Jason Keats

ball and bag
Whitten Oval. Footscray, Melbourne

Jason Keats 's artwork confounds traditional cultural stereotypes of male embodiment. The artist achieves this through of himself as inadequate, susceptible, and/or receptive (to pain). He represents the male body as malleable and open, in an articulation of differing and changing 'masculinities'.1 Keats explores these ideas in video, video projection, sound and the live body. His performances Ball (1998) and Bag (1998) engaged the performative character of Australian Rules football within the sporting arena. In both performances the male body was presented, in effect, as 'passive' or incapable.
Performed at the Whitten Oval, Footscray Ball focused upon the pervasive nature of football within

Australian culture. Like his father, Keats had played football for a number of years. He was intrigued by the sound and behaviour of figures in the sporting arena and how the space implicitly sanctions aggressive behaviour (a regard for architectural space as a determining factor in defining social identity).2 In many respects football is diametrically opposed, as a category, to art. By bringing together the 'sport' and 'art', Keats created a dialogue in which both cultural institutions interacted and, ultimately, critiqued one another. The male body oscillated within this space, a space marked by the Western bulldog 's heritage (oval, uniform and tradition) and the expectation of artistic expression. There was, however, no display of physical prowess or heroic action (except ironically in the footy cards available after the event where the artist was captured in a variety of 'winning' poses). As a result the image of the Australian Rules footballer, an archetypal sporting hard 'body', was problematised.

This complicated articulation of the body and subjectivity was performed in the change rooms and on the oval. After arriving in a bus, spectators were escorted into the change rooms-traditionally a sanctuary for players in the underbelly, or innards, of the stadium. Inside, a large video projection revealed the artist methodically and ritualistically dressing and undressing. Other persistently repeated videos exposed him shaving his ankles, slowly tearing tape from his shins and continually slapping a jockstrap against his buttocks. This public display of private procedures was intensely masochistic; in frame after frame the body was ceaselessly inflicted with 'pain'. This masochistic strategy was reiterated out on the field. In the cold windy night-time surroundings of the deserted Whitten oval the artist ran, for a long period of time, into a red tackle bag – the redness of the bag was surreal and revenant against the green grass. This assault on the body was (clearly) literal as well as emotional, as the audience (with pie or pasty in hand) participated in urging or 'abusing' the undecided footballer. Like the perpetual re-playing of each video, and the eerie reverberation of the jockstrap hitting skin, the running into the tackle bag was monotonous and deliberate: the infliction of pain a metaphoric testing of the perimeters of the embodied subject. It presented the body as incapable and unable to clearly demarcate itself.

The disruption of 'corporeal' boundaries was more explicit in a recent work, Bag. Enclosed inside the red tackle bag the artist rolled, in a repetitive motion, up and down a series of massage tables. In an accentuated rhythmic monotone, a video projection of a mouth uttered, 'hit the bag, hit the bag'. The pedestrian movement of the bag and the banal declarations of the mouth created a particular tension-a tension which ruptured when a number of bold audience members attacked and, with much rigour, punched the bag . The male body enclosed within remained silent and pensive and 'unable' to respond; blow after blow inflicted, and afflicted it with, 'pain'.3 The bashing of the tackle bag drew into focus the identity of the audience who participated in the 'violence', and the receiving inert body. The space between artist and audience was violated yet also, paradoxically, remained intact as the artist's body was both present and absent. The work questioned the delineation of the subject and its boundaries. By making ambivalent, and blurring, the inside and outside, absence and presence, subject and object, Bag attested to the fundamental nature of corporeal receptivity.

It was in the inability and immobility of the male figure that Ball and Bag revealed the socially imposed structures and strictures of 'masculinity', lessons learned by way of tacit codes. The artist attempted to constitute (him)self and stabilise (his) identity. Through this process the performative and constructed nature of gender was exposed. As Judith Butler writes, 'these excluded sites come to bound the human as its constitutive outside, and to haunt those boundaries as the persistent possibility of their disruption and rearticulation ' .4 Keats 's artwork presents those 'excluded sites', the 'outside' and in so doing portrays a complex cultural expression of male subjectivity.

 

notes: 

1. Hany Brod, 'Masculinity as Masquerade', in The Masculine Masquerade: Masculinity and Representation, (ex. cat.) MIT List Visual Arts Centre, Cambridge. 1995.

2. All quotes are from a conservation with the artist, September 1998.

3. In many respects these masochistic acts, evidenced here and in Ball, link Keats to the body artists of the seventies. See Amelia Jones, Body Art: Performing the Subject, University of Minnesota Press, Minnesota, 1998. David Cross makes the same connection in his unpublished essay 'Body/Building', 1998.

4. Judith Butler, Bodies that Matter. on the Discursive Limits of 'Sex', Routledge, New York and London, 199 3, p. 8.