It is in this once-removed form that an aspiring performance artist comes to know the lineage of their chosen medium. Kersels’ decisive-moment framing of his staged traumas dovetails neatly with Performance’s wryly self-reflexive engagement with its own compromised evidence trail, particularly through his UCLA mentor Paul McCarthy’s 1968 action Leap, a re-creation of Leap into the Void (French trickster Yves Klein’s notorious 1960 purported self-defenestration whose documentation turned out to be a faked photograph which, at the time of his performance, McCarthy had never even seen.)
Added to this house of mirrors, Kersels’ cibachrome pratfalls ought to beg the question of authenticity. In truth, their sense of immediacy and spontaneity is belied by the lengthy photo sessions and elaborate editing involved — Kersels often selecting a couple of shots from scores taken by his wife, Mary Collins. And I have to admit that when I saw his black-and-white Falling photos in 1995 — the ones where you can’t see his feet — I suspected there might be some hidden structural support propping him up. But aside from those deliberate formal ambiguities, Kersels’ work manages to convey a sense of both high theatricality and militant authenticity.
It all comes down to the body. Gifted as he is in this area, Kersels has created work hinging on physical presence and/or absence since his days with XXXL 80s performance troupe Shrimps. What comes across most clearly in “Heavyweight Champion” is the progression from the doomy, goofy isolation of his early sculptural surrogates — works like Monkey Pod, MacArthur Park and the artist’s punching-bag clown as oceanless Buoy (1997–98) — to the more recent social work, like the handmade Foley art instruments for his Orchestra for Idiots (2005), which, if not exactly optimistic, leaves the possibility open for some kind of connection."
Read the rest of The Big Frame: The Other Martin K here.
These images have been modified for greater torqueleptic Angemessenheit. The middle image is not Paul McCarthy's 1968 Leap, which was apparently undocumented, but his 1972 work Face Painting-Floor, White Line.
"Heavyweight Champion" is on view at SMMOA through Dec 13.