Crash Test Dummy
In his practice Artist Tom Estes creates socially engaged performance work that is both participatory and immersive while at the same time a playful messing with habitual ways of thinking.
Estes is interested in the relationship between machines and humans. In his Live Art performance Estes stages an ‘action’ and then ask members of the audience to take pictures on a ‘communal camera’. In this way, the audience becomes part of the performance, and the pictures are then posted on on-line social networking sites and web sites for another, wider on-line audience.
At Health & Safety Violation, Estes performed his seemingly inconsequential action within the deliberately dangerous and fragile environment of Ben Woodeson’s sculpture in which ‘every action has an equal an opposite reaction’. Documentation of the evenings actions was performed by visitors to the exhibition using a communal camera; and on this occasion selected images were also displayed in the gallery space for the duration of the exhibition.
At the core of Estes’ work is an attention to digital platforms and new forms of interconnectivity. Estes’ performance- a form of intellectual mischief-making- is designed to question the relationship between life in real time and of reality as it is increasingly experienced online. We are being completely enveloped by abstract systems and inundated with information that we are struggling to come to terms with. And while machines enable us to do things they also do things to us and do things at us. Estes’ practice seems to capture the strategic orientation and inescapable reflectiveness of cyberspace. Whatever may be said about the internet one thing remains certain- as a primary means of global communication the internet is resulting in a massive social transformation. In liberation-speak the internet favors private, unconditional, sovereign freedom over scientific, conditional and institutional freedom. Yet Estes’ performance work emits an aura of agitation that undermines the authority of this rhetoric. The truth is that cyberspace is an increasingly efficient tool of surveillance with which people have a voluntary relationship.
Formally, Estes’ action invites a dialogue between stasis and dynamism, and psychologically, between reason and feeling. His perceptually oriented thought-puzzles are infused with humour, but the real difference and impact of Estes performance work, is as a potentially critical gesture. Estes’ performance Crash Test Dummy offers a parallel and contextual reading of the fundamental ideological fantasies that sustain our late capitalist society. Woodeson’s work is inspired by mass, friction, balance, gravity, momentum, potential and kinetic energy; basic rules that deliberately straddle a line between stability and instability, action and inaction. Estes’ performance takes Woodeson’s work one step further by contributing a real human interaction into a implied symbiotic relationship of balanced equilibrium which has potentially catastrophic consequences. Poised treacherously, the work inhabits a moment of possible action and subsequent reaction. So while this absurd yet playful performance toys in surprising ways with visual spectacle it is also nuanced enough to simultaneously traverse the Commodity Fetishism and popular Obscurantism of mainstream consumerist society.
Artist Tom Estes grew up on a small farm outside of Boston in the U.S.A. He moved to Paris and lived there for a couple of years before settling in London as a base of operations. His work has been shown nationally and internationally and he has regularly worked with collectives from the United Kingdom such as The Red Velvet Curtain Cult and Art Evict as well as The Biennial Project from Boston in the U.S.A.