Inside a nondescript room two women, casually dressed as if they had wandered in off the street, huddled together on a small podium.
Under the gaze of a curious crowd they shifted their weight, an antsy leg, a sleeping foot. There was not a lot of space to share and they were already pressed against each other like stacked spoons. Small bruises blossomed on their legs from pressing against the edge of the podium.
The couple’s performance piece, Coexisting, was an examination of intimacy, interpersonal relationships and an extremely uncomfortable way to spend eight hour days. On the other hand, it was also a great chance for two rising Melbourne-based artists- Sarah Clark and Nicole Beaumont- to exhibit alongside established performance artists like Marina Abramovic, Joan Jonas, and John Baldessari.
13 Rooms, presented by the Kaldor Public Art Projects, was an outstanding free performance art exhibit that ran for eleven days and took place inside an old wooden wharf on Walsh Bay. The enormous building had knobby wooden floors and a row of windows under the ceiling that let in dusty sunlight. Each performance occurred inside its own room and aside from the thirteen freestanding rooms, the layout was completely open.
Walking through the exhibit felt very much like a chose-your-own-adventure book. One door led to a private, intimate space where the audience watched a woman examine her naked body with a hand mirror. Behind another door was a dark room with a writhing mass of human forms expanding, rolling and retreating on the floor. Yet another room contained a man with a foreign accent practicing English business phrases inside a tanning bed.
The room with the longest line contained a piece by Roman Ondak. When we entered there was a packet of ginseng tea on a small rectangular table. A man with curly dark hair and a striped polo shirt picked up the tea and turned it over a few times. After discussing the health benefits of ginseng with the encircling audience, he asked who was interested in a trade.
An older woman with a paper bag hanging from the crook of her arm eagerly offered up a greeting card. “Hmm,” the performer murmured, “what else is there?”
The audience coyly glanced around the hot and stuffy room to see who would speak up next.
Finally a young girl shrugged her shoulders and pulled out two pink rubber thimbles from her jeans pocket.
“I have these. They’re for counting money.”
The performer was very interested. The first woman was a bit deflated that her card was rejected. She also looked a little embarrassed. I wanted to tell her not to worry because she still played an important part by just being there. After all, if no one is watching is it still performance art?
About 13 Rooms