October 2011

Arts & Letters

Performance art masterpiece

By Anne Marsh
Mike Parr - ‘Close the Concentration Camps’, 2002

A man sits slumped in a chair; he wears a black suit, white shirt and no tie. His right trouser leg is ripped across the thigh revealing the word ‘alien’ branded into his skin. This is a six-hour endurance piece. During this time his lips, eyes and ears are sewn together, rough surgical sutures cross his face, blood and iodine solution run from the wounds onto his white shirt. The man can’t speak; his vision is impaired. Before him a huge mirror reflects the viewers, mostly standing back against the clean white walls, secondary witnesses to the trauma enacted on the artist’s body.

The text along one wall incites us to ‘CLOSE THE CONCENTRATION CAMPS’. In a separate room excerpts from Not the Hilton: Immigration Detention Centres: Inspection Report, published in 2000, are projected onto the walls. Parr’s action is an empathetic gesture, in recognition of the trauma experienced by ‘illegal’ immigrants who were, at the time, sewing their lips shut as a protest against their prolonged incarceration.

Mike Parr consistently uses his body as a site for radical actions that explore the psychopathology of people and society. Staged almost a decade ago, this powerful work still resonates politically and speaks to the nation’s shame.

—Anne Marsh

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