Duration Based Conceptual Performance Artist
Its another normal day of being in lock down and in isolation, but thankfully the sun is out, which helps to be able to get outside into the back garden. Yesterday I decided to start making an effort to update and get this blog moving as it has been rather neglected over the past year, having deleted past blog with a previous project, it seems now is the good time to refocus and create a structure that involves writing. I had set about writing a piece to explain the definition of live art, but it then organically became about making headlines, so have kept the initial links etc and carried on with reflecting upon when the UK media got interested in the rabbit performance.
The question came to me yesterday about who is my audience? do they really know anything else about Live Art that the kind of performances I do is labeled under. This morning while trying to think how to approach the subject I realise its a very large subject to take on to define, but thankfully I can avoid my interpretation of what I think it is for me, but use the definitions set out by the Live Art Development Agency (LADA) https://www.qmul.ac.uk Where you can find a diverse range of subjects, information, projects, events, academic literature all based on live art also including some definition of what live art is. Today this will be my main source to channel you through as a it a source of information I respect and trust.
I was reflecting back to when I did my masters at Brighton University "performance and visual practice" in 2012 it was a new MA course but sadly since the last couple of years it got closed down as with many other live are related courses not just in Brighton but in various other universities throughout the UK. Though if you are interested in doing an MA in live art Queen Mary's in London is still running live art related degrees in collaboration with LADA.
https://www.qmul.ac.uk/postgraduate/taught/coursefinder/courses/live-art-ma/ (Ironically you will see that this course is descrbied as part of drama!)
I am often asked what do I do? my response is "I am a live art performance artist" which is normally met with blank expressions or followed by "what productions are you acting in?" It seems the general public normally relate performance art to theatre or acting, but I am not quite sure if acting was associated with the performing arts or when actors began using that as a definition to their practice. The performance arts is a large umbrella where most performing arts related practices get shoved under that title, for me doesn't actually do justice to artists like myself that are not actors in the theatre profession, though I often say they are my nemesis and what we do is the opposite Recently while I have been travelling over the last seven years to perform in various Asian countries I have taken to describing myself to make it quick and easy to define as a conceptual artist. This is often followed by "What kind of performance do you do?" While taking a deep breath in I try to keep it simple in my explanation, but I am not always comfortable in explaining as for me what I do is an on going live progress of work, it never stays still, it transcends, it move, it flows, it it not stagnant. I begin to explain that I have been working with the subject identity, who am I? Who am I behind the mask?
One of my best known on going pieces I have been doing since 2015 is the Barnes White Rabbit, though the use of the white rabbit costume is coming up for ten years in 2021. It first evolved in 2011 a day before my BA graduation at Kingston University where I did a fine art degree. I was heading over to a small town called Le Pecq is on the outskirts of Paris near the banks of the river Seine. In Barnes where I live we are linked to Le Pecq through a long standing friendship. This is where the rabbit flourished through chance having after spending five hours wanding through Paris as the rabbit, not doing anything other than being, travelling on the underground, walking through the streets of Paris. I liked the experience so continued with using the costume since then. Though being on my third costume and fourth mask the rabbit only really became into its own, when I took on the task to try to create a calendar of a year in the life of white rabbit. A friend had suggested I should go and sit on the wall near the river Thames on the first of the month, this I eventually did after six months persuading, having had another friend who lived opposite the river, I decided to place myself opposite her window, so she could take photographs each month. After a year of sitting on the wall from 7am to 8am just waving, I was about to hang the costume up when I was outed by the UK press, the story went international and worldwide.
It was a learning curve having to deal with the British press, doing interviews with the standard and various other papers, but what I was keen to promote that I wasn't an entertainer, I wasn't an actor, I was a performance artist and what I was doing was a duration based performance. The Sun News paper printed this story " FUNNY BUNNY Mystery man in giant rabbit suit stand on bridge at the start of every month to wave at motorists. The 6 ft tall unusual sight, intended to bring people joy and luck, is dress in a colourful waistcoat and scarf, waving and making peace sign at passing vehicles." Of course for those who know me I am not six foot! For me it was interesting to see how the tabloids put their own spin on the performance, what they think it is, they wanted a story, I know the Sun researched all my internet networks and literally took information straight from my FB page and other places and created their story. However I was delighted that even sun recognized that I was actually a performance artist. "The rabbit is in fact a project by a performance artist called Spike McLarrity who started popping up at Barnes bridge in November last year." They had used photographs from my https://www.facebook.com/barneswhiterabbit/ Interestingly they photographs seemed to be credited to a SWNS 'South West News Servises' which are actually my photographs my friend had taken that were for the calendar. Later the Sun sent a private message via my FB page asking if they could have permission to use them, as they had already used them. "The rabbit has been unmasked as performance artist Spike McLarrity"
( here is the link to the Suns article: https://www.thesun.co.uk/news/2102173/mystery-man-in-giant-rabbit-suit-stands-on-bridge-at-the-start-of-every-month-to-wave-at-motorists/ )
For me this was a fluke, I had just arrived back to the UK after travelling and performing in Japan for four weeks, unaware that the UK had Killer Clowns, which the newspapers had fed on leading up to Halloween, it was November the 1st 2016 I arrived back the night before and sat on the wall for my last wave or not so last wave, but at the time, I had achieved what I wanted. I went with the flow, I know getting any kind of publicity is difficult for any practicing artist, sometimes its the wrong publicity, still here was something that publicly acknowledged this monthly happening. I decided not to hang up the mask and continue with the wave, which the rabbit is now known for. It had been an education on how the mainstream public view live art. I have normally been within a live art audience, they are familiar with the scene, with the structures, they know what to expect. But dealing with a public that doesn't was certainly a baptism of fire, of course I have had to deal with some negative articles, trying to make it out to be sinister, creepy, evil etc.
Though one article that brought a smile to my face was titled "America has the creepy clowns, Britain has a lone white rabbit, or to be more specific a man in a white rabbit costume" "The man dressing up as the rabbit is named Spike McLarrity who is a “live art durational performance artist,” whatever that means. “My work deals with my own autobiography,” he writes, adding that his appearances as the white rabbit aim to “find a new way to reach a different audience and to bring fine art and performance together.”
Creepy, inspirational, or just plain odd. You decide."
For the full article do go to the link for The Comeback; https://thecomeback.com/general/white-rabbit-london-wave-once-month-clowns.html
There are now countless articles on the unmasking of white rabbit from all over the world, mostly regurgitating information derived from my own sites with their own interpretation added on to it. Taking inspiration I began a series of performance related to who am I behind the mask, which is a subject that did surface during my Masters in Brighton, but didn't really explore it enough. Behind the mask of white rabbit is? allows me to take of the costume and the mask and bring a live art related piece. Its also given me a lot of freedom to explore further identity or my identity, the constant need of dressing up, dressing down, trying to get as deep as possible beneath the skin. Last year in 2019 I attended the first Islamabad Art Festival, where I created a performance "Behind the Mask of White Rabbit is a Shaman" On reflection, this was a risky piece to do in a Muslim dominated culture, to the background sound of the Quran being sung from towers across the city, while I was doing my crazy stuff half naked outside the centre where we were based, covered in red paint and screaming like a lunatic. Its not something the locals encounter every day, strangely and this is something that has never happened to me, I was presented with an award for the piece in front of a prestigious audience during a presentation with up to two hundred people attending the closing ceremony. The festival was organized and funded by the actor Jamal Sha who is very respected throughout Pakistan.
( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jamal_Shah ) Also here is a link to IAF. ( https://www.islamabadartfestival.com/ )
At this point I am going to come to a stop as getting tired of typing and need to move about. I will continue this reflection tomorrow. Spike
Spike Mclarrity is a duration based conceptual performance artist.