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Australia's Post-Olympic Apocalypse?

Australia's Post-Olympic Apocalypse? AUSTRALIA’S POST-OLYMPIC APOCALYPSE? Edward Scheer n April 8, 2005, at 6.30 p.m., sixty-year-old Australian performance artist  Mike Parr commenced a performance action entitled Kingdom Come and/ or Punch Holes in the Body Politic before an audience of mostly students,  journalists, and artists at Artspace in Sydney. In a bright orange suit, complete with  matching shoes and socks, and a handkerchief in the breast pocket of the jacket, Parr  sat on an orange chair beneath powerful lights and a battery of cameras. Attached  to the toes of his right foot was a small electrode, which transmitted a low-voltage  shock whenever anyone activated  the electroshock system  by  crossing  the  path of  sensors  located  in  front  and  to  the  sides  of  the  space  where  Parr  sat.  The  voltage  was just strong enough to force Parr’s body into a momentary spasm and his face to  register shock and anger. Crossing the path of the sensors also triggered a microphone  and a video camera that beamed a dissolving image of Parr’s surprised, irritated face  onto the wall of an adjacent gallery. Like so many of Parr’s actions in a career spanning some thirty-five years, Kingdom Come features  a  number of key elements which  have become  signature aspects  of  Parr’s actions: the violent address to the body of the artist, the ethical challenge to  the audience, the extensive use of audio-visual media, and the work’s unfolding in  time. While these have been in evidence since Parr’s earliest performances in 1971,  this article will address the ways in which Kingdom Come is emblematic of a new  phase of Parr’s work which continues to emphasize a durational and performative  dimension but is more explicitly political in content and mode of presentation. In  these new works (2001–present), Parr more directly embodies what Bonnie Marranca  calls “the catastrophic imagination” in terms of the absurd and violent archetypes  of contemporary Australian life.1 In these recent performances it is the rise of neoconservative  politics  in  Australia  and  in  particular  its  obsessive  and  unscrupulous  management of national identity and the policy of “indefinite detention” of asylum  seekers that become the focus of Parr’s work.  CRITICAL AESTHETICS AND DEMOCRATIC TORTURE Why  would  an  artist  such  as  Parr  embark  on  such  an  uncompromisingly  critical  and physically demanding performance practice late in his career? The physical and  42    PAJ 88 (2008), pp. 42–56.  © 2008 Edward Scheer O mental  demands  of  the  recent  performances  have  been  immense.  They  have  all  entailed a personal ordeal for the artist: the ten-day hunger strike of Water from the Mouth (2001), which began this new series of works; the nailing of Parr’s right arm  into the gallery wall in Malevich (A Political Arm) Performance For As Long As Possible (2002); the sewing of Parr’s face with stiches through the skin and lips in Close the Concentration Camps (2002) and Aussie Aussie Aussie Oi Oi Oi (Democratic Torture)  (2003), and the use of electric shock on the artist’s body in both Aussie Aussie and  Kingdom Come. After this latter performance Parr described its debilitating effects,  involving “sleep deprivation (I was without sleep for more than 40 hours), nothing  but  liquids  for  four  days  and  the  more  than  30  hours  of  continual  shocks,”  and  toward the end of the piece produced “extreme paranoia . . . I had begun to hate  the audience and could barely contain myself.”2 His partner, Felizitas, worries about  what  his  body  can  withstand  as  he  ages  and  Parr  himself  was  concerned  enough  about the extended use of electric shock in his most recent work to update his will  just prior to undertaking the performance. So why do it? One look at his track record suggests the most obvious reason. Parr’s thirty-five-year  career reveals a remarkable consistency of investigation into the links between language and the body. He has always understood that the body is a key site anchoring  the chain of associations that underwrites the social contract between subjectivity  and power and that the most direct route to a creative violation of that contract is  to create a disturbance in the flesh. Parr’s own experience of physical disturbance,  suffered at birth with the mangling of his left arm, makes him peculiarly sensitive to  the fact, remarked upon by the structuralist theorists—but associated in particular  with  Michel  Foucault—that  the  body  is  discursively  inscribed  http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art MIT Press

Australia's Post-Olympic Apocalypse?

PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art , Volume 30 (1) – Jan 1, 2008

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MIT Press
Copyright
© 2008 Edward Scheer
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1520-281X
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1537-9477
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10.1162/pajj.2008.30.1.42
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Abstract

AUSTRALIA’S POST-OLYMPIC APOCALYPSE? Edward Scheer n April 8, 2005, at 6.30 p.m., sixty-year-old Australian performance artist  Mike Parr commenced a performance action entitled Kingdom Come and/ or Punch Holes in the Body Politic before an audience of mostly students,  journalists, and artists at Artspace in Sydney. In a bright orange suit, complete with  matching shoes and socks, and a handkerchief in the breast pocket of the jacket, Parr  sat on an orange chair beneath powerful lights and a battery of cameras. Attached  to the toes of his right foot was a small electrode, which transmitted a low-voltage  shock whenever anyone activated  the electroshock system  by  crossing  the  path of  sensors  located  in  front  and  to  the  sides  of  the  space  where  Parr  sat.  The  voltage  was just strong enough to force Parr’s body into a momentary spasm and his face to  register shock and anger. Crossing the path of the sensors also triggered a microphone  and a video camera that beamed a dissolving image of Parr’s surprised, irritated face  onto the wall of an adjacent gallery. Like so many of Parr’s actions in a career spanning some thirty-five years, Kingdom Come features  a  number of key elements which  have become  signature aspects  of  Parr’s actions: the violent address to the body of the artist, the ethical challenge to  the audience, the extensive use of audio-visual media, and the work’s unfolding in  time. While these have been in evidence since Parr’s earliest performances in 1971,  this article will address the ways in which Kingdom Come is emblematic of a new  phase of Parr’s work which continues to emphasize a durational and performative  dimension but is more explicitly political in content and mode of presentation. In  these new works (2001–present), Parr more directly embodies what Bonnie Marranca  calls “the catastrophic imagination” in terms of the absurd and violent archetypes  of contemporary Australian life.1 In these recent performances it is the rise of neoconservative  politics  in  Australia  and  in  particular  its  obsessive  and  unscrupulous  management of national identity and the policy of “indefinite detention” of asylum  seekers that become the focus of Parr’s work.  CRITICAL AESTHETICS AND DEMOCRATIC TORTURE Why  would  an  artist  such  as  Parr  embark  on  such  an  uncompromisingly  critical  and physically demanding performance practice late in his career? The physical and  42    PAJ 88 (2008), pp. 42–56.  © 2008 Edward Scheer O mental  demands  of  the  recent  performances  have  been  immense.  They  have  all  entailed a personal ordeal for the artist: the ten-day hunger strike of Water from the Mouth (2001), which began this new series of works; the nailing of Parr’s right arm  into the gallery wall in Malevich (A Political Arm) Performance For As Long As Possible (2002); the sewing of Parr’s face with stiches through the skin and lips in Close the Concentration Camps (2002) and Aussie Aussie Aussie Oi Oi Oi (Democratic Torture)  (2003), and the use of electric shock on the artist’s body in both Aussie Aussie and  Kingdom Come. After this latter performance Parr described its debilitating effects,  involving “sleep deprivation (I was without sleep for more than 40 hours), nothing  but  liquids  for  four  days  and  the  more  than  30  hours  of  continual  shocks,”  and  toward the end of the piece produced “extreme paranoia . . . I had begun to hate  the audience and could barely contain myself.”2 His partner, Felizitas, worries about  what  his  body  can  withstand  as  he  ages  and  Parr  himself  was  concerned  enough  about the extended use of electric shock in his most recent work to update his will  just prior to undertaking the performance. So why do it? One look at his track record suggests the most obvious reason. Parr’s thirty-five-year  career reveals a remarkable consistency of investigation into the links between language and the body. He has always understood that the body is a key site anchoring  the chain of associations that underwrites the social contract between subjectivity  and power and that the most direct route to a creative violation of that contract is  to create a disturbance in the flesh. Parr’s own experience of physical disturbance,  suffered at birth with the mangling of his left arm, makes him peculiarly sensitive to  the fact, remarked upon by the structuralist theorists—but associated in particular  with  Michel  Foucault—that  the  body  is  discursively  inscribed 

Journal

PAJ: A Journal of Performance and ArtMIT Press

Published: Jan 1, 2008

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