Category Archives: Commissioning

Own worst enemy


Oedipus and the sphynx: in the myth King Tiresias said he was “his own worst enemy” bringing destruction on himself

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.

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Passenger: a first performance by Jefford Horrigan commissioned by the Collective

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.

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Threshold: a second performance by Jefford Horrigan commissioned by the Collective

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,

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Own worst enemy: a third performance by Jefford Horrigan commissioned by the Collective


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.

Drawing from “Own worst enemy” : the final performance by Jefford Horrigan Oct 2015
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Detail from a drawing from the performance “The Threshold”   by Jefford Horrigan Sept 2015
















Dancing with Tables : a commission in the making

Jefford Horrigan performing Transmission Gallery 2011

When I asked Jefford Horrigan what he says to people when asked “what do you call yourself?” his answer was quick and decisive “I dance with tables“.   And that is exactly what he does. His ability to transform furniture and household objects in to “something other” through a sculptural performance  – and possibly in our homes was answered almost as decisively with “yes, please”.

Independent curator and consultant Rose Lejeune met up with Tim and Sam at a private view and having heard about the Collective asked if we were interested in participating in her project around commissioning new art for collections. Rose’s main focus is how the process of collecting and engaging with artists and their ideas can have as much value as the traditional accumulation of collectable items, especially when it comes to the  more “performative elements”.  Her proposal was that Jefford should use three of our homes for a performance piece.  We would purchase the drawings emanating from his performance at whatever stage of the process that happened.  The Collective had commissioned a performance piece on quite a grand scale some years previously (which will be the subject of a separate blog) – and one that had involved all seven households at that time.

We all agreed that a trip to his studio was needed in order to understand more and see some of his work.  We also wanted to meet Jefford himself!

The evening trip to Acme studios (co-located with the excellent Matt’s Gallery) in the east end of London was an adventure in itself.  As it involved a walk across the intriguing Mile End park – but in the dark – or along an equally dark, but picturesque canal route I didn’t feel completely comfortable making the journey alone (my penchant for TV crime dramas getting the better of me) , so Tim met me at the station and we walked together. Assembling all the Collective to these visits is almost impossible with work commitments and coming from dispersed locations across London at the end of a long week at work.  But representatives from three households were there – so that was a good start.  I didn’t hold any expectations.

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I was greeted with furniture, lots of furniture. Sturdy four legged wooden chairs hanging from the wall, antique tables, work tables, lamp stands and old shades – all the trappings of a second hand furniture shop – except that it wasn’t – this was Jefford’s studio. Performance videos were playing and there were a number of drawings framed and unframed, and at the centre there was Jefford talking to Rose and those members already there.

It’s more about presence than the thing itself, and it can belong in its own environment . I like to create atmospheres“.

There was certainly a presence about Jefford and I immediately wanted to understand more, not only about the performances but about the legacies that usually come from them in the form of his drawings.  Drawings can appear at the proposal stage for a performance, or during the creation process itself – or even at the end when it’s all over.  There’s no predicting.

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When I work on a performance I have to learn it bodily and the circumstances partly determine the shape of the piece.

Jefford showed us examples of his drawings and explained how they related to the works that they made reference to.  Others represented a mix of ideas emanating from the performance.  But the drawings have to stand alone – “they have another life, it’s another thing”  separate from the performance, and for those viewing the drawing in the future who have not seen the performance they will have a different relationship with it.  “I don’t work across boundaries” says Jefford “I work in the course of them”.

By the time the visit drew to an end we were captivated and agreed to commission Jefford to create a piece to be performed in three of our houses with a triptych drawing bringing all three performances together.   As curator, Rose would manage the commission process with first task being the need for Jefford to visit all our homes to determine which three homes would be most suited. Will I be disappointed if it’s not our house?  Not really, as I felt perfectly confident that Jefford would determine which spaces would work best.

Roll on the autumn!

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We couldn’t part without our inevitable detour to the nearest pub – this time to the Palm Tree Pub well known for its jazz music and relaxed atmosphere.  Described on googlemaps as a “quirky canal- side pub in a shady park” I couldn’t help feeling glad that we were heading out in to the night as a group!