“I can’t believe it’s not suffering!”
For some time now, I have been working on issues around reality and fake, acceptance or refusal of situations and facts pretending and appearing to be so close to “the real thing” that it would be virtually impossible to detect any difference. The accuracy of our perception of the world in which we live and act depends on our ability accurately to discern reality to enable the shift from “I don’t believe it’s not…” to “I know it is…” to happen. The setting for the Performance Art Bergen Open Festival was a 19th century prison, in use between 1867 and 1990, now a listed building slowly decaying, where the public can see, imagine and perhaps even feel how the wretched inmates might have progressed in their penance with their “cleansing” of mind, spirit and behaviour. Bread, soap and water. Most artists chose one of the prison cells for their performances, I decided to use the corridors for mine, moving slowly, over a period of some two hours, from the emergency exit on the upper floor to the exit on the ground floor leading to the exercise yards. My thoughts during the performance were around getting out, escaping, starting afresh and the tragic fate of the Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi, who drowned on his way to a supposedly safer life. Almost there: just this wall, gate, door, river, stretch of water, and we’ve made it. Or suffer. The consequences.
2006 “Exchange Places” – Canadian and Northern Ireland Artists, Black Box, Belfast. 2007 – “Fix” Performance Festival, Catalyst, Belfast. 2008 – “Archive”, Catalyst, Belfast (Solo). 2008 – “I am – Jestem” – Polish and Northern Ireland Artists, Black Box, Belfast. 2009 – “New Moves” – Contemporary arts Festival, Glasgow. 2009 “Open 10” – International Performance Festival, Beijing, China. 2009 – Commemorating 160 years of Belfast Art College – University of Ulster, Belfast. 2010 – “Infr’Action”, International Performance Art Festival, Sete, France. 2010 – Enniskillen Arts Festival, Enniskillen. 2010 “Tulca” Arts festival, Galway. 2010 “An hour on a Sunday”, PS2 Gallery, Belfast. 2011 – “Infr’Action Venice”, International Performance Art event, Venice, Italy. 2011 – “Guangzhou Live”, International Arts Festival, Guangzhou, China. 2012 “The Decade of Anniversaries”, University of Ulster, Belfast. 2012 – “Sweden Live”, International Arts Festival, Gothenburg, Sweden. 2013 – “Deframed”, 2nd Infr’Action Venice, International Performance Art event, Venice, Italy. 2014 “Die Axt im Haus…”, Bbeyond Bel-Mad Exchange, Belfast. 2015 “Migrant”, 3rd Infr’Action Venice, Venice, Italy. 2015 – “I can’t believe it’s not suffering”, Performance Art Bergen Open Festival, Bergen, Norway.
My art comments on belief systems, societal events, political developments, absurd ideas and conventions of communication and human interaction. Performance allows me to use process to illustrate how the world in which we live changes while we’re not looking, and how we then misinterpret what we have not seen but assume we know intimately and accept as unassailable truth. The key themes of my performances are linked to my interest in people’s assumptions, perceptions and beliefs, without being aware that all truths are relative and constructs of our individual minds and the environment in which we grew up (physically, intellectually and emotionally). My performances also relate to disbelief, matters we don’t want to see, experience or believe, but have suffered or will have to endure in future. They unashamedly tell stories without becoming theatre, or merely illustrations. I use my visual vocabulary to set the context for my “stories” and my references range from the obvious and banal to cultural, historic, political and at times intimately personal meanings of my actions. I do not repeat my performances, though elements of a particular performance may re-appear in a different context in a new work.
Photo by: J Hutchings and B Bjorkum
This post is part of a series of profiles on performance and performance makers from this year’s book, Contemporary Performance Almanac 2016, an overview of contemporary performance presented during the 2014/2015 season available for touring now. If you would like to be apart of next year’s book, Contemporary Performance Almanac 2017, you can join the project here.