Monday, 20 June 2011

The Breakfast Sculpture – Mel Birmfield, Yorkshire Sculpture Park

The history of performance/live/body art (whatever you want to call it) has been a problematic one, dealing as it does with works which are ephemeral. Once the event is over it begins a separate life experienced through documentation moving into the more traditional modes of the gallery. This also provides live art with one of its strengths, to create a sense of mythology a world of coyote loving, glass crawling, and stalkers all experienced second hand with only the word of the artist and gallery that this did happen.

It is this complex relationship that Mel Birmfield exploits, creating a series of artists and performances which meld the history of art and popular culture through a series of staged photographs and imagined TV documentaries in order to create a parallel performance universe. As with many parallel universes it throws up some incredible possibilities, for example, a series of performances which sees the creation geometric shapes by throwing balls in the air, it's something that leaves you wishing that it was real. Perhaps that reflects the need in us the viewer (or just me) for art to transcend itself and to open up unknown possibilities.

Another element of Brimfield's practice is her inclusion of popular culture, within her parallel universe Eric & Ernie are equals with Gilbert & George, this use of pop culture is evident in the Breakfast Sculpture performance. Given as it starts with an introduction from Sir Francis Splading, the fictitious host of This is Performance Art TV series, he is a signifier of what is expected from such a position, eccentrically dressed and posh, he gives a knowing introduction to the proceedings which also pokes fun at the art system. This leads into a piano recital where the pianist plays badly, in the style of Les Dawson ( ) I can't help but think of this as a manifesto for the whole performance. For to deliberately play a piece of music badly you really have to understand it, this can be applied to the whole performance, in order to produce a successful spoof of performance art you should have a solid understanding of your subject.

And the New Art Club do as they take to the stage (or rather the suitably shabby '60s gym where all sat in) and go through a series of dance moves which shows us that they can dance but also shows up the clichés of contemporary dance. They kick, jump and do that rapid hand movement, you know what I mean it kind of looks like the doggy paddle; there is also a sequence about the enforced improvisation brought on by the mistakes of another performer.

Eventually they move into the finale the famous 'Breakfast Sculpture'. Using Morecombe and Wise's 'Breakfast Sketch ( ) as a basis, it's interesting to see something which has been a part of my life in a different context. Seeing in this way makes me think about what motivates us to create, being someone who has happily been 'informed' by TV shows, the reference to Eric & Ernie makes perfect sense as these 'performances' we see on television during our childhood influence us as much, or even more then, anything we discover during our drunkenly pretentious years at Uni. Depending on your age your initial inspiration to take up the brush could have been one of the following: Tony Hart, Rolf Harris or Neil Buchanan

Mel Birmfield in a way has acknowledged the place that people like Morecombe and Wise could hold within the history of performance art, it sounds like a bold statement but also remember that Gilbert and George where also partly inspired by the music hall duo Flanagan and Allen so there's precedent.

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