Barbara Cleveland (formerly Brown Council)
Frances Barrett born 1983, Sydney; Kate Blackmore born 1982, Sydney; Kelly Doley born 1984, Melbourne; Diana Smith born 1981, Sydney. All artists live and work Sydney.
Performance Art 2014
3-channel video, sound, synthetic polymer paint on wall, carpet
Commissioned by the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia for the Jackson Bella Room, 2014
The Jackson Bella Room, situated in the National Centre for Creative Learning, is a dedicated, interactive space for students with specific learning needs to explore the work of contemporary artists. Each year, an artist or artist group is commissioned to make an environment suitable for people with specific needs.
Barbara Cleveland (formerly Brown Council) Jackson Bella Room Artist Commission transforms the space into an immersive and interactive performance ‘funhouse’ designed to be both accessible and stimulating for young people with specific needs. The work draws on a diverse range of sources, including the histories of performance art, absurdist theatre and children’s television programs such as Pee-wee’s Playhouse and Mulligrubs.
Performance Art incorporates a series of simple instructions communicated through title cards and read aloud. Each of the instructions can be performed with the face and include statements such as, ‘Say “hello” without moving your face’ and ‘Touch your nose with your tongue’. The artists take turns attempting to achieve these directions with often humorous outcomes. Viewers are encouraged to follow these instructions, becoming performers and collaborators in the production of the work. By taking centre stage under the ‘spotlight’ or on one of the coloured circles and ‘playing along’, individuals of varying abilities activate the space like performers in a theatrical set and realise the creative possibilities of simple body-based actions.
In Performance Art, art historical, popular and pedagogical influences meet as though by happy coincidence. Educational strategies used for many years in children’s television programming find their partners in established aesthetic strategies in the visual arts. Barbara Cleveland’s costumes draw on those created by Dadaist Hugo Ball for his performances, however their simple composition of cardboard and crepe paper lends itself to the ‘make this at home’ format familiar to shows such as Play School. Barbara Cleveland’s longstanding interest in Constructivist, Bauhaus and German Expressionist theatrical and film sets manifests in this work through striking black and white geometrical wall paintings. However, high contrast patterns such as these have also been used to demonstrate and stimulate the development of visual acuity in infants. Similarly, the artists’ recurring creation of instructional-based performances dovetails neatly with research showing that young people with autism respond best to concrete and literal activities and in response to clear directions.
We wanted the project to harness the ability of performance to create a playful and joyful space, where physical actions and embodiment incite imagination, build social engagement between participants and develop agency for the audience.
Brown Council, 2014