The term “performative” has crept into the vocabulary of the visual arts from its origins in the philosophy of language as speech acts.
Keep only happy colours
Use them to become strong in the broken places
And be a rainbow in a stranger's life
Jessie Lumb, 'To heal and be healed’ a commission for do it [adelaide] 2015
The term "performative" has crept into the vocabulary of the visual arts from its origins in the philosophy of language as speech acts. Calling objects or situations into being as a performative, enabling gesture has become a regular strategy for makers and doers of art.
As a catchword for staging, theatricality and mise-en-scène, but also “the contingent and difficult to grasp realm of impact and effects that art brings forth situationally”, summed up by Hans Ulrich Obrist in How to Do Things with Art, it helps to define a broad cross-section of practices that are spatial, discursive or relational, e.g. in relation to a viewer or a public. This just about defines what any artist, activist, curator or educator would hope to achieve in a working life.
I am led by good example - by art and artists in various forms crossing true performance and this more slippery sphere of engagement, including the inspiration provided by such compelling recent exhibitions as Framed Movements at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne; do it [Adelaide] at the Samstag Museum of Art; Art as a Verb by the Monash University Museum of Art (resurfacing in new iterations at the Flinders University City Gallery and Artspace, Sydney); and PP/VT (Performance Presence / Video Time) guest curated by Anne Marsh and Nicholas Tsoutas for the Australian Experimental Art Foundation, Adelaide.
Expanding the repertoire to define the major shifts occurring in cross-disciplinary collaborations between choreography, visual arts and film, 24 Frames Per Second, recently on view at Carriageworks, Sydney, presented a spectacular body of new commissioned work.
Our cover girl for this issue, the performer Kathryn Evans, featured in this program as part of a series of video portraits by Adelaide-based filmmaker Sophie Hyde working with Restless Dance Theatre, a youth dance company whose work is inspired by cultures of disability. This series, To Look Away (2015), exploring classical aesthetic notions of nineteenth-century European portraiture, brings out the performance in the portrait as a staged creation. Here, the performer as co-creator adopts a pose in a studio-like space that has been especially made for her. To me, this represents an outer projection of an inner dream of beauty. Pink, with all its luscious connotations of femininity, coquetry and wish fulfillment, is the perfect vehicle.
Art empowers people, and Sophie Hyde demonstrates this through her role as a filmmaker, working with communities to open up new creative possibilities. Currently in the UK for the release of her film 52 Tuesdays, this extraordinary film of personal transformation also presents life as art, driven by process. In this story of a teenager, whose mother embarks on a year-long, female-to-male gender transition, the plot revolves around their weekly two-hour meetings filmed, as scripted, “over the course of a year, once a week, every week – only on Tuesdays”.
Life is a work in progress, as 52 Tuesdays radically explains. It is hard to think of a better metaphor for what we want to do with art.
Eve Sulllivan is Executive Editor, Artlink.