Three Performances (After Joseph Beuys, Marina Abramovic, and Bonnie Sherk)
Performances for video / 3-channel installation
For this work, I attempted to re-create three iconic works of performance. The works are Joseph Beuys’ Coyote: I Like America and America Likes Me (1974), where he isolated himself in the gallery with a wild coyote, Marina Abramovic’s Dragonheads (1990-1992), where she sat naked in a ring of ice, with snakes circulating around her body, and Bonnie Sherk’s Public Lunch (1971), a work where the artist was served an elegant catered lunch in a cage at the San Francisco zoo, while the tigers in a neighbouring cage were tearing apart their own meal of raw flesh.
In my re-creations for video, I attempted to re-produce as many of the terms of the pieces as possible, except that the feats would be performed in my own apartment, and all of the wild animals in the works – a coyote, snakes, and tigers – would be substituted by my ordinary house cat. Essentially, I would take these iconic, somewhat life-risking or heroic feats and domesticate them, make the experience of these historic works accessible in some form for myself and for a new audience, and at the same time propose a critical complication to the artists’ ideas about nature and our relationships to (or distinctions from) animals.
In the first video in the triptych, I can be seen covered in grey felt, wielding a cane, and stomping around my bedroom that is littered with Wall Street Journals. In the second, I am naked on a chair, focused in a stare, in the middle of a ring of ice on my living room floor. In the third, I am eating an elegant lunch in a black dress, off of a white tablecloth in my kitchen. While I attempt to follow as many of the parameters of the tasks set out by the performers, the cat responds with a surprising range of behaviours, according to the terms of our existing relationship and by her own set of interests and limits. She complicates the terms of the feats – refusing to play wildly or to relate in the Beuys piece, and being much more interested in sleep. She licks herself unconsciously in a perversely erotic context for the Abramovic piece, and in the Sherk piece, she rejects the big raw steak after a sniff, and is much more interested in climbing onto the dinner table and eating the elegant catered lunch right off my plate.
The videos were created in my Toronto apartment, and installed as a three-channel video installation at the Power Plant in the summer of 2008.
- The Power Plant, Not Quite How I Remember It, commissioned by the gallery for the exhibition, which was based on re-enactments, curated by Helena Reckitt, 2008, Toronto