Stuart Brisley

Moments of Decision/Indecision


Not on display

Stuart Brisley born 1933
18 photographs, gelatin silver print on paper on card
Image: 546 × 425 mm
Purchased 1981

Display caption

In the late 1960s artists began to
use their own bodies as a medium of expression in Performance art. These were events which were meant to be experienced live, although they were often recorded in photographs.


For this work, Stuart Brisley gave
the photographer a central role. The 'moments of decision' were those the photographer chose to record; the 'moments of indecision' were Brisley's,
as he struggled to push the paint
around with his body.


Gallery label, August 2004

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Catalogue entry


Not inscribed
18 photographs mounted on card, each 21 1/2 × 16 3/4 (54.7 × 42.4)

Photographer Leslie Haslam
Purchased from the Institute of Contemporary Arts (Grant-in-Aid) 1981

Exh: Stuart Brisley, ICA, April–May 1981 (exhibits not numbered, no.74 in chronology; three photographs repr.)
Lit: Marc Chaimowicz, ‘Performance’, Studio International, CXCI, 1976, pp.65–6, three photographs repr.p.66; 1977 Hayward Annual (exh. catalogue), Hayward Gallery, May–September 1977, pp.74–5 (three photographs repr.)

For ‘Moments of Decision/Indecision’ (1975), which was performed in Warsaw, Brisley worked with a photographer, Les Haslam. (Brisley spent a year in Berlin on a D.A.A.D. scholarship; Haslam lived and worked in Berlin and they met there). He decided to make a work in which the role of the photographer would be important; in effect the ‘moments of decision’ were the photographer's, those of indecision the performer's, that is to say those of Brisley himself who was ‘trying to find images for the photographer’.

They discussed camera positions before beginning and since Brisley's face was often covered by paint the photographer became his ‘eyes’, confirming Brisley's movements in response to questions. Many of the photographs were made in short sequences.

Since boyhood, when he had met and talked to a member of the Free Polish government in the school bus, Brisley had wanted to go to Poland. He used the opportunity of being in Berlin to arrange a visit to Josef Tscheimer's studio theatre and space for experimental work in Warsaw (Galeria Teatra Studio, Palac Kultury i Nauki) where he was invited to perform. He stayed for six weeks, hoping to perform regularly, but because of differences in the Polish system and difficulties in obtaining materials did not do so. What was planned for several days took much longer to perform. He needed long periods of time in order to be able to complete the work. He describes the event as having a natural process- he needed to absorb the atmosphere of the piece-and the interruptions made it difficult for the work to develop in the way that he wished, or had assumed. He felt that the nature of his position as an invited artist alienated the public.

The work was concerned with a wish to overcome gravity, exemplified by horizontal/vertical opposites, e.g. wall/floor, and black/white. The movement up the wall was against gravity. Brisley regards it as an introverted work which may have been partly caused by its context.

He chose black and white paint because they make the work ‘unreal’; they are symbolic in philosophical rather than emotional or social terms (red or blue would have carried these meanings). The work is expressionist in the sense that it is concerned with gesture and the limitations of the body, demonstrating his own limits, and with the play of oppositions. Because he closed his eyes, to avoid paint getting into them, he was disoriented and frightened by not knowing where he was. He began with black paint, then used white and reverted to black again.

Brisley sees a structured organisation in the work, referring to earlier constructions by himself, but also acknowledges the great influence of Pollock and Guston, particularly through Tate Gallery exhibitions during the 1950s. He considers this work to have an existential rather than political meaning.

Published in:
The Tate Gallery 1980-82: Illustrated Catalogue of Acquisitions, London 1984

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