Jeff Huckleberry is naked. He’s standing in front of four huge pieces of plywood parallel to one another, each separated by about a foot. They’re about an inch thick but at least 7 feet tall, looming over his 6’5” frame. Slowly, methodically, he starts leaning into the first piece of wood, putting all his weight into the board. The wood starts to creak and splinter and he forces his way through, careful to keep his tender parts free from shards.
“It’s a very personal, internal experience for me,” Huckleberry tells me over the phone. “I don’t think about the audience at the show, I think about the what’s happening to me, the feeling of wood cracking. I wanted people to get that close, so I started shooting video.”
His performance art is always filmed, often a very simple one-camera setup. But these videos have allowed his live shows to be seen as far as Poland and China. “Having these videos was probably the best decision I’ve made with regards to my art,” he said. “After I sent them out I was invited to festivals all over the world, it became easier to show what I was doing.”
He’s adamant, however, that video only provides a shadow of the experience. “It’s called performance art…to be in the room and experience the event with the performer is paramount to the process. If you don’t hear the wood breaking or see the paint dripping in the frame and the light that I’ve created, you’re not getting a different show. Video is something different. Not any less valuable, but different.”
Asked whether he would ever create a show around videos of his performances, Huckleberry hesitated. “Maybe as part of a live show…have a couple monitors playing around me, interact somehow with the image. One of the wonderful things about performance art is that there are very few boundaries, but that can also make things twice as hard.”
– Graham Corrigan