Survey by Qualaroo

Is No

In our foyer spaces this season you will find archival displays of three key performance pieces which took place at Arnolfini in the 1970s and 80s. Assistant Curator (Archive) Phil Owen tells us more about Alastair MacLennan's performance of 'Is No'...

On the 22nd and 23rd of October, 1988, the Scottish-born, Northern Ireland-based artist Alastair MacLennan performed at Arnolfini. The performance, or ‘actuation’ to use MacLennan’s term, took place in our Front Gallery – roughly where the bookshop is situated now, while an exhibition of works on paper took over the Main Gallery space (our present-day Gallery 1).
Little remains today for us to re-imagine the performance, besides a series of 35 mm photographic slides in our archive. Looking through these, we can see that the performance took place in the midst of an accumulation of many different objects – potatoes, dried-out autumn leaves, a dilapidated pram and wrecked boat (salvaged from the harbour?) amongst them. There were also many black ladders – when I first saw the slides, I assumed these had been painted, but one of our technicians who has worked at Arnolfini since the mid-1980s told me he remembered these being charred with blow-torches outside the gallery on the dockside.

There are also a few particularly intriguing images that show the artist left the building and walked the streets near Arnolfini at some point during the performance. I have been to durational performances by MacLennan myself, and witnessed his gentle, contemplative, methodical presence in these. Though he was immediately visible, it was an experience a little like walking into a room and only slowly realising that you are sharing it with another person - quite unlike the sort of confrontation of some actionist art pieces. At the same time, there is a starkness of expression and poise that demands respect and appreciation. I witnessed this in gallery settings. I wonder what it would be like to pass the artist in one of his actuations unexpectedly, on the street?

In preparing the images for display at Arnolfini this season, I asked the artist what he could remember about the performance. He replied simply with a list of words:

"...DYING...SHOWING...BEING...SEEING...SITTING...INCINERATING...UNLEASHING...KILLING...
HAULING...CARRYING...BURNING...SAYING...BEING...SIGNALLING...HAVING...THROWING...

ARMING...KILLING...TREATING...WANTING...BEING...ATTENDING...SEEING...BEING...ASSUMING...

FINDING...SHOOTING...PUZZLING...SURROUNDING...CRITICIZING...GIVING...RUBBING...BUILDING...

CREATING...LIGHTING...AVOIDING...MAINTAINING...GIVING...CATCHING...SPREADING...

CONSENTING...JESTING...PURIFYING...RE-IGNITING...DISTRIBUTING...PUTTING...RESISTING...

DESTROYING...ACCORDING...HEARING...ARMING...DISTRACTING...PACKING...SHOUTING...

KILLING...UNDERSTANDING...DENOUNCING...DELIVERING...LETTING...FOLLOWING...INHIBITING...

WANTING...LOSING...CONTINUING...ASSUMING...WINNING...HAVING...SEIZING...BATTLING...SEEING…

SHARING...LEAVING...BEING...CRUSHING...ASKING...DESTROYING...CALLING...BLENDING...BEING...".

MacLennan is widely celebrated as a leader and teacher in British/Irish performance art. A large image of the artist performing 'Is No' at Arnolfini in 1988 is currently displayed in our ground floor foyer until 9 April 2017. Further images of his performance will be shown in Gallery 2 in late February 2017.

Read more about the Performance Archive Display and our Spring Season Beyond the Fatigued Eye: Performance, Process, Work-in- Progress

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Events and Exhibitions
Sunday 26 March 2017

Galleries 11am-6pm

Shop 11am-6pm

Cafe 10am-7pm

Reading Room 11am-6pm

Upcoming
Nancy Campbell - The Polar Tombola Nancy Campbell - The Polar Tombola
Sunday 02 April 2017, 11:00 to 17:00

Free