evolving indigenous live art

rebecca youdell on zane saunders in cairns

Zane Saunders, Being a Medium

Zane Saunders, Being a Medium

Zane Saunders, Being a Medium

ZANE SAUNDERS’ WORK SPRINGS FROM A SUBSTANTIAL VISUAL ARTS PRACTICE EMBEDDED IN FAR NORTH QUEENSLAND. HIS LATEST WORK, BEING A MEDIUM, IS PART OF AN ONGOING COLLABORATION WITH SOUND ARTIST FILE_ERROR (AKA NICHOLAS MILLS) ENGAGING WITH CULTURAL, SPIRITUAL AND SOCIAL CONCERNS WITH AN UNDERLAY OF RITUAL AND HUMOUR. BEING A MEDIUM SITS IN THE SPACE BETWEEN INSTALLATION AND PERFORMANCE, ENTERTAINMENT AND OBSERVATION, BODY AND OBJECT.

More accustomed to the white box gallery, this is Saunders’ first foray into the world of the theatrical black box. Spurred on by his flirtation with sonic interplay, the collaboration with File_Error has produced a lineage of short works. This latest piece was developed at the JUTE Theatre Centre of Contemporary Art in Cairns as a full-length work.

Enter a dark space. Saunders is clothed. He peels off, hanging up his shirt and trousers on a tall hat rack to reveal a completely painted form. He’s a commanding presence, painted white with a stripe of brown over his eyes, hair long and flowing. His towering form crouches till he’s eye-level with his audience. He weaves a ritualised procession from one installation to the next, his body bobbing, swaying and creeping to its unique tempo.

File_Error’s mix of sonic textures is rhythmic yet unsettling. Erks, squeaks and groans drive Saunders on. And then there is silence, his own and from sound departed. This crafted intermittence allows time for the viewer to reflect.

Illumination of a series of white installations sees Saunders interact and move through a collection of thoughts and feelings, amplified by carefully chosen objects but whose assembly appears random. A mangrove of black bungy cords suspends twenty four white man-made objects in varying degrees of repair: a couple of guitars, a miniature rubber figurine, a distinctive collection of chairs…The sense is of Saunders revealing an examined world full of objects familiar to him, and yet to the viewer, unknowable.

The residue of previous performance works informs Being a Medium. Three monitors of varying size emit sound and video. The largest projects white noise, or is it the internal workings of Saunders’ mind? The other two display edited documentation: one shows the performer’s back hovering over a spiral brick installation with a text message, “unlearn”; and in the other he’s wearing a suit jacket, lampshade head-wear and holding a light bulb, with the text “it was all too easy… consume.” The glitchy, looping messages suggest a certain urgency.

It’s a chairless environment. The audience—some unfamiliar with this kind of work—dance around the installations. Children scurry to position themselves, they want to be close to the action, but recoil when illuminated.

Saunders recycles pre-loved items and trash from the tip as dynamic craft. He is the medium in the moment, creating animated imagery through media integration. On two large canvases opposite each other are duplicate projections of Saunders warping, looping, shifting, re-focusing time. Three more canvases on the wall are treated with a flow of black paint from a dustpan brush. It’s immediate. Saunders glides by a speaker stack with its arhythmically throbbing neon light and punchy sound and it becomes a miniature urban sprawl. He tenderly massages plants in a cot, connecting with the natural environment.

I have been aware of Zane Saunders’ interest in performance for over a decade, and in the last few years I have observed his practice unfold into new territory. His interventions are evolving a kinetic momentum, which extends the object and installation. We witness a dance on an ageing treadmill, Saunders moving like a cross-country skier, his striding rise and fall implying an endless journey or walkabout.

His body is part of a living, breathing culture, not found in the museum of objects. Within the cultural protocol politic that Indigenous artists face, Zane Saunders is finding a language for the space between the contemporary and tradition through a deeply personal spiritual and physical journey. This is no mean feat considering prohibitive costs and the fledgling presence of performance and media practice in the region. Put that together with the lack of Indigenous live art role models and you have the enigmatic space between called Zane Saunders.

Image: Zane Saunders, Being a Medium, photo Nicholas Mills

Being a Medium, Zane Saunders, File_Error (aka Nicholas Mills), JUTE Theatre Centre of Contemporary Art, Cairns March 30, 31

RealTime issue #79 June-July 2007 pg. 34

© Rebecca Youdell; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 June 2007