Sunday 29 January 2012

back and forth

Gaëtan Rusquet (France/Belgium)

Scattered on the floor of the light-filled entrance foyer of the College of Social and Health Care, at Kuopio’s Savonia University of Applied Sciences, lie several hundred inflated balloons. Each of them is a uniform sausage shape, and either red, cream, white or brown, as if the space is to be decorated for a children’s birthday party. Taking off his clothes and leaving them neatly folded at one side of the space, performance artist and scenographer Gaëtan Rusquet starts to bend, loop and tie them, as if he’s making balloon animals and other odd shapes. Gradually, over a period of about forty minutes, he elaborates an interwoven structure incorporating all of the balloons, an exo-skeleton or ‘second skin’ full body mask into which he inserts and attaches himself. In this eccentric aggregate, the coloured balloons accrue suggestions of bodily components, an infinitely complex schematic representation of blood, bone, flesh, muscle, like the spatialised interiority of some eccentric anatomist’s écorché. In this somewhat unsettling détournement of balloons’ familiar associations, the insides seem to have burst through the envelope of the skin. This quietly practical task generates squeaks, the occasional pop and some embarrassed giggles from the Children’s Choice Award judges.
Eventually Gaëtan all but disappears inside this sculptural structure, only his naked feet still visible to the onlookers. After a pause, he throws himself to the floor and begins to writhe, thrust and roll, using his body’s weight, friction and occasionally his teeth to burst the balloons. The process produces a startling cacophony of bangs and squeals, like a miniature firework display or war zone, each explosion a small violence in such epidermal proximity to Gaëtan’s increasingly exposed body. Many of the onlookers, in particular the children, have their fingers in their ears and their eyes clenched shut. The formal reversal of accretion and accumulation in the clear symmetrical shape of the performance (‘back and forth’) triggers a wide associational field related to bodily and life cycles: the inspiration and exhalation of breath, the growth and decay of cells, the mortal trajectory of all corporeal forms over time. Ultimately Gaëtan’s naked, sweating, marked torso lies still in the debris of countless ruptured balloons. He stands to survey the traces of his Sisyphean task, before silently putting the familiar second skin of his clothes back on and returning to the everyday with a smile. (1)

* Children’s Choice Awards: ‘Most Disgusting’, ‘Most Beautiful’, ‘Liveliest’

(1) An earlier performance of Gaëtan Rusquet’s Back and forth, at the AccionMad Festival, Madrid (November 2010), has been documented on video by Christopher Hewitt, another artist involved in ANTI 2011. The liveartwork DVD issue 12 is available through the liverartwork website.

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