Melanie Gilligan born 1979 Untitled 2011

Untitled 2011 was a performance-lecture by the artist Melanie Gilligan. For this work Gilligan stood in front a large screen projecting footage of her performance The Miner’s Object 2006 (performed at Tate in 2007) in a well lit lecture theatre, with a stage, desk and chairs. Gilligan’s lecture described the earlier performance and related its theoretical work. As she spoke, she occasionally reached up to stick pieces of paper with keys terms up on the screen. At other points, Gilligan broke with the lecture style, and clapped or skipped across the stage, becoming breathless or doubled-over in pain. The fictional elements of the performance disrupted the non-fiction character of the lecture creating a layered, hybrid space in which Gilligan tested visual, aural and physical ways of communicating and explaining.

The lecture began by considering the complex structure of The Miner’s Object. For that piece, Gilligan cast an actress to play the part of a storyteller, relating a tale about a miner finding an unusual object. She then told a story about two men swapping tales after work, constructing a dense web of a story within a story, itself about telling stories. The actress read from two teleprompters set to her left and right. These created the impression that she spoke directly and extemporaneously, while she actually just read from a script written by Gilligan. The visibility of the teleprompters and the original text jarred with the tradition of oral storytelling staged in the performance, alluding to different modes of communicating and passing on knowledge. Untitled added a further layer – the artist’s analytical explanation – onto the work.

Gilligan’s lecture shattered the illusion of the story through an explanation of linguistic and performance techniques and their intended effect on the audience, particularly focusing on the ways in which she used emotion and affect in her work. On a broader scale Gilligan talked about how communications and explanations work and have worked across time and in different media. She explored the tension between speaking, hearing and interpreting through the recorded storytelling performance that she analysed and the lecture she was giving. In a circular way, the performance-lecture became the form of communication being analysed and the means by which that act of communication could be analysed.

Where certain techniques had been embedded in The Miner’s Object and used as a means for effective communication of a story, in Untitled communication became a means through which to bring these theories and techniques to the surface, to make the audience critically aware of the spectrum of means of communicating beyond the verbal and to understand the different experiences of sharing knowledge – from storytelling to philosophy.

Untitled was commissioned for Tate Modern Live: Push and Pull (18–19 March 2011). The event drew on Allan Kaprow’s 1963 performance environment Push and Pull: A Furniture Comedy for Hans Hoffman, where he invited the public to move items of furniture around two rooms, according to instructions he issued. This was a response to painter Hans Hoffman’s notion that a painter should ‘push and pull’ to create movement in a work. Push and Pull at Tate Modern expanded on this translation of theory from one medium of art to another, commissioning pieces from nine artists who work across hybrid mediums and who explore theory and history. Gilligan presented Untitled on the second day of the event and through it explored theories of communication and shared experience, by journeying through and analysing her own history of performance-making and considering the broader medium of the performance lecture.

Acatia Finbow
October 2015