Making headlines two
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
Days pass into weeks and weeks pass into months and a sense of timelessness grips hold as all familiar structures disintegrate into an unknown void. The world has currently changed the way we once knew it, at least there was some kind of security in having a sense of familiarity in out lives, getting up going to work, school, college, university, the studio, shopping, the park, seeing family and friends and meeting people in cafes, galleries and museums. Now all these are closed and in the UK we are in lock down, which came later than most other European countries.
So what does it mean? Staying at home basically, don't go out unless you really need to or exercise, shop or a medical reason, but if you don't need to go out, then don't go out is the message. Everyone is dealing with it their own ways, the media language has changed, advertising has changed, which now gives us images of people sharing their lives via the internet.
And artists? Well artists like me are doing a lot more on line collaboration. A lot of my work is overseas rather than based in the UK, even though I live here, the opportunities I have abroad is far much more accessible than opportunities I have on my doorstep. This has also slightly changed as now with the on line network wave of collaborations I have been thankful to be included in such projects, which wasn't on offer before lock down. My income is erratic as I work as and when needed in delivering party balloons and drive a van, which I love doing, as it gets me out of the studio and into the world, it breaks my routine as I work from home. I am one of those neighbours who is always there, when everyone else goes to their normal nine to five job I have the freedom of the back garden where my studio is, which is actually a shed I have turned into a studio as it was cheaper to have a shed than to rent. I look forward to when the tax man gives me a refund as I haven't worked enough to be taxed, so I am grateful of that.
Since the lock down I still continue to work in the back garden but now everyone else is back home, working from their sheds or whatever space they can find to set up an office. I have to respect their working time as I like to blast music and make performances to or vocal sounds, but since no one was ever around it was never problem. Now I perform in silence, and use the garden as much as possible now the sun has arrived. A few years ago I made the conscious decision to focus my work on line especially after the UK media outed me as being the man behind the rabbit mask that appears every first of the month, this then went international then world wide. So to keep up with the time I have made even much more of an effort to have as many online networks as possible. Even though I already have this wonderful Weebly site, which has been a gift from the Gods, its been invaluable to let the public have some kind of access that isn't just face book or you tube, but these three social networks play a really big part in my work, in storing, in promoting, in communication and in making. Though I do use other media such as Twitter, Instagram and other performance networks as well as Linkdin.
I am not quite sure how much value any of this gives my work or who has access or who is really interested in some conceptual artist doing his thing from his back garden. The way I have broken the intensity of just being on line I have focused on performance festivals in various countries that has been an amazing experience, helping to build my confidence and boost my ego and my morale as well as raising my own artistic reputation as a conceptual performance artist. Now it seems everyone is on line, everyone is out chasing that golden nugget, that star ship that is going to take them to promise lands, to new heights tin their career and life path. So the competition for air space has now increased massively, so how do we get beyond the invisible wall of tapping into an audience out there waiting to discover the artist in here, without having to pay huge amount of money that doesn't exist on people giving your the key to the promise land and the more you pay the further you will be discovered. Sadly now there isn't any cash flowing, its stopped, people are out of work, the UK Government has set up schemes to help businesses that will help to keep them afloat for a period, but it seems that this lock down is going to continue until Christmas! This is awful as there will be businesses going bankrupt, people will be out of jobs and in unemployment and seeking benefits.
It doesn't look good, but there is a wave of optimism, especially from artists, it seems this is when we function better, when we look at other ways of surviving out of the norm, thinking out of the box. It lights a creative fuse, not all artists get it, some delve down into the darkest corners of despair and fear, after all we are human, we have feelings, we have bills, we have families, we have to live, to eat, to survive. Our creativity is our gold nugget, it is our commodity our bargaining tool, its our wealth and it could help to pay bills, it can give the artist a path to walk down that will help them to survive like everyone else.
As for me I set out a strict routine from the start since returning from travelling and performing throughout Japan, the pandemic was very much present there, so my eyes were open, as I returned to the UK I felt we had not taken it seriously enough, except worrying about other countries, and now our death toll is rising each day in the UK with COVIDvirus, the reality is hitting us all hard. I have applied to various schemes hoping like everyone else something will come from it, who knows, its worth applying for it. We have to keep a sense of focus, well being so to also keep the creative pallet moving, mixing every colour of the days experience into some kind of artwork, be it performance, painting, sculpture etc, we need to keep the porthole open.
From Monday to Friday I set about creating work or focus on activities that is also based around my work, re writing this, keeping up my internet presence, keeping up my on-line collaborations, keeping up being focused. I start each morning with on line zoom prayers with my local vicar and other members of my community, also there is a mediation rise and shine facebook page a friend has set up, which I combine both of these together, keeping a sense of mediation while during silent prayers. I also then focus some domestic tasks, like washing, hoovering, tidying up etc, though I still have to get some grips with my studio, but I am sure by the end of the summer it will be accessible again! But since the local dump is closed I have to pile up everything at the back of the garden I need to throw away. And with the rest of the day I will set up a space to perform in, creating a little structure that will compliment the performance in mind, once done I film it on my Android phone and then up load it to the computer, then edit and send it via We transfer to the artist/composer etc I am collaborating with and they then do their stuff and send it off to the project we are connected with and so it goes. By Friday I wind down and stop everything by the weekend allowing myself not to do time, not to pressure myself to make work or keep up any structure but to veg out in front of rubbish TV, though recently I have found lots of art programs to watch. On Sunday I attend on-line mass and by Monday I am ready to get back to the structure of making.
I have no idea how long this will all last, but I need to for my own sanity to keep myself focused, proactive, in touch with others, even though I go out once a week to do shopping, I do not go out for exercise only because I am asthmatic and so need to be even more careful, as said earlier the death toll is rising in the UK and I fear it will get worse. So for the time being, while we have some wonderful weather to be thankful for I will continue to create. Below is the you tube link to the many performances I am creating.
Corona virus affecting the arts
In February of 2020 I arrived in Japan after the break out of the now known Coronavirus, reported deaths, contamination of this new virus, no one really knows what it does and how it affects people, but as I write this it has now spread worldwide and we are now seeing countries on a lock down, affecting commercial businesses small and large as well as the arts community. Theatres,Galleries, Pubs, Gig venues all being told to close. This has cause so much anxiety, it is something that most people have never experienced before.
For me one of the differences is the accessibility to information via the internet, which has the ability of spreading both real and fake news, poking the fire of insecurity, creating doubt and fear in a fragile society. Where do any of us go from here? Especially in the arts, where people depend on funding and support from art communities and councils, with funding withdrawn and access to create public work limited, presents us as artists a serious question about who we make art for? Does what we do really depend on money? Of course everyone needs to live, pay bills, have a roof over your head, clothes and eat, all the basics of lief'es essentials.
I feel we have an opportunity to explore what this is doing to us personally and also how it affects how we see things, as more lock downs are due over the coming weeks and months. The above photograph is one response from a performance I did in Japan, this was in Tokyo when I was travelling with a group of performance artists from all over the world, together we travelled and created a new performance in each city we travelled to. Gloves that we are issued to protect ourselves are filled with contaminated liquid, like a mad scientist the figure has a presence of one to fear than love, like the virus itself. Others artist also found the subject slipped into their performances. Wherever we went in Japan, we always had access to wash or use anti bacteria gel, surrounded by hundreds of people wearing masks, schools, universities, libraries, museums and other public places closed. Most cities we travelled to during this epidemic were seriously down in visitors as well as the theatres we performed in. I do not see this is a time to fear, but a time to reflect and take inspiration from it, as artists it is our job to explore, dig deep beneath the social consciousness and peel away the many complex layers that it presents us.
Below is a photograph of a performance I did in Nagano, this was our last performance of the NIPAF (Nipon International Performance Art Festival). I will let the image speak for itself.
Spike Mclarrity is a duration based conceptual performance artist.