Most of the information I have written about the artist Nikola Dzafo has been copied from Nikola Dzafo's web site/s, which I have put information where you can get direct access to the sites mentioned.
In September 2020 in-between the ending of one lockdown and the beginning of another a porthole opened for me to attend the IMAF20 in Odzaci in Serbia (International Multi Media Art Festival), which I will write up a separate blog about my experience of being the only international artist that attended that years festival, due to world wide restrictions. The festival has been going for over twenty years, the founder is Nenad Bogdanovic, who runs it with a dedicated team.
2020 proved to be a challenging one for Nenad and his team, but somehow they managed to adapt, having forty artists from all over the world participating through online performance.
It was through Nenad I was introduced to the artist Nikola Dzafo who I had not heard off before, and this was my first trip to Serbia. Nenad kept telling me about an artist who paints rabbits and I must meet him. One night I got on the computer at the hotel and found Nikola's email and sent him a message with some photographs of my white rabbit performance and garden, which Nenad described as Man rabbit. The next day when I met up with Nenad he told me he had a call from Nikola and he would like to meet me, so we arranged to visit him and his wife and a group of artists/film makers at his home Petrovaradin in Novi Sad.
Photo above: White Rabbit with Nikola and his wife Vesna Dzafo and Filip Markovinović (film maker) and his son Vid,(assistant) Ivana Purtic, (Translator) Nenad Bogdanovic (IMAF founder/performance artist) Zeljko Grulovic (camera man) and Slobodon Stosic (camera man)
Photograph bellow: Vesna, Filip, Ivana, Nikola, Vid.
Nenad and myself were met at Novi Sad train station by the film maker Filip Markovinović where we were taking in a taxi to Petrovaradin to meet Nikola and Vesna. Filip has been making a documentary on Nikola and his artwork, and the arrival of man rabbit added something new to weave into the documentary.
Above photograph with Vesna, Nikola, Vid, Filip, Nikola and Ivana
As the taxi drew up we were met by Vesna who gave us a warm greeting and beckoned us through the large steel gates, and then ushered is to the the garden at the back of the house. There was a gathering of artists, film makers and writers sitting at the outdoor table.
It was one of those moment it felt like a wonderful dream, we sat down to introductions and tea. I explained I had brought the rabbit costume and once it is on I am unable to speak so I will be under their control, just put me where you want me, and this they did. But before any filming began Vesna took me around her garden, it is autumn so we had missed everything in full bloom, but there was still enough vibrancy and colour to get a sense of the garden.
I was given a personal tour of the garden, Vesna knew every plant (In Latin!) I just smiled and nodded as I hadn't a clue what was what, but was in awe of her knowledge of plants. This to me was her pallet, Vesna's art.
(Bellow is a photograph of white rabbit in Vesna's garden with Vid holding a rifle, don't worry it was part of the filming! Vid is Filip's son and assistant)
After coffee and tea (Coffee is Nikola's speciality, the alchemist at work in his kitchen!) Nikola gave me/man rabbit a tour of his museum, which is based in their kitchen, though not everything is out, only on open days.
(please see slide show of part of the museums collection)
Many objects have been collected over many years
You can find more details of the museum and its work on: http://zeckojijepojeomuzej.com/html/09-kontakt-e.html ( or type on internet The rabbit who ate a museum )
Nikola put up a rabbit to be president of Novi Sad: here is text from Dzafo's site:
Action by Art Klinika and Radio 021
Dissatisfied with the city’s political culture and the artists’ status, Nikola Džafo, Art Klinika’s team-in-charge and Jovanka Zlatković with the Radio 021 team used the electoral campaign of candidates running for mayor of Novi Sad, and came up with the action “White Rabbit for Mayor of Novi Sad.” With mottos “I am a rabbit, not a dope” and “Fck infrastructure when you don’t have culture,” White Rabbit joined the electoral campaign. Because of the advantage in his biography over other candidates – quickness, good sight, sharp hearing, clean paws, life in harmony with nature and other positive characteristics – White Rabbit presented himself as champion of the city artists, and the campaign turned people’s attention to the unsolved problem of social security and health insurance for independent artists as well as the absence of a city gallery.
From August 2 to the end of September, Radio 021 broadcast jingles and reports that followed the campaign of White Rabbit: news, radio-stories, support of public persons, people surveys.
The site was also activated, and it followed the events surrounding the electoral campaign of its candidate. Daily newspapers were regularly informed about everything.
Biography from Nikola Dzafo web site: http://www.dzafo.com/biography/biografija.html
Rođen 1950. u Novom Sadu. Diplomirao slikarstvo na Fakultetu likovnih umetnosti u Beogradu 1978, magistrirao na istom fakultetu 1981. Član Udruženja likovnih umetnika Srbije i Vojvodine. Od 1990. pasivizira bavljenje slikarstvom i maksimalno je aktivan u borbi za društvene vrednosti i umetnički dignitet. Idejni tvorac i pokretač grupe LED ART (1993), s kojom kreira i realizuje više od trideset projekata. Suosnivač Centra za kulturnu dekontaminaciju u Beogradu (1995) i Multimedijalnog centra "Led art" u Novom Sadu (2000). Iste godine, u podrumu u ulici Grčkoškolska 5, pokreće Art kliniku, s utopijskom idejom da umetnost može da menja i leči svet. Živi i radi u Petrovaradinu.
Born in 1950 in Novi Sad. He graduated in painting at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Belgrade in 1978, and received his master's degree from the same faculty in 1981. He is a member of the Association of Fine Artists of Serbia and Vojvodina. Since 1990, he has been passive in painting and has been maximally active in the fight for social values and artistic dignity. Conceptual creator and initiator of the LED ART group (1993), with which he creates and realizes more than thirty projects. Co-founder of the Center for Cultural Decontamination in Belgrade (1995) and the Multimedia Center "Led Art" in Novi Sad (2000). In the same year, in the basement at 5 Grčkoškolska Street, he started the Art Clinic, with the utopian idea that art can change and heal the world. He lives and works in Petrovaradin.
Below photographs of man rabbit with Nikola Dzafo in the garden at his home.
Thank your to the various people who photographed with my camera much appreciated
I was so fortunate to get to meet Nikola and Vesna, most of the conversation was done through translation. Because I was visiting in the capacity of the rabbit, it was difficult to relax, as most people do not realize that my mask is latex underneath, so it gets very hot, in fact the the whole costume gets hot wearing it, so I have to have a shower afterwards and it takes time for me to wind down.
Vesna and Nikola and their friends were incredibly supportive and took care of me, we ended the filming with man rabbit running up the street chasing people who did not want to take a carrot from the rabbit as they cycled off. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cZLO5IWU7yg ( Run Rabbit Run Novi Sad Serbia )
Credit to Ivana Purtic for taking these photographs with my camera, much appreciated. These are all the people who appear in the above slide show. White Rabbit. Nikola Dzafo and his wife Vesna Dzafo. Filip Markovinović (film maker) and his son Vid, (assistant) Ivana Purtic, (Translator, who has also assisted in taken the photographs above) Nenad Bogdanovic (IMAF founder/performance artist) Zeljko Grulovic (camera man) and Slobodon Stosic (camera man)
I will do more blog on Serbia: Next White Rabbit in Novi Sad.
PLEASE NOTE ALL ARTWORKS SHOWN IN THESE PHOTOGRAPHS ARE THE COPYRIGHT OF THE ARTIST NIKOLA DZAFO.
As 2020 drew to an end, I was left reflecting on how to create work within the restrictions of the UK Government, saying what we can and cannot do. It is difficulty to absorb the constant negative voices in the media, having to hear the word (Don't-Not allowed-be safe-do not mix with family or friends in other house holds. This has a great mental affect on all of us, though we are told that the arts have really suffered, and it isn't easy, for me being in the arts has always had it lack of funding and support especially in conceptual performance art. Music venues and Theatres are suffering, but in reality we are all suffering.
I wake up and ask myself what can I do as an artist, so came up with the idea of making my garden into an everchanging gallery and making installations. The recent one that I invited the community to make a face for 2021 to come together through art, using art as a way forward, to make our mark, being somewhere physical. My house is on a public pathway so it gets a fair share attention, its a small space but I managed to use it well.
I recently watched a film made behind the scenes, which was filmed around the area I grew up, its strange seeing the family house on film, and the streets I aimlessly wondered about as a youth. Check it out. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NTrVLIVynyA
My aim was to try to keep myself motivated throughout the first lock down in the March in the UK, but after months being confined to the home, it does affect ones own morale and way of seeing things, the reality hits when we realise that all the freedom we once had, is for an unknown specific time is restricted. The internet has become the place to lose hours of time, regardless where it leads to or even if nothing happens.
In the media we constantly hear how difficult it is for the arts, but in reality, the arts have always struggled, this has only highlighted the issue and how it has really affected those who were in main stream arts such as theatre and music venues, but the other area of arts, such as artists and performance artists continue to struggle through the maze of applications if they are lucky to get one, or the maze of possible events to perform at, that are now cancelled, grants have been drying up for some time. Personally I do not rely on grants, but work, save and use my own funds to travel, but sadly like everyone else I have lost half my income, so this will restrict me even further.
I am filled with appreciation of what I do have, and can happily survive, but not being a one to sit about, I have been looking at to apply for a ph.D to research Embodying the myth and the folklore of the rabbit. But since Universities are also affected, my application seems to have got lost some where, and with lack of communication, this leaves me in silence, so I have no idea what to focus on now.
However I still manage to perform the rabbit every month and turn up at events for free, and till keep up this website and facebook etc. I walk around my home feeling lost, but I keep asking myself "What can I do as an artists?" One thing I have been doing is creating installations in my front garden, as its right on a busy path, so I get lots of people passing, and can hear their comments through the window, this makes me smile.
We have had a second lock down, but now just before Christmas there are rumours of London going into a third Lock down! However there is a vacine that has been rolled out, but we will not know how effective this is until the New Year. Who knows what the future holds for me and my practice, and maybe its time to give it up and get an office job or packing shelves, who know, but since work has dried up and performances opportunities are scarce, then I feel flat at the prospects that lay ahead.
I have heard for many years, how one must dedicate themselves to writing a blog, I thought I had, but during the months many other distractions have tempted me away from writing, so the blog slipped through my fingers.
During the lock down I managed to do lots of different on line performances, collaborated with people I would have never had the opportunity to. I am currently preparing to taking a performance called the Deep Cleaner to Serbia, which will be my first visit, armed with COVID19 advice and along with the organizers we are working with the restriction that the local government has requested that we follow.
My most exciting project is a book, From the Burrow to Barnes, ten years of white rabbit, which will be text and images, and will mark ten years of performing as Barnes White Rabbit. I am currently working with a local Barnes designer and look forward to get the book into print before the year is over.
Barnes to Barnsley A1 tour
A month later! That was a long two days break from writing.
I forgot that first of the month was approaching so got distracted by the performance and all the things I have to do that surrounds it behind the scenes kind of stuff, including writing White rabbits wisdom, uploading photographs and editing films, then what do I go and do!!! Fall of a f**ing ladder almost killing myself, so I have been in recovery since then, all because I was trying to save a Squirrel, that had been stuck in my chimney for two days, sending masses of rubble and soot down my chimney and into the bedroom, which means the whole room has to have an intense cleans, I had started, then more crap came down. In my wisdom I got a ladder went on to my flat roof to climb on to the main roof (six foot up) but using inadequate tools, is a sure call for a disaster waiting to happen.
I get up, realized it was slightly too small so decided to hold on to a hundred year old cast iron pipe that came away from the wall, then snapped and I went crashing on to the flat roof, hitting the skylight and the heavy cast iron pipe landed in my groin causing a lot of bruising and damage, I was unable to walk unaided, but have pushed through it, the strangest of experiences, was not being able to call an ambulance, as it is unclear during COVID19 what consists as an emergency, there was no broken bones, or internal damage as far as I know, but I did go into severe shock.
All I can say is I am very thankful to be alive. xxx
And now back to the blog!!
I got in my car and headed up the A1 playing my A1 song to Barnsley where I was going to stay with a friend who lives in Barnsley. Having arrived very early in the town before people were up and about. I walked through a very quiet town without costume and explored the local area. The market stalls slowly setting up.
I came across the Barnsley Chronicle and met a journalist there Oliver Dyson, We arranged that I will meet him after I had breakfast and will return as the rabbit, which I did in the meantime he did a bit of online research. It was an unusual story, but I was pleased to get someone to write something at the beginning of the A1 tour, it was a bonkers thing to do, but my main drive was also to check out how the social media works, which was eating away at my credit, but still I kept an online live update on the travels.
There were some wonderful and funny encounters as the rabbit, I was enjoying being in a different town, also seeing the reactions of people have never encountered white rabbit, of course lots of selfies and lots of laughing and "OMG did you see a fully sized rabbit?" I love the chance encounters, the unexpected meetings, in a lift, in car park, in a shop, in a church, in a cafe, in a market, anywhere that I just so happened to wander in. In general it was a lovely welcome to the tour.
Next Stop Yorkshire Sculpture Park.
Being inside the costume is a different experience to seeing someone else wear the costume, because it is a commercial product anyone can go and buy one and wear it.
I did a little campaign for a while where I was trying to get people to dress up as white rabbit with the slogan. "Anyone can be white rabbit" even using the tag "I am white rabbit".
There was one local acquaintance who took up the challenge, but he was actually six foot and looked very different to me, but interestingly, regardless of his own individuality, people still thought it was me, of course not everyone did, but it certainly swung some heads, especially when we both sat upon the famous wall by Barnes bridge waving at traffic.
It was quite nice having another person around, as it can be quite lonely and isolating, just me in a costume doing my own thing. The other rabbit was called David who was also quite an eccentric local, which worked really well, so for a while he joined in with some of the antics, dressing as a bull on a couple of occasions, also supporting me in documenting the performance. Anyway the partnership fell apart, as it does, and I carried on as the lone white rabbit, as the David rabbit disappeared back into his burrow.
It was fun just wandering around the streets, appearing randomly, doing random things as the rabbit, it certainly had something. Though I have tried to give it up, but was encouraged by many locals not to.
Of course as the artist, I often ask myself how can I capitalise on the performance of white rabbit? Actually its quite difficult to capitalise on the character, I have tried various things, but it doesn't work, I soon realized what works, is the randomness of it, don't try to control the performance, everything that has happened, publicity etc has all happened randomly, if I try to seek publicity, doors are closed, if I tried to sell out financially, it also doesn't work.
I cannot control the bugger, hes is an entity within itself, the rabbit is not for putting in a box, it flows with existentialism a nomadic trait, he's not an entertainer, he's just a bloke in a costume wandering around the streets of London. Paris, Philippines,Japan,Islamabad,Malta and various other places.
What does seem to work is letting people have a selfie, its a must have.
There is something about a selfie, its a moment, its an encounter. Wherever I have travelled, whatever country I am in, people love a good selfie. I have many but here is just a chosen few. A film maker, an artist, BCA team and bar man.
I often find wandering back home after a morning on the wall, someone comes running up to me desperate for a selfie as they have often told their friends that they had seen me, but no one believes them, so happy to comply.
On next blog I will talk about White Rabbits A1 tour! Yes you heard that right, I actually took the rabbit on tour of the A1 from London to Scotland driving on the A1 and stopping off at various towns, villages and iconic spots along the way, there is even a T-Shirt! Will do this over the next couple of days as have to hunt down all the images as there's quite a few, and it was fun, even taking part of mobile rave on Dunbar high street in Scotland.
I kept thinking in the back of my mind how do I gain more publicity for the rabbit performance?
I went through many ideas, but felt in the end what seems to work, is the randomness of the rabbit, he pops up and then disappears. I came up with the concept of getting people to gather or join white rabbit on first of April, what would it look like to have a group of people dressed up as their own animal and just wander through Barnes High street.
I took those who did turn up for tea at the Olympic Cinema, it was nuts, here we were all dressed as animals sitting having tea and scones! It would certainly change the day, and if was successful I would do it the next year. I got in touch with the local Shelter charity so they gave me a T-shirt.
Marina White Raven a friend and collaborator brought female white rabbit and a wonderful woman who I recently met called Rebecca West who turned up as the fox.
Rebecca initially got in touch with me via the Barnes White Rabbit facebook page, saying she likes to dress up and would love to join me one day, as she had read about me in the local papers. I took her up on the offer to her surprise and like a trooper she joined in the antic of the rabbit, not only on the first but also during the local community Christmas street party. It was quite a site to witness, also I did it the next year joined by other friends and other people from the community. The rabbit has become a feature in the community, turning up at Easter cycling around the village and giving out Easter Eggs, supporting with the local BCA Easter Duck race, Christmas events, fair events, he certainly become a busy bunny with lots of people wanting selfies. Of course this was an opportunity for a local press story, which the Richmond and Twickenham Times took up. "Masked white rabbit has April Fools Tea Party with Fox and Gorilla" Fantastic headlines, it made me smile, and yes a fox also turned up, though the fox changed people as a friends son called Dom took over from Rebecca, it was such a funny site walking through the village on a Saturday morning in all our best animal outfits! Here is a link to RTT article. https://www.richmondandtwickenhamtimes.co.uk/news/15199660.pictures-masked-rabbit-of-barnes-has-april-fools-tea-party-with-fox-and-a-gorilla/
L.R.J The Gorilla with her handbag still puts me in states of laughter, as this is what it was all about having fun, having a laugh, making people laugh, its quite a site seeing a Gorilla, a fox, a female bunny and the rabbit all sitting waiting for a bus!
Its also nice to support local charities, the new Shelter Boutique had literally just opened, so we manged to get into to become for a brief moment a window display! Its got to bring a smile!!!
We went from one shop to the other bringing laughter and joy.
Here is a link to a video of white rabbit and the snow woman dancing on Barnes High Street, this was Rebecca West first collaboration with the rabbit. Bless her cotton socks, she's a mover! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tVkvcsGoBFU
Continuing the reflection of having the attention of the media at its affects. So who benefits from this? I felt initially grateful and humbled to have the experience of having my work publicised, but after two intensive days it all shuts down, I found all the doors closed after that, no one was interested, that was the story of the moment and it went as quickly as it arrived. I kept a keen eye on the development of the story and kept a sense of focus, but also asking myself did I managed to utilise the opportunity? I felt I did, I felt I was on top of it, since I am my own agent, publicist and have no one that does the publicity I did the best I could to make sure I seized the opportunity that came to me with all my heart.
For the press they got the story and the initial people re Evening standard being one of them put it on their website then the sun, the mail, the Guardian, the Times and many more papers I never knew existed put it up on their on-line paper. I hadn't actually really seen anything in physical print until friends kept telling me that they had seen it in the Metro or so and so paper. So the story went from print to on-line in a matter of days, and from there other organisations from across the world also put the story on their website.
For me I didn't really have a clue what to do next or where to go with it. as I had no-one to give me advice, I was fumbling my way through the media fog. The local radio station Radio Jackie took interest so I called them, but found the conversation rather strange as the interviewer was asking me "How do I know that you are who you say you are?" I said I would come to the station and meet in person, anyway the interviewer carried on interviewing and I praised radio Jackie as I had listened to it a lot heading over to Kingston when I was doing my BA at Kingston University. Here is a link to the a snip of the interview, they didn't include all of it. ( http://news.radiojackie.com/2016/11/it-seems-secret-identity-of-mysterious.html )
The overall headline was that the secret identity of the Barnes White Rabbit had been revealed, the strangest thing, it was never a secret in the first place and initially all I was really doing was trying to get a years worth of photographs to make a calendar. The press did pick up the story that I had been photographed with Zac Goldsmith Brithish MP and Boris Johnson who is now our prime minister, though he was Mayor at the time. The image of Boris and myself popped up in lots of different papers and stories, some political and some using it to demean Boris. Recently it did appear on have I got news for you on British Television.
What was interesting for me is that as the artist behind the costume I was never credited, it was always just the rabbit image. I think this is why the image is used often as it could be anyone under the costume, so they have free range with the image. The image here is me with my local MP Zac Goldsmith who was also photographed along with me and Boris Johnson. It was all because of Gyles Brandreth who was hosting a demonstration in South West London in protest against Heathrow having a new runway built. My partner suggested I should pop up, I wasn't really interested but decided that I should go and check it out. I turned up put the costume on and noticed a crowd standing in a semi-cirlce with a race track visible, so I ran up and down the race track then Gyles invites me on to the stage, so I sat with a woman on a bench, then minutes later Zack arrived and after that so did Boris Johnson, and everyone headed away from the stage. I recall climbing down and made my way through the press and walked straight into the middle of Zac and Boris and the rest is history, that is how that particular image happened, of course the press loved it, this was well before the unmasking of white rabbit.
White rabbit had existed long before the famous unmasking, but like most things when it hits the main stream media, its becomes a fresh story. I know from others who have been in the media, how do you sustain that kind of attention, if that's what you seek? This is what it does, it is like having a carrot dangling in front of you and you begin to chase it.
When the photograph of me Zac and Boris started appear in papers I found many local people loved it, as they knew who it was, since the rabbit began part of a local overseas friendship, which I have mentioned previously somewhere. I was the worst kept secret. (Will stop for now and continue on Monday, so will have a break and enjoy the weekend whatever the limitations of lockdown.)
To pick up from yesterday blog making headlines. Artists like myself crave for public attention, it is part of the performance cultures otherwise I do not think we would ever want to perform or seek out public ways to express the presence of the self. I am not alone as there are thousands upon thousands of people trying to make their mark on the world stage, to become a house hold name, become a known artist, to feel that what you do is appreciated other than yourself and the bathroom mirror. Take the UK entertainment program X Factor and Britain's got talent is a controlled platform where if you are successful you will have your fifteen minutes in front of the camera.
I have seen a couple of performers who describe themselves as performance artists on Britain's got talent but then they return back to the world they came from, as what they are presenting the main public is too strange for them, but there again not strange enough as it is tame enough to at least show their performance on BGT. I have friends who have one way or another cracked it and managed to get the publicity that they need to continue in promoting the work they have created. My friend Delilah Jay caught the attention of the world media when she entered the Trevi fountain in Italy and was the first person to be fined for entering the fountain, it was sensational and she sparked in the attention. Delilah Jay is an extraordinary woman dealing with some personal issues with having her son taken from her and being thrown out of her house by her son's father, her work for me is amazing and there is a lot of it so here is a link to here site so you can look up for yourself the many adventures though some painful that Delilah Jay encounters. http://delilah-jay.com/ Some of the headlines from the media was spectacular, they found a thread and picked up on: "19/07/2016 · Identified as Delilah Jay, the woman is the author of a book entitled "Mistress - The Italian Way", and a former model who posed topless for the German tabloid Bild at the age of 52."
I know Delilah was delighted with the world wide attention as I was when the press wrote about the white rabbit performance. Its an interesting experience, suddenly there is the moment of feeling a sense of being acknowledged and recognized for the work you do. For those few moments of people reading about your work, checking your social media sites, talking about it, if I am honest is a great feeling, I have been validated! There was something nice going off to meet a journalist to talk about your work, then the anxious wait to see what they have written, can be a bit addictive, with the need of wanting more. I was contacted by a student studying journalism at Kingston University and wanted to interview me, so we met up in Kingston and talked about the experience of becoming known as white rabbit.
Meka Beresford wrote a much more detailed interview that was more original content than the mass media as most borrowed from each other, apart from Richmond and Twickenham Times and The Evening Standard who broke the original story. Here is a link to Meka's original interview. https://riveronline.co.uk/?p=15134 Today this remains my favorite article as it talks more about my wider work other than just white rabbit and also my background at Kingston University. Also here is Meka's recent links as I think she is now a practicing journalist. https://muckrack.com/meka-beresford
At the time a dear friend of mine was dying with cancer, so while all the media attention was going on, I spent every day with him and also in his last moments by his bedside. It was a real anchor, it kept my feet firmly on the ground as its so easy to get swallowed up by the ego and distracted by something that is just a blip rather a long after life. To be honest the whole attention thing lasted for two days, but pretty intense two days, once the world had swallowed up the story, its was gone, and I was left spinning, thinking, what was all that about. Over time I have learnt the impact it had, I wasn't really aware of it, because it was more about the rabbit than it was about me.
It does leave you with a sense of wanting more, its addictive, the need to read about yourself, the need to say to people, "see I am an artist". I decided not to hang up the mask but carried on with first of the month and other larking about with the rabbit, attending rallies, demonstrations, fairs, or just cycling around on my green Japanese bike around the local area, which is quite a site. (I will come to a stop here but will talk more about making headlines tomorrow)
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.