Performance Art began with the Dadaist, continued with Fluxus and never looked back. The New Zealand chapter in this tradition is a little thin on the ground but some famous examples stand out, like Mark Harvey and Jim Allen.
Hamilton artist, Daphne Simons has added to this tradition recently with a marathon type performance called, Programme, which played itself out over several hours at the Casbah extension gallery, in Ward Street, Hamilton.
The title of the work refers to the world of television, and Simons’ performance saw one medium take on another where things were brought to a climatic end at the end in good theatrical fashion.
Five old television monitors were suspended by ropes from high wooden purpose-built trolleys which from mid-afternoon each began playing five different old movies. The date of each movie corresponded to the date the TV set had been manufactured, soLord of the Rings was playing on a Sanyo, 2002 model, Harry Potter played on a Transonic from the year 2005 and so on.
When the movies finished playing, a trailer with a large empty box was backed up into the gallery. The plastic lined box was slowly filled with water, whereupon the trolleys were wheeled across to the trailer so that the monitors became suspended above the box. In turn the ropes were cut and each television set plunged into the water like a sudden drowning or a baptism gone horribly wrong.
On completion, the trailer was towed away as darkness fell and subsequently the old sets, having reached their used-by date, were the following day taken to the recycling depot. A ritualistic and ceremonious way to dispose of old faithful’s.
In total the performance lasted around four hours. Various readings, on reflection, suggest themselves.
Life and death it seems was ritually and symbolically dramatized in this scripted noir enactment. The whole performance had the appearance of someone conducting a rite of passage in a very Twenty-First Century technological manner. No foreskins were excised in the process nor deflowering portrayed but certainly one could see the whole performance as depicting, in ceremonial fashion, a coming of age, a move perhaps from innocence to experience, a putting away of childish things given that the movie genre chosen in all cases represented an adolescent phase of one’s life. Thanks for the memories, but the time has come to put away the popcorn stage of life and have done with comic book heroes.
Alternatively there might be a critique of the Twenty-First century, one that is full of rapid change where things get tossed and discarded even though there’s life is still left in the machine. Waste and dumping and the values associated with increased obsolesce is raised in a world of constant and obsessive upgrade.
A further perspective: high art confronts the low art of the entertainment world – Jaws, 1975 and The Dark Knight, 2008 challenge and take on another aesthetic realm in sort of strange interface resulting in some sort of showdown.
Or more sinister, it might include a sort of dark revenge where television sets are all menacingly drowned like a sack of kittens.