My experience of Deanne Butterworth and Linda Tegg’s Performance defied my expectations of a ‘performance’ in the traditional sense. In this ‘real time’ environment constructed by Butterworth and Tegg, it took a series of physical and psychological adjustments to climatise to this social experiment, within which I became a willing participant.
Performance took place outside the normal parameters of just that, a performance. More a ‘happening’ than a performance, there was no formal beginning, no formal ending and no designated area for the performers and the audience. Apart from the glass wall and entry of the convenience store that housed and ‘framed’ most of the performative actions (be they direct or indirect), most of the defined expectations and rules of engagement were dismantled for me throughout this ‘hybrid’ work.
The beauty of ‘Performance’ was the choice I was given to either observe or inhabit a deceptively subtle series of performative actions. I chose to experience several phases of involvement and immersion throughout its duration. Upon walking up to the site on a busy Collingwood street, I was met with a crowd of ‘scenesters’ gathered surreally outside the store, dramatically lit by the cold lighting that has come to define sites such as these. As I approached the site, I realised that the performance had already begun; it was the audience that was already on show. I also realised that I was soon to be one of them, as I psychologically transitioned to my impending role. How convenient!
After the formalities of acknowledging some of my fellow audience members, I began to climatise to the context by looking, watching and waiting for a ‘performative’ action. The realisation that some of the inhabitants of the store were functioning at a distinctly slower pace, and meditative manner, emerged gradually. As a Fitzroy resident, I have grown accustomed to co-existing with other locals of the area who, through their ‘smacky’ slowness or ‘crystal-meth’ celerity, function within a parallel, drug-induced rhythm. We co-inhabit the streets and public transport, but our lives rarely coincide. This was my first association.
Over two 60-minute durations, the performers contemplated the sunglasses on the viewing rack and the array of chip varieties on the shelves, walking in ‘slo-mo’ over to the fridge to select one of fifteen varieties of water. I allowed myself to throw caution to the wind, enter the store, observe from within and engage, entering a semi-meditative state. I removed myself from the world of thoughts and associations and felt a distinct sensation come over me. Allowing myself to slow down, I began to enjoy my unself- conscious state of being.
As with any reductive art moment, the appreciation of fine details can become hugely meaningful. I swam into the ‘space’ of the performers and delighted in the beauty of their actions and subtle forms of encounter.
Actively entering the conscious world once more, I realised that this was as much a commentary on the realities of contemporary life as it was a social and temporal experiment. There have been countless works that address the contemporary condition of the ‘assembly-line’ efficiency of our accelerated lives. We are now met with the potential of exceeding our physical and perceptual capacity as the world around us accelerates exponentially. Films like ‘Koyaanisqatsi’ and ‘Baraka’ addressed this thematic poetically, and we watched in our cinemas, ironically a symbol of speed and modernity in its day. I recall reading about the first train travellers experiencing this new velocity for the first time. Our proto-industrial ancestors’ accelerating bodies experienced this new and strange rhythm of a passing landscape like never before. Pure sensation. ‘Performance’ offered this sensation in reverse. However, unlike the precedents mentioned above, Butterworth and Tegg have allowed us to inhabit it. Our body has been placed in this space, and instead of imagining this notion, we have been given the opportunity to meander physically through this reality, revealing our relative briskness and participating in this sensorial shift.
And if this was a commentary on the accelerated reality of our lives, then the minimal actions of the performers: quiet, slow and considered was magnified within the ‘maximalism’ of the convenience store’s loud, fast and efficient context. What an extreme coexistence.
Each of the two performances offered a different ‘take’ for the audience. The second, more ‘dynamic’, performance began with a woman walking slowing toward the sliding doors from amongst us. Her transition was gradual. As she reached the threshold of the door, another performer walked quickly toward the door but chose to slow down as she reached this threshold, marking it with her sudden transition. This markedly different interpretation by two performers was very meaningful for me. What signified the performed moment varied significantly between the two actors. The second actor implied, in her actions, that the site was like a distinctly different zone by using the threshold to delineate it. Like runners at the finishing line, this golden moment highlighted to me the malleable parameters of any performative space.
Another seminal moment for me was the appearance of four strangely identical ‘surfee stoners’ who visited the store. With the aim of satisfying the munchies, they were unaware of the construct they had entered upon. We observed their beautiful and comedic contribution to the work, as their delayed realisation became coloured by their giggles and slurred chit chat. They stopped. They then gathered around one performer, offering her a taste of their ‘sausage-on-a-stick’. She shook her head slowly… very slowly. This exchange was a brief meeting of minds, over in a flash. Feeding the sausage to a dog in the audience, the stoners went on their way, giggling their way into oblivion.
I have chosen to focus on an anecdotal means of discussion in this review and not the spatio-temporal, theoretical tangents that have informed my own visual art practice over the years. Though these tangents have, indeed, informed and ‘cast’ my experience, I would describe ‘Performance’ as analogous to wandering and weaving through a three dimensional photograph, where I enacted my poly-rhythmic roles of the performative, the everyday and the realm of the observer.
I see this work as essentially photographic. Like the mechanical eye, this performance revealed and harnessed realities that are otherwise unperceivable to the naked eye. It presented a meditation on duration, extending the decisive moment to the point where we could inhabit, perceive and even impact upon it. Ultimately, I was moved by my experience of ‘Performance’ and the sensations it evoked in me.
Performance, a project initiated by Deanne Butterworth and Linda Tegg, performed Friday April 27 2012
View the film documentation of ‘Performance’ here.