Performance Assistance: Laying Piece

by Beauchamp Art

As part of the ‘Collision’ experience instillation on Wednesday the 10th of April, I assisted my peer, Kirstin Leigh Bicker in a performance piece.

Her statement was thus:

“Women oppose change, receive passively, and add nothing of their own,” – from Sigmund Freud’s Paper ‘The Psychical Consequences of the Anatomic Distinctions Between the Sexes.”

The piece involve her laying down flat in the exhibition space, with the other works around her, with me lying on top of her front-to-front, cheek-to-cheek, unmoving.

With no preamble for the audience, other than that a performance was taking place in the front of the exhibit; Kirstin lay down in the room whilst I was absent. I then walked in, and lay on top of her, establishing a position that was the most endurable. However, I was under instructions to remain stiff, keeping my arms to my side and to keep movement to a minimal.

The original intention of the artist, Kirstin, was to have multiple people lay in sequence for short intervals, but ultimately I was the only other person – of comparable weight and stature – that could participate.
In a brief rehearsal of how we were to compose ourselves, deciding whether laying frontally or with my persons reversed (the former was most practical and visually effective), we had discussed doing the performance in short, 10 min bursts, with breaks in between. But when it came to the day, the artist decided that we may as well attempt to do the performance for as long as possible.
Ultimately, we managed 45 mins without a break, then resumed for another 10 mins. [Between just before 1pm, and until just past 2.30pm], totally around 55 mins.

Though I was just aching and was uncomfortable, Kirstin seemed to be really struggling to get breath sometimes, which made me feel quite bad, then I felt my face against the concrete, and the straining back, and I stopped caring. Upon reflection, this self-concern quite ungainly. We managed to get into a certain rhythm with our breathing at point, so as she breathed in, I out, and vice versa, though this was only for short measure of time, before the arrhythmia of our respiration returned. This was especially worse at the beginning and end of the performance, as at the start I was admittedly slightly nervous, which affected my heart rate and breath, which is usually of no one’s concern but mine, but in these circumstances was somewhat difficult to overcome. And towards the end, I became increasingly aware of Kirstin’s shallow breath and my should pressing into her throat, which I tried to shift away from, but struggled to stop myself from falling off the side of her. Two bodies are simply not designed to hold such a position for such an extended period.

The response received was positive, however given the extended period of the piece, getting feedback during was not viable. But after the performance, engaging in discussion with peers, the effectiveness of the work became clear.
And after a short break, there was then a crit. with the artists featured that ran from 2pm until 4.15pm. Though I was not an artist featured, but rather an assistant in Kirstin’s piece – an actor, of sorts, playing the role of oppression – I felt I should attend this meeting to discuss the other works and how the performance worked in that context.
Initially, when the performance began, it became clear that there was some general confusion and unease towards the work, though after some time the audience and other artists grew used to our presence, and was simply viewed as another piece. Though as the piece went on, some sympathies grew apparent.
Most of the sympathy was appropriately directed towards Kirstin, as she was the one being physically oppressed, though there was an awareness that it was not comfortable for me either, given the difficulties of staying tensed for such a long period, and for both of us the physical pressure was incredibly unpleasant, as knees and hips pressed, and our heads rested on concrete, in the growing warmth of the room.

 

Overall, the performance was deeply unpleasant, both physically and emotively – as is the nature of extended physical contact in a non-intimate environment – but I believe it worked effectively for Kirstin’s project and themes regarding Gender and Oppression. Indeed, if there were no suffering, the piece would be wholly ineffective.
It also served as a good exercise in working collaboratively, and endurance-based performance work. (It also connects to some of my research into performance works, and I frequently exchange in conversation and share articles with my peer about their gender and society related topic, indeed I would encouraged to assist with Kirstin’s work as I thought it was a good idea; I would be less likely to participate in a piece that I did not believe to be well researched, thought out, and meaningful.)

This experience made me consider a theme outside of my usual subject area in a direct and confrontational manner, as well as encouraged me to actually do a performance piece, rather than just plan it – and to work with Kirstin again.

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