Nau mai, haere mai, welcome to eyeCONTACT, a forum built to encourage art reviews and critical discussion about the visual culture of Aotearoa New Zealand. I'm John Hurrell its editor, a New Zealand writer, artist and curator. While Creative New Zealand and other supporters are generously paying me and other contributors to review exhibitions over the following year, all expressed opinions are entirely our own.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Dissolving distinctions

Alicia Frankovich: A plane for behavers
May 2, 3-4 pm

Let me start with an account of a work experienced many years ago. In August 1981, while watching an international performance festival (called ANZART) I saw a work by Marina and Ulay Abramovic called ‘Witnessing.’ It featured the two artists in the Great Hall of the Arts Centre in Christchurch, a huge room, with one of them standing in a corner and the other in another corner diagonally opposite. Both wore immaculately tailored ‘karate’ suits, and looked like gymnasts.

The work was an endurance piece. The man would raise his arm and point directly at the woman, holding his arm horizontally for as long as he could bear it. Then let it fall. Then repeat. At a certain point they would swap around and the woman would take over the pointing. The work was at least six hours long. It was about love. It was also about art making, the work itself as obsession.

That work has similarities with yesterday’s performance at ARTSPACE. Have a read of ARTSPACE's text about the event and throw it away. I think the art was really about cruelty and sadomasochism. With performer being victim and ‘behaver’. It’s very clever…and mean.

The piece consisted of two ‘work horses’ – one performer in a harness like the famous work by Maurizio Cattelan of a life-size horse suspended high in the air; the other like an animal working in a field, lifting the droopy inert figure up on a pulley by yanking on a long rope. So in this work, the limp dead weight in the air was the Artist, and the poor sucker doing the physical work was the Director of the institution.

Thus every four minutes, Bugden would hoist the Artist (a taller, bigger person) up towards the ceiling, struggle to the door, open it and let some people leave and outside visitors in – clinging to the rope so the artist didn’t fall. Then she would carefully lower her, the two would pause, catch their breath, drink a little water, and then in a couple of minutes repeat the action.

Bugden did not find the activity easy. It required genuine exertion and an hour of such rope pulling and weight lowering would have been really tough. As on any other day, focussing on the service she normally provides for any artist, helping her in her art production.

However the project was also about the audience and their complicity in her suffering. They stood and watched and could have offered to help. They allowed her to exhaust herself because after all, she was the Director, and she acquiesced to the Artist’s wishes that she participate in the work. No one forced her. In fact the work was a clear collaboration. And in that relationship who was active and who was passive became confused. It became paradoxically reversed. The seemingly inert artist became the driver. The director became the directed.


Cheryl Bernstein said...

Poor old Emma! Did you help her, John?

John Hurrell said...

Wracked with guilt, I didn't get a wink of sleep last night. I suffered a dose of what Bernard Williams calls 'agent-regret.' Paralysed by apathy, I (and about 80-100 others) let her suffer. She'll thank us for it.