Seminal Fluids

• verb publicly satirize or ridicule.
• noun a satirical attack.
— ORIGIN French lampon, said to be from lampons ‘let us drink’.

Mike Parr and Peter Kennedy’s 1972 film Idea Demonstrations sits with commanding gravitas at the headwaters of Australian performance and conceptual art history. The film documents a series of twenty-four concise actions performed by the artists at the Inhibodress gallery in Woolloomooloo, Sydney. Beginning with a set of simple written directives, the gestures play out the dialectic between the abstract idea and its physical enaction. In a broader historical sense, the work is emblematic of early performance and conceptual practice.

In Seminal Fluids, Catts and Isaacs re-enact the Idea Demonstrations in an attempt to acknowledge and take ownership of this bequeathed history. Parr and Kennedy’s status as important reference points for performance in this country imbues their legacy with a discursive omnipresence. This ‘household name’ status is acknowledged in this re-enactment and literalised, the action being transplanted to occur in domestic space.

However, the treatment it receives here also upsets that import. The original actions become a series of distractions in a heroic[/pathetic] session of heavy drinking; that much loved, and currently contentious, Australian cultural activity. In this context, Catts and Isaacs play out a retroactively projected relationship of masculine camaraderie between their progenitorial pair. The original directives are performed faithfully, the only augmentation being stipulations demanding drinks be downed at a faster and more frequent rate than unaffected desire would dictate. The resultant tempo of alcohol consumption quickly becomes painful, a feat of endurance alluding to the self harming tendencies of much performance art.

Partially as an exercise in imitative learning, partially burlesque, the work makes no apologies to Parr or Kennedy, but neither does it seek to purely lampoon. Rather it brings their legacy and that of early performance generally to account for its role in defining contemporary practice.