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<i>INSTRUMENTS OF WAR</i> by Manuel Vason, Anne Seagrave, Dariusz Fodczuk, Stuart Brisley, Alastair MacLennan, Wladyslaw Kazmierczak & Ewa Rybska, Suka OFF, Helen Spackmann, Joshua Sofaer, Sachiko Abe, Ronald Fraser Monroe and Franko B.

<i>INSTRUMENTS OF WAR</i> by Manuel Vason, Anne Seagrave, Dariusz Fodczuk, Stuart Brisley, Alastair MacLennan, Wladyslaw Kazmierczak & Ewa Rybska, Suka OFF, Helen Spackmann, Joshua Sofaer, Sachiko Abe, Ronald Fraser Monroe and Franko B.

<i>INSTRUMENTS OF WAR</i> by Manuel Vason, Anne Seagrave, Dariusz Fodczuk, Stuart Brisley, Alastair MacLennan, Wladyslaw Kazmierczak & Ewa Rybska, Suka OFF, Helen Spackmann, Joshua Sofaer, Sachiko Abe, Ronald Fraser Monroe and Franko B.

<i>INSTRUMENTS OF WAR</i> by Manuel Vason, Anne Seagrave, Dariusz Fodczuk, Stuart Brisley, Alastair MacLennan, Wladyslaw Kazmierczak & Ewa Rybska, Suka OFF, Helen Spackmann, Joshua Sofaer, Sachiko Abe, Ronald Fraser Monroe and Franko B.

<i>INSTRUMENTS OF WAR</i> by Manuel Vason, Anne Seagrave, Dariusz Fodczuk, Stuart Brisley, Alastair MacLennan, Wladyslaw Kazmierczak & Ewa Rybska, Suka OFF, Helen Spackmann, Joshua Sofaer, Sachiko Abe, Ronald Fraser Monroe and Franko B.

<i>INSTRUMENTS OF WAR</i> by Manuel Vason, Anne Seagrave, Dariusz Fodczuk, Stuart Brisley, Alastair MacLennan, Wladyslaw Kazmierczak & Ewa Rybska, Suka OFF, Helen Spackmann, Joshua Sofaer, Sachiko Abe, Ronald Fraser Monroe and Franko B.

<i>INSTRUMENTS OF WAR</i> by Manuel Vason, Anne Seagrave, Dariusz Fodczuk, Stuart Brisley, Alastair MacLennan, Wladyslaw Kazmierczak & Ewa Rybska, Suka OFF, Helen Spackmann, Joshua Sofaer, Sachiko Abe, Ronald Fraser Monroe and Franko B.

<i>INSTRUMENTS OF WAR</i> by Manuel Vason, Anne Seagrave, Dariusz Fodczuk, Stuart Brisley, Alastair MacLennan, Wladyslaw Kazmierczak & Ewa Rybska, Suka OFF, Helen Spackmann, Joshua Sofaer, Sachiko Abe, Ronald Fraser Monroe and Franko B.

<i>INSTRUMENTS OF WAR</i> by Manuel Vason, Anne Seagrave, Dariusz Fodczuk, Stuart Brisley, Alastair MacLennan, Wladyslaw Kazmierczak & Ewa Rybska, Suka OFF, Helen Spackmann, Joshua Sofaer, Sachiko Abe, Ronald Fraser Monroe and Franko B.

<i>INSTRUMENTS OF WAR</i> by Manuel Vason, Anne Seagrave, Dariusz Fodczuk, Stuart Brisley, Alastair MacLennan, Wladyslaw Kazmierczak & Ewa Rybska, Suka OFF, Helen Spackmann, Joshua Sofaer, Sachiko Abe, Ronald Fraser Monroe and Franko B.

<i>INSTRUMENTS OF WAR</i> by Manuel Vason, Anne Seagrave, Dariusz Fodczuk, Stuart Brisley, Alastair MacLennan, Wladyslaw Kazmierczak & Ewa Rybska, Suka OFF, Helen Spackmann, Joshua Sofaer, Sachiko Abe, Ronald Fraser Monroe and Franko B.

<i>INSTRUMENTS OF WAR</i> by Manuel Vason, Anne Seagrave, Dariusz Fodczuk, Stuart Brisley, Alastair MacLennan, Wladyslaw Kazmierczak & Ewa Rybska, Suka OFF, Helen Spackmann, Joshua Sofaer, Sachiko Abe, Ronald Fraser Monroe and Franko B.

<i>INSTRUMENTS OF WAR</i> by Manuel Vason, Anne Seagrave, Dariusz Fodczuk, Stuart Brisley, Alastair MacLennan, Wladyslaw Kazmierczak & Ewa Rybska, Suka OFF, Helen Spackmann, Joshua Sofaer, Sachiko Abe, Ronald Fraser Monroe and Franko B.

<i>INSTRUMENTS OF WAR</i> by Manuel Vason, Anne Seagrave, Dariusz Fodczuk, Stuart Brisley, Alastair MacLennan, Wladyslaw Kazmierczak & Ewa Rybska, Suka OFF, Helen Spackmann, Joshua Sofaer, Sachiko Abe, Ronald Fraser Monroe and Franko B.

<i>INSTRUMENTS OF WAR</i> by Manuel Vason, Anne Seagrave, Dariusz Fodczuk, Stuart Brisley, Alastair MacLennan, Wladyslaw Kazmierczak & Ewa Rybska, Suka OFF, Helen Spackmann, Joshua Sofaer, Sachiko Abe, Ronald Fraser Monroe and Franko B.

<i>INSTRUMENTS OF WAR</i> by Manuel Vason, Anne Seagrave, Dariusz Fodczuk, Stuart Brisley, Alastair MacLennan, Wladyslaw Kazmierczak & Ewa Rybska, Suka OFF, Helen Spackmann, Joshua Sofaer, Sachiko Abe, Ronald Fraser Monroe and Franko B.

<i>INSTRUMENTS OF WAR</i> by Manuel Vason, Anne Seagrave, Dariusz Fodczuk, Stuart Brisley, Alastair MacLennan, Wladyslaw Kazmierczak & Ewa Rybska, Suka OFF, Helen Spackmann, Joshua Sofaer, Sachiko Abe, Ronald Fraser Monroe and Franko B.

<i>INSTRUMENTS OF WAR</i> by Manuel Vason, Anne Seagrave, Dariusz Fodczuk, Stuart Brisley, Alastair MacLennan, Wladyslaw Kazmierczak & Ewa Rybska, Suka OFF, Helen Spackmann, Joshua Sofaer, Sachiko Abe, Ronald Fraser Monroe and Franko B.

<i>INSTRUMENTS OF WAR</i> by Manuel Vason, Anne Seagrave, Dariusz Fodczuk, Stuart Brisley, Alastair MacLennan, Wladyslaw Kazmierczak & Ewa Rybska, Suka OFF, Helen Spackmann, Joshua Sofaer, Sachiko Abe, Ronald Fraser Monroe and Franko B.

<i>INSTRUMENTS OF WAR</i> by Manuel Vason, Anne Seagrave, Dariusz Fodczuk, Stuart Brisley, Alastair MacLennan, Wladyslaw Kazmierczak & Ewa Rybska, Suka OFF, Helen Spackmann, Joshua Sofaer, Sachiko Abe, Ronald Fraser Monroe and Franko B.

<i>INSTRUMENTS OF WAR</i> by Manuel Vason, Anne Seagrave, Dariusz Fodczuk, Stuart Brisley, Alastair MacLennan, Wladyslaw Kazmierczak & Ewa Rybska, Suka OFF, Helen Spackmann, Joshua Sofaer, Sachiko Abe, Ronald Fraser Monroe and Franko B.

INSTRUMENTS OF WAR by Manuel Vason, Anne Seagrave, Dariusz Fodczuk, Stuart Brisley, Alastair MacLennan, Wladyslaw Kazmierczak & Ewa Rybska, Suka OFF, Helen Spackmann, Joshua Sofaer, Sachiko Abe, Ronald Fraser Monroe and Franko B.

Malgorzata Kazmierczak, 2013-06-15

Between March 22nd and April 19th in the gallery BWA Sokol, Nowy Sącz, Poland a photography exhibition by Manuel Vason was presented. It was titled RE-PERFORMANCE. Between performance and photography, and I had the pleasure to curate this exhibit. Since I am not in a position to write a critical text about an exhibition which I curated, I would like to merely document the show and the performances that took place during the opening. These were performances by Dariusz Fodczuk and Anne Seagrave – one of the artists featured in the exhibition.

During the exhibition photos of international cutting edge performance artists were shown: Stuart Brisley, Anne Seagrave, Alastair MacLennan, Władysław Kaźmierczak & Ewa Rybska, Suka OFF duo, Helen Spackmann, Joshua Sofaer, Sachiko Abe, Ronald Frazer Munroe and Franko B. In accordance with the spirit of the collaborative aspect of the photos, I treated the exhibition as a group show by Manuel Vason and the performance artists presented in the photos. An important element of the presentation were the displayed statements of these artists outlining their thoughts about the collaboration process with Manuel Vason.

The subject of the documentation of performance art has always been controversial. Firstly, performance artists, especially in the 1970s and 1980s treated documentation only as a mere trace of the live action, allowing them to preserve it better within their memory. Documentation could not aspire to be an independent work of art and was secondary to the live action. Performance artists who started their career in the 1970s and 1980s maintained a distrust towards documentation. This originated from an aversion towards institutions, the production of artworks instead of the conceptual art of “making meaning” and the commercialisation of ephemeral art that it would cause.

Perhaps that is why Alastair MacLennan wrote: “Any 'idea' of becoming an image is itself a 'construct' of mind... and can thus be likened to a twig, but not a root, of Actuality. [...]” And further he underlined: “The art image in the waste-dump that Manuel and I 'co-made', together (with the art IN and AS photographic form) was not photo documentation of a performance.”  The anxiety of performance artists when collaborating with Manuel was described by Władysław Kaźmierczak: “Performance artists are cautious to test Vason’s fascination with performance art and are wary about their participation in something that they don’t know; in a studio process of looking at oneself through changeable concepts of the photographer, his changeable visions regarding the artists and the performance without audience.”

Since museums have started to exhibit and collect performance art, concerns arise with regard to the problem of archiving this kind of art. One of the most discussed strategies has become re-enactment. The method is about re-creating a performance piece in a different space and time whilst keeping the most authentic aspects of the original. Re-enactment is not so much an artistic activity, but rather a “technique” used to preserve an ephemeral artwork – a performance. Almost from the first happenings and performances, there evolved another popular method of archiving and preserving performance art: the phenomenon of creating a performance-for-camera and new artworks emerged in the form of video and photography (for example the work of Rudolf Schwarzkogler or Valie Export).

As an effect of the collaboration with performance artists, Manuel Vason’s photographs connect the above mentioned strategies with regard to the archiving of performance art in an interesting way. They are single, synthetic images that reflect both the visual side of the action and its idea. Even though Vason does not aim at re-enactment, repeating or staging an image from an already completed performance, he looks for a certain sign, some particular synthetic vision which in his opinion will be close to the performer’s art practice. Then together with the artist he tries to stage an image. In some cases the specifics of the action is emphasised by the space in which the photo was taken. In another – the space remains neutral and the performer is described by just one gesture, a “pose” giving the impression of a dynamic action. The photos tell a story, stimulate the viewer’s imagination and cause the performance to re-happen in his/her mind and therefore they are a kind of “re-performance”. Hence the title of the show.

Manuel wrote in his statement: “The focus of each collaboration was to construct an image that would embed the messages, the spirit and emotions delivered by the live performance. These images do not intend to represent the ‘live’ work of each performance artist but they exist as parallel artworks expressed through a different medium. During each collaboration I consider my role as a facilitator rather than a photographer; while the camera sat on a tripod I was arranging props, lighting, costumes, make up, location, always in constant dialogue with my collaborators.”

Władysław Kaźmierczak commented on the way Manuel Vason collaborates with artists: “Manuel Vason is an excellently educated studio photographer, who should not show up in the context of live art. But he did, because artists and their art are fascinating for him. He himself is an exceptionally sensitive person, searching for an idea, fascinated by the mission of creating and testing conventional myths. Vason is unable to look at live performance through a lens. His presence, participation in a live performance is total, authentic, absorbing the slightest gesture and sign without using any equipment. [...]

The session itself is a shock for performance artists. Vason works as if he was in a trance, he is absent, concentrated, searching for a visual sign based on his knowledge, conversations with artists, looking at their performances and the documentation of their work. He accepts the unpredictable nature of the photographic session. He doesn’t take hundreds of photos, he takes a few of them and they have to be perfect. Seeing both the aesthetic and layers of content within the commonly created image is always a great surprise.”

Roney Fraser Munroe commented on the issue of documentation versus creating an independent work of art: “As a serial documenter of life Fraser-Munroe believes individual artists and creators should self-document primarily as a means of controlling their ideas, work and back catalogue. However, as a cutter and paster of some seniority he also refuses to make a rigid distinction between documentation and creative production material. For example documentation of a characters performance often leads to development and changes in the characters subsequent presentation.”

It was very enlightening to read about the artists’ inspirations. In the case of Alastair MacLennan it came from philosophy. Alastair wrote: “[…] I took Manuel to a 'reclaimed land' dump, near Belfast. Part of my interest was in the memory of a statement, by Jung, saying we can learn more of a culture by what it throws away, than by what it retains, as 'self' image. 

We drove for miles through this wasteland, among many flocks of cawing seagulls, scavenging for food. We stopped, climbed out... and waded through hundreds of metres of mud and mire. I then sat down, holding bits (of remains) I'd brought... and was given several re-directions by Manuel, who next photographed us (all).” 

In some cases, an important prop or costume was used, like in the case of Joshua Sofaer, who used his bare-buttocked suit. For the exhibition we only used the one on which Joshua is seen from the front, the ‘reveal’ photograph was displayed in the book Exposures. Joshua wrote: “This suit, with a red rimmed hole cut out from the butt, was originally made for a performance lecture celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London in 1998. The idea was that every time I turned around during the lecture, the audience would get a view of my exposed backside and it would therefore call into question the ‘authority’ of the text I was delivering. I used the suit in a number of other performances, including ‘Embarrassment: A bare-buttocked lecture’ in which I tried to become embarrassed directly in front of the audience, and a video lecture ‘What is Live Art?’.

For the collaboration with Manuel, I wanted to be in a very public space and just see how people reacted to me in a smart suit but with my butt revealed. Manuel has beautifully captured the ‘double take’ humour with which people engaged with my simultaneously smart and ridiculous attire. What I like about this photograph is that unless you see the ‘reveal’ photograph when I am turned around, you can’t be quite sure what people are looking at.”

In the case of Roney Fraser-Munroe, also an important prop was used. The artist wrote: “Manuel Vason’s photo of Horse Girl is a time-lapse (multiple exposure) performance photograph of a slim brown horse woman attempting balletic arm movements. The photograph is a live art image in that it captures and re-presents an unrehearsed, live performance of the character in animated existence.

The Horse Girl character (cloned from the popular Horse Boy) was a one-off creation and performed for the camera only once during the Manuel Vason shoot. This rare collaboration with a photographer captures Fraser-Munroe’s continued interest in mask, characters and creatures as extensions and physical representations of modern humanity and its psyche. The Vason photographs also capture, not as documentation, but as living spirits, two of Fraser-Munroe’s eclectic alter egos in animated flow.”

Helen Spackmann wrote about using a space and found objects (excerpt taken from the publication Encounters ed. Dominic Johnson, Arnolfini, Manchester 2007, 196-197): “[...] Space was a key aspect from the outset. [...] Another key aspect was the constantly changing natural light, initiating a process of becoming and contingency. We decided to introduce primordial elements such as earth, branches and ivy; earth, because of its association with motherhood; branches, in homage to the mighty tree framed against the sky by my bedroom window; ivy because it is evergreen; all of which are symbols of growth. The subsequent imagery was generated by physical improvisation with this ‘found’, raw material – the various objects and elements, including my body, light, shadows, branches, earth, ivy, wizened sunflowers from Crete, walls, wallpaper, fireplace, blue dress and Chica the dog – each of which then we played with as aspects of the spaces we decided to include or exclude from the photographic scene. The stills taken by Manuel were posed, a selective staging that derived jointly from his initially silent observation of my physical explorations of space and posture, punctuated by his direction to hold a specific image that had momentarily occurred to or caught his eye, images then captured in turn by a one-minute exposure through the lens of his camera. [...]”

For Anne Seagrave, it was the anti-commercial aspect, which mattered. She wrote: “Working with Manuel was a very low-budget process. I had brought with me some small objects used in my performances (e.g. a metal bucket or bathroom taps). However, mostly we used whatever we found in the studio as props and staging for the photos.

I am very proud of the fact that anyone in any part of the planet can see our works of art on the internet for free. In a world far too accepting of inequality, our photos offer an equal opportunity for all to be intrigued and inspired by our unique and non-commercial creative collaboration.”

Manuel’s suggestion as to how to display the photos in a large format was to have them produced in small fragments, which we pinned, leaving margins, to boards painted black. He explained his idea in his statement: “Most of the time the outcome of my collaborations is a publication or an exhibition and I’m always confronted with the two-dimensional nature of the gallery wall and the pages of a publication. I consider any exhibition an event per se and as an opportunity for a unique experiment with the ways that the viewer can encounter these images. In this exhibition I found the solution to this problem by fragmenting the image. The fragmentation allows me to increase the size of each image, whilst maintaining the quality of each detail. I think of my work as a process of translation. I translate a live action into an image, then, through this fragmentation, I translate each image into a grid of small three-dimensional objects. While a large photograph can be replicated an infinite amount of times, each small fragment of these images has been individually hand brushed with protective varnish. Each fragment of the image represents a fragment of time captured by the camera. Fragmentation can be used as a methodology of creating, of enlarging, of composing an image, bringing individual parts together to create a whole.

The performances in these images are sharply composed, but yet open, and encourage the viewer to give their individual reading, build a personal narrative, imagine the before and the after. In addition, the fragmentation in this exhibition gives the viewers a different perspective and urges them to make new decisions in front of the image. It urges them to literally take a few steps back, to be able to view the ‘live’ image as a whole and then come a few steps closer to give focused attention to the details and imperfections contained in each fragment of the image. “

Pablo Picasso once wrote: “Painting is not done to decorate apartments. It is an instrument of war.” Anne Seagrave’s credo is: “The aim of the artist is not to decorate the homes of the wealthy. The aim of the artist is to question the comforts of ownership and to search for a creative alternative for society as a whole through gesture, action and interaction inspired by imagination.” Manuel Vason’s exhibition dealt with the concept of media transition from one art form to another. This topic was also undertaken by Anne Seagrave. In her work very often uses visual material as a starting point – like a sculpture or a painting which she then uses as inspiration for her performance. During the opening she made a performance entitled Girl in crumpled stockings the inspiration for which was a painting by Bolesław Cybis entitled Primavera (1936) in which a young woman is featured wearing “crumpled stockings” or socks. During her performance, which by the way happened on the second day of the spring calendar, Anne re-created the atmosphere of the painting, the anxiety and uncertainty that it causes and added a narration to it using dance-like body movements and props such as the title crumpled stockings, a rumpled carpet, a mirror, a nest, flowers, a frame, cardboard passepartouts, x-rays and tin cans. All done with great sensitivity and aesthetically close to the painting. There was also one element – an egg – which was also used in the photo taken by Manuel, featured in the exhibition.

Dariusz Fodczuk, who years ago set up the Tiny Therapeutic Theatre, believes in collective work and does his best to make the public unafraid of art. It is an important mission, especially in conservative small towns like Nowy Sącz. The artist’s effervescent energy is contagious – a usually stiff and anxious cultured audience always gets involved into a game, in which Fodczuk acts like a dance leader. But his extraordinary intelligence allows him to smuggle in important messages of what he thinks about art in a humorous form. Dariusz Fodczuk belongs to the generation of artists who were taught traditional craftsmanship, but he tells the audience something opposite to what he and they were taught at school – art is about nothing. Fodczuk in fact makes fun of the symbolism in performance art by using an abused gesture of washing the floor of an art institution with his own T-shirt and announcing: “now I am making a performance!” So like concrete art – it is not the critical, lyrical or symbolic content of the art which matters, but the rhythm and structure of the artwork. To prove it, in his TTT, Perfo, Perfo the artist divided the audience into two groups (based on the way they were dressed). The two groups then clapped their hands in two different rhythms while volunteers were rhythmically drawing lines on two walls. Then on the menu came collective balloon blowing and puncturing, a wave in which people hold each other’s elbows and made a “wave”, the challenging “human caterpillar” and now-famous “human pyramid”. The dynamic action did not leave much time for reflection as the action was happening, but I would like to believe that even though the audience in Nowy Sącz had never participated in anything like that before, after Dariusz’s performance they truly are less afraid of art.

Special thanks to Manuel Vason, Anne Seagrave, Dariusz Fodczuk as well as Wladyslaw Kazmierczak, Roney Fraser-Munroe, Alastair MacLennan and Joshua Sofaer for taking active part in the show.

Photos of the exhibition: Grzegorz Mart, Studio FILMLOVE
Photos of performances: Dominika Jarmolinska


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