March 21, 2016

By Andrew Taylor, Sydney Morning Herald
14 MAR 2016

Mike Parr’s history of self-mutilation stretches back decades.

He has cut, pierced and burnt his body, hammered his arm to the wall of a gallery and had his face stitched up in protest against the treatment of asylum seekers.

Parr’s threat to perform “in a fairly kind of extreme way, in a violating way” at the opening of the Biennale of Sydney at Carriageworks on March 17 should not be taken lightly.

Parr does not want to reveal what extreme acts he will perform during BDH, but he says it will involve a sacrifice. He has even kept the Biennale’s artistic director, Stephanie Rosenthal, in the dark about the performance, although the emergency services have been warned.

All Parr will reveal is that he has installed 120 prints at Carriageworks and will “perform in relation to them in a fairly kind of extreme way, in a violating way”.

As part of the performance, he will also hand out leaflets with information about climate change, which he says will irreparably harm the future and make the past unbearable.

Parr’s previous public spectacle occurred at a 2014 exhibition at Anna Schwartz Gallery when he went up and down big ladders for three hours painting over his artworks – abstract self-portraits some of which had sold for more than $100,000 – with red paint.

Parr has a retrospective at the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra, opening in August, and he suggested it should include a similar act of creative destruction.

The idea did not go down well with Parr’s curator.

“He looked at me and said: ‘Mike if you keep talking like that, we’ll have to search you before you come into the gallery’.”

The opening night performance will be filmed and displayed with his Biennale artwork, The Side I Least Like, which consists of 164 sketches drawn on boards over 15 years that are laid on the floor of an exhibition space at Carriageworks.

Visitors will walk on the drawing boards, which Parr donated to the Art Gallery of NSW and then persuaded it to lend back.

“I had to go through an extraordinary interrogation with the Art Gallery of NSW’s conservators because everyone became very anxious that all this stuff was going to be damaged,” Parr says.

But Parr put their minds at ease.

“I said, ‘No, no. It’s going to be extended into a further state’,” he says. “It may end up with stiletto heel holes in some of the stuff and it might get scuffed and worn but I consider that just to be a further extension of the process.”