What happens to an object or material surface when it leaves the performance, or when the performance leaves it behind? This is the question that pulses through Filipino artist Gary-Ross Pastrana’s still, but charged, Properties, which re-presents a collection of objects, clothing, and backdrops taken from a Manila staging of Sarah Kane’s Cleansed (1998).
For context, Cleansed (1998) is a play by the late English playwright Sarah Kane, in which consent is a dead concept, the body is subject to the violence of others, and relationships are constructed by these acts of power and violence. Specific props are chosen to stage this world. In the case of Properties, what emerges are objects such as a cut tongue, a bullet-covered sheet of metal, holographic streamers attached to a hula hoop – items with inherent drama. Brought into the context of the gallery space, they are removed from the context of Cleansed. Pastrana sees them as “actors; they perform as props when interacting with the characters during the play and then, when displayed inert and inactive in the gallery, they … perform as sculpture.”
However, these objects are not allowed to merely sit as gallery implements. In a self-reflexive turn, the gallery space, too, is drawn into contention with these objects when P7:1SMA, a Singapore-based dance and movement company, activates the artworks through movement. The willing bodies of P7:1SMA come up against and move with them, becoming both forces that reanimate the objects, as well as surfaces upon which the objects make imprints. The objects’ sounds, functions, and dysfunctions are presented through exploratory touch and movement.
Three key things were illuminated for me by this encounter.
Firstly: the deceptive nature of material, especially in the bullet holes, which turned out to be a combination of coin, magnet and some kind of plaster. They can be individually removed, and then thrown onto metal surfaces for sharp bangs that mimic gunshots. They are not absences (holes), but solid material painted black to create depth. The inherent drama then, is not merely derived from the dramatic context in which these objects were initially made and used, but also in the very material of each object. The material is thus itself animated, revealing how little is needed for material to become performance, to perform simply by being and by being touched, held, thrown. It makes me conscious of what Pastrana describes as the “narrative or poetic possibilities of materials.”
Secondly, the activation of these objects in the gallery space disrupts the invisible wall that tends to sit between the artwork and its viewer. The touchless reverence of art objects was interrupted and interrogated by play that disregards the plinths, pretensions, and pedestals built into the art world. The world from which the objects have come – the play, Cleansed, in Manila – was also briefly conjured as they once again became props, offering, for Pastrana, “a glimpse of the performative origins of these things”.
Finally, P7:1SMA’s engagement with the objects made apparent the ways in which objects instruct the body. When these specific materials combine into specific shapes, they demand specific behaviours from the body. These demands made by material must, I feel, create inevitable parallels between Cleansed in Manila and P7:1SMA’s performance in LASALLE’s Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore, as the shapes and functions of the props prompt instinctive interactions. For instance, just as a cup prompts us to hold it in our hands, Pastrana’s hula hoop prompts P7:1SMA to hold it up and shake the loose streamers, and his bullets prompt them to recreate the moment of shooting, replete with gunshot.
So: what happens to an object or material surface when it leaves the performance, or when the performance leaves it behind? Perhaps it lies open to reactivation in new contexts, becoming a purveyor of movement and play shared across time and space. Perhaps it bridges communities by interacting with and prompting our bodies in similar ways.
Interested in finding out more about the work? Properties is on display as part of the Singapore Biennale 2019 (ongoing until 22 March 2020), at LASALLE College of the Arts.
PLURAL IS PROUD TO BE AN OFFICIAL MEDIA PARTNER OF THE SINGAPORE BIENNALE 2019, WHICH RUNS FROM 22 NOVEMBER 2019 TO 22 MARCH 2020. FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE VISIT SINGAPOREBIENNALE.ORG.