Rewind: PETER CRIPPS: Namelessness

By Peter Cripps

Originating in 1988, the play Namelessness and its accompanying theatre installation (along with other works, including paintings, sculptural models, concrete poems and stage pictures) tended to cut across more traditional boundaries of art production. Namelessness was produced in a reconstructed, life-size model theatre located within the exhibition space of an actual museum.

Peter Cripps, Namelessness 1988. Courtesy the artist and ACCA Archive

Namelessness was realized with contributions from other artists including Ruth Gall-Bucher and Bob Lingard who assisted in the writing of the script, and David Hirst who wrote the original score for the production and was produced by myself. The work was performed at three venues by Jane Burton, Katarina Cobanovich and Bruce Hay.

As a play and exhibition, Namelessness was first exhibited at the University of Tasmania’s Centre for the Arts Gallery in September-November in 1988 where it was curated by Bob Jenyns. Later that same year it was presented at the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne (December 1988-January 1989) and then at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in mid 1989.

At ACCA, a life-size reconstruction of a theatre (based on the Gossard Bra and Girdal Theatre located in the Gossard Building on Franklin Street, Melbourne) was installed for a program of performances in the recently opened Loti Smorgon Gallery. ACCA’s three front galleries and hallway contained an exhibition of photographs of stage pictures, concrete poetry, sculptural models and props for the play. Namelessness stood at odds to contemporary perceptions of what a contemporary play or performance could be. It attracted an engaged audience of people who often stayed on drinking and discussing the play and related issues within contemporary art.

Namelessness (1988) was the fourth in a series of plays and performances that included By the Fire in the Light of Your Eyes (1976), Hidden Knowledge or the Bare Arse of Superman (1977) and City Life (1981). In their own way, each work was concerned with the sociological and artistic exploration of ideas to do with time, memory, history and its selective construction, and the role of the museum in relation to these matters.

Peter Cripps, By the Fire in the Light of Your Eyes 1976. Courtesy the artist and ACCA Archive

By the Fire in the Light of Your Eyes was performed in a private house in Franklin, Tasmania. Two female performers moved from room to room carrying out a private conversation. The audience followed as the performers discussed political and social issues in the context of their own personal lives.

Hidden Knowledge or the Bare Arse of Superman was performed at the Institute of Technology, Mt Nelson, Hobart in the performing arts theatre. In the center of the theatre was a series of props set up for the scenes. The performers again moved from set to set with the audience moving around the outside area following the events on stage.

City Life was curated by Robert Lindsay for the National Gallery of Victoria and was performed in the temporary exhibitions hall. City Life was accompanied by improvised jazz from Judy Jacques and Barry Veith and had a strong Dada/Surrealist orientation which revealed the psychologeography of Melbourne. On this occasion City Life and Namelessness were both performed in the same reconstructed, life size theatre.

Namelessness, the play and the exhibition, later appeared in the survey exhibition, Peter Cripps: Towards an Elegant Solution, which was held at ACCA in 2010. This exhibition brought together past and present works and contextualized Namelessness in relationship to my forty years of artistic practice. A selection of stage pictures and a documentary video of the play from 1988 were included, along with backdrops and props from the play City Life. As with the staging of the original performance at ACCA in 1988, there was a strong interest from a younger generation. Following my public lecture given on my installations and artist plays, discussion and conversations extended into the night.

Peter Cripps, City Life 1981 Courtesy the artist and ACCA Archive

The exhibition and performance Peter Cripps: Namelessness – A play and Installation was held at ACCA from 2 December 1988 – 22 January 1989.                     

Peter Cripps started exhibiting in a number of key commercial galleries during the late 1980’s. He had the first exhibition at Peter Bellas Gallery, Brisbane in 1987 and started exhibiting with City Gallery (later Anna Schwartz Gallery) in 1989. Recently the artist has re-strategised his practice and is working on a project-based way of working that is independent from the commercial gallery agenda of exhibitions.  

See Tension 15, 1988 p 12 – 1