Spanish-born Miquel Barceló is an artist. Josef Nadj, originally from the former Yugoslavia, is a performer. Their 50-minute duet, Paso Doble is, aptly, performance art. For most of the piece, the balance tilts towards art. At first we don’t see the performers at all, just two great slabs of clay forming a wall and a floor. Little bubbles are punched into the wall from behind, blowpipes are poked through, and we glimpse fanning fingers. It is like seeing barnacles and anemones emerging from a mud-flat.
The duo come out front, dressed in suits and carrying giant modelling tools. They gouge the floor, plough into the wall, splat wet mud pies on to it and make masks from pots. Then they leave us to contemplate the artwork created by the residue of their actions: a messy mass of smears, lines and splodges spreading over the wall and floor.
Some contemporary art relies on a hidden backstory for significance; here, at least, we have just seen the story performed. But to what end? You might reflect on how our actions leave traces on the material world, the archaeology of our existence. Or you might wonder how many pots they get through per show.
The piece gets better later, when it tips towards performance. Nadj, with clay pots plonked on hands and head, is an ungainly flowerpot man. Barceló dumps more and more pots on top of his head, moulding sinister snouts and eyeholes into each successive helmet. He continues relentlessly, sadistically, until the weight of clay almost obliterates Nadj, pressing his body into the “artwork” itself. It is disturbing and thought-provoking, yet still a hair’s breadth from banal.
The piece ends as the men punch through the wall, finally disappearing into their own holes. I mean that literally – but if you take it metaphorically, that works, too.