Mike Parr’s The Eternal Opening takes place in a replica of Anna Schwartz’s Melbourne gallery that has been placed inside Carriageworks. When visitors walk in they encounter video and sound from LEFT FIELD [for Robert Hunter], which Parr performed at the Melbourne gallery in 2017.
The sound of this past performance is unsettling, explains head curator at Carriageworks Beatrice Gralton. “It’s sound of the people who were at the opening. They’d come to watch this fairly minimalist performance – Mike painting a white gallery white as a tribute to Robert Hunter, his friend and minimalist painter,” she says. But instead of being quiet or reverent, they’re busy and loud. “They’re talking, they’re drinking, there are phones going. It’s quite a cacophonous sound.” Adding to this unease, the LEFT FIELD video has been mirrored which makes Parr appear to be painting with his left hand. The replica gallery is also mirrored, with its door on the left rather than the right.
The multi-layered work has been in development for two years and brings together many different strands of Parr’s practice, interests and history. The replica gallery has no ceiling and when visitors look up, they can see texts on boards that Parr has placed on the Carriageworks walls, linking back to his early career as a poet. Last night, at the opening of The Eternal Opening, Parr moved along these walls painting black squares with his eyes squeezed shut. Called Towards an Amazonian Black Square, the performance referenced the fires in the Amazon and also continued his engagement with suprematism.
Gralton says that in painting blind “he’s disrupting the purity of this space but he’s also trying to chase Malevich’s absolute: the black square, the end of objective painting and objective art, and the window into the new world and the future of art. For Mike, if Malevich’s black square is the ground zero of painting and of objective art, then the body, and the limits of the body in real time, are the future.”
She believes the exhibition is significant in Parr’s career. “He’s been thinking about the things that tie his works together – the text works, the formal art historical concerns, the geopolitical concerns, his own self-portraiture projects – and then all of these are connected by his body. If you think about those zones of enquiry, they’re all connected by his body because his body is what he uses mostly, what he surrenders, for these projects.”
The Eternal Opening is also about provocation. “He is trying to make us think about the purpose of all of this – what we do, what our practice might be or what his practice might be – in the context of a world that’s been fractured by geopolitical situations, climate change, refugees, these really urgent matters. Where does art fit in with that? How do we rupture our way of thinking to enact change?” And Gralton adds, “I think one of the great things about Mike’s practice is that he has never allowed inertia to stop him from breaking through to something else.”
And the video and audio of Towards an Amazonian Black Square will be layered back into The Eternal Opening alongside the LEFT FIELD recordings. “In the room you’re going to have these two videos playing performance works with two soundtracks going, eternally echoing over each other,” says Gralton.
In November, documentation of Parr’s BDH [Burning Down The House] will be added to the presentation, reprising his dramatic 2016 performance at Carriageworks in which he burned his own works on paper. There will also be a closed performance on 16 November called Jericho, at one o’clock in the morning. “The project is alive and will continue to be alive. It doesn’t have a fixed state,” says Gralton. “The whole project is constantly moving – an eternal return, I suppose.”