Scene4 Magazine — International Magazine of Arts and Media



by Ren Powell

Scene4 Magazine-reView

december 2006

Scene4 Magazine - GilbertAndGrape

Performance is perhaps the art form that is most difficult to characterize. With roots in both the visual and the performing arts, it has evolved into an art form of its own.  

To define the term broadly: a performance is an action, a series of related actions, a presentation or a staging of a human activity. During a performance, a person displays an action or series of actions that are not motivated by genuine circumstances, and not the consequence of a psychological impetus. It follows that since this person is not acting in the traditional sense; he or she is not an "actor", but a "performer".  

A performance can take on the characteristics of a bicycle race or a political rally. Various art forms are utilized during the performance, and the sum of the parts creates a unique whole that is the performance as a discrete art form. The expressive space created when visual art, theatre, dance, music, film and architecture meet is the space for performance. This space encompasses varying artistic and social groupings, the high and low arts, and pure entertainment.  

Unlike a theatre experience, in which the actors would simulate an emotional experience that would evoke empathy in the audience members and thus invoke in each a catharsis, and unlike an art gallery experience, in which a viewer may pick up on visual symbolism and sensual details that will invoke an intended emotional response, the performance art experience involves both or neither of these familiar demands upon the audience.  

Part of the tension with any performance art experience is the unknown element of what will be demanded of you, the audience. You may be expected to sit passively and observe. You may be expected to pluck a dead chicken, or dance a tango with an 80-year-old trapeze artist.

Performance Art can be created anywhere—indoors or outdoors, traditional theatre or inside of a garbage truck. The performer demonstrates a situation and a visual series of actions while remaining objective and distanced from his or her actions. The performer is not trying to create an illusion of reality for the audience.

Perhaps most important, Performance signals a rejection of established art forms by the artist and the audience. One consequence of this rejection is the lack of established and traditional evaluation criteria for critics and audience members. In many ways performance art is the ultimate democratization of the art experience. Performance can only be evaluated as a subjective experience by the individual. When there is no psychological, philosophical or educational aim on the part of the performing artists, there is no objective measurement for a successfully communicated message.

GILBERTANDGRAPE is a performance art group consisting of Helen Pritchard (UK) and Anne-Marte Eidseth Rygh (Norway). They have been performing internationally since 2003.  

Their performance missing you mostly took place simultaneously in Stavanger, Norway and in Great Britain.The theme for the performance: How one can one maintain a connection while being physically separated?

The space itself is an old beer brewery, a long concrete hall with several converging rooms along the north wall. The space is dimly lit and dank. The audience is asked to queue up before being invited into a room one by one. The man at the front of the queue appears nervous.  

The performer comes out to invite the first member of the audience, or more accurately, the first audience. Although the performer Grape wears a wig, there is nothing affected or stylised about her mannerisms or actions.  

The room is bare save one large gym treadmill, one projection screen and many long (unlighted) sparklers lined up on the floor.  When the spectator enters the space he becomes a participant in the performance: Grape invites him to get on the treadmill and set it as high or low as he wants.  

While he walks, over the next five minutes, he also watches two films projected simultaneously on a split screen. Each film shows one of the performers running in a parking house, pushing a shopping cart. Both films end with the performer lying on the ground, lighting a sparkler.  

While these films are shown, a letter is read aloud, a letter from Gilbert who is in England at that moment. When the films and reading are finished, the audience member is told to step off the treadmill, and is given a sparkler. Grape explains that he should take a moment and consider the ways he could be closer to someone far away before lighting the sparkler.

One of the members of the audience lights her sparkler just outside the door of the space (thus expanding the performance space). Then she gives her sparkler to a man standing near the parking lot. She describes her experience:  

    "When I looked back over my shoulder at him, I saw a rather sad image of a man standing alone in the parking lot with a sparkler in his hand while he was talking on a mobile phone. I wondered if he was talking to someone far away? Someone he misses?"

This woman later described this moment as the most moving, most memorable thing about missing you mostly.  Unlike a traditional theatre or gallery experience, where the coincidental events immediately following the viewing of the staged artwork are irrelevant, this is exactly the kind of experience Performance Art strives to make possible for the audience.  Does it get better than that?   

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About This Article

©2006 Ren Powell
©2006 Publication Scene4 Magazine

Ren Powell is a native Californian living on the West Coast of Norway. Trained as an actress, she discovered she was too bossy and began writing instead. Still bossy. Still writing.
For more of her commentary and articles, check the Archives 


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Scene4 Magazine-International Magazine of Arts and Media

december 2006

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