‘Jerwood Encounters: SHOW’. Review by Louisa Elderton
The status of the art object, and indeed the relationship of the artist’s touch to a work, has been explored in art practice since the early Twentieth Century, reaching full stride with the 1950s-60s dematerialisation of the object. It was during this period that the precedents of performative art practice - the 1920s Futurist manifesto performances, Jackson Pollock’s action paintings, to name but two - were built upon, and the body itself became a medium or vehicle through which to communicate ideas and engage an audience. This set into motion a very different frame of reference, establishing a unique relationship between artist, artwork and audience as the aesthetic form of a live moment ignited new potential for participation and communication.
Jerwood Visual Arts’ curator Sarah Williams is interested in the ‘resurgence of - performance within visual art practice’ today, and has subsequently organised this JVA exhibition ‘SHOW’ which investigates how ‘a live moment occupying duration and space, where a physical performing body has a relationship to an audience,’ manifests in the practice of Edwina Ashton, Jack Strange and Bedwyr Williams. These artists have been specially commissioned to produce three new site-specific performance works, all of which play with a different experience of time, be it missed, repeated, sustained, suspended, frozen, or slowed. The notion of time perception being truly subjective is bought to the fore and its variable state presents unique experiences for each visitor.
The formal architectural markers of the Jerwood Visual Arts’ exhibition space are used to carve the show into three parts, and the viewer initially encounters Jack Strange’s ‘Zip and Zing,’ 2011. A surreal, unnerving but comical scene confronts the audience; two legs appear before us, disjointed and removed from any corporeal context as they protrude from a vast white wall, only to then start jigging—almost vibrating—as the foot reaches the floor. This repeated action demarcates the passing of time and also proposes a dual experience of the artwork; one by those observing the work, and the other by the participants themselves - perhaps a more endurance-based experience as these legs must begin to ache with repetitive movement.
Bedwyr Williams’ work ‘Urbane Hick,’ 2011, conversely presents an experience of missed time. Producing a limited edition publication, ‘Bedwyr, I Think I Missed Your Performance,’ as part of this one-off performative work—which happened on SHOW’s opening night—the artist rested his hands on two monumental piles of these books, while openly musing on the relationship between the artist and the collector of live art. Documenting almost all of the artist’s performances to date, the books record the traces of not only past live works, but become the relics for this performance as they continue to set the stage even in the aftermath of the live moment. On the opening night of ‘SHOW’, the performance itself was recorded, the film of which is played on monitors at the back of the exhibition space; the visitor is invited to sit down and experience this document of the work, but can a faithful representation of the live moment ever really be captured’
‘Peaceful serious creatures (lobster arranging),’ 2011, is Edwina Ashton’s new offering. A profound absurdity permeates the performance - which takes place every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon - as a lobster, or sometimes group of lobsters, arrange and rearrange inanimate objects and sculptures that occupy the ‘cave.’ The work is both funny and frustrating: the ineptitude of the lobster becomes too much at times, with a series of un-taxonomical orderings and happenings playing out before the visitor’s eyes. Again, the props in the space become the markers of the performance when the lobster is out of sight, hibernating, and they enable the static scene to resonate in the mind of the viewer, perhaps being completed in the imagination. Unpredictability characterises the performance, as different artists and friends of Ashton’s have been invited to assume the role of the lobster and organise the objects in which ever way they so choose. This is ordered chaos.
The intrinsic ephemerality of live art is a strong focus of this exhibition, as Sarah Williams’ considers many factors including how the live moment can be stored or kept alive; the status that props used in performance art might assume; the question of whether performance should play out through an entire exhibition - as in the manner of Marina Abramovic’s recent MoMA exhibition, ‘The Artist is Present’; concepts of how the works should be recorded and how, accordingly, the works might be considered in the future; and indeed, notions of how a live moment, now past, should be absorbed by the art market—how might it be sold’
Museums have certainly been collecting performance artworks for some time now, and these are precisely the questions that continue to be asked by institutions and collectors alike; generally, a script or agreement is drawn up between the collector and the artist to delineate how a work might be recreated, and the criteria that the artist wishes to be adhered to.
As with many contemporary artists, Ashton, Strange and Bedwyr Williams’ performance art occupies only one facet of their broader practice, which also includes film, sculpture and drawing. It is clear that performance has evolved from its art historical precedents to become an integrated part of the multi-media practice of many artists working today. As Catherine Wood, Tate curator of contemporary art/performance puts it:
‘performance has a place as an ongoing facet of their practices, and it is relevant that many younger artists make performance work that is repeatable, durational and even sell-able, rather than focusing on an ‘authentic moment’ of intimacy as many of the original performance protagonists did.’
Performance remains hard to define, capture, represent, document and collect. This exhibition does not try to answer questions, or present a finite solution as to how a live moment should be approached by collectors or institutions. Instead, it stimulates much needed discussion about the place of live performance in art practice today, and the possibilities for ensuring the survival of the moment beyond the present, for future generations to enjoy and understand. The initial factors that inspired many artists in the 1960s to create live art—ensuring the ‘uncollectibility’ of their works, therefore ostracising the art market and altering the economy value of the works—has dissipated, and artists today are often less concerned with the political resonance of the authentic performance. Thus, a solution, or series of solutions must be put in place to protect and conserve the performances of this moment: our moment.
Jerwood Space, 171 Union Street, London SE1 0LN
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‘Jerwood Encounters: SHOW’. Review by Louisa Elderton