another nocturama

jasmin stephens gauges performative responses to an installation

Aimee Smith, First Entry

Aimee Smith, First Entry

Aimee Smith, First Entry

IN WG SEBALD’S FINAL NOVEL, AUSTERLITZ, THE WRITER COMPARES THE NOCTURAMA OF ANTWERP ZOO AND THE WAITING ROOM OF ITS CENTRAAL STATION. BOTH IMPOSING BUILDINGS, ONE IS FOR THE DISPLAY OF NOCTURNAL ANIMALS AND THE OTHER FOR THE SHELTER OF TRAVELLERS.

Sebald likens his fellow travelers to “the last members of a diminutive race which had perished or had been expelled from its homeland”, suggesting “that because they alone survived they wore the same sorrowful expression as the creatures in the zoo.” This analogy exemplifies the liminal sensibility of Sebald’s travel narratives in which an openness to chance, recollection and coincidence has the cumulative effect of providing insight. Kylie Ligertwood has been inspired by the way Sebald’s acclaimed writing seems to be without deliberation and its content generated en route.

Ligertwood recently invited five artists of interdisciplinary persuasion to step into her darkened studio at PICA and in discrete improvised performances respond to the strangeness of her installation. Executed specifically for the performances, it comprised a shifting, abstract projection and a pensive arrangement of components such as clock, red rug, piano stool and suspended door handles. It was personal in scale and the audiences who were squeezed into the studio felt physically implicated in the work. Due to the precision of Ligertwood’s arrangement, it could have read like a surrealist painting that had jumped out of its frame. However the artist, more animateur than stage manager, ensured that the configuration was pared back. Her installation did not disturb the chamber-like structure of the room but did cue our imaginations for the performances about to unfold.

For Ligertwood, and any audience members who attended all five shows, the residue of previous performances must have hung in the air. This was certainly the case for the two successive performances I experienced. Tanja Visovesic’s jerky movement reminded me of the neurological disorder once known as St Vitus’ Dance and Roderick Sprigg matched Visovesic’s psychic torment in a punishing physical workout. Sprigg’s performance was more akin to sculpture because he remained mute and relied on a disembodied recorded voiceover while the primary function of Visovesic’s body was as an instrument for her voice.

There was a sense that a kind of transference from one artist to another was possible. Ligertwood’s twilight installation had a watchful quality that seemed to absorb the performers’ energy both physically and metaphorically. The dust disturbed by Visovesic as she ripped up the turf laid in the studio became airborne and mingled with Sprigg’s perspiration. Both artists underwent painful and obscure processes of retrieval—Visovesic communing with the dead and Sprigg tapping into muscle memory to complete his grueling routine. Their powers of concentration were formidable. Visovesic called on all present including those who had previously inhabited the studio when it was a schoolroom. Sprigg, however, shut down from his surroundings more and more as the gap between his mind and body visibly closed. The walls of the studio were imbued with the artists’ slant on memory but also traces of any previous activity.

The selection of artists attuned to Ligertwood’s melancholy poetics was crucial. These two understood that their task was not to blend performance and installation nor to be interpreters of the underworld feeling created by Ligertwood. Their approach set up an exchange with the installation rather than any relationship between performer and backdrop. On this count, the restrained, compressed nature of Sprigg’s performance was more effective than Visosevic’s, which was occasionally too overwrought for the soundtrack provided by her minstrels. Coming second, Sprigg also benefited from the way in which Vivosevic’s performance had deepened my level of attentiveness to the space.

First Entry triggered musings about what the artists might have had in common and how they diverged. In the charged atmosphere of the Tower Studio, inexplicable echoes and flows between the six artists and the five audiences did not seem far fetched. Although Ligertwood’s citing of Sebald did order my response to the performances, any chain of influence between them was not even or regular. Ligertwood and her collaborators successfully eluded any suggestion of a domino effect. In the reciprocal spirit of the project, Ligertwood is now responding to the performances with audio works to be broadcast across the Perth Cultural Centre and with video and further installation in PICA’s clock tower.

First Entry, insallation, Kylie Ligertwood, performers Tristen Parr, Clyde McGill, Aimee Smith, Roderick Sprigg, Tanja Visosevic; presented by Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts & Artrage; PICA Nov 1-5

RealTime issue #76 Dec-Jan 2006 pg. 34

© Jasmin Stephens; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 December 2006