Acting Out

Acting Out

Adam Art Gallery at Victoria University of Wellington

(1) Jack Body, Sexus, 1971–72. 16mm film still from multimedia performance. Collection of Nga Taonga Sound and Vision, Wellington. (2) VALIE EXPORT, Touch Cinema, 1968 (still). Single channel video, 1 minute 8 seconds. Courtesy of Electronic Arts Intermix (EAI), New York. (3) Sorawit Songsataya, Sad, 2017. Production image for 3D printed sculpture. Courtesy of the artist.

May 16, 2017
Acting Out
May 6–July 9, 2017
Adam Art Gallery at Victoria University of Wellington
PO Box 600
Gate 3, Kelburn Parade
Wellington 6140
New Zealand
Hours: Tuesday–Sunday 11am–5pm
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Artists: Jack Body/John Miller, Edward Bullmore, VALIE EXPORT, Sarah Lucas, Sarah Munro, Glenn Otto, Pipilotti Rist, Signe Rose, Sorawit Songsataya. Curated by Stephen Cleland

“What then are the stereotypical characteristics of that typical New Zealander? He belongs to a ‘passionless society’ where people are reticent, where sensuality is suspect, where men do not cry … Much of New Zealand music is characterised by an emotional restraint that borders on inhibition.”
—Jack Body*

Acting Out surveys a selection of New Zealand and international artists who address the physicality of the body. The exhibition presents art works produced over the past four decades that in various ways exhibit relations between bodies and forms. Situating the body as both the subject and means for producing their work, these practitioners investigate the ongoing entanglement of the body with the making of art. Acting Out offers a range of gendered perspectives, bringing to the fore artists who express the raw physicality of sex with varying degrees of candour.

Acting Out’s starting point is the liberal context of the 1960s and 1970s, when conservative attitudes towards sexuality were questioned and overturned. In New Zealand, as elsewhere, these shifting attitudes towards the body began to appear in performance-based art practices which at times mixed with other live disciplines. Two such historic performance events, instigated by the late Wellington composer Jack Body—a key figure at Victoria University of Wellington’s school of music remembered especially for his energetic collaborations—are referenced and partially reconstructed here.

Acting Out brings Jack Body’s multi-media performance event, Sexus (1972) and his Dream Room (1974) featuring a selection of New Zealand painter Edward Bullmore’s three-dimensional painted canvases into focus, reconceiving them in a gallery context. Bullmore’s and Body’s sexual yet ambiguous forms are echoed and extended in paintings and sculptures by British artist Sarah Lucas and New Zealanders Sarah Munro, Glenn Otto, Signe Rose and Sorawit Songsataya. These artists variously treat surfaces as “skin” and marks as gestures, updating and resignifying the body as a material site of gendered, sexual, social and political investment. Together with this treatment of the body-as-sculpture, the show features image-based works by VALIE EXPORT, Pipilotti Rist and Sarah Lucas. The thread that links these works is a self-reflexive and sometimes humourous negotiation of the charged terrain of the gendered and sexual body, the orifices and protrubences of which invite attention and connection, even as they challenge propriety and complicate social convention.

The title Acting Out alludes to the childish and adolescent tendency to “act” up—misdemeanor as a necessary rite of passage towards adulthood. The term also has curious associations within psychoanalysis, where to act out is to express repressed or unconscious feelings through overt or exaggerated behaviour. This particular group of artists afforded curator Stephen Cleland the opportunity to conceptualise an exhibition where such overtly acted out gestures extend to playful solutions for populating the galleries with works; be it floating art works above voids, suspending them from the ceiling or scattering objects across a floor.

The Adam Art Gallery is the art gallery of Victoria University of Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand. It is a forum for critical thinking about art and its histories as well as the professional structure within which the Victoria University Art Collection is managed. The gallery’s programmes aim to test and expand art form and disciplinary boundaries and create new opportunities to bring artists together and generate fresh conversations. The gallery is a remarkable architectural statement designed by the late Sir Ian Athfield, one of New Zealand’s foremost architects.


For further inquiries about the exhibition please contact


*Jack Body, as quoted in Canzona magazine, 1981. From Murray Edmond, “Jack Body and Multimedia Performance 1968–1975,” Landfall, 2015, issue 230, 140.

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Adam Art Gallery at Victoria University of Wellington
May 16, 2017

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