Think. Prepare. Turn up. Event. Outcome.

Think. Prepare. Turn up. Event. Outcome.

Using art actions to disrupt the everyday

Introduction:

The title of my essay refers to the steps I follow to make a piece of live art. 

I think about what I am going to do.

I prepare and rehearse the action I intend to make. 

I turn up at the place where I intend to make the action. 

Event. I carry out the live art action

I leave and consider the outcome of the event. 

This process has a beginning through the thinking and preparing stage, turning up and carrying out the event as its middle, and an outcome or ending, just as a piece of academic writing also should have. Therefore to me it offers itself as an effective structure around which to construct this piece of writing. Disrupting the everyday refers to the art action’s potential to create a disturbance- a disruptive affect. I will try to explore the nature of this disruptive effect and why an art action might have this potential. 

How I came to make Art Actions

‘The term Live Art refers to performances or events undertaken or staged by an artist or a group of artists as a work of art, usually innovative and exploratory in nature’

(Tate, 2019)

Live Art is a blanket term that covers performance art, action art and what were called Happenings, a phrase coined by Alan Kaprow in the early 1960’s. Under this umbrella label of Live Art I am using the term Art Action (not to be confused with action art- a term coined to describe the methodology of artists like Pollock, J in the 1950’s) to refer to the short, action-based live art works I have been making in my final year of this masters. 

My Initial Forays into Performance based art came about as a result of my former fitness career. I had worked as a physical fitness coach for many years before commencing this Masters, so in some ways the transition to making art using my body felt natural, not to mention cathartic. As a fitness instructor it was my job to teach classes, demonstrate exercises and stand in front of groups to deliver information regardless of how I was feeling about my body that day. Through this job I acquired an both an earned familiarity with the body and an emotional dissociation with using it as a tool. These qualities of familiarity and emotional dissociation now facilitate the making of my live work. 

In 2016 I embarked upon this Masters with quite traditional ideas of what art is and what kind of artist I could be. Finding that I needed an outlet for the physicality I had employed daily in my fitness career, I began experimenting with task-based Live Art. This was a big step for me in conceptual terms.

“If you do things you like or you have the pleasure, you know, doing it, you’ll never change. You are always in the same pattern and everything is happening the same way again and again in your life.” 

(Khan Academy, 2019)

Fig 1: Daily Tasks. Flaggy Shore Beach, Burren, Co Clare. Macmanus. 2017

Performance as a mindset

Initially I had to work through the preconception that live art is an ego-centered way to make art. The audacity that I assumed would be required to place myself in front of others to perform seemed unreachable to me. Eventually I made the connection that making live art simply required the same emotionally dissociative mindset as I had employed for my fitness job. Only then was I able to shed these preconceptions. 

The process of producing these works has changed my perception and understanding of what art can be, consequentially altering my artistic identity.

“..Art can be anywhere and anything; it could just as well be another person, or a set of simple instructions or even a philosophical gesture, which breaks all the rules we used to think applied to looking at pictures on walls.”

(Ward, n.d.)

The Flow State

The task orientated live works I started experimenting with in Year 1 allowed me to achieve a state of flow through carrying out the action.

‘Flow… this phenomenon of intrinsically motivated or autotelic activity: activity rewarding in and of itself, quite part from its end product..’ (Lopez and Snyder, 2011) 

I was able to retreat into this flow state to a degree. In hindsight I realize this facilitated me in getting the works made.

Fig 2: Ode to Sisyphus- Tyre Flip. Macmanus R. Ennis, Co Clare. 2018

Think

This year I began thinking about why we act the way we do, and what constitutes ‘normal’ behavior. 

“In every society, social controls provide a network of rewards and punishments that are expected to force individual behavior in conformity with the norms that ensure the continued survival of the system.”

(Csikszentmihalyi and Csikszentmihalyi, 2000)

The above quote explains how we are conditioned to act a certain way, but that we’ve done this as a race to survive. 

From childhood we become conditioned to view the world as a commodity, and ourselves as singular individuals who negotiate situations, people and objects.

Here is a proposition: That as humans we walk around with an innate instinct to perform random actions. 

Walking down the up escalator. 

Lying on the ground in the middle of the street and staring at the sky. 

Swinging around and around a street light pole.

Running around in circles. 

Jumping in puddles.

Actions that we automatically suppress, because within my personal experience, we don’t usually see adults allowing themselves to carry out the sort of actions as listed above. 

Note that these actions, such as jumping in puddles, are things that in my experience a child would go ahead and do without thinking too much about it, nor be paid too much attention for doing so either. Children tend to be more impulsive creatures that are less inhibited by social and cultural learned conventions. Adults, however, might potentially draw attention to themselves by carrying out such actions, as others could perceive them as acting strangely. This fear of being looked at strangely or perhaps being judged can act as a powerful deterrent to most people. 

“What was unknown to you, is different from what you are used to. Differences disrupt. People don’t like feeling fear, or feeling like they have lost control. People like having a handle on things, and differences reduce their grip.”

(Tennant, 2019)

We could explore this further and suggest that this natural instinct to react freely to ones surroundings is not being consciously suppressed, it has simply already been conditioned out of most adults from years of observing a particular social coding etiquette, therefore it simply no longer occurs to most people to behave this way. People have forgotten how to be instinctive. 

The book “Thought in The Act’ talks about how the so called normally functioning adult, the neurotypical, sees the world, as opposed to how someone who has autism sees it. 

“Perhaps the difference between the environmental awareness of the autistic and that of neurotypicals is that neurotypicals always fuse the entertainment of the environment with an immediate availing themselves of affordances. The autistic becomes the field, integrally co-compositional with it. For the neurotypical, the field comes already saturated with affordances the field proposes”

(Manning and Massumi, 2014)

This quote is interesting to me because of its description of how someone with autism engages with the world. The neurotypical is wired to see how a place can or should be used, but the autistic person becomes the place, they don’t see its uses, they become integrally co-compositional with it. As an artist I feel a degree of affinity with this proposition- that this becoming a place- feeling that the movement of the trees, the spaces between people, the barking of a dog, the presence of a park bench, the person standing in front of us talking to us are all significant and all worthy of equal attention and examination. This feeling of being co-compositional, of becoming part of a place, is what Manning and Massumi call 

‘The dance of attention’. 

(Manning and Massumi, 2014)

I am not a doctor and do not purport to understand what life is like for a person who has autism. To exist within a world where one must negotiate this dance of attention in every situation from the park to the supermarket sounds like it could be both beautiful, terrifying and exhausting. 

The artist Gillian Wearing addresses this fear of instinctive, or un-normal behavior in her Dancing in Peckham work from 1994, when she danced in Peckham train station.

Fig 3: Dancing in Peckham. Wearing, G. 1994

“Dancing in Peckham is a 25-minute video that shows on an ordinary television monitor. The dancer, Gillian Wearing, under the vaulted glass roof, on the shiny pavement, has a look of intense seriousness on her face. She throws her hair about, shakes, gets down. She looks ridiculous, in a public place in broad daylight.”

Why would Wearing do such a thing? 

“You don’t expect to see something like that in Peckham,” Wearing said.”

(Jones, J The Guardian, 2000)

Wearing is cleverly disturbing the everyday with this non-normal behavior. 

Prepare

When starting making these live works I had scant knowledge of the history of live art or of the contemporary live art scene that might have influenced me. My method of making – describable as acting first and thinking after- relied on intuition more than reflection. 

The purpose of this study is to consider how these live art works I have made, born from a less than neurotypical viewpoint and based on instinct, can potentially disrupt the everyday. This essay employs making method of acting first and reflecting after, as the very act of writing this study has led me to research artists like Wearing and concepts like Manning and Massumi’s dance of attention, which have helped contextualize and give perspective to my own work. 

Prepare: The Task Centered Art Act

Like my earlier live art attempts from last year, such as ‘The Smash Up’ the live works I am currently making are also task centered. In my previous works I smashed up furniture, or flipped a tyre. It may not have been obvious why I was doing these things but it was clear what I was doing. See a still from The Smash Up, 2018, below. 

Fig 4. The Smash Up. Macmanus R. 2018      

However in my most recent work, Body Alphabet Series, it is the context that’s unusual, not the action. These actions happen outside, away from a space where they might make more sense, such as a fitness studio. Using the chart I created (see Fig 5) as my reference guide, I decide on the words that I want to spell out, rehearse the actions, then travel to the venue and make the work.                                       

Fig 5: Body Alphabet Reference Chart. Macmanus, R, 2019

With these works (entitled Body Alphabet series 1, 2, 3 and so on) I am trying to interrupt the order of the surroundings, to disturb the energy in the space. I place myself in the space and spell out this coded language. I choose banal, everyday comments to spell out, but am doing so through the medium of a less ‘normal’ visual language. What I am saying is less important than how I am saying it. I am making a casual comment in a non-neurotypical way. 

Again, it has taken 3 years of thinking and experimenting as an artist to get to a point where I can now go out and make this work. The action is legitimized within the context of my practice. 

Fig 6: Body Alphabet Series 4. Macmanus, R. 2018

Rehearsal

Using the Body Alphabet, I rehearse the poses representing the letters in the correct sequential order, until I have memorized the sequence. I am interested in the notion of this physically laborious public process to spell out these rather mundane words. It’s a useless gesture and ties in with the notion of the Sisyphean society we live in. Sisyphus is a recurring element in my works, the notion of doing a physically challenging, repetitive action to no real end. I see Sisyphean gestures all around me, such as people in the gym doing the same exercise routine again and again every week. It’s the comfort of a repetitive actions that can become the motivating factor, not the end result. 

‘Repetition changes nothing in the object repeated, but does change something in the mind which contemplates it’

(Deleuze, 1994)

Turn Up

To date I have made most of this series of Body Alphabet works in public places. Venues include a local park, a derelict site, a shopping centre and a playground. I looked for sites that I frequent in my everyday life to make these actions. 

I wanted to explore how it felt to disturb the everyday by behaving in a slightly unusual manner- carrying out the art action- in a ‘normal’ space.

Fig 7: Body Alphabet Series 5. Macmanus, R. Dublin 2019

The venue (where the work takes place) is a pivotal part of the process. Corinna Till, a tutor I had last year mentioned that making live art is an uncomfortable and energy sapping process- you have to decide to be the one to push it out into the world. I agree that the process has felt like this, and consequentially the thinking that goes into preparing and rehearsing the work is pivotal to its success. 

Without being prepared, I will turn up at the venue and my exposure to that particular place- the people passing by, the noise of the cars, the weather, will inevitably distract me. Proper preparation means thorough rehearsal of the pattern of movement required. Subsequently, having arrived on site at my chosen venue, I do not have to try to remember the movement sequence; I am free to carry out the art action whilst immersed in a dance of attention with my surroundings.  

“You revel in the fluidity of your trajectory, without focusing on it as a feeling-tone separate from the movement. You have performed an integral dance of attention, seemingly without thinking”

(Manning and Massumi, 2014)

With this in mind the venue very much dictates the tone of the work.  Making a work in a derelict site was in some ways easier than making a work in a shopping centre, but as the works accumulated I became more efficient at negotiating each space and making the art action. 

Fig 8: There is nothing to worry about. Macmanus, R. Ennis, Ireland 2019.

The Event.

During the event I experience how it feels to be present in the place, at this particular time on this particular day, doing these actions. As I start the actions I experience a change in the energy around me. Sometimes passers by stop and watch. Does this change of energy, these disturbances in the atmosphere constitute the event, or the fact that I’ve planned it and chosen to call it one? An event is defined as a thing that happens or takes place, especially one of importance.

The Artist Allan Kaprow coined the phrase Happenings for his art events. He first used the phrase in an essay he wrote entitled ‘The Legacy of Jackson Pollock’ in 1958 in which he predicted that art would move away from abstract expressionism and instead start to incorporate the use of everyday objects and imitate everyday life. 

After the mid 1960’s Kaprow had stopped using the term Happenings to describe works he was making. It had become too identifiably artistic for him.

“He wanted to do things in the context of life — not the museum or gallery — that were like life but different enough to alter his and others’ experience of the world. As he saw it, anything identifiable as art was too easily slotted into an exhausted category. We learned about the things he did because he talked and wrote about them, but he didn’t document them, and he had nothing to sell. (He supported himself by teaching.)”

Johnson, 2019)

Fig 9: Yard. Kaprow, A. Passadena Art Museum, 1967

With my own experience of making live art (or what Kaprow would have termed as Un-Art; his label for his work from the mid 1960’s onwards) it was interesting to read about these Happenings and how carefully organized and orchestrated they were. A lot of effort went into facilitating these outwardly instinctive, playful works. See Fig 9 above- a photograph of Kaprows ‘Yard’ from 1967. Knowledge of Kaprow’s works further helped me to contextualize my own action art works and the thinking, rehearsing, planning and preparation required to stage them. 

Outcome.

It is at this point, having made the work and left the venue; I have experienced a post making slump- an anti-climactic greyness. The pre-making adrenaline and the glimpse of flow state during the making are now gone. I am left wondering what, if any, was the point of it all. 

Watching the recordings that I have made of the actions has made me realize there is little evidence of the vulnerability that I felt during the process of making in the digital recording of the event. As the maker of the work I have realized that what I am experiencing while making is very different to that which the viewer of the work experiences as the viewer.

The recording of the work at the very least, serves as tangible evidence of these ephemeral events. No doubt Kaprow would have classed my digital recordings of the event as unnecessary and fraudulent, as they are not the work, but a recording of the work. However a recording does not damage the authenticity of the original artwork to my mind. As the viewer sees a recording differently to how they would view a live work, the recording could be seen as a separate entity in itself, with a different function.

For my making practice, the recording has functioned as both evidence of the art action event and as archive material. 

If we consider the legacy of how older performance work is labeled and contextualized. Chris Burden, the American artist, talked about who attended his live art performances and how these works are archived today.

“Actions like Shoot were “performed for hand-picked audiences” made up of mostly of other artists, said Burden, because they would “disseminate it the way I saw it.” Shoot was witnessed by about nine people, and exists now only as an 8 second video clip.” 

(Smith, 2013)

Fig 10: Shoot. Burden, C. 1971

Therefore we have Burden whose has works documented through film, and Kaprow who chose not to document, but only talked and wrote about his work. Neither is of course right or wrong. Personally, I support visual documentation in today’s digital climate, as

‘More than ever before, looking has become a matter of Darwinian survival- only the strongest images make the grade’.

(Ward, n.d.)

Outcome: Framing the work and how to gain an audience

I am interested in the freedom of access social media platforms like Instagram can offer. Instagram is admittedly a mish mash of personal and commercial material, but it is a platform that allows the artist to control how their work is viewed and archived. 

 “The sprinkling of Insta-stardust adds an uncanny layer to the question of performance.”

(Judah, 2019)

I follow a contemporary Japanese dance duo on Instagram called Aguyoshi. They make live art pieces related to their environment and post them on Instagram. Their control over their movements and bodies illustrates a history of training and experience that they employ to make these outwardly simple, minimalist pieces of live art. The dance of attention they are having with their surroundings is clearly apparent. They comment on the everyday in a visual, non-verbal, elegant manner. 

Fig 11: Along the Light. Aguoshi. Screenshot from Instagram. March 2019

The duo is a prime example of how an artist sees differently from the neurotypical. 

Conclusion

I started out making live art encumbered with preconceptions and self imposed rules of what art should be and what qualities were needed to make live art. I have shed these misconceptions and have utilized life skills to facilitate my making. 

In this essay have examined the act of inserting non-neurotypical behavior- the art action- into an everyday space. By carrying out the art action I become immersed in a dance of attention and the energy changes from passive to charged. This non-neurotypical behavior and the ensuing change in energy it brings about are the cause of the disturbance to the everyday.

Research has helped to give context to the action art works I have made. If I arrive at an impasse I employ the making process steps to navigate my way out and continue. Think. Prepare. Turn Up. Event. Aftermath. And lastly, repeat the process. 

Word Count: 3,485

Image List:

Fig 1: Daily Tasks. Flaggy Shore Beach, Burren, Co Clare. Macmanus. 2017

Fig 2: Ode to Sisyphus- Tyre Flip. Macmanus R. Ennis, Co Clare. 2018

Fig 3: Dancing in Peckham. Wearing, G. 1994. 

Sourced from http://www.southlondongallery.org

Fig 4. The Smash Up. Macmanus R. 2018

Fig 5: Body Alphabet Reference Chart. Macmanus, R, 2019

Fig 6: Body Alphabet Series 4. Macmanus, R. 2018

Fig 7: Body Alphabet Series 5. Macmanus, R. Dublin 2019

Fig 8: There is nothing to worry about. Macmanus, R. Ennis, Ireland 2019.

Fig 9: Yard. Kaprow, A. Passadena Art Museum, 1967

Sourced from http://www.newyorktimes.com

Fig 10: Shoot. Burden, C. 1971

Sourced from http://www.wmagazine.com

Fig 11: Along the Light. Aguoshi. 

Image screenshot from www.instagram.com/aguyoshi/ March 2019

Reference List, in Alphabetical Order:

Csikszentmihalyi, M. and Csikszentmihalyi, I. (2000). Optimal experience. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p.14.

Deleuze, G. (1994). Difference and repetition. London: Continuum, pp.P 70, Ch 2

Johnson, K. (2019). Changing the Tires on Allan Kaprow’s ‘Un-art’. [Online] Nytimes.com. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/13/arts/design/13johnson.html

Judah, H. (2019). Is Being an Influencer a Kind of Performance Art?. [Online] Garage. Available at: https://garage.vice.com/en_us/article/437nvd/berthold-ed-fornieles-in-the-fade 

Khan Academy. (2019). Marina Abramović: The Body as medium. [Online] Available at: https://www.khanacademy.org/humanities/global-culture/conceptual-performance/v/moma-abramovic-body-as-a-medium 

Lopez, S. and Snyder, C. (2011). Handbook of positive psychology. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, p.195.

Manning, E. and Massumi, B. (2014). Thought in the Act. Univ Of Minnesota Press, p.11.

Manning, E. and Massumi, B. (2014). Thought in the Act. Univ Of Minnesota Press, p.4.

Smith, S. (2013). Chris Burden Talks About Performance, Is Confused About iPods At The New Museum. [Online] NYU Local. Available at: https://nyulocal.com/chris-burden-talks-about-performance-is-confused-about-ipods-at-the-new-museum-d956f857dbec 

Tate. (2019). Live art – Art Term | Tate. [Online] Available at: https://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/l/live-art 

Tennant, S. (2019). Why-do-people-hate-differences. [Online] https://www.quora.com. Available at: https://www.quora.com/Why-do-people-hate-differences 

Ward, O. (n.d.). Ways of looking. London: Laurence King Publishing Ltd, p.10.

Ward, O. (n.d.). Ways of looking. London: Laurence King Publishing Ltd, p.7.

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