Last week we were set the task of working in pairs with students from the textiles and jewellery departments to create a performance artwork which in some way explored space and the room. On Thursday afternoon we got together to watch each other’s performances. I’m familiar with the work of artists such as Yoko Ono and Maria Abramovic, but this was my first experience of creating my own performance. It turned out to be a lot of fun and yielded some interesting results about how people behave when placed in different situations as a group or individuals.
In the first performance we saw one person trying to catch avocado stones the other was throwing at her inside a heavy ceramic cylinder to 80s disco music. The high energy performance felt like watching an sporting competition. In another performance the three artists each wrote consecutive letters in their turn with black ink on a sheet of paper stuck to the wall. After they’d made their mark the paintbrush was handed to a member of the audience and we were invited to carry on the message. It was an interesting exploration in setting rules – the artists had set rules that they only painted one letter but some of the audience instead drew lines and symbols, some kept to the ‘rules’ that had been set. One of the students splashed the paint onto the paper so it got on the wall and ran down to the floor, out of the set ‘boundaries’ of the paper. One we’d all had a go drawing something the paintbrush carried on for a bit until someone decided for the group that the artwork was finished and placed the paint down on the floor. The result of the final piece was unpredictable. We as the audience had to set our own end point. It’s an interesting exploration of language too, there was a mixture in the class of first languages so perhaps we all expected words to be formed in languages familiar to us.
In one performance three of the students moved around into different positions, engaging each with a different object: an ironing board, a bin bag of clay and a chair. They held each improvised ‘still life’ frame for about six seconds before moving again, carrying forward the linear narrative until the time was up. Another performance involved the two students ‘in power’ placing the rest of us around the room as if we were inanimate objects. It felt like being a mannequin in a shop window.
A couple of the girls invited us to sit inside a circle of thread in silence where they attempted to make eye contact with each of us in turn. The final performance involved two of the students hiding in a corner of the room behind some boxes each working with the material most familiar to them – clay and wood in this case. They didn’t announce the performance had started so you had to find your way to their small room where they created a intimate space of stillness and contemplation, a safe space for themselves into which we felt we couldn’t intrude.
I worked alongside Sanne, a student from the jewellery department to create a performance which involved us creating an enclosure similar to a sheep pen with a couple of tables and leading the audience one by one into this tightly enclosed space. We kept some ‘chosen’ people on the side and after we’d closed in the ‘pen’ with chairs, we got out a line of chairs facing it and invited the ‘chosen ones’ to sit with us, eat popcorn and watch the people who were trapped in the enclosure before us. The whole performance took place with the Star Wars theme tune playing in the background.
Our idea was to turn our fear of performing in front of the others upside down, by structuring ourselves as the viewers and them as the ones being watched. We hoped the fizzy drinks and popcorn would create the feeling of being in a cinema, but I also compared the performance to the human zoos I learnt about at the current ‘Diorama’ exhibition by Annika Dahlsten and Markku Laakso at the Röda Sten Konsthall.
In feedback about the artwork we learnt that those who were led into the small table room initially felt like they were the chosen, privileged ones, that they were going aboard a space ship (the star wars tune create this illusion), but after the next stage of the performance took place they realised they weren’t going anywhere and didn’t get any popcorn. This quickly ignited a revolution led by one of the students who stepped over the boundary we had created between us and followed by other students the popcorn and drinks were quickly shared between everyone. Those in the power seats felt bad for the others and began to give out popcorn too, but it took a few minutes before people felt comfortable stepping out of the roles the game had created for them.
It was interesting that so many of the performances involved the rest of the audience. Perhaps when you have a fear of performing, including everyone else is a means of feeling less exposed?