Kicking off our Liveworks artist features is New Zealand based practitioner, Mark Harvey. Drawing from a background in dance and visual arts, Mark’s conceptually driven performances focus on the body as a medium for social and political dialogue. Often merging serious concepts with a sense of deadpan humour, Mark’s Helping Hand performance for Liveworks should be an intimately challenging affair. In anticipation of the festival, we were curious to catch up with Mark but he unfortunately finds himself in Finland right now so kindly sent through these responses instead.
1 – Can you tell us about your first really memorable performative experience?
For me there were two really memorable early experiences. One was when at the start of highschool in the mid 80’s I conceived, directed and co-performed with half my class a live stage response to the Young One’s version of Living Dole, which razzed up the whole school with its punk and anarchistic overtones. No one thought we could do it, and for me I feel I discovered something interesting for me about live performance that attempts to question the status quo.
The other time was when I started dance training at 19 and completely froze on stage during a ballet performance – the power of the potentiality of vulnerability and risk of failure that served to question dominant norms really stood out to me.
2 – Do you have a favourite performance work?
I don’t have one favourite work but I am a fan of many of Vito Acconci’s works from the early 70’s. The sense of simplistic actions along with psycho-social material he tested has always appealed to me.
3 – Would you agree that a lot of your work focuses on the body as a medium for political and social dialogue? If so, where do you think this stemmed from?
Yes I believe that’s the case for me. It comes from me growing up in a family with profoundly deaf parents, and, in addition to me always being physically active with growing up with doing work for no pay in my father’s small construction business, playing sport such as rugby at age 4 and then giving up on all of that macho stuff and training in contemporary dance at age 19 and then doing it professionally for a few years before turning to the dark side of art.
4 – A sense of deadpan comedy seems to be ever present within your performances. What is the importance of humour within you work?
For me I never intend to make my work funny for the sake of it. This way I think if people will find something funny then it might just be funnier for them. If they don’t find it funny then there’s less risk of not only it being found problematic because its jokes don’t work but also the work conceptually falling over. Where humour can eventuate for me there’s definitely an influence of my construction site and deaf culture origins, not to mention I guess an affiliation with punk related pop culture of decades gone by. (I also cherish awkward and vulnerable moments.)
5 – The narrowing and polarisation of individual views in contemporary society is a growing concern that your work for this year’s festival seems to address. Is this concept of exposing participants to differing political perspectives through performance partly in response today’s escalating divisions?
Absolutely. As I answer this there is about to be an election in my own country and the public discourses around it are more volatile than ever. Also, for me I don’t see people discussing their differences out in the open very much – so this is a chance for me to see what can happen if I can engage them on these kinds of levels.
If you’re willing to divulge, how do you envisage this taking place?
I will be setting up physical provocations that invite chatter and banter with punters. A goal of mine is to help people feel like they can do this with me if they are up to it. For me, the conversations I have with people is the most important part of my work, along with the physical challenges I often intentionally put myself through.
6 – Do you think people will be more understanding of opposing ideals when placed in these atypical situations?
That’s a good question. I’m expecting people to feel like they are being listened to and I’ve found that when this is achieved they tend to be more willing to take in other perspectives.