(Australia 1945 – )
4 photographs: each 61.0 x 51.0 cm image/sheet
Photographer: George Goldberg
Mike Parr was one of the founding members of Inhibodress, an artist-run initiative that operated in Sydney in the early 1970s and included, among others, Peter Kennedy and Tim Johnson. Inhibodress was important not only as the first major centre for conceptually based performance and installation art in Australia but also as a contact point in the ever-expanding network of artists from around the world who were sharing ideas via correspondence.
In collaboration with Peter Kennedy, Parr’s early performances were investigations into the meaning of certain actions in social and psychological terms – for example, Kennedy biting into Parr’s arm until it bled. In such actions Parr’s interest was as much in the audience’s reaction as in testing the limits of personal pain. These early collaborations were documented on film under the collective title ‘Idea demonstrations’.
This interest in the social and psychological meaning of performance art had a close affinity with work coming out of central Europe, which Parr discovered when he travelled to Poland, Austria and Switzerland after the collapse of Inhibodress at the end of 1972. Tapping into international artists’ networks, he visited Arnulf Rainer in Austria, who introduced him to the work of the Vienna Aktionists, Hermann Nitsch, Günter Brus and Otto Mühl, some of the most influential figures in the field of body actions and performance art in the post World War II period.
Returning to Australia, Parr gave a series of performances documented in the films ‘Rules and displacement activities, part I and II’ 1974–76. The performances documented in these films constitute a complete archive of Parr’s work during the 1970s and are held in the AGNSW’s collection, along with stills taken from the films. The body actions were structured by written instructions that Parr set himself: he wrote some 300 of these in the 1970s and has systematically carried them out in the years since. Like Marina Abramovic’s performances, Parr’s often involve testing the limits of bodily endurance and the mind’s capacity to control the situation. The predetermined instructions and the contingency of mind/body limitations provide a kind of realist structure, which it could be argued, makes the works more scientific than expressive. At least that is one way of looking at it. These are not theatrical performances; they are experiments with reality.
Works such as ‘Integration 3 (leg spiral)’, in which Parr lit a fuse that spiralled around his leg, demon-strated an increasing concern with the relationship between action and catharsis that culminated in the highly staged work ‘Cathartic action; social gestus no 5’ 1977 (AGNSW collection). In front of a live audience Parr sat at a table and violently hacked off a prosthetic left arm filled with chopped liver. The introduction of the personal (Parr was born without a left arm) was to herald a new phase in his work.
© Art Gallery of New South Wales Contemporary Collection Handbook, 2006
Michael Wardell, Contemporary: Art Gallery of New South Wales Contemporary Collection, 'Ideas and actions', pg.60-107, Sydney, 2006, 84-5 (illus.).