In the second of Tim Etchells’s ‘Six short plays about art and performance’, published in a recent issue of Art Papers themed around the theatrical turn, one character talks about an invitation to an exhibition in which nothing is fixed. No objects are allowed. There are only: ‘Temporary gestures. Improvised things that gradually disappear or maybe they can leave traces’; ‘Things are going to happen on every alternate Wednesday.’ This could almost pass for a description of the month-long exhibition and event series that brought ‘Performance as Publishing’ to Rowing.
Assembling more than 20 artists, ‘From script to reading to exhibition to performance to print’ was the fourth manifestation of Nicole Bachmann and Ruth Beale’s research project, which has focused since 2011 on artists using text as material and means of producing performative work. Previous institutional airings – at Turner Contemporary in Margate, Kunsthalle Basel and South London Gallery – lasted a maximum of three days. Happily, Rowing’s curators Tyler Woolcott and Guillaume Breton were able to give this iteration more time. As they write in the slim yellow publication that was launched in the show’s final week, the pair sought to ‘challenge the “ideal” timeframe for live art and performances’, allowing the latter to ‘encroach upon the spatial dynamics of exhibition making’.
Nothing was fixed: the space was installed according to a cumulative process whereby something was added or altered across a four-part series of performances. Object-like works were admitted, including Chosil Kil’s large black balloon, Fish Dive, and Jess Flood-Paddock’s How it Works (both 2013), a pair of outsized screws hung from wire and string. These were among the most stable-looking of the pieces, though Fish Dive had become deflated, dusty and wrinkled by the time of the second and third events, while increasing amounts of soil fell to the floor from Beth Collar’s reading stand Like Valhalla (2013). As in Etchells’s script, repeat visitors bore witness to the gradual disappearance of the thing.
Both works had their setting shaken by Alex Cecchetti’s Story Line: Marie & William (2013), performed on the show’s opening night. The piece’s narrative shuttled back and forth between protagonists, describing William’s astonished ‘what?!’ face and Marie’s ‘but …’ face – her wordless expression having told William she doesn’t love him anymore. A declared hatred of objects due to the professed equivalence between them – a horse, for example, is ‘of course different’ from an iPhone, but when you stroke its forehead it’s ‘really the same’ as the iPhone which we manipulate with patented gestures – was followed by hip thrusts, mad leaps and direct eye contact with the audience. But some traces were left: Cecchetti used overripe blackberries to mark every wall with overlapping ellipses, repeated infinity symbols and something resembling a pair of buttocks.
In close proximity to these purple buttocks was Patrizio di Massimo’s drawing of a man’s head enclosed in another’s cheeks; one part of Duet for cannibals (2010) completed by a video in which the drawing is a prop in the artist’s conversation with an African-born Italian about the possibility of enacting the illustration in real life. This was one of several works that were literally accommodating – sidelined whenever the space was required for events. Neïl Beloufa’s The Analyst, the researcher, the screenwriter, the CGI tech and the lawyer (2011) was another: switched off during performances but projected, on uneventful days, onto the back of a mobile shelving unit that housed a library of artists’ publications and two monitors screening versions of Guy de Cointet’s Tell Me (1979/2006).
A contribution made by AND, an artist-curator trio assembled under the nonsense name Am Nuden Da, along with Katja Novitskova’s work in the publication, asked the viewer to consider performance and publishing online. In ‘Le blues du Net’, a recent blog post for Le Monde by philosopher Bernard Stiegler, digital space is described as ‘above all a publishing process’ in which ‘we self-publish, voluntarily or not’, and submit to the performative process of data capture, analysis and feedback in ways that influence our behaviour – our performance in life. The so-called theatrical turn, discussed in numerous conferences and publications besides Art Papers, and exemplified in ‘From script to reading ...’ presents in art, then, as in wider discussions of what is at stake today, as we readily integrate digital publishing and performance into our daily routine.