This Is Performance Art

Peacock Visual Arts, Aberdeen

Mary Brennan


Saturday afternoon, sunshine and a cloudless sky. Folk are walking their dogs along the shoreline at Aberdeen’s beach when two figures quietly appear among them. He (Wladyslaw Kamierczak) and she (Ewa Rbyska) are in matching white shirts, black tuxedos, bow ties – sharply formal in this relaxed environment. They walk, at a steady pace, gaze fixed ahead, trundling suitcases.

They stop, and they stare out to sea for a long, long time... Most people hurry past, some pause – whip out cameras for a quick snap – but no- one ever approaches them and yet their unlikely presence clearly disrupts the familiar scene, raises questions, perhaps teases thoughts and imaginings in passers-by. Why are the pair here? They’re here because This is Performance Art (TIPA), a weekend of radical provocations hosted by Peacock Visual Arts, curated and produced by Nikki Milican.

So much rich food for thought came together in Peacock’s spaces as well as on the streets of Aberdeen and in the workshops that brought students from Gray’s School of Art into the fold of performance.

Four of them, all-female, became a public installation alongside Sinead O’Donnell, whose own live actions delve into the bone marrow of being: statements and questions about the politics of identity and how it is defined (and often restricted) by gender and body. O’Donnell doesn’t harangue. Instead she conjures up images that resonate with thoughtful tensions – soft semi-nakedness slipping out from a totally hooded upper torso quizzing our perception of her, her status, as she unseeingly negotiates her way round the Peacock Gallery. Her (fully-clothed) participants claimed the space of a busy thoroughfare as dusk descended: their focussed stillness a silent chorus of ‘here we stand’ – unthreatening, but somehow eloquently challenging a rush hour crowd to see and accommodate their presence.

On the opening night (of three), Nigel Rolfe created the kind of profound performance/installation where carefully considered, punctiliously executed actions belie their apparent simplicity by melding into a collage of grief against everyday violence.

The news of a fatal stabbeing at an Aberdeen school made Rolfe’s solo all the more mordant as he slowly caused spillages of water, white talc, intense red and orange pigments, to ‘wound’ previously calm surfaces - including the fabric of a newly-donned white shirt. A soundscore of religiously chanting voices was overlaid by brisk, coded exchanges between police cars – a reminder, like the objects he laid out like a crime scene, of how matter-of-fact we have become about killing both in and out of war zones.

Artists talks and film screenings were interspersed with live performances from eastern European and UK artists who all shared a visceral awareness of how valiant, yet vulnerable our humanity is in the face of changing borders.

Vest and Page ended this remarkable event by putting their own bodies on the line, enduring physical attritions while a voice-over intoned the clauses of the UN’s bill of human rights.

When, finally, he walked barefoot over shards of glass – it cracking like bones under his feet – it came like an act of voluntary penance in memory of those victims of carnage the world ignored in life, and is quick to forget in death. TIPA was itself a reminder of what we have lost with the enforced absence of Milican’s New Territories.