Unique collaboration for Biennial
A week ago, two men spent seven hours sweeping the entryway to Hamilton City Hall with a two-handled broom.
The exercise was a metaphor for collaboration; a performance piece by artists Michael Walsh and Sidney Mello to illustrate their Bermuda Biennial submission, Labour Agreement.
“There’s not a lot of support for contemporary or experimental art in Bermuda,” said Mr Walsh, an art lecturer at Bermuda College. “We realised that, working together, we can support each other to make things happen.
“Even just the emotional support and the validation of doing something unexpected or outside of the box — there’s not a lot of understanding of what performance art is in Bermuda.”
Performance art has been their focus since 2014 when they collaborated on their first piece, Working for Nothing.
“We dug a hole in the beach and we walked down to the water, filled up a bucket, walked up, dumped it in the hole, walked back down. We did that for 24 hours straight,” Mr Walsh said.
Through walking back and forth, they formed a trench in the sand.
“Somebody — no one even knows who — dragged their feet and made a path and then we all conformed to the path. So it’s like this micro-society got built.”
Mr Walsh has contributed to the Biennial twice before, but with contemporary sculpture.
The couple submitted Labour Agreement as part of The Centipede Art Movement, a grassroots collaborative formed at the Bermuda College and committed to the realisation of contemporary Bermudian art.
“Performance art is easily done with groups because it is so aggressively contemporary, aggressively forward thinking and anti-establishment; not in a screw the man kind of way but in a trying to get things done for yourself kind of way,” Mr Walsh said.
“Most art ideas sit around in the back of your head until there’s either money or reason to make them.”
Labour Agreement started as a joke, based on there being “two holes for handles in a broom”.
“Then we realised that it’s a good description of collaboration,” the 42-year-old added. “How do we collaborate in a larger sense with the expectations of society, work, value, those kind of things?”
He said it also worked well with this year’s Heritage Month theme, What We Share.
Once the Bermuda Biennial is over, their filmed performance will remain in the Bermuda National Gallery, alongside the two-handled broom.
The pair met in Mr Walsh’s class at the college.
“He bought me coffee one day and we became best friends,” Mr Mello laughed.
The 22-year-old graduated last year with an associate’s degree. Paint is his preferred medium. After obtaining his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Canada, he hopes to come back to Bermuda to teach.
“Coming through school everything was fairly easy, but nothing held my interest like art,” he said. “Since primary school I knew I wanted to be an artist. Growing up wasn’t that easy. I faced a lot of challenges — normal challenges — but I found that Walsh and a few of the teachers really helped me out.
“I would like to have the opportunity to help out another Bermudian and give back to those who helped me.” His peers mocked his aspirations to seek art as a career. The response from onlookers as they swept at City Hall was also funny. With reflective jackets on, passers-by assumed they were there to work. One frustrated citizen urged them to scoop up their pile and throw it away.
“Well, we are working,” Mr Mello laughed. “Art is a job.”
Mr Walsh added: “You can hide in plain sight in a bright neon vest. “I don’t need money to feel that what I do has value; which is kind of the point of our work. We assign the value.”
The Bermuda Biennial 2018: What We Share runs until January 6 at the Bermuda National Gallery
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