Kris Canavan’s meeting place for Dredge, which takes place in public space, is Parliament Square – surrounded by Westminster Abbey, Whitehall, the Supreme Court and the Houses of Parliament. Placing his work in an established site for demonstrations and protests, with its backdrop of historic and imposing Neoclassical and Gothic architecture – symbols of power and authority – Canavan invites debate, provokes response, and highlights his own vulnerability. In this terrain of stone and tarmac, he journeys from Parliament Square along Whitehall, past Downing Street, turning to finish at Whitehall Gardens.
Dressed in a slick black suit, his mouth is permanently propped open by metal bars revealing a tongue piercing from which trails a few stems of white flowers. Canavan is on all fours, his inward focus one of meditation. Methodically placing one foot, knee, and clenched hand behind the other he navigates a journey crawling backwards across roads, around corners, and along pavements, following voice-prompts from a steward.
Slowly processing down the road after him, sixty loyal followers contemplate the world around them, the hub of the country’s political power, in stark contrast to Canavan’s painful ritual of self-sacrifice. The audience slip into the crawling pace set by Canavan. A meditative, calm and quiet ambience emanates through the entire party as bus drivers stare and tourists pause until the change of a traffic light ushers them on their way.
Canavan’s performance is a physical embodiment of psychogeography: the effect of geography, site, architecture, environment on the emotions and behaviour of humans. Time, direction, focus, and projection are altered along this journey, causing the public to slow down and maybe even contemplate the functions of this part of the city and their role within it. A trail of saliva marks the pavement leaving a snail trail along a dehumanised path. Suffering and self-sacrifice, carrying his own method of torture and a crown of thorns in the mouth, creates a martyr of Canavan, who mocks society’s mighty edifices, leading us backside-first to his liberation.
References to Christ carrying the cross and a traditional funeral cortege inform this visual spectacle, disciples or mourners in tow, processing solemnly behind him, making their way through an area of London spotted with police and politicians.
Questioning the worth of an individual measured by their value in labour, Canavan uses his labour up entirely to the point of physical exhaustion, his work measured by time and distance, creating a new sort of hero for the proletariat. Whitehall Gardens provides an intimate, organic area in contrast to the preceding journey. It is in this world that he liberates himself; burning the flowers he dragged, leaving the ashes behind, and walking away standing tall.
Kris Canavan’s Dredge was presented as part of SPILL Festival 2015. See www.spillfestival.com for full programme details.