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Going Tornado is a video of a performance by Neagu filmed for the Images series for Scottish television channel Grampian in 1974. The forty minute programme is introduced by Richard Demarco, the Edinburgh gallerist who gave the Romanian-born artist his first British solo exhibition in 1969.
The performance took place in the Grampian television studios. At the beginning of the film Neagu, dressed in coveralls and rollerskates, is seated straight legged on a dark circular section of the studio floor surrounded by a small audience. As jazz music plays, he stands up and, balancing on his skates, chalks a spiral shape from the centre to the edges of his makeshift stage. As he does so he manoeuvres around a number of objects including a metronome, a leather belt, piles of rope, a camera, two apples and a pair of scissors placed at intervals around the space.
He places the ticking metronome at the centre of the spiral and, moving around the stage, strikes a series of poses balancing on one leg and trying to maintain his balance on the skates. His concentration is focussed on holding each pose for as long as possible. He gradually removes his clothes, first taking off his coveralls, revealing a red shirt, fringed vest and leather shorts beneath. As each subsequent layer of clothing is removed he rolls each item neatly, ties it with a length of white rope and places it on the ground. He stretches and crouches in shows of athleticism, occasionally photographing his tensed legs with the camera. When he has stripped down to his shorts, he puts on a simple pair of leather sandals. The film cuts to an image of a drawing of a sandaled foot.
He picks up each apple in turn and cuts squares from it with a knife, inserting the squares cut from the green apple into the holes in the red apple and vice versa. The film again cuts to one of the artist’s drawings depicting an apple with honeycomb-like squares removed from it. Setting the apples aside he ties leather straps around his hand and wrist; this gesture is accompanied by a cutaway to a drawing of a hand. He ties similar thin leather cords around his legs and torso; the lines of the cords divide his body into discrete compartmentalised sections. He wraps each piece of discarded clothing and the other objects he has used in the performance into small packages which he attaches with white strings to a cord around his waist. A preparatory drawing shows a pirouetting man caught in a vortex. Putting the scissors between his teeth, Neagu reaches down, tearing the black paper on the floor to reveal the white surface beneath. He lifts the black paper up and screws it into a large ball that he holds aloft as he starts spinning. The wrapped objects extend from his body as he spins faster. Eventually he collapses to the floor and cuts himself free of the objects. A final drawing shows a tornado-like spiral. Neagu’s performance lasts just over thirty minutes and during the remainder of the programme Demarco discusses aspects of the work with the artist and members of the audience.
Neagu performed Going Tornado several times during his career and considered it one of his pivotal works. The performance was part of a series of related works including sculptures and drawings collectively title Gradually Going Tornado. An important theme in the series is the transformative potential of the vortex. The spinning motion in the performance alludes to spiritual rituals designed to elicit moments of transcendence or artistic creativity. The artist described this impulse, writing, ‘In my account “Gradually Going Tornado” stands for an organised lucid realisation (see whirling dervishes or the Shakers); it bears a cyclic gyroscopic movement as an instrument of ritual which absorbs life-physical facts and generates art-spiritual suggestions’ (Gradually Going Tornado!, p.27).
Gradually Going Tornado! Paul Neagu and his Generative Art Group, exhibition catalogue, Sunderland Arts Centre, 1975.
Generative Art Group, exhibition catalogue, Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, 1975.
Sarah Kent, Paul Neagu: Sculpture, exhibition catalogue, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, 1979.