John Wood and Paul Harrison

John Wood and Paul Harrison : Some things were recorded 1993-1998

Methodically working through a task in a series of bizarre experiments

Tension between a purpose and a lack of purpose

Meticulous planning

Board (1993)

Wood and Harrison moving around, over and under a board that they carry throughout a carefully coordinated choreography

Partnership. Shared trust and interdependence

Board seems like a piece of paper

Supposed weight only betrayed by the thud it makes when it hits the ground

Two seemingly “average blokes”

3- legged (1996)

Wood and Harrison tied together as a roving canon fires tennis balls in their direction with considerable force

Artists struggle moving side to side together in order to escape its blasts

Artists persevere - playfulness turns into exhaustion and fear

Treading a narrow path between risk and predictability, fun and pain

Lingering feeling that something could go very wrong

Harry Houdini (there’s no escape that I can see)

Navigating captivity in a box half filled with water

When the box turns, the waterline remains miraculously level

You know you are missing a simple trick and yet you somehow can’t work out how its done

All these works attracted me instantly because of the way the artists manage to display the human body as a controlled and systematic body, something we are able to manipulate and control to exact proportions. The pair complete routines which require and as a result demonstrate precision and specific measurement - precision that I, and I’m sure many others, did not realise the body was capable of within physical activity. The reality is that these routines are meticulously rehearsed, yet this does not take away from my admiration of them at all, in fact this is something that arouses my curiosity. The two men achieve the essence of spontaneity, chance happenings, solely through vigorous practice and planning : this tension is really captivating.

The two bodies appear to function as a single system. This can only be the result of a deeply rooted mutual understanding that the two share. And the strength of this mutual understanding can only be a result of consistent, explicit, unambiguous communication. If one of the participants ever had any doubt about what the other participant meant, then the activity would fail desperately, all plans and organisation would completely unravel.

These works are so distinctly relevant to my current practice because they demonstrate performance which is intrinsically part of a system, it relies on a system to the point that without the performance would not be able to exist.

John Wood and Paul Harrison are following guidelines which are unimaginably precise. Each moment has to be measured and each movement has to be understood totally in terms of its surroundings, its relation of itself to the rest of the space. At no point can either performer be unaware of their whereabouts, the whereabouts of their partner, or the tools they are working with, as this would trigger an error to be made and therefore, the whole system to collapse. It seems almost impossible that the body could ever work within such exact measurements, but in the case of these two individuals, these measurements seem to be infiltrated and utilised smoothly. The pair have made this possible, it seems, by creating a mathematics that the body can sense at all times and use accordingly. This level of precision is one that I admire, but one that is not completely necessary within my practice (it is also level that I don’t feel advanced another to achieve). Labelling this exactness as necessary would completely eradicate any room for interpretation and discussion of movements. In my work, a leniency is required to allow for a contribution from the performer. However, the consistent, overriding presence of a guideline is an aspect which does correlate with my current practice.

One aspect of their work which I do need to seriously consider is the way they work within and respond to the architectural space. The space they are working within acts as another guideline for them - the limitations of the space has to become part of the piece. The size and shape of the room is not viewed as an inconvenience, it is viewed as an integral part of the system they are aiming to produce. Their movements and activities are moulded around this space, the form of the movements is reliant on the space. This has made me feel more relaxed about the settings I am using, as my work becomes more responsive, I can use the qualities of the spaces I am using to refine my performances even more. The space does not have to be a set-back, it can be an essential component of the performance which actually helps to shape the structure.

The works, in my opinion, are a result of rigid and diligent systems - which THEMSELVES, are a result of refined and personalised communication. Wood and Harrison combine their bodies, objects, and the studio space to produce a machine-like structure, one which allows us to view human interaction as a whole and faultless experience.

“Performative action to do with the architectural space that we were in”

“Objects built around the human figure”

“The human figure interacting with everyday objects or architectural spaces”

“How densely we can push ideas into one piece of work”