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Frankovich, Alicia - 2013.3

Alicia Frankovich

Bisons 2010
HD black and white video projection, sound
3 minutes 11 seconds
Purchased 2013

Two people face off, waiting for the right moment before lunging towards each other, heads down, to lock shoulders. Pushing with all their might, their feet slip. Artist Alicia Frankovich falls, but doesn’t give up. She is back on her feet and pushing against her taller, male opponent. Her arms flail with the effort, but she falls again. The third time, we hear her hard breathing as she collapses and rolls off camera. As her opponent walks away, we hear the background chatter of an art gallery opening.

This black-and-white video documents a 2010 staging of Frankovich’s ongoing performance Bisons. The artist has long been interested in endurance, of relationships between bodies and props, and bodies with other bodies. Her persistent enquiry into bodily boundaries recalls the seventeenth-century Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza’s declaration that ‘no one has yet determined what the Body can do’.[1] Acknowledging the limits of both scientific and theological understandings of the body, Spinoza’s Ethics detailed the relational effects and affects of everyday encounters.

Bisons draws on a long tradition of performance art where comfort and proscribed behaviours are challenged via propositional constraints, including Marina Abramović and Ulay’s Relation in Space 1976, in which the nude couple ran towards each other, repeatedly and violently crashing. The combative lock of Bisons enacts entanglement, whether in love or war, as with Abramović and Ulay’s Breathing In/Breathing Out 1977–78, where the couple locked mouths, exchanging breath until they passed out, or Tehching Hsieh and Linda Montano’s Art/Life One Year Performance 1983–1984, in which the two artists were tied together with a length of rope for a year. Suitably, Hsieh’s is one of the bodies Frankovich has locked with in her ongoing performance of Bisons, in New York in 2016.

In the 2010 iteration of Bisons, two more audience members become-animal with Frankovich: a small woman and a stocky man. The artist doesn’t discriminate regarding who participates, raising issues of gender equality or even a ‘battle of the sexes’. Frankovich grew up in New Zealand where the uber-masculine sport of rugby dominates the national imagination; the headlock she uses in Bisons recalls the rugby scrum, which itself recalls the bucking of young, male, horned animals. In sport and popular culture, roles for women are heavily curtailed, and Bisons could be read as a feminist provocation against such constraints. Yet Bisons is not only about gendered or even human behaviour. Frankovich is interested in the gamut of bodily expression and connectivity. Each differently-abled body she encounters adds value to her non-anthropocentric narrative, in a ‘flat’ ontology without any hierarchy of being.

Brian Massumi lauds the ludic in animal play fights, where wolf cubs bite not to mimic combat but for the sheer joy of it, declaring ‘this is not a bite’.[2] Watching Bisons, we might say ‘this is not a fight’, like René Magritte’s famous phrase ‘This is not a pipe’ (The Treachery of Images 1928–29). It is and it isn’t, and therein lies the fun. The artist is both serious and playful in her attempt to reintroduce wildness into the domesticated sphere of the art gallery and over-coded human social relations.

Tessa Laird is a writer, artist and lecturer in critical and theoretical studies at the School of Art, Faculty of Fine Arts and Music, University of Melbourne.


[1] Baruch Spinoza, Ethics (III, P2, scholium), The Collected Works of Spinoza, vol. I, Edwin Curley (trans.), Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 1985, p.495.

[2] Brian Massumi, What Animals Teach Us About Politics, Duke University Press, Durham and London, 2014, p.7.