Emma Bugden @ The Honeymoon Suite
While he was the Frances Hodgkins fellow at Otago University in
1980, Andrew Drummond enacted a solitary performance at the Aramoana
mudflats, proposed site of an aluminium smelter. The work was documented
with slide film, as the 'ritual' was intended for later exhibition
to the public. Central to Drummond's performance was the burying
of a sheep kidney in the salt marshes, a reference to the body's
filtering agency, and he called the performance Filter Action.
A few Sundays ago Emma Bugden staged a performance of the same name
at The Honeymoon Suite. Dressed in Drummondesque white boiler suit
and helmet she plied the audience with warm milk before washing
and drying a sheep kidney, sawing a hole in the floor of the gallery,
and 'burying' the kidney under the floorboards.
At first what struck me about the relationship between these two
Filter Actions were the ways they differed from each other, particularly
how Drummond's shamanistic intent had been sublimated by Bugden's
Drummond's white boiler suit, intended to deflect attention away
from the artistic persona, was transformed by Bugden into an ill
fitting home made dacron jumpsuit that made her appear like a fuzzy
stuffed animal (or Ghostbuster's Staypuff marshmallow man); the
accompanying aviation style cap was instead an oversized stak-hat.
She performed her actions with the studious attention to detail
of someone trying their hardest not to make a bungle of things,
and even had five extra kidneys on hand should anything go wrong
the first time round (it didn't).
Bugden's representation of herself as the try-hard artist seems
in contrast with Drummond's own position as the shamanistic figure
of New Zealand art. According to Bernice Rose, "it is the shaman's
role to mediate between the forces of the world and the fantastic
forces of the unknown." While Drummond self-consciously embraced
the ritualistic healing role of the shaman, attending to the ignorance
and abuse of nature, Bugden's hesitant dabblings with ritual reveal
instead an obsessive desire to make the gallery cleaner.
Treating the gallery space as a metaphor for the human body, she
uses repetition and ritual to act out fantasies of containment and
order. In her last outing at The Honeymoon Suite she laboriously
cleaned the less-than-perfect gallery floor with a toothbrush as
her only aid, and to make things more difficult for herself she
insisted on holding the brush by gripping the handle between her
Bugden implicated the audience in Filter Action in this testing
of bodily boundaries when she invited them to drink bizarre clinically-blue
coloured milk that she had heated on a portable stove. This seemingly
innocent offer came accross more like tough love - Bugden's 'bad
medicine' looked more likely to dissolve bones than straighten them.
In these investigations of the relationship between the body and
its environment, parallels begin to emerge with many of the concerns
central to Drummond's performance practice: transformation of the
physical body, the precarious balance between the psychic and the
corporeal, the skin as delineating between inside and outside.
Perhaps the poppy Red Hot Chilli Peppers soundtrack best captured
the playful teasing of bodily boundaries, small-time sadomasochism,
and ambiguous art world appropriation that constituted Filter Action:
"I like pleasure spiked with pain / Music is my aeroplane..."
21 June 1997