Or, They’re Teaching You. Can’t You Tell?
Yes, it’s once again time to wade through the aesthetic slaughterhouse that is performance art. This time, I’m treating you to edited highlights of a ninety-minute “durational performance” by Katy Albert and Sophia Hamilton, aka Mothergirl. This Chicago duo tells us that their work “exhibits a strategically refracted or misrepresented view of current political and philosophical discourse, creating a space where viewers are challenged to think critically about their own relationships with feminism, consumerism, and representational visuality.” But of course. Given their talent, or at least their self-regard, how could it not?
In the video below, filmed in 2013 near an onramp in the city of Chicago and titled Don’t Sleep, There’s a War Going On, we see the ladies beating themselves around the head and face with large feather pillows. Thereby enlightening passers-by, obviously. The duo describes the piece as “a physical act of frustration - an ambiguous response to the implicit guilt of inaction and the weight of overwhelming knowledge.” If the point of the performance somehow escapes you, due to your philistine tendencies, the ladies provide clues to its deep meaning, and by extension their own brilliance: “The lack of clarity serves two purposes: to show the expansiveness of war and to allow [the] audience to access the image first and the meaning second.”
Now cower in the shadow of their artistic enormity:
As you can see, hundreds of passers-by are captivated, spellbound, entranced by this “strategic refraction.” Yes, the people in those passing cars aren’t just trying to get somewhere, possibly away, they’re gripped by the concepts of “implicit guilt,” “overwhelming knowledge,” and “the expansiveness of war.” While no doubt thinking critically about their “relationship with feminism, consumerism and representational visuality.” The ladies are just that good.
In the comments, Mike asks, “Do they actually think the bollocks they say relates to anything they’re doing?” A not unreasonable question. And though I’m not privy to the full scope of the ladies’ mental contortions, it is often the case that the flimsier and more vacuous a piece of supposed art is, the more comically pretentious its written justification has to be. It is evidently possible, not least in the world of art, and especially performance art, to hide an awful lot of crap behind rhetorical chest-puffing. And if no-one is going to call you out on this – if none of your friends and peers have that kind of integrity - then I suppose the mismatch doesn’t matter. To them, at least.
Elsewhere in the comments, Sam pores over the joint CV of our terribly daring and intellectual artists, the ones who are trying to educate us, and which includes gems such as this:
2010 M.Phil Theatre and Performance, Trinity College Dublin. Thesis: The Subversive Potential of Humour in Selected Clown Theatre Pieces by Female Artists.
Ah, catnip for employers. And so one has to wonder what our creative betters’ long-term plan is. How, exactly, were they hoping to entice employers and repay the cost of their extensive education? Is incongruous pillow flailing – sorry, “strategic refraction” - a skill in demand? Is it something the public cries out for and will rush to throw money at? What do the ladies plan to do when they’re, say, forty, or fifty? Given the improbability of such people being self-supporting in later life - at least in their chosen line, the one for which they’ve studied - do they have wealthy parents who will indulge them indefinitely? Or do they expect their talents, such as they are, to be rewarded with other people’s earnings, confiscated forcibly by the state and redistributed as artistic subsidy? And is self-inflicted dependency a thing to encourage and applaud?
I ask because the ladies say they want us to “think critically.”