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Location: Helen Pitt Gallery, 148 Alexander Street,

An exhibition presented by LIVE, Curated by Todd A. Davis


Opening: Thursday, October 11 7PM
October 11 - 27, 2007

The art object, since the first death of painting in the late 1960s, might admittedly be, living in the uncertainty of a true pedigree, and unsettles any ranking of the fine arts. This small exhibition will continue this lineage while viewing art objects in relation to performance art.

Time-based performance art is informative, otherworldly, sensuous, outrageous, sometimes unscripted and at other times, in the words of some people, “just plain weird”. It is based in presentation concepts which evoke ‘time’ and ‘body’; often losing much in translation through documentation. You just had to be there!

Not so with these artworks.

The object, or the art object, is not what comes to mind in relation to performance; and although our immediate thoughts will land on a theatre of the absurd vision, these works extend the idea of performance and allow the viewer an intimate interaction. The term ‘props’ comes to mind but these works extend to the performed object, and can be considered a tool of the performance concept: an object which extends the idea; the object which takes on iconic territory resulting from the performative work; and objects which could be considered an artwork endowed
with the artists’ individual reflections created through the performance act.

Pathetic fallacy was a concept of 19th century art and social critic, John Ruskin; a term for descriptions of inanimate natural objects depictedin a manner that endows them with human emotions, thoughts, sensations and personal feelings. In a narrow sense intended by Ruskin, the pathetic fallacy is an artistic failing since he believed the central value of art is its truthful representation of the world as it appears to our senses. In the narrow sense intended by Ruskin, the pathetic fallacy is a scientific failing, since most of his definitive paper concerns art, which ought
to be its truthful representation of the world as it appears to our senses, not as it appears in our imaginative and fanciful reflections upon it, or as well, through it. The term was coined by Ruskin in Modern Painters (1843–60) when he states in his treatise of English analytical philosophy, “The temperament which admits the pathetic fallacy, is, that of a mind and body in some sort too weak to deal fully with what is before them or upon them…”. He further notes, while stepping on both the philosophers of the day and his shortcomings with his own language, that, “German dulness (sic), and English affectation”, have of late much multiplied among us the use of two of the most objectionable words that were ever coined by the troublesomeness of metaphysicians — namely, ‘Objective’ and’ Subjective and …still, the difference between the great and less man is, on the whole, chiefly in this point of alterability”. A simple translation, in the terminology of Ruskin’s pathetic fallacy is to say that in knowing too much, one perceives and feels too much of the past and the future.



The Performed Object: Against a Pathetic Fallacy is an exhibition which will bridge “having been there” and “the objects performed” that signify the performative act through description of inanimate, found or created objects that performance artists imbue with, and through human capabilities, sensations, and even emotions.

Performance artists many times utilize ‘objects’ during the event, integral to the development, and execution, of the performance. Often these objects are relegated to a level of ‘the prop’ in the execution of the artwork. This exhibition proposal purports to examine objects created by performance artists within a critical discourse as art works in their own right, or art objects by professional artists with an opportunity to create a context for the art objects.

In its initial development, performance art began as a replacement for ‘the object’ and its iconic relationship to the artist. Why create objects when the artist and their embodiment was the object? From early DADA performances through Black Mountain College to the Happenings of the 1950’s and 1960’s in NYC, the object became a part of the performer. Or the artist became the object. A collision of Ruskin’s perceived past and future.

Whether in making or perceiving a work of art, we bring to bear on it feeling, intellect, morals, knowledge, memory, and every other human capacity, all focused in a flash on a single point. The object may also refer to something that is within the grasp of the senses: a physical entity which plays a role. The imagination will often reshape art in a way which the prosaic mind cannot understand an object out of context; but this will be based on both original and newly created framework. Against a pathetic fallacy.

The exhibition will create an understanding of the ‘performed object’ within the context of Canadian and international contemporary art. These objects will show that pathetic fallacy was not only a critical mistake, but also implies a misnomer in reasoning. The object instead assumes that the attribution of sentient humanizing traits to nature is a centrally human way of understanding the world, and that it does have a useful and important role in art. “Ruskin’s views on art”, wrote Kenneth Clark, “cannot be made to form a logical system, and perhaps owe to this fact a
part of their value. Certain principles, however, remain consistent throughout art history only to be undermined by contemporary art history.”

As the subjects of art and its discourse, the object is paramount, even from a subjective viewpoint. As performance art is a recent sibling to the visual art media many discussions have centered around the performative aspect as ‘the object’. A laudable subject and certainly one that has been covered by many writers. This exhibition and discussion will look at the object which results within, or from, the performance and centres
on a small group of west coast Canadian artists.

The artists’ will present work alongside documentation, of the original performance in which the object first came into existence, through either video or photographs. This aspect is intended to expand the interpretation and educational aspects related to the exhibition and aimed at a non-specialized audience increasing accessibility to the visual arts through performance, time-based art; whereas the catalogue with essays will address notions within contemporary art theory. Both aspects will provide a door for LIVE 2007 and the performances, lectures and symposia presented throughout October. A more extensive discussion of specific artists and their work will be made available at the Helen Pitt Gallery to whom I owe thanks for their support of this exhibition through the use of their physical plant and exhibition space.

Todd A Davis
August 2007