Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Response to Bow Gamelan Ensemble Great Noises That Fill The Air by Elizabeth Ann Day

The collection of performance art: a critique of Bow Gamelan Ensemble at Cooper Gallery

After first viewing Bow Gamelan Ensemble’s Great Noises that Fill the Air at Cooper Gallery I was struck by the exhibits distinct links to an issue I have been researching in my own practice for the last year; can we collect performance art?

The exhibition itself has two clear sections. One focuses on the new iteration of Bow Gamelan (known as W0B) wherein Anne Bean and Richard Wilson, accompanied by DJCAD students, performed on the show’s opening night, whilst the other looks to the past. The larger space on the gallery’s upper level is focussed on ephemera, with some of the earliest pieces on display dating back to the group’s inception in 1983.  Accompanying these physical objects are CRT monitors displaying footage of past performances as well as a mix of interviews from Bean, Wilson, and past member Paul Burwell (1949-2007). A new piece sits with this ephemera, titled Bow Lines (2018) it attempts to bring this material into the present by rattling large metal sheeting at seemingly random intervals. This naturally shocks the viewer, making them view the displayed ephemera in a slightly tense manner as their body attempts to anticipate the next thundering noise.

On December 7th I had the privilege of hosting a workshop within the gallery space wherein myself and student participants could discuss the issues of collecting and displaying performance art. Walking around the show during this discussion, the group dissected some of Bow Gamelan’s interviews. Burwell states in one that he “falls between two stools” when it comes to his practice, he is neither an artist nor a musician in his own eyes. As a group, we discussed whether this would still be the case. It seemed clear to all of us that Bow Gamelan Ensemble, in 2018, could be considered a group of performance artists. However, this relation to the traditional music scene meant that Bow Gamelan had the opportunity to perform in a wide variety of locations usually unavailable to visual artists. The ephemera on show backs up this idea as we see Burwell, Bean and Wilson performing at music festivals with loud, dancing audiences, as well as the white cube gallery more commonly associated with artistic practice during the group’s core activity (1983-1991).

If we consider Bow Gamelan Ensemble as performance artists, and if we consider the footage and ephemera on show at Cooper Gallery documentation, then how do we truly collect and display performance art? I am still struggling with this idea; however, the workshop participants came to the conclusion that if you can sell performance then you can collect it. How very prudent, I personally had never considered such a logical solution.

Elizabeth Ann Day
February 2019

Bow Gamelan Ensemble, Bow Lines, 2018.
Installation view Cooper Gallery, 2018. Photo by Eoin Carey.
Thundersheet (pictured left) Bow Gamelan Ensemble Archive (pictured right).

Bow Gamelan Ensemble Great Noises That Fill The Air took place at Cooper Gallery 27 October – 15 December 2018.