Extreme Ironing. Vogelfrei, 7th Biennale Darmstadt, Germany.
27 October - 11 November 2007
My research explores the role of the artist and the individual within a wider socio-economic context. Drawing on a background in dance and the visual arts the work performs ritualistic activities or repetitive loops to challenge one system by creating another. Drawing on Blanchot’s notion about the ‘interruption of the incessant’, the work causes an interruption that the incessant itself produces. In and as performance, the incessant is a durational, task-based activity which hovers somewhere between the logic of work and absurd repetitions or impossible tasks. Projects are conceived for particular sites and reconfigured in their relocation to other sites.
The practice addresses an everyday that is bound by modes of production and measured in terms of productivity. Caught in these parameters we see, and experience, the body in terms of its utility, limiting our engagement with the world. ‘Extreme Ironing’ (Darmstadt 2007) builds on the work ‘Flush, or the possibility of moving towards an impossible goal’ (Geneva 2002/ London 2004, 2005) by taking a familiar work process and material of the everyday to subvert its purpose. Choreographic and cinematic strategies such as repetition and doubling are deployed to turn a familiar activity into a playful but absurd interlude in the middle of the everyday.
'Extreme Ironing' is a site-specific performance conceived for Vogelfrei, the 7th Biennale in Darmstadt, Germany, which takes place in streets and gardens of the city. The performance takes its title from a sport, whereby people undertake to iron clothes in adventurous locations. This project is however not concerned with spectacle or bravery, but with familiar, ordinary, domestic environments. A small temporary greenhouse is installed in a private garden and beneath a large tree, housing the artist and an ironing board. Over a period of three weeks autumn leaves are gathered and ironed before being returned to the garden where they came from. Besides housing the artist the greenhouse also allows members of the public to watch the ironing and to speak with the artist. This dialogic format is a new development in the performance methodology and reinforces the ordinariness of the event.
The intervention purposefully collides the everyday and the absurd. The ironing of leaves is a loving gesture repeated endlessly and the impossibility of the task at hand turns the work into a game that defied traditional economic logic. The gestures and efforts of the individual also stand in a marked contrast to the inevitability of the seasonal decay and create a playful and poetic interlude.
‘Vogelfrei’ is curated by Ute Ritchel (Darmstadt, Germany) and has become an important biennial art event of the Rhein-Main region since its conception in 1995, with the participation of rising numbers of international artists. In 2007 46 artists participated in the exhibition from eight countries, Argentina, Germany, Finland, Great Britain, Israel, Canada, Netherlands and USA.
"The artist from London unfolds a new chapter in the experimental art exhibition of Darmstadt, with leaves; a verbal paradox is followed by an actual activity and visitors observe the poetic engagement with a mixture of fascination and bemusement. (…) An apparently useless activity becomes a playground for philosophical associations, while its images would have delighted a playwright like Samuel Beckett."
(Hensel, Bert, Darmstädter Echo, 3/11/2007 [translated from German])