David Capra


David Capra is an artist that deals primarily with performance and experience, inviting the audience to be part of the artwork to give it structure and meaning.  He does not perform on a stage with the audience silently watching on.  Capra directly involves the audience to experience the artwork, in turn making them a part of it.  He calls himself an ‘intercessory artist’, whose work takes the form of interventions into physical and social space designed to initiate healing. (Information sourced from the MCA website: http://www.mca.com.au/artists-and-works/artist-commissions/david-capra-teenas-bathtime-2015/).

The Conceptual Framework discussion:
The Ministry of Handshakes is an artwork where Capra shakes audience and visitor’s hands with a giant prop arm.  Capra greets audience members as they enter an area or space, or in alternative versions of the performance, Capra walks towards members of the audience and public, making the artwork space mobile and actively bringing it to the audience.  This artwork involves the audience directly through the artist initiating contact with them, inviting them into the space to be involved in the artwork, but at the same time distancing them, as the artist is using a two meter long prop arm, having the audience shake his hand from a distance.   If you look at the artist’s statement about his performance practice, where he calls himself an ‘intercessory artist’, this distancing could also be viewed as a means of trying to help, though cautiously respecting people’s personal space, but welcoming them.

This artwork, and artist David Capra, is a great way to discuss The Conceptual Framework, the relationship between the artist, audience and artwork.  The Subjective Frame can also be discussed, in relation to the space the artist creates through welcoming visitors but keeping a long distance away from them, and how the students interpret the meaning of the space created by the artist.

Teena’s Bathtime Eau De Wet Dogge perfume, 100ml bottle. Photo by Damien Brinley, courtesy the artist.
Teena’s Bathtime Eau De Wet Dogge perfume, 100ml bottle. Photo by Damien Brinley, courtesy the artist.

David Capra has a sausage dog (dachsund) called Teena.  Capra has incorporated Teena into a number of his artworks.  In 2013 he invited audience members to dance with Teena as part of Workout at the MCA.  And in early 2015 Capra made Teena’s Bathtime, also at the MCA, where he re-created the experience of bathing Teena in a special room that immersed all the senses in the experience.  There was the smell of wet dog; the visuals of Teena being bathed and bubbles floating in the air; a giant Teena sculpture you could touch; the sound of Teena being bathed; and during a special public program event (with a meet and greet with Teena and Capra) dog treats that you could make were available to give to your dog to taste.  Teena doesn’t like having a bath, and is anxious about the experience.  This is understood from watching the video of Teena having a bath and from discussions Capra has with audiences during public program events.  In Capra’s discussions with audience members about Teena’s Bathtime, a lot of discussion is centered around mental health and anxiety.  People have written letters of support to Teena offering advice on how to manage her anxiety.

This year (2015) Capra also launched another artwork about Teena at Gallery 9, called Teena’s Bathtime – Eau de Wet Dogge.  This artwork is an extension of Teena’s Bathtime and is another immersive performance experience.  The exhibition at Gallery 9 was the launch of a perfume Capra created, with the help of professional perfumer Jonathon Midgley from Damask Perfumery The perfume smells of flowers, wet dog fur, and sour bath bubbles.  Everyone at the exhibition said they could smell different dog related smells in the perfume.  It is a playful artwork that comments on the world of perfume making and the sense of smell and the experience of bathing Teena.  During the opening Capra walked around with Teena on a leash, welcoming the visitors to the perfume launch.

David Capra and Teena during the opening of Teena’s Bathtime – Eau de Wet Dogge, at Gallery 9, 11 November 2015. Photo by Damien Brinley, courtesy the artist.
David Capra and Teena the dog greeting audience members during the opening of Teena’s Bathtime – Eau de Wet Dogge, at Gallery 9, 11 November 2015. Photo by Damien Brinley, courtesy the artist.

Practice: Students could try making an immersive experience using one or all of the senses.
It could be extended to exploring the concept of Synesthesia. They could pick an experience and try to recreate it with a different sensory experience. Example: Recreate the sound, smell and touch of eating a burger or ice cream; or the feeling and visuals of music.
For Stages 1 to 3 Creative Art Students an additional resource to extend the exploration of sensory representation of colours is a book called The Black Book of Colors.  This is an excellent resource to explore blindness and colour experience through touch and description.
Conceptual Framework: Students can consider and discuss David Capra’s relationship with the audience in his artworks.  This is best explored through the artwork The Ministry of Handshakes. 
Subjective: Discuss the sensory and immersive experience of the work, and what it means to the student. What are some of the key words that describe the artwork experience for you.
Cultural: Issues of anxiety and mental health can be explored.  The anxiety of Teena having a bath, and how Capra has addressed this through exploring the experience and creating a sensory environment that invites the audience to help Teena deal with her anxiety.
Structural: What visual and sensory language does artist David Capra use to convey his artwork? How does using all the senses (sight, sound, taste, smell and touch) and involving the audience in a performance change the experience of the artwork compared to a 2D artwork?
Postmodern: How does artist David Capra challenge mainstream ideas about art?  How does he represent his ideas in the artworks and how are his artworks different to others you have seen?

Resource links:

David Capra