banner image
Home Events News Gallery Publications kiosk About Links search

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 trademark patheticism.

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 teeth.

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..."

Jonathan Nicol
21 June 1997