Peephole: The Performative Disturbance Between The Art Space and Spectatorship
The purpose of my interactive installation in the MacKenzie Art Gallery in Regina, Canada in November 2012 entitled PEEPHOLE, was to explore the interaction between the spectator, the video art installation and the space of the gallery. In this work, the three discrete elements interacted to affect both, the space and spectatorship as a means to enable spectators to become part of the total visual apparatus. Through video capture and simultaneous projection, spectators are transformed from subject to object: in other words, spectators become points of reference, both reading the space and being read within the space. By this means, the audience becomes an interactive artifact, a key element in the performances. My work builds on the practices of performance art and installation, which have historically aimed to break down spectator and artwork boundaries, and question high art modernist institutions like galleries.
Artists such as Marcel Duchamp’s installation 1200 bags of coal in 1938, Kurt Schwitters with his installation Merzbau 1943, and more recently the exhibition Queering the Museum in 2010 at The Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery in the UK, are some of many instances in the history of performance and installation art that have informed my work and interest in breaking these boundaries. Therefore, I propose that the moment the spectators are aware of looking at themselves looking, they perceive themselves as part of the space, sensing the spatial/temporal synchronicity of the body, thereby affecting and enriching the content of the installation. This interaction creates a performative gesture that juxtaposes several discursive elements and unifies the space, the spectator and the installation. In addition, I propose that this gesture breaks with the institutional, modernist treatment of the gallery space in denying it as a mere container for artwork and redefining it as a performative element in its own right.
PEEPHOLE’s secondary purpose was to reconsider gender representation and the sexualized body, at the same time queering the gallery space. I use the verb “to queer” in the Buttlerian sense in my research to signify a reevaluation or reinterpretation of an action or space with an eye to sexual orientation. To do so, I employed larger-than-life imagery of hyper-sexualized male bodies to push the boundaries and mores of the art gallery that traditionally constrain spectators’ interaction with the space and the art object, and also to activate a reconsideration of spectators’ own subjectivity, desires and cultural backgrounds. The way that spectators relate to the video installation and to the space itself (through an overlay of projected bodies on their actual bodies) underscores that bodies are both actual and emblematic, operating as metaphoric and theatrical signifiers. This action, I believe, destabilizes the spectator and simultaneously creates both a performance space and a performative action. This same action activates the use of the body as a site for performance and how the materiality of the body serves as artifact on the Art Installation itself.
Finally, I introduced in my artwork the idea of peeping/voyeur as an interactive device within the exhibition that emphasizes the performativity of materiality of the queered body of the spectator. Although this device is not new in art practices, I aimed to make a link between this widely used device in art and the contemporary obsession with surveillance. Through such means as surveillance cameras, television and computer monitors and such activities as posting and sharing photos, videos and texts via the internet, our society has become increasingly voyeuristic and I argue that through these means we perform our identity on a global stage.