back to performances


Building My Lungs 13.08.09 photo by Christina Mitrentse

performed at opening of Christina Mitrentse’s exhibition “Building My Library”, NO:ID gallery, London, 13th August 2009

I have been following the work of Christina Mitrentse, through countless, sometimes rather obscure exhibitions, since 2006. In fact, that’s as long as I have been making art myself. Asked to make a performance for tonight, I decided to do something based on her work.

My strategy has been to take a quotation from Christina’s work and then build my own piece around it. For one reason or another, I thought quite spontaneously on the image of some broccoli sitting on a large book (I recall blackboard drawings of broccoli in pairs; books as plinths in numerous drawings and sculptures; and one time an Olympic podium of books with a shrink-wrapped piece of broccoli taking the bronze...)

The book I am using in my performance is a companion volume to the prayer books of the Anglican Communion, published in 1936 and titled “Liturgy And Worship”. It looks like it just stepped out of one of Christina’s drawings, well over 800 pages fat and with the title written in gold on black on its curving spine. The contents, meanwhile – a collection of highly specialist essays on subjects such as ‘Fasting And Abstinence’, ‘Liturgical Silence’, ‘The Burial Of The Dead’ – harmonise nicely with the ceremonial style of my own performances.

I always spend a lot of time wallowing on the ground in my pieces. I thought: I can use the book for a pillow, once I have removed the broccoli. What shall I then do with the broccoli? I can put it on my chest, since it looks like lungs. Then I can breathe exaggeratedly, we will see the “lungs” going up and down. And I can take black paint and paint on the windpipe running down to the broccoli lungs; and then I can dilute it with water and the black liquid will run down over everything, the diagrams get all confused, collapse into formlessness, the lesson is broken up and dissolves into an aimless wallowing pleasure for me and my materials. Breathing ceases to be a function to be explained physiologically and becomes instead an ecstatic sacrament, a kind of worship, holy or unholy, enjoyed in itself. Big breaths, I fill my lungs with all the air they can take, then I can feel their full size and their shape. Then I treat them to a dirty bath in the paint, I anoint them in the muck. Having “built my lungs”, rendered them and their functioning visible, I take the image apart in order to show not the orderly workings but the tactile immeasurable pleasure, the joyfulness of lungs pumping not to dutifully keep the rest of me alive but simply for their own joy in pumping. And the black paint runs for its pleasure in swamping and blots out the teachings of the textbook (anatomy book, holy manual, whichever): the black of the inked instructional words become the sensuous black of night, of unknowing, of the mystical “via negativa”, of the unlit interior of the body dark and mysterious as the furthest reaches of space.

By the end of the piece: a strewn mess, everything touched all over, fallen where it may. I collect it all up in a blanket, slip the book under my arm, and leave the stage.

- explanatory notes handed out at the event