In conjunction with ‘GOMA Q: Contemporary Queensland Art’, emerging writers had the opportunity to enter the ‘GOMA Q’ Emerging Writers Competition, launched on the opening weekend of the exhibition. A judging panel comprised of the Emerging Creatives team and the QAGOMA Blog coordinator had the difficult task of choosing a winner from the many high quality entries about the ‘GOMA Q’ exhibition. Llewellyn Millhouse was one of the four runners up and his blog is published below. Entries from the three remaining talented runners up will also appear on our Blog over the coming weeks. View the winning entry.
Clark Beaumont: Love I and II & Joy Ride
Clark Beaumont are a collaborative duo whose live and mediated performance works ‘investigate ideas and constructs surrounding identity, female subjectivity, intimacy and interpersonal relationships’ (Clark Beaumont 2015).
A diptych of large scale framed photographs; Love I and II 2014 depict a performed moment in which both artists gaze at their reflection despite embracing each other in a hug. As the didactic explains, through Love I and II, Clark Beaumont ‘subtly explore the notion that love is, even in its purest form, a predominantly selfish act . . . Whilst embracing one another, each artist’s focus remains inward, as conveyed by their attention to the hand-held mirrors’ (GOMA 2015).
Not so subtly, this work resembles a pithy one-liner, using the cliché of the mirror reflection to suggest that inter-subjectivity is both dependent on and undermined by narcissism. As a purely visual scenario, the hug and mirror form a superficial dichotomy between the most iconic act of authentic inter-subjective compassion and the most iconic act of contrived self-indulgence.
In contrast, the participatory performance Joy Ride 2015 offers a far more complex and engaging approach to the relationship between narcissism and inter-subjectivity. Situated at the exit of the exhibition beyond a heavy curtain, Clarke Beaumont occupy an installation consisting of several retractable barrier posts leading to a single step high purple podium and accompanied by a sleek black metal lectern. Invited to come-on-down and step-on-up to the podium, one member of Clark Beaumont proceeds to embrace the participant in a hug. As soon as contact is made, the remaining member of Clark Beaumont activates the podium, which begins rotating slowly as the participant is held in a polite embrace. A banally uplifting soundtrack is activated in unison with the podium, whilst an as yet unnoticed photographer begins hurriedly to capture the precious moment.
Exiting out of the exhibition and immediately stepping up on to the stage, I did not have time to witness the spectacular event before participating. The 10 or so agonising seconds of discomfort and vulnerability as the podium makes a full rotation and the participant is freed from the spotlight came to me as a complete surprise. Stepping off the podium, thanked politely and shuffled out of the way, the transaction gives the immediate impression of a free-floating snapshot from the climactic moment in a soppy Hollywood romance. Like a blockbuster-themed sideshow at Warner Bros. Movie World, the participant consumes the spectacular moment as if gazing at an image of themselves from outside their body.
Recently returning from the Kaldor Public Arts Project residency facilitated by Marina Abramović, Clark Beaumont’s relationship to Abramović and the legacy of her performance works is clear. However, in contrast to the soppy humanism of Abramović’s The Artist is Present 2012 and 512 Hours 2014, with their mythological reputation of reducing participants to tears, Clark Beaumont’s Joy Ride both subverts and complicates the common-sense relationship between intimacy and authenticity.
In Joy Ride, the cliché hug is not just inverted, but rigorously destabilised by the problematic of performative identity. Expecting a vulgar and over-performed “authentic” intimacy, the participant is surprised by the deadpan impassivity of the embrace and its sickly sweet overture. Clark Beaumont perform this caricature of customer service with an abundantly cold and stiff pretension. Instead of working comfortably together with the performer, co-operating to make a farce of the “authentic moment”, the participant of Joy Ride is left painfully vulnerable.
The power of Joy Ride lies in this vulnerability, the participant struggling with the image of their performance in the face of Clark Beaumont’s mundane indifference. Relinquishing all control over the intimate transaction, the participant becomes dependent on Clark Beaumont. Smiling desperately at the camera the participant clings to the embrace for safety, despite it being the direct source of their discomfort.
By participating in this conflictual realisation the audience is forced to understand the obfuscated violence of narcissism. Resoundingly de-sexualised, the product sold by the “hug store” is a painfully slow and dispassionate slap in the face. Sold to satisfy the desire for affection, the hug-image-product serves only to amplify that desire, reinforcing the void between the subject and the other. In a gallery tour, curator Peter McKay advertised Joy Ride as a chance to “have your own Hollywood moment”. The relationship between this performance and contemporary screen culture is the key to its appreciation, reflecting a sexuality directed inwards yet sustained by a severely external and alienating image culture.
Both Love I and II and Joy Ride share the same basic premise. In the place popularly associated with compassionate and authentic inter-subjectivity, Clark Beaumont facilitate its unsettling opposite. Assuming that the interactive performance Joy Ride is meant as an extension of the intent behind the earlier work Love I and II, the contrast between these two works demonstrates the critical importance of medium to Clark Beaumont’s practice.
Llewellyn Millhouse is a Brisbane artist working across sculpture, painting and video. He is currently completing a Doctor of Philosophy at the Queensland College of Art, Griffith University.