The Artist Will Be Present (2007)

Chris Braddock was the International Artist-in-Residence (AIR) at RMIT University, Melbourne, from July-August 2007. His project entitled ‘The Artist Will Be Present’ was exhibited in the RMIT School of Art Gallery during the residency.


Take 1-18, 2007, epoxy clay on wooden trestle-tables
Above, 2007, dvd, 28 minutes looped (projected on the wall)
Sculpsit, 2006, fabric on plaster (mounted on the wall)
Participate #2, 2007, dvd, 13 minutes, workshop in the AIR studio with RMIT students, 11 July 2007 (small lcd screen hung close to the gallery exit)


Dressed in ambiguity, Chris Braddock’s recent works lure us into an intimate connection with the artist. In a kind of physical soliloquy, Braddock documents himself in material forms and engages his viewer in such a manner that comfortable physical boundaries are undermined. His practice has dealt with notions of the body, its embodiment and trace, for a number of years and while his subject may not be new, his intentional resistance to reveal the true nature of the works in The Artist will be Present raises new questions about the etiquette of disclosure and the way in which the body is revealed.

For the entire duration of the DVD work Above the artist is seen naked from above as he hunches over and contorts himself. His physical stance does not alter significantly, suggesting that he is engaged in a repetitive activity. The muffled and slapping audio does not enlighten the activity but indicates that the artist may be handling and pushing an object between his knees. The nature of his activity is never fully disclosed. The high camera angle intentionally prevents us from knowing what the artist is doing, which, coupled with his nudity, suggests that what we see is private and clandestine. The process is drawn out with no clear sequence or resolution. This intense ambiguity is paralleled in the abstracted forms that lay nearby on trestle tables.

The forms, each the same hue of tepid green and each made from the same amount of material, also reference the body, but in vast and ambivalent terms. They could be ancient remains from an archaeological find, dismembered limbs at a morgue or bizarre fetish toys. They could be Modernist sculptures, chriomogenically frozen organs or models of organic cell mutations. They are curious and alluring objects and their presentation entices you to hold them, to move them and ultimately, to decipher them.

A dvd work documenting viewers participating with these works, installed on a small lcd screen close to the exit of the gallery nods at one’s desire to hold the works. If, for no other reason than the fact that you are allowed to engage with the artwork in such an unmannered way, the objects are bizarre and entice our prying interest.

The material substance of the work is intriguing; each is dense yet surprisingly light to lift, hard yet supple, one is aware of their brittleness and seduced by their polished yet flawed surface. The unique imperfections in the surfaces of each form are key to understanding them. As you trace lines and folds through the blemished surface and forms it becomes obvious that these objects have, at some point in their making, pressed up against the surface of a body.

Each work is in fact a record of the spaces between the artist’s body. Unlike earlier works in which his body has been compared to exterior forms, Take 1–18 documents the relative spaces within his own body. The gap between two ankles, the space between two thighs or the area between a cocked neck and shoulder are set in epoxy clay. Although not strictly performance, Braddock’s Take 1-18 are the result of an engaged performance between the artist and his body and, as such, are more than a mere representation of the body.

You think you spot an impression of an elbow or a knee and thus begin a process of identification as you link each work to a potential body part. Which body part could this refer to, where and for whom was it made? The impressions are seldom obvious and their encryption takes concerted effort to decode. The physical differences between the artist and his viewer are amplified by the impossible task of comparing the objects to one’s own body. Even if you are able to correctly identify a work and assign it to a relative body space, it only matches the unique shape of its creator.

You’d be forgiven if you suddenly become less than comfortable holding the works. Realizing that the object you hold is the impression of the space under the artist’s armpit may warrant you putting it back on the table in a hurry. For, at that moment, it becomes clear that each work embodies an intimate physical experience with the artist. And your participation lends this proposition meaning and makes these works relational objects.

Braddock’s orchestration of The Artist Will be Present challenges our limits of private space and physical contact. By only partially revealing his process we are unsure of the artist’s intentions, and the intense ambiguity coaxes us to decipher the nature of the work. Once you gain a closer understanding of the work a flood of conceptual possibilities accrues. The presentation of the forms and the covert dvd hints at ritualism while nudity and exposure make evident the sexuality inherent within the work. We, as viewers and participants, become embodied in the work at this point of contact. Is this intentional non-disclosure a perverse violation of the etiquette of social interaction? There is certain eeriness to this participation and metaphorical embodiment of another. And one can’t help but wonder if the viewer is exploited in participation.

But in a way Braddock himself is the exploited subject of his work. He traps his body into objects that are then displayed frankly and used as a tool to interact with strangers. Perhaps this is born out of necessity to quantify himself, to stamp himself in this world by material means, or maybe an existential experiment that notes his indelible presence in his absence.

Ever which way, his approach is intentionally contentious. Under the guise of formlessness Braddock encourages a kind of mutual exploitation. He entices his viewer to experience an embodiment of himself, which, in turn, raises questions of consent. The impact is profound, as it demands a reevaluation of our personal levels of comfort with physical contact and the naked body. We have, after all, just fondled a stranger.

Anna Jackson. (2007). “Dressed in Ambiguity”, The Artist Will Be Present, Melbourne, RMIT University.