Dancing into the language trap

Kirsty Darlaston, Transcriptions, Greenaway Art Gallery

Garry Stewart, David Evans, Transcriptions (2005), video still

Garry Stewart, David Evans, Transcriptions (2005), video still

In the dark of the Greenaway Art Gallery 4 digital video projections generate Transcriptions, a collaboration between Australian Dance Theatre (ADT) artistic director Garry Stewart, and digital video and installation artist David Evans (see cover image). The projections feature ADT dancers animated as textual forms in a landscape of text. Cars wrapped in words zoom through city streets inscribed with “neither this way nor that” in a metropolis of skyscrapers made up of giant letters which spell out “this” and “way.”

In this virtual landscape the dancers gain superhero powers. A figure reminiscent of the archetypal earth mother Venus of Willendorf is covered in the word “fragile.” She manifests a cape and flies through the city of “this way and that” out into the open plains where the earth is labelled “time” and the sky is “moment.” Here she stands her ground, battling with a giant cartoonish fist wielding slapstick weapons such as a rolling pin, fighting a shape-changing whirlwind of fragmented text that shakes the ground and sprays out random letters.

In Zeros and Ones (Fourth Estate, London, 1997), Sadie Plant discusses the digital space of a computer as being made up of logic or logos (the structured order of language and code) and the nomadic or nomos (the virtual space which is without a fixed state). Transcriptions features both these elements, most obviously embodied in the 2 superheroes fighting it out on an open plane.

Transcriptions plays with dualities of language/body, good/evil, weak/strong by presenting them together on the one plane. The result is “this” and “that” and “neither this nor that” at the same time. The solid earth mother figure is illogically inscribed with “fragile” but in the virtual plane we can all realise our will to power, reaching Nietzsche’s overman status if we want it.

However, the overman, the Superman, is still a product of language, just as “I understand the world through touch” (text from Transcriptions video projection) is still communicated using the laws of language. Does Transcriptions present me with the limitations of what I can be? Are we always acquiescent to language, even on the virtual plane?

Playing with the sci-fi ideal of leaving the body behind and existing on the virtual plane of endless possibilities, Transcriptions presents this as an obscene world in the sense that everything is present and anything is on offer. Somehow this reads as banal. As I watch the videos looping I begin to feel that in an argument in which all sides are equally valid, there is no opposing position to take. Transcriptions is an endless loop; a closed system which successfully places the viewer as Other to itself.

The beauty of the text dancers, in particular a couple writhing on the open plane, resides in the feeling that they are timeless, that they will always be entangling and disentangling, movement for movement’s sake, nothing to be said. The earth mother moves like a doll, legs and arms twisting in their sockets, the only figure representing action. The music track evokes superhero epics, but without passion, as if it is just playing out.

If to transcribe is to copy into another medium, it seems that transcribing our strengths and weaknesses onto the virtual plane has not freed them from the binary demons of Western representation. Rather, Transcriptions appears to revel in this binary representation by taking it to its ultimate form and displaying it in all its gaudy colours. The text characters are figures of odd beauty, but in their obviousness they also seem enclosed, separate, as if we can never feel what it is like to be them.

As I leave the viewing space I notice 4 digital images on the wall just outside. Strangely, the earth mother is no longer “fragile”: now her body somnambulistically proclaims “forget”…

Transcriptions, creators Garry Stewart, David Evans, Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide, Feb 22-March 1

RealTime issue #66 April-May 2005 pg. 32

© Kirsty Darlaston; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 April 2005