MAGAZINEIssue 1, OCTOBER 15 2012
BEHIND THE HUMOUR
SYDNEY ARTIST KATE MITCHELL SHARES HER EXPERIENCES, PROCESS AND EXPLAINS THE LITTLE KNOWN MEDIUM OF ENDURANCE PERFORMANCE
Kate Mitchell is a crack up: her wit unparalleled and laugh infectious. She’s a smart girl, one you love going for coffee with, and one you’re desperate to stay close friends with. Mitchell graduated from The College of Fine Arts, Sydney, with a Master of Fine Arts only four years ago and since then has been unstoppable. Her work involves performance, video and sculpture and has been shown all over the world from Turkey to Paris to Brisbane’s GOMA. In her works Mitchell brings to life scenarios from blockbuster films or her favourite cartoons. In Fall Stack (2012) for example, a looped video presents Mitchell falling through the awnings of five everyday settings (such as a bakery and grocery store). What originally starts quite comedic never ends and leads you to think about the continual work/life cycles.
From October to December Mitchell has three pieces in Primavera at Sydney’s newly renovated Museum of Contemporary Art. Beneath she explains her ideas, art dreams and how lucky she feels to be a part of Primavera’s 21st year.
“I had one of those really amazing, sassy art teachers at high school. She was quite into conceptual art and I remember clearly an assignment in year ten where we had to do a project on what is beauty. It was the first time I had ever seen anything by Marina and Ulay Abramović. Marina is the grandmother of performance art (she’s the woman who sat at the MOMA every day recently and people would go and sit opposite her).
Endurance performance or durational works are ways of exploring the boundaries of yourself. Their defining boundaries are determined by an action, or something you do until it can no longer be done. The work of Marina and Ulay’s that I first saw was them sitting back-to-back with their long hair plaited together. It was an endurance work where it just falls apart over time. You know those works that have a capacity to shift your perspective and make you feel really excited about the world? That was it.
[My work] is definitely a hark back to childhood elements of fantasy and naiveté where the impossible is possible. At a young age you don’t really have any concept of ‘no, you can’t do that’, in your mind you can just do anything. [I’m] probably wanting to live out impossible-made-possible type scenarios. It’s almost to go behind the face of something, to get inside it, to know it.
For example, some works are like blockbuster stunts, like in Indiana Jones where he walks across a bridge and chops it in half. I always want to do that. The whole journey of building a bridge and walking out and chopping it in half and the falling short of the epic money shot (as I’m only falling thirty centimetres into the water and instead of five hundred metres).
I’m attracted to those kind of things, cartoons and that sort of slapstick sensibility that comes from popular culture. They’re all things we’re familiar with and there’s always something conceptually rigorous going on underneath it, but on the surface it’s just so funny.
I’ve done a lot of martial arts since I was sixteen and I have this extreme interest in the capabilities and the capacity of the body. [Just like martial arts, art] is like getting into the zone. You are so aware, there is nothing else in your mind, it’s quite meditative. I’m one hundred percent in that place, in that moment. I’m not thinking about where I was before or what I’m doing later, in fact I’m not thinking about anything at all. I guess a lot of work that I do is like that.
For example, Being Punctual (2010), is where I’m swinging on a chandelier and it is projected onto a second story window. You may be walking down the street and you look up and think ‘Did I just see that person?’. In that instant you’re just present, you’re not thinking about where you were or where you’re going. I like that ability to bring people into the present moment. Then I like that you may go home and tell your partner or tell your friend or someone in the shop ‘I’m sure I saw a girl swinging on a chandelier tonight’. That in itself is also the artwork. The ability to generate a tall tale and have that spread means as much to me as the actual projection or the video or performance. I really like artworks that rearrange the furniture in your mind.
I almost see the audience as scientific offerings. In each situation there are variables I’m in control of up until a certain point and things go according to ‘a plan’ and not necessarily ‘the plan’. So how I imagine something will happen doesn’t necessarily happen.
A work that I did called In A Situation (2011), which is a reference to a Buster Keaton action that he performed, was sitting on the end of a plank of wood and sawing myself off the end. After I did that performance the plank of wood didn’t snap off perfectly and I could see a snake out of the corner of my eye. I just really had to commit to that absurd action because everything is set up – I’m inside this situation. There is this sort of committing to living out and doing an action regardless of its final outcome. In those [risky] moments I’m most aware of being in my body. I seek out and create situations as sort of an affirmation of being truly present and truly alive. I guess I wouldn’t do them if it wasn’t in the realm of my capabilities, I’m not frivolous with actions.
Coming up with ideas is like a puzzle, the way it all works for me. I’ll have an action like ‘I really want to fall through an awning’ and go from there. There’s this great introduction to Laurence Sterne’s Tristam Shandy [by Carlo Levi, see images for full quote] and it’s this great quote about how we are all subjects of time. It sounds so bleak but in that there’s the realisation of the importance of the moment and how it’s so easy to get pulled along and years pass. I think a lot of my works have that underneath. There’s that level of humour and then there’s something else. For me, all artwork should have various handles. Someone might just see the humour and that’s awesome – if I can connect to someone through humour that’s the best! But then someone else may see something totally different and that too is awesome.
Anna Davies is the curator of Primavera and she invited me to participate. I’m really excited and thrilled. [The first piece] is a work called My Life In Nuts (2012) and it’s a pile of peanuts in shells. Raw peanut shells are such funny looking things and they’re so comedic. I counted out that on the day of the opening of the show I’ve been alive for 11,137 days so I counted each shell as one day. At the opening that will be how many days I’ve been alive and the MCA will add one more peanut to the pile each day. It’s a visual quantification of my life. We have statistics of so many other aspects of our lives, we have an obsession with dissecting and quantifying as a means to understand. I’m also showing Fall Stack and a new video work that accompanies the two. The video piece shows the endless ascent while Fall Stack shows the endless descent.
My art dream would be that everyday I could make work and do Greedy Hen with no financial worries and an enormous studio space with an area to build things (it would also have a mess area and a clean area). I think for all artists your biggest luxury is time and time allows you to think and resolve ideas on how are you going to make this on a shoestring. It’s this constant juggling act.”