Memories for the Future, 2014. A 320 hour performance.
MICHAEL BARRETT explores the construct of American Masculinity in
performances informed by his personal experiences as an athlete, Marine
and cancer survivor. Early comically poignant videos highlight both a
cultural obsession with protecting male genitalia and his own lost testical.
His live performances range from rowdy training exercises
simultaneously filmed with a Go-Pro camera to thoughtful, repetitive
actions that memorialize the loss of both civilians and soldiers to war.
Michael exhibits and performs internationally. He has had solo shows at
the former Trifecta Gallery (Las Vegas, Nevada) and Perfex Gallery (Poznan, Poland) and his recent group exhibitions include shows at Hole of Fame Gallery (Dresden, Germany), Galerie Michaela Stock (Vienna, Austria) and Berkeley Art Center (California). Michael will perform at Grace Exhibition Space in Brooklyn on May 19th as part of Itinerant 2017. In 2017, he will attend the Performance-Kunst Workshop at Kunstpavillon Burgrohl and WORK.ACT.PERFORM, a performance art symposium in Dresden, Germany. He will be an Artist-in-Residence at Galeria Racjez (Poznan, Poland) for six weeks, followed by a Performance Art Studies workshop in the Czech Republic. Michael is based in Las Vegas, Nevada.
OtherPeoplesPixels: What does the endurance mean to you, both in your work and in your life?
During the first years of elementary school, it was suggested that I
attend speech therapy twice a week. Exactly, who made the suggestion is
beyond me and I carry no recollection of discussing the matter with my
parents. It occurred so early in my life, I only recall bits and pieces,
such as leaving the classroom during ‘art time’ to practice the letter
‘s’ within the small, closet-like office, of the speech therapist, with a
boy named, Skip.
Up until this time, I didn’t realize people could suffer from a speech impediment. To learn that there might be something ‘wrong’ with the way in which I communicated, had a negative affect on my identity and the fear of language and sharing thoughts out loud, drastically altered my behavior as a young person.
Rather than relying on the spoken word, I navigated toward gesture, action, and the body as alternative methods of meaning making, challenging learning environments, and understanding multiple entry and exit points of interpretation. From an early age, endurance has meant sustaining an ability to communicate within a world that demand one to be present, to show up, to produce, and to speak your mind.
Once upon a time, I believed endurance made up a large part of who I was and where I had been as a person and artist, but as I mature and grow, I am constantly reminded that endurance is so much larger than just myself. Endurance transcends borders and extends beyond my fingertips, bridging gaps capable of connecting others to new points of discovery.
Rubber Room: Push and Pull. Go-pro video still from endurance performance.
OPP: I’ve been thinking about your performances, which
deconstruct western masculinity and its connection to violence and
athleticism, as growing from the lineage of avant-garde Feminist art. In
the same way, women’s studies requires an exploration of individual
women’s experience of their conditioned gender, we need to hear about
actual men’s experience of conditioned masculinity. Do you see your work
in relation to Feminist art?
MB: Much of what I do
challenges American Masculinity as a historical construct that greatly
influences many aspects of life. After a battle with testicular cancer,
in 2001, I began to specifically focus on Masculinity through a feminist
lens. Slowly and carefully, developing a masculine narrative to
challenge and question five key areas of masculinity with the hope of
urging a discussion on how masculinity empowers and disempowers.
Writers and artists such as Susan Sontag (feminine as masculine/masculine as feminine), Stephanie Springgay (the skin and cloth), and Donna Harraway (The Cyborg Manifesto) have certainly played a part in directing my concepts and methodologies as an artist, researcher, and teacher. I have identified five areas of exploration—physical force and control, work and occupational achievement, patriarchy, outdoorsman, heterosexuality—based on scholars who offer new perspectives on how we can broaden what it means to be masculine and what function masculinity serves.
Incentive Training: Session Three. Performance still.
OPP: I’m very interested in Dear Dresden (2016), Memories for the Future (2014) and 723 (2014). In both of these performances, you perform repentant gestures, memorializing victims of war with the numbers of actions mirroring the numbers of victims of the violence of war. Can you talk about the relationship of endurance, repetition and healing in these works?
History tells a story about the spiraling struggle over masculine
representations. One might interpret these narratives as an enduring
battle, not as an objective reality, but a construct that inadequately
bridges issues concerning leadership, ethics, knowledge and power.
Stories of these bridges offer numerous examples of how inadequate power
structures are utilized to decide what wars are fought, how votes are
cast, who does and doesn’t receive.
As the U.S. enters into the longest war of its brief history, Germany enters into its 72nd year since the end of World War II. Both events offer opportunities to reflect upon and question how history repeats itself. I refer to our past and current situations as “spiraling out of control while building tension as we rotate through time.”
I am always questioning and analyzing how we as citizens, or better yet, generations of war, carry on? How will the human spirit endure such tragedy again and again? In what ways will following generations repeat the same horrific cycles we currently inhabit? What happens when the tension bursts?
In time, we may find ourselves in a predicament beyond our imagination. With time, we could possibly discover/know harmony, mutualism and level means of communication. Through time, we might find ourselves as humans and social-beings, capable of cooperating and moving forward together and with one another.
For this to occur, we must endure time. As physical forms, as mental thought processors, as emotional nests, we must endure through and beyond our current time and the habits of previous generations.
723, 2014. Go-pro video still from live performance.
OPP: For me, your identity as an ex-Marine is key to the poignancy of these performances. Dear Dresden and Memories for the Future made me think about the veterans who apologized to the Sioux Elders in a ceremony at Standing Rock
in December 2016 for the U.S. treatment of Native Americans. How
important are the various aspects of your identity—as artist, as white
male, as ex-Marine, as cancer survivor—to understanding your body of
performances? Is this less or more important when watching individual
Rather than specifically commenting on my personal experiences, I attempt to remain mindful of a more humanistic approach and focus on creating keyholes for the audience to access, comment and question their own perspectives. I am aware my background will always be present. I cannot remove myself from the history. As an artist, I aim to use my background as platform for communicating and challenging topics of importance rather than the background serving as the topic itself.
Incentive Training: Session Four, 2010. Still of live performance.
OPP: Can you talk about your recurring costumes—the jock strap and the hood—in performances like Lombard Street Hustle (2011), Incentive Training: Session Four (2010) and Standing Room Only: Episode One (2012)?
MB: I’m aware there is space for interpreting my work during
this period as bondage, S&M, or the underground dungeon scene, but I
hope I have left adequate space for elements of loss, recovery, and
function, when viewed through a humanistic and/or medical lens. I refer to
this ’lens’ as delving deeper and beyond the medical gaze—a
single, all knowing perspective which only scans the surface for
immediate information. The idea of medical lens penetrates the
surface/skin in multiple areas in search of unexplored spaces, concepts
and access points, therefore rupturing previous power structures while
simultaneously gathering, analyzing and presenting qualitative
information regarding lived experience, personal narrative and autoethnography.
The intention of the work is not necessarily presenting a didactic tracing of lived experiences, yet I carefully select, and most of the time, make each piece of attire by hand, so that it references a certain event, space, time, etc. For example, a black jockstrap was part of my attire while recovering from a battle with testicular cancer. The hood is a way of separating Michael Barrett from Artist Michael Barrett. It’s a psychological tool that helps remind both me and the audience that the performer and the person under the mask are two separate beings.
Corporal Punishment, 2011. Performance still.
OPP: You are currently pursuing your PhD. in Art and Visual
Culture Education at University of Arizona. Will you tell us about this
program and why you chose to pursue another degree beyond your MFA?
MB: Applying to the Art and Visual Culture Education doctoral program at the University of Arizona has been extremely beneficial to my practice as a performance artist and has opened up a plethora of new opportunities as a researcher and teacher. Since enrolling, I have had the pleasure of teaching and performing in Germany, Poland, Austria, Italy and the Czech Republic. The experience has instilled an awareness that my identity, is in constant flux, rather than situated in a singular fixed position. One constantly meshing, bridging, overlapping, and sharing, attributes of art, research, and teaching (A/R/Tography).
While teaching with Performance Art Studies at the Michaela Stock Galleria in Vienna, Austria, I was first introduced to the Performance Art Context diagram, created by Boris Nieslony and Gerhard Dirmoser. Using the lens of an A/R/Tographer, I narrowed my focus down to understanding the Performance Art Context diagram in a framework that employs Deleuze and Guattari’s theories of the rhizome and Nomadology: The War Machine, as well as Donna Haraway's The Cyborg Manifesto.
I place this inquiry in context of contemporary trends in performance art pedagogy and political climates in higher education. I suggest that research on understanding performance art education practices in emerging technologies be conducted with a view to gain a cohesive social understanding, rather that isolated views on curriculum and pedagogy, with pre-determined understandings of what art education is and what it could be.
By problematizing current access to the diagram as an educational tool, I argue for a contemporary post-classroom interpretation of the information within a virtual reality platform, which could potentially benefit/better serve educators while simultaneously increasing access to knowledge and meaning-making within the field of Performance Art.
I am currently entertaining questions like How does re-interpreting the Performance Art Context diagram redefine the body as a educational tool for meaning making and acquiring knowledge? How might the acquired information function in virtual reality as a way for resisting hierarchies, challenging oppressive methods and past institutional stereotypes regarding how, when, and where learning takes place? How might the application and utilization of a critical lens encourage a post-humanistic approach that helps us uncover marginalized bodies and silenced voices?
Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based artist Stacia Yeapanis. When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the relationship between repetition, desire and impermanence in cross-stitch embroideries, remix video, collage and impermanent installations. She is an Adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and was a 2011-2012 Artist-in-Residence at BOLT in Chicago. Her solo exhibitions include shows at Siena Heights University (2013), Heaven Gallery (2014), the Annex Gallery at Lillstreet Art Center (2014) and Witness, an evolving, durational installation at The Stolbun Collection (Chicago 2017), that could only be viewed via a live broadcast through a Nestcam. Now that the installation is complete, you can watch it via time lapse. Her upcoming solo show Sacred Secular will open in August 2017 at Indianapolis Art Center.