Why not walk backward?

There is a longstanding historical relationship between visual art and performance, from Dada through to the happenings of the ‘60s and ‘70s, and the space between the two mediums is continually being redefined. ‘Why not walk backward?’, a new exhibition curated by Brooke Babington and Liang Luscombe, occupies this territory; live gestures are reinterpreted for the gallery spaces at Gertrude contemporary in Melbourne, and the original act of performance shifts to re-peformance, re-enactment and documentation.

‘Why not walk backward?’is a keynote exhibition as part of the Next Wave festival,and brings together the work of five international and Australian artists working at “the intersection of performance”[1]. Five different considerations of the act of re-enactment in relation to time, authenticity and appropriation - the works in Why not walk backward? are deliberately repetitive. Repetition too, is one of the central themes. Each artist repeats their own work or the works of others, from Dickens to Ana Mediata, through film, photography, sculpture, and installation. In all this repetition, the artists’ different methods are heightened, which is the success of the exhibition and also where it slightly disappoints.

The first room at Gertrude gallery is striking: a shock of blue curtain from ceiling to floor, veiling nothing, contrasts with the rich deep reds of a young woman’s meticulous outfit. The same ensemble is strewn across a table. The former is Nina Beier’s ambiguous and painterlyinstallation Trauerspiel; the latter, thecaptivating Artist Actor, Artist Auteur byFiona Abicare.

Artist Actor, Artist Auteur draws reference from two filmic representations of female artists at a precise point in time [2]. From these carefully placed parametersAbicare draws out a constellation of personal and schematicreferences, manifest across performance, sculpture and costume.

The young woman (Georgie) introduces herself as part of the artwork. Her elaborate, almost Futurist costume is an amalgamation of outfits worn by the film’s protagonists. They have been created with local fashion designer Darsha Maurice. The outfit is for sale and Georgie offers to take measurements; I can stage my own re-performance of a re-performance.

In Trauerspiel the role of the artist is again outsourced, this time to an actor who re/creates a sculpture from verbal instructions given by the artist. The result is a clumsy bird, textured with the heavy imprint of the actor-cum-sculptor. It will be destroyed at the end of the exhibition, only to be presumably remade by another actor in another reiteration.

The restrained formalist considerations of Abicare and Beierdissolve in the following room into more traditional methods of documenting performance such as photography and video. A display ofprinted out emails, attachments, and Photoshopped images trace an irreverent dialogue between the collectiveCatherine or Kateand their mentors, whilst a video shows them re-performing their mentor’s interviews and artworks. It's a less considered approach to the act of appropriation and repetition, and the email exchange with their mentors reads empty of meaning.

Whilst Abicare and Beier’s works are strengthened through their dialogue with each other, the works by Catherine or Kate, Marvin Gaye Chetwynd and Tania Bruguera in the second room lose their impact, either needing more space or more diverse interpretations on the themes.Why not walk backward?asks us to glance at the past, whilst firmly facing forwards. Gestures and actions are presented as images, and performance is engaged with as a historical medium.

Amelia Wallin, 2014

[1] http://www.gertrude.org.au/exhibitions/gallery-11/past-14/why-not-walk-backward.phps
[2]Chantal Akerman’s Les Rendez-vous D’Anna (1978) and John Cassavetes’ Opening Night (1978)