Monday, December 6, 2010

Prodigal Macken

All photos courtesy of the beautiful lift fearing Karin Albinsson

I don't know if you know this about me, but I was once a performance artist. Just once. (I mean, I'm so private about my life, what with blogging, constant forceborking and the stupendous words that I string together when I... *groan*... "tweet".) Well now, when I say a performance artist, I was more of a tool for a performance artist to appropriate his work through me. Shortly after I completed this piece I was invited to test out some performative work at a performance art showcase and I froze. Intrigued as I am by performance art, it is, in fact, the art form which instigates the most violent responses of anger, frustration and irritation in me too. There's a level of attention expected from it - that is a societal and cultural attention - which is depicted through courtesy, decorum and consideration. There's a constant anxiety within me of being considerate when making work, of if i am making someone uncomfortable that it is for a legitimate reason. Self satisfying as creating art can be, I have sat through 30minute performances where a person preaches their opinion at me whilst doing something ridiculous to satisfy their exhibitionist desires, and I am trapped, out of politeness, to listen to them, as they present me with ill informed, under researched, casual opinions which I am supposed to accept as an unpleasant artistic comment on the world. AND. TO. THAT. I. politely. FUME. FOR. HOURS. AFTERWARDS.

Although, when I list my favourite artists, to a majority they are surprisingly not painters, but rather performance artists. When done (to a level that I consider) well and WITH CONSIDERATION, even if that consideration is towards being inconsiderate, it can be wonderful (obviously entirely objectively OF COURSE! cough). Qasim Riza Shaheen is one such artist. I once got an opportunity to paint his portrait in a hotel in Dublin. There's a presence that Qasim has, an insatiable one. Not only is he a handsome figure, but there are such gentle qualities to his character that encouraged me to become confessional, and speak about my admiration for some performance artists. Obviously, I've toyed with performance through a more commonly accepted forum, that of cabaret, but somehow, I found myself on a plane on my way to the mac in Birmingham to take part in Qasim's most recent show there entitled Prodigal Son; Traces of a disciple astray.
After two days of extensive discussion and workshopping I found myself performing, in an emergency exit hallway, at the back of a theatre. It included 5 records from the 1960s each telling a different nursery rhyme/fairytale. In a simultaneously exhilarated and cripplingly terrified state, I found myself repeatedly performing five poses over the course of the six minute nursery rhyme for over 30 people, one on one over a period of three and a half hours. The vulnerability I feel when I perform ordinarily was magnified as it became a consensual one-on-one dialogue between the viewer and myself. A camera was placed where they were seated, and the public could not see me, but could only view the responses of the viewer which were projected throughout the building on large plasma screens. The vulnerability I felt was mirrored, if not surpassed by them, as they became self conscious of the voyeuristic role in which they had placed themselves. I had a sense of responsibility of wanting them to feel comfortable, to enjoy the experience, to enjoy looking at me.... It sounds pathetic when I type that out. I wonder why I desire to be looked at so much. vee vee vee vee VANITY. (WELL that was an embarrassing tangent!?!) What resulted were fits of giggles, awkward whistling, many smiles, outrageous displays of awkward hand movements, one come-on, and a large graze on my right arm where some skin used to be.
I'm still trying to figure out what all of this means. It wasn't my own piece, and Qasim had his own intentions for it, but it did become my own experience with each viewer, and the environment and memory and pain and joy that I brought to the space was my own. I'm unconvinced I can be a performance artist. But I am intrigued. And I'm heartened by the positivity this experience brought me. If I do something in future that is in the medium of performance art, it's not that I want it to be a pleasant experience, but I want it to be a significant one.
Qasim's work will be on show at the QUEER NOTIONS FESTIVAL this week. I strongly recommend you have a look at his work. It's booful.