Difficult territory is a cornerstone of the visual arts - so artist Mikala Dwyer knew it would be confronting last night when she invited Balletlab dancers to empty their bowels as part of a performance at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art.
There we go.
The two-hour act saw the six dancers, masked but naked beneath sheer garments, move around a room in the gallery before sitting on transparent stools and performing - only if they were moved to do so - what is usually one of our most private and rarely discussed daily acts.
Now take a deep breath and steady yourself because it’s all very daring, what with all the transparency and nakedness and bodily functions. We’ve never seen anything like that before. Never. Not ever. And you can tell how daring Ms Dwyer’s art is because the venue director says so:
ACCA director Juliana Engberg said the centre exists to support each exhibiting artist’s vision. “Of course, contemporary art is sometimes very challenging, but ACCA’s role is to work with challenging ideas,” she said.
Yes, it’s challenging, very challenging. After all, it must be challenging - otherwise it would just be, erm, fatuous and juvenile. And that can’t be the case. Heavens, no. Being, as she is, so enlightened and so much better than the herd, Ms Dwyer’s excremental transgression will no doubt rattle the bourgeois rube and blow his tiny mind. Though in an age when just about anyone, even a bourgeois rube, can watch Two Girls One Cup on their smartphone while at work, eating lunch, inducing those fits of pearl-clutching ain’t as easy as it was. What’s a challenging artist to do? Well, she must tunnel even deeper into the aesthetic fundament:
“When Mikala brought this idea of a performance and film dealing with material transformation and ritual to us, we evaluated it as a key and bold move in her practice, one that links to a long artistic legacy looking at alchemical transformation and magical performance. The work, while challenging taboos, never becomes sensational or gratuitous. It’s wonderful, powerful work.”
Of course it’s not just about being bold and challenging, or those “alchemical transformations.” It’s about politics too:
Dwyer said the one-off performance was not designed as a mere shock tactic. Rather, she hoped ACCA visitors would think and talk about something we have been socialised to consider dirty and shameful, and have historically hidden from view, even though it is perfectly natural. In turn, they might transform other institutionalised ideas about the world.
Yes, transforming the world. By watching people shit.
Ms Dwyer’s mighty work can be savoured in full at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne, until July 28.