Exquisite banalities

Eleanor Brickhill at home with Lewis and Linz

Ruark Lewis and Rainer Linz, Banalities for the Perfect House

Ruark Lewis and Rainer Linz, Banalities for the Perfect House

For the first 15 or so minutes of Rainer Linz and Ruark Lewis’ Banalities for the Perfect House, I try to figure out how all the elements fit together and what drives the piece. I am continually perplexed by its disembodied nuances, begging lots of questions. Even as the work coalesces around me, I have a sense of there being some sort of teasingly elusive internal logic. Along with the intricacy in the construction of the space, the shafts of wood, light and shadows, there is a sense of continual interruption, either by vocal or sound inflection, or a shadow across a piece of text. You read signs, trying to make sense of the words, but they are run together so it’s difficult to understand the space in a whole way. In attempting to read the shapes of the set—elaborate, meticulous spatial structures—there is a huge sense of something hidden which I will never find without looking beyond the work, and for me, this is what animated Banalities for the Perfect House.

The design is architectural, cathedral-like, but not fixed. Sound and architecture work together, moving and plastic. Twelve variously segmented grids are positioned like walls or room dividers, and black and white wall-bars with continuous text are clamped vertically to one wall. There are road blocks that can be shifted and dragged, and now and then people are herded into different spaces. These fixtures, even the fonts and lettering that display the text are on a very human scale, and because of that there is familiarity, despite the teasing quality.

This is a performance work, neither dance nor song, but a transformation of the space with spectral light and sound. Two signs at one end of the space read “Tyranny of distance”, upside down, and “Threnody for a lost overture”, intimating an elegiac sense of loss and survival, so ideas of time, age and memory became important.

On the wall in the foyer, there are photocopies of grids, offering a kind of map by which to navigate the work inside. These depicted structures are reminiscent of how pictures hung on a wall once removed leave shadows, the shapes of spaces in between. Perhaps this is a ghost house, where one might glimpse residues of discontinued and disembodied processes, the detritus of lost practices just lying about like museum pieces, but creating new if unintentional patterns, old material re-collected and reconstituted, a process of denuding and reclothing.

The fabric of the sound seems woven from material so familiar as to have its own peculiar sense of being: Morse code, phone pips, clock time; lists of abbreviated phrases marked by number; facile aphorisms dropped into the mix like dye; cooking instructions; dubious headlines from newspapers read years ago. At first, as part of the soundscape and then proclaimed from a podium by Ruark Lewis, phrases like “The female of the species”, “Trees conceal small books” and “Tools of negotiation”, seem quizzically performed, left hanging. “Give war a chance” and “Mental health is dead” drag behind them a past of absurd bravura.

Lewis’s text was pre-recorded and the sound transcribed by Rainer Linz into a collage, designed to pan from one part of the space to another. Sometimes it’s a delicate micro-sound creeping into the ear, or machine-like and cold. Some of the sounds are more literal, you can hear words. Often there are ambient drones and blurts, electronic beeps and bings, playing with text repetition—stuttering, grinding, purring, bleating, humming sounds. Some of the texture is glossolalic, delivered by Lewis in a machine gun blather, as he walks around the space, reading spools of paper forwards and backwards. Everyone scurries out of his way.

Twice Lewis recites lists of times—“19 minutes past 7”, “7.45” or “a quarter to 8”, each line inflected with a peculiar tonal quality. The second time around, to a bip-bip-bip, it’s with sloppy diction, mistakes, trailings off, like guessing or rough estimates; the bipping is irregular and stuttering.

Over the 50 minutes or so of the work, Lewis defines a pathway connecting various areas of the space, as if visiting different rooms which are characterised by particular texts. In the ‘kitchen’ Lewis sits with Linz reading lists of statements and directives about food, both playing with the vocals through abstraction, rising inflexions and repetitions (“Couscouserie”, “Say no to purée”). In the “Patrick White room” Lewis sits facing a lit square of phrases projected onto the floor, reading aloud from the first 26 pages of The Solid Mandala, as if peering into a pool. More poetic and sustained this time, but still broken, the sound comes from different spots in the performance area.

The audience focuses on the physicality and the fragility of Lewis’s movement with walking stick, progressing through the crowd, like a ball in a slow pinball game, pushing barricades around, making spaces and pathways for himself.

As he leaves the space, Ruark Lewis recites again text from the wall bars, phrases you might have heard already, fragmented. The voiceover and live sound together create a kind of song pattern. The vivid imagery of phrases like “Excited like an animal” hangs, suspended in space.

Banalities for the Perfect House, Ruark Lewis and Rainer Linz, Part 4 of Who’s Afraid of the Avant Garde?, curator Blair French, Performance Space, Sydney, Sept 8, 9, 10

RealTime issue #70 Dec-Jan 2005 pg. 56

© Eleanor Brickhill; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 December 2005
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