Sharne Wolff wonders whether a tiger at Harry’s can match the excitement of four women with similar haircuts…
After reading the catalogue blurb and coincidentally finding myself with nothing in particular to do on a Wednesday eve in Woolloomooloo I decided to drop in at the opening night of Nothing Like Performance at Artspace in Sydney.
The exhibition presents the work of five artists – Matthew Bradley, Lauren Brincat, Paul Donald, Will French and Yiorgos Zafiriou as well as the collaborative practice Brown Council (with artists Fran Barrett, Kate Blackmore, Kelly Doley and Diana Smith). Although all the work is ‘performance’ based there is no other obvious theme.
Will French, This Will Never Last (self-fulfilling prophecy), 2011, chalk on cement, performance documentation, courtesy of the artist.
Paul Donald is currently based in Montreal but has previously exhibited throughout Australia as well as in Canada. Donald is working on his live performance on the street side of Artspace. On opening night a few passers-by watched curiously through the windows. The piece is entitled Would Work and at first appearance looks like the artist is carrying out some renovations on the interior of the building. A closer look and all is revealed. He is attempting to build a timber bridge across the gallery space, apparently without using any preconceived plans or advance engineering. On the night the structure was already progressing across the space – as a Stairway to Heaven or a Road to Nowhere depending on your interpretation. The large wooden beams of Artspace provided the perfect support for the construction. Like the title of the work, Donald’s performance simultaneously makes a statement and asks a question. Despite the abstract nature of the work it is also very human. Donald is required to assess his own performance by stepping back, observing, thinking, moving carefully and taking a risk each time he nails another piece to the construction and tests its strength with his own weight. Is success measured only by reaching the other side? It will be interesting to monitor Donald’s progress over the next few weeks.
By contrast, Will French’s work This Will Never Last (self-fulfilling prophecy) 2011 was always doomed in the same way ‘today’s newspaper is tomorrow’s fish and chips’. French has documented a ‘performance’ undertaken in Lavai de Pradinas, France – a location that (as far as I could tell) is totally irrelevant to the piece but sounds good because no one has any idea where it is. I assume that’s the point. The piece consists of an archival digital photograph of the words ‘THIS WILL NEVER LAST’ chalked onto concrete. The words are photographed in their various stages of fading finally achieving their own prediction within a matter of …time. French has also exhibited two other works – one performed at the grave of Oscar Wilde WOW (Wild Oscar Wilde), 2011 and The Fastest Artist is the Slowest Rider, 2011 comprising an intriguing set of mediums – “performance remnants (timesheet): etching, bike grease and dirt on paper”. French has exhibited some really interesting work in his last few shows and is someone to watch.
Lauren Brincat, This Time Tomorrow:Tempelhof, installation view, Artspace, Sydney, 2011. Photo: silversalt photography .
Alongside her rather pathetic No Windsock, Lauren Brincat is exhibiting two digital video works in the show – This Time Tomorrow: Tempelhof, 2011 and Goodmorning, Goodnight 2011. ...Tomorrow extends some previous work by the artist where she has focussed on activity. It sees Brincat walking a straight line on an airport tarmac via a large screen set within a wooden triangular frame. The walk is mesmerising as the subject moves away from the viewer until she completely disappears. There is optical illusion from both the screen and the frame, and references to time and landscape.
Goodmorning Goodnight is viewed via television screen. The screen is on the floor of the Gallery in a difficult position for viewing – at least on opening night. I persisted but I suspect many others didn’t. This is an absorbing piece and shows the artist as lead actor in her own black and white movie. She is filmed in the morning and the evening over a period of thirty days, shifting scenes each time so we know the difference. The artist creates an intimate scene and as a viewer you feel like a voyeur – looking over your shoulder in a slightly uncomfortable way wondering whom the artist is looking at. Each day she presents herself to her audience as she readies herself for the day ahead and then once more at the end of the day. As outfits and hairstyles change so do emotions – confidence, excitement, trepidation, annoyance and boredom. These sit in contrast with the end of the day’s relief, nonchalance, tiredness and contentment.
There is no space to mention every work in this show but it’s possibly unwise not to pay attention to Performance Histories: Remembering Barbara Cleveland by Brown Council. This work consists of an HD video, a live performance and T-shirts – all of which comprise a work under the same title but in 3 Acts. Barbara Cleveland was an Australian performance artist. This work examines the act of remembering the late artist and the selective history of art (especially from a feminist perspective). Four women identically dressed in jeans, T-shirts printed with “Remembering Barbara Cleveland”, and similar haircuts face the wall of the Gallery while the video plays close-ups of women speaking phrases from prepared text including, “Performance is painful”(the original text by Barbara Cleveland in 1980). In creating a fresh memory of the artist, Brown Council both pay their respects and give birth to a contemporary story.
After leaving Artspace with its room full of black berets, New York specs, champagne and air kissing I crossed the road as a group of middle-aged men roared up to Harry’s ‘Café de Wheels’ on their Harley-Davidsons. It struck me at that moment that the title of the show was very apt – there’s definitely Nothing Like Performance.
Matthew Bradley, Lauren Brincat, Paul Donald, Will French, Yiorgos Zafiriou and Brown Council.
Nothing Like Performance
Until 22 December 2011.