I’m thinking a lot about performance as an art form these days. Maybe it’s because I’m living in a space with few walls on which to display tangible, visual art. I’m making an effort to see more performance art, and to feel my way through this kind of practice that is constantly treading on the division between artist and audience, subject and object, participant and observer.

I attend Ruth Barker’s performance, The Foot Exerts a Pressure on the Surface of the Glass at the Freud Museum. Barker’s practice combines poetry and autobiography, and her most recent performance is the result of a residency at the Tavistock Library and the Freud Museum. A small group of us follow a staff member into a room that may have been Anna Freud’s dining room. There is a table at the front of the room, and it is draped with burgundy fabric. We stand in a semi-circle, waiting for Ruth, who enters after a few moments. She is small, elfin-like, wearing shiny nude-coloured tights and a burgundy leotard festooned with folds of the same burgundy fabric on the table. She smiles easily and seems eager to put us at ease, asking if we are comfortable, which I am not. I feel self-conscious, as if I am being observed in an experiment on audience participation. I imagine I am in the control group that is given precise and detailed instructions on how to participate, like school children, and the other group is going to have to figure it out on their own. I wish I was in the other group…

We are each given a page of lines to speak in unison, like a Greek chorus. Ruth explains that we will speak alternately – she first, and then us – and there will be nine verses. “Did I mention that I’m pregnant?” she asks, and suggests that perhaps the nine parts are related to that fact. She asks us to rehearse once and then prepares herself for the performance, climbing onto the table to kneel, and arranging the drapery around her, so that it appears as if she is one great fabric-draped Earth Mother presiding over the room. An assistant places Anna Freud’s own beaded necklaces around Ruth and she begins to speak the first verse in a deliberate and even tempo. The verses are personal, evocative, and feminine. They describe the necklaces and the intimate relationship between a woman’s skin and her jewellery. They invoke Anna Freud, but also her own mother, perhaps her unborn daughter, and herself. We – the chorus – follow her pace and tone, and speak the alternate verses. In many ways, it is a traditional spoken performance, with an audience that observes an activity, and participates, but in a managed and staged manner. It feels like a performance from the 1970s in its seriousness and earth mother tones of feminism.