Re:Perform by The Yellow Men
Blue Oyster Art Project Space, Dunedin
14/03/2013 - 23/03/2013
‘Re:Perform’ by The Yellow Men
The container curated by the Blue Oyster Gallery features The Yellow Men who will be performing at lunch time each day in their container. Their performance is called RE:PERFORM and was born out of the interest in the publishing practice of newspapers that regularly run a ‘This Day in History’ section. Working with the Otago Daily Times from the period February 26 – March 14 2012, The Yellow Men have selected an aspect of an article from the same day one year ago and will reinterpret it through their performance.
Part I of RE:PERFORM was born out of the interest in the publishing practice of newspapers that regularly run a ‘This Day in History’ section. Selecting a number of historical events and re-presenting them as connected by the sole common feature of their occurrence on one particular day raises the issue of selective narrativisation and the problematic construction of history through approved media outlets. Working with the Otago Daily Times from the period February 26 – March 14 2012 The Yellow Men will select an aspect of an article from the same day one year ago and reinterpret it through their performative practice. Each performance will result in the creation of an object that will then be displayed in the Sculpture Archive of the Blue Oyster. Every performance will be documented in the Audio Visual Archive. And each newspaper will be available to read in the News Archive. Touching on ideas of repetition, trivia and the banal, The Yellow Men re-serialise the day-in / day-out process of newsmaking to the point where the context of newsworthiness becomes entirely amorphous. We even have a celebrity birthday archive!
In Part II of RE:PERFORM (part of the 2013 Dunedin Fringe Festival) The Yellow Men will select an event from last year’s Dunedin Fringe Festival to re-perform each day in the Blue Oyster’s shipping container located in the Festival Hub in the lower Octagon. As in Part I their work will explore the process of selection, but rather than the news process Part II will interrogate the idea of ‘Fringe’ and what defines this already marginalised categorisation. The timetable for Part II will be released at the conclusion of Part I.
The Yellow Men are Jed McCammon and Clarke Hegan, both 2012 graduates of the Dunedin School of Art.
Part 1: This Day In History, 6-13 Mar 2013
Part 2: Dunedin Fringe Festival, 13-23 March 2013
March 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23
Festival Hub (The Octagon) – Blue Oyster Shipping Container (13, 14, 15, 16, 18, 19, 20, 21), Blue Oyster Gallery (22, 23)
8:00pm (13), 12:30pm (14, 16, 18, 19, 20, 21), 6:00pm (15, 22), 10:00am – NOON (23)
Hysterically amusing performed critiques
Review by Jonathan W. Marshall 27th Mar 2013
Clarke Hegan and Jed McCammon began staging short performance-art works at Dunedin Polytech’s School of Art in 2011. After moving their practice as the Yellow Men to a more public context with that year’s Qubit Festival, their protracted residency as part of the 2012 Dunedin Fringe marks their first extended, mature works.
Re:Perform began as a week-long season at the Blue Oyster Gallery — Re:Perform Part 1: This Day In History — before moving to a street-side container for two more weeks of Re:Perform Part 2: Dunedin Fringe.
As reviewer Sam Oram noted, Re:Perform constitutes a meditation on, and a spoof of, the practice since 2000 of historicising, preserving and re-exhibiting key works of performance art. This is an ironic, if not schizophrenic, practice, since most of the first wave artists insisted that what defined performance art was its ephemeral and immediate nature. It existed uniquely in the moment and in the link between performer and audience. It could not be purchased or repeated. As Marina Abramovic famously highlighted in her gallery works, the audience was in the direct presence of the audience, exchanging a special, if not magical, moment with the artist.
Abramovic also has recently had her work “re-performed” by other artists (see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2GD5PBK_Bto). The recent documentary showing Abramovic schooling her young charges in such performances is about as cringe-making as you are likely to see, and totally lacking in the kind of critical perspective which the Yellow Men’s reflection on these ideas in Re:Perform allows.
Abramovic too typically documented her performances through photographs or films, or alternatively through the production of another “object” or “artefact” that might result from the process of making the performance. Joseph Beuys for example has left us various sculptures of felt and fat which he made in these events, as well as blackboards scrawled with almost mystic text (see http://www.moma.org/collection/object.php?object_id=81154).
In response this, each of the Yellow Men’s pieces had four elements.
First there was an initial event which the Yellow Men’s own performance re-performed, no matter in how bizarre a fashion. The Yellow Men’s performance thus served as a secondary response to this earlier act. The Yellow Men did not however simply access this event. Rather they came to each event through another item, a document of some sort.
In week one, inspiration for the Yellow Men’s pieces was taken from the local daily newspaper of exactly one year prior to the Yellow Men’s own staging. This document thus becomes the second element in the production: a document of an earlier event which the Yellow Men use as a starting point for their new interpretation. In weeks two and three, this was the booklet listing events in the 2012 Fringe Festival, the Yellow Men re-performing a piece from one year prior to their own 2013 staging.
An article from 2012 dealing with the sexual attractiveness which a beard might confer on a heterosexual man, for example, inspired a 2013 work where the performers shaved each other’s heads, and used the hair so produced to make a new beard, which was then stuck to the performer’s face in real time.
The performance thus becomes bookended with two other items. The document thus becomes a score for the new piece. Again, this has interesting resonances for the history of performance art, since many early historic works looked at the relation between a set of instructions (“Duck whistle in a bowl of water for as long as breath holds — but not past 5 minutes 25 seconds,” John Cage; see http://www.deluxxe.com/beat/fluxusworkbook.pdf for more examples) versus the “performance” of that score (in the example given, does one blow hard, soft, a melody, could one maybe even exchange a duck whistle for a kazoo and still perform “this” composition?). Yellow Men’s take on the score is at least as playful as the predecessors they reference.
The second item which bookended the Yellow Men piece was whatever was left over following the new performance as a kind of sculptural object or new, post-2013 document in its own right. The Yellow Men set up a group of tables in the gallery to exhibit these post-performance artefacts, and by week three they made up an impressive collection.
Included was a pile of broken balloons (blow up a pack of balloons until all of them explode in one’s face; a suitably pathetic response to the commemorative service for the Carterton hot-air balloon accident; one balloon for each person present), a toaster and collection of candles (a re-interpretation of the 2012 Fringe theatre piece, Dinner With Dick, to which Yellow Men responded by cooking a four course meal using only a toaster and some candles), and other items such as plungers, a tobacco-stained, smoky piece of foam, hand-churned butter turning rancid, and so on (see http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10151505267868944&set=a.10151505267783944.1073741826.16173153943&type=1&theater and http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10151478628538944&set=a.469167168943.259440.16173153943&type=1&theater).
To further estrange this sense of mirrors-reflecting-mirrors through a continuous cycle of performance and documentation, each 2013 Yellow Men work was also filmed by Gallery staff. Edited footage was then exhibited both at the Gallery, and in the shipping container within which the Yellow Men performed in weeks two and three.
The mental arithmetic involved in this process was impressive, every work having a pre-performance event, a post-performance document used as a score, a live performance by the Yellow Men themselves, footage of that performance, and a final piece of documentation of this Yellow Men performance as a new object or artefact. One could imagine this act of reflection, distortion and reification continuing on forever. Perhaps next year another performance art group should re-perform the artefacts from this year? I for one never got an impression of diminishing returns, though. The new works were cheerful and interesting to watch, even if one did not stick at them for as long as the performers (typically about one hour per day).
Leaving aside this well founded (and playful) conceptual foundation for the Yellow Men’s work, the material itself was, overall, very strong. One performance for example included the Yellow Men exactly re-performing the moves from a twelve part chess problem printed in the newspaper. One can only imagine Marcel Duchamp (who also famously played chess in a gallery) would have been delighted at this. Certainly it was no small feat to commit to memory such a work. Most of the pieces exhibited similar endurance on the part of the Yellow Men. If nothing else, their persistence was admirable.
The Yellow Men performed without exchanging words or speaking, and so when navigating such issues as how to build a wooden saw horse (inspired by a photograph of others doing the same at the 2012 Young Farmer of the Year Competition), this created a real sense of drama in the work. Audiences could focus on the silent problem-solving skills of the pair, and wonder at the level of concentration and commitment which they paid to the tasks at hand. I noted several couples with children who wandered past the outdoor performance space who, whilst not always greatly impressed, their children were often mesmerised by these strange young men so deeply engaged in a mysterious rite.
Borrowing heavily from Gilbert and George and other performance art pairings, the Yellow Men are still negotiating issues of similarity and dissimilarity in their appearance and self-presentation. Dressed in matching tight yellow cardigans and blue jeans, the blond duet are of comparable build, and so function as mirrors for each other. If one watches them for an extended period, though, the distinctions between them soon became highly apparent in the nuances of their execution and in their form.
Whilst both very slight, McCammon seems quite massive and weighty compared to the lithe Hegan. The latter is a master at presenting himself with a Zen-like indifference to the horrors he sometimes had to endure, his eyes focused on the horizon, no matter how unpleasant his chosen task is (clutching a bag of ice to the chest until the body becomes so cold one has to swap with one’s partner and run to the nearby heater, for example). McCammon by contrast was quite visibly expressive. By the end of three weeks, repeat observers were treated to just about every expression of pain, discomfort, exhaustion and nausea of which face and body is capable.
Whilst the differences between our pair creates some interesting dramatic effects, I am less convinced myself that it is altogether effective. Currently it comes across as something of an accidental by-product of the works whose first intent is to raise issues about performance and re-performance, not about the performers as emotional beings. Smoother unison performance would clarify that the Yellow Men are acting as a kind of demented, impersonal machine for the abstract transcription in performance of other events and ideas.
Similarly, whilst much attention has been paid by the artists to the artefacts, they are at this point relying on others to film their works. As a result, the footage, whilst extremely funny, is highly various in format, use of focus, mobility of camera, and so on. If one compares the practice of Yellow Men to say Campbell Patterson’s use of a locked off camera to focus on the formal or conceptual nature of whatever it is which Patterson is performing (http://www.michaellett.com/artist/?artist=Campbell+Patterson&show=Work+and+Exercise&info=work), or the extremely considered videos of John Wood and Paul Harrison (http://harrisonandwood.com/; http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eS50mYKCL_M), it is clear that the Yellow Men have not yet looked closely at how their own practices of documentation might shape the work in advance. This gives the current series of videos a wonderful improvised quality, but I cannot help feeling that they would be more forceful and impressive if the Yellow Men aspired to the level of craft which Wood and Harrison achieve in their documentation.
Finally, whilst the Yellow Men have developed a thorough conceptual approach for their work, this was not always readily apparent to audiences. The newspapers and 2012 Fringe program which inspired the works were not displayed with the relevant sections highlighted, turning viewing of the performance into a kind of guessing game as to what might be the cause of each new piece. Whilst this had a certain appeal, and emphasised the underlying contention that documentation (like re-performance) renders material abstract, it tended to make the actual performances read less as an exploration into the conceptual rules which the performers had set themselves, and more as just some “weird stuff” which was happening in the space. There was no need for the performance works to be so opaque to the average viewer.
In short, while the Yellow Men’s own practice is well established, some of the issues surrounding its framing remain to be fully clarified and worked with. One wonders if an outside documentarian, director, dramaturg or curator might assist here. Certainly the curator from the Blue Oyster Project Space, Jamie Hanton, contributed significantly to this round of the Yellow Men’s work.
That said, the most important contribution which Yellow Men are making to the Southland art scene is a very thorough examination of the history and aesthetics of performance and performance art. Works are put back into circulation for discussion. Nor is this done in a heavy handed fashion. The results are amongst the most hysterically amusing pieces which Fringe featured. Sights such as the Yellow Men cycling in ever thicker swathes of clothing (a homage to last year’s and this year’s Fashion Festival, which coincides with the start of Fringe) were a rare treat for all audiences, whether they chose to probe the history of performance art or not.
The concluding piece of the Re:Perform season had the Yellow Men’s take on Canker from last year, in which the couple held between them a thick, translucent pane of toffee, and attempted to lick their way through to each other. The Yellow Men have not previously engaged in any overt fashion with issues of sexuality in their performances. The sight of two attractive young men in tight, cropped tops which show off their mid-riff as they salivate and lick their way to heaven however cannot but be seen in homoerotic terms. “Very intimate,” as one observer said to me. It also throws into the relief the fashion in which changing the sex of the performer (last year a brave, naked Audrey Baldwin; https://www.theatreview.org.nz/reviews/review.php?id=4672) completely changes the reading and the politics of Canker. Semi-naked young men simply do not read the same way in the gallery of today as naked women do.
Baldwin was reportedly “stoked” at seeing her concept re-presented back at her in a distorted form, and irrespective of how one reads either version of Canker, the Yellow Men’s staging provides another engagement with such questions, serving as a call for critique, discussion — and enjoyment — which one can only applaud.
I look forward to new Yellow Men works in the future.
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