Isabella Dampney and Theo Macdonald,
Hardballing it with the Big Guy
Isabella Dampney and Theo Macdonald bring endurance art into Ōtautahi’s contemporary discourse with Hardballing it with the Big Guys. Golden hour. Happy hour. 'Power Hour' is a drinking game in which participants have a shot of beer every minute for an hour.
Hardballing it with the Big Guys critiques the lingering ideologies of endurance-based performance by comparing it to lads’ drinking games. Moreover, the artists’ exaggeration of conventions and tropes makes this exploration of ideas accessible and humourous. As Uma Tuffnell writes in the accompanying text, “Hardballing it with the Big Guys challenges the romanticised notion of ‘dying for your art’ so prevalent in 1970s’ American endurance art.” Needing to ‘prove yourself’, whether to ‘validate’ your art or to be socially accepted through alcohol consumption, is an outdated yet persistent narrative. Perhaps it appeals on an evolutionary level - strength and resilience being desirable traits - although our conversations are supposed to have become more nuanced since Darwin.
A stainless steel scaffold creates quite a bizarre but elegant threshold which doubles as a destination, demarcating a space containing the moving image works. Two single-channel videos show the artists individually carrying out the Power Hour challenge with the backdrop of Godley Head’s picturesque landscape. Dampney drinks at the evening’s golden hour and Macdonald, the morning’s. The monitors are bracketed to the scaffold to face one another, proposing competition. Whether deliberate or not, there is a reference to Abramovic and Ulay’s Imponderabilia (1977) as the audience is funneled through the gallery between each artist performing on the monitors.
The artists marry minimalist tropes with the ideological grit of performance; the feel of the 'too clean' exhibition is suspicious enough that no one may miss the joke. The objects and footage feign to take themselves too seriously, giving way to parody. The romantic Ōtautahi landscape in the background and the soft yellow light on the artists’ faces in the foreground doesn’t completely eclipse the fact that the performers are freezing cold despite donning their best beer blankets.
Dampney and Macdonald’s video works perch between performance and moving image; the artists didn’t merely document their performance, it was always intended to be a recording. However, by filming essentially during the 'install' period, a lot was left to chance, allocating only enough time and liver function for a single take – similar in operation to a performance. Aside from the task at hand, perhaps the real endurance challenge would have been Dampney waking up hungover to go film Macdonald’s take next morning, then the two of them carrying on with install. Both seemed to be taking it easy on the opening night.
Isabella Dampney and Theo Macdonald, Hardballing it with the Big Guy
227 High Street, Christchurch
7 – 21 April
1. Isabella Dampney and Theo Macdonald, Hardballing it with the Big Guy (installation)