Sideshow 2010: British Art Show 7: Nottingham
One Finch...Performance Weekender: curated by Jenna Finch
by Victoria Gray
Kiki Taira is an artist whose multidisciplinary approach brings together sculpture and performance. Her performance works explore and exploit the simplest of interactions between objects and bodies, reframing them as transformative sculptural experiences.
For 'One Finch Performance Weekender', curated by Jenna Finch, part of Sideshow 2010, British Art Show 7, Kiki Taira presented an action, very much contingent on the work not-working for it to work at all. Not-working becomes a positive, rather than a negative proposition in this performance and so cunningly Taira has the most solid of disclaimers, she means to meet with failure, re-framing it as a means to success.
Taira begins with a strip light, similar to one you might find in any office, the most artificial of artificial lights. Placing it carefully on the ground she casually unravels an extension cable that is then plugged into a nearby electricity socket. The ease with which she ‘begins’ to perform these actions makes us question if and when she ‘begins’ at all. We are deliberately left wondering if an action has a start or end point, whether it is one framed as performance or; why and how the simple action of plugging into a power socket, in ‘performance’ retains so much interest. This difference, between performing and not-performing is deliberately ironed out in Taira’s performance so that wilfully we become engaged and impressed by the simple pleasure of watching somebody just ‘do something.’
Taira continues to ‘do something’ with the strip light yet things do not flow seamlessly. As the light refuses to come on we are caught in a dilemma, a situation, a true situation for performance whereby the body and the objects are in real dialogue with each other. Both objects are live, the body and the light by virtue of its electrical current. In both cases this is their power and their potential demise, both have an unknown life of their own. Taira consciously mediates between the two, wrestling with their unconscious attempts to wrangle her plan.
Taira has not put in place a safety net and whilst we are simultaneously confused and intrigued by the lights negation to perform its only function, this negation becomes its and Taira’s art. Taira continues to try and find the source of the problem, pressing on the contacts that touch each end of the strip light until occasionally they blink, promisingly, yet with the fickleness of a candle in a threatening breeze. Determined to solve the problem, unapologetically Taira walks backwards and forwards between the faulty plug socket and the fickle light. Her ease reassures us that this is ok, and I am reminded that if the performer cares, we care. And so, we care for Taira as she grapples with cables and contacts, plugs and switches, not because we feel sorry for her, she can clearly handle this herself. We care because she performs each operation of trial and error on the faulty electrics with such intention that this is, for me, the main event.
After what feels like a (pleasurable) eternity of light flickering on and off, Taira is afforded some sympathy; and so for 5 minutes we, the pensive spectator, have the pleasure of looking or rather seeing. No constancy but now ‘working’, Taira appears and disappears under the light and non-light as she holds the lamp, defiantly, above her head. Her arms are stretched into a wide V forming a triangle, the strongest of shapes as she holds each end, widening her shoulders, pressing her upper body strength. We begin to understand that the light on/light off scenario is not just contingent upon the electrical current obliging from its power source, but is also related to Taira as the physical power source that presses the contact pins to the electrode. Each time her triangle of strength weakens, the required pressure to make this contact diminishes and so too does the light. In the darkness Taira is reminded of her own body’s limits and proceeds to press on through, generating more and more instances of light.
If the sight of her constitutes her presence then she is with us only half of the time. This is the allure, fleeting and ephemeral, we catch a glimpse of Taira’s slight frame and long, long hair, each time she appears. I had not mentioned but prior she had removed her simple t-shirt to reveal a torso wearing only a bra. This removal is no big deal, it is not a strip, lightly executed as casually as the unravelling of the power cable. As a woman, to ‘do’ an action like this, and to ‘do’ it in such a way that it sidesteps any potentially loaded cultural connotations, those that the dressing and undressing of the female form is frustratingly shackled to, is important.
We see her, again, slight frame, long, long hair as she continues to raise the strip light above her head, casting light down her graceful back and throwing shadow onto the wall. In the event of light, two Taira’s emerge from the one before, both her concrete being and her doppelganger shadow morph each time the light is held in a different position. Like a contortionist she moves the light behind her back, rotating her shoulders in such a way that we see the affect move through her whole torso to accommodate this flexion. The distortion feels necessary, the body has entered the visual art work and is working itself out, has found parity between the body and object in a body/object, action/sculpture.
The ubiquitous strip light re-emerges here as an object of intrigue, making the familiar strange. Reigniting interest in such common place objects and materials is Taira’s art, not content upon re-presenting them as aesthetically pleasing images, Taira performs the objects, revealing their inherent choreography of materiality. Through performance, Taira reveals to us the weight, shape, texture and temperature of an object by quite simply testing its limits. As a result her performances are tactile, contingent, open-ended, reciprocal and enquiring object activities. The term ‘spontaneous action’ is used by Taira to define her methodology and approach to performance. Defiantly against the production of gratifying, self conscious images, Taira negates this quick pay off for riskier, process lead moments of ‘becoming’. She is braver than I am.
Unplugging the light she proceeds to unite the black cable with its portable shell, winding it again and again, pursuing, even as it stubbornly sticks. Taira’s perseverance is noted, she will not be beat, and since it is not about finding that elusive performance image, these knots make us free from those pressures, of the ‘good’ work and the ‘bad’ work, of the fear of making a mistake. All the while an audience member has been holding a small black bag that Taira produced at the beginning of her performance. The contents of this black bag are a mystery to us all and remain so, even after the performance has finished. When asked, Taira takes the bag away from me and explains that only the person holding it had the opportunity to look inside and since he did not, it would remain there. I imagine, by the weight of the bag and the feel, the spectator might have been able to make an educated guess as to what was inside the bag, but if he did he did not say. This non-showing, mirrors the concept of seeing and not-seeing that figures so prominently in this work, each time the light gives us a glimpse of Taira and then takes it away.
This, most subtle of relationships between objects in her performances, figure in much of the work I have seen Taira perform before. Taira has commented that bringing objects into the performance space, even if they are not used is an important part of the work, as opposed to being redundant these objects are charged and so, regardless of the actuality of incorporating them into the action, they of course are implicated, just by their very presence. This is the most simple of Taira’s techniques, the courage to present objects in their most simple, naked form, not to ‘use’ them but to allow them to just ‘be’.
Taira ‘finishes’ or rather, blends back in to being a spectator again by dressing, transforming herself again by adding a t-shirt and black jumper to her small frame. She stands near me and takes a moment, signalling a move from one phase into another. Taking a pint glass of Guinness she takes a sip and smiles at me; it is as if the whole thing had never happened.