Magazine article Art Monthly

French Mottershead

Magazine article Art Monthly

French Mottershead

Article excerpt

YOU ARE CHATTING AWAY TO SOMEONE AND THEY START TO LOOK OVER YOUR SHOULDER IN SEARCH OF SOMEONE MORE INTERESTING. YOU ARE AT A PARTY AND SOMEONE FORCEFULLY AND PUBLICLY CORRECTS YOUR POINT OF VIEW. A stranger brushes up against you at the bar. These might be three ordinary moments.

But they are also three carefully worked out and premeditated 'microperformances' organised by the duo FrenchMottershead (Rebecca French and Andrew Mottershead), artists who make performance art without performing, who appropriate the syntax of self-development and audience involvement to quietly disruptive effect. The 'People Series' (2003-ongoing) consists of a simple set of instructions customised for the context of each manifestation. You are invited to pick an action to be performed at any point during the time span of the event, anything from calling someone by the wrong name to spilling your drink. The performance unfolds almost totally invisibly. But reality is made slightly different; certain situations are constructed as the microperformances play out.

Working together on a series of projects since 1999, they have explored ways of framing the micro in order to deconstruct the languages and dialects of performing the self. This kind of almost subliminal behaviour is their stock-in-trade. Where they differ from other artists investigating similar terrain is that the most important part of the work tends to happen internally in the conscious awareness of the audience, and it is often very hard to see their performances taking place unless you are cued in and know exactly what to look out for. Indeed, it is perhaps better to talk of participants rather than audiences because it is the sort of work that really demands active viewer investment and involvement to be understood.

Their current project Club Class, 2006, has taken place at Tate Modern and Tate Liverpool as part of the Liverpool Biennial, and will also tour to London's ICA in February 2007. It involves recruiting anything up to 60 self-selecting volunteers as performers who each start the day with one of a choice of workshops (clothing, body language, bad behaviour and surveillance, for instance) designed to get them thinking about their own relationships with 'the social'. Expert stylists or choreographers work on the performative aspects of dressing and using the body to lead each participant to a personal understanding of their previously unformulated positions. These personal stances are then challenged. Or rather, by nominating each participant as performer, everyone is effectively given licence to challenge him- or herself by trying out some previously unthinkable behaviour. Walking out into the public arena wearing someone else's clothes, for example, or adopting a notably different array of body language is especially empowering because it is an experience rooted in our everyday interaction with the polis, and we are all equally expert at the essential syntax of these kinds of daily negotiations. At the first performance of Club Class at Tate Modern in October, people casually posed in clothes that were, frankly, too young for them, and rode down the escalator handrails like naughty children. I came across one woman making slow head movements to the tick-tock soundtrack of an installation in a gallery, and watched a perplexed audience gather to watch for a few minutes before her friend came to lead her away. …

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