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Thursday, June 14, 2012


The Yellow men was a project developed by performance artists Jed McMannon and Clarke Hegan throughout 2011. The then second year Dunedin school of art students devised the project with the ambitious intention of doing a weekly performance for the duration of an hour for the entire year. The performance was an ever evolving process of experimentation and took place at the centre of the main corridor of the Art school. The project’s name comes from McMannon & Hegan’s trademark yellow ‘uniforms’, which instantly made them recognizable

The project began after both discussed their mutual interest in endurance based performance works, particularly the work of seminal performance artist Chris Burden. Burden’s work is marked by both his endurance based performances, but also mortal danger and physical pain. While the McMannon & Hegan were interested in creating endurance based works, their interest lay primarily with the subsequent experience of pain. Rather than doing an action which would be purposefully harmful to themselves they sought to reach a point of uncomfortable pain.

By choosing to stage such performances in a public space McMannon and Hegan were also engaging with art historical references to controversies involving art in the public sphere, most notably Richard Serra’s seminal Tilted Arc (1981). Tilted Arc was a public sculpture commissioned by the United States General Services Administration’s Arts-in-Architecture program for the Federal Plaza in New York, NY, USA. After intense public debate the work was controversially dismantled in 1989. Both artists agree that while the work was a successful sculpture, it did not succeed as a public sculpture, due to the fact of the environment in which it was placed. The work obstructed the path of those who had to interact with it daily. The yellow men project was founded upon this idea of obstructing the unknowing viewer’s path and thus forcing them to both engage and participate in each of their works however fleeting this engagement may have been. In doing this the Yellow men project was perhaps subconsciously aligning themselves also with the ‘Living sculpture’ works by Gilbert and George. This kind of confrontation had a varied response, but by the mere ritual of having to do a weekly performance this enabled both artists to refine their practice in the safety of the institution.

At the Qubit contemporary performance series at the Anteroom gallery, the Yellow men performed for the first time in a gallery space, with interesting results. Blow consisted of the simple act of blowing up an inflatable swimming pool and deflating it over and over again. This mundane act challenged the viewer’s engagement simply for the fact that the viewer immediately became aware of what both artists were doing and largely disengaged. Did it change? Or did it largely remain the same? This subtle performance did change over time, with both their bodies twisting and contorting through the uncomfortable process of squeezing air out of their lungs. Blow gradually became more physically grueling for both artists. But because of the majority of audience’s disengagement did this mean that the performance lost meaning, because of it’s repetitive nature? Or was it success in proving that repeating the same action can dislocate meaning? Wet, the second performance by the Yellow men initiated a completely different response, although it largely followed the same principal. It was utterly gut wrenchingly difficult and captivating to watch. Wet involved both McMannon and Hegan filling the paddling pool used in Blow with water. Then both artists sat cross legged in the pool, faced each other and then took turns at pours cups of water on each other’s heads. At first the atmosphere within the gallery was that of disengagement, but as the performance progressed the room became transfixed by the figures before us, as we watched them shiver in a self-perpetuated agony. I wanted to make them stop and drag them out and shove blankets on them, but I sat and watched this silent ritual and mediated upon the associations of such an action. My immediate response was that it reminded me of the process of baptism. It also communicated a collective frustration at both wanting to make the performance stop, yet remaining absolutely magnetically glued to their every movement.

Currently both artists are working on individual projects, with both continuing to look at both ritual and endurance based performances. They will both also be a part of a group show reconceptualising the current Mural show of New Zealand expressionist works, curated by Aaron Kreisler and Fiona O’Connor at the Dunedin Public art gallery in June.