Choreography for the Running Male by Lithuanian artist Egle Budvytyte is a performative expression of gender and an investigation into the notion of gendered-identity. In this 30-minute mobile performance – shown as part of the 2014 Biennale of Sydney – a group of dozen men jog through the Sydney CBD carrying out, in unison, choreographed emotive expressions and militaristic sequences. These range from robust and masculine to fragile and feminine; the sudden shifts between the two emphasize the idea of gender as a performative act and a matter of ones choosing. The performance suggests the gender is socially constructed rather than biologically given property; Budvytyte perhaps draws upon the American gender theorist Judith Butler’s definition of gender as a performative act made of masculine or feminine gestures which are often unconsciously performed and, therefore, considered normative. The running men in Budvytyte’s work perform gender in deliberately ludicrous, over-the-top fashion to parody the conventional masculinity / femininity prejudices and highlight gender as acquired rather than innate.
Choreography for the Running Male also investigates and critiques crowd mentality. The cluster of men move as one single body (puppets in the artist’s hands) resembling the mob or indoctrinated mass. The unanimous action is made comical to satirise audience’s own inclination towards socially programmed and controlled behavior. This behavior is further tested and revealed as Budvytyte forces the audience to run after or alongside the running men in order to experience the work. The audience themselves are turned into the puppets; the scene is ridiculous. Enacting the action desired by the artist, audience becomes part of the work – an element of the performance.
Budvytyte works in tradition of avant-garde taking art out of the white-cube (or conventional performance space) and into the public domain where audience cannot escape it; the moving sculptures invade our space and attack us against our choosing. Nevertheless, the experience is nothing like the spectacular Vivid or similar event-economy extravaganzas. Although placed in a public sphere and therefore offered to all, Budvytyte’s work is subtle, almost invisible and philosophically charged; accessible only to those that are willing to invest into it.
In Dada or Futurist fashion the work is nonsensical; therefore not easily grasped or legible. The confusion aims to generate discussion, even if the one roused by the utter annoyance with the piece. However, given that we are now (unlike the audience in the 20s or 60s) well accustomed to this kind of street-based and goofy performance we might also pass by it neither amused nor annoyed but indifferent.