Mike Parr

Mike Parr, Water from The Mouth 2 (installation view), 1999

Mike Parr, Water from The Mouth 2 (installation view), 1999

Mike Parr (b. 1945, Sydney, Australia) appeared in several guises in Liverpool during the 1999 Liverpool Biennial. Two weeks before the opening of TRACE he was represented live on video during a performance in Sydney’s Artspace picked up from the Web. 

For the 10 days of the performance, entitled Water From the Mouth 1, the artist was sealed into a steel cube. During this time he attempted to speak out loud everything that came into his head. Sleep deprivation, hunger and discomfort ensured that his logic became increasingly disturbed throughout the period of his incarceration. 

Parr’s second piece was an installation entitled Water from The Mouth 2, which also incorporated an element of performance. For this piece he covered the walls of his room with self-portraits enlarged from original studies that he discarded on the floor as he moved around the space.

His working method and the scattered drawings contributed to the sense of urgency that was so expressively rendered in the taught lines and gestures of the drawings themselves. A video of the drawing process underlined the performative aspect of the work, while four ghetto-blasters proclaimed the manic messages of street evangelists.

The third component, Water from The Mouth 3, was a live performance and subsequent projection of its documentation in Liverpool. In a dark room in the two hours before dawn 60 elderly men sat in rows stripped to the waist. Lead by Parr they rhythmically clashed together 60 pairs of quartz rocks. The bright sound of these rocks from the Australian outback produced a mesmerising soundtrack. In time with the rhythms, sparks from the quartz intermittently light up the bodies of the men. These flashes of light heralded the coming dawn, the bridging of night and day.

Although this shared ritual of healing had a deep personal significance for the artist, whose work is strongly autobiographical, it was intended to address a common need. Parr has always been concerned to make his art ‘factual’ by systematically testing the limits of his own body and mind. In this way the personal is made to act as a marker of the political.

Mike Parr at Liverpool Biennial 1999

Water from the Mouth 1-3, 1999 
Performance and mixed media
Courtesy of Anna Schwartz Gallery, Melbourne