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William Hunt, ‘I Know I Wanted’, 2008, performance

Saturday 11 October, 5pm. William Hunt must have wondered at some point why he agreed to perform at Witte de With, solo show or no. One floor up, a busload of art critics and art magazine editors are soul searching, pondering Frieze editor Jan Verwoert’s earlier comments on ‘crisis’ being inherent to art criticism and why so little of them actually want to be called critics in the first place. They’ve… (I should say we, but that would spoil the point of view of this review, and besides, using the first person would question my authority as a critic, which ‘we’ wouldn’t want, now would ‘we’?) Anyway, they’ve been at it for three days, but still manage to be 15 minutes late. It’s hard to imagine a tougher crowd to perform for.

Not that the public is something Hunt interacts with directly. He enters the room without making contact with anyone, pulls the cover off this afternoon’s contraption of choice (a sort of raised bed with a guitar attached to the underside, facing a strippeddown solarium) puts on his solarium goggles and wriggles into position above the guitar. With a buzz, the solarium springs to life, bathing the surroundings in purple light, while Hunt, lying between a Plexiglas plate and a vivid green silkscreen, starts playing the guitar in his curiously Egyptian as well as Elvis Presley-ish position. Thanks to two mirrors, one on the floor and another above Hunt’s contraption, the assembled critics (darkly clothed, arms crossed, flat-eyed) are able to see what’s going on, whilst wondering what it is all about.

The auditory and visual spectacle that unfolds quickly turns the mood. Happy purple and green light emanates from the installation while Hunt’s song vibrates through the room, somewhat softening the looks of the pondering audience. Slowly, the connection between the solarium and the silkscreen becomes apparent for those with more than just academic knowledge about art: Hunt is recording his performance with UV-light, the key ingredient in transferring an image onto silkscreen. Those slow to pick this up, are presented the answer when the solarium turns off and Hunt stops singing (not incidentally timing his song with the length of the tanning session), crawls out of his self-imposed predicament and heads for the pressure washer in the other room, where he proceeds to clean the silkscreen, thus revealing the image of his performance.

After blasting away on the screen for some minutes, Hunt leaves the room with an air of ‘going to get something’, leaving the assembly waiting expectantly. Feet shuffle, coughs resound. One decides to follow into the other room (no, I know what you’re thinking, but it wasn’t me), but the flock remains standing, bemused, wondering if they missed something, afraid to admit to being ‘had’. Elvis, meanwhile, has already left the building, probably grinning to himself about getting one over on that bunch of self-involved connoisseurs that made up his audience.

PS, I would like to thank William Hunt for providing us with some of the sunlight we so thoroughly needed after being locked up inside for so long. The final session of the conference turned out to be much more upbeat because of it.

Erik van Tuijn is web-editor of Metropolis M