Fusion: the body as screen

Jonathan Marshall

Filmmakers routinely claim that movies are performative, that they actively generate and realise meanings and affects in space and time as the images flicker. Filmic projection is therefore eminently suited to accommodating live performance. Does the projection of images alongside a living performer however simply multiply the performers in the space, unnecessarily replicating material, rather than producing a new aesthetic? The Fusion program of multimedia performance seemed to demonstrate that video projection is most effective in live performance as a mobile form of painterly framing and overlay.

The collaboration between video-composer Dylan Volkhardt and dancer Tony Yap for example established that while both are extremely talented artists, little new was created by bringing them together. Yap danced, the projection showed evocative images of stars or a deserted urban construction, but what occurred between them was unclear. Ubique, on the other hand, resembled what Kraftwerk produced over 20 years ago (rotating wire-grid bodies, painted in with simple skins), the unremitting banality and lack of variation in the images actually detracting from a relatively interesting noise-sheet score.

Audiovisual artist Klaus Obermaier and dancer Chris Haring by contrast established a direct relationship between body and image by using the living body itself as the projection screen. Starting with a series of visual gags, D.A.V.E. explored the possibilities of the changeable, plastic body existing within an expanded, virtual realm. Hands were held to the side of the head to allow the illusion of massively distended, praying-mantis-like eyes, or thrust below the pelvis to make it appear the head was protruding from between the legs. The piece often relied on ‘gee-whiz’ black-theatrics and near-flawless illusionism. It was so profligately inventive that it was if anything too full of surprising, spectacular changes. Haring turned around to return wearing an elderly man’s projected skin, then that of an amused young woman; his anus talked (oral lips projected onto different labia); he ripped or pulled at his body, stretching it like India rubber, recalling Robbie Williams’ video Rock DJ.

This videophonic toying was however grounded in Haring’s equally impressive live physicality. In normal side-light he slipped about the floor in a delicately balanced yet vaguely brutal play of weight and gravity which rocketed about his pliable form, dropping into surprising shifts, rolls and articulations—all to the crinkly, swiping-sounds of Obermaier’s musique concrete or abstract breakbeat. Haring was so masterful at the near dislocation of limbs that he barely needed projection to establish a sense of radical fungibility.

Although D.A.V.E.was breathtaking in performance, it is Cazerine Barry’s House which lingers in my memory. House had a stronger sense of clockwork precision, of sharp, funky beats (mostly cheesy 1960s studio music) which set an exact rhythm for the morphs of space which Barry’s character negotiated, from the on-the-beat rotations of a projected house-plan, to lurid ‘primitivist’ fantasies of a rubber-tree-filled garden bearing vaguely sexual overtones. Barry’s work depicted a day-glo suburbia through an at once affectionate yet slightly disturbing reappropriation of 1960s kitsch—Howard Arkley in videochoreography. The video served as an ever changing projected frame or ‘front-drop,’ each tableau pierced by well-defined windows in which Barry posed, or through which she elegantly sashayed.

Though ostensively focussed on the theme of imagining one’s dream home and finding one’s place within it and the community which surrounds it, House also touched on the commodification of day-to-day experience, and the collapse of the separation between private and public space. The desires of Barry’s character were so saturated by the chic, manufactured designs she played with—or which occasionally squashed her into shape—that even her dreams of a lush, jungle garden were immured in representations from 1960s fashion. Any suggestion that “home” is a space where one shuts society out therefore seemed spurious.

In a particularly eloquent scene, Barry stood gesturing like a Monopoly traffic-cop, directing contemporary finance, pointing to lines in the projection which marked the passage of capital from BANK to ARMOURED CAR to PUBLIC. She reached into the screen-space to pull a box of relations to her chest, before shunting money somewhere else—a fabulous comment not only on commerce, but also the maddening complexities of home loans.

In both D.A.V.E. and House, the screen space was left resolutely flat and 2-dimensional, its 3-dimensional evocativeness generated primarily by the physical body it came into contact with, via gestural dialogue in House, or by the body serving as a lumpy screen in D.A.V.E. Ironically, this flattening of the filmic space successfully created a compelling sense of spatial depth in combination with live performance.

St Kilda Film Festival: Fusion: Performances in new media, presented by Experimenta. Works from the program reviewed here: Time Lapsed, direction/writing/producer/video Dylan Volkhardt, choreography/performance Tony Yap, music/sound Nick Kraft, James Cecil, Mik La Vage, Pip Branson; House, concept/performance/video Cazerine Barry, lighting Jen Hector, dramaturgical assistance Nancy Black, concept-development-associate-direction Rachel Spiers, production support Tom Howie; Ubique, sound/video Massimo Magrini (Italy); D.A.V.E. (Digital Amplified Video Engine), choreography/performance Chris Haring, video/music/initial-concept Klaus Obermaier. The Palace, St Kilda, Melbourne, May 29 – 31

RealTime issue #50 Aug-Sept 2002 pg. 28

© Jonathan Marshall; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 August 2002