Export, Smith/Stewart, Bob Flanagan, Orlan and Gilbert and George. VIVID did an amazing job of gathering these gems together, this was an opportunity to see so many incredible performance art videos all in one spot.

I returned to see Kira O’Reilly on the Saturday and was disappointed at the turn out as the place should have been crawling with students and artists from far and wide.. (VIVID : Better marketing needed methinks, I only found out there were three days of performance when I arrived!). O'Reilly, naked aside from small props such as a hat and feather, performed a series of dance-like, circus-esque motions and repetitive actions including slapping her thighs until red, climbing into then jumping from a wall in high heels and holding uncomfortable poses against the concrete floor. At one point she circles the audience, with her back turned, looking into every face through a small hand mirror. The piece is punctuated with small gasps, gestures and waves of her hand. Frequently she twirled a feather between her teeth. Personally I found the amount of variation in her actions difficult to identify themes or narrative in and was a little underwhelmed after friday's event.

More on William Hunt on his website here.

Keira O'Reilly's website here

Interesting anti-art article on O'Reilly here. Here's more on the piece in discussion.

More performance Art coming soon courtesy of Fierce! Including works by Harminder Judge Singh and Jiva Parthipan with whom I was lucky enough to have a chat with in a bar after VIVID.

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