This Critique was written by Chris Ashton for the Sydney Morning Herald November 1985 in response to my contribution to Perspecta '85 on show at the Irving Gallery, Glebe, Sydney ( Tent and Survival Boat) .

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What is this man up to?  Is it art?  CHRIS ASHTON investigated the bizarre performances of Arthur WicksPerformance art has always seemed a bit of a con to those of us wedded to the idea of visual arts as paintings and sculptures.
Performance artists see themselves as freedom fighters against the static object.  The creative process and the artists' idea of what they are doing, they claim, is quite as crucial as the end product.

At the Winter Irving Gallery, Glebe, Arthur Wicks, one of the Perspecta artists, offers souvenirs of past performances; a skeleton rowing boat mounted on adjustable rail wheels which he sometimes "rows" on train or tram tracks propelled like a shunting trolley with oars the blades of which are outfaced hands.He has rowed on Melbourne's tramways and more recently at the St. Leonard's Station goods yards.

Two other items, a crumpled painted genuine tent and a painting of a pale European winter landscape with a compass at its centre show Wicks's fascination for summer and winter solstices. On the rooftops of art galleries in West Germany and New Zealand he has "camped" through the 24-hour equinox, charting with a compass  and camera how the landscape must have looked before settlement and buildings.

But why does he do it?  "I like to raise awkward questions", he says.  "People tend to accept their reality and their place in it without question.  I like to destabilise that equilibrium." Another strand in Wicks's performance art is his sense of the fragility of mankind against the elemental forces.  Thus he is drawn to the San Andreas Fault, which runs along America's West Coast, a silent warning of the earth's terrible power to open and engulf whole cities. He once followed it from the Mexican border to San Francisco stopping at intervals to be photographed naked and spreadeagled across it.  "I wanted to taunt it, I suppose," he says.

It's tempting to dismiss him as an exhibitionist in search of an act to get himself on stage.  He baulks at being labelled a performance artist but agrees he is a clown, a jester in a medieval court. He once chained himself, dressed in a business suit, to an anchor in a tidal channel of an Adelaide beach.  People gathered to gaze as the tide rose to lap about his head. "Some people scoff," he says.  "Others are seduced.  There's an element of tantalising in what I do"

Mockery and ridicule don't affect him.  As evidence of his serious intention he says he has been at it for 20 years, but he persists because he feels compelled to do so, and that although others are mystified there is a personal logic that makes sense of everything he does.

A nutter he is not.  By all appearance, with his cord trousers and tousled hair, he is like any other teacher.  He doesn't perform all the time. He lives in Wagga with his wife and children, teaching fine arts at the Riverina Murray Institute of Higher Education.  He smiles dreamily.  "I don't have to prove myself any more," he says.  He is 48.

Tony Bond, the Curator of contemporary Arts at the N.S.W. Art Gallery, organising Perspecta '85, has the last word.
"What Arthur Wicks is doing has a vein of ironic humour running through it," he says.  "But just because its humorous it doesn't follow that it lacks substance any more than, say, Monty Python.

"One of the most telling ways to change people's perceptions of themselves is by humour.  You slip in the message while they're laughing, and they're taken unawares."

Chris Ashton
"Art's Court Jester seeks to Taunt and Tantalise"
Sydney Morning Herald, 5 November 1985




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