During a two week residency in the OCAD Graduate Student Gallery, performance artist and painter David Bateman will be revisiting four of his performance pieces from the 1990’s. Beginning with the provocative sex/gender title I WANTED TO BE BISEXUAL BUT MY FATHER WOULDN’T LET ME (1992) the revisitation/interrogation begins with a large scale text painting influenced by Abstract Expressionism and Lyrical Expressionism, as well as the idea of absorption as it applies to artists as spectators and spectators as artists within the visual and performance arts.
In an attempt to re-consider a 30 year old performance piece (I Wanted To Be Bisexual But My Father Wouldn’t Let Me) - to interrogate the issues surrounding gender and sexuality in the writer/performers consciousness at the time, and to bring this together with a form of abstract/ lyrical expressionism in the visual arts https://www.ideelart.com/magazine/lyrical-abstraction and then to make a perhaps risky historical leap into Michael Fried’s notion of ‘Absorption and Theatricality’ in the paintings of Chardin (among others),I have begun to create a series of 28 foot long canvasses focusing on four formative performance works that I created in the last decade of the twentieth century; I Wanted To Be Bisexual But My Father Wouldn’t Let Me, What Dreadful Things To Say About Someone Who Has Just Paid For My Lunch, Self-Deprecation and other Niceties, and Betty Wyatt.
For purposes of a three week residency at the OCAD Graduate Student Gallery, I have begun the preparations for the first two ‘performance paintings’ as abstract [lyrical] expressionist “manifestations of an absorptive state, the image's absorption in itself, so to speak - that only happens to subsist. The result, paradoxically, is that stability and unchangingness are endowed to an astonishing degree with the power to conjure an illusion of imminent or gradual or even fairly abrupt change. (50, Absorption and Theatricality) By replacing the word image with the word text in the first line of Michael Fried’s concise definition of his reflections upon the effects of absorption in various paintings, I satisfy my own need to paint text as a way of bringing the spoken/performed words into another realm of expression and representation - text-based performance art as painted subject. Being this close to a large canvas over an extended period of time brings a kind of performed labour into the equation, analogous to the act of memorizing and performing - absorbing one’s self and one’s audience in a narrative dependent upon a kind of self-absorption through a decidedly theatricalized rendition of that self-absorption - and in the end moving beyond the ‘self’ through painting and into a realm of social query and consciousness regarding historic categories that have served to define, and at times limit, the bounds of sex and and gender.
1“The implications of Absorption and Theatricality extend well beyond painting and art criticism to the literature and philosophy of the period.”
The original performance was done on roller skates while wearing a stylized patio umbrella frock and reciting the memorized text (image above). The basic import of the half hour piece finds distilled summarization in a few lines;
you see, I never wanted to be a man, or a woman / because i love borders / crossing them, ignoring them / borders between countries / borders between sexualities (1992)
In the three decades following that period I have often gone back to the title as an effective seriocomic way in which to absorb - to draw the audience into the performance as early as their first experience with the title of the piece. But there has always been, each time I have momentarily reflected upon the depth and effectiveness of that title, a hesitation regarding how far I was able to go in performing the idea of an identity I desired - grappled with - but could never quite actualize in any fully realized manner. The Kinsey report (1953) - perhaps well intentioned - worsened the struggle with its emphasis on statistical foundations - only three years before I was born. Was my inability to self-actualize a product of my own limitations or the gendered limitations projected and absorbed/inscribed upon (and into) my body during particularly liberating yet frequently repressive moments in the history of sexuality. Obviously both. As Marjorie Garber states in her text Bisexuality -
Is bisexuality a "third kind" of sexual identity, between or beyond homosexuality and heterosexuality? Or is it something that puts in question the very concept of sexual identity in the first place? Why, instead of hetero-, homo-, auto-, pan-, and bisexuality, do we not simply say "sexuality"? And does bisexuality have something fundamental to teach us about the nature of human eroticism?
My performance piece addressed similar issues when I was in my mid thirties (1992). I incorporated images from popular culture - ranging from quotes integrated into the text from the plays Boys In The Band, Being At Home With Claude, and Les Liaisons Dangereuse. A triumvirate of nationality (Canadian, American, French Canadian) finds expression in both the text and the costume (image above). Now, in 2018, I examine these issues again, in my early sixties, through painting - through a kind of lyrical expressionism that transplants “nationalized” colour and abstract image into a palette of shape and form - amorphous, lyric, and layered - where the painted textual images of a profoundly misunderstood form of sexual behaviour finds yet another playful area of expression to take on new form and function - and to perhaps find new/revisited meaning.
As Foucault so simply, and sardonically, put it, with an eye for amusement regarding the ways in which we have muddled through a fascination with the categorization of sexual identity -
“People will be surprised at the eagerness with which we went about pretending to rouse from its slumber a sexuality which everything-our discourses, our customs, our institutions, our regulations, our knowledges-was busy producing in the light of day and broadcasting to noisy accompaniment.” ― Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality, Volume 1: An Introduction
David Bateman, Artist in Residence: Graduate Gallery OCAD, July 2018