Have you ever been told that’s what you are? Your own worst enemy? Do you already think that’s what you are? And what does it mean anyway? That because of “being you”, you’re responsible for all the ills in your life? It’s seems a harsh form of characterisation and yet one that Greek myths and Shakespeare alike delighted in using for their tragic heroes, and that history recounts again and again. Or is it simply an explanation for something or someone different, simply at odds with their environment?
What I’m actually referring to is a suite of three performances created for the Collective by performance artist, Jefford Horrigan and curated by Rose Lejeune under the group title of “Own Worst Enemy”. Read in to it what you will.
You may remember that earlier this year I wrote about a visit to Jefford’s studio in London’s east end with a view to commissioning a work with him, as part of a wider research project of Rose’s on the process of collecting less object-based art and the experiences gathered during the course of that collecting journey. The commission would comprise performances in three of the six Collective households and apart from the more experiential legacy of the performances themselves and the memories they would invoke, there would be an object – a triptych drawing for us to add to our growing collection.
The visit to Jefford’s studio did nothing to help visualise what might be coming our way- but it did wonders for generating an overall excitement for the project! What I do remember was him telling us that he liked “to create atmospheres” and that “It’s more about presence than the thing itself, and it can belong in its own environment”. He clearly used household objects – particularly furniture – to create remarkable transformations in to “something other“. Jefford responds to the environment he is in when creating his performances and for that reason he visited all six households in order to select which three he would perform in. It wasn’t ours (sadly) – but he made three good choices – three individual living spaces in west, south and north London.
The first performance, aptly named “Passenger” was on Collective member Ben‘s boat – an unusual transformation in its own right from Dutch working barge to private dwelling. The performance filled the cavernous space with the boat’s overhead beams cleverly included as an additional prop.
The items of furniture used and the artist himself, transformed as they were in to a bird like creature, evoked a sense of flight, travel to distant places and previous eras. Stunned in to a silent reverie of what was unfolding before us a solo tenor further transported the audience with an unexpected aria from Mozart’s The Magic Flute. Magic it was.
The performance finished, the space was filled with animated conversation on interpretation, understanding, themes, amazement and excitement! Nothing we saw was expected or anticipated.
In his book Keeping an Eye Open Julian Barnes reminds us that when it comes to art,
” we remain incorrigibly verbal creatures who love to explain things, to form opinions, to argue”.
How true! Opinions differed hugely on the meaning of this first performance but one thing was certain: even if we were stunned in to silence during the performance “it is only a short time before we want to explain and understand the very silence into which we have been plunged.” Jefford in his quietness allowed us to continue that exploration unabated.
The next two performances, the Threshold and Own Worst Enemy were all separated by a week, in living spaces that grew smaller in scale, each with a singer as an important element and all equally transformative in their nature – chairs, tables, carpets and tigers – with Jefford at their centre facilitating the transformation, creating an art work as he performed and plunged us in to silence in our own domestic spaces.
But if we didn’t agree on meaning we could agree that our own response to watching the performances is what mattered most. How we engaged as individuals and with the artist,
how we interpreted , how we reacted on an emotional level and what we drew from it, was and is our reality. How we now share those thoughts and feelings is up to everyone of us and what memories we hold and pass on. The performances can’t be repeated, but the memories can be remembered and retold both within and outside of the Collective group.
I mentioned in my blog on a previous performance art commission, Home Suite, that it remains the most discussed and referenced piece the Collective has ever purchased and yet we have no physical legacy in any of our homes that the work ever happened. This time we do.
With each performance we have a drawing by Jefford and curator Rose Lejeune delivered all three to us just before Christmas. So, as we share the works between the households in time to come, we can retell the stories of the performances to new viewers for which the drawings speak for themselves in a new way, equally valid and equally valued.
If this is my own worst enemy, I welcome it heartily.