Performing, Performance, Re-performing, Re-performance
The project YELLOW REPERFORMED is an ambitious exploration of many facets of Performance Art today. Dramatic heritage and literary nuance combine in the work YELLOW by Amanda Coogan, Ireland’s pre-eminent performance artist. The experience of YELLOW is also viscerally physical and visual. The character of the work YELLOW is explored through presenting the re-performance and its implications of YELLOW RE-PERFORMED, from an ongoing excavation by Coogan into the nature of the art work and performance. To consider performance and the possibilities of re-performance, let us look at the apparently necessary pre-conditions and elements that make YELLOW and the approach to how Coogan has outlined how it is performed. In the first performance of YELLOW, in Oonagh Young Gallery in Dublin, 2008, the bare white of the contemporary gallery is the setting. It is bright and the performer is clearly visible, and close to the audience.
A woman sits astride a tall almost square bucket, her feet arched to enable her toes to reach the ground allowing her balance. Her hair is scraped back into what could be called a pleat at the back, but with a severity that is almost puritan but there is a little vanity in the style. The dress she wears is yellow of an egg yolk colour and a stiff-seeming texture. The neck has a shirt-style neckline, gold buttons and a thin belt completes the uniform; from this line one has the impression of stylised uniform, with little to distinguish it, allowing the possibility of reproduction. No detail that is particular. The possibility of an office uniform, of a factory uniform, of rigidity is evoked. The skirt however billows below in an apparently sumptuous abundance, long and unending.
By the time the audience enters the skirt has been doused into the bucket, the bubbles overflowing the sound of the material being rubbed material begins. The sounds slide along and the water develops a hum as the self-reproducing bubbles seem to lend a slippery aspect. The woman concentrates on the washing. And this goes on and on. Drowning the skirt of the dress often with a violent jerk, the woman appears to become catatonic with the hum of the water becoming drowned out by the low and groaning sound emanating from the woman. As the skirt is dragged out and up between the woman’s legs, the bubbles, the woman’s manipulation and the material contrive to make shapes, by turns phallic and flat. Music – Schubert - swells and the crescent of the public gaze is suddenly confronted by the woman’s eyes. Aggressively contacting each of the audience by looking them squarely in the eye, the woman communicates, and returns to her washing.
Another variation of how the woman approaches her skirt is to take the material in her mouth and to thrash from side to side spraying the sodden water in an arch and further spilling onto the ground. There seem to be primeval grunts and fluvial sound that surround. This continues for the duration of the performance, over hours. This seems to be the shape of YELLOW, these aspects seem to contain the essence of the work. The questions can be asked. Is the presence of the author necessary, is the work something that can stand alone, is the potential for inclusion in a museum collection copper-fastened with these essences, does the work conform to ideas of the collected artwork, does a possibility of many performance or exhibitions exist for this artwork? Is re-performance possible?
In her work, Coogan examines the female, their contemporary and historical social context and roles, and the body, in her work. She also looks at the essence of the artwork, and from her training in the studio of Marina Abramovic, her commitment to duration and repetition, some of her methodological influences are clear. However, Coogan carries the enquiry into the nature of the developed work outside of her authorship, manifest in her interest in the practice of other artists and in the possibilities of other artists inhabiting an armature.
In conceiving of YELLOW RE-PERFORMED, within the framework of a curated experience, and developing her process, Coogan is interested in re-performance, and most decidedly not re-enactment. Much rumination on the author/performer and the work has taken up column inches. What must be stressed in YELLOW RE-PERFORMED is that Coogan is not concerned with re-enactment and pushes the notion of THE AUTHOR IS NOT PRESENT, or perhaps more saliently THE AUTHOR IS NOT THE PERFORMER. There are implications around venue, setting and lighting that also will be clarified.
In a painstakingly prepared presentation of what Coogan called MAPS and the creation of what is suspiciously like a script, Coogan invited 5 performers, 2 actresses and 3 Live Art Performers/Performance Art practitioners to take part in a unique experiment. In this, the motivations of the separate artists, their reactions or their trajectories become all visible. Lighting, set dressing, sound and staging, with audience management and Front of House staff, all the vocabulary hint at a theatricality compounded when one knows that the methodologies of Coogan’s ‘script’ is modelled on the Beckett pared down approach. Coogan in this activity is acutely aware of the traditions she mixes and messes; this Irish theatricality is infused into the work. She also messes the categories of performer, and asks the performers to find themselves in the work but quietly insists there is a YELLOW shape. This hybrid may have the potential to be a new opening up of the potentiality of performance, there may even be objects attached to this Art piece that can lie in a museum storage crate. The questions asked around the potential or the point of re-enactment are rendered uninteresting in the proposal of the re-performance.
Another question hovering around a script or an essence is how the audience relates to the work – as what is communicated is not specified by the author. This is a point of articulation of the power of a work to act on individuals in a specific way, and also asks if there is information in the composition that refers to a universal understanding. It seems this might overcome the possible need for the author/original performer’s story to be understood or communicated, in the same way as the painting can move away from the intention of the artist. This does not seem to be possible with re-enactment.
At this point, the work YELLOW has been seen; is the work YELLOW RE-PERFORMED with other artists using their own intuition an extension of the original or an altogether new work?
24 September 2010