21-year-old Sarah Clark and 22-year-old Nicole Beaumont, making up the artist duo Clark Beaumont, are most definitely star-struck. They began collaborating on their performance art practice two years ago at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane. They do not even consider themselves as emerging artists. They have no gallery representation and have only had two solo shows in minor Brisbane galleries to date.
But all this could change. They have been plucked from obscurity and chosen as the Australian contingent in 13 Rooms, Australian art impresario John Kaldor’s next and possibly most ambitious art project, which will be staged at Walsh Bay Pier 2/3 in Sydney, beginning April 11.
13 Rooms will be shown over 11 days and will feature performances by a cast of 12 other, internationally acclaimed artists and artist groups, including Damien Hirst, Allora and Calzadilla, John Baldessari and Tino Sehgal as well as the grandmother of performance art, Marina Abramović. For the project, each artist is given a room in which to create a performance. Curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist of London’s Serpentine Gallery and Klaus Biesenback of New York’s Museum of Modern Art, the project series was first shown at the Manchester International Festival in 2011 as 11 Rooms. A second iteration at Essen in Germany last year saw it acquire an additional room and yet another room will be added for its Sydney premiere.
ArtAsiaPacific caught up with the Clark Beaumont duo in Brisbane in December where they were completely candid about the task in front of them. Only Beaumont had heard of John Kaldor prior to receiving an email from him asking them to call. Being told that they had been selected as the Australian component in the project was akin to winning the lottery, Beaumont said. The closest either artist had been to a major comparable project was when Beaumont had her name included in John Baldessari’s Your Name in Lights when it was shown as part of the 2011 Sydney Festival.
John Kaldor has been bringing art by internationally acclaimed contemporary artists to Australia since 1969 when he commissioned Christos and Jeanne Claude to wrap two-and-a-half kilometres of coast and cliffs, in Sydney’s Little Bay, in fabric and rope. But 13 Rooms, Kaldor told AAP, “. . . is far different from anything I have ever done before.”
The inclusion of the unknown Clark Beaumont duo was not Kaldor’s choice and even took him by surprise. Kaldor had already put forward a list of Australian performance artists that the curators might want to chose from, but “they didn’t like any of them. Eventually they [the curators] came up with Clark Beaumont.” “The girls are star struck and so they should be,” said Kaldor. “It is a great thing for them to be included and a very interesting phenomenon in how they came to be selected, a real stroke of luck.”
The phenomenon that Kaldor refers to is the internet and in this case, specifically, YouTube, which Clark Beaumont use almost as a virtual gallery documenting all of their work, and which is accessable to a vast global audience. Clark Beaumont had assumed it was through YouTube that Obrist and Biesenbach found their work. However, the curators told AAP, via email, that they “found them through our friend Simon Castets, a young, New York-based curator who showed us their work.” Castets, it also happens, is currently working with Hans Ulrich Obrist on an upcoming exhibition of artists born after 1989.
Regardless of how the duo was actually found, Clark and Beaumont now face being propelled from obscurity into a giddy art world. Yet far from being daunted by the prospect, they remain, four months out from the project launch, surprisingly grounded and pragmatic.
The pair’s performance-based practice was born from a simple conversation between the two when they met in 2010 at Queensland University of Technology. “We both wanted to explore performance and both thought it would be good to also use video in an interdisciplinary approach,” said Beaumont. According to her, while neither had studied the techniques of film-making, both felt, in a media-saturated age, “entirely comfortable with visual communication.”
The themes of their performances, the artists say, are identity, female subjectivity, intimacy and interpersonal relationships. Their first work, Undress (2010), is an almost traditional piece exploring the movement of two bodies (their own) in space while constrained by skeins of wool that bind them together and also dictate that each performer mimics the other’s movements. Subsequent works have been more narrative and explore the directionless vacuity of youth and the ennui of much contemporary life.
They have already discussed the conceptual framework of their contribution to 13 Rooms with Kaldor, which will be similar in feel to Undress.
How Clark Beaumont will stack up against such art brand names as Hirst and Abramović remains to be seen, but even with some of the artists, such as Baldessari and Sehgal, promising new work, Kaldor for his part remains supremely confident. “I think they will compare very favorably with the assembled artists,” he said. “They are fresh and interesting.”