One and Other: 100 days of raw humanity as art

0 Posted by - July 25, 2009 - Blog, Performance, Public art

imageThere is a plinth at Trafalgar Square in London, England that will host 100 days and nights of human performance/intervention/being in what may be the longest art performance ever mounted. Certainly one of the oddest. But also perhaps most apropo for a time whose shiniest cultural trait seems to be a willingness to participate in making culture (blog/podcast/flickr/youtube/twitter/etc.) rather than (only) consuming it. One and Other will mount 2,400 people in one hour live performances on the “fourth plinth” at Trafalgar Square – and of course, online.

The artist behind One & Other is Antony Gormley. His artist statement suggests that the project “is an extension of [his] exploration of the connection between individuals. The volunteers on the plinth become both representations of themselves and of the human population of the world, viewed by fellow members of the wider society which they inhabit.” Not so helpful, really. But we can see in this work echoes of a tradition sometimes referred to as “living art”, creative expression that uses living matter as its medium of expression.

Living art is not as odd as it might at first seem. Bonsai, for example, is an ancient form of living sculpture, albeit with little bushes rather than people. Sculpting with hedges and shrubs has long been a part of the Western world, at least among propertied types, as beautifully rendered in Errol Morris’ Fast, Cheap and Out of Control. There are also bioartists who controversially use living human tissue as a medium.

But the tradition that comes closest are performances where the artist becomes their own sculpture, existing in public performance over extended periods of time. Chris Burden’s 22 days spent on a platform in a New York gallery (1974), and Marina Abromovic’s 12 day performance (The House with the Ocean View) of her life in a small room mounted on a gallery wall in New York (2002). Gormley’s One and Other offers the experience of public performance to everyone, or almost everyone – actually to 2,400 people exactly.

Performers can do anything they want. Some use the space to promote political causes, some to promote themselves, some it seems to just hang out and be a part of something larger than themselves. It is an ephemeral palimpsest of human being and will.

Check it out. It all happens live. And there are still positions open. Sounds like a great vacation getaway …

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