Our work defines who we are. We could exaggerate a bit if we wanted to feel more important or we could ignore the fact and let people think what they like. Artists, as people, are most susceptible to this dilemma. We admire the person who can speak eloquently about their work and not so much the person who is not so articulate in explaining their work. As if the work itself needs connection to something we understand, or strive to understand. So we ignore the work we don't understand. It is in this train of thought, that I try to understand the work of John Court where belief in his devotion to action precedes any understanding of the work. I say "belief" because this is the only way to connect with his language of "action".
When I first looked at the work of John Court what comes to mind is the repetitious rituals of a religious fanatic who is intent to gain wisdom from their scriptures. Similar trance like states are achieved by Court through durational performance pieces and the lack of text or scripture is replaced by premeditated actions, repeated in precise durations in the hope to realise something meaningful.
A difference should be made between written Scripture and Orality for our religionists seeking wisdom, both are valid and both require rigorous repetition to be preserved and passed on to the next generation. And for John Court, Orality is performed in a very physically repetitive manner according to very rigorous durations.
John Court keeps on saying he is interested in "the idea" But what is it ? What is the concept for each piece. But because we are outside of conventional language he relies totally on "the action" to convey this meaning. Not even an image to understand the performance or preserve the meaning of the work. No, only "the action" gives understanding and meaning. So in this zone of "the action" John Court plays with time exploring bodily memory experiences from the past and also relates to the physical acts of going backwards and forward in performance actions. This practice is emancipatory for him, projecting a self knowledge from performance evoked memories and understandings.
Court refers to the audience as the witness. And his reason for doing Art is for this connection. He is quite uncomfortable with participatory or socially connected art and the same for word audiences. He is happy with the freedom of his own Orality which is the driving force behind his Art. But to fully appreciate his work his audience must strip back preconceived literacy conventions and be prepared to empathise with the idea of emancipatory self discovery.
Court's opportunities in China are looked upon with favour and the repetitive durational performances connect well with audiences accustom to this mind-set. He uses the figure 8, which in China is symbolic of luck and infinity, as the basis for his work there which further engages the Oriental mind and thinking. In his homeland of Europe, it seems to me that he has attained cult status based on his refusal to intellectualise his art together with his ability to continue practicing a highly energetic durational performance art.