Between violence and the inviolable

Zsuzsanna Soboslay: Wendy Morrow, Blue (excerpt)

Wendy Morrow, Blue, photo Pling

The excerpt from Blue at the Canberra Contemporary Art Space, Manuka, begins in a corner of the gallery with projections on 2 perpendicular walls. The first image is of a naked toddler with curly hair, lying asleep on his side. His hair is a halo almost larger than the rest of him. It appears to be a still, yet we slowly perceive his small wrist flicker, breath fluttering his bones. The subtlety and surprise of these small movements catch one’s own breath. The image is of an exquisite vulnerability. The projection of the words “a child sleeps” on the other wall sets up an opposition between the inviolate restfulness of the child and the potential for violation. It also sets up a correlation in the piece between prediction (catching the smell of something about to happen) and the dread of its impending realisation.

Wendy Morrow enters the space and begins to dance. Her motions are fine, ideokinetic gestures (movements directed from an internal sensing), soft yet direct, evolving from somewhere well beneath the brickwork of the body’s structure—yet also, we suspect, capable of knocking down a mountain. In retrospect, I think of something almost martial in the actions: the movements of a mother in history, mutely rehearsing a defence. They are very finely placed within the frame of the 2 projections, both hinge and fulcrum, absorption and deflection of what passes on the screens.

A shocking image passes on the second screen: a jet with a stream behind it travels left to right, then disappears before reaching the edge of the screen. A quiet implosion. The tension this creates—the long journey from there to here, the disappearance before visible impact—renders the image a subliminal rehearsal for what we now, post-September 11, already know, and of what we then, in the dream or prediction state, knew as the about-to-become, and as the always-capable-of-happening. The dancing body, mediating between the images, knows, stores and re-creates both the fears and the horrors, the memories and the capabilities of attack. Because history is this. And we are capable of this: violent, violating of the inviolable. Morrow’s body knows all this; her breath holds against it (even in its release).

A pixilated image depicts a line of national flags waving in a night sky. It is a horrible sight. So self-certain. To paraphrase TS Eliot, post-World War 1, so “unreal.”

Morrow’s work again captures subliminal knowledge with great, humble agility. Her partnership with Leigh Hobba has produced a subtle, complex, startling piece, full of the yearning for protection and sanctity that any parent knows, and that anyone in the West post-September 11 has come to understand, was always fragile.

The full performance of Blue (Wall) premiered in Melbourne, Sept 12, 2002.

Blue (excerpt), performer/realisation Wendy Morrow, video/writer Leigh Hobba; Dancing in Time program, metis: TIME 04, Canberra Contemporary Art Space, Manuka, May 19-23

RealTime issue #62 Aug-Sept 2004 pg. 38

© Zsuzsanna Soboslay; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 August 2004
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