Figure de Style
at CUBITT, 18/01/2008
Jimmy Robert’s performance at Cubitt gallery London invited the audience to remove pieces of whitish tape applied to the body of the artist. Dressed in a pair of jeans, the artist sat barefooted on a couple of white sheets of paper, outspread on the stone floor. Next to his hands, on each side of his body lay another piece of paper with what looked from the distant like a poem or a reminder of his script or even the script itself. I had enough time to count the exact number of people that had come to witness Robert’s performance. Robert himself looked down to avoid the glances of the audience, while the sloppily applied tape was bit by bit removed from his body. Now and then Robert commented a rip off by reading out a sentence from his script. I can’t refer in detail to what it said, but I remember names at the end and 1966 at the beginning. Now from a distance it could have been extracts from a review on Yoko Ono’s Cut Piece. Relating to the tradition of participatory performances Robert’s performance unveiled more about the audience than about the artist.
As nothing extraordinary exciting was performed, the beholders started to observe each other ripping of tape from Robert’s body. Some went twice, others didn’t even once. Some smiled, some concentrated, some grinned, others spilled their beer and wine. Some remained motionless on the floor observing the artist. Some smiled a knowingly smile while others smiled a painful smile, in empathy with the victim and in awareness of the power of a gaze.
I find it hard to tell what exactly happened yesterday night. I picture the artist entering the room from the back door, taking his position on the floor, and uttering in a soft, insecure intonation, “I now invite you to take a piece of paper.” Reacting to his request for participation two men started tearing of scraps of the paper Robert was sitting on instead of removing the tape applied to his body. Broken tension. Some started to laugh. I felt the dignity of the performer had been tarnished. Ten minutes later a girl picked for a single piece, but ripped off almost all the tape from the back. Embarrassed by her greed, she flushed and put the tape back were it belonged. Another girl spilled her beer on the floor, while she approached Robert. Some sneaked on tiptoes others staggered. The way up to the performer was unluckily too short for a close observation of outfits, gestures and mimics of the rippers.
Roberts didn’t look at their faces, but I was reminded, of churchgoers over enacting their habitual ritual gestures, demonstrating their engagement and respectfulness towards the performer. A woman I remember most clearly fought her way from the back to the front. She positioned herself slightly behind the performer. Akin to my German teacher, she gazed over Robert’s shoulder, trying to read his script.
Her appearance pictured Robert’s as a pupil. For her, at least she signalled that to rest of the audience, his performance had been legible apart from the notes he read out. For her his script presented the meaningful remainder of the performance.
The script could have formed content, a clarifying of what this was supposed to mean. Facing my German teacher vis-à-vis, I appreciated to stay unenlightened in regard of the scripts content. Instead, I participated and ripped off tape from a stranger’s body. I remained with the faces of my companions. I laughed when the mobile phone of a guy rang, and he, instead of turning it off, incidentally turned it louder. He blushed and as if he wanted to apologise for his misbehaviour, he quickly ripped of some tape from the artist’s body. The laughter increased and he flushed even harder.
But then again, it is only a game. One of us sat in the middle and he could have touched us. But we are all so used to be touched. Jimmy didn’t touch us we touched him. When it was over he left the room through the back door, and the guy in the yellow jacket who had been standing closest to him said: “Thank you for coming’.”
I am still confused whose performance I have seen.