Posts Tagged ‘Australian performance artist


Exhibition: ‘XTRAVAGANZA. Staging Leigh Bowery’ at Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna

Exhibition dates: 19th October 2012 – 3rd February 2013


Installation view of 'XTRAVAGANZA. Staging Leigh Bowery', Kunsthalle Wien


Installation view of XTRAVAGANZA. Staging Leigh Bowery, Kunsthalle Wien
Foto: Stephan Wyckoff
Kostüme: Leigh Bowery
Kostümpräsentation: Klaus Mayr
Courtesy Estate of Leigh Bowery



I can die happy now that I have had the opportunity to do a posting on this amazing man. He challenged social stereotypes turning his body into an every changing, ever challenging work of art. He used his body as a canvas and inscribed narratives upon it. He used these narratives to challenge the dominant discourse, offering himself as material evidence to facilitate new perspectives. His body became a performance, the self as performance, one that was not fully pre-determined, for you never knew what he would do next, what social outrage he would offer up.

Through masks, makeup, wigs and body modification, Bowery confronted the viewer with an/other field of existence, one that promoted an encounter with the face of the other, causing an emotional response in the audience, the viewer. As Wendy Garden observes, “Being faced with another provokes a reaction: it makes an appeal, demands an engagement.”1 We cannot look away for we do not know what Bowery will do next. He used his large body, its bulk and presence to bring the viewer face-to-face with an/other. The magnification of his size and the emphasis and manipulation of his face, especially the mouth and eyes, rescales his presence in front of the viewer – at his performances, in the photographs of Bowery. For example, look at his creation Evening Wear – Andrew Logan’s 1986 Alternative Miss World (1986, below). Impossibly high and luridly coloured boots, leggings, a bustled and bedazzled jacket / skirt combo, crash helmet and the most maniacal black and white face you will ever see. Bowery unbalances the fixity of the single perspective and through his transgression destabilises the mastering gaze.

I was living in London at the time Leigh Bowery, Boy George, Marilyn and Divine were strutting their stuff in the nightclubs of London town. What a time. Maggie Thatcher (and I can hardly bring myself to type her name) was Prime Minister of a right wing Conservative government from 1979-1990, a period of social oppression of minorities, the breaking of the trade unions, the beginning of HIV/AIDS. Think Boy George’s famous song No Clause 28 that protested against a local government act that “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” or “promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship.” Bowery was a child of his time, a prescient, sentient being who was out there doing his thing, challenging the dominant paradigms of a patriarchal society. He burned like a comet, bright in the sky, and then was gone all too early. But he will never be forgotten. What a man.

Dr Marcus Bunyan


  1. Garden, Wendy. “Ethical witnessing and the portrait photograph: Brook Andrew,” in Journal of Australian Studies Vol. 35, No. 2, June 2011, p. 261.

Many thankx to Kunsthalle Wien for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.






The Legend of Leigh Bowery 2002


Installation view of 'XTRAVAGANZA. Staging Leigh Bowery', Kunsthalle Wien


Installation view of XTRAVAGANZA. Staging Leigh Bowery, Kunsthalle Wien
Foto: Stephan Wyckoff
Kostüme: Leigh Bowery
Kostümpräs: Klaus Mayr
Courtesy Estate of Leigh Bowery; Cerith Wyn Evans, In Girum Imus Nocte Et Consumimur Igni, 2008
Courtesy Cerith Wyn Evans und White Cube


Installation view of 'XTRAVAGANZA. Staging Leigh Bowery', Kunsthalle Wien


Installation view of XTRAVAGANZA. Staging Leigh Bowery, Kunsthalle Wien
Foto: Stephan Wyckoff
Kostüme: Leigh Bowery
Kostümpräsentation: Klaus Mayr
Courtesy Estate of Leigh Bowery


Charles Atlas. 'Teach' 1992-98


Charles Atlas
Video still
© Charles Atlas, Courtesy Vilma Gold, London


Werner Pawlok. 'Portrait Leigh Bowery 3' 1988


Werner Pawlok (German, b. 1953)
Portrait Leigh Bowery 3
Courtesy Werner Pawlok



“I think of myself as a canvas,” fashion pioneer Leigh Bowery once said about himself. If there were a formula to describe this enfant terrible who refused all categorisation throughout his life, this would be it: turning oneself into a work of art. Presenting himself in the most garish ways that defied all conventions and stylising himself as a walking work of art, Leigh Bowery, who was born in Australia in 1961, stirred up London’s sub-culture of the 1980s in the wake of post punk and New Romanticism. Being friends with stars of the scene like Michael Clark and Cerith Wyn Evans, he continuously reinvented himself on the manifold stages of the metropolis.

The show highlights Leigh Bowery’s life and work between fashion, performance, music, dance, and sculpture by presenting rarely exhibited costumes, numerous films, photographs, music videos, talk shows, and magazines. It approaches Bowery by way of artistic descriptions, reflections, and documentations in the work of friends, supporters, and colleagues, whose source of inspiration, entertainer, and muse he was: Bowery’s performative enactments oscillating between masquerade and radical self-expression were captured by filmmakers such as Charles Atlas, Dick Jewell, Baillie Walsh, and John Maybury. It took Fergus Greer a number of sessions that stretched over six years to shoot the legendary photo series Looks. As Charles Atlas’s Teach shows, Leigh Bowery developed his unmistakable outfits, gestures, and poses in multiple forms of self-reflection under his companions’ critical eye. Bowery’s one-week performance in the Anthony d’Offay Gallery in London (1988) involved a two-way mirror: while the public could watch Leigh Bowery changing his outfits for hours on end, he saw only his own mirror image and remained inescapably confronted with himself and his movements. Though Bowery claimed that he had had to fight his shame initially and hid his room-filling physique behind conspicuous materials such as tulle, glitter, paint, and satin, his performances were anything but embarrassing: “The rest of us used drag and make-up to disguise our blemishes and physical defects. Leigh made them the focal point of his art,” Boy George once remarked. The nightclubs of London provided Bowery with catwalks on which to flaunt his visions of himself and let him always come out on top in terms of maximum attention. Lucian Freud, the British prince of painters, took great pleasure in Leigh Bowery’s fascinating personality and the fullness of his naked body. Bowery became one of his most important models, and the artist depicted him as he could never be seen in public: natural, intimate, and vulnerable.

Leigh Bowery’s art clearly differs from the designs, presentation patterns, and distribution channels of fashion designers. With Trash and Bad Taste irony, Bowery, like his idol John Waters and his main actor Divine, abandoned all conventions and stylistic doctrines in a both cynical and humorous way. His craftsmanship in tailoring and his creative potential constitute the core of an expressive self-stylisation which did not depend on encouraging the public through marketing strategies or offers of consumer goods. His vestimentary creations were based on the work with his own body, which he regarded as a malleable material and workable mass and which was to play an increasingly central part in his late oeuvre. Regarded as inexorably deficient, his body became the origin of those manifold appearances and kaleidoscopic diversifications that we find most astounding when confronted with Bowery’s work. He experimented with second skins of black latex, exaggerated the size and volume of his body with sweeping tulle attires, and made himself look taller with platform shoes. Bowery sabotaged glamorous, ornamental and transparent materials with steel helmets, toilet seats, and skulls. He fastened artificial lips in his cheeks with safety pins and wore flesh-coloured velvet suits that transformed his body into a vagina. Using adhesive tape and a bodice, he shaped his flesh into an artificial bosom, and he concealed his member behind pubic hair toupees or overemphasised it as he did in one of the Michael Clark Company’s dance performances. He disparaged unequivocal gender definitions and transcended their socially informed attributions – Gender Trouble: everything was a look. By and by, Bowery turned into what has been called “the self as performance.”

Leigh Bowery’s existence was the epitome of extremes. He looked for exceptional emotional and physical states like pain and ecstasy that would release him from the mediocrity of everyday life, like in the performance The Laugh of No.12 in Fort Asperen on June 4, 1994. Suspended on one foot, stark naked, wearing a black face mask, and displaying some clothespins on his genitals, he swung through the air uttering a sprechgesang, before he smashed a pane of glass with his bulky body. Exposing himself to his vulnerability in his performances, Bowery overcame physical injuries by showcasing them. His sometimes sadomasochist appearances and provocative lifestyle culminated in an attitude that crystallised into a sociopolitical approach in his statement “I like doing the opposite of what people expect.” Far from nocturnal footlights and kindred spirits’ protection, he – who was “larger than life” in every respect – strained the social limits of propriety with his big and exalted appearance. He enjoyed causing offence and holding up a mirror to the dictatorship of conformism, unmasking its heteronomy.

After an excessive life, Leigh Bowery died from AIDS at the age of 33. He was more than an extraordinary peripheral figure making his mark in the urban arena of exhibitionism and voyeurism. His virtuoso works have influenced haute couture collections by such fashion stars as Rei Kawakubo, John Galliano, Walter van Beirendonck, and Alexander McQueen. In spite of its simplicity, the latest fall/winter collection of Comme des Garçons shows obvious parallels to Leigh Bowery’s designs.

Press release from the Kunsthalle Wien website


Robin Beeche. 'Evening Wear - Andrew Logan's 1986 Alternative Miss World' 1986


Robin Beeche (Australian, 1945-2015)
Evening Wear – Andrew Logan’s 1986 Alternative Miss World
Courtesy Robin Beeche


Nick Knight. 'Untitled (Leigh Bowery with Scull)' 1992


Nick Knight (British, b. 1958)
Untitled (Leigh Bowery with Scull)
© Nick Knight


Ole Christiansen. 'Farrel House' 1989


Ole Christiansen (Danish)
Farrel House
Courtesy Ole Christiansen


Fergus Greer. 'Leigh Bowery, Session VII, Look 38, June 1994' 1994


Fergus Greer (British)
Leigh Bowery, Session VII, Look 38, June 1994
Courtesy Fergus Greer
© Fergus Greer



Kunsthalle Wien
Museumsplatz 1
A-1070 Vienna

Opening hours:
Daily 10am – 7pm
Thursday 10am – 10pm

Kunsthalle Wien website


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Review: ‘Jill Orr: Vision’ at Jenny Port Gallery, Richmond, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 2nd June – 3rd July, 2010


Jill Orr. 'Megan' 2009


Jill Orr (Australian, b. 1952)



A huge gallery crawl on Wednesday last saw me take in exhibitions at Nellie Castan Gallery (Malleus Melficarum: strong sculptural work by James and Eleanor Avery; Broken Canon: vibrant mixed media collages by Marc Freeman); Anita Traverso Gallery (Peristereonas: sculptures, photographs and mixed media by Barry Thompson); John Buckley Gallery (Perpetua by Emma can Leest, beautiful cut paper works; rather mundane paintings by Christian Lock); Karen Woodbury Gallery (Every breath you take: wonderful galaxy-like paintings, perhaps as seen by the Hubble telescope, with a geometric / cellular base by Lara Merrett); The Centre for Contemporary Photography (Event horizon: a group exhibition that “engages the horizon as a means to establish a physical locality with relation to the Earth’s surface and more broadly to the universe of which it is a miniscule component.” An exhibition that left me rather cold); and ACCA (Towards an elegant solution by Peter Cripps, again a singularly unemotional engagement with the precise, contained work: interesting for how the work explores spatial environments but in an abstract, intellectual way).

The stand out work from this mammoth day was Jill Orr: Vision at Jenny Port Gallery. Simply put, it was the strongest, most direct, most emotionally powerful work that I saw all day.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

Many thankx to Amelia Douglas and Jenny Port Gallery for allowing me to publish the photographs in this posting.



Jill Orr. 'Megan' 2009


Jill Orr (Australian, b. 1952)



Jill Orr’s new participatory performances are photographs of children from Avoca Primary School painted with white clay from the area, displayed in pairs. The children are photographed once with eyes open, once with eyes closed. Orr asked the children to imagine their future life when they had their eyes closed. The key to the work is a group photograph of the ghostly children outside the primary school where everyone is isolated from each other (see photograph below).

“White faces loom up out of a dark ground, described by Orr as a void. On the surface these portraits are finely crafted, the skin of masked face becomes one with the digital file to create a facial landscape. The materiality of the face and the photographic file are exposed for the viewer. Titling the series ‘vision’ Orr ventures into a ‘haptic visuality’ where “vision itself can be tactile, as though one were touching a film with one’s eyes.”

From the catalogue essay by Professor Anne Marsh, Monash University



In the performance, the ritual of being photographed, Orr instructs the children who are placed under the surveillance of the camera. “We are confronted with the pose, the conscious composition of the image to be photographed, the inherent constructedness of the posed photograph.”1 The child assumes the pose by which they wish to be memorialised. The gaze (of the camera, of the viewer) is returned / or not in this spectacle.

Something happens when we look at these photographs. The text of the photographs becomes intertextual, producing as Barthes understands a “plurality of meanings and signifying/interpretive gestures that escape the reduction of knowledge to fixed, monological re-presentations, or presences.”2 This is because, as Foucault observes, texts “are caught up in a system of references to … other texts, other sentences: it is a node within a network …  Its unity is variable and relative.”3

The photographs invite us to share not only the mapping of the surface of the skin and the mapping of place (the history of white people living on the land in country Australia) and identity but the sharing of inner light, the light of the imaginary as well – and in this observation the images become unstable, open to reinterpretation. The distance between viewer and subject is transcended through an innate understanding of inner and outer light. The photographs seduce, meaning, literally, to be led astray.

As American photographer Minor White, who photographed in meditation hoping for a revelation in spirit though connection between person > subject > camera > negative > print, observes in one of his Three Canons

When the image mirrors the man
And the man mirrors the subject
Something might take over

Here the power of the photographer acting in isolation, the modernist tenet of authorship, is overthrown. In it’s place, “White supposes a relationship with subject that is a two way street: by granting the world some role in its own representation we create a photograph that is not so much a product solely of individual actions as it is the result of a negotiation in which the world and all its subjects might participate.”5 The autobiography of a soul born in the age of mechanical reproduction. This is the power of these photographs for something intangible within the viewer does take over. I found myself looking at the photographs again and again for small nuances, the detail of hairs on the head, the imagining of what the person was thinking about with their eyes closed: their future, their fears, their hopes, the ‘active imagination as a means to visualise sustainable futures’ (Orr, 2010).

These photographs seem to lengthen or protract time through this haptic touching of inner light. As Pablo Helguera observes in his excellent essay How To Understand the Light on a Landscape that examines different types of light (including experiental light, somber light, home light, ghost light, the light of the deathbed, protective light, artificial light, working light, Sunday light, used light, narrated light, the last light of day, hotel light, transparent light, after light, the light of the truly blind and the light of adolescence but not, strangely, inner light)

“Experience is triggered by light, but not exclusively by the visible light of the electro-magnetic spectrum. What the human eye is incapable to perceive is absorbed by other sensory parts of the body, which contribute to the perception that light causes an effect that goes beyond the merely visual …

There is the LIGHT OF ADOLESCENCE, a blinding light that is similar to the one we feel when we are asleep facing the sun and we feel its warmth but don’t see it directly. Sometimes it marks the unplace, perhaps the commonality of all places or perhaps, for those who are pessimists, the unplaceness of every location …

We may choose to openly embrace the darkness of light, and thus let ourselves through the great gates of placehood, where we can finally accept the unexplainabe concreteness of our moments for what they are.”6

In the imagination of the darkness that lies behind these children’s closed eyes is the commonality of all places, a shared humanity of memory, of dreams. These photographs testify to our presence and ask us to decide how we feel about our life, our place and the relation to that (un)placeness where we must all, eventually, return.

Dr Marcus Bunyan


  1. Feiereisen, Florence and Pope, Daniel. “True Fiction and Fictional Truths: The Enigmatic in Sebald’s Use of Images in The Emigrants” in Patt, Lise (ed.,). Searching for Sebald: Photography after W.G. Sebald. Los Angeles: The Institute of Cultural Inquiry, 2007, p. 175.
  2. Barthes, Roland. “From Work to Text” in Image, Music, Text. trans. S. Heath. New York: Hill and Wang, 1977 quoted in Thumlert, Kurt. Intervisuality, Visual Culture, and Education. [Online] Cited 10/08/2006. (link no longer active)
  3. Foucault, Michel. The Order of Things: An Archeology of the Human Sciences. New York: Vintage, 1973 quoted in Thumlert, Kurt. Intervisuality, Visual Culture, and Education. [Online] Cited 10/08/2006. (link no longer active)
  4. White, Minor. Mirrors, Messages and Manifestations. Aperture, 1969
  5. Leo, Vince. Review of Mirrors, Messages and Manifestations on the Amazon website [Online] Cited 26/06/2010
  6. Helguera, Pablo. “How to Understand the Light on a Landscape,” in Patt, Lise (ed.,). Searching for Sebald: Photography after W.G. Sebald. Los Angeles: The Institute of Cultural Inquiry, 2007, pp. 110-119


Jill Orr (Australian, b. 1952) 'Jacinta' 2009

Jill Orr (Australian, b. 1952) 'Jacinta' 2009


Jill Orr (Australian, b. 1952)


Jill Orr (Australian, b. 1952) 'Avoca Primary School' 2009


Jill Orr (Australian, b. 1952)
Avoca Primary School



Jill Orr’s work centres on issues of the psycho-social and environmental where she draws on land and identities. Grappling with the balance and discord that exists between the human spirit, art and nature, Orr has, since the 1970s, delighted, shocked and moved audiences through her performance installations.

This current body of work involved children from the Avoca Primary School as active participants in Orr’s performance for the camera. The result is a series of high contrast black and white photographic portraits, which are shown as diptychs portraying the different states of seeing both outwardly and inwardly. One of each pair frames the child looking directly at the camera. The gaze meets the viewer. Who is looking at whom? The second captures the child whose eyes are closed. An inner world is intimated, but not accessible to the viewer.

In terms of the ‘gaze’, these works turn to the child as conveyer of the imaginary engaging both within and without. “I have found that creative acts require the visionary sensibilities of both the inner and outer world to operate simultaneously, consciously and unconsciously as dual aspects of the one action. In this instance the action is that of active imagination as a means to visualise sustainable futures.” (Jill Orr, 2010). The portraits also reflect the present relationship to place that is etched into the faces of youth as already kissed by the harsh Australian sun.

Avoca is one of many townships that has been socially, economically and environmentally affected by drought and climate change. The portraits are created against this background.

Text from the Jenny Port Gallery website [Online] Cited 26/06/2010 no longer available online


Jill Orr (Australian, b. 1952) 'Vision' installation photograph at Jenny Port Gallery

Jill Orr (Australian, b. 1952) 'Vision' installation photograph at Jenny Port Gallery


Jill Orr (Australian, b. 1952)
Vision installation photograph at Jenny Port Gallery
June 2010
Photos: Marcus Bunyan



Jenny Port Gallery

This gallery has now closed.

Jill Orr website


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Opening 1: ‘Faith in a Faithless Land’ photographs by Jill Orr at Jenny Port Gallery, Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 6th May – 30th May 2009


Installation view of Jill Orr exhibition 'Faith in a Faithless Land' at Jenny Port Gallery, Melbourne


Installation view of Jill Orr exhibition Faith in a Faithless Land at Jenny Port Gallery, Melbourne



First cab off the rank on a busy night of openings in Melbourne were the self-conscious photographs of Jill Orr presented at Jenny Port Gallery in Richmond, Melbourne (the gallery now in Collingwood). Beautifully hung in the gallery space in white frames the photographs were the least engaging artworks on the night. Their message seemed over determined, the use of reflection to add layering to the human-landscape mis en scene trite. Perhaps the performance itself would have evinced a more authentic, nuanced connection with the viewer vis a vis a response to the overwhelming expanse of nature and the place humans occupy on the thin crust of the earth. These photographs did not make that telluric connection and left me emotionally uninvolved in their pictorial representation.

Unfortunately I cannot show you any of the photographs because of copyright reasons but thank you to Jenny for allowing me to photograph the installation itself.

Dr Marcus Bunyan



Installation view of Jill Orr exhibition 'Faith in a Faithless Land' at Jenny Port Gallery, Melbourne


Installation views of Jill Orr exhibition Faith in a Faithless Land at Jenny Port Gallery, Melbourne



Jenny Port Gallery

This gallery is now closed.

Jill Orr website


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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, an art and cultural memory archive, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Doctor of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

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