Artist Index


Adrian Hall - yes YOU Will be - part of a conversation

This is the fairly accurate transcription of the beginning and end of a conversation that was recorded on Sunday 4 September between Adrian Hall and Margaret Roberts about yes YOU WILL be, a work in which conversations are one component.

What lead you to use this word 'occurrence' to describe what you do?

'Occurrence' is a word which was used by a painter in Dunedin whose name is Kim Peters, who wrote a little thing recently on my behalf and that was her word to describe what I get up to. Usually I say 'live work' and leave it at that.

A few years ago I made lengthy works with 2 other friends/colleagues, Alastair MacLennan and André Stitt—one version of 10 days in Dunedin and then 2 years later they raised funds from the British Council for me to go to Belfast for another for 5 sessions.  Both of them are really energetic people. I mention this because when it came for me to promote them initially in Dunedin I was checking on how they wanted to be described, and so on. Andre is also not a performance artist, he is well known in the northern hemisphere for his Akshuns. He grew up on building sites after graduating from the Belfast College of Art. 

Alastair does things he calls actuations. He is very disciplined, almost metaphysical, shamanistic—some of these words are not right—and studied zen buddhism for many rears, starting with live work after being given an insoluble riddle by his zen master in Chicago. The riddle was 'how to improve the world by painting'.  After being asked that riddle Alastair worked in various cafes & restaurants washing dishes for period of 2 years while he thought about it . And during that time he found it necessary to make a lot of live work in the street. We are talking 1970s and 80s, and this process possibly started in Nova Scotia in Canada, after which he moved around various places and ended up in Belfast. He started doing one-day performances on his studio day, when he went out into the Belfast streets. It was really very dangerous as it was a war zone, patrolled by the British army. 

Alastair would do 8-9 hour works. One in particular is where he transformed a covered bridge between two buildings into a bus, almost by accident, because he arranged chairs in it like a bus. You walked down the centre isle of this covered bridge–it was lousy weather at the time as it was a normal Belfast winter.  I came down there 3 or 4 times a day, and Alastair was hunched in one of the nearside chairs by the window with a little transistor radio or something  to his ear and on it was a loop of Elvis singing Blue Moon, that melancholic teenage song from the late 50s. After I passed through this space several times I sat down thinking Alastair is at it again, but he's a nice chap, so I sat down 3-4 rows behind him, clutching a bunch of papers from admin at the art school. I just sat and I had this peculiar experience whereby every bus I had ever ridden on and every journey anywhere, I was living them all again. And it seemed to me in this space that Alastair had created just by 2 or 3 dozen regular office chairs, it seemed that all those chairs were occupied by people, other people, and it was the strangest experience I had ever had in an art space.  

That was all there was to it. It was alive and I am neither superstitious or a cosmic believer, if anything I am a sceptic, but I was affected by this simple arrangement of chairs and the figure of the man with his head against the condensation-streaked  window and this melancholic song, all day. So when he says actuations I know exactly what he means because that is what he tries to set up.

 And for myself  I have been doing live works since I worked with Yoko in the mid 60s. I helped Yoko with Cut Piece in Europe, possibly only the second time after New York, and they were nearly always done on a stage and they were very rough and very ragged and left a lot to be desired in many ways. It makes me laugh how Cut Piece is so venerated now as when it was done in London it was such a shambles—her husband at the time and I were standing either side so that when largely drunken poets came out of the audience we were watching out. Very few people took it very seriously, or participated. It was really very tame, not the dangerous thing it turned into. 

Anyway, Yoko did events, Andre was akshuns, Alistair did actuations, I have always tended to do live work because I was stuck for a word. The live work I have been doing -  I have done guerrilla works that  are perhaps unremarkable but sometimes very effective. One on the roof of a car which ultimately led to the loss of my academic job as it was provocative. I am very jealous of and thoroughly believe in the power of art, and artists should always try to have the last word. Its our strength and our fortitude for that which allows things I believe to be transformed.  Alastair transforms in a subjective way within the field of experience of the viewer and other kinds of transformations may be enacted more directly by provocations and so on.

So occurrence is the best word for what I try to do at the moment because I am most interested in forms that are possibly anti establishment, anti institution and anti frame, and this situation here, although it's in an art space, you cross the threshold and art might happen, I feel privileged to be able to follow my own nose here and create the kind of blurred situation or state between reality and something that I am nudging along, in order to see what will happen. And its unpremeditated largely and the work which I have made in the in the past always has that blurred edge even if they have been in designated art spaces—or not. At the moment occurrences feel right - there is the constant stream of traffic outside the door, and I am inside, and it's diffusing the traditional barriers between that outside and this inside that intrigues me the most if you think of ...


This idea that you discovered yesterday, that what you call an occurrence can seem to just happen, is that connected to all those other ideas we have been talking about?

Not directly. For the next few days I am going to be employing all my  awarenesses and all my experiences to recognise a moment where they might automatically come into play. Yesterday was a magical moment, everything was almost right, I was tired enough, relaxed enough, panic-stricken enough, and three total strangers caused me to act in a way which became appropriate in the way that I perceive the world, and an occurrence happened, I think,  that had a beginning and an end, it had a moral and it was drawn from my vivid experiences, and those people let me do it to them. They followed me around and they left at the end. And because of my intensity and desperation in doing it, I think they went out at the end feeling more informed in a way  about the world they were stepping into. That's very arrogant for me to say that, but I felt that and I believed that, and when you saw me last evening I was still in the state of ecstasy about having experienced this very spontaneous thing. 

I believe it was  very much like when I was an art student, a teacher told me that the wonderful things about a Rembrandt drawing was that it didn't make any difference if it was 20 seconds in the doing of it,  2 minutes in doing of it or 2 days in the doing of it. It was almost as if Rembrandt was so attuned to his draftsmanship and observation of the world that he could pull away any moment and that would be a coherent statement. So if you took the whole time that it might take somebody to do that drawing or that etching, and that was a salami, you could take a slice of salami from any part of that giant sausage and it would be coherent and that was the genius which was Rembrandt—that a 3 minute drawing would have the power and acuity of a 3-day drawing. 

And that was because he was primed and ready to commit that thing within the terms of his experience and the terms of his expectations and the terms of his abilities. He was primed. Yesterday it felt right to me because I was primed to be activated, and without any conscious planning, was able to draw on the things around me, draw on my own experiences, draw on my own abilities, such as they are which are very modest, and create 35 minutes of transformative magic in a space which was in a peculiar way receptive.  And just for that short space of time, for those 3 complete strangers, something happened which was mysterious. And I know it was powerful because you came in at the end and I said there is no documentation, but it happened. That was part of the magic, this very extraordinary thing happened, they actually hung with me and were prepared to be bored. That was trust. I carried on doing very boring and simple things. That was my trust that they might find it interesting or they'd go away. They didn't.  They hung in. Together we accomplished this journey which was a literal narrative on my part, but it happened, and that pleased me greatly.   

You were talking earlier about trust in buildings and so on - perhaps one of the functions of being an artist is to induce lack of trust or awareness and as you were talking about trust in the building I looked up at that rock above your head and i thought  if that is not questioning the safety of this structure and everything about it, and even the safety and your confidence in being, then I'm a Dutchman. 

This project is supported by funding from Leichhardt Council