Present absence

Kayla's photo of the last syrupy sunlight cutting through the gate at Royal William Year
Live Laboratory Symposium: The Pigs of Today are the Hams of Tomorrow
Symposium session 2: In Conversation
Brewhouse, RWY, Plymouth
Saturday 23 January 2010

Paula - Good morning, hello, before we just start the session ... We’re providing catering in here ... during lunchtime ... we’re trying to really heat the room up...

Dominic Johnson - Hello and thank you all for coming

Ron Athey
Miss Velma’s Christmas Sharpshooting Scene
A wound that never heals ... The great American tribes pay their respects at the birthday of Jesus. Keep your eyes on the balloons... after this she will play the wind organ. Cross-cultural collision. The target: Melies’ moon.

D What were the motivations that made you start performing?

R It was a nutty scene in the late 70s/early 80s: punk music and the DIY spirit. Johanna Went dumpster-diving, blood, energy and chaos: extreme minimalistsic performance wouldn’t have held up in that context - speed and intensity, confrontation were important. It was really inspiring: everyone I knew was in a band. Using my body: my childhood experience of theatre being Miss Velma, the illustrated bible.

Body resonance from important events: photos, heresay, about what they were trying to do. Sounded disgusting, but communicating beyond words. I was raised to be a Pentacostal minister.

D Development of performance: explore [Genesis P Orridge] - the way these type of artists become marginalised because they cross-over, and become successful in the music scene. I find it more useful to straddle categories.

R You used this term psychic weight: the way a body makes experience readable. The power of the visual weight of the body?

D When I started performing in art venues [telling my stories in a microphone], I thought that I could go further, and look at the archetype of the image ... the term autobiographical puts you in a box right away.

R The relationship between the body and artifice?

D Creating a heightened state, an elevated state when I’m not myself ... a degree of chanelling in there, some brutality. It’s not pre-strategised, it’s not preformed.

Extremes are in my palette. Atrocity and generosity. I’m definitely not minimalist.

R An illustrated sermoniser?

D My lens hadn’t changed, I think of it in religious terms: the audience is the collective witness. I’m not interested in doing it to an empty room, and I have to get pumped up and imagine an audience in a performance for the camera.

R Miss Velma: the affective charge. The wound in performance - what does it do in and for performance?

D Wounding is a huge spectre for me. From creating a live transcendent experience to self-destructiveness. Looking at my self history, I go from teenage self-harming to piercing and tattooing. In more recent work, like the self-obliteration, I’ve tried to override that and have gone into a state of self-exstasis...

R The figure of the martyr?

D What was 1989 like? I look at a photo - only me and one woman are left alive today because of AIDS. Not acknowledging ... only reproductive futurity.

R Crisis and conflict out in the world? Performance involving/naturalising ordeal for the performer and the audience aestheticises conflict? How do you feel?

D The performance uses the wound. The most it can do is resonate: it can’t change the world.

R Legacy: how can artist be trained and/or mentored?

D You either have a fire in you, or you don’t. When I’m visiting a university, the over-theorisation blocks or prevents the performed energy - I felt like I was unclogging...

R Plunging people into an extreme environment eg in the Mohave desert?

D It’s been lazy lazy lazy for the last 6 months, and now, like, it’s time to work. Immersion or submersion...

R Cognitve dreaming?

D In the morning my grisly old grandmother would ask us what we dreamed, and then would look it up in a dream interpretation bible. If she felt the dream wasn’t completed properly, we’d be sent back to finish it off again. I can still do that.

R Ideas?

D From writing. Although everything is visual-based. It comes from a question. By doing a series of works in progress, such as by moving a piece of bloody glass - exploring things I didn’t really understand from earlier performances.

Ron Athey - Self Obliteration #1: Ecstatic


Q Marina talked yesterday about training an audience?

R Marina said that? For me the work goes beyond specific. I performed Deliverance in Croatia, a few months after the war ended. I thought What am I doing, doing a sodomy scene here? When I got to that point in the show there was a collective blackout. I think I’d go mad if I felt I had to educate the audience. The concept makes me nervous.

Q Intention?

R Meditate on the intention towards the whole experience.

Q Documentation?

R Some pieces co-operate with camera, some are re-staging previous performances. I don’t consider myself a visual artist.

Q Performing together with another body with another history? [Julie Tolentino]

R How can we move it forward? To put it in a female Latina/Filipina body on the same action, on the same set-up; looking at the same action on a completely different body.

Q Energies and interactions? Audience participation: involved interaction between audience and bands/you/the work.

R I once allowed the audience to touch me. I used to need the distance, but now it’s closer and closer. In the early 1990s at ICA, I couldn’t stand the seated audience; so at the end of the evening I went on to perform afterwards in a club.

Q Having a fire to do work, and theory getting in the way and preventing work? Without theory, could performance just be a romantic notion/idealism?

R What is it in live art? That I feel more unhinged and less traditional. That’s what’s so exciting about that medium to me ... the breakdown of that discipline.

D But there’s all these bodies of knowledge that’s present in the work ... it’s just a different order I think?

R It’s a really inclusive medium. It’s amazing how it expands into different genres over time.

D Body-modification, self-fisting, mortification. Owning the body.

R It hinges on intent: the whole entire meaning changes. A live sex show is not a live sex show if the intent is not to arouse.
Roberta Mock + Siobhan Mckeown with Hayley Newman
Playful interplay; bright lineage and legacy. Clever.

S When did you first know you were an artist, or were you just born that way?

H I was the mouse that hid in the art room and played. I knew by the time I was 16.

S Have you struggled with the idea of being an artist?

H I don’t think I started calling myself an artist until my 30s. I felt had to earn the title, maybe.

H Connotations – Performance Images 1994-98 (invented documentation of 20 fictional performance pieces, in collaboration with photographer Casey Orr). Made in 1998, I was 28 at the time: 21 fictional phototext works that describe a 4 year career of a performance artist. Afterwards I had a kind of second album syndrome, it was very difficult to move on.

R Connotations II (2002)carried on these fictional interventions. It features video as well as photographs. Moving the documentary photograph (the central object of performance work) into a video form has implications?

H The photos and video are a smokescreen to the events that happen. Photographs and video offer away in to a work, but they represent experience - and that’s all about framing. Connotations II tries to analyse how performance is represented and to analyse that. [Imagine what other forms documentation of a performed event could take?]

H One intention was to bring performance into the gallery. Like Ron [Athey] I started my performance career in music - they were the only people who would have me. The constant learning that goes on in that experience, performing and re-performing ... I felt a whole history was being negated, or plundered, being used and appropriated for capital gains by those [yBa] artists - my work was having a dialogue with that.

R What makes a successful collaboration?

H You - or I can - intuit what is a collaboration. It starts with friendship, it’s like an adventure, doing something that goes beyond what we would usually do. Meeting someone, and doing something that’s important at a particular time. Passing through moments in time, when it becomes appropriate to do something. There’s a promiscuousness about the collaboration: doing it, and then moving on.

R Mentors?

H Like Ron, I’m completely institutionalised, I excrete what I do in the institution when I am a performance artist and I do work. Stuart Brisley was one, and Marina herself. I studied with her in Hamburg in 1996. It’s a professorial system in Germany: not as formal as the contact you’d have here. Marina was very generous and supportive of the work students were making. It gave me the experience of coming into a community. If I can be a link between the community and in the institution - inside the institution - that’s my role I think. I want to reclaim my teaching practice.

R What did doing a PhD give you as a practicing artist?

H It gave me money. I was an artist and I wanted to make my work: the PhD gave me the money to make my work. I made Connotations during my PhD: that’s possibly why it’s quite a theorised piece.

R And reflexivity: it’s very reflexive. Methodology?

H Artists have methodology, they don’t have names necessarily. Don’t feel that you have to import a methodology to make work.

R Nakedness?

H Collaboration with Nina [Koenemann] in Hamburg: we wanted to do something to say goodbye to each other. I’ve always wanted to be naked in a topless car, so we did it. Then the next day we did it agin with a photographer from Bild. Went from something that was incredibly personal into something very represented.

R Connotation?

H What is the authentic expression? Sunburned breasts: it is anger.

S Cafe Carbon: Copenhagen?

H With my laydeez The Gluts. Fans of climate activists.
Q MKHV (Milton Keynes Vertical Horizontal)?

H The book MKHV (The Screenplay) starts to unpack what happened in the journey.

Q Making a connection between your burnt breasts and the Bild photographer on your topless journey: if you were going back to document or publicise that event, would you do it differently?

H It was real. I’d do it the same.

Q Cabaret: the Spoon Lady?

H It goes back to the schizophrenia of teaching: this personal drive of what you’d like to be doing, but then there’s this intellectual drive. This kind of work allows me to play with life, the sorts of positions like being a teacher. The imagination is allowed to be more present in that context. Also, undermining my role as a performer: being a fool, the buffoon.

R Thank you.
Adrian Heathfield with Tehching Hsieh

An oral legend. His work existed at the margins of visibility. How are particular lineages identified? Late 70s and early 80s did 5 one-year long performances. He performed, or was constrained by a set of rules or parameters which place him in a particular natures of being; what it means to be human, to be free or constrained, what it means to be a person in time, in a home or a city, in relation to another person. What being is in relation to art itself. He made art but didn’t show it in public, so it became entirely invisible work.

A How did the first one year performance emerge from your life?

TH I start painting. In early 70s Taiwan it was very conservative. So I tried to get a Super 8 camera, and did one piece Jump in 1973, my first piece. Jumping ship, survival as an illegal. Another language, different culture. Still, 36 years in America, my English is still not too good. I didn’t have in my art for the first 4 years, my studio is empty.

Get an idea, another idea to waste time: one year thinking. The picture looks like I am a prisoner, but it’s more I’m thinking of life’s isolation. I scratch every mark every day on the wall. The images show how small the space is to live in for a year. Pass one day in thinking.

A You had a rule or statement published, such as: no newspaper or reading, no TV?

TH I want the audience to see, only have 19 days open to the public. Have a lawyer witness the statement.

A This is quite an extreme situation to place yourself in for a year. What was the experience like?

TH The performance is already in my body in my mind. To me is like to experience life in very personal ways. Like Ron [Athey] make a tattoo in his body, a prisoner take a file and make a mark.

A Your work recreated what you were experiencing as an illegal immigrant…

TH That’s my life, like a rhythm. I‘m more like a patient, less to be a psychiatrist doctor. I can’t explain why.

A Your relationship with the document: every performance you made has different acts of documentation. The performance is the thing, the document is the trace.

TH Document is ‘sub’, secondary. I shut my face every day. The lawyer is the proof: no cheating. Second piece: I had punch-time cards. Every hour I punch a card and take a picture: every hour: 24 pictures for one day, for a year.

A It winds down one year into 6 minutes

TH Lost my teeth.

A People find it hard to understand the level of the commitment to your work. What sustained you? Self belief? Belief in the concepts? Iron will? Or other things that you discovered on the way? A peverse faith in art?

TH Commitment, and also thinking; make sense of present time. Get into passing time.

A How important is it that it’s your body and your identity? How would you feel about another person asking permission to re-enact the work.

TH Now my work has its own life and I don’t need to hold onto to it because my identity is strong. Each artist will be a different experience, and they will do it in different ways.
Q Does the witness replace the audience in your work? Or the people who look at the documents.

A My sense is that the audience is anyone who encounters the work, then and now?

Laptop battery ran out

TH It’s more like I do it for myself, and the audience is secondary.

Q The strong link in your work with legal contractual agreements?

A The connection with legal documents, witnesses … your relationship to the law?

TH It’s like a ritual, this kind of evidence. If I don’t do it, only the audience will punish me. I won’t go to jail. I have a life as an illegal alien in NY for 14 years. I look at law to see what can change my illegal immigrant status. I almost become lawyer! I also have 3 years army in Taiwan.

Q In London you told me that you had stopped making work. Is this because you are looking back, and finding reasons for doing it; theorising it?

TH The rhythm is the internal imperative. I have dignity: I don’t get grant, all my life I work. I do it for myself: the audience is secondary. I didn’t have any other good ideas.

Q You performed Art / Life: One Year Performance with Linda Montano, and were tied together with an 8 foot rope for one year. The audiotapes you made are sealed so no one can listen to them. How would you feel if people listened to them after your death?

TH I would be dead, it wouldn’t matter to me. The inside story is that if you listened to them you would be so bored ... our conversation for a whole year. You can use your own experience and imagination. It’s like Pandora’s Box.

I’m not searching for freedom from death. I don’t believe in life after death. I prefer day to night, but I know that day is part of life.
I stand up and massage one left then right buttock: numb from two and a half hours on a hard plastic chair. I say hello to Simon Persighetti, wearing dark glasses after his 12 hour midnight to midday walk around Plymouth with Tony Whitehouse. We join the queue at the back of the space. Simon says it was very cold. He’s got sleep deprivation and has started hallucinating. The queue shuffles forward half a step. I say hello to Phil Smith, who has joined the queue as it bends down the aisle between the seats towards the windows. I am almost at the front of the queue. The man in front has picked a large brown bread sandwich, uncut and wrapped in loose clingfilm, from a heap: No, he says, he doesn’t want any soup from the urn. I reach the table, my turn. Half-baguettes and pairs of whole slices of white and brown bread are piled up on serving platters. My mouth feels too tired to wrestle with the chewy, slightly dry circumference of a baguette. I ask if there is a vegetarian sandwich please? The young woman rifles the mounds and helpfully peers into the middle of some ham sandwiches and baguettes. She finds a tuna sandwich, and offers it to me ... I just go for the £1.50 paper cup of coffee, and head up to the window in the corner where I talk to Sally Lemsford from Derbyshire. We lean on the windowsill and watch the light steaming across the white masts moored at Mayflower Marina on the other side of the bay.

We talk for nearly an hour and half, then I take a couple of photos of my drawings on the long tablecloth. Sally drew the dotted ‘cut here’ line with a pair of scissors.

I go next door to
The Reading Room
Performance magazine: performance + art / theatre / music / video / dance / events / spectacle ++
Nov - Feb No 44 / 45
double issue 1986
Editor Rob La Frenais ISSN 0144 5901

Perf Review p. 46
The nature of reality: has Richard Layzell really seen the future? Simon Herbert demurs:

Richard invited me to his performance at the Gate Theatre above the Prince Albert pub in Notting Hill; an intimate grey space.

“Layzell’s approach was to present a lateral future of a tragic nature, yet an hour and en minutes and a slick set just wasn’t enough to make me believe or care, and without provoking that emotional involvement, Layzell’s commentary functioned almost in opposition to his subject matter.

The first half of the performance began in low light, with Layzell entering into a minimal post-Caligari set of angular grey frames which incorporated various doors, a video monitor and a spot-lit lectern, to the accompaniment of synthesised piped wind sounds. After divesting himself of a gas mask and overcoat, he delivered a lecture to the audience, informing us that we had ‘come a long way’, and that we shouldn’t listen to those subversive elements amongst us who say that ‘things were better in the past’. He emphasised the foolishness of such behaviour with projected slide images that filled the set with pictures of trees and plants, and pointed out with disgust ‘Messy ... isn’t it?’ [...] The second half of the performance was very different in tone, presenting the flipside of Layzell’s future world: a man, in various cameos, dedicated to literally re-discovering his roots. Between silently reading a book to a voice-over of Wordsworth’s poetry, and directly addressing his audience with bewildered questions as to what do bees, clouds, flowers smell and feel like, Layzell began to incorporate a wider visual sense into the piece. At times he hinted at the pathos an ecologically destructive society, when tangible films were projected over the set; searching for a goose only to have it disappear as he ‘touched’ it, surrounded by rotating clouds in a blue sky, donning the gas mask again and miming slowly to the screeches of an elephant whilst enclosed by iron bars.”
I leave the Brewhouse at 4 o’clock, visit the white cows. I’m framing a photo of the carved head of a cattle on the left hand side of the granite gateway, when I hear a woman say: He says, ‘Ere! Make sure you get my best side now! You can go in there now you know, there’s cafe and you can walk about.

She has a golden jewelled cat brooch pinned to the left shoulder of her cardigan. A slice of setting sun cuts through the gateway as she walks off to visit a friend on Cremyll Street.