When Tino Seghal's These Associations became the latest installation to grace Tate Modern's Turbine Hall, we could all assume that performance art had safely arrived. But, it hadn't always been so. During the 1960s and 1970s performance art was seen as a radical act, particularly amongst feminist artists who would place their bodies right in the firing line, often literally. Richard Saltoun gallery specialises in re-evaluating these periods and looks at artists who worked during these times in new lights.
This new exhibition draws the line between text and performance through the work of three artists: Gina Pane, Ida Appleborg and Henri Chopin. These artists all employ performativity in their work and echo the thorny problematics performance art has taught art criticism. The body as subject, the act as text and the viewer as interpreter are all entwined in the curatorial concept.
The artist that speaks most clearly of poetry and performance is Henri Chopin. His Dactylopoems, produced on a typewriter, are mesmerising stuff. Chopin is a key figure of the avant-garde but perhaps more widely known for his writing and music than his artwork. In 1964 he created OU magazine, which was one of the most significant reviews of the 20th century and drew experimental writers such as William S. Burroughs, Brion Gysin and Raoul Hasumann. Chopin was a prisoner in an internment camp during the Second World War and believed he had experienced corruption and evil beyond what language could ever describe. His practise led him to favour distortion and intelligibility of language as a way of expressing the inadequacy he found in it. The pieces on show are surprisingly timeless and stretch up to his recent death in 2008.
Gina Pane worked predominantly in the 1970s and it's a rare chance to see her work exhibited here in the UK. Her body is essential to her work and she regularly preformed actions on herself. The documentation on display recalls her Azione Sentimentale from 1974, in which she evokes catholic stigmata by slicing her hands and stomach with razor blades and pierced her skin with thorns. This act, in performance theory, recalls both pleasure and fear, and questions death, imperfection and the objectification of the female form.
Ida Applebrog's diptych Independence Plaza (1979) graces the windows of the gallery. It's a shame they couldn't recreate their original hanging when the paintings made their first appearance at Printed Matter Inc. New York, for the exhibition Co-Op City curated by Lucy Lippard in 1980 – exactly fitting within the frames of the gallery windows. The paintings looked out onto the passersby to simulate an actual window, positioning the viewer into a spying role looking into an intimate world of domesticity – usually a private space. The subject matter is ambiguous and rather makes suggestions to the viewer: who is holding the power in this image?
Although performance is absent from the exhibition (it would be hard to stage a live performance from the 1970s, right?), the artworks represent the evidence of its happening and the actions of the artists. The exhibition is small but neat and is a great chance to see some lesser known artists from this period, especially within a smaller, but essential, gallery space.