Sean Burnett Dugdale-Martin
Performed in Te Auaha’s Gallery Space, with one wall being a large window out onto the street, there are two chairs opposite each other in a white rectangle marked out on the floor with tape. Outside of this there are three, two-seater seats scattered against the walls of the space and besides that you are either standing or sitting on the floor.
Against the opposite wall from where you walk in are the rules: The emotions used in tonight's performance include Fear, Lust, Aggression, Happiness, Disgust, Grief. Any one person may sit in the chair and choose one emotion for them to use. You may stay in the chair as long as you want. An easy concept and Annan delivers well on the promises as audience members begin to tentatively play with the world we’ve stepped into.
Annan performs with grace and conviction. He holds eye-contact with those sitting across from him as he evokes the chosen feeling and it’s the fearless eye-contact and separation of the guest seat and where the audience watches from that makes the experience so easy to engage with once you’re in the hot seat. You can’t help but fall onto the same wavelength as Annan, unconsciously drawn to copy his facial movements or body language.
Annan can’t leave his chair or vocalise beyond chimp-like grunts and growls. It’s a decision that evokes a connection between our emotions and primality- enough lust and we turn into horny monkeys! The grief one is a fun one to choose if you’re in the mood to watch a white person cry.
My feedback for this piece comes from a history of creating performance art myself. A piece of mine was very similar to Annan’s, and I wouldn’t be surprised if both were inspired by the same Marina Abramović, specifically her The Artist is Present. If I were to offer anything to Annan for their work it would be to make the space more conducive of comfort. For creating work like this the artist becomes a tool or a plaything and the audience becomes the show in a sense. We wait for them to interact with us. In Access the room was more or less silent the whole time, people patiently waiting for things to happen, and even in the chair it was rare to have people really respond to all the emotions that Annan was giving. Not knowing the history of the show or where its previous iterations took place, I would encourage Annan to think of more homely spaces to situate the show. If it’s about the emotions we have then it might serve the work better to have it situated in a place we are more naturally going to have those emotions. Instead of tall, white, blank walls, set it in a home or somewhere less strictly coded than an art gallery.
Access is a fun addition to the Wellington Performance Art canon and even though it’s wrapped up its season here it is on its way to Dunedin. More info here.