This week a lecture demonstrating a variety of practitioners and their previous site specific performances have left us with an air of excitement, inspiration and prosperous thoughts. The examples offered to us have motivated our group into using current practitioners as a base foundation, from which we can develop our performance further. One of the most striking pieces we saw was Coco Fusco and Guillermo Gomez-Pena in a piece called ‘Couple in a Cage’. They experimented by being in Amerindian dress and effectively living in a cage touring round the US as a live art piece. They were only allowed to leave the cage if escorted by one of the team members, fed by them and watered by them they were treated like animals. The shocking thing was that some of the public believed them to be “savages” with no voice or civilised mannerisms. While the artists’ intent was to create a satirical commentary on the notion of discovery (in relation to Columbus) it raised real issues of cultural misunderstandings that are even evident in society today.
This was especially useful for our group, with initial ideas of restraint, being caged and mixed moral judgements of what the audience was being presented with. In week 2 we explored the works of Foucault and how he questions who defines the audience and how active they are. The concept of witnessing is explored; “you can see from a moral viewpoint for example following the holocaust we will never see the world in the same way. Experience has changed the world in which we see it.” This is relative to the idea of site specific and how after we, as practitioners, saw the Lawn and found out its’ history, we were not able to look at the site in the same way again. We hope that after the audience witness us in action exploring the Lawn through performative experiment they will never view us, our venue (Studio 2) and the Lawn in the same way again; their image will be tainted.
We will apply this concept to our working production with relation to the Lawn and the history surrounding it. The Lawn represented ground breaking methods of humane ways of treating the mentally ill in early 20th century. With socially fixed images of restraint and harming patients to cure them of lunacy, we would like to use Breakwell, Geesin and Foucault’s interests of audience participation and test how a modern day audience would treat; by healing or harming. By sitting completely neutrally with a table of instruments relevant to methods of treatment; belts, ropes, scissors, ways to engage the brain (arithmetic or labour instruments) the audience would have to make a moral judgement on how they’d “treat us”.
Yoko Ono did a similar performance experiment in 1965 where she sat very still and audience members were given a pair of scissors to leave a mark, cut clothing and basically create and intervention.
This method is extremely dangerous what with the possibility of flesh being cut so this taught us that establishing clear guidelines to an audience is crucial so that both audience and “patient” know what they’re entering into. An additional example of audience decision making with regards to healing or harming, is practitioner Keira O’Reilly. She invited a select group to choose to either cut her naked body with a knife or put a plaster on cuts from previous audience members. The audience are responsible for making the performance and this ethical social experiment offers so much to our site of The Lawn. It was Dr Willis who made the ethical decision to break conventions and attempt to heal the mentally ill with humane ways.
Foucault, M (1984) Of Other Spaces: Utopia’s and Heterotopias.
Ono, Y (1965) Cut Piece.
O’Reilly, K (2007) The Touch and The Cut.