Oracular Co-encounters

A Dramatic Dimension

There I was on the 17th July, 2011, making oracular utterances that, according to Wikipedia, in extended use, make me an oracle.1 I now review and reflect on my experience.

The warm summer afternoon brings a collegial atmosphere to the undertaking of the video documentation of Barbara Bickel’s Oracular Co-encounters’ performance installation.  There is friendly banter, equipment location and relocation, Cindy-Lou’s labyrinth walk, video tripod placement consultations with adjustments, and Medwyn’s soup for lunch, while the suspended fabric-based art pieces breathe their responses to gentle drafts, giving them a sense of the ephemeral.

These works though, are solidly grounded in theory, notably that of:

artist, psychoanalyst and theorist Bracha L. Ettinger (2004) who has developed a theory based in matrixial borderspaces, offer[ing] an aesthetic and ethical feminine-based embodied and relational language to articulate what has been suppressed and lost within the phallic sphere, as per Barbara’s invitation to participate.

This theory takes the shape in Barbara’s handling, of the removal of mail-in subscription card inserts from five art magazines, each detaching into two parts to become five pairs of substrates, one oblong 9 x 3.5” and the  other 3 x 3.5”, on which Bickel obliterates the texts with black and blue, red, pink, green, purple and yellow oil pastels.

The longer card of each pair is stitched vertically onto a five and one quarter foot (63 inches) length of white, non-fusible interfacing, referencing “women’s work,” with the smaller being stitched horizontally directly below, creating a dramatic patch of scribbled colour against a delicate white ground.  Several dualities exist here:

  • The firmer, less flexible card stock / the drape that breathes according to gentle drafts.
  • The striking colours / the virginal white.
  • The violence of the obliterating marks / the tenderness of the fabric
  • The patriarchal (phallic) dominance / the matrixial response.

Given the verticality, this whole may be interpreted as a token crucifixion of the visual art establishment, but this is not enough.

Bickel adds a second layer of meaning, both physically and metaphorically, to her expression, by hanging another length of interfacing, nine inches in front of the first, this time with a vertical aperture, replicating the space and positioning of the distressed magazine excerpts behind.  Now, not only scribbled, obscured, erased and distressed, but isolated, only to be voyeuristically peered at through the aperture, just as the patron  peered from behind the bushes, up the petticoats of Fragonard’s “The Girl on the Swing,” late 18th C.

With the cultural norms now reversed, Bickel scores her coupe de grace with her oracular soundings concept.  This is where I and four other co-creators enter independently into her matrixial world, as video evidenced in performance.

How would this new dimension of my own art practice reveal itself, I wondered?

Feeling the need for props, I gather a few rocks and stones as pieces of the natural world within my grasp, and to cradle, as I become the classical oracle of antiquity, as wise counsel of prophetic opinion,2 able to whistle, whine and click my utterances through the aperture directly at the scribbled patriarchal representations.  Meanwhile, I release my rocks and stones one by one, into a resonant wooden bowl, creating an intonation as if inspired by the gods.

While apprehensive at the outset, I engage fully without self-consciousness, deliberately at times forcing my soundings onto the fabric for its movement, in the spirit of mystical undercurrents.

I question whether these acts make me either a legitimate oracle or a performance artist, however, through my faithfulness to Barbara’s concept, I extend my art practice into performance art, take my place amongst a team of respected artists, enjoy the companionship of collaboration and add my voice to ever louder utterances for a gender-balanced society.  I am grateful to Barbara for this journey towards that destination.