Six Ways To Kill seeks to explore the idea of experience as art object by displaying two-dimensional works that are vulnerable to the audience's initial unexperienced reading. This is reading is then subsequently challenged by a performative experience that facilitates a re-reading using a ‘veterans’ context.
When it was first exhibited in 2016, the work was comprised of five larger than life graphite drawings of the human form; men and women standing unprotected and seemingly oblivious to the audience. The drawings are presented without adornment or explanation beyond their names, leaving the audience free to draw their own conclusions. The viewing is immediately followed by the performative component, in this case a workshop presented in the presence of the drawings. The content of the workshop, specifically six methods to kill efficiently and effectively with a knife in close combat was derived from the personal material Michael had been involved in developing and delivering to soldiers throughout his military career.
“Those experiences speak powerfully to me as artist; they are a raw documentation of my participation in the facilitation of violence, both my own and my ‘students.’ It demonstrated the repurposing of my body necessitated by my military service.” “For the participants, the workshop provided an insight into my mindset and more broadly the soldier mindset, the conditioning that we must undergo and the awful ‘knowledge’ that is retained from such exposure.”
The sharing of experience is a powerful method of unification; one that is used enthusiastically within the military to form powerful bonds between individuals. The act of engaging in the training with Michael as ‘performer’, generated an authenticity and empathy for his experiences as a soldier, thereby facilitating a deeper understanding of the content and inscriptions he had endowed within his art objects.
“Physiological and physiological reactions are experienced by participants in response to my stimulus; changes to heart rate, breathing, feelings of disgust and excitement.”
Within the work, the body is physically present but increasingly becomes ‘self-aware’ as the killing drills are described and rehearsed. The visceral components of blood, arteries and vulnerable organs are exposed despite remaining invisible to view. They are imagined, explored and viewed with fascination, revulsion and fear as the participants visualise the effects of the techniques they are learning; a fictional but nonetheless powerful imagining. Once exposed, the audience becomes ‘complicit and certified’, having ‘lived’ a story and is now responsible as holders of ‘dangerous’ knowledge. The art-objects are re-constituted as a result of the performance must be reinterpreted through the experiences of the audience as well as the time and place. The gaze of the drawn subjects become submissive, their bodies vulnerable, the major arteries the subject of deadly strikes almost pulsating with anticipation to the newly attuned awareness of the audience. “The artwork becomes a means through which to ‘incarnate my ideas rather than just express them’, a means through which to bridge the inherent language limitations resident within an art object.”
All quotes are Michael Armstrong 2016.
The work began with five larger than life drawings in 2016 but now encompasses a range of small studies and a select range of larger than life works as Michael continues to explore the themes within Six Ways to Kill.
If you are interested in exhibiting, purchasing or learning more about Six Ways to Kill please contact Michael through the CONTACT tab on this website.