Balls and glitter: Michael Barrett's performance art
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Oct. 25, Trifecta Gallery, in the Arts District
Two feet away, Bay Area artist Michael Barrett’s ass cheeks are suddenly, unabashedly presented as he kneels down on the floor to place a small ball on a golf tee using his mouth. Stay cool, stifle the embarrassed smile, this is a serious performance art piece — hold on, did he just pick up a ball from a traffic cone with his butt? After a moment of stunned silence, bemused smiles and slightly nervous giggles permeate the room.
This is the first of seven performances slated to occur at Trifecta Gallery over the next 14 months.
Barrett proceeds to bum-drop the ball into an over-sized martini glass filled with blue liquid, fish it out by mouth and plop it into a small jar of water and gold glitter — and the laborious cycle repeats. It's an obstacle course with a mixture of military boot camp and miniature golf ... with a racing component involving the artist squeezing his large frame onto a children’s pedal car. A video camera aimed at the giant cocktail captures the actions and relays it to a digital projector, resulting in visual exaggeration and emphasis of critical stages within the obstacle course. During the drop of the ball, Barrett’s bodily shape appears to conform and squeeze into the shape of the martini glass beaming upon the wall.
Dressed in a white mask and apron, Barrett began the event by rigorously taping boxing gloves onto his hands and high heels onto his feet, followed by a liberal application of shoe polish. The bondage-like attire hinders mobility and blurs gender distinction with ritualistic functionality. The taped-up foot-ware becomes a perverted military boot — unable to shine despite copious amounts of polish. We see a glimpse into Barrett’s past as a soldier in the Marines.
Glass jar tucked into the apron pouch, ball in mouth, he clambers through a small window in the gallery, smudging polish onto a canvas tacked in place, skidding all the way down, as he lowers himself to the floor, creating a corporeal wall drawing. Ball returned to the putting tee, he hits it across the room, mounts the pedal car and wheels his way over to retrieve it.
After observing the cycle several times it becomes apparent that Barrett’s pieces meditates upon several iconic art historical performance by French pioneer of performance art Yves Klein. However, in contrast to the effortless conceptual performances of Klein, Barrett draws out the action of each moment, slowly, painfully and awkwardly. Klein’s elegant “Leap into the Void” translates into a difficult climb out of a window. Klein’s nude impressions of women rolled in paint upon canvass becomes a grubby, physical record of the artist wearing greasy heels. We find the patented color IKB (Yves Klein Blue) and blue cocktails from Klein’s 1958 exhibit, The Void, referenced in the martini ball-bobbing glass and blue Jell-O-shot cocktails, available nearby.
Each ritual combining of small pink ball with jar of glittery water is a celebratory offering, referencing a similar offering made by Klein at a monastery, as well as Barrett’s survival of testicular cancer. The jar offering is placed on the edge of the white circle surrounding the martini glass, marking the completion of yet another cycle — the number of cycles limited only by the artist’s physical stamina.
But the end result is of little consequence; it's not about the finish line, its about the journey. Fumbling the golf club with the bulky mitts again, Barrett taps the ball: Unbelievable! It's a hole in one! The handful of viewers in the room break into an involuntary cheer — many have been watching for more than an hour, and they know this stroke of luck will save our disturbing hero several laborious steps. Knowing the path ahead, completing each step becomes a battle of the artist against himself, the mind willing the body to continue. In the end it's 36 jars transported — two rounds of golf — and a six-hour, brutal marathon. Physically exposed, vulnerable, tedious, each action suppresses the artist’s ego and dissolves Klein’s conceptual pretentions. The initially shocking, humorous viewing experience fades into excruciating sympathy and longing for the artist to complete his onerous labors.