The relationship between art and performance is an odd one. Performers from a theatre background emphasise projection, craft and nuance to make their delivery effective to the point of appearing mannered.
In contrast, when artists ‘perform,’ they underplay things to extremes of Method madness, all self-conscious fidgets, scratches and mumbling into beards. Both are routines, each one a well-practised schtick with its own set of protocols and nervous tics acquired from their individual historical circumstances.
Given the delivery of her line of inquiry here, such apposite tensions may be something London-based Canadian Melanie Gilligan might wish to address in the future. Because by opting to have actors perform her new work, it lends proceedings an attention-demanding theatrical formality starkly at odds with the hub of drinks-table networking everywhere else at Gi.
Through a 3D maze of science-blinding Renaissance and 18th century images, a woman sits at her laptop in a stage-set office. In the corner on the other side of the room, a man stands before a canvas, his ‘model’ posed before him. As the woman talks, it becomes clear that she’s an art critic, who, with the desperation/inspiration deadline brings with it, relates some proto-pulp Sci-Fi dream of a world where artworks clone themselves to become more authentic than their original representation. The man’s monologue that follows is addressed to the ‘model’, a life-size cut-out covered in Linderesque collage of domestic pornography. With centuries of detritus between them, the chances of a connection are slim.
Gilligan’s concerns with the aesthetics of criticism tally with her previous work in ‘The Miner’s Object’, 2006 and ‘Prairial, Year 215’, 2007. As a contributor to publications such as Mute and ArtForum herself, Gilligan is no doubt fully versed in what her critic here calls ‘a vast field of commodities’, as well as the tyranny of the blank page/screen/canvas.
From study to studio, out of such self-reflexiveness comes what looks like an art theory take on Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads series of monologues, with big questions about art/life, subject/object, medium/message and funding/form replacing the biscuits under the sofa.
Indeed, actress Jill Riddiford, who plays the critic, has appeared in a production of Bennett’s pieces. While no-one applauds, laid out as it is, there may be no clear line of vision to Prison For Objects, but it forces you to look, listen or leave regardless.
Neil Cooper is a writer arts writer