mateus domingos



Something from a while ago that was dust breeding.

This text is about the experience and memories of three specific encounters with performance art works. Dave Clarkson, Hugo Nadeau and Robin Deacon. Each of these performances involved a direct relationship to the previous work of another practitioner. Clarkson and Nadeau: Andy Kaufman. Deacon: Stuart Sherman. This is about the associations that arise as a spectator to these actions. Chasing shadows, reflections and echoes.

The first encounter takes place in a small room with several stage blocks at one end. The ceiling is low and too close to the performers head. He wears a neck brace[1] and tells us he’s going to read The Great Gatsby, in it’s entirety. Dave Clarkson is performing as Andy Kaufman[2].

Clarkson elicits heckling and interruptions from the audience. The performance was taking part as part of a festival and audience members could leave and return as they pleased, although these actions would usually provoke an outburst. I spent several hours in the room as Clarkson continued to read the text and respond to the audience; far extending any online documentation of the routine which appears to last no more than ten minutes and ends as Kaufman cues a record which begins playing a recording of him reading the text[3]. There are anecdotes of whole shows being spent in this way but, hard to verify. Kaufman’s work can be viewed extensively through the surviving video footage uploaded to youtube. It’s mostly TV footage, BETACAM, with distinct trails and faded colours.

The thing here, is that I don’t have any of this context. I’m just in a room with a man reading The Great Gatsby. There’s also the sense of being in the presence of something special. A feeling of decisions made well, which is what keeps me in the room, missing other performances.

My engagement with contemporary art is primarily online, post-internet art. Accessed through RSS feeds and social network streams. I invest a lot of time in this. Some of it is designed for this fleeting experience, and that’s the whole point, but that’s not really what I crave. There are of course stunning examples, which do satisfy, provoke -nourish[4]. I want to be focussed. Deacon said something about his Sherman work being a good way of stepping outside of his own practice for a time. He said it seemed like a healthy thing to do. Watching these performances there’s also the uncomfortable realisation that this kind of connection and experience is a lot more meaningful than most of the interactions I submit to online, and this not despite trying.

And this meaning. The meaning that in actual conversation I’d probably evade with something about the individual untranslatable language of the specific media involved: This is avoiding the possibility of saying something through other media though and within those bounds. Within the format of the essay, the meaning of these investigations, approximates to the creation of a space in which life can take place through an alteration of thought. And this is probably why I avoid such situations, because they probably give the wrong impression. The thing I have to do, is convince you that I’m sincere. And that deciding to experience art is best done with a sincerity that is possibly hard to muster with tabs, feeds, refreshing, streams etc.

After seeing Clarkson perform the awareness of Kaufman seems to resolve itself in my mind, forgotten youtube clips and previously seen fragments of Jim Carrey’s Man on The Moon synthesise. Kaufman died in 1984. I’m interested in the specific sense of confusion that Kaufman’s performances evoked. Often, by way of placing the everyday, ‘unperformative’ within a routine. Watching Clarkson I remember being aware of my lack of required knowledge, and yet was still able to encounter the performance as one of the required dupes. For each video of him posted to youtube there’ll be someone commenting, ‘The first Troll.’ And someone else saying they’re missing the point. The thing is that we all act our roles enough for the thing to hold together. And that’s how it worked with Clarkson. It also seems to fulfill a simple desire to be spoken to, to be told a story and engage in performance within the rules of the setting[5].

Watching footage of Kaufman it becomes clear that part of this process is an imagination of the physical encounter. The live audience enjoy a more active position than the youtube spectator.

This initial encounter sparked an interest and awareness that meant by the time I saw Hugo Nadeau preparing to walk onto a stage several months later, I could read his sports jacket and sideburns, I was anticipating Kaufman[6]. Hugo Nadeau had been occupying space with a similar presence as Clarkson. He was in costume and the props he placed on the stage were further clues as to what he was planning. Nadeau seemed only to be using Kaufman’s language though. His positioning was of an earnest performer being failed by the institution that had invited him there. He showed us the programme for the evening, which had a photo of someone else’s work next to the description of his performance. This, apparently was a real mistake. The photo was of two men bathing, in a hut, in Singapore. The text made no mention of Kaufman but spoke about Nadeau’s economic use of objects to “explore opportunities for creativity within a range of one-waythinking... ...He believes in an all-powerful cultural democracy and that human structures can be changed. Testing and defending his own artistic and promotional systems, Hugo feeds a blurred kind of performance art, the invention of a personal part in society.” (http:// The silence of both Nadeau and Clarkson on their actual relationship with Kaufman is interesting and appropriate to the Kaufman myth. Clarkson is responding to a very specific part of that myth and extending it, whereas Nadeau is appropriating several episodes and putting the logic to play in this contemporary setting. It is an arena of uncertainty. Nadeau did “the foreign man” and played a record, as well as a skit with a planted audience member.

Nadeau’s performance seemed to be about articulating and the limitations or boundaries imposed by the organisation that had placed him there and modes of production in general. He was playing a man lost on the stage, being defeated by it, yet still succeeding as entertainment. In the space of this performance/these performances, the strangeness of the situation manifests itself. The act of reflection and reception to events and phenomenon before you[7]. And the importance of this act as a society, the things we choose to look at, to engage with and think about[8].

There are strong and vocal arguments for the re-performance of performance based work as opposed to a reliance purely on documentation. With much work the documentation employed adds a trace that both contextualises and obscures the performance itself. The danger is that the the media only adds nostalgia, and limits reading beyond that. The preservation and representation of art in general is a troubling thing, and of pressing concern for internet based practice, time-based media, and also by implication all obejcts/artefacts. It’s something we engage with by walking into a gallery, or going to a cinema, as well as using tumblr, facebook et al. Closed networks, over which we have very little control or access. Even attempting to maintain your own data and archives requires the re-reading and re-writing of files occasionally to prevent data degradation. There is a false sense of the infinite with our current consumption of technology.

I think this has something to do with the prominence, now, of people like Andy Kaufman and Stuart Sherman. These, the vanguard of the pre-internet existence. A world of television. They appear like prophets, with ancient languages communicating desperately[9].

There have been several high profile exhibitions of Kaufman’s work and related media, artefacts and performances. This is true of a contemporary of Kaufman’s Stuart Sherman. The parallels between the two have been written about already. Sherman performed routines, composed of a suitcase full of items and their arrangement and choreography on a small foldout table. A similarity between Kaufman and Sherman is in the position of the audience throughout the spectacle. It’s collective outsiderness.

Unlike the Kaufman experiences the Sherman was anticipated. Robin Deacon has been performing routines borrowed from Sherman for the last five years, alongside producing a documentary on Sherman himself. The performance was part of an exhibition at Trade, Nottingham, screening extracts of Sherman’s Spectacles series[10]. Similar to the surviving Kaufman footage the Spectacles bear the mark of early consumer video camcorders. Sherman’s actions produce these dramatic phrases. As Sherman moves his body leaves a trail in the video. A kind of ghost. The actions are usually sequences of movement. They follow one another to form phrases. Deacon screened sections of his documentary interspersed with live performances of different spectacles. Some of these I recognised from the footage seen in the rest of the exhibition. Deacon said he was approximating Sherman. Part of the act of spectatorship here was in trusting that Deacon was performing accurately.

I’m unsure, and believe this is the general consensus, as to how much, or how specifically Sherman’s spectacles were choreographed before their performance. The idea of choreography is particularly interesting in this context of re-performance. Whatever Sherman’s intention, Deacon is performing this rehearsed condition of the body in accordance with his own research and study of the material available. It’s exciting in the specification of a physical body. The electric physical that dissolves into night sounds. The thing that is us and touches screens causing shifts in data, and movement[11].

There’s a strange logic at play with Sherman’s spectacles. Often through their titling they seem to be about something particular. The access to this is not direct though. The experience is akin to listening to a poem in a language you don’t understand, such that phrases become noticeable and the rhythm can be glimpsed. Morphemes are vaguely interpreted. The audience is given a text. They read this through acrobatic acts of interpretation, translation and imagination. This is how language works anyway, it’s just that through this kind of engagement with art it can be a visible and active process that allows space for reflection on the act itself. This of course, being just one reading. It’s also the desire for this kind of reflection that guides much of what I attempt to do personally as an artist. The contemporary spectator, not as standard model of alienation associated with net culture but more a re-location of self as distinct from these symptoms and capable of making affective decisions.

There is something liberating about the presentation of a language that offers so much flexibility and space for a reader. It creates an expanse that is silent in comparison to the noise of most media intake -by which I mean, we are all maybe so good at reading it, with 24/7 access that it doesn’t encourage or leave much room for imaginative thought. There is less space for connections to be made within a reader. Neural networks are not strengthened, meanwhile social networks calcify[12]. Potentially.

Dave Clarkson n/a
Hugo Nadeau
Robin Deacon
Trade Gallery

[1]The neck brace seems to be out of place with the actual performance Clarkson was referencing, a while before the Jerry Lawler saga.

[2]The documentation available of the Kaufman performance itself is one in which he tells the audience, he is now being himself, not playing a character. He’s wearing a tuxedo and speaks.

[3]This use of the prerecorded voice offers a nice link to Nadeau and Sherman/Deacon.

[4]There are multiple platforms that support the development of this kind of work in a seemingly more successful manor than their off-screen counterparts.

[5]This seems similar, almost, in it’s playschool format, to the accounts of Kaufman’s show at Carnegie Hall, after which he took the audience on buses for milk and cookies, and then invited them to meet him on the Staten Island Ferry the next morning.

[6]This second encounter took place during a festival at which I was presenting; A construction of a stage, with a text available to read, on or around the stage. It had a bench along one side. In these constructions I’m thinking in terms of sculptures of stages etc. They don’t explicitly function as a stage, although in this setting it assumed that role. The event included several artists presenting live work.

[7]An alternative to the waiting for things to render or bounce in cracked copies of industry software.


[9]This is probably most clear through the comments that mark Kaufman as the first ‘troll’ in a particularly net usage. Also the persistent theories that Kaufman must still be alive and his death was another part of the routine. Sherman’s props are stuck in time: the phone will never be an iPhone, the voice is always recorded to tape, the spectacles will not lose their pluralisation and become Google Glass. The signifiers drift.

[10]This exhibition was my single encounter with the work. Sherman continued to work and perform until his death in 2001. The Trade exhibition screened work from 1975 through to 1989. This was not the extent of the Spectacles, nor were the Spectacles Sherman’s only medium.


[12]I’m indicating also the structures that we are expected to move within, specifically as artists; A friend asked if the artist group I work with have a manifesto. We have a business plan.