Thursday, 7 April 2016

Benoît Lachambre: drawing and performance

I felt very fortunate to be able to see Benoît Lachambre perform- yesterday (Thur 7/4/16) and today (8/4/16)- as part of Adrian Heathfield's curatorial project ghost telephone for the Biennale of Sydney. As part of his brief, Lachambre chose to respond to two works by Doris Salcedo held in the AGNSW's permanent collection: Atrabiliaros (1992-1997) and Untitled (2007).

Benoît Lachambre performance- Doris Salcedo's work, Atrabiliarios (1992-1997) in the background

 As the BoS handout notes:
'Drawing lines of connection between his moving body and Salcedo's works Lachambre investigates how what is absent of loss is carried through the flesh. In a slow time dance Lachambre charges the space between bodies and artworks and awakens the senses.' I was drawn to the strong drawing element in Lachambre's performance. Using a selection of monochromatic duct tapes, grey, black and white, Lachambre performed a temporal mural-scale automatic drawing by using the floor of the art gallery as his paper support. 

Slowly weaving in and between real and imagined spaces, between the traumatic and bloody histories represented by Salcedo's works*, Lachambre created an opened up a third space: the space of energy and exchange between the himself and the viewer. As I watched the performance a single key word kept coming to mind. Truth.

Benoît Lachambre's automatic drawings and Doris Salcedo's work, Untitled (2007) in the background

In trying to provide a summary of the performance, I need to concede that I do have adequate words and language to describe the choreographic language/s that Lachambre employed during his performance. As a rough snap shot, his work made me think of of the late Merce Cunningham, Pina Bausch, Michael Clarke and two immediate family members who read and understand contemporary dance and art on a molecular and cellular level.  During the performance Lachambre spent approximately half of the performance on his knees, which, in itself is a potent act. To be without feet; to dance without feet; to make oneself small; to be small and to be the ground. I was and remain particularly moved by the this component of the performance that was located/ occurred firmly the floor.

The experience of watching Lachambre also brought to mind a memory of visiting the Black Madonna Cathedral, Częstochowa in 2012. A pious family member informed me that I would only be able to see the back sections of the church, where the painting is held (and the reason for my visit), if I did what the others were doing: I would need to crawl across the marble tiles on my knees. I later discovered that I had been deceived: walking around the back sections of the Cathedral was quite acceptable for atheist like myself. To return to Lamchambre's piece, the act of crawling along a marble floor can only be described as very painful.  

Lachambre's performance and automatic drawings presented viewers with a mindful response to the traumatic narratives present in Salcedo's work, Atrabiliaros (1992- 1997) and Untitled (2007). Writing on Salcedo's Atrabiliaros (1992-1997), the AGNSW Handbook (2006) notes: 
Barely visible through the animal skin membrane, the shoes are a haunting evocation of their absent owners and inevitably recall the grizzly souvenirs of Nazi death camps.**  
On a personal note, Salcedo's Atrabiliaros will always reverberate very strongly for me. When my Mother's mother was an adolescent she came home one day to their farm to find that several members of her family had been butchered by Ukrainian nationalist partisans. The only way that my young Grandmother was able to identify her family members was by the shoes that they were wearing when they were murdered.

Benoît Lachambre performance- Doris Salcedo's work, Atrabiliarios (1992-1997) in the background

The floor is what separates and joins us to the earth. It is a loaded zone of connection and loss. In contemporary urban city spaces we traverse a variety of metaphorical and material floors, such as pavements and laneways, on a daily basis. The floor marks the beginning of space and the universal experience of being. The floor is also a border space and a marker of our temporality. 

By the end of today's epic performance/ automatic drawing the room was imbued with a distinct polyethylene based chemical odour from the combination of chemicals used on such tapes. I suspect that Lachambre's use of pressure sensitive duct tapes was no accident. I think most people would easily be able to recall a newspaper or war zone photo that documents duct tape being used by those who torture and inflict grave and immoral acts of violence on innocent people. To turn a material used by torturers, in this case duct tape, into an art material is a deeply loaded action. In addition to this, to watch Lachambre chew and ingest approximately 3 pieces of tape during today's performance is an action that I am still thinking on. I watched a second reiteration of his performance today (Friday, 8/4/2016)- this time- in its entirety. Today's performance went over time, lasting some three and a quarter hours.

I have not been so profoundly moved by a performance work since experiencing Tino Seghal's energetic choral and movement based work at Dokumenta 13 (2012) and Xavier Le Roy's work 'Untitled' (2012; represented for 13 Rooms (2013))***. I hope that I will be able to see more of Benoît Lachambre's work in 2017.

* Cropped sections of the collaborative work by Aurukan based Alair Pambegan and Tony Albert's aerially suspended work, Frontier Wars (Flying Fox Story Place) (2014) can also be seen in the background of some images.
** AGNSW Handbook, 2006 accessed 14/04/2016
***A recent trip in early March 2016 enabled me to experience another very strong dance work, a collaboration between Garry Stewart and the Australian Dance Theatre as part of the Adelaide Biennale of Australian art. However, this piece falls firmly into the realm of a slightly different genre of contemporary art/ dance/ participatory work which I am still contemplating. 

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