Experiencing Frances Barrett's work The Man with the Hypnotic Eyes (2010) at Locksmith Gallery brought Erin Manning's book Politics of Touch to mind, namely this section:
'It is not a question of thinking of the body that touches (as two separate movements) but of the body as touch. The space inhabited by my body becomes the space of my body. When I touch you, I not only incite you to a reciprocity, I create space with you.' (Manning 2007, 58).
As you walk into the exhibition space there is a flashing stage light that is resting in the middle of the floor, facing the back wall. Directly ahead of you, further towards the back of the space there are makeshift theatre stairs, four going up each side, leading up to a platform in the middle. There is a bucket filled with piss and a pair of shoes. Accompanying the installation are large sheets of paper that detail stage directions in various acts that you collect from a pile on the ground as you walk into the room. The directions demand that your body moves through, and creates the work yourself.
My friend and I move through the performance together, at first with a few giggles of awkwardness. Eventually, we surrender to create together in silence. The first direction on the sheet of paper was to stare into the flashing light, and then to close them at regular intervals in time with the flash. This started the performance off on a particularly meditative note. Half way through enacting the stage directions, another two people joined us in the space.
The performance became an exploration of the intimacy between bodies creating space through movement. When I moved away from the directions or refused to enact them, something quite interesting emerged. Skipping or changing certain directions enlivened every gesture to have some sort of theatrical or performative weight to it. As a result of the initial jolt of self-consciousness created by this 'breaking through', there was something strangely exhilarating about the leaky, spreading theatricality of the make-believe becoming real. Barrett's invitation to touch and move and create space and time was refreshing, and the structure of the stage directions facilitated a powerful, hypnotic flow.
The Man with the Hypnotic Eyes arises in thematic concomitance with two works recently shown in Melbourne by artists Bianca Hester and Anna John. All three women produce works which tap into these themes; creating art that is empowering, beautiful and as touching as they are moving. These artists invite you to touch in order to create. The politics behind these works is timeless: your touch has the power to reshape and transform the moment. You are demanded to act with your body, and in acting you become aware of how immediately your actions have a transformative impact upon time and space. As Manning would put it, Barrett's performance 'reached-towards' a creative type of 'worlding' - instantiating a politics of touch.