Viewing the inaugural exhibition ‘Transformation’ (August 6 to 11, 2014) for the launch of Cypher Gallery at Monster Mouse, Marrickville included the usual spectacle of opening night in a new environment amidst a room full of strangers. Monster Mouse Studios is an artist run enterprise and COFA BA Fine Arts (Honours candidate) Sonia Tanner received a UNSW Arc Art and Design Grant to establish an exhibition space at this location. Thankfully the space, on this night was arranged in such a way that navigating around an unfamiliar environment generated excitement about the discovery of hidden works behind pop up walls. Naturally, when I noticed some commotion behind one of these walls, I gravitated toward it and found ‘Shallow Kids’, though I did not realise this was their name at the time and misunderstood this for the title of their performance.
Dressed all in white and attached to each other with a woollen knitted (umbilical-like) cord, COFA graduate Mark Mailler and third year student Clare Powell were loudly and energetically clapping and congratulating a spectator. At first glance I thought the recipient may have been a fellow artist and were therefore accepting a much deserved round of applause for their achievement in a mutual celebration for work migrating from the studio to the gallery. Unsurprisingly I deduced, that this performance responded directly to the regular opening night phenomenon of intense admiration, commendation and applause whilst subverting the role of the artist and the viewer.
This was not the case, as although they were approaching anyone in the space and lavishing upon them excessive praise the intention for the work was different as was the title ‘Collective Encouragement’. As the theme for the show was ‘transformation’, Shallow kids wanted to bless the space and the people that entered into that new environment, Mark says ‘we wanted them to feel love from the space and thank them for joining us’ in the opening of Cypher Gallery. Mailler later reflects upon the reaction of the audience ‘the individual at first, although a little embarrassed enjoyed the praise. But very quickly their faces and body language would change into them becoming uncomfortable. The performance soon became almost intrusive and overwhelming for some’ and ‘throughout the night it became more and more interesting watching the individual trying to escape from us. We almost become unwanted in the space’. As it was the first time this piece was performed publicly, Mark acknowledged that it inadvertently could change and become something else as the night continues and I might add, could have different outcomes in other settings. Clare adds ‘I think it is important for us as performers and the audience to feel respected and safe. Of course art is a mode of extending boundaries of comfortability but not at anyone’s expense’.
I mentioned a correlation I saw between Vito Acconci’s ‘Room Situation’ (proximity) piece and ‘Collective Encouragement’ to Clare and in particular how he stood adjacent or behind a person, until an attempt to leave or a change in stance was observed. Both Clare and Mark have studied performance and theatre as part of their degrees, in fact they met at Time Based Art classes at COFA in 2012, founded Shallow Kids and began collaborating under this pseudonym since early this year (they stress the importance of outside participation including collaborations with artists, dancers and musicians in past and future performances). Clare explains they would have been affected by the work of Vito Acconci however subliminally, ‘I appreciate the way he intentionally manipulates his audience into becoming integral pieces of the work and yeah, he has been integral in the development of performance within the art vicinity’.
This kind of work provokes questions of environmental differences and its effects upon the reception of the work which Clare acknowledges and notes, ‘I think our performance Humans, Space, Plants at BEAMS festival (Chippendale) next month will be a little easier to realise in the sense that it is a space for works of performance and installation rather than something more traditional like painting’. She goes on to explain, ‘I found Monster Mouse to be a little challenging as some of the viewers were unsure how to recognise art in a live, moving medium (like our bodies) and had difficulties appreciating it in the same way they appreciated works of 2d and 3d forms’.
However misguided my initial appraisal of Shallow Kids work may have been it was wonderful and successful in the sense that it navigated, interacted, affected and even ‘transformed’ the space and inhabitants of opening night. Sometimes a little bit of a shake-up equates to a wake-up and incites deeper thoughts on these matters and interestingly their performance made me realise there is ample room for interpretation in this art form as in other disciplines.
Mark Mailler completed the double degree, BA Theatre and Performance and BFA Time Based Art.
Clare Powell is completing BA Art Education, majoring in Time Based Art.
Shallow Kids have performed at Heaps Gay VIVID, Cofa sounds, 101 gallery opening and the upcoming BEAMS festival in Chippendale.
W. Sharp, Body Works: A Precritical, Non-definitive Survey of Very Recent Works Using the Human Body or Parts Thereof’, Avalanche 1970: 14-17