Image as Performance

[Summer 2006]

by Jacques Doyon

Instructions: define a field of operations that is compatible with the camera’s field, determine the procedures for choosing objects and the type of actions to produce, decide on a duration, insert a body into the recording field, perform the planned manipulations or interactions, and then re-evaluate the results of the shots, select the images, and establish a mode of exhibition, to which you may or may not add the instructions.

You will find yourself with a series of images that cannot help, whatever the relevance of their objective, but challenge, amuse, or disconcert the viewer, and bring him or her to apprehend the work of art and the world through other eyes.

The One Minute Sculpture series by Austrian artist Erwin Wurm is exemplary of such an attitude. Following in the footsteps of what performance, conceptual art, and Fluxus, notably, have achieved, Wurm offers what are simply experiments based on a body in precarious balance interacting with common objects. His little scenes, incongruous and humorous, circumscribe and summarize essential issues in art. They deconsecrate the figure of the artist, minimize the importance of artistic know-how, and go so far as to offer viewers instructions so that they can execute the piece themselves and have their action photographed and signed by the artist. They dissect the group of elements defining the sculpture (material, balance, space, monstration) to place them in relation to everyday gestures. Instructions for Idleness, with its encouragements to slow down, give oneself moments of perspective, question efficiency, resist conformity, and take life philosophically, does this even more manifestly: this work directly challenges our values, our vision of art, and our relationship with the world.

Manon De Pauw proposes an exploration and diversion of the functional constraints associated with a place or a communication system. The body is the main vector of this exploration, with a few recurring elements such as a white rectangle or a circle, whose various permutations mark out the transformation of the space from performance to a surface for video or photographic representation. Sémaphore(s) empties out signs, retaining only the postures and plays of drapes whose modulations, visible on the large screen in the middle of the room, reiterate literality. Replis et articulations deals with mutations and permutations of elementary gestures (definition of a territory, statements and crossings-out, figuring of a presence) within a closed system. Au travail, on the other hand, a piece that is highly typical of the artist, choreographs the movements of a dysfunctional body – lying on the ground or swept away in sleep – in the office of an artists’ centre where white pages, dispersed or twirling, serve as a screen and a frame for a view of the body, both at work and adrift.

Annie Baillargeon’s photographic tableaux are structured according to various motifs (geometric, emblematic, or funereal) produced by the replication of her own image. A performance and video artist, Baillargeon places herself on stage to offer whimsical, caustic little stories that oscillate between gestural arabesque and ritualized violence. One of her early series, Gymnastique signalétique, with its pastel tones on a white background, playfully explores the geometric decorative motif and its relationship to the body. Her subsequent series are imbued with more sexuality, with scenes of conflict and violence, as well as motifs in which one perceives a feminist sensibility, tempered by the unexpected and comical. And this is what the following series, Monuments fabulés, stressed with a radical shift to the grotesque and black carnival, tinted with “gothic,” that is not without a resemblance to Jeff Wall’s The Vampire’s Picnic.