Thresholds : Gesture, idea and action in the Performance Art of Andrew Drummond, Di ffrench and David Mealing
Thesis DisciplineArt History
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameMaster of Arts
This thesis examines the work of three New Zealand artists who engaged with processes of performance art during the 1970s and 1980s. David Mealing, Andrew Drummond and Di ffrench integrated performance gestures that mutated into object or conceptual based practices in the 1980s and 1990s. An analysis of their work reveals both similarities and differences, all adjacent to corporeal, political and aesthetic issues and ideas that stem from international and national events particular to the milieu in which they worked. The three artists stand apart from their contemporaries due to their focussed positions as socio-political commentators during a turbulent time in New Zealand history. A large body of written and oral research on their work provides an historical view of the period from 1969 - 1999 that will focus specifically on their aesthetic experimentation and concerns with the fragmentation of the body, self and identity, and, importantly, their intended use of art to effect change. Performance art in New Zealand underwent a burst of energy from 1969 as time-based activity offered an alternative to the static painterly or totemic art practices, as found in much international late modernism. Mealing, Drummond and ffrench explored a notion of performance art that resided in and beyond the margins of mainstream activity. A concept of the limen or the margin, the threshold and the littoral zone - a metaphorical place of creativity is applied to this analysis of their work. These individuals expressed through ritual and symbol found in notions of the-limen, socio-political beliefs that reflected a view of artistic responsibility toward pressing issues of identity, freedom of expression, ecological wellbeing and the human condition. Each artist concentrated on phenomenological themes surrounding the body, explored alternative sculptural material and enjoyed instances of imaginative communication. The body trace that evolved from the temporal moment, their relationship to the land and the urban environment, and an intersubjective exchange with the audience were all engaged with. This is articulated in their practices of socio-political interaction, as expressed through Mealing's interventions, a spatial/kinetic continuum, as seen in Drummond's sculptures, and a performative materialisation of difference as evident in the cibachromes of Di ffrench. Historical international precedents of performance art will interweave with this specific New Zealand study in order to further highlight the diversity of performance art that these artists employed in their idiosyncratic journeys along the borderlands of art making.