Watching his feet tremble, I know he is going to fall off the wall. Luckily for him, he gains stability on his perch—two rocks bolted a few feet from the ground—and suddenly appears immovable. The other performer stands solidly as well, pressed face first against the wall, gripping a rock just above her head. Half of the gallery space is devoted to this performance, and the other to six photographs and an installation of dirty, worn clothing. After spending some time looking at the photographs, I turn back to the performers, realizing that they are not in the arrangement that I’d left them in, nor are they any less stable.
HOLDING, a collaborative work by Sarah Berkeley and Regin Igloria, exists at the ACRE Projects in this transient yet sure way, exploring ideas of activity, cooperation, and mindfulness through performance and installation. HOLDING is an exhibition of the work Berkeley and Igloria produced while in residency at ACRE’s summer home in Wisconsin. The six photographs harken to a warmer time, featuring lush green woodland marked here and there by small orange ribbons.
From the artist’s statement: “With simple household scissors and bare fists, [Berkeley and Igloria] tear and chop the foliage corralled by cheerful orange ribbons.” The process is documented in the sequence of photographs: from an unworn area, to marking foliage to be cleared, to a carpet of worn grass being traversed by hikers. As in their performance, Berkeley and Igloria never show their faces in the photographs. Their backs are turned to the viewer in the first photo: they let the product of their actions imply their presence in the project at large.
This is markedly strange, considering that the act of manually clearing a path seems personal enough to require more than two photos of disembodied hands and fingers pulling up long strands of wild grass. To further document this process, the clothing Berkeley and Igloria wore in the first photograph hang on hooks in the corner of the gallery, proof of the artists’ authentic presence in the pictured scenes.
Hacking away at the wilderness with kid scissors is an intimate way to relate to an environment. So why does the performance by Berkeley and Igloria feel so separate, both from their summer’s work and from everyone who watches them? We all stand back, fenced in by our own voyeurism, watching Berkeley and Igloria grip the walls and each other in poses of varying difficulty. Maintaining their positions doesn’t look easy; the artists’ limbs tremble at times. They describe their collaborative work as “[performing] and [documenting] exhausting self-imposed tasks.”
It is, after all, only them that their work concerns. We never are told why they decide to clear a path in the Wisconsin wilderness. The action itself is secondary to the fact that they are doing it, that they have done it. The impersonality of the performance reflects the artists’ absorption in their task. They are so mindful of what they are doing that they orient their existence around it—faces to the wall—making everything else irrelevant.
We stand back. We could easily put on their clothing and shoes, but we don’t. We don’t help them, we don’t offer physical support as they arrange and rearrange their “sustained gestures.” The only thing we choose to do is watch their underarm stains darken as the path is forged; involvement is involuntary. As we stand watching, our shadows are projected onto the photographs behind us, almost as if we were there on the path. But we’re not.