Article: Amanda Coogan

CIRCA 111 article

Amanda Coogan: Medea , 2001; courtesy the artist

Amanda Coogan : A New York gallery, early summer 2004. I start into my piece, The Madonna , wearing a tailored black trouser suit, jacket partially unbuttoned. I cup my bared left breast - it’s about the American stroke imperialist history of flesh - and the space around me empties as though I’m pointing a taser. Everyone’s nervously lurking, I have them in my peripheral vision. They’re still reeling from Janet Jackson’s misguided attempt at establishing her left bosom as the 51 st star-spangled state during primetime baseball intermission. You can see them thinking it’s another wardrobe malfunction or, more worryingly, the start of an Amazonian pandemic. The audience remains stand-offish with my next piece when I physically transpose Beethoven’s 9 th Symphony .

Lavinia Murray : Are you re-enacting the profoundly deaf Beethoven beating his head against the top of the piano to experience the physicality of the notes?

AC : Is that what he did?

LM : I’m guessing. I know his doctors cut his ears off when he died.

AC : Ugh! Anyway, they were like: come on, prove yourself. I was with a group of other performance artists and we were so used to being loved. This was a shock. European audiences are far more keyed into what we’re doing. In Venice I’d headbanged for three hours because of the public’s enthusiasm. It’s a cyclical thing; they feed you energy, you get euphoric, hysterical. Or not! In that New York gallery I barely managed fifteen minutes.

LM : The USA seems to have lost the thread of performance art, the tradition died out in the ‘70s.

AC : I was brought up by signers, both my parents and I speak ISL. If Beethoven were alive now he’d be regarded as disabled and taught sign-language, making him a member of a minority language community. However, Beethoven wasn’t my first choice. No, I used Gil Scott-Heron’s The Revolution Will Not Be Televised . I wanted to contextualize specific American Deaf Politics - a deaf man had been shot because he failed to respond to a police command. So I made the video and wanted to put it out on the Net. The problem was, Gil Scott-Heron never replied to my requests for permission to use his music. Then he was in and out of prison. So I thought with Beethoven there’d be no copyright issue. I was wrong. But anyway, I got there.

Amanda Coogan: Madonna III, , 2001, 90 minutes, Marking the Territory performance event, Irish Museum of Modern Art; courtesy the artist

Then I was invited to make a piece for the Liverpool Biennial and spent a week in the city, and the thing that kept hitting me was how everyone was doing karaoke. So I thought I’d develop the Beethoven head banging, try it out with twenty-five volunteers, choreograph and video it…and The ode to joy seemed ideal. I wanted the action pared down to give it a kind of painting scenario, opulence sliced right down.

So for the Liverpool Biennial I’m going to have one hundred people head banging to the Liverpool Philharmonic’s recording of The ode to joy .

LM : Can I volunteer?

AC : Maybe.

Lavinia Murray is a mentalist, cartoonist and writer.

Article reproduced with permission from Flux magazine, 2004.

Article reproduced from CIRCA 111, Spring 2005, pp.46–47