72 hrs non-stop performance and installation
for the British Art Show
21st March 1985, 3:00pm - 24th March 1985, 3:00pm,
Mappin Art Gallery, Sheffield, England

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Article by Robert Ayers

Alastair MacLennan's Body Break (the third of what the British Art Show catalogue calls Four Related Performance Installations 1984-85) came as a poignant reminder not only that there is a strength to be found in enormous length (Body Break was 72 hours long) but also that it's a strength that can help make performance combative and arresting: far from being complacent about its audience, Body Break (which was performed in a small upstairs room in the Mappin) lured people up from the galleries with its hypnotic tape-loop soundtrack of helicopters and wailing bagpipes, and once it had them up there, it either disgusted them - in some cases quite literally, the stink of rotting fish got so bad - or, at least as often it intrigued them with its at first apparently peculiar assortment of objects - a basket of earth with Alastair MacLennan's life-mask lying on it, a pig's head split in half, an old washing mangle with a crumpled newspaper and crushed fish caught between its rollers, the square of creamy-white flour that they were all set out upon - then it drew them in as the resonances of more and more of the objects seemed to relate to the fact that these were Irish newspapers, and finally it mesmerised them with Alastair MacLennan's painfully slow, repeated, apparently ritualistic actions. Again and again he brushed around the square of flour, tidying up its edges; or slowly, as though measuring, he'd run his finger in from the edge of the flour, continuing the squaring of the cork floor tiles into his own larger, more important square.
And even if they left after a few minutes - and I have to admit, with some regret, that I was only able to watch for a couple of hours - Body Break continued to work in the minds of its spectators. What happened at night? Did he just continue? Did he sleep? I found it a great and frightening and poetic lament of a performance. So what's the difference? Why did Alastair MacLennan succeed where Station House Opera failed? It obviously isn't the case that Alastair MacLennan is more populist. (Among the British Art Show's performance I think that word only fits Stephen Taylor Woodrow's Triptych Ballet, though I don't suppose any of us would want an introduction to performance to depend on that work.) What I think it does have something to do with is that, whereas Station House Opera and Anthony Howell's contributions to the British Art Show were done virtually as one night stands, Alastair MacLennan made his piece specifically for the place and the occasion, spending a week in the gallery before the actual performance. (Rose Finn-Kelcey had planned to do this as well; unfortunately she was prevented by illness from performing.) I think it also mattered that Alastair MacLennan's performance took place in the gallery, breathing the same air, as it were, as the paintings and sculptures, fighting for the same attention.