MSVU Art Gallery presents: JASON FITZPATRICK: BITE AND BURN, ENCORE, By Ingrid Jenkner

10 January through 8 February

Jason Fitzpatrick lives in Vancouver and works in construction to support his artmaking. He holds a B.F.A. (NSCAD, 1993) and an M.F.A. (University of Windsor, 2004) in sculpture. Although his collaborative art practice encompasses performance, body art, video and printmaking, Fitzpatrick conceives of his work as process-based sculpture, and acknowledges the influence of the twentieth-century “social sculptor” Joseph Beuys.

Bite and Burn, encore sums up the three-part project, Bite and Burn, which took place as follows: Central (Open Studio, Toronto, 2006); Pacific (Grunt Gallery, Vancouver, 2006); and Atlantic (STRUTS Gallery, Sackville, NB, 2007). The components on each occasion were a drywall-and-insulation cubicle, the site of tattooing and printmaking sessions; Heavy Metal music played on a turntable; and prints pulled from the artist’s freshly tattooed back. In each venue the artist and his tattooist and printmaker collaborators staged a single action, completing one third of a tattoo in the form of a black band extending down the artist’s spine. The 60 monoprints exhibited in the stairwell landing demonstrate the progression of the tattoo design over the course of three separate actions, which are also documented in the video installation entitled bomber.

Bite and Burn was deliberately presented as a “tour” analogous to that of a Heavy Metal rock band. In Bite and Burn, encore the addition of a sculpted solid copper rack carrying 96 silk-screened “tour” shirts with the tattoo design printed on the backs reinforces the analogy. In place of the recorded Metal music that accompanied previous actions, the action on 10 January was preceded and followed by live sets played by the local band Realiser. The performance was staged on an eight-by-eight-foot platform composed of pink fibreglass insulation sandwiched between sheets of drywall, replacing the cubicle of previous iterations. The resulting prints (impressions of blood and tattoo ink) appear on the wall behind the platform.

The performance part of Bite and Burn, encore entails risk. Submitting himself publicly to a process which will temporarily hurt and permanently mark his body, Fitzpatrick leaves himself vulnerable to accidents in which it will be difficult for the audience to intervene. The tattooist (Amber Thorpe, Halifax) must apply a solid black tattoo designed by Fitzpatrick while drawing enough blood to make an acceptable print. The printmaker (Dax Morrison, Toronto) has a limited quantity of paper, and must take impressions from Fitzpatrick’s chest, a more difficult enterprise than taking them from his back as in previous performances. All three collaborators are forbidden to converse-the quality of the hoped-for edition of ten prints will depend on the care, skill and trust with which they interact. The likelihood of pain, embarrassment, aesthetic failure and audience discomfort are strikingly reminiscent of 1970s performances by the visual artist Vito Acconci.

Fitzpatrick’s staging of printmaking as a ritual ordeal evokes historical antecedents such as performance artist Chris Burden’s subjection of himself to shooting and crucifixion, and bloody performances by the Vienna Aktionists. The dangerously tippy platform harks back to threatening, post-minimal prop sculptures by Richard Serra. Its bricolaged materials suggest the DIY aesthetic of Punk. Bio-hazard signs posted on the walls add consequences to the institutional taboo against touching works of art. Absent the performance, and the overall effect of its residue is much less ambiguous. The installation implies a subject who is hyper-masculine to the point of parody-head-banging, aggressive and intensely heterosexualist.

In Bite and Burn, encore, Fitzpatrick contrives to situate his work art historically, through references to post-minimal sculpture and body art of the 1970s (including body art prints made by Joyce Wieland and Vito Acconci at the NSCAD Lithography Workshop in 1970) and also socially, through signifiers of subcultures such as Punk and Heavy Metal-and related forms of body modification-which arose in the same era. The merging of these elements into a single signifying system proposes analogies between late twentieth-century visual art and underground music that may strike some as paradoxical: the artistic avant-garde is reframed socially, as an emphatically masculinist subculture; and music subcultures, as the working-class-male counterpart, take on the trappings of radical artistic experimentation.

Ingrid Jenkner
Director, MSVU Art Gallery

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