Celebrating the local and specific:
The art-scene in Cornwall,
as elsewhere in the country, is dominated by commercial galleries. Artists
showing in commercial galleries have to respond to what the market wants,
which is why harbour or beach scenes are the stock in trade for many of
the more mercenary artists in Cornwall.
a sense business marketing is where the skill of many
successful local painters lies. Though technique and an ability to draw
may be important, imagination and originality is not, because the market
does not want this: it wants the familiar and the recognisable.
Performance art on the other hand, is not, and has never been,
commercial. Over the years its practitioners have celebrated the fact that
they operate outside the market. Because they are not in the business of
making beautiful objects that can be bought and sold they are not tied
down or limited in this way.
Some would find this level of freedom difficult to handle. As a
performance artist almost anything is possible: there are very few
boundaries or strictures, and where there are boundaries eg of decency or
comprehensibility, these in themselves are targets for being tested and
The skill of the performance artist thus lies in navigating the furthest
reaches of the imagination, or more precisely imagined
behaviour, and returning with something that is coherent and meaningful.
There is a risk in this not only of failure but of madness because the
performance artist is not simply depicting or representing these ideas in
two dimensions: they are living them and being them through their actions.
There is therefore undoubtedly something risky and radical about
performance art, but what was most apparent during the Tract events was
the richness and complexity of meaning generated by the work.
only did the richness of content surpass that of any painting seen in
Cornwall for many years, it also rivalled that of the other visual
art-form most easily accessible in Cornwall: the Hollywood film.
Unlike the pan-national high-budget film the fact that the performances
took place in Penzance/Newlyn was important. Because the participating
artists were so responsive to the location, and its history, they couldnt
have taken place anywhere else and had the same impact and relevance. In
an age of global culture and branding and Angloamerican cultural
imperialism there was a quiet but forceful assertion of the importance of
the local and specific, and of the possibility that, briefly at least
communities can come together and through culture and ritual share things
that are unique and special to them.