You Had to be There

Ok, before I start this blog, here’s a caveat. The images here a reproductions, (my) low quality representations of original images,  which themselves are representations of something. I have credited both artist and photographer but the images of the images are mine. Taken to give you a flavour of what I’m talking about when I try and articulate the problems of presenting or representing performance art out of context. Hope you’re still with me so far.

Reduplication of the Real opened at Cardiff’s Old Library (technically now the old, Old Library), on a wet Thursday evening (20 January 2010).

Neil Jeffries has pulled together a series of images documenting performances from a wide range of artists – new, established, local, international, offering a window on a world that, at first glance, seems populated by strange people doing stranger things.

Therein lies the rub. Performance art is, by its very nature, a live interaction with an audience, who build their own internal narratives as it progresses. Out of context, in the frozen gaze of the lens, it can seem mighty peculiar: passers-by in the works located out in the real world are caught on camera – jaws sagging, cartoon question marks hovering over their heads as they glance and move on or stay and see what will happen next.

In this show there is no context offered for the work and it becomes a bit of a freak show.

The images are all presented singly (with a couple of exceptions). Are these the ones that sum up the experience of that performance or the images the artists/curator liked? They are also presented at a small scale, some smaller than A4, giving a cartoon strip feel to the gallery walls, and adding another layer of alienation from the event.

I don’t want to knock any attempt to find a wider audience for a practice that most arts institutions still fight shy of, but wonder if there’s another way to do it?

The show runs until 08 February in The Hayes, Cardiff.  It’s not terribly well signposted so, once you’ve got into the Old Library, go to the entrance opposite House of Fraser and upstairs . Soon the Museum of Cardiff will fill this venue so it’s a last chance to see artists’ work in a venue that was long associated with them.

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