Performance Art

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Fourway‘, Daisy Cockle

Last weekend I attended ‘ATTEMPT’, a live art event organised by fellow students at The Stand, a local comedy club. Performance Art is something I had never truly experienced up until now. Yes, I’ve read library books, heard all the big names, watched countless videos and even dabbled in it slightly myself. But never have I sat through an entire day of it. So I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I’d never even been to The Stand before but the fact their toilets were painted in primary colours instantly had me sold! The event began with a live stream of the first performance ‘Fourway‘ which showed the artist walking through Newcastle carrying a giant canvas. And when I say giant, it really did eclipse her – what muscles she must have to carry that thing alone! Not only that, she was braving the cold wearing merely a dress. Simply watching her walk through town without more clothes and a scarf on had me shivering (but then again, I do have an unhealthy attachment to wearing scarves)! It was a brilliant start to the show though, it brought the outside space inside and utilised technology in a way I would never even think of (or be capable of given I can barely use my phone!) Instantly I knew I was in for a very creative afternoon.

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‘Explored Persona’, Dan Graham & Alan Barrett

The performances varied greatly which made the event a really dynamic one. Even if you were familiar with performance art you would not have been able to guess what came next. I definitely didn’t guess how much the audience would be a part of it. We were asked to move from our seats for several of the performances. At first I was nervous about this invitation to participate. Normally when you’re asked to leave your seat at an event like this you end up with everyone looking and laughing at you (yes, memories of my experience at The Edinburgh Dungeons where I was called up and put on trial for being a witch were running through my head! Motto of the story, never EVER sit at the front!) But I needn’t have worried. In this case it was merely to give greater attention to the performance, to really be able to look and move as you pleased. In Explored Persona‘ we stayed in our seats but this time the performers approached the audience (and yes I got nervous again!) But it was nothing too daunting, merely comedic interaction involving high-fives, amusingly prolonged eye-contact and giggles from the audience. 

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‘Habbit is a great deadener’, Ciara Lenihan

‘Habbit is a great deadener’ was a very interesting performance to me. It began with a pile of potatoes. They were there from the beginning; as soon as I walked in I noticed them. And I suppose it was this anticipation, this curiousity as to their purpose, that provided a very effective build up for the piece. I don’t know what I was expecting, maybe consumption or something strange like that (not that eating a raw potatoe appeals to anyone but you never know). It was far more peaceful then that though. The performer, Ciara Lenihan lay on the floor; her feet, hands and mouth were covered in dirt. And for a while, she just lay there, completely still. And it was very silent, and very peaceful and very tranquil. It made me think of all the times I’ve done meditation in yoga. She then began to reach out for the potatoes and one by one place them over her face. A lot of the time, they rolled away. But she kept repeating the process. For some reason it was very soothing to watch. I think everyone else was just as mesmerised as me. It was a simple but very powerful piece. I suppose sometimes the best art is the art without all the flash. The best art is the most pure.

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‘Protest’, Dean Wilson

For the most part, the performances were silent, but not in the case of  ‘Protest’ which to me was one of the most powerful performances. There was audio playing in the background for this piece which I thought was a brilliant idea (why didn’t I think of doing a performance with that?!) It was not just the fact Dean had audio playing, but it was what the audio that was playing. It was very intense stuff. And when I say intense, I mean intense. And it was truly brilliant. It made you sit there and think, it made you sit there and feel something, it even made you sit there and squirm. For some people it would probably have made them want to leave the room which in my opinion completely defeats the point of attending a performance event, as by walking through the door you are essentially agreeing to open your mind to anything. But even if that were to happen, I suppose it means the performer got a reaction. And isn’t that what performance art is all about, not really knowing what’s going to happen until you do it? I think that’s why I could never perform infront of an audience. Behind a camera it is  reserved just for me, like a secret performance.

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‘Untitled’, Matthew Young & Nikki Lawson

When I talk about how every performance was different, the contrast between ‘Untitled’ and ‘Habbit is a great deadener’ highlights this perfectly. Whereas in Ciara’s performance she was predominantly still except for a few rolling potatoes, in ‘Untitled’ the performers were running about all over the place like hyper children. They were juggling  tennis balls painted white and the circular motion of the juggling was hypnotising! There were only two performances consisting of a duo act and I don’t think this one would have functioned as well as it did if it had been a solitary performer. Given that the performers of ‘Untitled’ tended to occupy opposite sides of the room, you were left wondering who to look at. So your eyes flicked constantly between the two. Coupled with the movement of them darting after their ball every time they dropped one, the piece ended up with quite a strong sense of momentum and energy. I was actually quite jealous of them juggling by the end of it – I almost wanted to magically conjure some more tennis balls and join in!

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This experience of Performance Art has made me thirsty for more. I suppose again for me it comes back to that sense of body and self that I like to be present in my work and art that interests me. So although watching performance art won’t be everybody’s cup of tea, it’s definitely something worth trying out if you ever get the chance!

 

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