The body The ruin

Curator: Bridget Crone
Ian Potter Museum of Art, University of Melbourne
5 November 2005 – 22 January 2006

The Body The Ruin investigated the potential for the body to perform in ways that have agency in rearticulating the narrative of its own representation. In playing out this paradigm, the works in the show inevitably left conceptions of the body as whole, the body as nature in ruins. Without denying the materiality of the body, the artists involved unfolded fragmented bodies that can only be thought through the gestures, actions and the traces of their cultural framing.

Santiago Sierra’s video of the performance Polyurethane Sprayed on the Backs of 10 workers (2004) seemed to mould the other works in The Body The Ruin to the curatorial premise. The video details, in real time, Sierra’s act of spraying large amounts of polyurethane onto the bodies of ten Iraqi immigrant workers (identified as such by a plaque beside the monitor displaying this work), until large amounts formed free-standing moulds that were then vacated: transforming the remains of the performance into a sculptural installation. This process recalls the preserved human remains in the ancient city of Pompeii. An immediate visual illustration of the title of the show, this piece extrapolated most of the issues about the body raised by the curator and the other works. The documentation of the performance Polyurethane Sprayed on the Backs of 10 workers, undoes the operation of the resulting sculptural installation. These large sculptures would appear to have no reference beyond the physical relationships they forge between the viewer and their forms (the objective of minimalist practice).1 However, this claim to an abstracted experience of the object is disrupted by the video detailing the conditions of its creation. The identification of these bodies at once loads the work with political critique. This conflicting double action produces a tense dialogue on the role of the body in the production of art as both material and content, leading to an interrogation of a supposed distinction between representing the body and using it as a material medium. The video of Sierra’s performance acts as a self-reflexive critique of the sculptures that resulted from the action, in such a way that we then see them as both the ruined memory of cultural subordination and as the ruin of the body’s representation.

The idea that the body can be re-presented (therefore implying that it existed before its presentation) was destabilised throughout the show via strategies involving physical action. This is cleverly employed and investigated by Christian Capurro in his piece Compress (2005). Capurro draws by erasing magazine images. Compress is ‘drawn under the pressure of erasing other images’—producing an image through the erasure of another.2 This paradoxical condition is played out further as the piece is drawn from the non-traces of his action.

In Joan Jonas’ Songdelay (1973) gesture and action are used as drawing tools in response to the performers environment. They are highlighted as just another feature of the landscape, but also as drawing media with agency that enable critical interpretation of the space they are in and the actions they perform. This self-reflexivity is engaged through physically determined drawing parameters that illustrate a circular relationship between agency and complicity. The performances become machinated and pre-determined but only through self-imposed methodologies that enable agency.

 Despite the astute selection of the works discussed above, some pieces in the show seemed redundant and a little off topic. The inclusion of Joy Hester’s work in particular seemed a literal interpretation of the affect of terror on bodies in comparison to the sophistication of Sierra’s work. Her inclusion gave the show the flavour of a thematic survey rather than a really inquisitive investigation of a difficult topic. In addition, the way the show was hung appeared slightly unconsidered and did not activate the Ian Potter in a way that really extended the artworks. However, these criticisms are minor in comparison to the valuable connections made between works by Santiago Sierra, Christian Capurro, Joan Jonas and Ruth Maclennan. Together these artists explored ways in which the trace of an action or gesture articulates the parameters of the body. Their articulation is fragmented and non-linear, as opposed to the false cohesion in conventions of representing the body. Their alternative presentations of the body and concurrent obliteration of its representation leave conceptions of a body outside language, culture and politics in ruins.


1. Bridget Crone, ‘The Ruined Body?’, The Body. The Ruin ex. cat., The University of Melbourne, Ian Potter Museum of Art, 2005, p.16.

2. Christian Capurro, ‘Compress’, The Body. The Ruin, op. cit., p.40.


Artists included in ‘The Body The Ruin’ were Laylah Ali, Diann Bauer, Ian Burn, Christian Capurro, Joy Hester, Joan Jonas, Ruth Maclennan, Tom Nicholson, Santiago Sierra, Aaron Williamson.