‘To Me You Are a Work of Art’ (2012)
(((echo))) Dundee Contemporary Arts, Dundee
A collaboration with Emilia Giudicelli
To me you are a work of art, is our attempt at telling the story of when the futility of undertaking manual labour collides with the incomprehensible sublime of an infinite universe in the artist’s head- and how to ‘deal’ with both realities, knowing as we do of both. Can the production of art be the means of which to escape the mundane (labour) and the incomprehensible( the enormity of the cosmos)? Or is it just another case of menial labour, going unnoticed in the historical vast, vastness? If the ‘labour’ of creating art can now be commodified like anything else in an industrial society ( The DCA’s funders refer to this area of economic activity as the ‘cultural sector‘) what then for art as an escape route from the physical exertions of labour? This performance work tells this story.
‘To me you are a work of art‘ was originally envisaged and ‘commissioned’ as a site specific response to Scott Myles’ exhibition ‘This Production‘ which ran from the 7th April to the 10th June at Dundee Contemporary Arts,Dundee. It sprawled and developed in due course in a three-part performance that took in the entirety of the exhibition space, performers and audience competing for room. The work more or less used the con-current exhibition as a ‘starting point’ and went on to develop, compliment and critique the works in the show.
‘Stabilia‘ is a suite of photographs Scott Myles incorporated into the exhibition which were appropriated from forensic documentation of the injuries sustained by one builder, after taking a beating from a spirit level, from another.
This was to be our jumping off point: Emilia would be ‘abused’ by her tools of trade- the ballet dancer’s point shoes.
James ‘abused’ the dancer further by shouting out injuries in Latin that are common for ballet dancers to sustain in their line of work, pushed to the limits by choreographers; Emilia responded physically to the ‘commands’ by sudden movements. James was also ‘abusing’ the audience also by speaking in Latin – medical jargon as a critique of art talk, which is too often ‘coded’ and difficult to pick up for the casual outsider. With all these levels of abuse hidden in the process of creative production, why would anyone want to pursue a career in the ‘industries’ that have to a certain point replaced the ‘traditional’ manual pursuits of a post-industrial city like Dundee?
From this point, we journey through speculations of mortality( Emilia wrestling with a survival blanket on the floor) and human futility ( by James falling to make the audience laugh)These concerns were made clear a speach by James’ character attempting to grapple the sheer vastness of the physical universe, with our inherent impossibility to conceptualise something so massive. What is the human race- what is our art- in such cosmic infinity? Could the art object live on after our deaths for its creator? James’ character – the ‘professor’ – seemed to think so. For the scientist, artist rearrange molecules in weird collections that we call ‘art objects’ that seem to break the second law of thermodynamics by giving more energy to the viewer than they have in them, themselves.
The performance culminated in the ‘regression’ of the art object( Emilia) back into the subject ( performer) The last part broke entirely from the exhibition. It wasn’t a response but more a full-stop for our own work. Beside Scott Myles’ cast, a concrete Dundonian bay window, Emilia performs topless- as if in her own private world, in her own home. We- the viewers are asked to peer through into the private world of the art performer. In that act of voyuerism, we turn the subject back into an object; there is no escaping this problematic dialectic that the performer is both an object and a subject. For every possible road to liberation, lies another that leads to a dead end, trapping us, before emerging as a subject again at the curtain call.
James Lee & Emilia Giudicelli