IMG 1-4. Helen Grogan, UNTITLED (enactment of performative structures and thought actions selected from accumulative catalogue of studio activities 2001–2014). Slopes Gallery, Fitzroy, 2014. IMG. 5. Helen Grogan, Helen Grogan, CONCRETE ROOM and additional scores for level 2, Ian Ptter Museum of Art, 2017 (feat. Jess Gall). MG. 5. Helen Grogan, CONCRETE ROOM, Liquid Architecture, ArtsHouse, 2015. IMG. 6. Helen Grogan, CONCRETE ROOM, MADA, Monash University, Melbourne, 2018 (feat. Jo Lloyd).
The lights are turned off leading to the awareness of the lights being on in the first place. Once they have been turned off the available light through the skylights becomes obvious: the outside. There are shadows and softness. The lights are turned on once again.
Performers move around the space with varying purposes. It is noticeable how the particular weight and pressure of their feet touch the floor. This pressure can be felt.
As the performers move, there are subtle differences in their manner. Some appear trained, while others not. These differences are perhaps measurable only to the extent that they are noticeable, that they speak of the performers’ histories.
A performer uses a microphone to draw the room, generating friction and sound along the way. A person’s hand pressing against the floor; their bag, the wall, a driveway are all traced by the action. The microphone is connected to a speaker, and along with the cable, both are maneuvered through the space, creating a gentle obstruction and a sweeping motion through the room.
A performer takes a clear sheet of plastic and sticks it on to a wall. Another performer, who has finished their action is inadvertently covered by the plastic sheet as it slowly comes down to rest over their body, creating a screen.
What is the difference between perimeter and parameter? Probably not much, but this difference is crucial in Helen Grogan’s work UNTITLED (enactment of performative structures and thought actions selected from accumulative catalogue of studio activities 2001–2014). Grogan elaborates on the difference between these two articulations; she works in the margins between language and action, where language is physical. Her work is dealing with very simple things, with everyday motions and materials. Demonstrating the existence of something imminently common is potentially contentious and tricky at best
The choreography of CONCRETE ROOM (2002-) is an exercise in defining limits. As events unfold in the space so do the variables; viewers and participants move through the work and the boundaries of the tracing expand or retract accordingly. This situation can also be described as an installation. Grogan works towards creating a ‘real’ occurrence where the space, material and performer are integrated. The installation does not function as an immersive spectacle, rather it defies expectations and inspires patience and subtle contemplation. We as the viewers are included in the tracing of the work and we become participants in it.
Grogan’s work is in dialogue with a range of artistic forms unveiling connections between disciplines. 1 It is inclusive without being sentimental. A participant can have a deeply satisfying and sensual experience; they can draw out material pleasures and appreciate subtle shifts in perception, mood and environmental conditions. Difference is not only accommodated, it is instrumental to the realisation of the work. I feel that with Grogan’s work we arrive at a performance that can actually frame and intensify life. 2 It reflects the artistic imperative to affirm the bare existence of things. By butting up against the limits of language and matter, avenues are opened up to clear thinking and deeper experience.
An intensification of a physical and lingual awareness has political implications. Through the whittling away of social warranties (the absence of Indigenous land rights) and the rise of social technologies, the real has undergone profound shifts. 3 What historically constituted the real feels like it has been fast tracked into the status of cultural ruin. A sense of ruin is articulated in the final action in Grogan’s work THIS SITUATION WITH METHOD FOR THIS SITUATION (2014), which occurred at Slopes gallery in Fitzroy. In this action, Helen Grogan and Geoff Robinson carefully gathered up all of the materials used in the performance and compacted them into the end of a driveway. They essentially trashed the gallery. This action seemed to speak to the context of Slopes, which is essentially a showroom for a property development, destined to be sold off, demolished and then rebuilt.
This is a performance concerned with materiality, time and embodied experience that directly connects with the violence of gentrification. Like the performance, we are both viewers and participants in it.
1. This is a reference to a tweet by Danny Butt: “Teaching painters taught me that media art was a thin concept, like nationality: every medium has opposing camps seeking external allies.”
2. This sense of art being an intensification of life has been inspired by reading Elizabeth Grosz’s “Chaos, Territory, Art”.
3. “The whittling away of social warranties” is vaguely extrapolated or mis-interpreted from Franco Berardi’s book “The Soul at Work”.
PHOTO CREDIT. IMG 1-2, 6. Laura May Grogan. IMG. 5. Alex CuffeIMG. 5. Monash University
THREE PERFORMATIVE STRUCTURES FOR SLOPES was developed by Helen Grogan in three parts for one afternoon for Slopes, Melbourne, performance program curatored by helen Hughes and Joel Stern.
Helen Grogan, PART 1: UNTITLED (enactment of performative structures and thought actions selected from accumulative catalogue of studio activities 2001–2014. Concept, choreographies, installation: Helen Grogan. Enacted by: Matthew Day, Helen Grogan, Geoff Robinson, Anna Varendorff. The artist and friends enact a series of actions and performative structures, accompan
Helen Grogan, PART 2: STRUCTURE(S) FOR THINGS ALREADY HAPPENING (SLOPES, 2014). Concept and installation: Helen Grogan. A short performance by the room and various materials, during which everyone does whatever.
Helen Grogan, PART 3: THIS SITUATION WITH METHOD FOR THIS SITUATION (SLOPES, 2014). Concept and installation: Helen Grogan (with Geoff Robinson). Enacted by Helen Grogan and Geoff Robinson.
Seen in IMG. 4. Helen Grogan, CONCRETE ROOM and additional scores for level 2, Ian Ptter Museum of Art, 2017. Performance of overlapping scores from catalogue of studio activities including: Ambiguous Death; Concrete Room; ConcStanding Ovation; Dying Swan; Small Dance Dancing Figure; Balustrades; I am a chair; Physics is Real; Observation Action. Choreographic score design and development: Helen Grogan. Choreographic score enaction for Ian Potter Museum site: Jess Gall, Jo Lloyd, Simon MacEwan, Benjamin Woods 'The Score' curated by Jacqueline Doughty for Ian Potter Museum of Art, Melbounre, Australia, 2017.
Artists featured in ‘The Score‘: Pia Borg / John Cage / Roy de Maistre / Fayen d’Evie / Marco Fusinato / Charles Gaines / Kurltjunyintja Jackie Giles / Michaela Gleave / Agatha Gothe-Snape / Nathan Gray / Helen Grogan / Ludwig Hirschfeld-Mack / Yuki Kihara / Emily Kam Kngwarray / Shelley Lasica / Sonia Leber & David Chesworth / Dylan Martorell / Angelica Mesiti / John Nixon / Sandra Parker & Rhian Hinkley / Rammey Ramsey / Mia Salsjö / Charlie Sofo / Sriwhana Spong / Christine Sun Kim & Thomas Mader / Danae Valenza / Jude Walton
Seen in IMG. 5. Jo Lloyd enacting CONCRETE ROOM st MADA, Monash University, curated by John Nixon, 2018.