Peter Dornauf – 20 November, 2014
Harvey's hectic and physically exhaustive approach to his own works takes its cue from New York based Yugoslavian performance artist, the inscrutable Marina Abramovic who came to prominence in the seventies with work that deliberately and provocatively tested the limits of the body. The intensity of the American Vito Acconci's work is another who inspires Harvey. Allen in interview commented on how the re-enactment was presented with a greater degree of feeling than he had performed in the original version.
Mark Harvey and Jim Allen
Jim Allen’s News
Curated by Mark Williams
6 November - 28 November 2014
Performance art had its first major outing in Zurich at the anarchic Cabaret Voltaire during the war years, from 1915 to 1918 and a little beyond. Very early in the piece it was recognized that conventional art in such a war-riven context would neither avail nor be in any way morally possible. Politics had given birth to a new art, or more correctly, an anti-art phenomena. Thus satirical puppet show performances by poet Emmy Hennings, nonsense poetry recitals by Hugo Ball, trust up in a pseudo suit that mocked the Pope, together with wild unorthodox dance moves and cacophonous music all contributed to an anti-war polemic.
It spawned a tradition of performance acts that took in Pollock’s drip paintings, Fluxus, Happenings, the work of Joseph Beuys and others that saw the political hot spot of the Sixties and Seventies become the heyday of the art practice.
It was during this period (in 1976) that New Zealand had its first foray into the radical world of performance art. Ironically it didn’t take place in New Zealand but in Adelaide, Australia, which saw New Zealander, Jim Allen, perform a suite of works, one of which was called News. Others conducted in the same year were, Poetry for Chainsaws and On Planting a Native where the titles themselves betray their New Zealand impulse and origin. Such trailblazing post-object compositions were the brainchild of Allen, then Associate Professor and Head of Sculpture at Elam School of Fine Arts, who left New Zealand in the same year to take up a residency at the Experimental Art Foundation (EFA) in Adelaide.
These works were also presented at the 1976 Biennale of Sydney and have subsequently become widely shown in America, Germany and the Netherlands. A year later, Allen took up the position of founding head of the Sydney College of Arts and for at least a decade did not add to his oeuvre. However since 2000, Allen has restaged these early works and that “restaging” was continued recently at Wintec, by performance artist, Mark Harvey, the documentation of which is now showing at Ramp Gallery, Hamilton.
Harvey specifically re-enacted the work News, which involved the performer seated, examining a newspaper, then screwing it into a ball at which point it is unscrewed and the action manically repeated for fifteen minutes until the paper is left in shreds. Harvey in response to News, then went on to create two separate works of his own that comment and reflect on the original piece. Entitled News Floor and News Wall, the performances takes place in a room completely covered in blank white newsprint with each enactment lasting approximately four minutes.
The effect of the wall wrapping creates the look of some padded cell for the mentally disturbed. Harvey alone in the room, himself enveloped in newspaper (one can only see his head protruding out above the cocoon) as if bound by some mad restraint harness, adds to this feeling which is reinforced as he begins to behave like some frantic caged animal, running back and forth across the room, crashing into walls repeatedly until the mummified encasement of paper has fallen away.
The second performance is a repeat of the first but this time only the feet are swathed in newspaper and the camera, operated by videographer, Daniel Strang, focuses entirely on the lower half of the body, tracking the agitated and frenetic running back and forth across the ‘wallpapered’ space.
The original Jim Allen work arose at a time when the media and its manipulative potential began to be questioned. The Vietnam War, brought into people’s living rooms each evening via television coverage, was the impetus for this new analytical awareness, although Vance Packard’s book, The Hidden Persuaders (1957), which became a recommended teaching text in the seventies, also encouraged recognition of the same fact. The Orwellian power of men from Madison Avenue on the electorate, which had become to be seen as a “market” product to peddle, was something Packard critically examined, speaking as he did of politicians checking themselves in the mirror to see if their images were on straight.
Today, at another level, Nicky Hager’s recent revelations in his book, Dirty Politics (2014) highlighting the disparity between what the public are told and the reality that exists behind closed doors, gives these performances extra bite.
The actual newspaper Harvey chose to work with was the New Zealand Herald and in speaking of his News performance, made specific mention of the fact that his hands got dirtier and blacker as the performance proceeded, which added another layer to the import of the piece.
Harvey’s hectic and physically exhaustive approach to his own works takes its cue from New York based Yugoslavian performance artist, the inscrutable Marina Abramovic who came to prominence in the seventies with work that deliberately and provocatively tested the limits of the body. The intensity of the American Vito Acconci’s work is another who inspires Harvey. Allen in interview commented on how the re-enactment was presented with a greater degree of feeling than he had performed in the original version.
In the last decade Harvey (PhD graduate in performance art from AUT, now Senior Lecturer at NICAI, The University of Auckland) has presented extensively across Europe, America, Australia, South East Asia and in New Zealand where he was selected for the Venice Biennale for Visual Arts in 2013. This in itself is evidence enough that the significance of performance art, “the guerrilla arm of fine art”, as Will Gompertz classifies it, has come of age. It’s become even cool as the influence on popular culture with the likes of Lady Gaga and actor-comedian Sacha Baron Cohen has demonstrated. Gompertz goes on to say that performance art has “a habit of popping up unexpectedly, making its strange presence felt, and then disappearing into the unreliable annals of hearsay and legend.”
This is exactly what has happened with the Jim Allen works, but now, under the curatorship of Mark Williams, the 2014 Wintec School of Media Arts Research Fellow, documentation of this sometime ephemeral art form has a permanent record and exhibition space to stand witness to its reality beyond what might have seemed a fleeting and esoteric sideshow.