Contemporary Art Centre of South Australia
31 October – 19 December 2014
3 December – 19 December 2014
Two recent exhibitions in South Australia solidify the recent resurgence of performative art forms in Australia, particularly among early career and experimental women practitioners.
In Resonant Actions Kate Murphy's work Cry Me a Future (Dublin) (2006) and Dear Kate ... A Probable Portrait(2011), examines non-traditional portraiture through the moving image. Addressing one of our most basic human fears, Dear Kate … features a statistician’s calm voice, systematically allocating mathematical sums to the objective probability of dying alone. During this soundtrack, Murray performs handstands while her outline is traced, parodying Da Vinci’s 'Vitruvian Man’, undermining statistical likelihood with subjective experience.
In the same exhibition, Camay Is My Beauty Product (2014) and No Pain, No Gain (2014) by Ray Harris, takes beauty rituals to the extreme. In the two-channel work, No Pain, No Gain, one screen shows Harris systematically eating bars of soap, chewing, not swallowing, until the soap is consumed and her mouth is distended. The second screen features Harris performing, or enduring, a series of distorted beauty routines. The single-minded focus of Harris, while completing each task, reveals these actions are more than just a superficial fix, emphasising a troubling internal dialogue of beauty and self-worth.
Physical endurance is also a common theme in Subjectify Me (curated by Ray Harris), particularly noticeable in the work by Faye Mullen. On Hearing is a 30-minute performance by Mullen, where she repeatedly drowns and rescues herself, over and over again, in a Sisyphean task expressing the duality inherent in the continual decay of our bodies and the denial we enact in order to continue our lives. In Brown Council’s work One Hour Laugh (2009), the artists force themselves to laugh for an hour non-stop. A work of endurance, it crosses from tedium to hilarity (and back again), calling attention to the ongoing tension inherent in documentation of performance and the artifice of the spectacle.
Subjectify Me also deals with the idea of transgressive acts in unexpected places, in the work of Hannah Raisin and Madison Bycroft. In Raisin’s work Milking (2008), the artist, in a clear raincoat and undies, stands on the footpath in front of a theatre and pours milk over her head, to the surprise and shock of bystanders. Milking exposes our entrenched responses to acts that infringe on social order, addressing our unconscious reactions to unsanctioned behaviour.
Kate Mitchell, whose work is in both Resonant Actions and Subjectify Me, uses absurdity and humour to underpin her performances. In Resonant Actions Mitchell’s work Fall Stack (2012) eschews documentary style footage in favour of elaborately built sets. This five-channel video work, stacked like a totem, shows the artist continually falling through the awning of cartoonish looking shopfronts, in homage to the endless endurance and labour in our daily lives.
In both these shows the artists use their bodies to perform and articulate ongoing concerns with female subjectivity, celebrating the physicality, endurance and humour in women’s art making.
Serena Wong is an emerging curator, and co-director of FELTspace since January 2015.