New frontiers of artistic endeavour will be explored next week when Glasgow’s Third Eye Centre hosts its
second National Review of Live Art. Andrew Burnet
investigates the phenomenon of performance art through the bizarre, semi-fictional" life ofArthur Cravan, as interpreted by the Directory of Possibilities.
Just who was Arthur Cravan? Why did he tell people he was Oscar Wilde’s nephew, and a deserter sought by seventeen countries? Why did he get into the ring with a heavyweight boxing champion. only to be knocked out cold seconds later? And how — after a twenty-year disappearance — did he turn up in a tenement flat in Glasgow‘s Southside‘?
These questions may or may not be answered by the Directory of Possibilities when their new installation goes on display in the Third Eye Centre‘s foyer next week. One of four works specially commissioned for the ninth National Review of Live Art (the second to be held in Glasgow), the piece will comprise a reconstruction of Cravan‘s Glasgow abode. and a collection ofobjects found in it, which provide a sort ofcommentary on the history ofperformance art.
Rae Smith is one of the six current members ofthe Directory of Possiblities. a group she describes as ‘a variable collective of artists with anything from three to twenty members, which came together through everyone being in the same economic position.‘ She and other members have been involved in mainstream fringe theatre (they recently worked with Theatre de Complicite’ on The Visit. and the retrospective season which accompanied it at London‘s Almeida theatre). in sculpture. painting and photography. The group‘s fascination with Cravan is readily understandable when she describes his exploits.
‘He was a precursor ofthe Dada movement. and why he was exciting was that during his life he reinvented his own life story. He made a biography of it. and his notion was that it didn‘t really matter if it was true or false. He believed in life as an artistic venture. He used to write about it in a magazine called
Maintenant in Paris. and he was quite obnoxious about it — highly
unpleasant. really. Then one day he was thought to have disappeared
from a boat off the Mexican coast and was never seen again, until twenty years later this room was discovered where he was believed to have lived.‘
That was in Glasgow. where the collection was found. ‘The collection was basically artefacts. representational pieces. ready-made, found objects, etc. etc. that represented people‘s lives in some strange way. people that Arthur Cravan knew or knew of,‘ explains Smith. ‘We found out that often people would give him things.
‘We decided to put the collection on show — not all of it because it‘s quite a large collection; mainly bits and pieces ofstuff to do with performance artists; representation oftheir lives in quite a surrealistic sense. What we‘re doing is quite cheeky really. because we‘re trying to show the lives of people involved in performance art through objects from the Cravan collection. It‘s really about methods ofportraying yourself. and people are terribly serious about that.‘
Seriousness is of course one of the
10 The List 29 September — 12 October 1989
Above: Scene Plastyczna in Fettering. Below: Rae Smith of the Directory of Possibilities
es; - y
RED SAUN DERS/Complicite
essential problems of performance art. because for all his sincerity or lack ofit, the Naked Man Covered In Molasses With A Stuffed Albatross Under His Arm is laying himself open to ridicule and to accusations of pretentiousness and inaccessibility. But Smith shuns any temptation to break ranks with fellow artists. ‘As
an audience member,‘ she says, ‘I do find performance art very difficult to understand a lot of the time, but there are some brilliant performers who are incredibly genuine, clever and sensitive. For example the Bow Gamelan are fantastic. and Ralf Ralf. I don‘t know if you‘d call George Wyllie a performance artist. but he‘s certainly a great inspiration to a lot of people in the Directory of Possibilities. He‘s often in danger of being joked about. but he‘s very serious about what he does.‘
How serious Arthur Cravan was is hard to determine. Perhaps he was history‘s greatest self-parodist; perhaps he remained po-faced. But the ingenious contrivances which constitute his life story must place him among the world‘s finest performance artists.
The National Review OfLive Art runs from Wed 11—Sat 15 at the Third Eye Centre, 350 Sauchiehall Street and elsewhere (see listings for details). The Directory Of Possibilities’ installation is on display throughout.