Room 1 - Notes on a Return
1. Revisiting and Responding
I was commissioned to respond to ‘Pain tings’ performed by Anne Bean in 1987. The curator, Sophia Hao and I held an excitingly chaotic conversation that made me eager to contribute. I am fascinated in the creativity of the everyday and explore a sense of belonging to people, family and community in my work. Sophia’s original brief resonated powerful themes like people’s small stories, documentation and memory. This is my journey through the two months that followed.
2. Bringing the Past to Life
I was one of 5 international artists who revisited the energy of the late 1980s at the Laing with a major new exhibition. In the original exhibitions Anne Bean, Rose English, Mona Hatoum, Bruce McLean and Nigel Rolfe made live artworks at the Laing Art Gallery. Later, the Gallery tracked down fragments that survived in the memories of the artists and witnesses and commissioned five new works by artists from a younger generation: Sam Belinfante (UK), Sofia Greff (Germany), Graham Hudson (UK), and myself Meg Mosley (UK) and Viola Yesiltac (USA/Germany) who responded to the audio recollections and archival materials.
I visited Anne and photographed her in her environment. I obsessively made notes as she recounted her recollections of 'Pain tings' and was thrilled by her description of her collaborator, art critic Rob La Frenais, who sat at a typewriter and typed his responses to Anne’s performance. Anne called this a symbiotic relationship and Rob saw it as blogging or ‘twitter’ both of which resonate with people my age.
4. Tuning in to the Zeitgeist
I went to see a very different kind of performance - lip syncing drag queens. While watching, I questioned my feelings about performative art. As I listened to the drag queens serenade me, my thoughts turned to my glamorous grandmother! She a huge inspiration for my artwork and probably the reason I felt I belonged here with the drag queens more than I felt I could fit into Anne’s performance that had so nearly vanished from memory.
5. Challenging the Past
Then I saw an exhibition called ‘Picasso: Challenging the Past’. Picasso investigated great masters’ signature styles by transforming it into something entirely different. The Picasso exhibition inspired me to do my own take on a portrait of Anne who allowed me to photograph her posing for me as 'the artist' in her studio, with one of her art theory books Susan Sontang: 'Regarding The Pain Of Others' while I mocked myself not reading Susan Sontang, but OK magazine!
6. From Vanished to Virtual
I disclosed my predicament on Facebook and 'Pain tings' began to live again. I linked up with The Laings facebook page and got 84 members involved. I created an art group page and invited friends to join. I created a video of my conversation with Anne. I played with the idea how documentation is framed and read. I gave the video a serious title ‘Anne Bean and Meg Mosley: artists in conversation’ I was, however, struggling to make my response personal.
7. Fictional Archiving
I needed to create fictional archival footage of 'Pain tings' even though the absence of the camera seem important to Anne, evoking a notion of performance as sacred - the ambivalence of what is real or artificially manipulated. This fuelled my imagination and I created slides from the descriptions I had heard. I made these slides with two men both called Matt and was fascinated by the variety of dark and sinister looking interpretations we produced.
8. Performance of the Body
The original idea was to explore how ephemeral works are remembered and passed on. I sought out collaboration with my friend Lucy. Her photographs framed limbs, hands, feet and the sense of the tired or exhausted artist after the performance. The photography was fluid and I felt the act of being photographed had become a performance. When flicking through the images created with Lucy, the feeling of motion and performance came to the surface as well as ideas shifting.
9. Engaging with Re-enactment
As part of the brief, the artists of the 80’s were to be re-invited. Anne’s archival installation was happening a month before I would complete my own response. Anne’s own engagement and spontaneous idea was to also re-enact and respond to her past performance. It sounded completely intriguing but I felt it important to respond personally and privately to the original recollections in my own re-enactments and not see Anne’s work or the Laing space until after I had completed my experience.
10. Past/present - Revered/rejected
I sent my selection of photographs to the Laing only to find my direction was not deemed appropriate for the group show. They exhibited Anne’s re-enactment of 'Pain tings' alongside her archival footage and felt my images would look less of a response and more of another re-enactment, which did not portray the whole energy and insight of my experience. The project had imploded on me. A week away from the exhibition installation I had no piece!
11. Emerging into the Event
On reflection, the Lost Performance roused everything that terrifies me: lack of control and an alarming sense of being caught in a series of moments that are constantly vanishing. I couldn’t map it from within so I tried to map pathways around it. Devastated to have my considered response rejected I was forced into the spontaneity of the moment. From the chaos my documentary ’What a Performance’ film emerged - a confessional video that transfixed people.
12. Summing Up
A two-day symposium 4 - 5 September 2009 with performance showcase was the unique opportunity to discuss the project with the participating artists, guest speakers, curators and critics. Guest speakers included Guy Brett, Mike Collier, Simon Herbert, Lois Keidan, and Andrea Tarsia. Later Anne disclosed her own feelings about my contribution “I was reminded of Flann O’Brian’s words, 'the re-discovery of the familiar, the re-experience of the already suffered, the fresh-forgetting of the unremembered.'" (Anne Bean)
Extracts of my process ideas, sketchbooking, art process and my writings were published in ‘Notes on a Return’ by Art Editions North. This publication further examines ideas of memory, archive and the documentation of ephemeral practices and queries the reasons and conditions for remembering within the discourses of institution and art history.
Contributors: Christopher Bamford, Anne Bean, Sam Belinfante, Guy Brett, Ramsay Burt, Rachel Lois Clapham, Mike Collier, John Dummett, Rose English, Sofia Greff, Sophia Yadong Hao, Matthew Hearn, Simon Herbert, Graham Hudson, Bruce McLean, Meg Mosley, Nigel Rolfe, Andrea Tarsia, and Viola Yeşiltaç. Contains a foreward by Amelia Jones and an afterward by Lois Keidan.