Six of Six

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40RTY, my performance art piece happened on 29th October at 7.00 pm, and, as is common after these things, I have been laid to waste! It is Tuesday now, and almost 3 days have passed, yet I still feel all tired, achy and blue; like I have flu and a hangover simultaneously. Now I know this feeling, it is the same after every performance, this feeling like a sordid whore. Some of the reasons are physical: my face looks and feels like it has undergone a chemical peel as a result of my having ripped chucks of hair and flesh from it with wax-strips.

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And, of course, my body has also undergone a really brutal 40 day fast, so it has a right to feel a tad aggrieved! But more than that is the sheer toll of subjecting one’s self to a performance art piece. If the rigours of preparing one’s mind for the performance are exhausting, then the actual performance is virtually debilitating. Perhaps it is the fact that at its simplest, performance art is the artist as artwork, there is very little remove between artist and viewer and that is a terrifying thing. This is central to the process and execution of performance art, this live presence of the artist and the real actions of his/her body, to create and present an ephemeral art experience to an audience. It is the artist using his or her own body (hence the name, body art) as main artwork, knowing all the semiotic, political, ethnographic, cartographic and mythical implications associated with that living, breathing body. This is magnified/amplified by use of the ritual, the artefacts, the symbols, the sacred space and the significant gesture.  These actions in the performance lead to a work resulting from an entirely uncontrollable and unforeseeable combination of events. Chance: this is the other element of performance art which continues to unsettle the world of art.

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Performance art remains an avant-garde movement in a world which no longer believes in it. It hopes to inform and to show a new way, and by doing that create a break from the old. This is another reason why I love it performance art, this and the fact that response, feedback and connection from and with the viewer are almost immediate. A good example is the response I received from my old mentor lecturer (a very accomplished artist in her own right) Lolette Smith. She got me through my first 2 academic years of my art studies, and taught me a massive amount about sculpture, so it was awesome to receive acknowledgement from her:

The simplicity of the set added to the outcome.

That first rip of wax got the audience totally engrossed.

The ritual worked, it built expectation and produced results.

The soft chanting in the background sent shivers down the spine.

So in reality it was visually and emotionally charged.

 

A fair number of the audience also approached me after my performance wanting to discuss the work and ask questions which was totally gratifying.

 

So what now? Well, it is back to the theory again and my dissertation but this making has given me the boost I needed to see it through as well as giving me things to consider for my Master’s exhibition next year.

I am going to share with you some really amazing images that my cousin, Dallas Dahms, an awesome photographer, took of my performance. Check out his article too: http://www.dallasdahms.com/40rty-by-swany/.

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ONE MORE SLEEP! OMW! One more night and then I have to put myself into that performance space in the gallery as terrifying as that may be. My forty day fast is almost done and hopefully the sheer bloody-mindness, force of will that it has taken to see it through will see me into the gallery, into my installation and before the audience. I certainly feel purified, cleansed…sparse and emptied, both physically and spiritually, as though elevated and detached from my form (small “f”). The final trial will be faced then…the ritual performance I have created as metaphor, and physical and visual representation of my concept of gender and masculinity as a performance.

Below: This has been my “food” for my 40-day fast – it looks like pond water but doesn’t taste quite as bad.

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Below: my installation almost done

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Below: some pre-performance press in the local newspaper

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Living Art

So in my previous post I shared some of the artwork I created for a fundraising auction for the rape victims support group called GRIP. Dealing with such a horrific theme set me thinking about this whole culture of rape and how it is possible for a person to do such a thing. It is just terrible that the thing men fear the most about being incarcerated is what women have to deal with every day of their lives: the possibility of being raped.
Here are some things you should know:
When Interpol released the staggering statistic that one in two women living in South Africa will be raped in her life, the South African Police Services stopped releasing rape statistics. Instead the authorities began categorizing rape under sexual violence. The Institute for Security Studies (ISS) states that only one in 13 rape cases are reported. An estimated of 500,000 rape cases take place in this country, every year! It is also estimated that only 14% of perpetrators of rape are convicted in South Africa.
Horrific! But why are we surprised? We have a president who was accused of rape himself! This was by a woman known as Khwezi, a well-known HIV-positive activist and lesbian daughter of one of Zuma’s old comrades. She was forced to leave the country in the wake of the trial. Zuma, who was deputy president at the time, was acquitted by the courts. Gee, what a surprise! As we have found out since, our President Zuma is, by all accounts, a man of exceedingly low morals.
This low moral character appears to be endemic in our politicians and government officials. When discussing the problematic situation regarding rapes on our Rhodes University campus, our Minister of Justice and Correctional Services, advocate Michael Masutha walked out mid-interview on the SABC television programme, Checkpoint’s Nkepile Mabuse. This happened after Mabuse, the interviewer, asked Masutha how being an assertive woman links to rape, following his comment about rape and assertiveness. The minister later said he meant that assertive women were more likely to report rape cases. Idiot!
There is a history of violence at both ends of the political spectrum in this country and this has added to the toxicity of South African masculinities. Back in the old Apartheid days both sides were prone to hyper-masculinity: the anti-Apartheid activists as well as the white tribes of South Africa. This has not really changed much. Rape is about power and subjugation, the masculine dominating the feminine.

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In a lecture about performance art I gave recently, I addressed the issue of rape with my students using the work of two artists. One is a personal hero of mine and a huge inspiration in my work, Ana Mendieta. While still a student in March 1973 she was deeply affected by the brutal rape and murder of nursing student, Sarah Ann Ottens, at the University of Iowa. In response to the attack on Otten, by another student, Mendieta invited her fellow students to her apartment where, through a door left purposefully ajar, they found her tied to a table and smeared with blood. This tableau recreated the scene as reported in the press. Later, Mendieta recalled that her audience “all sat down, and started talking about it. I didn’t move. I stayed in position about an hour. It really jolted them.” She further commented that the rape had ‘moved and frightened’ her: “I think all my work has been like that – a personal response to a situation … I can’t see being theoretical about an issue like that.” She said that she created the work “as a reaction against the idea of violence against women”.

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The second artist , Emma Sulkowicz, references Mendieta’s piece more than 40 years later. A victim of rape at the hands of a fellow student after a party, Sulkowicz, after following all due processes without success, performed the endurance piece, Mattress Performance (Carry That Weight) (2014–2015). For 9 months (the length of a pregnancy) she carried a campus mattress around the university with her. Sulkowicz stated that the piece would end when the student she alleged raped her in her dorm room in 2012 was expelled from or otherwise left the university. This did not happen and she attended her graduation ceremony with the mattress. The President of the university, Lee Bollinger, in a hissy fit brought on by Emma carrying the mattress onto the stage, refused to shake her hand when she received her degree.

JPPROTEST-master675The reason I selected these 2 works to speak to the students about is not just because I feel that we should be addressing the problem of the rape culture we live in. We so obviously should! I also wanted to illustrate how really personal and extremely invasive these works were. Both artists used their own living spaces and their own bodies in very a publicised way to speak about something that they felt very strongly about. And this is the power of performance art, the fact that it is so very personal and that there is little remove between artist and viewer. It is a living art and this is the major reason why I have involved myself so completely in it. There is no other art form that will take you so very far out your comfort zone as performance art will do. And your work will be all the better for it. For me it is a starting point from where I can speak about and address so many issues. But I always begin with myself and performance. This ensures that I do not speak for others, I speak for myself. It is my voice and my conviction, and I believe that makes all the difference.

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All this talk of these awful things made me think of one of my favourite poems:

I once knew a girl who loved
Things most people shun.
Every man she ever loved was
Terrible to her, terrible
I tell you.
But there was something
About them that intrigued
Her – she liked broken things,
Broken people.
To her, if there was
Nothing to fix there was
Nothing to love.

– Christopher Poindexter