ArtWorks at The Beautiful Meme

Matt Harper’s ‘Incorrection’

Friday 20th May 2011

Glam cheered up the seventies (Ian Penman)

As we entered the office space of The Beautiful Meme, it felt very formal. A few people were milling around in an office that was reminiscent of an episode of the TV sitcom ‘The Office’, a Christmas special if you will. People were drinking and deep in conversation, it felt quite tense. The tension was soon about to be cut with a slice of contemporary Glam Rock driven performance art. We were here to watch York based, Performance Artist Matt Harper’s ‘Incorrection’ a piece that attempts to address the mainstream culture of Icons. Who or what is an icon is questioned in this piece and more importantly Matt plays with how, perhaps, an icon should look and be within the framework of mainstream entertainment. Matt has cerebral palsy and he uses this as a device to question what is beautiful and what is not?

Matt chops and changes photographs of himself as Audrey Hepburn, David Bowie and Madonna, therefore asking the audience what is a correct image. Matt carefully edits and manipulates the printed photographs to not show his physical disability. He ‘in-corrects’ himself. The piece is flirtatious, witty and even a tad voyeuristic. You can’t help but feel that, with the space being an alcove, you are staring into a private world of the ‘character’. This tall and slim figure, parades up and down the space as he carefully constructs the image of the Icon. Flirting with the audience as he goes, we feel moved, we feel as we are allowed to watch. The room itself is filled with fragments of a bedroom, ornaments, candles etc. You feel as you have stumbled by this very private scene of a man fulfilling and unfulfilling a lifetime dream of becoming the very thing that perhaps he despises and cannot be.

The artist constantly changes angles and poses, as if to mimic a contemporary culture of ‘Celebrity’ and he loves it. Matt really camps it up and knows it. It makes a congested hallway fill with laughter, as we know the performer is having a good time. It is supposed to be fun. But sometimes, we feel uneasy because it does feel like a private action, one that shouldn’t be viewed from the outside but Matt keeps us interested by glancing lovingly and flirtatiously towards us. We are hooked from the moment he makes eye contact. It is this eye contact that tells us that we are okay to look, we are okay to stare, perhaps, if Matt is having a good time putting ‘it’ on and taking ‘it’ away then we will enjoy it.

As the piece is durational we tend to wander around the rest of the building, which is very disconnecting. After a few minutes away from the voyeuristic window of Glam, we want to return. You want to endure the changes and see what the next phase is.

What was once an office meeting room was now Harper’s bedroom, his boudoir. We were invited to become voyeurs and judge and point at this transforming and transformed figure. You couldn’t help but wonder, due to Matt’s witty and impeccable performance that he has done this all before. According to Ian Penman ‘glam cheered up the seventies’ well, I can certainly say that Matt Harper truly cheered up and transformed the everyday into a Glam Rock fantasy.

Photograph: Christopher Mollon