For my latest article with roves and roams I visited performance artist, Robert Luzar, in the last days of his exhibition at the Kingsgate Workshop. Robert was a challenge to interview because he is sunk in the theory of his PhD, but I enjoy a challenge and I think the article is testament to the understanding that came from our meeting.
The full interview can be read below.
On the 2nd June the artist Robert Luzar will perform Pinching Until Skin Deep outside Reading Town Hall in a live-art event organised by roves and roams. Reading Luzar’s artist statement and his own writing about his work it is possible to feel overwhelmed by the dense conceptual art speak. The intangibility of performance art and the complex and considered thinking-through which Luzar experiences through performing, make his work more difficult to grasp from a distance than any of the other artists I have interviewed.
It is fortuitous that I decide to interview Luzar on the second to last day of his exhibition with Martin Lewis at the Kingsgate Workshop, Insisting Over Skin, Drawing After Surface. I get the chance to perform his works for myself, initiating the unique thought processes by leaning forward to match a knot of wood with its pencilled second half on the gallery floor (Sitting, Leaning, and Aligning Two Knots From a Post To A Ground, 2012) or gently whispering ‘who’ to the wall (Say Who(ooo), 2012).
Luzar began as a painter but gradually moved off the canvas and onto the floor, “I was looking at the body, its postures, and how it became somehow sculptural. This is when I found myself close to a form of drawing with the body, what I call performance-drawing.” Sometimes Luzar draws with his own body, and at other moments he tricks us into making a re-drawing. It is only through engaging in a physical act that the viewer is able to make sense of the work: “There is a question behind what I do but not necessarily a concept. When I start I have an idea, but I wouldn’t define it as a vision or a fully formed concept. I use performance to create my works, I walk into a space and I try to pay attention to the things that I am doing.”
The work A View Over a Single Spot Until a Period Comes Apart, a projection and etching in plywood, arose from Luzar slowly shifting his head around in the Kingsgate space. It is only in recognising this original action that the piece seems to become more than just a shadow on plywood. The instructions which Luzar leaves his audience enable us to tune into his thinking and engage in a sympathetic exploration and investigation of our own.
Is the audience’s reaction important? “Not always,” confesses Luzar, “you lose the audience when you are in your own space during a performance. Your fascination with the work can lead to a kind of delirium. There is always vulnerability and exposure in this kind of work, but you can’t see its effect when you are working because you are totally absorbed in the act.”
The nature of performance art means that any artist has to struggle with the instinctive desire for record and legacy. The word ‘gramee’ has become a kind of pseudonym for Luzar, he doesn’t completely understand the magnetic pull of the word and perhaps he ever will. It seems to me that it is a subconscious choice, which doesn’t need investigation in itself, it productively leads to a reflection on his practice: “‘Gramee’ doesn’t just mean trace, it has connotations of weight, of subtraction and erasure too.”
The oxymoron at the heart of gramee’s etymology expresses the essential tension in Luzar’s work. As an example he tells me about a previous work, Placing a Pause By Kneeling & Staring at Two Holes: “By kneeling on memory foam the viewer brings makes a single point from two pinholes on the wall. The work happens in the leaning, the dots come together and you have made a mark in the memory foam. But both things are temporary, it all disappears. The whole process has made you go cross-eyed, and perhaps somebody else has witnessed you leaning. But it comes close to barely any mark.“ What’s left is a story, a means of articulating a question through action, the realisation of an idea which may or may not lead to something else. “Sometimes the work does leave me anonymous,” Luzar concedes, “but I’m not interested in being a persona.”
For Pinching Until Skin Deep, this year’s drought and hose-pipe ban has led Luzar away from his key work, Weathered, to the realisation of a new performance which he believes will do something more critical. Like Weathered this performance will be an exhaustive process and an exploration of what happens to the body during a task under the strain of endurance. This 5 hour performance in which Luzar will grapple and wrestle with body-sized pieces of white paper will reflect upon contamination, but we can’t understand much more than this yet. The work will happen in the performance, and Luzar will see where it leads.