Pains in the Artists: Endurance and Suffering
Curated by Daine Singer
Simon Pericich, Anastasia Klose, Danielle Freakley, Timothy Kendall Edser
3rd May - 19th May 2007
Blindside is supported by the Visual Arts and Craft Strategy, an initiative of the Australian, State and Territory Governments
Pains in the Artists brings together Simon Pericich, Anastasia Klose, Timothy Kendall Edser and Danielle Freakley, four Melbourne-based artists whose work has touched on themes of endurance, embarrassment and suffering. Each has pushed themselves to the limits of physical endurance and humiliation, and at times treated their art practice as a public forum for working through their own neuroses. Endurance in their work forms a basis for something more, whether proof of fortitude, overcoming shame and embarrassment, catharsis, interrogating the way we communicate, or simply to test their own limits.
In Simon Pericich's performance, Sad little prick, an extreme of physical suffering is used as an expression of insecurity and fear of inadequacy and rejection. Immersing himself in an ice bath for 40 minutes, Pericich worked to see just how tiny his penis could become. The action combined a feat of physical endurance with a purpose that inverted the shame many men feel regarding penis size. This performance formed the basis of the exhibited work: Sad little prick, a plaster cast of Pericich's genitalia, and a mounted video camera through which visitors can view video stills from the performance.
The work is funny, but it is also laden with pathos, as well as an undeniable voyeuristic (and sadistic) thrill at watching his suffering. We are transfixed by the comedy of his tragedy, but also form a sympathetic bond with a young man wanting to hurt himself so deliberately. There is an undeniable sado-masochistic element to the work, made more apparent with the knowledge that the artist's recent ex-girlfriend filmed the performance. Pericich has described the sadness and guilt he felt at the end of this relationship, and the work can be read as a cathartic exercise in ameliorating this pain.
Like Pericich, Anastasia Klose's performances and videos have an air of amateur therapy, and exhibit the desire to publicly share and work through private pain and neuroses. In a previous work, the video In the toilets with Ben (2005), the artist filmed herself having sex in the toilets of the Victorian College of the Arts. Klose expresses a desire to delve into those things she finds most humiliating or repugnant, exploring the process of humiliation and embarrassment. The purpose of this performance was to test the limits of her own behaviour, and from her discomfort with filming what is normally a private act, to produce something positive: in this case an artwork. The embarrassment she experienced with this performance was further explored in Mum and I watch in the toilets with Ben (2005), where Klose sat on the couch with her mother to watch the video. Both mother and daughter are clearly uncomfortable but this is dissipated as the pair delves into mundane details, discussing fluff in Klose's armpit and the fact that she is wearing her mother's bra whilst having sex.
In Slapping Video (2005) Klose again tested the limits of her capacity to bear physical and mental humiliation. In the performance Klose contracted an "assistant" to repeatedly slap her, and found comfort in her own strength of will. And just to even the balance of things, the performance was repeated with Klose slapping her willing assistant.
In the exhibited work, Sloppy Seconds (2007), Klose dredges up her worst works, the failed videos that for one reason or another never saw the light of day. Exhibiting and wallowing in her failures has the twofold purpose of diminishing their importance through a process akin to conditioning – the more they are watched the lesser their failure becomes, and also offers the possibility that through their revisitation we might find somewhere in the videos a glimmer of worth. Sloppy Seconds bears strong connections to works such as Nana, I'm still alone and How to be me, where Klose assumed the role of the tragic clown, exhibiting her own lack of talent, career and relationship failures.
Through a number of extended performances over the past few years, Danielle Freakley has lived her art. In the Text Mask series Freakley took to wearing masks all day in public with texts such as 'I am Naïve' and 'You have a fucking stupid haircut' on them. The artist admits to awkwardness in social situations, and the mask-wearing was both a defensive mechanism and an empowering act allowing her to control her public reception. Of course, it also made her a highly visible performer, and something of a freak, and it is in this embrace of her own awkwardness that the artist sought to overcome it. The artist found that through repetition of these actions her embarrassment and extreme shyness were diminished.
Now Freakley has embarked on her most demanding work yet, The Quote Generator. For three years (which commenced October 2006) the artist will become this entity and speak only in quotation when she is in a social situation, with the reprieve that the Generator is "not used at home, in the studio, in work situations, in organizational situations, in writing or on the phone". It is a three-phase performance:
Current Phase One: Quotes via commercial products whose authors are people the Generator does not know. e.g. quotes from films, books, advertisements, lyrics, etc. Duration: One and a half years.
Phase Two: Quotes from people the Generator has interacted with directly, e.g. family, friends, lecturers, guy at Turkish shop down the street. Duration: One year.
Phase Three: Original Quotes from the Generator as first person in the past, quotes must be at least one month old or older. It cannot quote from the present. Duration: Half a year.
The project takes as a given that we are products of our environment, and as such already exist as quotation of that environment and our interactions. The Quote Generator takes the hypothesis to the extreme, illuminating the crutches we use when communicating and questioning if original communication is a void concept. It also shares with the Text Mask series a desire to hide behind those very crutches, within the comfort and security of known appropriated texts.
While for Freakley the project might have therapeutic elements, The Quote Generator has a more antagonistic relationship to the public. Freakley describes it (and herself) as a "leach", stealing from popular culture and regurgitating it. A conversation with Freakley proves frustrating as the audience seeks authenticity beneath the layers of quotation, and frequently that frustration turns hostile.
Timothy Kendall Edser performs part 13 of his Tension series at Blindside. Through the performance series Edser has explored notions of masculinity, violence and vulnerability, with performances of crashing through walls, being pinned to the gallery and trapped in boxes. In Tension 13 Edser climbs to the top of a two metre rectangular cube construction made of layers of plasterboard, he will lay on the top surface and fall through the layers of the cube. Where Edser has forced himself through walls before with some brutality, this performance is more passive. When, and the extent to which the artist will fall (and be hurt), is undetermined. Where previous works show the futility of trying to prove his masculinity through brute force, in Tension 13 Edser's inability to control this is made apparent, he is at the mercy of the materials.
In each of the Tension performances Edser is near-naked, wearing only white Y-fronts, the icon of the macho man. He is a big man, but without his clothes and subjected to the glare of gallery lighting his vulnerability is touching. The poses he assumes throughout the performances are undeniably aesthetic; a tall statue of a man at the inception of a performance and later broken amongst rubble, at times recalling an Renaissance Saint Sebastian, at other times a Pieta. Of course, the violence of Edser's acts is self-inflicted. The actions he endures signify the ordinary accidental violence of everyday life (the stubbed toe, the bump on the head…) and the force of societal pressure to perform a gender role, but they also show the self-inflicted damage of attempting to fulfil those roles.
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BLINDSIDE is supported by the City of Melbourne.
BLINDSIDE's projects have been assisted by the Australian Government
through the Australia Council for the Arts, its arts funding and advisory
body, and by the Visual Arts and Craft Strategy, an initiative of the
Australian, State and Territory Governments.