'Like my art, my name change annoys people'

A performance artist caused the biggest stir in making the Turner Prize shortlist, says Nick Clark

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Her work has drawn on cultural references from Paradise Lost to Jabba the Hutt, and she lives and works in a south London nudist colony. Now, performance artist Spartacus Chetwynd is in the running for the top contemporary art prize in the UK.

Chetwynd, who is known for her "carnivalesque" live performances, caused the biggest stir when she was named on the shortlist for the Turner Prize yesterday. The 38-year old described her approach as "unbridled enthusiasm" and "bottled mayhem". Her works have been seen at the Saatchi Gallery and Tate Britain.

She often works with a group of around 20 people, and the Tate described her work as having "something of the anarchy of the 16th-century wandering troupe," which blurs the line between artist and viewer. Chetwynd said her work grew out of fancy-dress parties she threw as a student that became ever more elaborate.

Curator Lizzie Carey-Thomas admitted that staging a retrospective of Chetwynd's performance work "may prove challenging" when the works go on display in October. "It is an interesting one, but we have done performance before."

Chetwynd was nominated for her show at the Sarah Coles Gallery. Odd Man Out was a five-hour performance piece addressing ideas of democracy, performed twice a week. There viewers would form part of the crowd as the artist re-enacted the story of Barabbas with puppets.

The artist studied social anthropology at University College London before heading to Slade School of Art and then the Royal College of Art. Her mother Luciana Arrighi is a set designer, winning an Oscar for Howard's End.

Born Alalia Chetwynd, she changed her name to the leader of a slave rebellion against Rome in 73 BC on her 33rd birthday. She has said in interviews that the name was "like a shield" and added: "Spartacus, I thought, was going to stop me from becoming professionalised and allow me to continue to have fun." She has also said: "Like my art, my name change annoys people," and she pledged to change it again if it stopped being annoying.

Her eclectic body of work includes An Evening with Jabba the Hutt, in which the Return of the Jedi villain was recast as a smooth-talking bon viveur.

The Fall of Man, in 2006, took works including the book of Genesis, John Milton's Paradise Lost and The German Ideology by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels and turned them into a series of puppet plays.