small scale performance propositions
small scale performance propositions
The first time I saw Brian Fuata perform was, I estimate, around 1999. He was wearing a spangly dress, had an enormous afro and was declaring that he was Angela Davis. It was a striking performance firstly because of the poetic and personal-as-political punch in the text but also for Fuata’s quite amazing presence—simultaneously mannered yet utterly vulnerable. It was a showing at PACT (then Youth Theatre) directed by Caitlin Newton-Broad, and I remember being very excited that, after the wave of lip-synching drag and dance parody that had been de rigueur in Sydney performance for the previous few years, the 'next generation' was interested in text again. (Of course Fuata, in this instance, still had the drag thing going on.)
I was not alone in being impressed, Fuata was a regular participant in what was then, in the early 2000s, the contemporary performance scene including his solo full-length work produced by Urban Theatre Projects in 2002, Fa’afafine (see review in RT47). The lure of the world called and Fuata spent several years in London. Interestingly, by the time he arrived back in Sydney in 2009, the evolution from contemporary performance to live art had begun; however Fuata was already at one with the zeitgeist, returning with his practice transformed, now concentrating on intimate and conceptually slippery pieces.
Fuata’s work now takes place outside of theatres—in galleries, lounge rooms, skate parks, on trains and in the virtual realm of domestic communication technologies. While he denies a deliberate historical affiliation, his work appears to me to be the epitome of a kind of 21st century Fluxus. Not the pre-packaged, retrospective-in-every-museum brand of Fluxus but rather a methodology that curator Jacquelynn Baas describes as “less an art-making activity than a philosophical activity intended to open minds to the many faceted reality of life…what we 'learn' from Fluxus is how to function as an ever-changing self that is part of an ever-changing world” (Introduction to Fluxus and the Essential Question of Life, 2011).
Wrong Solo, Dance of Commitment, Dance Poster
Much of Fuata’s recent practice has been in collaboration with visual and performing artist Agatha Gothe-Snape under the name Wrong Solo. The pair have undertaken a range of works, several through a two-year interdisciplinary residency at Campbelltown Art Centre exploring the intersection of dance and visual art. These have taken the form of what Fuata, in the interview below, calls “performance folk dancing”—simple, combinations of dance and task realised by the artists themselves, or given over to other artists to interpret, sometimes even large groups such as their contribution to Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating In Space, for a Nighttime event at Performance Space in 2011. Often these have a text-based score (sometimes created retrospectively) but in true contingent post-post modern/live art way these are made into discrete works (see Dance Posters projects).
Given Brian Fuata’s interest in writing it’s no surprise that via his blog he is undertaking an exchange project title Call and Response (Working Title). The proposal is that over 24 months, he will work with 24 writers, one per month. The writer sends a text and Fuata has 24 hours to respond and so on. He has undertaken 13 of these exchanges so far with a range of writers and artists, and some excerpts are available here.
However it is Fuata’s framing of his writing as ‘possible performances’ that is perhaps most intriguing. Recently he has been using text messages and email to present scores for imaginary performances. Perhaps imaginary is not quite right—it is rather that these texts are performative propositions but the proposition is not that that they should be enacted, rather that you simply entertain the idea that they, and many other small instances in life, are performative. Quite recently I received a text message from Fuata presenting a vignette of an intimate and public encounter in Bondi Junction shopping centre in the form of a Dead Sea Salt hand massage. The text concluded, “I felt so exposed,” followed by the throwaway line: “Even more than being photographed having sex in a public toilet last week.”
A day later I received a text asking me to send back the message as he had deleted it. I did so and now my sent box has a message implicating me in this story. A few days after this, I received an email from Fuata with a PDF attachment, which offers me the story again, reframed by a catalogue of responses from those who received, re-sent and commented on the message. From what seemed like a one-on-one communication, the piece became a site of communal participation—we have all shared in Fuata's, now our, 'dirty little secret.'
Another performance proposition arrived in my email inbox one Sunday morning titled “To Lee, Matthew and Tim: a performance for three men.” The 'score' was two YouTube URL’s with instructions on cueing points. I was to watch one, with sound muted, featuring Greco Roman Wrestling, while listening to the soundtrack of another, a David Byrne video clip. The combined effect with accompanying poetic text was amusing and poignant for its celebration of masculine bonding. The email was addressed to the people to whom it was dedicated and, cleverly, it seemed as though only I had been BCC’d into the communication with them. This performance, made from the most ubiquitous of materials and media, felt incredibly personal and intimate, and I was an invited voyeur in the exchange. (Watch the realtime tv video on The Whelping Box featuring the Lee and Matt to whom the piece was dedicated.)
I do not know what these small sharings are. They slip through any categorising, coming closest perhaps to 21st century mail art. Sent to a circle of friends they are probably experienced by more people than most real-world live art performances in Sydney. I do know that the key to their intrigue is in their scale and the delivery medium. With a refreshing directness and intimacy they arrive in my phone or email inbox, the very opposite of the wholesale banality of the sharing offered by Facebook. These pieces live outside the structures and economy of the artworld. Here Fuata is acting on a creative impulse and sharing the results, purely because he can, and that boldness and honesty is, for the receiver/audience, quite simply liberating.
Gail Priest has worked with Brian Fuata including commissioning him as a writer and performer on the CD Poems to sing angelic to (2002). Eds.
Image: back of head - Brian Fuata, photo Agatha Gothe-Snape; Brian Fuata as Faun (video still) Gail Priest
brian fuata, text message interview
In keeping with Brian Fuata’s chosen delivery methods, the following interview took place via text messages sent between Nov 6-18, 2012
Gail Priest: Hi Brian, we here at realtime would like to do a studio piece (http://www.realtimearts.net/studio) about your text/email art performance pieces. I thought maybe we could do the interview via text messages over the next week. Would that be of interest? Gail
Brian Fuata: Great. Ready when you are. X
GP: We’ll start with an easy one—what kind of phone do you have?
BF: The cheapest Nokia
GP: For you is text inherently performative—or is performance inherently textual?
BF: They are the same thing. What are they for you?
GP: I think some texts are internal—some external. When you write is it always with the intention of framing as a performance—who is the audience?
BF: SMS texting is both 'text' and action. The person texting is both performer and audience.
GP: How did you start using SMS texting as “performance”—is it a Fluxus mail art thing?
BF: It began quite normally. I was on a Newy [Newcastle] train to Sydney and witnessed the oddest image of young boys on a train dressed in what looked like real mining gear, eating sweets. I texted one friend. I really liked how the text was written [so] I sent it to a few more. And then on a hunch, sent it to all the numbers in my phone.
…I might add that I SMS text quite seriously. I draft. I’ll even re-read sent ones.
GP: What was the response?
BF: There was a lot. It was all positive. Most people liked the poetics of how random it was. The responses were transcribed to laptop. I later reframed it.
GP: What was this reframing?
BF: I collated the responses and then wrote a kind of poetic preface.
GP: Do these text performances make it into physical performance work?
GP: Why not?
BF: I just want to leave it as it is. To me there’s a slightness to these texts that I don’t feel like legitimising though material object—performance or paper.
…The body or paper.
GP: You’ve also been creating some 'performances' using found material—juxtaposed YouTube clips. They require the viewer to construct their own experience out of the content you suggest. The instructions form a kind of score…a Fluxus score for the 21st century? What was your thinking behind this?
BF: I’m not basing it in a historical framework. It really is intuitive. I don’t know yet.
GP: Your work these days seems to be concentrating on small scale incursions into everyday life—via txt, email, internet and gallery events rather than theatre performances. Can you talk about the thinking behind the sites and scale of your work at the moment?
BF: I simply like the smallness of it—it mirrors the process of improvisation I use to make performance. The stuff I do in galleries belongs to a similar place.
GP: Small improvisations… as in concentrating on small units of content… small physically/spatially? Can you talk a bit about this…Feel free to shift to email if this getting tedious.
BF: No tedium. Smallness spatially—the dynamics no less concentrated than any other performative iteration. The smallness is both content and its form. Email is another thing. Keeping in mind this is my cheap Nokia experience of it.
GP: How many people in your address book?
BF: I started with 213—with quite a few [numbers] I didn’t know who they belonged to, but I’ve recently lost my phone numbers and now I only have 137. I’m much more conscious of who I have.
13/12/2012 9:41 am
GP: Morning…Gave us a few days off. You were an early adopter of Facebook, and then you rejected it. You also have a blog… And many of your early performances are quite personal…it’s interesting how using text (SMS) as a medium is far more direct than any of these methods…It’s almost invasive for the receiver (in a pleasant way). Can you discuss your thinking around sharing the personal?
BF: Performing my personal stories has always been part of my performance practice. I think it needs to be in a cultivated space. I don’t think I could do this on Facebook, in the same way I couldn’t do my small performance works in a stadium arena, it’d be a different work. It’s back to the idea of spatiality. Also, the texts are actual texts—that have both a singular and a multiple vision.
GP: So about your physical performance, you have one coming up on Saturday. What will this entail?
BF: Next year I have a gallery show with artist Michael Moran—an art object show. Having no art object making know-how or skill, the way to make sense of me doing this is to make a performance out of it—I’m improvising with clay…Whatever objects are made this time will be shown, that’s if they last the firing stage.
…Firing stage…both kiln and audience.
GP: Will the exhibition show any documentation of the process?
BF: I haven’t thought that far. I’m thinking not.
GP: Tell me a bit about Wrong Solo. I know it’s not really a solo, is it not really wrong either?
BF: Wrong Solo is Agatha Gothe-Snape and I. And we are kinda wrong.
GP: What was with all the dancing?
BF: They’re performance folk dances.
GP: Interestingly they are still inextricably entwined with text—exemplified by the Dance Posters… Beyond clay modelling on Saturday, what do you have planned for the future. Next year say…
BF: I have a show with Michael Moran in January at the Lock Up Gallery in Newcastle. I’m one of the artists in 24 Frames at Carriageworks. Otherwise continuing these small performances and my email writing project Call and Response (changing title). And whatever is with Wrong Solo.
GP: Two last questions—what are you hoping will come from your email writing project.
BF: Friendships and several bodies of text.
GP: Finally what are you planning for 24Frames
BF: Maybe more faun folk.
[Fuata’s performance on the 17/11/2012 had resulted in a “blessing” ceremony for the clay objects, loosely called pots that he had created which involved a rigorous “faun” dance by Fuata. He said that fauns were sources of inspiration, but could also lead you “down the garden path” and he was not yet aware where his faun was taking him.]