Taking their cue from Domino’s Pizza delivery, the Centre of Attention’s latest project, ‘On Demand’, was a home delivery service for looking at contemporary art. You called in and ordered what you wanted to see, and a week or so later they brought it to you for a private viewing. The doorstep is no longer the territory of Avon ladies and Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The popularity of on-line shopping has left little that can’t be purchased on impersonal Web page order forms and brought to your home. One benefit of on-line shopping is that you can have it all without the burden of having to speak to another human being. But ‘On Demand’ made supply and demand uncomfortably personal and intimate. The show opens up the world of collecting to anyone; we too can examine art work in the comfortable (though admittedly plebeian) surroundings of our own homes.
‘On Demand’ was a group show of five artists, but I only saw one of the works. Part of the Centre of Attention’s concept was to restrict the audience to a partial view, a limited perspective where you are only allowed to order one work and not the whole show. All I can say of the artists’ works I didn’t see is that they included The Guerrilla Girls (images of their recent guerrilla tactic third-wave feminism), Ben Morieson (a video of cars doing handbrake turns), Eileen Perrier (photographs of freshly coiffed hair salon clients) and Markus Vater. Vater’s work must have been a popular choice because I wasn’t able to book him, possibly because it turned out he was the only artist who came in person. For Soul Sculptures (2005) Vater would come to your home, ransack your possessions, bookshelves, wardrobe and laundry basket, and use his findings to turn his body and a plinth into a sardonic, performative sculpture of your soul.
I ordered the other artist with performance-based work in the show: Oreet Ashery. So I was a little disappointed when two men (albeit one in a pair of heels), showed up on my doorstep with no Ashery in sight. I was more troubled to learn that I would be co-performing the work.
For Welcome Home (2005) Ashery has written a minimal script of forced-sounding dialogue performed under the direction of Gary O’Dwyer and Pierre Coinde, from the Centre of Attention. Taking on a new context with each audience, the performance is an awkward homecoming party for one, an absurd scenario where you feel disoriented in your own domicile. I came out of my bedroom to find a brightly coloured banner of cut-out letters spelling out their greeting taped to the ceiling, some sweet baklava and a meagre bowl of crisps on the table, warm mango juice poured for me, and a CD of house anthems pumping softly from the laptop. (‘Your favourite album!’ Pierre told me. ‘Oh. Of course’, I answered uneasily.) We went through the script they handed me. Ashery constructed a scenario in which I had returned from disappearing to a nondescript place, only to find myself confused and alienated in my flat being welcomed by two people I’ve never met before. ‘Is it nice to be back home? Is it different to how you imagined it?’ Gary asked me, reciting the script. ‘It is nice to be home, it does feel different, it’s nice to have you here’, I replied, not really meaning the last part.
My lines were scripted by Ashery, who was born in Jerusalem where she's now completing a residency. Known for performances as her most consistent character Marcus Fisher, an Orthodox Jewish man, she coerces audience involvement in order to make her personal politics feel intimate to everyone. The food at my party suggested both Middle Eastern delicacies and greasy British pub snacks. The lines in the script reference, somewhat heavy-handedly, ‘Egypt’, ‘an explosion’, and a lack of home. I was disoriented not just by being made to feel like a stranger in my own home, but also by saying words that would sound truer if they were coming from Ashery’s mouth instead of mine.
Her work benefits from the awkwardness of forcing the audience to reckon with the acute discomfort that arises from the new context of their once familiar surroundings. It’s easy to take a fleeting glance at the work and quickly walk away when you’re in the austere surroundings of a gallery. My humble surroundings didn’t weaken Welcome Home; they became it.