“We’re all so mauled by information, but it’s recycled information. We need to shut it out. So, you’ve got to get bizarre. This is an artist’s purpose – to break away from the recycled. Performance art can do that.” (Jack Bowman) Breaking away from the recycled was exactly the theme of Ruskin Shorts 2015. Ruskin Shorts is an annual event which has been running for several years, and this was the first year the competition was based on performance art. The acts were strikingly innovative, even disturbing. We began with a show of extraordinary clothing designed to fit multiple people, by Mirren Kessling, and Mark Mindel, making a potion under a sheet with a haystack printed on it. The audience then proceeded downstairs to witness Simon Raven perform a strange busking act, using the sounds of a silver egg pregnancy charm, a slide whistle, a camera flash, and a novelty barrel orgab to echo the chimes of the ‘dreaming spires’ of Oxford. This was followed by a hilarious diaristic reading by George McGoldrick, a skype call by Angeli Bhose in avatar form, a clinical description of a series of unconscious bodies discovered after the allegations of chemical weapon use in Syria, and finally the serenading of an ‘iProp’ by Hannah Catherine Jones. Each brought into question a particular cultural norm through a brilliant mixture of soothing entertainment and unnerving absurdity, but especially probing was the work of Angeli Bhose. I spoke to her about her performance:
What was your performance and how did the idea come about?
For my performance, I took on the role of a character, Mystical Phistical. She is a yoga teacher, Watercolour Palm Tree Artist and the Ruskin School of Art’s first Visiting Digital Student (VDS). She is an avatar or character who I have been “working with”. Her yoga company has recently been bought up by oil giant Haliburton, and she’s also beginning to exhibit and sell her paintings on the side. Performing as her, I skyped our friend and fellow artist Elaine Ang to catch up, and discuss how ideas around commercialisation, collaboration with “unethical” companies, copyright, and artists’ labour are affecting us. The idea was that the audience would be almost awkwardlyspying on a loaded conversation, but also drawn close by a discussion of problems which affect all who live, work and distribute content in this contemporary context.
Why did you choose to engage with social media specifically?
Social media has become a central part of how we communicate and relate to each other. To me, it’s really important to find in artworks themes, materials and mediums that we deal with every day and to discuss how they might be affecting us. Social media has created new platforms for expression, but also as a storage space for personal information which can be used to target advertising and make us more likely to buy things which fit with our personal brand. Skype is a rare application where the information we input cannot be used in this way yet, so I felt it could be used to create a more open space for this discussion of issues in art and production. Elaine and I also Skype regularly anyway, and end up talking about many things which were discussed in the performance, so it felt honest and appropriate to use the same platform as we do other times we are “in dialogue”.
How does performance art compare with other forms of art?
As a medium, it has a directness of expression that feels unique. During a performance, a tension often descends on the room, and creates an atmosphere of concentration. This allows the artist to hold the attention of an audience member in a way that may not be possible if they were wondering through a gallery space, glancing at works, or walking past public outdoors work, for example. To me, it feels like a special platform where a relationship can be forged between the artist and the viewer through reciprocal concentration, presence and engagement, permitting a more open conversation.
What’s your opinion on the work of the other performance artists at Ruskin Shorts 2015?
I felt that overall it was a fantastic event. The range of performances was interesting to see, and the whole thing felt energetic and exciting. Foxymoron’s aria created by translating the code of a documentation photograph into Italian and singing it was dense, comic and transformative. Mark Mindel’s performance as some sort of creature making a potion out of beer and temporary tattoos whilst hidden by a printed blanket was enveloping, tense and careful. We were very lucky to have a full house and I really hope people keep coming to the Ruskin Shorts to see what’s going on in and around the Ruskin.