Sunday, May 24, 2009
A Private Performance
Just now, over a late breakfast, I listened to Barry Humphries (aka Dame Edna Everage & Sir Les Patterson) talking on Desert Island Discs.
When he was a young man in Sydney, ages before his Dame Edna persona began to emerge, Humphries did a spell as a 'performance artist' (he also went on to play Estragon is Australia's first ever production of a Beckett play). One of his artworks was the following. He would take a seat among 'the captive audience' on a morning train (he didn't say during the rush hour but I imagine it might have been). He was probably fairly inconspicuous (though again, he didn't say), just a man sitting on a train. At a certain station he would open the window and someone (his accomplice) would hand him a grapefruit. At the following station another person would lean in and hand him some toast; next it would be an egg, cup of coffee etc., until, presumably, all was assembled and he could begin breakfast.
He called this a 'private joke' (between himself and his accomplices). Apparently the audience was captivated. I can believe it. I love the gentle, Charlie Chaplin deliberation, the gradual, unspoken unfurling, the subversive silence. This is what most (if not all) performance art/installations etc. should aim for, the private public performance, the invitation to participate in something that only needs your dawning awareness to make it complete, since it is nine tenths complete already (i.e. its end is clearly in sight, wedded to its beginning). The assembling breakfast beautifully opposes Patrick Kavanagh's idea of Tragedy ('underdeveloped Comedy, not fully born'). Hats off to Humphries.