Violence as art: novel explores life as a high-risk performance artist

Bruce Dennill talks to Dawn Garisch about her new book ‘Accident’

01 August 2017 - 11:50 By Bruce Dennill
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As complex and original as Accident is - the book explores the difficult relationship between a single mother who's a medical doctor and a son who's a risk-taking performance artist - it still qualifies, for author and doctor Dawn Garisch, as ''writing about what you know".

We chat to Garisch about the book.

You're fascinated by the interface between art and medicine. What was the process of examining that via fictional characters like?

Much of my work explores the perceived split in our society between art and science, poetry and analysis, symbol and fact.

In Accident, a doctor, Carol, uses reason to address the conflicts of illness and injury in the bodies of her patients.

Her performance artist son, Max, uses his own body as a vehicle for often violent disturbance in the name of art. Both are using different approaches to try to wake people up to their destructive behaviours.

'Accident' by Dawn Garisch.
'Accident' by Dawn Garisch.
Image: Supplied

I wanted to explore the power of images through the medium of performance art, and whether they have the ability to make us wake up and take note.

I also feel as though I live in the interdisciplinary zone between art and science, and wish I could be a visual artist, or a musician as well, but there are only so many hours in a day.

Then I realised that I could write an artist, instead of being one, which in the case of Max is a good thing, as I would have killed myself in any one of his performances!

Who was the more difficult character to develop? Carol is presumably more like yourself, while Max's commitment to his art is extraordinarily compelling (and worrying)?

I know Carol's situation very well, although she is not me. I have always been interested in art and researched performance art to make Max's character convincing.

I asked two artists to read the manuscript to see whether Max's work and character were convincing and their responses were encouraging.

As the creator of Max's perspective, how do you feel about the conversations he started?

I'm interested in the line between genius and craziness and in how young people can embark on unsafe practices with an attitude of invincibility. I'm interested in how art can help us manage our lives and change our minds. I wanted to present an extreme example of a mother's concern and a son's determination to break away and find his own path. And I wanted to explore her response.

There are a number of performance artists who've put their lives on the line, or who've run the risk of injury. I wanted to explore that and to try to understand their motivation - whether it's inspired by our society's drive towards the sensational and the destructive, or whether and when there was something behind it that could be altruistic.

• This article was originally published in The Times

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