Preston, Julieanna and Jessica Payne. BALE [performance]. At Snowhite Gallery, Auckland, New Zealand, 2011.


As a performative installation, BALE explores the limits between human and non-human agency, a sensibility between things.

The performance began in Fielding at the sheep farm of Godfrey Walker. A freshly shorn bale of greasy wool made its way to Auckland in a trailer. Together the bale and I took up temporary residence in Snowhite Gallery. Without a script or a prescribed set of outcomes, a progression of interactions emerged out of the spatial and material qualities of the room, the bale and myself that collectively registered what Gilles Deleuze calls “a logic of sensations” and Jane Bennett advocates as “vibrant materiality”. My aim in 'living' with a bale of fleece for forty-eight hours was to find the animal in it, in me, in the dialogue that brings to bear the kind of democracy that Bruno Latour suggests lies beyond the subject-object/ figure-background/ nature-culture binaries that assert power over that which is fluid, connected and relational.

This installation was inspired by Joseph Beuys' pivotal work Coyote featured in the René Block Gallery, New York City (1974), Bruce Nauman’s video art piece Mapping the Studio II with color shift, flip, flop, & flip/flop (Fat Chance John Cage) shown at the Tate Modern, London (2001), Ann Hamilton's installations tropos (1993), mattering (1997) and corpus (2003) and finally, Luce Irigaray's essay "I love to you" (Routledge, 1996). BALE expanded upon Beuy’s dialectic method which poses a wild animal in relation to a man as an utterance of a philosophical and political crisis. In BALE, the space of the gallery was implicated as a force in an interaction where all things, human or not, are material, and all material is affective and responsive within an association of sensations. Nauman’s video which captures the nocturnal world of his studio supports my appeal to recognize the liveness in objects and organic materials, not merely as a campaign for ethical and sustainable practice, but to realize the potential latently residing in the homogeneity of manufactured goods and processes. For me, his work asks: “What happens in the dark?”, a question that refers as much to imaginary states as well as to placing oneself in the position of not-knowing or un-knowing. These three works by Ann Hamilton demonstrate one of her signature traits – to locate a slightly disassociated or disinterested figure into the exhibition space. Many observe how this non-speaking person intently absorbed in thought and careful tasks activates the space simply by being present. I interpret this figure as a live prop that triggers associations between materials and a larger network of contextual forces; the figure is not a sentinel, she/ he is a catalyst of sentient action, even if actions are occurring in geological timeframes. BALE situated slow acting forces in relation to inhabitation; the work resisted commodification because it does not produce an object. BALE’s political and feminist attributes are underpinned by Luce Irigaray’s call for new alliances to be made been female and male genders, in a joint effort, as she calls it, “to construct our own happiness.” Rather than subordinating ourselves to a higher authority, to the acquisition of property, and acting as though there is only one human nature, Irigaray pursues alternatives to subject and object relations as we now know them. BALE stretched this call for a non-unification of two distinct natures and suggests that that same sense of emancipation from Hegelian logic could be practiced with other organic and non-organic bodies. BALE practiced Irigaray’s call for inter-subjective exchange centred on material interaction where there are no objects; there are just different subjects.

Credit: Tristan Maxwell, video editor

More of BALE at the Snowhite Gallery