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Agnes Nedregard, 'Imploding', performance, Stills Gallery

Through the windows of Stills gallery on a sunny late Sunday afternoon creeping towards tea-time, a very quiet riot is going on. Previously placid spectators have moved in from the sidelines and are slowly but thoroughly dismantling an array of ladders, ropes and makeshift curtains. A riding cap hangs from the wall pinned on with staples that are now being wrenched out with keys. Moulds of masks are taken down and tucked into the corner of the room. Passers-by peer in, curious at the commotion, but not quite sure what’s going down. Some even join in, crossing the threshold off the street and into what will soon morph into something resembling an art opening, only one without anything on the walls.

While the new broom transformation is casual and unhurried, within a couple of minutes the front gallery is an empty space once more, so you’d never know anything about what went before. The last things to be taken down are a pair of framed texts by Catherine Street, which, with a more recognisably formal context in the space than the remaining detritus, perhaps look as though they shouldn’t be touched. A metronome similarly remains in motion, pulsing the remains of the event along until it’s finally switched off.

Over the previous two days, Norwegian artist Agnes Nedregard, a former Stills artist in residence, has given the gallery the durational make-over turned installation, Imploding, occasionally stopping to talk to the audience as she questions their relationship with the work and, through that, the very nature of performance itself. Towards the end of Saturday, Nedregard walks through a mesh of masking tape she’s just painstakingly set up in the corner, and kneels down before a bowl of milk, with which she whitens her face. This is one more layer, on top of which goes one of the mask moulds, which she drops from the top of the ladder so it smashes.

'Dark is the Night', 2009, production stills
Maurizio Cattalan, 'Daddy Daddy', 2008, steel, resin, painted and varnished finish, installation view, Guggenheim, New York, 2008

This is the most violent move of the entire weekend, as Negregard attempts to get beneath the folds of the everyday performances we all embark on. In this way, she skirts the relationship between private pursuit and public display. There’s something here too about the passive spectator’s surreptitious desire to become participant, to break through the frame and become part of the action. For Nedregard, a graduate of Glasgow School of Art’s MFA course, this is part of a two-way dialogue she’s initiating in small, increasingly informal ways. There are elements here influenced by Pina Bausch and Samuel Beckett, but with an informal roughness that helps bridge the gap between her and those outside her sphere.

The other two spaces show some of Nedregard’s video pieces alongside an ever-rolling programme of real time documentation of the weekend, with images frequently updated as the space changes over the course of the weekend. The latter becomes a fascinating process in itself, as the room it displays in the event’s latter stages bears little relationship to that at the beginning. Once Nedregard directs the audience to take the place apart and put it back together again, though, it feels like liberation.

Neil Cooper is a critic