When an arts professional explains they’ve programmed a performance artist to drink 400 shot glasses of salty milk in the same room as a freshly chopped pig’s head on a stake you can see why the public get a bit tetchy about Arts Council funding.

But Bethan Troakes, the curator behind the publicly-funded Lock In at the Community Art Centre, is adamant that artistic practice and exclusivity, rather than accessibility, must sometimes be watchwords.

“I will be picking the pig’s head up from the butchers on Saturday before the performance. The smell makes up part of the environment that the audience experience as opposed to a work of art they might simply view.”

The idea might sound terrifying or disgusting at first but that is the point.

“This whole series is not about beauty. Certain elements are really sinister. A pig’s head on a stake is quite awful. People don’t generally want to be seeing things like that for a long time.”

She assures that the cut will be fresh from the butchers.

“Because it is fresh we didn’t have to get health and safety clearance.”

Challenging perceptions

One point is to challenge what people think.

“I don’t want people to just think, ‘Isn’t art lovely and pretty and isn’t it wonderful with a vase of flowers,’ or that there is not a shock aspect. Because it is a long time you have to be with this thing.”

The head is part of Julieann O’Malley’s show, Salty Milk: Violation Of Expectation, which is one of three two-hour shows at the not-for-profit gallery’s first collection of durational performance art.

The idea behind durational art is to slow down the making and watching of art. It can be mentally or physically challenging for both parties and a sense of endurance is fundamental.

“It’s about taking time to see something. I don’t want to shock people and make them move on, so they see a spectacle and say, ‘Ooh or wow’, then leave.

“You have to spend a long time with something, go through the motions, so you initially find it shocking then after a long time it almost becomes an abstraction and you think, ‘Why was that so shocking?’ “The more you look at it, the more it changes. I want to get past the spectacle side of performance art.”

Performance art must be experienced in the present: it happens then disappears. The artist must be on site, in view, and leave no product behind.

Lock In is thus durational performance art. Its title is to emphasise that it is for a small, exclusive audience (though anyone can register and it is free) of only 30 people.

“There is not access to everything, which might be a controversial thing to say to people these days, but it is important.

“We are given so much choice as individuals. We can demand access to things. We think we have all choices and worlds open to us, so it is rare to get things taken away, such as access to knowledge. You are not allowed to know this unless you are there.”

Troakes, who recently graduated with a Masters in art history from the University of Sussex, cannot forget the let-down of seeing a photo of her favourite performance art.

“The idea came from that – how can I get around putting on performances that can make an impact in art history without having photographs made of them?

“So I had this idea of a lock-in, where a small audience would be aware it was happening but unless you were in the audience, you would have no visual access to the piece.

“By taking it away it becomes more inscribed in people’s minds because they cannot see it and they really want to know what is going on.

“It goes against the idea that we can get access to whatever we want because of the media.”

O’Malley was nominated for the Liverpool Art Prize in 2012 and shortlisted again this year.

She intends to shave the pig’s head in the space, which will be turned into a kitchen.

“It’s referring to a woman’s place in a kitchen but gone completely mad. She will be very calm but you will think this is a world gone completely mad by a woman confined by her labels.”

This fits with Troakes’ hopes to make a point about “the importance of body as a material and confronting issues of confinement”.

Duncan Ward and Paula Davy are the other artists in a series tied together by the confined space in which they work.

In Old Tricks, Ward slowly builds a new world using soap, soil and wine.

“Confinement means nothing more than the opportunity to build within that constricted space an ideal world of his own.”

Davy, who is hearing impaired, will be blindfolded for Jigsaw Of The Queen Part 1, as she attempts to complete a jigsaw of the queen with the help of the audience.

“We are slowing down the consuming of images and art,” adds Troakes, who is excited to see how the audience reacts, whether they help, talk or try to leave.

“You rarely get a chance to sit in front of painting for two hours.”

  • Community Art Centre, off Queen’s Road, Brighton, Friday, April 19, to Sunday, April 21. Free, email lock.inbrighton@gmail.com for tickets. Visit www.lockinbrighton.wordpress.com