Between a plinth and a hard place

David Capra: Mark Shorter, 6 metres of Plinth

Mark Shorter, 6 metres of Plinth, Artspace

Mark Shorter, 6 metres of Plinth, Artspace

The smell of Dencorub is in the air. Ceramic formations pointing to the celling are laid out atop a six-metre horizontal plinth. A man wearing jeans and a blue singlet enters and proceeds to wrap his legs around the plinth. Mark Shorter’s performance, as part of Artspace’s exhibition The Public Body, concerns the plinth, the body and moreover, the objects that lie between.

Shorter’s performance work is usually in the guise of Renny Kodgers, an often obscene and boorish Kenny Rogers impersonator. Renny can’t be found here. In 6 metres of Plinth, Shorter doesn’t seem to be doing it for the laughs. The artist at this moment is very focused on the task at hand.

A collection of short ceramic towers covers the plinth. They could easily have been crafted from a cast, maybe taken from inside of a rectal cavity. Discussing the work with the artist post-performance, I wondered, “what if you froze your own shit?” and, “once frozen, what would you do with it?” But these objects, according to Shorter, are less than faecal or phallic. “Non-objects,” he says, is a more fitting description, oblivious to themselves.

Shorter mounts the plinth and proceeds to squirm forward, groin first. The sculptures fly about, tumbling over, thumping onto the gallery floor. Assisted by hydraulic air compression jacks, the plinth is systematically raised higher and higher. The artist once again mounts the plinth in dog-like fashion, thrusting across from start to finish. The action is repeated, each time getting closer to impossible. The plinth, now more rodeo bull than gallery art pedestal, seems to have found a new calling. Shorter, who lectures at the Victorian College of Arts’ Sculpture and Spatial Practice department, says, “its plinthness is under negotiation.”

Trace Collective, TRACE (Post-Colonial-Cluster-Fuck) live work/installation view, Artspace, Sydney (2009)

Trace Collective, TRACE (Post-Colonial-Cluster-Fuck) live work/installation view, Artspace, Sydney (2009)

The performer is dressed, not unlike fellow artist Tony Schwensen, in blue collar worker attire. Schwensen’s TRACE: Displaced (Post-Colonial-Cluster-Fuck) had taken place at Artspace in 2009. (It’s uncanny: look closely at the documentation and you can see Shorter working behind Artspace’s information counter, sporting a handlebar moustache). Both performances seem fixated on an act of labour, unclear in their reasoning: absurd. TRACE saw Schwensen taking a steel cutter to a car and 6 metres of Plinth featured a man who felt audacious enough to move objects through the gallery with his groin.

As the performance develops, it’s hard to not be drawn to Shorter’s buttocks as he dodges countless awkward looking relics. It appears that through strategic employment of the plinth, the artist has produced a dance he must endure, a choreography perhaps inspired by the famed Simone Forti (for example, Huddle, 2012) or devised by the creators of Freddy Got Fingered (a 2001 worst picture award winner).

Mark Shorter, 6 metres of Plinth, Artspace, Sydney

Mark Shorter, 6 metres of Plinth, Artspace, Sydney

In equal measure, Shorter has produced a walk, far less John Wayne or Texan in swagger, but more in tune with the likes of Bruce Nauman. Particularly Nauman’s Walk with Contrapposto (1968) where the artist used a narrow corridor to shape and affect his gait. Shorter’s walk too reveals the mechanics of its action, parading an enduring Olympian strain. The broad movement of the hips and the tumbling tip-toeing of the feet is created not by way of mimicry, but by negotiation.

Here Mark Shorter removes his screwball cover and finds a way of holding a position with the plinth. In doing so, he fashions a posture between endurance and farce, an unlikely meeting between two forces. Endurance breaks through the farce, until it’s no longer funny, becoming something universally tragic.

Mark Shorter, 6 metres of Plinth, 27 Aug; The Public Body, Artspace, Sydney, 25 Aug-23 Oct

RealTime issue #135 Oct-Nov 2016

© David Capra; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

9 November 2016