Think performance art isn’t for you? Hold your horses. In her first major solo exhibition, young London-based artist Leah Capaldi treads the usual body-as-art performance territory, but she manages to make it her own with a blend of short film and live performance all contained in the shiny new Matt’s Gallery space. As you walk in, you find a hired performer prostrate on a raised platform. But he’s not the main event; he’s concealed behind a projector screen, cut with three small holes for his limbs to poke through.
In front, Capaldi projects footage from her travels in America’s deep west and runs it on a loop from two different angles. We watch as a Utah cowboy struggles with a horse, coaxing it into submission, posturing for the cameras. At timed intervals, the performer places an arm or two legs through the projection.We cringe as the horse continues to buck and whinny in distress. Dressed in spurs and leather chaps, the cowboy speaks calmly, willing her toward the grass.
Telling us what we already know, he says, “she is going through a complete mental disaster.” By the end, the horse has lost; she’s down on the ground, she has given over to her owner. Experiencing this moment of defeat is horrible as it is captivating, and the interruption of the performer’s motionless limbs makes it feel all the more downbeat and hopeless.
‘Lay Down’ does exactly what performance art should: it takes you out of your own urge to roll eyes and protest pretension. Capaldi has said that she hopes to ‘prod’ viewers out of a daydream with her work. With ‘Lay Down’, she grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me out of mine.