As the final minutes of Kaldor Public Art Project 27: 13 Rooms drew closer, many of the project staff, myself included, crowded into the 13th room – Australia’s room – where young Brisbane-based artists Clark Beaumont were counting out their final moments atop the small plinth they had occupied for the show’s duration. At least eight hours a day for twelve days the two had balanced together on the small surface, mostly silent, as some 30,000 people filed in and out. The work was called Coexisting and was the duo’s first foray into durational performance.
Reactions to the then-virtually unknown artists in the local arts community were mixed. Some had the audacity to question super-curators Hans Ulrich Obrist and Klaus Biesenbach, wondering why they had not selected a more established Australian performance artist for the task. Others, such as entrenched SMH critic John McDonald, all-too-readily dismissed the pair as “remarkably decorative”, noting that visitors may be disappointed to find them fully clothed. Still others were entranced, spending hours at a time in the small white room, watching the performers shift uncomfortably on their insufficient plinth.
For the duration of the project, Clark Beaumont made the plinth an island, a tiny territory, isolated in spite of the crowds. By marooning themselves atop their plinth, which was reduced in size again and again before the opening to find the ‘Goldilocks zone’ of discomfort, the artists exposed a stark and stripped back relationship. Indeed there was nothing to the work but their negotiation of a shared space, the minute movements of the two to stay balanced.
It was a work that evolved slowly. What at first was a challenge became a battle of attrition; discomfort became pain. The artists’ faces became increasingly drawn; bruises broke out all over one’s legs. Their daily march to the room became ever more like a trudge. And yet atop their plinth all this seemed to fade, dwarfed by the simultaneously banal yet momentous – or at the very least mesmeric – task at hand. The plinth had become an island; the only thing that mattered negotiating this shared space – this limited and contested territory.
On an island the periphery blurs and fades. Life is lived in the minute readjustment of a leg or an unspoken change of position. On an island, negotiations like this are everything. We can do nothing but coexist, lest we all fall.