by Anna Mortimer
In the context of the parochial Ipswich streets in 2014, where the crowd was small, the atmosphere one of curiosity rather than bafflement, there was little fanfare to mark Canavan’s diminutive figure as he began his backwards crawl. Although his destination was highly charged – the old Ipswich Police Station, with its history of incarceration and stories of injustice – the political message was left largely unheard, silent. In London dwarfed by the monumental architecture of The Houses of Parliament, he begins another epic journey: an unassuming figure low on the ground. But this time his voice will be heard, it reverberates altogether differently.
Dressed in a smart suit and city shoes he begins to crawl. Only then does it become apparent that he has a wire apparatus positioned like a cage or clamp around his mouth, piercing his tongue. Attached to this a bouquet of flowers, mostly white lilies, a flower associated with purity and the feminine. This image of the submissive female is used as an ironic but powerful gesture here in this place of authority. He may be vulnerable, crawling on his knees, but in the action there is the steel of rebellion that will not be repressed. This is a quiet unsettling, a silent disturbance that upsets and questions the position of power.
Accompanied by a group of onlookers, and guided by Spill assistants, he drags his flowers slowly along Whitehall, passing Downing Street and the Cabinet Offices in to Whitehall Gardens. As dusk falls his body barely registers against the darkening pavement, but the gravity of his task sobers the growing crowd. As he tires, he takes small breaks to gather back his strength, his mouth drools and dribbles from the biting of the bit. His final task is to set alight the flowers battered and dirty from the London streets.
This is an arduous and demanding task that Canavan has subjected his body to. It is a subversive act, an act of outrage and fury but in this subtle disguise, it is completely disarming. The policeman he passes at No.10 looks totally bemused, almost amused. Yet it is he who looks ridiculous, preposterous and posturing as he approaches the crowd carrying a gun. There is no threat of violence or brutal action to be found here.
Canavan leaves no place to hide with his dragging and dredging he carries corporate pain. Although there is no great spectacle his empathy for the suffering of others is made evident here. With his crawling he draws along with him the underdog, the misunderstood, the picked on and the ignored. The grime and dirt touches us all. This is a shared rage.
‘As an artist I have sought to find a language to communicate the essential… my body is a tool with which I communicate with the world around me. Because I am reckless and unreasonable. Because the body is the frontline. Because the body is political.’ Kris Canavan.
Indeed by placing his performance in front of the seat of power he makes his point with such understated poignancy it packs a punch far beyond its weight. This was a brave, daring and challenging work of art where the stakes were set high.