Girls Will Be Beuys

Some of last year’s graduating fine art students at DJCAD got a bit over-influenced by Joseph Beuys and his ‘social sculptures’. This resulted in zines, performance art, poster campaigns, and a lot of other good stuff. In the latest tribute/reference on October 13 a bunch of female ex-students got together as ‘The Collective Responsible For’ under the name Jane Smith and organised an art exhibition at Buskers Bar on Ward Road.

The main event of the night was a performance piece lasting around 20 minutes where DJCAD graduate Morgan Atkinson, 25, was smeared in lard and then slowly coaxed out of a bath.

The piece was Morgan’s first performance. She explained: “I just do whatever’s appropriate for the idea every time. The bath was in my degree show, but there was no performative aspect then. But I looked into a bit more performance art and I was thinking about doing this.”

The lard was a direct reference to a semi-mythical biographical detail of Joseph Beuys’ life. The story goes that as a young man in WW2 Beuys’ plane was shot down and he suffered severe burns, only surviving because he was wrapped in fat and felt by the locals.

“We don’t know if it was true or not,” says Morgan. “But as inspiration it’s about transformative pain, represented by the water, which is something everyone has experience of. Joseph Beuys said that the human condition is a wound and to live is painful. So it’s about the discomfort people feel just by being alive.”

During the performance increasingly hot water was poured in until Morgan was unable to stand to be submerged in it. It was uncomfortable to watch, though a little unclear. Despite the slight incoherence of the piece, it was encouraging to see a work of this kind being explored in Dundee outside of the contemporary art spaces.

Morgan isn’t sure if she’s going to make any more performance pieces using her own body, but stands by her decision to do so this time. She says: “I had to use myself in this because it was literally presenting a ritual and so I had to use myself because it was about my life.” And is she a feminist performance artist now? “I would say that everything I make is feminist because I’m a feminist and I can’t be anything else,” explains Morgan. “But I wouldn’t want to be pigeon-holed.

Words: Ana Hine

Image: Morgan Atkinson


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