Live Art on Oxford Street
by Rich Cline (writing as Jack Leger) • QX, February 2003
‘WHAT IS LIVE ART?’ This is the question asked by 30-year-old Joshua Sofaer, a gay artist is a whose latest project is a five-minute video in which he delivers a dead-straight lecture on Oxford Street about the difference between live art and performance art. But while watching you realize something is amiss. People are pointing and laughing at him. Finally at the end he turns around and cheerfully walks down the crowded street, revealing his arse hanging out of a neat little cut-out.
“I did this series of performances which were called Bare-Buttocked Lectures,” he explains, “and this is me wearing quite a neat formal suit but the hole is cut out of the butt. I started this for ICA’s 50th birthday celebrations in 1998. I had this idea that Prince Charles was conceived on the same day as the ICA’s first exhibition, 14 February 1948. He was born on the 14th of November, so I counted back to the conception, and I loved the idea that the Queen and Prince Philip were having sex on Valentine’s Day! The ICA began in what is now Marks & Spencer on Oxford Street, so I did this piece about the ICA, Marks & Spencer, Prince Charles’ conception, and Prince Charles as an artist. He does these watercolours and he sells lithographs for the Prince’s Trust and he raises a fortune with them!” And it just escalated from there.
DARWIN AND POPPERS. His next Bare-Buttocked Lecture was about embarrassment, a performance that took him to art schools all over the country ... and even to Finland. “The idea was that I would try to become embarrassed,” he says. “I go through various different ways to make myself embarrassed and one of these is wearing the bare-buttocked suit. But my theory was that because I’d set up as my task to become embarrassed, it was never going to be possible. The second you say ‘I’m embarrassed’ you stop being embarrassed. Eventually I end up trying to convince people that I’m sniffing poppers. Darwin talks about blushing a lot. (You see, Darwin and poppers sums up the kind of work I’m trying to make!) Physiologically what happens when you blush is that the capillaries become dilated with blood in the cheeks. And that’s what happens when you take poppers. Amyl nitrate used to be given to people when they were in the throes of a heart attack because it opens all the capillaries and the blood rushes through the body. But in fact I’m not really sniffing poppers, because I kind of make a general habit of not sniffing poppers!”
Joshua’s free-form way of talking is thoroughly entertaining, so why does he perform bare-buttocked? “Well, buttocks are really interesting things because they are kind of an object of humour, a space of ... well ...dirt, and an object of desire, all in one package. And it’s the one thing that masculinity is threatened by, in hetero-normative terms. The straight male thinks the butt is the no-go. And so to expose your butt is a shock. It’s interesting in the video because only girls really react, apart from one American bloke that screams out ‘Nice ass!’ Men won’t look. Men find it very difficult to be confronted with an arse. Maybe not gay men, but straight men.
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