As Dr Octagon (aka Kool Keith/Dr Dooom—all personas fabricated by American rapper Keith Matthew Thornton) said, ‘you need a bad operation’. This was just before he gruesomely cut the body open, with ensuing sounds of screams, blood spurts, farts and confusion.
Robin Hungerford’s video, The fix, showing at Bus Projects in the exhibition Thank you very much, is a reminder of how over time artists have pursued the ritualised and bloody ‘bad operation’ genre as a rite of passage. Hungerford’s crude self-operation locates him in this motley crew, which includes Dr Octagon/Dr Dooom, Dana Schutz and the quintessential John Bock. At its most Bockish, The fix is agitatedly funny, especially when Hungerford sneers at the catching rips of his stockinged flesh (the Stanley knife just isn’t sharp enough). Once all his original organs have been removed, Hungerford’s hand rests in a pool of his own blood, finding comfort there. But the most insightful and amusing moment comes when Hungerford attempts to piece himself back together again. Because his flesh can’t quite hold the new organs, his symmetrical crucifix-like self-portrait is seismically pushed and pulled in and out of form.
In Thank you very much, curator Channon Goodwin has first and foremost presented the artists. So while this is an eclectic show, the presence of the artist is evident in all works. The show’s tension is created out of the way these artists manoeuvre us around the space, from the gentle nudging of Tim Woodward and Ms & Mr, to the jarring shoves of Erika Scott and Hungerford. The space we have for consideration is negotiated via fluctuations in pressure applied in this way.
I was shoved into Hungerford’s space, where I found the image of the operation compelling, but I left feeling as though I had been exposed to more. Through the operation I had glimpses of Hungerford himself as his expression responded abjectly to the conceptual gestures self-inflicted on his body. I was reminded that we are never merely looking at works of art, but also at the artists, and shouldn’t forget their influence over our perception of what is going on.
Like all good bad operations, the performance had to be crude, and I chuckled and snickered at all that had been exposed. But while I also had the feeling that it had been done to me—that I’d been cut somehow—I didn’t really know how I had been marked. Who was I in this farcical act? Why did I love the bad operation so much? Then a tune wafted through my memory …
‘Milton the monster’, 1965–68, produced and directed by Hal Seeger
I realized that, if in luck, with this kind of work we might feel as though we have seen and been Professor Weirdo … and Count Kook … and Milton … (all and none).
Thank you very much (Adam Cruickshank, Robin Hungerford, Katie Lee, Ms & Mr, Dell Stewart, Erika Scott and Tim Woodward), Bus Projects, Melbourne, 26 February – 16 March 2013.