Saturday, September 03, 2005

Mary Coble at Connor Contemporary Arts

I visited Mary Coble's performance last night near the beginning of the evening.
From the press release:
In hate crimes against the GLBT [gay, lesbian, bisexual and trans-gendered] community words carved into the victim's body was somewhat of a common occurrence in comparison with hate crimes committed against other groups of people. Words like "faggot" and "dyke" were left in the individual's skin as a nauseating marker of why these individuals were killed. I have made the choice to amass the names of these victims and have them etched into my skin as a parallel to this gruesome tactic.
The concept and execution (the names were etched into her back with a tattoo needle) brought to my mind the story "In the penal colony" by Franz Kafka, where prisoners are punished by having their crimes etched across their bodies.
“Our sentence does not sound severe. The law which a condemned man has violated is inscribed on his body with the harrow. This Condemned Man, for example,” and the Officer pointed to the man, “will have inscribed on his body, ‘Honour your superiors.’”
The endurance aspect of the performance was hard to see at the time I viewed it, since less than ten names had been inscribed on Coble's back (out of potentially 100+ over 8 hours). As each name was finished, a small piece of paper was pressed over it, creating a reverse image of the name printed in Coble's blood. These blood prints are quite delicate and lovely.

Overall, I think it may not have been necessary to see the performance itself to appreciate the work (see this discussion at Thinking About Art). In some respects it might make a difference to the audience to be there - the knowledge that the event did happen is different in person than just viewing photographs of the event would be.

Read the Washington Post interview with the artist here.

If anyone can remember the name of the artist who also did a performance (in the early 90's I believe) where someone carved on her(?) back and took prints of the blood - I think the performance was related to AIDS - let me know. I wanted to compare Coble's work to that earlier piece.

Check out the documentation of the performance at Connor Contemporary Art starting September 9-October 22, and the reception on Friday, September 9th from 6-8pm.


At 2:37 PM, Anonymous Dawn Gavin said...

Hi. I think you are referring to the (West Coast)Photographer Catherine Opie, who was depicted in one self-portrait with an image cut into her back: a child like drawing of a house, a child and two female adults.

At 7:09 PM, Anonymous m.cameron boyd said...

I'm glad that at least ONE of us saw Coble's piece! I think the artist you're thinking of was Ron Athey. He did a piece in '93 called "4 Scenes in a Harsh Life," in which he carved images into an assistant's flesh & made bloody intaglio prints on paper that were hung out over the audience! To whit: The "Human Printing Press" scene caused the greatest public stir. The scenario has cast member Darryl Carlton hunching over a gynaecological table while Ron carves patterns into Darryl's flesh. Mechanically, Ron's stamps intaglio impressions onto pieces of paper. The cranked-out work, symbolically and literally manufactured off the blood of a subordinates back, is run out over the audience with pulleys. When this ran in Minneapolis, an audience member reported the alleged "great health risk& of HIV positive blood dripping into the audience" to the local health department. Incredibly, news of the incident dominoed to local newspapers, national newspapers and tabloids, international press and the religious right. The validity of Ron Athey's performance as art was debated on the floor of the US House of Representatives because $150.00 of the several thousand dollar's budget was indirectly funded by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). The NEA budget was reduced that year. The truth never came to light - that neither a drop of blood dripped nor that the blood was HIV negative."

- from

At 7:11 PM, Blogger Amy said...

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At 7:12 PM, Blogger Amy said...

Yes, Mark, that's the one. Thanks. This has been driving me crazy for the last few days, trying to remember.


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