Mike Parr is widely regarded as one of the most gifted living Australian artists and the most outstanding Australian artist of his generation. Born in 1945, Sydney, with only one arm, Mike specializes in performance works that test the limits of his own body for shock value, to question creativity itself and what exactly art is. He has cut, punctured, burned and otherwise injured himself for his work. His displays are rarely comfortable and often have a deeply impacting affect on his audiences. His other works include videos, drawings (which includes a lot of self portraits), photographs and prints. Parr’s works have been exhibited in Australia and internationally, including in Brazil, Cuba, France, Germany, Hungary, Japan, Korea, Taiwan and the United States.

To give an example of one of his earlier works, Parr sits in front of his audience and begins talking to them. Most of the people in the audience have no idea that he has one prosthetic arm.. Suddenly he gets out an axe and begins hacking into his prosthetic arm which he has filled with minced meat and something red for blood. Needless to say the majority of the audience is shocked, thinking this is real.

About a year ago, probably Parr's most challenging performance, ‘ For Water from the Mouth’ was held. For ten whole days, Parr was isolated in a room, with no human contact, held at the gallery Artspace (www.artspace.org.au), without anything but water to keep him alive. His every action surveyed by video cameras and web cams, live on Internet for 24 hours a day.

A stitch in time was another of his performances, a live web cam showing Parr having his lips and face extensively stitched up with thread into a caricature of shame. Parr describes this piece as dealing "...directly with the kinds of dissociation that are induced by technology, that people can simply go on inflicting discomfort, pain and death, without any concern at all for the subject."
"I don't imagine for a moment that I'm risking irreparable damage or death," he quips. "It is not my ambition for this to be my last performance."

One of his most recent performance works was held between the third and fourth of May this year. The performance was broadcast over the web and in the first 24 hours alone received more than 250,000 hits. For thirty hours Parr sat in a gallery (again at Artpace) with his only arm nailed to the wall. This was called "Malevich (A Political Arm) performance for as long as possible". To communicate the racist policies behind Australia's detention centres and the treatment of refugees and asylum seekers.

The focal point to the work is the confrontational pain. Mike Parr sat, his arm nailed to the wall, with tape over his eyes, drinking, not eating and urinating onto the floor through his pants. The nail passing through fatty tissue and skin, but not muscle. Rather than blood, yellowed streaks of Betadine trailed down the surface of the wall, the residue of the artists two-hourly swab treatments. There is nowhere he can move without causing more pain, and there is nothing but the whiteness of the walls and the expression of pain on the artists face. For the people who are viewing this work, there is no possibility of interacting with the artist. He insists that everything is kept quiet, the audience feeling completely removed from the experience, the artist becoming an object when the audience are physically able to move away from the artist and examine the other works in the adjoined room. By the inclusion of the human body, the message becomes more true to life. In the artists own words, "Performance art represents the representational as a perpetual crisis of the real".

Parr can be seen as an attention seeker, with his work being far too self-indulgent. People ask are we supposed to empathize with this artist who tortures himself? Or is the artist a symbolic representation of the pain and trauma experienced by others?
Others have described his work as 'subtle, considered, compelling and communicative'.

The artists latest display of works was at the University of Queenslands Art Museum. 'Latemouth: Works on paper 1987–2003' consists of Mike Parr’s prints on paper. The works were the result of a 16-year collaboration between Mike Parr and printmaker John Loane.

Sources, and more information:

For photos of "Malevich (A Political Arm) performance for as long as possible":

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