STUART BRISLEY, DRAWN, 2-5 March 2016

Maya Balcioglu

DRAWN, 2-5 March 2016

Performance

Text 1

Stuart Brisley, considered the godfather of British performance art, for several decades has been attracting the attention of international audiences as an author of expressive actions, installations, public interventions, films, video works, photographs and paintings. His art is politically engaged; he uses simple materials and works in social contexts that others perceive as marginal. In his oeuvre Brisley confronts creative interventions with the circumstances of advanced capitalism. He asks questions about the limits of humanity placing human body in extreme circumstances, both physically and emotionally. He exposes conflicts between the autonomy of the subject and the violence of instrumental power exercised by bureaucracy and the state.

Brisley received international acclaim in the 1970s. Influenced by counter-cultural politics he adopted performance as a form of expression providing a basis for a new relationship between artist and audience. In his interventions he seeks to initiate dialogue with the audience outside of legitimised conventional behaviour patterns. In his paintings and installations he investigated into the rhetoric used by the media to speak about power.

Performance entitled “Mirror” deals with the condition of the old age. The artist will be using a variety of materials, including, e.g., second hand clothes and a mirror which he will use to achieve the effect of fragmented reality. In the artist’s description of the performance we can read that the aim of his arrangement is to “stimulate where all that exists in the time frame that cannot be removed without destroying what may be invisible. Being the work itself, a fleshed out condition echoing through the octogenarian specular.”

The performance coincides with the exhibition “Stuart Brisley: Decisions” at Galeria Studio in Warsaw.

Text 2

Stuart Brisley understands performance as a process. In 1972, he spent over 17 days and nights in an isolated room, visible to the audience only through a small letterbox cut into the wall. During this action, the title of which specified the artist’s national insurance number, he modified the outlook of the room using black and white paint and having as the only prop the wheelchair. During the course of another performance Survival in Alien Circumstances (1977), realised with the assistance of Christopher Gericke on the occasion of Documenta 6 exhibition, Brisley deepened the cubic-shape trench for 14 days, supported occasionally by the viewers, piercing through the subsequent layers of earth. The artist effectively became part of the place, spending nights in the wooden shelter constructed within the trench.

Exaggerated duration of these performances endows them with a peculiar emotional intensity and challenges the viewers’ role as passive receivers of a spectacle. Many of these works involve the construction of social relationships; within the framework of Hille Fellowship Polly Wheel project, as early as in 1970, Brisley enacted visual and functional interventions in the space of a manufacturing plant, simultaneously engaging  in a continuous dialogue with its employees. During the course of a two-week performance Lying, Standing, Walking and Talking (1976) the artist worked in the city park, making his survival dependent on support from the representatives of the local community. He received food from them, also the materials needed for the construction of a provisional hut.

Temporal dimension of Brisley’s performances originate from the premises of Minimalism which manifest themselves in his assemblages of the 1960s. Use of everyday materials precedes his conception of performance as composed of everyday activities. Consequently, White Meal (1966), the first performance realised by Brisley, “was about eating; it was bringing everything back to an everyday common mode of living and being.” This conception situates the artist in a direct relationship with an environment – with the extant materials and the broader tissue of social relationships.

Another feature of Brisley’s performance is their transgressive character. The artist declared his interest in making “works where you actually have to go beyond yourself into areas that are not prescribed or thought of and then acted out.” This formula anticipates moments of losing one’s subjectivity and almost total integration with the environment. Transgression of this kind occurred in Brisley’s actions by means of placing his own body in extreme situations and exposing it to the public view. It anticipated the disclosure of the reverse and unfamiliar side of reality – the matter embracing an embodied subject not only as its component, but also as an agent of its transformation.

During the course of the two-week performance And for Today… Nothing (1972), Brisley immersed himself each day in the bathtub filled with a dark liquid, surrounded by the rotting offal. This action was the point of origin for the film Arbeit Macht Frei (1973), which was an attempt at empathising with the victims of nazi concentration camps. Confrontational character of this film suggests the total negation of the message inscribed in the title phrase.

Performance Mirror [Lustro] will address the condition of ageing. Like the earlier works by Stuart Brisley, it will show the subject as inscribed in an incessant circulation of matter. The artist will make use of second-hand clothes and a piece of mirror – the latter will serve as a tool for achieving the effect of fragmentation of reality. The artist’s description of this performance reads, that his aim is to “stimulate where all that exists in the time frame that cannot be removed without destroying what may be invisible. Being the work itself, a fleshed out condition echoing through the octogenarian specular.” 

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