Art in America, April 1996

Report form Ireland: Art from the Edge (Part II)

by Judith Higgins

Arriving at a performance site with his black bag of props, Belfast resident Alastair MacLennan comes across as a combination of medicine man, scapegoat and Christ-figure. Structured around a slow, ritualistic walk, MacLennan's performances often involve his pushing a baby carriage or wheelbarrow, or sweeping and raking as he moves. Both MacLennan and Rolfe are part of Black Market International, a nine-member group of European artists who meet several times a year to perform individual works in a common space. In 1991, MacLennan performed along with Black Market International at the Anchorage, Brooklyn, in an event billed as an 'exploration of existence and social relations' [see A.i.A., Jan. '92].

At one end of the Anchorage's great vaulted hall MacLennan began by donning a long black coat and wrapping his head and face with white scrim. Over that went black goggles and, on his head, a stack of black bowler hats. The top hat held two burning candles in its brim. For this performance MacLennan also draped several pungent dead fish down his back, and in each hand took up a bucket containing green plants and a baby shoe. Bursts of thunder were heard from a cassette recorder carried in a white sling across his chest. In this, as in other MacLennan performances, some of the symbolic props are open to a broad interpretation, while others (bowler hats, Loyalist and Unionist newspapers, wage packets) refer directly to the situation in Northern Ireland.

MacLennan likes to assault his audiences' ears with audiotapes playing backwards or cacophonously combining the noise of helicopters, traffic and gunfire with the sounds of nature and Irish laments. He assaults the sense of sight and smell as well by incorporating fish, sheep heads, chicken heads and feet, pig heads and trotters. Symbolizing death in life, these animal parts seem to be the physical equivalents of the psychic and societal divisions to which MacLennan wants to draw our attention.