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The artist Mandy El-Sayegh has been chosen to create London Gallery Weekend's first performance art commission. The artist, who lives and works in the city, will bring a live work of art to three London public spaces: St James's Church Piccadilly; Peckham Square in south London and Allan Gardens in east London.
The Minimum is a performance devised in collaboration with the choreographer Alethia Antonia and the composer Lily Oakes. The work comprises a painted installation roughly the size of a solitary confinement cell, which usually measure around six feet by nine feet. El-Sayegh’s “cell” is made from canvases drawn from the artist’s White Grounds paintings, a series of densely layered works incorporating found fragments such as pages from the Financial Times.
The performance, which will include El-Sayegh on Friday, will explore how the body contorts and reacts in regulated, confined spaces. El-Sayegh, and other performers at different times, will move in and around a separate platform, reflecting how individuals are affected by societal restrictions.
In the process, the artist turns the idea of the white cube—"a neutral space to hang works,” she says—on its head. The performance piece aims to illustrate how solitary confinement increases security but reduces the autonomy of the imprisoned, depriving detainees of sensory stimulation.
“The premise [of The Minimum] is about accessibility to [different] languages because when I was previously ill, I lost all my normal language…. And this is what happens with people who are on, I call, flights of ideas. All the words start kind of loosening and becoming associated with each other,” El-Sayegh adds, pointing to the free-flowing aspect of the new piece.
A previous work, your words will be used against you, presented at the Frieze gallery in Cork Street, London, in 2020, indicates how El-Sayegh will approach the London Gallery Weekend commission. The piece, which also involved Antonia and Oakes, saw the artist interacting with other individuals in a series of movements and exchanges underpinned by the gesture of swapping different items of clothing.
El-Sayegh is also hoping that the performance facility she sets up can be used by other organisations. “I'm doing a performance that will last 15 minutes to half an hour. And I have to spend a lot of time and effort putting that thing up. So people might as well use it. I'm going to do a call out, for local POC [people of colour] dance communities. If they want to use that stage with the sound system, go ahead.”
Sarah Rustin, the co-director of London Gallery Weekend, says: “Creating this new platform for performance art in London underlines the medium’s importance within artistic practice and how contemporary art is experienced.” The work is created in partnership with the contemporary public art organisation, UP Projects.
Friday 13 May, 16.00-16.30
St James's Church Piccadilly, London W1J 9LL
Saturday 14 May, 14.00-14.30
Peckham Library Square, London SE15 5JT
Sunday 15 May, 14.00-14.30
Allen Gardens, London E1 5AT
The Art Newspaper is an official media partner of London Gallery Weekend