Performance artist Amy Lee Sanford tackles a subject familiar to many Khmer people: the experience of trauma, loss and remembering. Amy’s durational performance, in which she breaks and then reassembles 40 Kompong Chhang clay pots, is at once a reflection of her endeavor to return to her family’s past and reassemble the pieces of individuals’ memories and an artistic endeavor in itself.
Seeing Amy’s performance as an aesthetic piece, without a will to reflect a human experience, is the way I want to consider Amy’s ‘Full Circle’. Having visited Amy in Metahouse on the first and last evening of her performance, I was struck by the idea that Amy must have timed this perfectly. Hence seeing this work as a piece of art in isolation: its frame is a time-frame (13th-18th March), its dimensions are defined by the size of the pre-made, almost identical clay pots sitting side-by-side to create a circle. Amy incorporates herself into her work of art: she moves with calm deliberation, she pauses as a recently broken clay pot finishes rocking on the floor before she picks up the first piece, her toes are even slightly pointed when she allows herself to unfurl her legs from being crossed beneath her.
‘Full Circle’ has been treated by critics first and foremost as a reflection of a journey, but Amy chose to represent that story in this way, with these pots, over this period of time. You get the idea. It is a performance which is made of repeated movements, but is itself unrepeatable. Amy’s performance art might then be the art which philosopher Giorgio Agamben searches for, or at least, an attempt to reclaim it from the pre-Industrial world: it occupies the aesthetic sphere which exists on the condition that manual and intellectual labour are not divided. In ‘Full Circle’, Amy Lee Sanford manipulates clay pots, her body, and space in time, through a process which articulates and constantly creates itself as an aesthetic piece.
Unlike paintings or sculpture, ‘Full Circle’ as a performance piece is ephemeral. But ‘Full Circle’ does not remain entirely isolated in its unrepeatable, ir-replicable being. Photographs were taken, every second, from the side and from above. Even when Amy had no audience, the cameras ‘captured’ her working. These photographs will constitute another dimension to this work of art, existing alongside but never interfering with ‘Full Circle’ as a performance piece. The dynamic between the performance artwork and the photographs which document that performance create a dialogue between the work of art as unique and original object and the work of art as repeated, technically produced product. This debate originates with Walter Benjamin, for whom modern art had reached a crisis point. Amy Lee Sanford does not reconcile this crisis, which sees the work of art as original creation and replicable object brought into the same space, but the very room in which she works both represents and is that space. Amy uses the room in Metahouse as a space in which we might draw out the formally distinct art/object relationship and see it in a different dimension.
The photographic medium will inevitably be the one that people now interact with. The 40,000 shots (I am told) will become a time-lapse piece which will be on display at galleries and festivals. The paradigm has shifted and perhaps the ideas I have been struck with having seen Amy at work will not occur to new audiences who observe Amy indirectly, interacting with ‘Full Circle’ in a different space, through a lens. The memory of this endeavor might well last as long as these photographs are displayed, undoubtedly prolonging the life-span of ‘Full Circle’, but maybe this is just a ghost of its former, original and ir-replicable self. Go and see performance art, sit with the artist, share their space and their process.