A University is a place that should promote freedom of expression and an opportunity to challenge conventional boundaries across many subject areas. But is this always the case? Pierce Starre, a performance artist, who recently graduated from the University of Derby questions whether Art can actually work in the academic institution.
In his experience at the University:
“I’ve wanted to make artwork but I’ve not been able to do so in the way that I wanted to. I’ve had to withdraw proposals just to protect the integrity of some of the ideas that I’ve had. And that’s interesting to me – why would an Arts student have to do that?
Is Art becoming more and more censored?”
As a performance artist, Pierce’s chosen course is to provoke ideas and challenge norms, through his own personal and physical engagement in his visual art. Some of his work includes an element of endurance performance. Last year his Hear/Here piece involved him sitting on a chair, blindfolded and motionless, for 2 weeks, to inspire thought and comment on subjects about deafness, and being present in the moment.
He accepts that there have to be some considerations about Health and Safety however:
“Outside of the University, artworks that have been made wouldn’t have happened in the Institution because of the protocols that are in place….and so may not have existed. So, how can a performance based artist make works of art that are true to their ideas. And that is the battle I have with the academic institution which restrict my ideas”
In the University of Derby’s Welcome Book, Pierce quotes that “they value disruption in the creative sense of the word”, however in the student Code of Conduct it states that disruption can be subject to disciplinary action. So, there is a real paradox there.
“Are we meant to be exploring our creativity in ways that create honest discussion”
In a previous performance he first questioned “Institutions as places of restriction”. This was during the period when he first noticed that he was being constrained by “parameters and protocols” from the University. During the performance, Pierce, would walk in front of people who were in the “art space” and create a red box on the floor made from sticky tape.
“Although no one was actually stopped from walking freely through the space many people felt that I was obstructing them…that was interesting. And the performance was being recorded on Facebook Live and screened in the space.
I initially performed this work at the Format Photography Festival in a Gallery. This was facilitated by the University of Derby and it was celebrated by the Vice Chancellor. However when I did it in the University, itself, suddenly I had lots of issues. I was provided a space by the University to perform the work which was also a working space for staff and students.
Prior to all of this you have to complete an ethics form which outlines what you’re going to do. My tutors were aware of the work, they’d seen it at the Format festival, they knew there was an element of filming, they knew there was taping around people’s feet – nothing had changed other than the colour of the tape. Originally it was multi-coloured then I went with red – to represent the bureaucracy.
Then I had staff telling me to stay away from the fire alarm when I was putting red tape on the floor. It seemed that they felt that this red square on the floor would create a “restriction” that you’re not meant to cross…which was interesting.
Then staff members were upset that they were being filmed. Quite rightly so as I was creating a ‘happening’ which I wanted to explore and they were being screened on the internet. So they said they wanted signs up to tell them that a performance was taking place – however that would have defeated the object – that was the point.
There was a real conflict – my tutors wanted the work to continue but then they were faced with the protocols and had to strike a balance, and that was really difficult. So, after an hour and 47 minutes the work was shut down – I was originally planning to do it for 12 hours”
The title of the work was “Restricus” and it was highlighting the restrictions we experience every day and in every sense it was a restrictive piece. I was looking at how restrictions would make you feel. I was looking at the subject of Academic Institutions as places of restriction.
I received a ‘first’ for the piece, so there was no issue with the ideas, but from a point of view of what it did, it created a lot of upset. So much so, that I was asked to remove the film from the internet. I offered to anonymise the faces and I was told that the work could not be shown in any format, or any event. Also the Institution had understood and expected that the footage would be completely deleted. That’s the equivalent of screwing up someone’s work and throwing it in the bin!“
In his latest work, called “Paradox”, Pierce takes these ideas one stage further. In the 1st phase of the work, the white exhibition space was systematically covered on all sides with red tape, leaving a small triangle in one corner. Each layer of tape represented “the stifling layers of protocol”
Phase 2, was Pierce standing stationary, for 8 hours each staring at one corner; one wall representing the implied creative freedom, the other being restrictive institutional protocols
and Phase 3 was tearing down the red tape in a dramatic and very energetic performance leaving the discarded tape as a “structural relic”. At the end of the piece, Pierce, left the space, and left the University.
It is important to point out that Pierce is not complaining, or pointing a finger at, the University Of Derby, individually. He is questioning and critiquing whether this nature of Art can co-exist in Institutions in which restrictions are either self-imposed, or externally created. In a much broader sense many people in all works of life experience seemingly arbitrary, and bureaucratic barriers, preventing them from going about their lawful personal business, or expression.
Whilst Pierce’s Art and mode of expression might seem unusual, the ideas and frustration he communicates can be read and identified by many. Despite the restrictions, he managed to navigate through them whilst protecting the integrity of his work and his principles. For many in everyday life this is not always possible; perhaps we don’t even recognise the negative impact of the many rules we are subject to!