All art is political: Writings on performative art is a collection of interviews and essays on artists whose art lies less in the artwork itself and more in the context in which these artworks are placed. The first interview, with Keith Rowe and Mayo Thompson, suffers from the fact that two artists are interviewed. As a consequence the piece follows no coherent thread or theme, and only superficially addresses any of the questions that are raised.
An example of this incoherence can be found in one of the major threads of this interview, where the pair discuss their aims to challenge and stretch the art establishment before backtracking and commenting that their work is ultimately part of the tradition of western art. This comment is followed by more talk of challenging the artistic establishment, seemingly contrary to their previous statement. While such statements can conceivably be reconciled, no effort to do so is included in the work.
The second interview, with Thea Djordjadze, at first appears to discuss the relationship between her art and the public, who would touch and move her models, requiring the galleries where her work was exhibited to post extra guards. However, the interviewer quickly changes track and describes how her work revolves around the limits of language, exemplified via a focus on “doing” upon actions rather than tangible objects. After an engaging article they introduce a new concept, which is in turn interesting, interpreting time as relational rather than absolute. Unfortunately, like the previous piece, this fascinating concept is not fully explored, and ultimately detracts from the wider work.
The third piece is unusual in that it takes the form of an essay written by the artist’s wife, so no pretence at objectivity is made. This format works well, as a coherent story is told through most of this essay. From her privileged position, she is able to describe the artistic process in a way rarely seen in such writings, which are typically from the viewpoint of the artist or a disinterested journalist.
Here we return to two former themes: that of the context of the room determining the artwork, and that of the limits of language. Both, nonetheless, are approached from a fresh angle. Despite the title, this book features little by way of politics in the conventional sense, at least until the fourth piece – an interview with Susan Hiller. Here we have a consistent and comparatively detailed discussion of some concepts, including the differences between British and American culture, as well as feminism, and that of history as something that exists in the present.
This final theme is explored in a number of works dealing with memory and works addressing our habit of fetishizing certain ideas and concealing others. Although the problems of quickly jumping between topics and the disconnection between the sections discussing artwork specifically and the artist’s views more generally remain, they are less problematic than elsewhere. In the final piece, a touching essay on Dieter Roth, we are given a chronological account of his artwork. Since this piece describes the mundane pleasures and pains of everyday life, we feel that we have been given a far more personal insight into the artist’s mind than in the previous works.
After a poor start, this book manages to provide some compelling essays. If you have a personal or academic interest in any of the artists, I would recommend considering this perspective on them. In spite of this, the work as a whole remains underwhelming. Whilst valuable content certainly exists, the book is too disjointed and superficial to really make use of it.