In 2015 I was invited to participate in the exhibition Performance Art+Northern Ireland, at the Golden Thread Gallery in Belfast, which surveyed the history of performance art in the country. I edited a new video work from documentation of a previous live performance presented in 2010 and shown as part of the Art Rebels retrospective at Catalyst Arts. It seemed apt to work with the raw material of my own performative history in an exhibition that sought to redefine or reimagine an era of art history.
The performance centred on a series of actions in which I worked my way through 5 packets of A4 laser printer paper. In each packet save the first, only one page was marked, with a text. In each case, I unwrapped the paper, held the stack in front of my face and allowed the sheets to cascade down in various rhythms and forms. Each time I came across the marked page, I paused. The pages read: The Whole, Illusion, of the Separation, of Time. The random way in which the pages fell meant that the phrase could be read in a number of ways as it accumulated on the ground, with or without certain words. Following this series of actions, I used a phial of glitter blowing it slowly across a blank wall, to eventually reveal a phrase: For we are stars dust.
The work draws on the multiple meanings of the work ‘stock’, and the tensions that these create: stock as generic, as sameness, commodity and stock as genetic, encoding diversity; stock as in banks of common image types or stock as in a particular ancestry or background; stock as in abstract capital versus the fleshiness of livestock. Particular moments in the work, certain tableaux and gestures, resonated with different aspects of this entanglement of meanings.
The two key materials conveyed the contrast in these associations. Generic A4 printer paper is a kind of icon of the contemporary era, perhaps an inverse icon, given its emptiness and disposability. It embodies the aesthetic of mass bureaucracy and the temporality that this entails, the mechanical time of office order. This is a new incarnation of standard time, followed the prayer clock followed by monastic orders. The other material, glitter, is very different in nature; it is also a cheap commodity, yet it is threaded to a sense of wonder or play, through our attraction to light and recollections of childhood and celebrations.
The work is a form of ‘performance poem’, taking the meanings stored in words and transforming them into propositions in space, through actions and gestures that possess a rhythm, foregrounding the role that time and the senses play in the unfolding of ideas.
This work extends my interest in activating archives and collections in ways that create slippages between what we conventionally mark out as past, present, and future time. In lived experience, these temporalities are very much enmeshed in one another; anticipations, recollections, and immediations intermingle in our actions and thoughts. It is only when we shift into a particular frame of mind, motivated by needs and desires – trying to recall a memory, considering the best course of action, evaluating a situation – that perception brings one timeframe to the fore and pushes others to the background. It is in that moment, of need or desire, that individually we create the past, present and future for ourselves. Archives and collections are in this view ongoing expressions of our relationship with time and the types of collective formations we make of it, as stories as histories: they are currents and currencies.
It is interesting how certain words move beyond their function as signs more readily, taking on the qualities of phenomena in their material presence and force. Perhaps it is because certain words embody a critical mass, acting as junctions through which so much meaning passes, gathered through so many ages. Perhaps it is their etymology that, in its composition and coalescence, is almost textural, geological, retaining the sheer quality of life – matter and energy – through which words arise and are carried. In the current climate, the word Stock is one such word for me. In addition to working with the word in the 2010 performance and 2015 video work, it was the title of the installation Stock/Spectrum in 2011, which explored the relationship between technology, memory and history.