The Persistence of Presence

by EL Putnam

The premise of Cowards, like many of Amanda Coogan’s performances, is simple — a woman, wearing a white dress, attempts to pull it over her hand, “she becomes tangled in the fabric; caught in the moment of taking it off.” She is joined by another woman, and another, and another… until six women become tangled in the white fabric of their dresses, caught in the moment of taking them off. The simple premise of the performance is deceitful, however, as over the course of six hours, these women occupy the entrance area and stairwell of the Project Arts Centre; caught in the fabric of their dresses, haunting the space with their presence.

Witnessing durational performance takes time — to engage with the rich possibilities that this form of performance offers requires a commitment from the spectator to sit and stay with it. Time behaves as a medium, transforming the performers as they loop their actions and gestures, each iteration slightly different from the previous one. Time and repetition offer the witness a chance to let go of concentration; to allow thoughts to wander through acts of looking, listening, and being in the space. Despite the recurrence of the slow gestures—or perhaps because of the cycling of actions—there are moments of surprise. At one point, as I was walking down the stairwell, a hand of a performer slipped between the open steps, caressing the concrete as I gasped at the unexpected human presence. My attention is drawn to the particularities of the architecture; details that are overlooked in their utility as a thruway.

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The performers are splattered with a blue powder; each with a splotch here or there that contrasts the gray of their clothing under the white dress. At first, I don’t make much of it — I consider it an aesthetic choice to add visual interest. As I continue to watch, though, I spy a performer near the entrance door, where she is juxtaposed against the distinctive blue paint of the Project Art Centre’s exterior. I notice the blue splatter on her arm matches the color of the exterior; a color that gained notoriety when it was used to cover a mural that called for repealing the Eighth Amendment by Maser in July 2016. At this moment of realization, the gestures of the performers took on another level of meaning. These women are spectres who are regularly erased, yet persistently present. In Ireland, the female body is a palimpsest of ideological battles, political regulations, and religious dominance. As these women pull their dresses slowly over their head, wavering as they are caught in the fabric, drawn to each other yet noticeably silent; they become the ghosts of the body politic.

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Amanda Coogan presented Cowards as part of Live Collision on April 22, 12 pm to 6 pm, at the Project Arts Centre in Dublin Ireland. Performers, in addition to Coogan, include: Tara Carroll, Lisa Freeman, Róisín Owens, Natasha Carlin, and Ciamh Nooney. Images by EL Putnam.

 

 

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