Consumption a la mode

Philipa Rothfield, Chunky Move, Arcade

Cathryn Krake, Arcade

Cathryn Krake, Arcade

The flâneur hails from the mid 19th century. Poetically depicted by Baudelaire, and discursively dressed by Benjamin, the flâneur strolls the streets of Paris. His emergence coincides with that of capitalist industrialism and urbanisation. Somewhat at odds with these developments, the self-styled flâneur parades the marketplace, strolls along the boulevards, and glides across the arcade, passing all that he sees in review. The arcade becomes for the flâneur a world in miniature, a cosmos of the commodity form.

Chunky Move’s Arcade is an invitation to stroll amongst the vestiges of a past century. It is ingeniously staged on the 1st floor of Melbourne’s Nicholas building, whose ground floor still boasts an L-shaped series of quaint shops. Located in the heart of the city, once home to the Jewish schmutter trade, Arcade hovers above the trams and the heroin, in the ether of the 21st century. The period is grimy Edwardian; old heavy lifts, stained glass ceilings lit milky white, tiled floors, beveled glass, small shops.

We, the audience, are also relics of the past. Time is splintered here. We line up, awaiting regimented entry into encapsulated moments of performance, ready to consume our prey, like Moira Finucane’s black widow piece The Dress Shop. The work of several directors, most of the pieces have titles that relate to the theme of (art as) commodity: 100% Off, Massive Reduction, The Dress Shop. Quaint (Lucy Guerin), weird (Moira Finucane), dark (David Pledger), romantic (Stephanie Lake) and startling (Gideon Obarzanek), the night belongs to the hallways.

Marx didn’t think much of commodity production, in part because it represents the reduction of labour into anonymous items of exchange. In 100% Off, Obarzanek offered tactile glimpses of naked bodies, boxed up and lit by neon morgue lighting. The sensual pleasures on offer agitated some audience members who felt morally bound to leave well alone. Others delighted in the curve of a breast, or the roll of a testicle. What are the moral sensibilities of today’s audience? Are we ready and willing to consume anything? How did these people in boxes feel? Will we ever know? I found myself drawing the line at the gyrations of the Johnny Young Talent team, not because these sexlings were there for our amusement, but because the made-up faces of children signals sexual danger.

Lucy Guerin’s 1950s period piece was witty and well packaged, involving the comic actions of 2 shopkeepers who enticed then shrunk their customers. Moira Finucane gave a demented performance, her prey swinging and sewing for her carnivorous delight. David Pledger created a photographic pastiche, disturbed and disturbing, and Stephanie Lake came up with a warm and trippy corseted dance to the music of Bob Dylan.

Because Arcade breaks with the linearity of perception, and the pieces themselves were unconnected, it is hard to draw it all together under some single judgement. Perhaps there is no more to be said. I don’t think Arcade is meant as a critique of commodification. Rather, it is what it is, a manifestation of the seemingly inevitable consumerism of our times.

Arcade, Chunky Move, created by Gideon Obarzanek in collaboration with Lucy Guerin, Stephanie Lake, Moira Finucane and David Pledger, cnr Swanston St and Flinders Lane, Melbourne, May 9-19

RealTime issue #43 June-July 2001 pg. 33

© Philipa Rothfield; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 June 2001
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