Rainer Pagel

Performance Art

My art comments on belief systems, political developments, societal events, irrational ideas and absurd conventions of communication and human interaction. Performance allows me to use process to illustrate how the world in which we live changes while we’re not looking, and how we then misinterpret what we have not seen but assume we know intimately and hold true without any doubt.

The key themes of my performances are linked to my interest in gullible people’s assumptions, perceptions and beliefs as certain unassailable truths, without being aware that all truths are relative and constructs of our individual minds and the environment in which we grew up (physically, intellectually and emotionally). My performances also relate to disbelief, matters we don’t want to see, experience or believe, but have suffered or will have to endure in future.

My performances unashamedly tell stories without becoming theatre, or simply illustrations. I use my visual vocabulary to set the context for my “stories” and my references range from the cultural, historical, political and at times highly personal meanings of my actions to the obvious and banal. I do not repeat my performances, though elements of a particular performance may re-appear in a different context in a new work.

My work in the seventies, eighties and early nineties made reference to the dichotomy of living in an unstable society whilst attempting or pretending to live a “normal” life, the status quo of which was supposedly made possible, upheld and guaranteed by what was euphemistically encompassed by the title of “The Security Forces”.

My performance work since then developed from a procession of the personal becoming public, disbelief and mourning turning into the search for emotional stability, ending in a new sense of precarious balance. Along the way, I explored elements of stability – instability, support – abandon, strength – fragility, creation and destruction through measured and at times domestically ritualistic actions. There was no shortage of stimulus or provocation to incite (performance) work during the troubles and this continues after their end with incidents, though not always directly related to the unrest, which have now had time to surface; I am thinking of the disclosures of the horrendous numbers of institutional child abuse, for instance.

Outmoded ritual and ritualistic behaviour, stereotypical and, in the context of Northern Ireland, sectarian mind-maps of our social and political environment lead to bigotry, xenophobia, homophobia and an unquestioned return to and acceptance of biblical interpretations of our world. It is obviously easier now to portray a complaint about a refusal of service as an attack on Christian values than a human rights issue. In my view, all this explains why in times when the demographics of Northern Ireland undergo significant and dramatic change, the old and familiar sectarian orange and green entrenchments persist or even deepen and cause severe myopia in societal and political terms.

Art in general, or my art in particular, will not change this; all one can hope for is that art, which is politically motivated, or which, in a wider sense, comments on our society, will be seen by as many people as possible and effect however small a change in however small a part of the audience in attitude, perception or behaviour.