Trace of Performance

In replying to a question from the crowd at a Tate Talk, Gabriel Orozco brings up an incredibly useful observation on trace of performance (Gabriel Orozco: In Conversation, Tate Talks, Oct 2014). He states that he tries to avoid any sense of the ‘relic’ in his work, he wants the work to be truly present, in that it is happening now, not that it has happened in the past. He feels that much of art is a residue of a performative action, but that is not necessary to show the performance. The discovery of the performative action can be found in what is created, but it should be an instrument that is of use to the viewer, not just the leftovers of a party that the viewer wasn’t invited too.

I’ve been grappling with this concept of performative trace and how I can work with it in my practice. It’s all too easy to create a situation where the viewer feels they’ve “missed the party” and the presented work becomes flat, dead and boring. What can a viewer take from something that has nothing to offer them? The idea that the trace is still vibrant, that it’s an instrument of action is quite exciting!

Looking at some pertinent works featuring the trace of the abscent artist has given me more perspective on what is successful and why. “Levitation” (1970), Terry Fox is a piece that uses the leftovers of a performance that stand as a work without the presence of the artist. Fox uses a mattress made of earth surrounded by a circle of blood as a bed from which he attempts to levitate. The process of attempted levitation is not witnessed by viewers as, although it is within the gallery space, it is behind closed doors. After the performative period the imprint of the artists body is visible in the earth creating an impression that would not have been there without the ritualistic performance.

largeFox-Terry-Levitation-Richmond-Art-Center-1970“Levitation” (1970), Terry Fox

Janine Antoni’s work “Eureka” (1993) is, for me, an even more interesting work involving the impression left by the artist’s body. She lies in a tub of lard, the lard that is displaced is the same volume as the artist’s body. She then uses the displaced lard with lye to make soap with which she washes her body. The trace left for the viewer is the bathtub of lard with the impression of her body and the body sized cake of soap that has been worn from use on the artist body. This work has a progression and transformation that make it very active, it has a narrative that can be grasped simply from encountering the static trace of bath, lard and soap. Lying in the lard = performance, the tub with the impression = bodily trace, soap made from lard = creation, washing with the soap = action, the display of the soap and the bath become sculptural.

1ff48e981Janine Antoni, “Eureka” (1993)

In contrast I looked at Anthony Gormley’s “Bed” (1981), a mattress of bread slices with the outline of two figures cut into the surface. This work is different to “Levitation” and “Eureka” in that the outlines have been carefully cut into the bread, not pressed by the weight of a real body. The outlines are not the trace of a body, they are a facsimile or performance of the idea of a body. This is obviously an intentional part of Gormley’s work, but when looking at my own work there have been times when I wanted to create the trace of an event but have ended up artificially staging it rather than actually allowing the event to be performed. This compromised the authenticity of the work, it made the event less believable, it became poised, staged, fake and lacking in action.

uk_whitechapel_1981_003_refAnthony Gormley, “Bed” (1981)

This brings be back around to Gabriel Orozco’s ideas about the trace as instrument. If the performance is not encountered live by the viewer I need to carefully consider the validity and interest of the performative trace and not allow it to be a diffused situation with no possibilities and no interest to the viewer.

Hive Oracle – April 2015

Hive Oracle – watch movie at Vimeo

Creating this performative video was a real departure from the mediums I’ve worked in so far. I have a list of words and ideas that I compiled after the April Seminar that I’ve been exploring in my research.

– The idea of a shadow world, strangeness in time and space, otherworldly, hypnotic. I want to continue to explore these ideas in my work.

– I need to examine duration in my work. What would realtime do? Authenticity versus affect.

– Tying into that is the use of cinematic orthodoxies and the tropes of theatre. Artifice. I’m curious as to how I can use these in a totally unselfconscious way to produce certain affect. It’s a bit of a fine line between cliched/naff and something that works the way i want it to, it can easily be pushed too far and fall over. The same with earnestness versus parody, it’s tricky but I’m interested in exploring it.

– Trace of Performance. This is important and has been coming up again and again with my work. I’m currently exploring how this can be used and will write a post about what I have discovered.

– Performing to camera. Is this a performance or is it a video work? What makes it one or the other? What happens if the performance is not to camera? There was also quite a bit of feedback from viewers around how they felt the direct eye-contact was challenging which I felt was a positive response to the work.

– I also need to examine the role of scent and sound in the work to create a full enveloping experience. I’ve used scent for some time now and would like to keep that as part of my practice.

Work in Progress January 2015

This is a record of the work I made in January 2015. Overall I think this is the least successful work, but I learned a lot of valuable stuff from actually making it. During the creation of the work I went through a repetitive production process that was bordering on ritualistic in it’s experience. The scent of the wax brought bees into the house and I had to go through a sort of ritual everyday around avoiding them, feeding them (because they got tired) and taking them back outside again at the end of the day. Creating the hexagon tiles involved a long process of heating, pouring, cooling, flattening, being very, very hot, getting burns and dodging excited bees.

After creating this work it became obvious to me that the interest in the piece was within the creative process, not the tiles on the floor. They felt flat and lacking in the energy of their own creation – someone described them as being like a ‘sketch’ rather than a sculpture. During my feedback meeting Anders suggested the inclusion of the tools of making, of somehow bringing the energy of the bees and the feeling of the creation process into the work. This was very valuable for me and has informed my thinking ever since.

Despite being somewhat disappointed in the finished piece, I’m very glad that I made it because I learned so much from what didn’t work and what I needed to think about to make it successful.

Hex (2015)
Beeswax, carbon, sandalwood, frankincense, myrrh



small group




Work from September 2014

I realised that I hadn’t posted progress photos of my work from September last year and January this year.

Looking back on this work is curious… it’s interesting and it seems like a step towards what I’m trying to create, but just and experiment with materials and ideas. I went from the very clinical, minimalist object work in July to using much more natural materials and attempting a more active work. I say ‘attempting’ because it was an attempt and an experiment rather than a success.

I found a great deal of enjoyment working with wax, wood and resin. I also found that scent and some sort of sensual experience is an important part of the work I want to create.

Artist’s Statement:


“Examining the role of boundaries and thresholds in establishing areas of safety and discomfort.
Creating ritual ‘happenings’ that instigate a transformation and leave behind a residue or resolution.
I have started to push into areas I discovered in both semester one and two; working through viewers reactions to exclusionary subject matter.
When an event happens inside a performative space how does that affect the viewer? What if it breaks out of that space? What if the viewer has to step inside a delineated boundary? Can a threshold be captured inside a boundary and diffused or made ‘safe’?”

Holy Smoke: An Adoration of Our Star (2014)
(pine, copper, beeswax, glass, obsidian, charcoal, benzoin resin, kauri gum, frankincense, Abramelin resin, voice.) 

Fools Gold (2014)
(pine, beeswax, salt, pyrite, myrrh resin)

This work set me up to look at trace and residue of rituals or other performative happenings. It got me thinking about performance as a viable practice for me and it pushed me to acknowledge that my work was too ‘poised’ and therefore lacked the legitimacy of a real happening, even when one had occurred.  It also made me think about the positioning of elements within a space and how the viewer experienced them. Does performance occur in the space? How is it documented? What does it leave? Could the happening be about to occur rather than have finished? Could it be occurring during viewing? It also got me thinking about using the elements of esoteric ritual in a less obvious way; e.g. beeswax can say what it needs to say without being a candle.






Holy Smoke: An Adoration of Our Star (2014)
(pine, copper, beeswax, glass, obsidian, charcoal, benzoin resin, kauri gum, frankincense, Abramelin resin, voice.) 

I constructed a natural pine platform/altar with an enclosing glass and copper box on top. Using the idea from John Dee’s Enochian system of using wax as an insulator I filled the base of the platform with beeswax and sat the feet on 4 beeswax disks to keep it from touching the ground. Charcoals were set on 4 pieces of obsidian and lit to burn 4 types of resinous gum. A ritual adoration for the sun was performed (necessity meant it had to be performed outside due to fire alarms which meant the ritual was not in the gallery space and also a lot of the smell was lost). The ritual was then enclosed in the box where the the smoke pooled and finally died leaving only melted wax, charred carbon and a lingering scent.


The altar during the ritual adoration.


A test of the work at home showing the smoke-filled case.


Fools Gold (2014)
(pine, beeswax, salt, pyrite, myrrh resin)

This work was a broken ring of salt and basalt with a ‘popped’ box shooting resin crystals outside the confines of the circle. I used the same materials for this work as for the previous one, but although I really enjoy the objects  and the overall idea, I think this work mostly failed. It was a good test for me to experience what would happen if I made a work like this and let me see how much further it needed to be pushed.






Blog at

Up ↑