Marc Camille Chaimowicz

THE INVITATION CARD ANNOUNCING Marc Chaimowicz's Celebration? Realife Revisited, 1972/2000, bore the distinctive blue and red fleur-de-lis design that was used for so long on the British dust jackets of C.K. Scott Moncrieffs translation of Proust. Nowadays Proust's title is more straightforwardly translated as In Search of Lost Time, but Scott Moncrieff's Shakespearean Remembrance of Things Past is perhaps a more appropriate epigraph in this instance. Whatever the case, though, the revisiting of Celebration? Realife is a Proustian event. In making the work again after nearly thirty years, Chaimowicz has accomplished the task of pulling the past into the present rather than merely taking a retrospective look at his own history.

During the '70s, when more or less overt engagement with political and gender issues was the norm for those involved in performance, Chaimowicz's approach was notable for its lightness of touch and its play with a deliberately ambiguous sexuality. Born and brought up in Paris, Chaimowicz always seemed entirely at home with Bachelard's notion of a poetics of space. At the time, he spoke of aiming to “hint rather than mindfuck” and of being interested in “the discerning of a secret femininity in the most male of men.” His performances were not grand statements, but opportunities for audience members to negotiate and reflect on their own positions.

Chaimowin has re-created Celebration? Realife, first staged in 1972 in Birmingham and then London, using much of the original material (with a few contemporary additions). Masks of various kinds lay about the floor along with strings of cheap beads, cameras, mirrors, and other small objects, among them a pair of pale orange knickers and a white bra. Flowers in vases, fresh at the beginning of the show, dried out and began to shed their petals. Silver-painted walls, CDs stuck askew onto the ceiling beams, and glitter dust on the floor reflected light coming from various sources, including a spot fitted with revolving colored gels. A glitter ball, hanging low in the space, cast its characteristic revolving pattern of concentric light shards around the room.

One important feature of the original stagings of Celebration? Realife was the artist's presence. Visitors could choose to engage him in conversation, to look without talking, or merely to hang out in the space with him for some time. If this invitation to participate was, as Gustav Metzger has recently said of the work, a highly political act, it was one wholly in keeping with Chaimowicz's refusal to force the issue. This time the artist was not there, and you had to pick your way slowly through the flotsam on your own while the CD player in one comer pumped out the Rolling Stones, David Bowie, or someone else from the period. The music is significant not least for the inspiration Chaimowicz found in pop's unapologetic ambivalence, be it Jimi Hendrix's feather boa, Janis Joplin acting like one of the boys, or Bowie's androgyny. Pop, for all its rituals of masking, pretense, and revelation, provides a context that is bigger than the confined space of the art world. Near one wall an edition of IT (International Times) carries a cover story on John Lennon, and across the other side of the room a cheap plastic wallet protects a copy of the famous picture of a demurely posed, naked Janis adorned with countless necklaces. These figures have been dead for twenty or thirty years, yet meeting them again here—revisiting them, as Dylan revisited Highway 61 back then—does not feel anachronistic. In looking back at his own work, Chaimowicz has refashioned a wholly contemporary reflection on personal and social responsibility.

Michael Archer