when it’s gone, it’s gone
No, the image is not something that can be broadcast as a sanitized clip on television or printed as a carefully stylized photograph in a newspaper or hung on the wall of a gallery. This image is insurmountably real. The image is now – shocking, confusing, terrifying.
William Hunt is a performance artist who, in his work, uses and abuses his own body and – although this may sound strange – turns it into poetry. In this sense, his work is staged. Hunt’s performances are presented within an artistic context.
The artist’s performances challenge the limitations of his own physique. In Hunt’s solo exhibition at the Witte de With in Rotterdam in 2008, he almost suffocated after covering his face with plaster. In But it was not to be (2014), he was suspended upside down in the air, playing a piano that hung from a metal beam. And in Still yourself and calm your boots (2014), he filmed himself crashing a car into a wall at full speed. Hunt’s body, cocooned in a safety suit, transformed from an active subject pressing the accelerator pedal to become a crash-test dummy crawling out of the car and staggering around before, trembling all over his body, breaking into song in front of the wrecked car.
Hunt’s work echoes the ideas of one of the most famous twentieth-century art philosophers. In 1936, Walter Benjamin wrote in Das Kunstwerk im Zeitalter seiner technischen Reproduzierbarkeit that, as a consequence of the new “reproductive” media of photography and film, a gulf was developing between feeling and seeing. The body lost its tangible substance, evaporated, became unreal, a phantom that disappeared as soon as you opened your eyes. William Hunt enters into battle with this intangibility of the body, making it both radically tangible and vulnerable. The consequence is a short circuit between looking and feeling: looking away is not an option, all you can do is experience it.
Lucette ter Borg