Elision, Burning House

Chris Reid

Timothy O’Dwyer’s and Lilla Watson’s composition, Sight and Sound of a Storm in Sky Country (2003) is a collaboration in which Watson, an Aboriginal artist, has made an artwork in response to a piece of music by O’Dwyer, and the composer/performer O’Dwyer has then made a new piece of music for electronically mediated saxophone based on, or as a response to Watson’s artwork. That artists should respond in such a way to each other’s work is not unusual. For example, we know of Mondrian’s interest in jazz. What is significant here is the cross-cultural nature of the work and the active collaboration between 2 artists who have both reconsidered the forms of their cultural traditions and synthesised something new and different. Instead of using traditional pigment or modern acrylic paint, Watson’s artworks are made by burning rows of small holes in layers of heavy drawing paper and adding a further layer of coloured papers beneath that are visible through the holes, the colours evoking sky, water and so on. The paper around the holes is scorched by the burning process in a controlled way, creating motifs. Thus the artworks are highly symbolic—not only do they tell the story of Watson’s country, but they also symbolise for a wider audience the use of fire to pierce and to mark, and the importance of the trace (of the smoke) and the rituals in traditional art. The layering of the papers also suggests a metaphor for the layering of cultural and traditional forms, the ‘true’ colours found beneath the pierced, blank surface.

Watson’s work is an abstraction that parallels the abstract forms of another culture, providing common ground on which both artists can reach and greet each other. O’Dwyer’s musical response to Watson’s art is itself heavily layered and is concerned with the physicality, almost as ritual, of the performance. The O’Dwyer/Watson work is significant musically, and makes clear the value of experimental and developmental composition. Such a work can be appreciated not only in terms of musicality and form but also due to its symbolic significance within wider cultural contexts. O’Dwyer’s performance of the music, in front of the projected images of Watson’s works, was captivating.

Elision, Burning House, Powerhouse, July 20

RealTime issue #58 Dec-Jan 2003 pg. 43

© Chris Reid; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 December 2003
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