Morgan Williams

The first memory I have of witnessing a piece of performance art was a group exhibition in Fitzroy in the early 90’s.  At some point a couple burst into the gallery, mostly naked.  He was writhing on the floor and on a leash.  She was dragging him around.  They wore bondage gear and for a moment I felt like I was suddenly in some kind of kinky sex club rather than an art gallery.  There was an altercation as part of the act, a poem, some applause and then the couple disappeared out the back door as quickly as they had arrived.  “Sometimes they almost have sex” one person informed me.  Geeze I thought, they could start charging an entry fee then!

Previous to this experience I’d assumed performance art was more akin to busking.  Like the people along south bank covered in gold paint moving ever so slowly while people throw coins in their hat.  Or brave acrobats juggling chain saws on stilts.  Or creatives doing chalk drawings on the pavement along Swanston St.  But it seems performance art could also happen in a gallery.  How’s that different to theatre then?

The definition of most art forms is rather nebulous and performance art is no exception.  After a trawl of the internet it seems to be mostly characterised as being “theatrical in form, as having extremes of expression, moments of endurance and usually takes place in site specific locations” which I guess means a gallery!

This wasn’t the case when John Lennon & Yoko Ono invited the media to a ‘Bed In’ during their honeymoon in an Amsterdam Hotel in 1969.  Now considered a performance art piece, their time in bed started as a protest against the Vietnam war.  The artwork lasted a week and is possibly the most photographed & famous piece of performance art to this day.

Closer to home Melbourne artist Stelarc has been a long standing performance artist, most notably for hanging via hooks at the NGV. In 2007 he surgically attached a cell cultivated ear to his arm in the name of art.  It seems there’s no bounds to the extremes of performance art.

Even closer to home local Hepburn artist Peter Tyndall titles all his artwork “A Person Looks At A Work of Art / someone looks at something”. The implication being that the very act of viewing artwork is in fact art, which to me implies that we are all performance artists when we enter a gallery.  Is your head spinning yet?

Last year I think we unwittingly had our first performance art piece at Radius.  Two ladies dressed in 1950’s style clothes entered the gallery and proceeded to walk around loudly critiquing the work on show, shoving patrons away so they could get champagne and cramming anything not nailed down into their handbags.  I later discovered they had been paid by the artist to attend the opening, and were performance artists.

Jonathan Harris ended his show with us in November by telling stories of his life from behind his sculpture.  He called it a ‘Performative Art Piece’.

To add to my own art practice I decided to create a performance art piece of my own. Our first exhibition of 2024 was a group show call re:Create – The Art of Sustainability.  I have been using bottle caps as a medium for over 10 years now.  So I filled a bathtub with coloured plastic bottle caps out the front of the gallery, stripped off and jumped in the bath for two hours.  It was rather uncomfortable but also a bit thrilling.  People immediately laughed as they entered the show which was fun. I read aloud from a book.  I smiled for the camera many times.  Had a few pretend naps.  People brought me endless glasses of wine. We talked politics, the environment and bathing. The two most asked questions were not about the artwork at all, but whether I was totally naked and did I pee in the bath?  For the record the answer to both of these is an absolute secret and part of my artwork!

Our current exhibition is for the annual ChillOut festival.  It’s a celebration of photographic work by Peter Sparkman. His giant life size b&w prints adorn the Radius walls and offer a rich visual insight into the lives, loves and interactions of our local queer community.  Show ends 13th April.

Morgan Williams is the co-director with Kim Percy of Radius Art Space. His art practice spans a 30 year period and explores a diverse range of mediums and topics.