in Frieze | 02 JUL 22

Performance Exchange at No.9 Cork Street: Ketty La Rocca

As part of Performance Exchange (8 - 10 July), Amanda Wilkinson Gallery presents performances of Ketty La Rocca (1938-1976) at No.9 Cork Street on 8 July 2022.

in Frieze | 02 JUL 22

Alongside its summer exhibition programme of William Turnbull: Centenary Retrospective, presented by Offer Waterman and Turnbull Studio in the ground floor and first floor gallery spaces, No.9 Cork Street will host performances of Ketty La Rocca by Amanda Wilkinson Gallery in the event space as part of Performance Exchange on Friday 8 July 2022. 

Venue: Event space at No.9 Cork Street

Performance times: 12 noon - 12.45pm and 1.45pm - 2.30pm

Entrance: Free

In principio erat verbum (1970-72) and Veline (1967)

Ketty La Rocca (1938-1976) is one of the most important Italian conceptual artists to have emerged from the 1960s. She lived and worked in Florence and was associated with Gruppo 70, a group of artists devoted to visual poetry and 'verbal-visual investigations'.

Ketty La Rocca. Courtesy of Ketty La Rocca Estate and Amanda Wilkinson Gallery.

Organic movement, hand gestures, and non-linguistic communication were central to her work. In Principio erat verbum is a performance where a group of 10 people play a game designed by La Rocca. They move around the floor plan and take it in turns to communicate with the central game player seated in the centre. The use of voices or any form of sound or physical contact is not allowed and the players can only communicate using hand gestures and facial expressions.

The title of the performance In Principio erat verbum (‘In the beginning was the word’ taken from St John’s Gospel) is paradoxical in that here it is not the word but rather the gestures that is the sole means of interpersonal communication, thus contradicting one of the core assumptions of Western philosophy regarding the equivalence of thought and word. La Rocca’s work sought to undermine the roots of language and the spoken word, which she saw as a part of history created by the patriarchy. She was influenced by feminist thinkers such as Carla Lonzi, especially her essay ‘Let’s Spit on Hegel’ published in 1970.

Ketty La Rocca, In principio erat verbum (1970-72). Courtesy of Ketty La Rocca Estate and Amanda Wilkinson Gallery.

This piece was not performed during Ketty La Rocca’s lifetime. The first performance was at the Padiglione d’Arte Contemporanea, Ferrara, Italy in 2018. Two further performances were presented recently as a part of come play with us? at Museo delle Arti – Castello di Nocciano, Pescara and Isola di San Servolo, Venice. The piece will be performed in London for the first time courtesy of the Ketty La Rocca Estate and Amanda Wilkinson Gallery on 8 July at 9 Cork Street as part of Performance Exchange.

La Rocca drew a clear distinction between photographs made for documentary purposes and those that are declared to be autonomous works. In 1975, for instance she wrote a note declaring that the footage of her performance Le mie parole e tu? at the faculty of Architecture as well as subsequent performances in Brescia and Rome possessed purely documentary value and did not replace the action.

‘A part of my work consists in successively reworking the material of documentation as subjective reading and writing in an attempt to restore another authenticity’

It is in this context of the artists wishes and her openness to collaboration, that the Ketty La Rocca Estate has issued an edition of this work in the hope it will be seen and understood by generations to come.

Ketty La Rocca, La vita è un' altra cosa. Courtesy of Ketty La Rocca Estate and Amanda Wilkinson Gallery.

A second performance, Veline, 1967 will take place outside in the streets surrounding the performance location. The performance is comprised of a performer handing out thin coloured paper documents to passersby. The coloured papers have poetic excerpts typed in Italian such as 'Life is something else' and 'Is essential'. La Rocca’s work is centred around the examination of language’s social constructs, and the idea of communication beyond conventional framework. This piece combines La Rocca’s visual poetry, performance work, and inversion of the written word’s coded and gendered conventions. Gesture and word are both disordered and dialectically connected.

Performers : Bailey Murphy, Song Yi Wang, Jessica Munna, Laura Killeen, Yazhi Zheng, Wexin Wen (
温文欣), Chris Shum, Jonathan Dronsfield, Gabrielle MacPherson, Briony Maeve, Ruby Gold, Liberty Martin, Shirley Chen (雪莉)

For more information about Performance Exchange and its full programme, please visit their website here.

Image at top of page: 

Ketty La Rocca, Le Mie Parole et Tu, 1975. Courtesy of Ketty La Rocca Estate and Amanda Wilkinson Gallery