The Lock-Up artist-in-residence Gesture and Presence exhibition

PUSHING BOUNDARIES: Performance artist Madison Bycroft is staging a unique show at The Lock-Up Cultural Centre in Newcastle. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

PUSHING BOUNDARIES: Performance artist Madison Bycroft is staging a unique show at The Lock-Up Cultural Centre in Newcastle. Picture: Max Mason-Hubers

PERFORMANCE artist Madison Bycroft looks like she could still be a pretty competitive basketball player, her lanky frame, natural muscle tone and focused carriage reflecting a person who can handle their body. Push it to get tasks done.

It was a basketball tournament that brought her to Newcastle over a decade ago for her first and only visit. This month she was in Newcastle as an artist-in-residence at The Lock-Up, creating sculptures and performances of athletic intensity, but far removed from the basketball court.

The show at The Lock-Up, Gesture and Presence, featuring work from Bycroft and Jacobus Capone, until December 4, explores, in The Lock-Up’s own words, “the relationship between the personal and the universal self, the animate and inanimate”.

When Bycroft’s work came to Lock-Up director Jessi England’s attention in 2014, Bycroft was performing at Primavera at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Sydney. Bycroft’s work at the time explored ideas of “animism”, in which non-human entities such as animals, plants and inanimate objects or phenomena are thought to possess a spiritual essence.

Bycroft, 29, of Adelaide, has been refining her work in the past two years, completing a Masters of Fine Art at Piet Zwart Institute in Rotterdam in the Netherlands. While sculpture has always been part of her work, she also produces video and performance pieces, with The Lock-Up show including all three elements.

She performed a new work on the show’s opening night and a “performance lecture”, Theorising a Mollusc, on Wednesday at the venue. While her deeply personal work casts impressions of possibilities on her creatures, Bycroft says she hopes audiences don’t overthink it.

“I think it’s really important that spectators or viewers . . . it would be ideal if people didn’t feel they needed to get comprehension. There is kind of an expectation with seeing contemporary art that there is this hidden message, a really kind of lofty theory, and maybe there is.

“But I think it is important people can enjoy colour or sound, just have a feeling and see a work and come away, feeling just quiet for a moment, or feel like it is something they haven’t seen before.

I think it is important people can enjoy colour or sound, just have a feeling and see a work and come away, feeling just quiet for a moment, or feel like it is something they haven’t seen before. - Madison Bycroft

“I wouldn’t want viewers to come away feeling they didn’t ‘get something’. My work often comes across as if there is some theory, or highbrow thing going on, but actually, I also think the sentiment and the feeling of it is really important.”

Creative: One of Madison Bycroft's pieces from her show at The Lock-Up.

Creative: One of Madison Bycroft's pieces from her show at The Lock-Up.

Bycroft’s explorations have taken her into the worlds of clams, cuttlefish and squid, to name a few. It was another sea creature work by Bycroft that caught Jessi England’s attention at Primavera.

England describes it: “I was entranced by Madison Bycroft’s video work Entitled/Untitled. A performance documentation, the viewer is an intimate witness to the artist’s act of shaving her head and proceeding to wrap herself in the body of a large, dead octopus, with the artist seemingly physically and psychologically consumed within the animal’s body.”

The rare world of a performance artist like Bycroft is dynamic. She has a couple of ambitious projects on her radar that bear mention.

Firstly, dogs.

“For  five years I’ve been collecting dog stories by philosophers, theorists and writers who have poignant stories on the outskirts of things. I have eight so far. I am forming a weird archive of dog knowledge. But it’s not ready yet.”

Secondly, a female perspective.

“This is a project I’ve had in mind for a long time,” Bycroft says. “I’m interested to trying to do a work on Euripides’ play Medea, a demigoddess female character who kills her husband as a way of revenge [for adultery]. I came across a text by Helene Cixous who wrote about it in Paris.”

The creative challenges for this artist and her audience are set to continue for a long time.

The Lock-Up exhibition

Visitors will see a series of video and sculptural installations as well as sound works and still photographs through all The Lock-Up spaces including the cells, gallery spaces and The Yard. 

A number of the sculptural pieces have been created while in residence from a combination of found objects and sculpted materials such as metal, clay and plasticine and paper with Madison accessing the sculpture studio equipment at Newcastle Arts School Hunter TAFE through The Lock-Up’s partnership with Hunter TAFE including the work Can’t Fit 2016 in The Yard space.

Works such as  Entitled, Untitled 2014 and Becoming Still 2013 are documentations of performance actions that Madison has undertaken.

Other single channel digital videos such as  Expanded Triphibian 2016 and Bureau of Neutrality and the Half Sung 2016 are composite works that include edited footage, sound and text with Madison performing various parts or characters within the works.

All the works in Gesture & Presence by Madison Mycroft Jacobus Capone explore the boundaries of what it means to be human and the human condition. Both are deeply interested in exploring the unknown, the unconscious and the idea of “unlearning” the self. In Madison’s case she often references the non human, such as animals, eas science and philosophy in an irreverent, absurdist but also deeply considered way.

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