The Centre for Dying On Stage, Project Arts Centre: A Non-Review

The fact that something is occurring in the gallery space implies a presentation, a certain set of events, be that performance, static installation, paintings (though less so these days), and more and more this list has become dynamic and interchangeable. And yet the gallery remains a space of presentation, and when one enters this place of art, two things can occur, you can actively be a part of that presentation, or resist it (yet still remain a part of it). The works currently on show in Projects Arts Centre bring together all aspects of this conversation: The event, the audience, the place of art as circumscribed by the gallery, and all the issues that surround the presentation of art today. As it turns out these are the same issues that have affected the presentation of art for at least the last 40 years. What one should not attempt to do is to review such an endeavour; the complexities and questions that arise are more than there are answers, and oftentimes these convolutions end in the very question one never ever wants to ask: What makes art Art? Recently we have seen art situated at the junction of food events, concerts, ‘festivals’, and this opens the arena of art to the notion of hospitality, nourishment, community – exchange, yet in all these amalgams, art often gets lost. When is a café in a gallery simply a café? Ah, but when is a urinal in a gallery, just a urinal, I hear you ask. Well in many of these events, the meals, cafes, kids event, are not in the gallery space, so what then? The signifier of art, ‘the gallery’, and even sometimes ‘the artist’ is removed. Now is it art?

The role of Minimalism these days seems to forego its heritage as object and explore the role of narrator in contemporary art and the backdrop for this debate is Karl Burke’s resolutely linear Taking a Line, a work reminiscent of classical Minimalism yet with an unseen dynamic. His work situates itself bang at the centre of a discussion concerning the de-temporalisation of art; a discussion that will continue to occur at Project Arts Centre in The Centre for Dying On Stage throughout the month of August.  As well as being pivotal in the gallery exhibition, Burke’s work opens up the exhibition to questions involving the presentation of art in a weekly ‘Dive Bar’ event (every Thursday). It is a pivotal element in a maelstrom of art references that skew the notion of exhibition and what it is to be a viewer (or an artist for that matter). This speaks much to the artist’s own persona as artist: Burke’s practice engages a host of media: installation, photography, sound, video. Also in the space are the painted panels on the walls figure in the work as one rotates around the space the lodging of Meggy Rustamova’s monochrome pictures into one’s sightline and causally into the work itself. This is a strangely static work from a very dynamic artist whose practice is situated in audience engagement and physicality. The fact that she is present here in the form of a single gesture, gives one a taster of what is to come. The monochrome panels add density to Burke’s sculpture and allows it access the grid-like referencing of modern masters such as Piet Mondrian, Sol leWitt, and more recently the work of Liam Gillick. It is also worth noting that this work by Burke alters how one moves around the space, and in the case of the ‘Dive bar’ a certain activation of the space occurs. This is common enough practice in terms of architecture, and yet used with great effect in a space such as the white cube, which has purposefully been stripped of all directives.

Karl Burke Taking a Line, 2011

Karl Burke
Taking a Line, 2011

Framing, in terms of historical precursors (that are still evolving), are also relevant, and works that remain very-much alive today, such as the work of artist Kevin Atherton are referenced. Recently we have seen the works of Atherton proposed to a new audience of younger artists (and viewers), for whom they have been hugely influential. For the artist himself, present at the first Dive Bar instalment and asked to speak about his work, described how the re-staging or returning to a work such as In Two Minds [1], ascribes a certain folding in of the work upon itself. A cancellation, as it were, of the time in-between works, and this notion lends itself very well to Atherton’s practice as his minimal settings allow for very little historical referencing, in fact few would link his In Two Minds performance to the Serpentine Gallery where it was originally set. Atherton himself makes reference to the hugely influential Dan Graham whose work Performer/Audience/Mirror (1977) is also showing in the gallery space at Project (Atherton was physically present), and for Graham the notion of mirroring (audience), recurrence and folding, are all necessary elements of art practice. This seminal work forms the conceptual backdrop to the exhibition.

Kevin Atherton In Two Minds (1978)

Kevin Atherton
In Two Minds (1978)

The expanding the frame of art is a continuous investigation that transcends any single genre. A work of performance art is purposefully speculative, and most of the works featured involve subtle discourses on philological and philosophical debates on engagement. Many of the events are re-enactments of past propositions, for example in the case of the work by Dina Danish, “Elizabeth’s birthday”; a set of instructions are given by the artist to celebrate Elizabeth’s birthday even though she is not physically present (neither is it her birthday). It is interesting that the directive was carried out, no questions asked, especially as what she asked made no sense at all; a sort of referencing of the philosophy of the absurd. The opening night of The Centre For Dying On Stage saw similar gestures taking place in the gallery; a girl hysterically laughing, her exuberance reaching crescendo after a fairly short interval, and she falls down dead, supposedly dying of laugher. Later in the night other deaths occurred: One by peanut, another by fright*. And yet many of these performance works eschew the spectacular, they make their own subtle in-roads into the gallery works, breaking apart the idea of exhibition and creating a narrative based on the immediacy of the space and the pieces (and people) in it. This works particularly well in The Centre for Dying On Stage as the performances do not take from the exhibition, they take part in the action and as Alan Badiou proposes, create an extension of the gesture; they remain alive because of this tethering of themselves (often through works from the past) onto this extended gesture:

“Through the work of art we know that…’Everything else which appears, apart from appearing itself’ (which is nature), is a is what is standing there and not a part of the gesture (the work of art), it is what is dead through separation” [2] (my italics).

What people often forget about art, be that performance or more classical iterations of art, that within the gallery space, one is accomplice to the work, whether that is one’s intention or not. This means that the work is not really ever a performance but an extension of the proposal that is you in the space of art. As such ‘performance art’ that attaches a certain break in the continuity between observer and artwork strikes one as disingenuous and false, a sort of insistent cameo in a space that they seek to control. This denounces free engagement and places a certain authority with the artist. Here the works attach themselves seamlessly to the spectator; they are the spectator and they are the work, time is irrelevant.


*This work is entitled Pretend to Die after James Lee Byars, an adaptation of a previous performance by James Lee Byars and is curated by Triple Candie.

1. Kevin Atherton, In Two Minds performance, Serpentine Gallery 1978 and restaged at Seeing in the Dark, 2011.

2. Alan Badiou, Being and Event, 1988, Continuum Press, 2006

On 31st July artist Karl Burke will present his spatial sound piece Omnipresent as part of the Dive Bar series. Booking is recommended:

Main Image: Detail of Triple Candie’s Pretend to Die (After James Lee Byars), actor Megan Riordan.

The Centre for Dying On Stage runs at Project Arts Centre until September 13th. Dive Bar events run through August.


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