Trace: Installaction Art Space, Cardiff, Wales
March 15, 2007
Jamie McMurry, whose performances have been praised for their evocations of the latent violence beneath that vast swath of American youth culture mired between the disenfranchised rural and hyper-self-conscious urban, otherwise known as suburbia, brought his 15-minute work titled Archive last month to the Cardiff School of Art and Design’s Trace: Installaction Art Space as part of its performance series The Cat Show.
The rectangular, white-walled, second-floor project space was neatly organized with various sets of found objects placed three to four paces apart: a small refrigerator laid on its back; seven bags of ice; ten red balloons taped to the wall; two silver buckets of cadmium red paint; a flag emblazoned with a portrait of George Washington; a chocolate six-shooter heating in a frying pan over a hotplate; and a bronze-colored vase stuck to the wall by an oversized rubber band. The audience, squatting or standing within easy reach of the artist, discovered that it was part of the performance as McMurry photographed nine members at point blank range with a Polaroid camera. He then taped these photographs to the refrigerator, which turned into the locus of much of the subsequent action. He dumped the ice into the refrigerator’s cavity and submerged his head and arms inside for a full minute (perhaps a quick reference to the durational work of canonized performance artists Sam Hsieh or Chris Burden?). McMurry then grabbed the arm of a young man in the audience and stared into his eyes for thirty seconds. The young man not only gamely returned McMurry’s stare, but even allowed him to snip a lock of his hair with a pair of scissors. McMurry dropped the hair into a glass of water and swallowed it.
Returning to the refrigerator, McMurry poured a bucket of red paint inside, taped shut the doors and, with the all enthusiasm of a koala bear, tipped it upright as watery red paint oozed from the door seams toward the smart-looking shoes of the audience members. With deadpan seriousness, he gruntlessly shoved the refrigerator onto its back and man-handled it toward the remaining props, squeezed the red balloons inside, poured in the second bucket of red paint, drilled the flag onto the door and finally flung the smoldering chocolate six-shooter on top.
Throughout, McMurry feigned a detached attitude of adolescent irritation, as if his actions were merging ideological anarchy with poetic symbolism to fashion a sort of mimed “life-lesson” from juvenile acts of destruction. Despite McMurry’s professed kinship with Middle America’s delinquent youth, I find it hard to get away from Archive’s mannered tropes, which lie entirely within the well-manicured registers of institutionalized performance work. Even the performance’s climax seemed affected: after he had used up most of his arrayed materials, McMurry pulled the bronze-colored vase twenty feet into the audience and, with the rubber band attaching it to the wall now stretched to its limit, gave it to a young girl to hold and walked back to the refrigerator. The literal tension of this act divided our attention as McMurry retrieved two rubber snakes, common symbolic avatars in his performances, from the refrigerator and held them aloft, one in each arm. Eventually he returned to the girl grasping the vase, laid his hands over hers and slowly peeled them back. The vase flew against the wall and smashed into showering gold sparkles and shards.
No one was startled by this action, of course. This was an audience of performance-savvy folk, conditioned and ready to tuck the experience away into the standard lexicon of performance art: tension, duration, viewer interaction. And no one was willing to call McMurry’s bluff and urge the young girl to let go of the vase without his permission, or to laugh out loud when he made a “pheshoo” sound with the chocolate gun—his only utterance throughout Archive. To do so might have invoked an element of disorder more in keeping with the kind of the suburban angst that McMurry purports to investigate.