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Artists Making a Mark with their Bodies

19 May

Following on from the article The Gallery as a Dance Hall, it appears there is also a resurging interest in performative mark making.  In Trisha Brown‘s Walking on the Walls a group of performers climb into suits harnessed to girders suspended from the gallery balcony, which act like the track of a rollercoaster.  This enables them to walk horizontally along the gallery wall in a performance that at times becomes like a cat’s cradle as they approach each other and seem to pass on momentum.  Essentially fixed on a straight line, the performers are generally only able to see and approach their neighbours, as described by Edwin A. Abbott in Flatland: A Romance of Many Dimensions, however they do occasionally cross each other’s path in a slightly awkward fashion akin to when a cat’s cradle gets tied up.

Trisha Brown - Walking on the Walls. Barbican Art Gallery, 2011. Photograph by Felix Clay

The performers leave slight marks and traces of their performance in the form of footprints on the white gallery walls.  Whilst their impact is minimal, this could be read in a painterly fashion outside the performance.  What remains is the essence of movement, like the ghostly remains of fossilised dinosaur footprints in the rock.  As these footprints will clearly not last that long, being painted over for the next exhibition, if the wall hasn’t already been re-coated, it consequently  draws allusion with the work of Richard Long.  In his work A Line Made By Walking (1967) Long created a visible mark on the landscape through movement, but similarly the grass will have soon grown back.

Meanwhile, Brown’s Homemade (1966) resembles Stating the Real Sublime by Rosa Barba, mentioned in the article Still, through its use of movement of a film projector.  Where Barba’s work is sculptural in creating movement of a projection by the rotation of the film in suspension, Brown wore a film projector like a backpack, projecting a film of her dancing on varying surfaces of the theatre as she repeats the filmed performance in person.

Also, like Barba’s work, Ruth Proctor, written about in A Comparative Study in Space and Sound, has made sculptural installations with film in The Stranger and the Savant (2008).

The Stranger and the Savant by Ruth Proctor, 2008, Installation View. Courtesy Hollybush Gardens.

Returning to discuss mark making through movement, Hamish Fulton choreographed a performative walk at Tate Modern in protest at Ai Weiwei‘s detention on 30th April.  In Slowalk (2011) approximately 100 participants walked slowly along and across the Turbine Hall almost as though in refusal to be moved on during a protest, but nonetheless retaining freedom of movement, unlike Ai Weiwei.

City Jacket (2006) by Bradley Hayman

Finally Bradley Hayman, the author of this article, worked with performative walking in City Jacket (2006), using a series of contact microphones built into a jacket to record the sounds of collisions in the street, most prevalent against the flow of rush hour traffic on London Bridge.  Whilst not usually talking about my own work here it seemed interesting to consider returning to a past mode of work with this current interest in performative practice.  A few days ago I was carrying a large new stretched canvas for a painting I am working on through busy areas of the city.  Although this was wrapped it seemed like an interesting concept for a potential project for mark making, given the number of physical interactions one occurs in the city, to either carry a new canvas around until it is covered in dirt, dust, bodily marks, fluids, bacteria, scratches, etc., that one may come in contact with in daily urban life, or to alternatively make a canvas that can be worn in some way as an item of clothing for everyday wear, creating a visual record of interactions.

Trisha Brown’s work is on show in Pioneers of the Downtown Scene, New York 1970s until Sunday 22nd May 2011 at the Barbican Centre, Silk Street, EC2Y 8DS.
Richard Long: Human Nature is at Haunch of Venison, 6 Burlington Gardens, London W1S 3ET from 27th May until 20th August 2011.
Ruth Proctor is exhibiting I’ll Be Your Mirror at Siobhan Davies Studios, 85 St George’s Road, SE1 6ER until 25th June.
Documentation of Hamish Fulton’s Slowalk (2011) can be watched on YouTube.

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