by EL Putnam
My first experience of Irish performance art in the flesh was in 2005. Andre Stitt was a visiting artist at the School of Museum of Fine Arts (SMFA) in Boston, where I was completing my undergraduate degree. My memories of this event are now fragments, but he left a definite impression on me. I recall sitting on the floor of room B209 — our black box classroom that provided the platform for so many mixed memories and artistic misadventures. The intensity of the performance was undeniable. Some actions that come to mind are: Stitt pulling aside one of the black out curtains that surrounded the room, only to slam a sledgehammer into the white wall beneath it, placing a pig’s head in the hole; carving a word (that now escapes me) into his arm with a scalpel; setting napalm on fire (an action, I learned later, that required turning off the room’s smoke alarm). I have no documentation from these experiences — no photographs, video, audio, or textual recollections — only these fractured recollections. I remember the profoundness of Stitt’s actions, that despite their destructive nature, he performed with such grace and certainty. I also recollect pondering what Stitt must have experienced to create such a deeply loaded performance, a catharsis for echoes of violence. There was no excess of ferocity; rather, everything felt calculated and necessary. I knew he came from Belfast, but the city was foreign to me at this point — just an abstract blur on my narrow mental geography. Despite being exposed to performance for a few years, Stitt’s presentation exceeded anything I had yet witnessed in regards to his skill and intensity.
There is something magical about performance art. I am drawn to its embodied form, its live character, its multi-sensory make-up, and the potential for chance that opens up when art unfolds in the present tense. Photographs and video may capture flickers of experience, providing a visual (and sometimes auditory) recount of a performance event. However, the importance of writing as a means of documenting and sharing these experiences cannot be underestimated. Hence the creation of in:Action — an online forum dedicated to Irish performance art. We want this to be a site where people can share their experiences of witnessing, creating, and curating performance art. In addition to inviting some guest writers, we have an ongoing open call for submissions (see Submitting page for guidelines). Rather than being a site for critique, we want to foster thoughtful and critical engagement with the ever-shifting medium of performance art.
And so it begins.