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Michael Mayhew, Exist in 08 Michael Mayhew, Exist in 08
photo Juliana Yasin
IT’S HARD TO IMAGINE A MORE VIBRANT EXPRESSION OF THE BURGEONING CULTURE OF LIVE ART AND ARTIST-LED PRAXIS OF EVENT CREATION IN AND AROUND BRISBANE THAN EXIST IN 08. OVER THE FESTIVAL’S FIVE DAYS IN BRISBANE AND ONE IN TOOWOOMBA, ARTISTS WORKING OUT OF BOTH LOCAL AND INTERNATIONAL TRADITIONS EXPLORED QUESTIONS OF ‘BEING’ AND ‘DOING’ IN A WIDE RANGE OF PERFORMANCES.

Independent, local practice has been connected to international developments since the first visit of local artists Lisa O’Neill and Brian Lucas to the National Review of Live Art (NRLA) in 1998 and 1999, and NRLA’s reciprocal visit to the Brisbane Powerhouse in 2000. Subsequent events have included the Galeri Nasional Indonesia International Performance Art Forum Festival in 2006, the Indonesian Jatiwangi Art Factory event this year, and Michael Mayhew’s visit from Manchester to Metro Arts in 2007. In recent years Brisbane has seen the growth of newer, younger directions in live art in local programming more generally, in art events such as the Brisbane Festival’s Under the Radar and in Metro Arts Creative Development Festival.

Exist in 08 was co-curated by Brisbane artists Rebecca Cunningham and Zane Trow. Cunningham explained, “I had the fortune of attending the National Review of Live Art in 2007. There I saw work which I had never experienced before in my life, namely Black Market International (BMI). I said to Zane that we had to bring this work back to Australia.” The pair succeeded in bringing three of the 12 Black Market International artists and a range of other local, national and international artists to perform at the 2008 festival, which transcended its ephemeral, event-based form with, in Cunningham’s words, “the creation of artist-driven, independent performance art networks across borders.”

The scope, actions and material of each performance varied as widely as the distances travelled by participants to Exist in 08. Of the internationals, Michael Mayhew’s work represented the most elaborate effort: from his home in Manchester, Mayhew flew to Perth where he bought a car and drove across the country, collecting materials for his work in Alice Springs, Cairns and remote stops along the way. On the Friday night of Exist in 08, Mayhew showed his hypnotic Road Movie, a minimalist account of the mammoth drive, recorded with a camera taped to the steering wheel and condensing the artist’s six-week Australian outback adventure into 90 minutes. With a stream-of-consciousness audio track, in which the artist muses aloud as he encounters a variety of odd characters and amazing locations, the film is at once road movie, diary film and performance document. Mayhew worked with the great Australian road trip’s inevitable, relentless, reflection effect by questioning his English identity and its meaning in the Australian landscape.

On Saturday night, Mayhew’s performance involved, among other things, actions with jars of collected earth from the many locations encountered on his journey. Softly uttering “this is not my land”, the artist, wielding a wire cake sifter, dusted himself with various hues of red, black, gold, grey and ochre dirt poured from repurposed baked bean tins and soft drink bottles. Each of these receptacles was roughly bundled up with gaffer tape with the name of the earth’s origin—Alice, for example—scrawled rudely in permanent marker on the side. The artist’s boots carved out stark white negative space on the sheets of A3 paper on which he staged these actions, leaving an eerie echo of the performance. These traces spoke not only to Indigenous art practices, but also, on another level, to the abuse of the land by various outside interests. Using himself as a medium, Mayhew’s performance critiqued not just English but also, subtly, American domination, in actions such as his brandishing part of a cow’s skeleton while murmuring words to the effect that “These are not burgers” and “These are not here for you.” Mayhew’s forensic response to the Australian outback treated it as a repository of signs, with each object—kangaroo skulls, cow bones, rocks, sand—brought ritualistically (“sacralised”, as BMI’s manifesto puts it) into the performance. The creative focus on the performative charge emitted by natural materials, for me, also resonates with the practices of the acoustic ecology movement in sound art, and creates a similar audience dynamic of focused contemplation. At the end of Mayhew’s performance, as part of the artist’s “investigation” of materials, the objects were carefully picked out in little pools of light so that curious spectators could inspect them up close.

Jurgen Fritz, Exist in 08 Jurgen Fritz, Exist in 08
photo Juliana Yasin
Jurgen Fritz’s performance couldn’t have made a starker contrast to Mayhew’s highly involved theatrics. With only a single prop—what looked like a town crier’s bell— Fritz created an incredibly controlled, physically extreme performance which emblematised the BMI’s collective interest in the investigation of forms of attention. The simple gesture of ringing the bell with increasing vigour provoked an avalanche of possibilities for reflection on themes ranging from self-expression, futility, isolation and—given the intensity of the artist’s actions—embodiment.

The multiple meanings of the body in space were explored by numerous other artists performing at the festival. Alicia Jones’ searing performance confronted the intersection of body image with identity, with ‘black-washing’ of the artist’s body, flag rituals, blood-curdling screams and the symbolic shearing of the artist’s hair by a relative. Kylie Hicks’ work involved, in part, the artist pinning to her costume the vox populi stories she has collected over a long period of time, making her body a kind of mobile, fleshy archive. In Abject Leader’s film-performance, Sally Golding used her body as a literal screen for the projection of collective anxieties about ancestry, death, decay and the unseen lands beyond conscious recognition. Mexican artist Elvira Santamaria Torres closed the festival with a generous, open-hearted performance using simple materials and huge, free-spirited gestures. In a reminder of the Fluxus precept about the powerful “monostructural qualities” of “a natural, simple event”, the conclusion of Santamaria Torres’ performance with the joyful redistribution of several dozen slightly crushed red roses to audience members evoked the rich colours and glorious iconography of the artist’s homeland, while resonating with play, romance…and fragrance. Connecting audiences in and around Brisbane with contemporary live art practitioners in enthralling encounters, Exist in 08 was a resounding success.


Exist in 08 international live art event, Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts, Brisbane, Oct 22-26; see www.existin08.com for catalogue

RealTime issue #88 Dec-Jan 2008 pg. 38

© Danni Zuvela; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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