[some thoughts on how privilege means being able to look away]
On what happens when an action reverberates to such an extent that it breaks the rhythms of the everyday, and intervenes into different realms of discourse and representation. (What Modernism and the avant-garde managed to sediment – ways of divorcing morality from legislation, foregrounding self-referentiality, ideology and its critique.)
On what happens when a female body (Poppy Jackson in Site) claims autonomy, and engages with space and embodiment in such a way that her presence shifts the realms of everyday representation. (And it’s true, tabloids, that is confrontational, and the most difficult kind- reflective, internal).
A powerful female body embedded into the architecture, foregrounding the private nature of the public space, inviting conversation around vantage points, ownership and being with and within (Sheela Na Gigs appropriated and recontextualised for contemporary mediatised culture – marking the projection of quasi-eroticism, the nuanced relationships to the female body).
An interruption, a break, a reverberation.
I think of Kris Canavan’s action as a similar interruption, a kind of land-marking that reveals a different political aesthetics. In the same way, Jackson’s piece both marks land and territory, and becomes a land-mark in itself. These are temporary, public, embodied sculptures that interrupt – they mark a different engagement with time, duration and sense perception.
It’s important to note how much framing and care is put into these interventions, how significant the preparations, processes and languages that accompany them are.
I think here of those who journeyed with Kris Canavan in Dredge, of the conversations with police officers whose sole presence created layers of tension, the distinct difference between witnessing and participating, and the encounters that allowed that to be present, but also made us being there possible, made the event possible.
I think here of Site as speaking with, not on behalf of – and in this speaking with, it entrenches itself into discourses that seek to legislate it in return.
Jackson has spoken of her work as engaging with the body as an autonomous zone- and in these recent instances (from the curious neighbour that set the tone of the debate with ‘#nakedwomanonroof’ to the tabloids that tried to mark a spectacle of outrage or confusion) we notice the palpable tension, the fight for that autonomy. It wasn’t just the tabloid headlines, I think. It was the blurring of Jackson’s body, captured from above – the gaze, the erasure, already testament to the conflicts the piece was staging.
(And the wonderful confusion about what remains in the realm of art and what threatens to cross that, about taste and aesthetics being confounded by one moment, about a reveal of collective ideologies that legislate the everyday).
[on where we find the spirit]
We find the spirit in Site and Dredge; in Karen Finley’s poetic performance of remembrance, Sarah Jane Norman’s processes of recall and confrontation, FK Alexander’s ritual, in Pacitti Company’s Moving Mountains, in the traces and echoes of Salon conversations and encounters.
Bodies of sacrifice and bodies that offer. Different forms of activist practice that engage questions of register, politics, remembrance, historicisation and representation.
The artist as witness, the artist as biographer, the artist as critic.
The artist as marker of the value-judgments imprinted into discourse (attention-seeking? Well yes- isn’t any activist practice trying to bring attention, to claim legitimacy of that representation, of its tension with the social, political and cultural spaces that frame it?)
[an interlude on scandal]
I am thinking about Dominic Johnson writing about the relationship between scandal, performance and morality (Contemporary Theatre Review, 2013), recalling the Culture Wars in the US, the demonization of artists, the moral outrage of ‘unwelcome combinations’, the rise of neoliberalism under Thatcher, the tensions of sex and power, illness and minorities, religion and ideology, class and privilege (they are all recalled here, in the work, in so many ways). Johnson cites Stanley Cohen when arguing that ‘scandal is a property of the observing group, whose communal responses conspire to create and sustain a social effect, which then becomes readable.’
[let’s end with an exorcism, of sorts]
in the name of / elevated position
space in the city
if you were a man
what is it with
you are not
my body strong and solid vulnerable and fragile