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Geoffrey Hendricks: Fluxus Viking

There is something both archaic and timely about Geoffrey Hendricks’ performance work. By covering himself with branches, painting himself blue like the sky, or performing headstands out of doors, Hendricks reorients his relationship to nature. In so doing he acknowledges the mystery and power of nature without seeking to control it or substantially alter it (as in Land Art or much contemporary art that deals with the environment). By skewing his perception of reality, as in a headstand, Hendricks seeks to heighten both his and the viewer’s sense of being in the moment and harmonizing with the environment. By clothing himself in branches or “clouds,” Hendricks aspires to a negation of self in the face of nature.

From the Sea June 1 by Geoffrey Hendricks, 1985, for Festival of Fantastics, Roskilde, Denmark, photo credit: Berty Skuber.

Otto Hendrickson, Hendricks’ grandfather came to the United States from Norway, and some of Hendricks’ performance work reflects a yearning to explore uncharted territory like the Norsemen who ventured out of slender fjords to sail oceans. Hendricks insists that he is no missionary, but he believes that our times call for healing, and that if we are to survive, we must redefine our relationship with nature. Not surprisingly his work has been most favorably received in the progressive social democracies of Scandinavia.

During the 1985 Festival of the Fantastics in Roskilde, Denmark, Hendricks performed a work titled To the Sea. It took place on a dock, off the main harbor of Roskilde, where Denmark had built an experimental energy station. The station included a windmill and the only atomic reactor in the country. There was a boat at this dock that had carried artists and participants from Roskilde harbor, and Hendricks christened it the Fluxship George Maciunas.

Hendricks made his entrance covered with leaves which he proceeded to shed, emerging naked. He then bathed and performed rituals with Phillip Corner. One ritual involved Hendricks holding a bicycle wheel between his feet and Corner spinning it in a Duchampian evocation of clean, waste-free energy. Hendricks then covered himself with branches, and poured water on his head. He then boarded the Fluxship, braced himself at the prow, and sailed back to Roskilde harbor. Finally, Hendricks descend the gangplank onto terra firma and walked through yellow mustard flowers to a cathedral where Kings and Queens of Denmark lie buried.

Geoffrey Hendricks tying branches and trees to his body, on the beach at Rosa Pineta, Italy, July 5, 1974, from Between Two Points (Fra Due), photo credit: Mario Parolin, Archive Francesco Conz.

Geoffrey Hendricks is more peaceful than his Viking forbears, but his work has an interesting affinity with pre-Christian Norse mythology, and culture. Between farming and seafaring, Vikings had found a way of life that was very close to nature, and ecology still has a strong foothold in Scandinavia. By way of his performance work, which celebrates our relationship to nature and the elements, Hendricks seems to look back and forward in a very meaningful way.

A Dada Connection:

For the 1999 exhibition Dada Country (Duchamp and Friends in New Jersey) Geoffrey Hendricks performed an inversion for each letter of Duchamp’s name. The occasion was an exhibition called Dada Country (Duchamp and Friends in New Jersey) curated by Anne and John Goodyear. It ran from February 14 through April 11, 1999, at the Hunterdon Museum of Art, Clinton, NJ.

© Daniel Rothbart, 2002.

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