Critical Tension

I recently exhibited a number of works from a series I’ve been working on. I began by presenting Hand Piece #1, along with video documentation of the performance, in the Living Space exhibition for At The Vanishing Point, which I also curated. I later performed a work called Chisel Piece for the actingUP exhibition also at ATVP. Finally, I displayed the whole series at ESP Gallery in an exhibition, with my good friend Sach Catts, called Critical Tension.

The series of work exhibited in Critical Tension explored the notion of the physical evidence left over after a performance. It began with an investigation of my painting and performance practices and their interrelation, before moving into a more general investigation of my relationship to performance documentation and artifacts.

I was originally exploring the role that painting plays in my performance practice and vice versa. The method I began with was the production of paintings that were created as a direct result of a performance, so that they were simultaneously paintings and performance artifacts.

The two series’ of drip paintings, Hand Piece #1 and Hand Piece #2, were conceived with a set of performance constraints in mind. In the first set of six paintings, the performance brief was to dip my right hand in paint and then, with the aid of my left hand, to transfer as much paint from my hand as possible onto the wooden canvas without actually touching it. The second performance was limited even further by revoking the use of my left hand, so that I was effectively working one-handed. These performances were initially filmed, along with a third performance, but I found these videos detracted from the concepts I was exploring and elected not to exhibit them at ESP.

The brief for the third performance had me working one-handed again, dipping my right hand in paint and then transferring the paint onto wooden canvases. However in this performance the brief dictated that I transfer paint only through the contact between my hand and the canvas. The resulting paintings were considerably less interesting to look at when compared with the first two series’ of performances and so I decided to shelve them for the time being. Where the first two performances had benefited from a nod to Pollock’s action painting, this third performance was somewhat rudderless.

I have been interested in the creation of the line as a performative act for some time, including works by Nam June Paik, Piero Manzoni and Robert Rauschenberg, but I was particularly inspired by the performances of Gunter Brus. This Viennese Actionist painted a black line on his body symbolising a cut or wound. Drawn to the similarity in our use of black paint in performance I was inspired to literalise this black cut. For Saw Piece I dipped my saw in black paint and cut through a stack of six wooden canvases.

This cutting action reminded me of a performance I read about in Anthony Howell’s book, The Analysis of Performance Art, a text that has been influential in my artistic development. In Andre Stitt’s performance, Second Skin, he chipped away at the enamel of a bath with a hammer and chisel. I was inspired to combine this action with a regular theme of mine, removal of blackness (usually black paint). I took up the six painting artifacts that I had previously shelved and re-purposed them for a new performance. For Chisel Piece I attempted to chip away all the black paint from the surface of the six wooden canvas, leaving behind new art objects. While I was interested in the re-emergence of the removal theme, it was utilised more as a familiar tradition of my own practice than for it’s usual conceptual baggage.

The final performance, Ash Piece, took place on opening night. I collected ashes from six burnt canvases and wrapped them in small bundles of white fabric tied with black ribbon. This was another take on the removal of black theme, combined with the generation of art objects through performance, but was somehow more whimsical.