Tamara Macarthur: The Skinny Showcase

A look at the beguiling and intriguing performance art of Tamara Macarthur

Feature by The Skinny | 17 Sep 2020

I make drawings, installations, durational performances and videos that explore yearning, futility and the boundaries of intimacy. My recent body of work features weeping and water imagery: vast, glittering storms with floods, seas and rivers, pouring rain that pools in silver lakes. Self-portraits stand among such scenes, comically vulnerable and desperate as they withstand the elemental forces. Drawing underpins all forms of my practice: my installations are assemblages of drawn elements; charcoal is used to pictorialise sculptural forms and charcoal make-up and paper costumes transform me, as performer, into a live self-portrait.

The installations are constructed to be warm and beguiling with a nostalgic air that alludes to familiar old songs and stories. Glittering paper homes that play host to a moment of emotional intimacy I try to generate between the viewer and myself. They are my best effort; everything laboriously hand-made and embellished – no effort spared. But my obvious attempts to impress tip into ridiculous, comic excess. The sets are forward-facing: sculptures are revealed as flat-backed reliefs and the “glittering silver” is kitchen foil – they’re fragile façades... paper-thin. Seemingly liable to collapse, they rely on me as performer or on my larger-than-life self-portraits – like Greek caryatids – to uphold them. The performances mirror this tension between fullness and the unfulfilled, containing dualities of authentic and staged emotion, spontaneous and scripted gesture. Repetitions of a sentimental pop song become my lament; and singing, crying and smiling I maintain eye contact for as long as viewers keep it. But the durational performances omit any climactic fulfilment and as a viewer moves on, I turn my attention to the next.



And Baby I Just Melt Away, Fall Like Rain

Squeezed into a corridor-like space, is a vast, glittering storm. Watery chaos over spilling its boundaries. It is too close and too much. In the middle, stand two bodies holding each other over the threshold of a rising flood. But the storm is held interminably in quiet suspense and the bodies are empty shells – just the relic of an old embrace. A memory of a feeling, made into a theatre set: to be stepped into and played out by performer and audience again and again.


If You Believed In Me

Oh it’s only a paper moon hanging over a cardboard sea
But it wouldn’t be make-believe if you believed in me
And the whole thing will glitter. I’ve built this glittering space for our glittering embrace
Careful architectural engineering. So it should be just right, just, perfect.
Both of us glittering for-each-other--for-one-another
*Because when you’ve told me everything and I’ve told you everything,- when I’ve given you
all of me (all the me’s) then we’ll belong to eachother
Cs I’ve got a lot to give.
Take all of me, why,not,take,all,of,me, take my best, and the rest too, it’s here for you
I’m holding it out for you
I’m holding out for you
Do you like it?
I hope you like it
I tried really really hard to make the best home I could, the Most beautiful (bellissima), the
most full of love, warmth (that’s the gold), but what if that’s not enough? I mean what if
you give everything you have, everything you own, ‘my house my heart my home’, and your
kids grow up and say mum you fucked me up and I fucking hate you What do you do then?

What if the embrace isn’t enough and it doesn’t last? Not close enough, not long enough,
not anything enough really. What if what you thought was a hug isn’t because the body
you’re holding has gone limp, and my arms are tired, they’re really tired. And I keep dropping


I don’t know if the paper will hold because when paper gets old it starts to fold and crumple
and disintegrate

Substandard tourist attraction. Come Visit The Sights Of Milano. Duomo. La Scala.
tamara’s chapel in Giambellino.
(Larger smaller than life)

I know it’s not much, but it’s all I’ve got. And that’s why it’s all dressed up, my little
substandard tourist attraction, my little substandard home. Over Blown Grandeur, cs baby
you’re just overblown.
It’s too much isn’t it? Too intense, shit I’ve done it again, oops I did it again.

…………..I want to hold you, I want to heal you, I want to shield you, hold you, love
you, squeeze you, please you. Blah blah blah yeah yeah yeah yeah, you think we’re
falling for that tamara? SANTA TAMARA ? !
Because it’s shameful really
Ooh it’s too shameful I can’t say it
*go on*
But really I need to be the savior
Because that’s my important role
It’s always been my role
And if I’m not the savior then I’m nothing
Paper thin

‘everything is performance, even intimacy’

Because the embrace is never close enough and your arms always grow tired in the end
and the talking always has to come to an end
‘Ok I’d better get going’
It’s unfillable
And that’s why there’s no beginning and no end
Cs life goes on
And you’re just passing through
And there’s always somewhere else to be
And we’re trying and trying, giving and giving, giving and crying
 singing and crying here in the gloom of my
 of my lonely room

But at some point you’ve
‘Gotta go’
And that’ll be it. Performance over.
Empty gold
Empty tears
Empty arms

‘Counterfeit body of a counterfeit woman’

Oh god what am I doing? I’m sorry God I don’t believe in you but I’ve got a question for
you: How d’you get people to build all these beautiful houses for you eh? I always have to
build my own
A house is a home, a home is where the house is. Oh. Where the heart is, cs my house is
built out of heart and other soft matter… and maybe I built my house on the sand, cs it sure
is foolish. But the effort is absolutely Sincere - I give you my word. Blood Sweat and lots of








(but it wouldn’t be make-believe if you believed in me)