History of Disappearance
Room 1

History of Disappearance starts with Andrea Fraser’s guided tour of a museum (video work). Fraser is best known for her series of ‘gallery talks’ – enactments that highlight gender and class relations common in the structure and history of art organisations. Museum Highlights: A Gallery Talk (1989) is based on a gallery talk performance conducted at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in 1989. In the course of the tour, Fraser describes a social history of the art museum in the United States, focusing on the relationship between class, taste, private patronage and public policy in creating and maintaining not only museums but the culture of urban public institutions.
Works by Nigel Rolfe, Julie Laffin and Yvette Helin are shown side by side on a bank of monitors embedded within the gallery walls. These works provide documentation of performances which took place at Franklin Furnace and on the streets of New York from the mid 1980s to early 1990s:

Yvette Helin
conceived the Pedestrian Project (1992) when inspired by the figures on pedestrian
crossing signs, creating black costumes with featureless, oversized sphere-shaped heads. In this generic guise she and her fellow ‘Pedestrians’ took to the streets of New York enacting both choreographed and impromptu pieces in key city locations including Grand Central Terminal, The World Trade Centre and the New York Subway. Interacting in everyday activities such as shopping, walking the dog or joining a bus queue, these faceless figures refer to the anonymity we experience as individuals in a large systematic society.

Nigel Rolfe’s The Rope (1984), is made up of three sequences: the first is the artists’ head being bound in creosote-covered sisal rope against a green background. The second is the feet of a traditional Irish dancer, filmed below the knee, against a white background. The final image is of the artist continually drenched with large quantities of water, against an orange background. The three colours combine to constitute the Irish flag. The Rope calls into question political power and the identity of self in culture and history. This piece forms part of a larger work: The Rope That Binds Us Makes Them Free.

Julie Laffin’s practice involves the design, construction and wearing of elaborate large gowns which can be seen as sculptures which are brought to life in her performances. In the footage of the Various States of D(u)ress (1995) she dons a 60-foot black velvet mourning dress in reflection of her previous relationship history. Laffin interrupts other people’s space, inciting them to interact in the situations she has created.

Britta Wheeler’s newly commissioned wall painting maps the history of performance art and its associations with institutions, based on a ten-year research study of the field of performance art in the US. The map condenses this research into key themes that show the process of the institionalisation of live art and how performance art became institutionalised along seven themes: content, form, avant-garde-ness, politics, audience and institutional markers.

The work in this room culminates with two slide lectures by Martha Wilson recorded at Baltic. The History of Performance Art According to Me (2005) is accompanied by Whither the Alternative Space (2005), which examines the notion of ‘alternative’ art.