I came to attend my first conference, ‘Symposium 2000: An International Conference on Post-Object Art in New Zealand’, and it was, quite simply, outrageous. The art world figures I had been studying – Billy Apple, Carolee Schneemann, Lita Barrie, Tina Barton, Blair French – all came to life. More than that: there were catfights and breakdowns, old grudges and new alliances, moments of camaraderie and hot debate. Watching from the sidelines, I was enthralled.
On one of the evenings, there was a performance from Peter Roche, and along with the intellectual rigor of the symposium, this is what cemented my love of contemporary art. That night, we signed a waiver at the door and were ushered into a gallery with the artist, and a chainsaw. When he started the machine, the roar was exhilarating and I still recall the pungency of the petrol fumes pervading the room. There was a metal chain attached to the chainsaw handle and Roche slowly swung it into action until it was hurtling around him in a circle, his body the only anchor point. It was terrifying and the audience quickly retracted to the edges of the space. I remember shielding myself behind the crowd, thinking that if it slipped from his grasp, someone would lose a leg.
The physical, visceral thrill of this performance suggested to me that art is potentially dangerous in other ways: that it can scream, excite, challenge and demand something of its audience. This untitled drawing from Roche, with its dramatic red circles and the swift, firm pressure of the artist’s hand, is for me a representation of the centrifugal force in that performance. It asserts the necessity to take risks, in art and in life.