Romeo et Juliette

Romeo et Juliette

Romeo et Juliette

We are not just here, we are before, and after.
We are not just now, we are once and future time.
Touch me on the skin, backwards, touch only in the now, and I will shrink with you into the smaller time I so crave to be out of. Touch me
small, and I will gripe, I will
harbour and wallow, call me
small, and I will tell you something’s
wrong. Call me
large, into the fullest of extension, and I will
dance with you over that tightrope that casts itself into the ocean, and love you for being a
small part of the largeness‚ calling.

Remind me I am small. Preljocaj’s beautiful bodies, glossy linen boys, nipple-silk girls, leathered Capulet thugs with biceps from a Darlinghurst gym. They push and shove like starlets do: with a makeup lady’s grimace, fakely, thinly, we’ve seen this before. Oh, not that touch. Please, not that touch. This Bad Boy of Ballet, Il epate les bourgeois, non? Melbourne’s monsieurs et desmoiselles fail to clap at peak moments, and I think it’s not their fault. Tho’ Juliet is vulnerably stunning, Romeo thrusts his body over her like a street-scum rapist in a play by Edward Bond. Those so-close-to-erectile tissues that we are meant to think sex. We are meant to think, stylish grunge. Not only do this ballet’s moves and turns repeat themselves on old corps de ballet gridlines, but the borrowings are thick (and therefore thin). This is bonking ballet, Aaron Spelling does Bernstein with Miami Vice thrown in. Two weeks later on ABC TV, I see Michael Bogdanov’s London housing estate cast (Shakespeare on the Estate) render Lady Macbeth churning with ambition to escape her ruins, Caliban sipping beer, charting the loss of his hopes, his island dreams, a black Juliet accepting the clumsy whiteboy’s proposal in the pub and her dad going apeshit at her in their crowded flat. Outside, he prunes the rose bush as if it was her life. The fierceness of their disappointments and wiry loves. Preljocaj’s touch has no love—in fact, no hate. Capulet = Montague. The “let’s walk” dance during Prokofiev’s strident masked ball segment becomes an Easter hat parade. Shakespeare is larger than this because we are larger (and not the other way round).

Oh, there is a nice, a beautiful swing, where Juliet leaps into Romeo’s twirling arms. They go so fast, so fast, that their turning smashes the air, the smell of roses breaks, it’s a long time before they slow. This captures the once and future time that happens in that awesome moment of love before family clips your edges and you break down. The heavens may smile with lovers, but the earth’s crust shrinks when a cliché assaults you. Did I actually hate this show? Perhaps. Perhaps that night, this life, I can’t bear to be smalled down.

This is to the point, to talk of consummation, the feared-or-revered instance of being subsumed. But consummation, perhaps, reawakens the accompaniment always about your skin. (When one hand claps, the other silent fingers also drum.)

When you sing, in tune, more than one voice sings in you. When you growl (as Caliban does on his rocky shores), the landscape also growls. There is not just a clarinet, not just a saxophone: even in a solo work, a single note (as when Rosman played Formosa’s Domino, in Elision’s second concert), there is an ensemble playing.

And in All About (Manca’s 1996 trio dedicated to Mark Rothko), there is not one piccolo, one clarinet, one violin, not these only, or the relationships between each (this is visible, obvious), but each has its own otherness: its about-to-be and what-has-been; its being-in- and out-of-time. A note, a song, slips in from all time (if the note is true). These dimensions are held within a weaving, adjusting tensions, teasing at edges like insects in a web. The tangible geometry of it. This is why I can’t agree with someone in the audience (Elision, A Matter of Breath), complaining Elision should be playing Perezzani’s joke to us. He wants histrionics, a little, light show. I don’t think that’s the point: the joke is in the music, the colour is already in the sound. (Remember Synergy in Matsuri Mark II in Sydney, where sophisticated slides of the earth’s globe turning killed the magnanimous, multitudinous, at times more delicate associations of the sound.) Rather, the matter with the Breath concert to me lies elsewhere.

Each piece is progressively less focused on the amassing of statements than on lipping the edges (skin to wood/brass/string; thought to breath) from where sound comes. But such focus perhaps needs more physical intimacy than the Iwaki Auditorium allows. Elision’s previous installation works in derelict buildings, old churches, railway yards (Lim/de Clario’s Bar-do’i-thos-grol; Barrett/Crow’s Opening of the Mouth) stretched our receptors to sound—mid-night, pre-dawn, brick kiln, underground, making us listen blind, listen tired. Although Breath’s pieces asked me to receive small timbres, textures, virtuosities (inherent in even the largest works I’ve heard Elision play), the podium feels more and more aloof, the lights keep bowing in and out as if the musicians are actors awkwardly teasing us with bows.

It is not my problem with Sunday’s Into The Volcano at all. From the opening note, solo and ensemble work have consistent hold. The young guest composer Giorgio Netti’s note all’Empedocle is a modestly magnificent piece by a composer whose knowing marks him as much older. Again and again the ear is led back into a work of quietly astonishing structure, tracking instruments that move through each other as the eye and hand takes in a piece of crystal. Meticulous yet liberating: somehow, suddenly, you are placed half-way down the volcano. Within the complexity lies an intimacy of inclusion. Shape has a pulse, and span-in-time. At one point, Elizabeth Drake and I find our hands conducting in synch, as if we share an arm. These players, strangers, are as close as my breathing allows.

Liza Lim’s The Heart’s Ear stretches and flattens the tuning of notes in a way that slices historical time: windows of different tenses slide in and out over the length of a bar. A sure touch in instrumental combinations, valves pumping and speeding, mellifluous strings with rasping winds. And then, 4 chambers pulse. How is this achieved? A 6 year old in the audience is on the edge of her seat, conducting, eyes agleam. This concert understands something of the geometry of our listening, being.

I am touched, because touching meets my ear. I can listen (like Keats to the thrush) with full-throated ease. Perhaps this respect is all I ask for the effort of my listening.

Ballet Preljocaj, Romeo et Juliette, State Theatre, October 3; A Matter of Breath, soloists of Elision Ensemble, Iwaki Auditorium, ABC, Southbank, October 31; Elision Ensemble, Into The Volcano, conductor Sandro Gorli, Iwaki Auditorium, November 1

RealTime issue #28 Dec-Jan 1998 pg. 6

© Zsuzsanna Soboslay; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Romeo et Juliette

Romeo et Juliette

Romeo et Juliette

Why is it that so many dance works in this year’s Melbourne Festival concerned themselves with limits? Streb played with the limits of a body in space, Nederlands Dans Theater III stretched the age limit of the dancing body, Ballet Preljocaj represented the limits of the totalitarian state, Chunky Move toyed with the limits of a physical body, and Company in Space explored the limits of the flesh/video interface. There is no intrinsic merit to be found in exploring a limit for its own sake. Try bashing your head against a brick wall (QED). No, the exploration of limits must offer something more, some insights regarding its approach.

I think that Streb’s performance aspires to greater limits than it goes anywhere near achieving. In a circus-like stream of acrobatic body slams, wall flings, and mattress thumps, 10 or so lycra-wrapped bodies yelled commands, syncopated near-misses, hurled themselves against surfaces and, in the ultimate drama, dived through a sheet of plate glass. In her company manifesto, Elizabeth Streb writes that “Streb isolates the basic principles of time, space and human movement potential” (program notes). Yet the works themselves very quickly coalesced around self-imposed limitations. The speed of the movement was homogeneous, the tension consistent, beginnings and endings arbitrary. Even though we were “introduced” to each dancer by name, age and weight (racetrack data), it was very hard to differentiate their movement qualities. Little challenge was meted out to our conventional sense of a body in space and time. Two pieces call for recognition: Little Ease (1985) consisted of a coffin sized box, requiring the dancer to occupy its numerous denominations (this was Elizabeth Streb’s signature solo). It reminded me of Nietzsche’s remark about our dancing in chains, the point being that strict limitations can be productive. The other piece, Up (1995), really did live up to the artistic hopes of its creator. Working on a trampoline, members of the company bounced and caught themselves on high ceiling bars, launched themselves from side platforms and returned to the platforms horizontally, bounced onto the ubiquitous floor mats, and ducked and wove through each other. The timing was magnificent and the sense of up definitely and delightfully achieved.

The appeal of Nederlands Dans Theater III was the age factor: all dancers over 40 and, in one case, 62. Their wit, sense of time and precise interactions gave great pleasure. What was less pleasurable was the superficiality of the works. The brilliance of the vignettes in Trompe l’Oeil was tantalising but I refuse to believe that the plethora of sketches was a virtue and not a vice. Compass had a metal ball orbit the stage in a circular motion. Sadly, the movement of the ball was more interesting than the dancing within its circuit. A Way A Lone rescued the night somewhat. A video screen occupied half the stage, re-presenting the live movement but staggered in time and distorted in terms of speed. This work was dedicated “to somebody no longer here.” The question of death inevitably dogs a company of aging dancers. I’m not sure whether the attraction of Nederlands Dans Theater III is that they seem to defy mortality or approach it with grace.

Ballet Preljocaj’s Romeo et Juliette offered much more straightforward limits, the transgression of which threatened disaster, and ultimately produced the famed tragedy of bungled messages and crushed love. Yet however straightforward totalitarian rule may be, its evocation cannot avoid eliciting fear and discomfort. Although not everyone experienced this work as menacing, I found the set, a Dystopian vision from Dune, the not-so secret police, and the concentration camp perimeter with matching German Shepherd, scary. We don’t have to go all that far—to East Timor in fact—to reach a comparable regime of intimidation. Angelin Preljocaj’s imaginary premise was that the social order excised “the freedom to love”, thereby creating a very 20th century setting for this fable of forbidden love and caste war. Not surprisingly, this work has provoked recollections of Nazism, the Balkans, and recently, a remembrance of Pinochet’s terror. Oddly enough, and I don’t really know why, love did not seem too out of place here.

Chunky Move is renowned for its choreographic vigour and full-on dancing. Its typical audience has many more body piercings per square metre than most other social spaces. How appropriate then that Paul Norton’s The Rogue Tool used long metal props to support and limit the boundaries of a body. Gideon Obarzanek’s C.O.R.R.U.P.T.E.D. 2 also availed itself of the limit in terms of a stunning, revolving metal shape rather like a satellite dish gone wrong. I was rather disappointed that more wasn’t made of the spatial impact of its rotation. The dancers mainly ducked under it when it approached, merely to continue their dazzling kinetic play as if nothing had happened. However, I did very much like the short piece, Special Combination, performed repeatedly in a little box-like space in a room not much bigger. A naked body, inscribed by moving projections described lines in space with the surface and volume of her body.

Perhaps Company in Space least merits a discussion in terms of limits. If there is a limit to their work, it is the shifting sands of contemporary video, music and computer technologies. Nor does the company fetishise technology, a project rejected by video artist Bill Viola as doomed to bore. A Trial by Video purported to put on trial a number of axes of domination (racism, sexism, political power). Where better to stage such an evaluation than that Gothic meeting place, the former Melbourne Magistrate’s Court. Not that questions of domination have ever been of concern to our legal system. Most of the members of the court—Speech, Dissent, Case, Diplomacy and Trial—appeared in person. Incommunicado appeared from outside the court, from London in fact, juxtaposed against live-video images of the local dancers. An odd interaction, yet one more touching than the stiffly orchestrated series of corporate handshakes (Diplomacy) we witnessed in the flesh. But this is a work which interrogates and challenges such assumptions concerning the dominance of flesh over film, of presence over absence.

Must a work of artistic significance always extend or transgress limits? Traditional conceptions of the avant-garde might suggest that great art requires the breakdown of barriers. Yet whether one is inside or outside a limit matters less than the substance of the work and its potential to inform.

Streb, October 15 – 19; Trompe l’Oeil, Nederlands Dans Theater III, October 23 – 25; Romeo et Juliette, Ballet Preljocaj, October 19 – November 1, all at State Theatre; Fleshmeet, Chunky Move, Malthouse, October 21 – 31;Trial by Video, Company in Space, former Melbourne Magistrates Court, October 22 – 31

RealTime issue #28 Dec-Jan 1998 pg. 5-6

© Philipa Rothfield; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

In a long rectangular space, 3 white squares are arranged into the shape of a pyramid—one square in front and 2 behind. The shrill hum of cicadas and the squawking of crickets occupies the aural space. One of the white squares is filled with sand and a body is buried underneath, resting in a supine pose, an upside down bucket covering the head and neck. Only the feet and lower arms are visible. As the hiss of insects increases in volume, the foot slowly begins to move. It repeatedly flexes and curls in slow luxurious movements. The foot lifts and the leg emerges from the sand. It curls, writhes and twists like the body of a snake. The foot, the snake’s head, darts from side to side. It moves to strike. The space is transformed into a hostile environment simulating, perhaps, the hot summer’s day that the Beaumont children disappeared.

Did a snake in the grass take the Beaumont children? Or was it a freak wave that carried them far out to sea? An arresting piece of performance in the Brisbane Festival VOLT program, Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? co-written by Maryanne Lynch and Shane Rowlands and directed by Fiona Winning, did not provide easy answers. Rather, it examined the urban myth that has grown up around the disappearance of the 3 children from a popular Adelaide beach in the middle of summer. Written for solo female performer, Rebecca Murray, Baby Jane brings together 2 stories of 2 people living 30 years apart (1966/1996) who are equally obsessed with the children’s disappearance.

At one moment Murray plays a 9 year old girl negotiating the boiling hot beach sand or getting dumped by a huge wave. The next she is transformed into a 39 year old woman in a sheer white dress and red shoes, standing on the porch waving goodbye to family or friends. The girl wonders how many buckets of sea water she can swallow in case her pet dog is taken by a freak wave. She practices her speech to strange men who may want to entice her into a car with boiled lollies. The woman, we discover, lives in the Beaumont house and spends her time scouring the place for traces of the missing children. She toys with height markings etched into a wall in red pen. She finds 3 embroidered hankies in a crack in the wall, each a different pattern indicating the distinct personalities of the owners. Her phone rings but there is no one on the other end. The woman takes this, together with the traces she has uncovered, as a sign that the children are still present. She explains her theory over the phone to the host of a talkback radio show.

The poetry of the text was enhanced by the design of the performance space and by Rodolphe Blois’ soundscape. The final sound-image of a giant wave crashing over the audience, left us with an accretion of images (debris) to pick through and make sense of. In this way, Baby Jane explored the poetics of urban myth making.

Headlining the festival’s theatre program were a new adaptation by Neil Armfield and Geoffrey Rush of Beaumarchais’ The Marriage of Figaro for the QTC, and an adaptation by Helen Edmundson of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina for the UK’s Shared Experience Theatre. While both productions were outstanding, it was Shared Experience’s physical style of performance that stole the limelight. Edmundson’s text juxtaposed the stories of Anna and Levin. Present on stage for much of the performance, their clipped responses to each other’s questions served to set the scene and create a fluid, fast moving performance. The semi-circular set with a sliding central panel made for a flexible performance space. With the panel fixed in the middle, the performers sometimes played out 2 different scenes simultaneously. In one scene, Anna, centre stage, carried on a dialogue with both Vronsky and Karenin, who entered and exited through separate doors created on either side of the sliding panel. Anna being sandwiched between the 2 men, gave concrete form to her growing distress.

The performance also put many sequences of stylised movement and repetitive gesture to good effect. For instance, in the racing scene Vronsky is placed amongst the race crowd. His mount is played by Anna and as the crowd watches the race we see Vronsky ride Anna into the ground. The train that Anna falls under is a line of chorus actors performing a choreographed dance. At the height of her fever, a chorus actor personifying death covers Anna. She has to struggle with the actor before she can regain her health. Frustrated in love, Levin shovels sand over and over into a suitcase while extolling the virtues of work. Unable to be with the man she loves, Anna repeatedly knocks back vials of morphine signalling her spiralling addiction to the drug.

La Boite’s A Beautiful Life by Michael Futcher and Helen Howard was based on the Iranian embassy riot in Canberra in 1992 and the ensuing court case. In an attempt to speak back to calls for refugees to assimilate into Australian society, the writers interrogate the way in which culture indelibly inscribes the citizen’s body, particularly through imprisonment and torture. They argue that it isn’t possible to simply shrug off one set of cultural inscriptions, values and experiences and to assume another. Given the importance of such a project, the script for A Beautiful Life still needs further refinement. The focus for the performance should have remained, as it began, on the son of adults arrested in the riot. Born in Iran and brought up in Australia, he acts as a point of translation between 2 very different and distinct cultures. His struggle to understand his parents’ and his own position within Australian society would have provided a better treatment of the dramatic idea than the long exposition of the family’s life in Iran or the lawyer’s slow dawning realisation of the links between justice, economics, trade and diplomacy.

A strong tradition of storytelling continues to be nurtured by Brisbane’s Kooemba Jdarra. The company’s festival piece, Black Shorts, presented 3 short plays by new Indigenous playwrights from around Australia. Glen Shea’s Possession (dir. Lafe Charlton), Jadah Milroy’s Jidja (dir. Margaret Harvey) and Ray Kelley’s Beyond the Castle (dir. Lafe Charlton) represented a range of Indigenous experiences and perspectives and, in the diversity of stories told, engaged a broad audience.

Possession is a clever piece of writing that unravels to reveal a particularly shocking incident, which scarred the members of one family. The play explores the impact of incest (father-son) on the lives of 3 siblings, 2 brothers and one sister. It delivers a jolt to the audience’s sensibilities as we are forced to witness the elder brother’s fierce anger, the younger brother’s utter shame and humiliation and their sister’s desperate attempt to hold onto some semblance of a vital, young life in the making. Towards the end of the play, even this possibility is foreclosed as we learn that the characters inhabit the spirit world, having been hung for the murder of their father.

A devastating performance by Margaret Harvey as the sister in Possession was followed by her directorial debut in Jidja, a compact piece of writing, weaving a number of stories into the tapestry of an old, Aboriginal woman’s life. From a chair centre stage in a house bordering the Catholic home she was sent to as a child, an old woman (played by the accomplished Roxanne McDonald) tells her life story directly to the audience as if we are old, intimate friends. She remembers her happy early years, living together with her sister, bought up by their grandmother. She recounts her grandmother’s death, the girls’ placement in a Catholic home, and her life long search for the sister she was separated from when she was adopted out to a white family. In this piece it was the performer’s warmth and friendly intimacy as she related what was a tragic, yet not uncommon story, that I found disarming and extremely upsetting.

Attitude by Expressions Dance Company and Hong Kong City Contemporary Dance Company, Streb by the Elizabeth Streb Company and Arrêtez Arrêtons Arrête by the Mathilde Monnier company were major works included in the festival Dance program. Of the 3, the French production, created for the 1997 Montpellier International dance festival, was the most engaging and exciting. Elizabeth Streb’s choreography lacked the texture that Streb claimed for her work when she said that it investigates “the tension between volition and gravity imposed by structures which are at once physically confining and liberating.” Attitude, choreographed by Maggi Sietsma, explored images and vignettes taken from the different cultural histories of her dancers through a combination of sound (music by Abel Vallis), image (video projections by Randall Wood), and dance. Sietsma used the space creatively, choreographing the dancers on multiple stages. But she was unable in the end to meld her ideas and these different performance media into an integrated dance work or to achieve the audience interaction that the opening scene—a ‘Simon says’ routine—attempted. Integration was one of the main strengths of Arrêtez, Arrêtons, Arrête.

Mathilde Monnier’s choreography for 8 dancers was accompanied by a live monologue written by Christine Angot (an English translation was provided in the program), performed by a comedian. The text addressed the difference between the beauty and balance of dance and the ugly, obsessive discipline of the dancer. Set in the round, the dancers and comedian performed in close proximity to the audience creating a continuous space between performer and spectator. The comedian spoke in an intimate tone and addressed the audience directly. The performers also interacted with the set itself, a simple steel frame held together with suspension cables which made it an extremely flexible structure that moved with their bodies as they pushed or crashed against it. Monnier’s choreography consisted of a series of singular repetitive gestures, which signified individual everyday obsessions. Through this the dancers suddenly found openings into more expansive movements, usually performed in pairs. With the tension between the opposed pairs of light and shadow, text and movement/gesture, space and set, performer/dancer and audience, Monnier and her company created a complex and confronting work that addressed the inner struggle to move through self-imposed confines.

Queensland Theatre Company, Beaumarchais, The Marriage of Figaro, Optus Playhouse, Sept 3 – 19; Shared Experience Theatre, Anna Karenina, Suncorp Theatre, Aug 28-Sept 6; A Beautiful Life, La Boite Theatre, Aug 28-Sept 12; Kooemba Jdarra, Black Shorts, Metro Arts Theatre, Aug 28 – Sept 5; Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, Institute of Modern Art, Sept 1 – 6; Expressions Dance Company and Hong Kong City Contemporary Dance Company, Attitude, Conservatorium Theatre, Aug 28 & 29, Sept 1-5; Streb, Suncorp Theatre, Sept 15-19; Mathilde Monnier company, Arretez Arretons Arrete, Conservatorium Theatre, Sept 11 – 16;

RealTime issue #28 Dec-Jan 1998 pg. 8

© Kerrie Schaefer; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

“You give and give and give, and so take all I have.”
Paul Kelly, Generous Lover

My Father’s Father’s House
http://members.xoom.com/olande/callahan2/index.html [link expired]

My Father’s Father’s House (writer Terry Callahan, designer Jamie Kane) uses frames and simple diagrammatic plans to navigate a couple’s relationship breakdown and the negotiation, renovation, of space and desire. The house on the street. What the neighbours see. The cars that cruise by on Sunday morning. Click on the picket fence to delve deeper into the black and white sketch. What’s going on inside; isolation on a busy road. As we enter the gate, we cross the border between public and private space. A house, made up of squares, built with his father’s father’s hands, a house where his wife crosses boundaries many times.

A couple with no children, resigned bitterness like dust in the air. As we click on hallway, verandah, bathroom, kitchen, bedroom, the house itself becomes a character; occupied, wooden, threatened and old but still more alive than their slowly disintegrating love:

The house breathes, aches, lives. Cracks its joints. The still supple timber adjusts to the shifting balance of my wife and I, the furniture. For all its plumb squareness and dead levels, there is a reassuring give, a making of allowances.

His wife, an engineer who “can talk stressors and turning movements until [his] head hurts”, demolishes and renovates, threatening his identity and connections with the past:

Handed down by the words of fathers.
Nails in.
A portrait on the wall. Still
Grasping at something intangible.
A child’s bedroom.
Hammering it home.

We gradually move inside the house, into the subconscious, into the world of unrealised dreams. His wife becomes radical. She has layers of plans with pent-up meanings. She becomes eroticised by change, she seduces him, she wants to knock down walls: “Her timing was impeccable. Three o’clock when all my defences are down and her feather fingers on my right buttock. I didn’t hesitate.” Who’s in control now? as he listens to her movements in the house, tracking his lover by creaks and sighs

They wear each other down, sawdusting away intimacy, erecting new traps for entanglement; she wants one room to be a rectangle. She wins arguments by agreeing with him, her needs escalate, he becomes displaced: “But we don’t need it. Not anymore. You sleep with me now, remember?”

Like the house, he can adjust to her rhythm, straining and giving, bathing in the warmth and lingering light of her handiwork. Like the house, he can learn to become exposed.

RealTime issue #28 Dec-Jan 1998 pg. 16

© Kirsten Krauth; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

The Place, London

The Place, London

In May 1998 The Place theatre closed for renovations. Thirty years after it opened, this national powerhouse for contemporary dance takes a breather from the headlong growth which has kept it at the forefront of developments in this comparatively young art-form. While the history of The Place traces a rather adhoc, opportunistic growth pattern, it is fair to say that in these harsh times for the independent arts in Britain its role as a beacon for innovation has never been more solid.

Practically every dance artist in the UK has passed through the swing doors of the old school building in Euston. Even those in far-flung corners of Scotland and Wales, loath as they are to recognise the benefits of the capital’s concentration of talent, will have made the trip to catch one of the world-class performers which this unpretentious stage attracts.

An award of £5.081 million from the National Lottery will transform The Place without changing its role or raison d’être. While the battles to raise the necessary £1.7 million in matching funds rage in campaigns of seat-selling and corporate events, the everyday life of the building races along with its usual erratic energies.

As a National Dance Agency, The Place has both a national and regional role. Arts Council funding for the network of NDAs supplements regional funding to encourage diversity and distribution of dance across the country. As the big brother of the newer NDAs and regional dance agencies, The Place tends to pioneer schemes which are then replicated at a regional level.

The Associate Artists scheme is such an example of best practice. Two part-time administrators manage a pool of emerging artists from well-equipped offices at The Place. Providing a liaison, as much moral as practical, these professionals support the inevitable self-management of young, under-funded artists. Office equipment is supplied free of charge and the artists are also able to draw upon the pool of experience located in the management of the resident companies in the building.

While VTol, Second Stride, The Cholmondleys and the Featherstonehaughs may have gone, Random, Bi Ma and Shobana Jeyasingh Dance Company all remain and Richard Alston, artistic director of the School runs his highly successful middle scale company from The Place. Resident artists teach at the school, contribute to special projects and perform in the theatre, generally adding to the sense of The Place as a home for dance artists at every stage of their career.

In the theatre office, director John Ashford heads a team of resourceful managers in the programming of the varied seasons by which The Place stimulates London’s dance audiences. Evolving over time, these initiatives remain fresh through Ashford’s international contacts, which enable him to confidently experiment with his programming. The Turning World, the annual showcase for non-British work, has introduced now familiar names like Vicente Saez, and continues to provoke with cutting-edge artists from across the world. While larger companies such as Les Ballets C de la B perform at the Queen Elizabeth Hall, The Place’s excellent 300 seat theatre provides an intimate setting for artists such as Sacha Waltz.

International artists return to The Place on 2 more occasions in the year. In the autumn Dance Umbrella, London’s largest dance festival programs the Place, alongside Sadler’s Wells, the Southbank Centre and Riverside Studios. Dance Umbrella also features British artists and The Place runs a complementary Dance on Screen festival for work on film during this period. Since 1994, The Place has simultaneously played host to the Digital Dancing festival of dance and technology experimentation, providing a venue for telepresence events such as Susan Kozel’s Angels and Astronauts 1997 performance across remote spaces.

In Re:Orient, The Place programs a week of Asian dance, presenting companies from across the region alongside British artists with Asian roots. This ambitious venture struggles annually to survive, but remains a source of singular pleasures, with productions from artists such as Japanese Kim Itoh selling out year on year.

The Spring Loaded festival, again in partnership with the Southbank Centre, presents the best of new British work at the middle scale. A balance between established companies such as Yolande Snaith Theatredance and lesser known companies such as Bedlam is carefully struck to give a unique snapshot of the current state of the artform in Britain. Every effort is made to include companies from the regions and the event is a highlight for regional promoters who often fill their seasons from Ashford’s selections.

Before Spring Loaded comes Resolution! the forum for new work, which is open to those with no professional experience and encourages experimental, mixed media work as long as movement is a major component. Resolution! operates a box-office split for the 3 companies performing each night and supplies technical and promotional support to the fledgling artists. A real mixed bag, Resolution! is nevertheless renowned for its rollercoaster extremes. Highs and lows. Recently the season has been broadened to include 2 new and complementary strands. Evolution features companies returning from earlier seasons and Aerowaves presents international work of a comparable standard. Mixing the 3 strands into each evening builds audiences by spreading the risk of what is always an intriguing gamble.

Alongside all this performance, The Place supports the creation of new work. Studios are hired to artists and projects such as the annual Choreodrome offer space at a reduced rate as well as mentoring and documentation of the creative process to selected artists through an application process. Workshops run on an ad hoc basis, with recent offers including video production with Elliot Caplan, independent US filmmaker of Cunningham fame.

Dance Services, which manages projects for professionals at The Place, operates a membership system which provides a monthly news magazine, Juice, an enquiry service for funding and performance opportunities, a library of periodicals and reference material, and advice surgeries for artists and administrators alike. In conjunction with Dance Services, the Video Place keeps an archive of work on film and records every performance at The Place as well as offering reduced rate recording services.

The London Contemporary Dance School keeps the cafe smoky and loud as students from all over the world work hard in intensive terms, benefiting from the teaching of Richard Alston and professional guest teachers. LCDS provides a 3 year full-time vocational training in contemporary dance and has nearly 170 students in diploma, degree and postgraduate courses. 4D, the graduate performance group of the school charges students to tour tailor-made work by a range of choreographers, gaining a sort of apprenticeship to the professional life.

Education and Community Projects is a small unit which offers high quality teaching and special projects to schools across London. Operating a database of contacts for the sector, E&CP is a state-of-the-art resource to the community and produces videos, teachers’ packs and support material for dance in the curriculum. Special needs groups are serviced by experts and projects—such as the recent White Out initiative with over 200 boys from London schools–are unprecedented examples of the ambition of the unit. The Evening School offers classes at various entry levels to the general public, regardless of age or experience. Each year, 13,000 individuals attend classes at The Place and 31,000 attended performances in the theatre in 1997. The Young Place offers an early introduction to dance training and the Youth company for 13-18 year olds meets twice weekly to make performance works.

The Place has come a long way since philanthropist Robin Howard bought the old schoolhouse in 1969 and invited Robert Cohan of the Martha Graham Dance Company to set up the London School of Contemporary Dance, from which emerged London Contemporary Dance Theatre. Artists such as Siobhan Davies, Rosemary Butcher and Ian Spink launched their careers to small and excitable audiences at The Place, then and now, the only theatre in England dedicated year-round to the presentation of dance. With the extended studio space, new catering and administrative facilities and enlarged stage, the Place looks set to take the millennium in its stride, slotting back into the changing dance provision of the capital without missing a beat.

Changes are afoot due to the national Lottery as venues line up to grab the fast dwindling cash for capital. This Autumn the new Sadler’s Wells opens with a fanfare program of greats, the Laban Centre begins its refurbishments and Greenwich Dance Agency puts in its bid for growth. A new rehearsal venue comes online at The Jerwood Space and Siobhan Davies Dance Company evaluates its lottery-funded feasibility study into the acquisition of a purpose built rehearsal and office space. The Peacock Theatre continues to program commercial dance and The Barbican nurtures its developing relationship with dance with an invitation to Merce Cunningham’s company. As debate rages over the Royal Opera House and the future home of the Royal Ballet, the precariousness of The Place’s ambitious target for matching funds seems pleasantly achievable and quite in context with a tradition of upheaval and innovation.

RealTime issue #28 Dec-Jan 1998 pg. 36

© Sophie Hansen; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Michele Barker & Anna Munster, The Love Machine

Michele Barker & Anna Munster, The Love Machine

Honest to God, if I hear the ‘m’ word one more time, I’m going to have a cartographic seizure. Since the early 80s when Fredric Jameson conflated pomo angst with an inability to represent the reconfiguration of spatiality, cultural production has remained in the thrall of the map. The ‘will to cartography’ describes the dominant critical stance informing a broad range of cultural practices, aesthetic commentaries and emergent social sites. One thinks immediately, of course, of all those energetic efforts to map, navigate and chart the spaces of post-corporeal digital existence. Yet it has to be admitted that there are some environments where a spot of mapping comes in handy: bioethics, new reproductive technologies and the Human Genome Project. A preoccupation with the logic of maps reflects our current fascination with borders and boundaries, interface and intersection. What constitutes the inside and outside of the body has become increasingly problematic for cultural commentators, scientists, media theorists and artists. And what might be the consequences of transgressing or mutating these limits was the subject of a recent Experimenta Media Arts event held in Melbourne, Viruses and Mutations.

Curated by Keely Macarow, the event brought together a diverse group of academics, genetic scientists, bioethicists and artists. Produced with the assistance of Cinemedia, Viruses and Mutations was part of the Melbourne Festival Visual Arts Program and consisted of three interrelated projects: a one-day cultural symposium, an exhibition—with works from digital artists and medical industry professionals—and a website. These three elements offered a way to critique and represent the issues that are generated when aesthetics, science and technology clash.

Indeed, a number of the contributors to the exhibition seemed quite keen on collision narratives. One of the most intriguing, albeit disquieting, installations imagined biotechnology as an aircraft crash. Called Cotis Movie (‘Cult of the Inserter Seat’ and ‘Mechanism of Viral Infection Entry’) this digital sound installation, by the international artist collective KIT, used medical scanning apparatus as a metaphor to trace all kinds of worrying links between bodies, technology and virology. Activated by one’s own body—you had to get up on a little stage and sit in a simulated aircraft seat to start the show—Cotis Movie constructed an environment of uncomfortable immersion and somatic pain. I mean this quite literally. The sound sculpture created by the three speakers surrounding the aircraft seat, reverberated in a way almost too painful to bear. A frantic voice screeches “we’re going down”. Seated in front of a screen you read that the Cotis Movie scanner has, apparently, located your vulnerable point in order to implant a virus. A tad apocalyptic? Well, yes. And this is what makes Cotis Movie a troubling encounter. If mapping has captured the cultural imagination, then the millennial discourse of the virus is no slouch either. While tropes of infection and viral transmission are made to stand for a plethora of cultural phenomena or transformations (malfunctions in computer software, popularity of theory in literature departments and so on) those with actual, material bodies infected by viruses continue to suffer. We ought to be a little cautious when the representation of illness appears to articulate a kind of techno-sublime: “the intended outcome of the Cotis Movie is an aircraft crash—which in this case suggests a mutated body—a body fused between technology.”

Theorising the body as a site for technological intervention—as collision, fusion, transgression or intersection—concerns a number of the other works in the exhibition. Justine Cooper’s digital video, Rapt, for example, imaged the artist’s own body to explore the effects of biomedical technology on corporeal understandings of time and space. The Tissue Culture & Art Project (reviewed in the Oct/Nov issue of RealTime) by Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr used living tissue to ‘grow’ a conceit about the relation between process and product—life and artificiality, art and science. The Love Machine, an installation by Michele Barker and Anna Munster, aimed to “represent the hybridity which computer imaging makes possible between technology and flesh.” This exhibit mimed the logic of a photo booth; that is, it simulated a particular kind of photo booth that the artists discovered in Japan and Hong Kong which takes a photograph of a couple and then digitally predicts and delivers a picture of the offspring. For Barker and Munster the structure provided a way to speculate about notions of definitive biological origin, ambiguous identity, authenticity and digital modes of reproduction.

In this regard The Love Machine dealt with what a number of commentators identify as a deeply significant paradigmatical alliance of the second half of this century: genetics and cybernetics. From the 1950s, information theory and cybernetics began to inform the knowledge production and scientific practices of molecular biology. Heredity was to be understood in terms of information, data, sequence and code. So organisms became informational patterns, data transmitting devices, nodes of input and output, modes of retrieval and archival. Fahhhbulously sexy and no wet patch. The disappearing material body, notions of genetic determinism, post-human subjectivity and a realignment of the mind/body dichotomy, can be seen as a function of the relations between genetic research, information theory and cybernetics. These developments have, of course, been well theorised by a range of quite different thinkers such as Donna Haraway, Arthur Kroker (natch) and Jean Baudrillard. What’s interesting about The Love Machine is the way it reinvests the argument with a lesbian polemic, questioning the technological essentialism of the body-as-information trope.

I read a comment that encapsulates a key theme of the one-day symposium. When asked about the ethical implications of genetic engineering, Francis Crick (who, with James Watson, discovered the double helical structure of DNA) is supposed to have remarked something along the lines of ‘social concerns are quite nice but let’s worry about them after we’ve made the scientific discoveries.’ (Or, to borrow that god-awful Kevin Costner line, “if you build it he will come.”) While the conference provided a forum for interdisciplinary rapport between scientists, cultural commentators and artists, there was little movement around or departure from some fairly traditional theoretical positions: those of the ‘Crick school’ and those opposed. One of the most interesting exchanges occurred during question time between feminist lawyer and publisher, Dr Jocelynne Scutt, and Professor Grant Sutherland head of the Department of Cytogenetics and Molecular Genetics at Adelaide Women’s and Children’s Hospital. Sutherland felt it was ‘up to the community’ to decide about the applications of new genetic engineering technology while Scutt urged scientists to locate themselves more self-consciously within these techno-scientific discourses.

Along with issues of technological determinism, key areas of debate concerned the ethical, social and political implications of gene patents and the Human Diversity Project, gene therapy, genetically engineered foodstuffs, detection of the so-called gay gene, in-vitro fertilisation, and genetic screening. This last point was discussed by a number of the speakers. Both Bob Phelps (director of the GeneEthics Network) and Dr Udo Schuklenk (Monash University’s Centre for Human Bioethics) spoke passionately and eloquently about the degree to which the ability to predict or detect genetic based disease could witness institutional discrimination across the fields of education, employment, insurance and health care. Universal health care was seen as a crucial issue because those who are identified as ‘at risk’ for certain genetic conditions might be unable to secure private health insurance.

It’s become almost commonplace to characterise our cultural moment as one preoccupied with the signifier over the signified, with the medium over the message, the map over the terrain. Viruses and Mutation sought to be situated somewhere within this pattern of signification. Both the conference and exhibition were very much concerned with exploring the tropes and iconography of biotechnological research, while emphasising the interdependence of the material and the semiotic, metaphor and literal. The exhibition was, after all, held in a conference centre called The Aikenhead.

Experimenta Media Arts, Viruses and Mutations, curator Keely Macarow; exhibition, Aikenhead Conference Centre, St Vincent’s Hospital, Fitzroy, October 19–31; symposium, State Film Theatre, East Melbourne, October 24; website: www.experimenta.org

RealTime issue #28 Dec-Jan 1998 pg. 24

© Esta Milne; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Lucy Francis, Virgin with Hard Drive

Lucy Francis, Virgin with Hard Drive

The inaugural Brisbane-based Multimedia Arts Asia Pacific 98 Festival, directed by Kim Machan, puts Brisbane once more in the regional ’hood. As the locus for the Asia-Pacific Triennial and with a run of cultural and artistic exchange projects and events, Brisbane is emerging as not just a port-of-call, but a site of connectivity. In its first incarnation, MAAP 98 aimed to create the infrastructure and provide scope to accommodate technology-based artworks, exhibitions and projects from the region.

The web provided the necessary ‘links’ which ‘maaped’ the Asia-Pacific in a series of flows: images, sounds, commentary and texts. Further engagements and interactions with online, screened, exhibited and performed work and texts provided us with the hyper- and inter-textual awareness that helps us understand this region as fragmented complexity. The hardrive grinds as it struggles to download sites and plug-ins. Perusing loses that luxuriant, ambling quality. We wait rather than take our time as sites download in random splinters. Hitting a site scripted with Java…” System Error 11—Restart.” Even so, these works are worth the wait.

You have to wonder, if we’re having trouble (albeit on an older Mac) in a city in a country that has consistently prioritised telecommunications, how do you manage in downtown Kendari (given the west’s penchant for ‘dumping’ outdated technology)? Perhaps this will be addressed in future MAAPs whose vision is also to create a nexus between community, artform and the multimedia industries. Perhaps as well, these questions may be contextualised by the Australian Network for Art and Technology as it develops and re-negotiates strategies for its 1999 program focus, Digital Region. Certainly, these (and other) concerns and ideas were discussed by various speakers at the festival’s Think Tank forum.

As these speakers pointed out, electronic media are capable of carrying many messages, in many ways and to many audiences. Clearly, information technology is located differently across cultures inspiring suspicion and wariness in some contexts. However, for most Australian practitioners, this technology is generally perceived as capable of providing the context for new possibilities, exchanges and meanings. It is this capability which locks us into the myth about a box from antiquity which stores hope. For example, Brisbane school children participate in environmental awareness-raising through video and performance, conveying their concern about pollution levels in the air we breathe. Working with George Pinn and Jeremy Hynes, these students give form to SMOG. The open-air presentation of this work, after a number of speeches, formed the opening night event. The festival’s impressive list of sponsors bodes well for new media arts securing support from the corporate sector. Or, does it merely reflect that multimedia industries know the value of audience development as a factor in demand creation and parts of the Asia-Pacific are demand waiting to happen?

Lehan Ramsay & Hiroshi Yasukawa, Resonance (detail), Shoreline exhibition, 1998

Lehan Ramsay & Hiroshi Yasukawa, Resonance (detail), Shoreline exhibition, 1998

So really, you do have to wonder. You have to wonder what kinds of hierarchies are being established or what new colonisations or postcolonialisms are sweeping through the region when a significant proportion of it has been declared ‘developing nation’ (and with that, there is most likely disproportionate representation in the ranks of the ‘information poor’). For all the talk about new media providing a new horizon for democracy, as a transference of hope, it is nevertheless a democracy with steep entry levels. But what has this to do with MAAP 98? Perhaps nothing, perhaps everything. At the core of such political dilemmas is the question, ‘who speaks for whom?’ However, in video works sourced from Malaysia, Japan and Hong Kong those speaking positions and their differentiated voices and contexts are made explicitly clear.
The digital domain seems partly surrounded by a permeable membrane that, while defining its territoriality, underscores the commonality and almost ubiquity of creative endeavour. Despite these flows, the imposition of the rectangular frame around these images and concerns is a continuation of the traditions we love and loathe. In MAAP 98 we are presented with a range of collaborative works—interchanges back and forth—such as Resonance in Shoreline: Particles and Waves http://www.maap.org.au/shoreline [link expired] curated by Beth Jackson. As a virtual gallery, Shoreline presented seven works by nine artists from Australia, Japan, Hong Kong and New Zealand. Utilising the metaphorics of the littoral, these works operate at the limit of the virtual ocean, testing seemingly given notions about art as it moves with the tides of interactivity, information and multimedia.

Equally we are witness to idiosyncratic (almost demagogic) posturing and preening in the Eurocentric tradition with some of the 160 exhibited entries to the National Digital Art Awards organised by and presented at the Institute of Modern Art. Yet counter to this, and within the same show, are spectacular advances in visualisation, and the overall winner, Justine Cooper’s video, Rapt (see RealTime 27, Colin Hood, “Between professional diagnosis and dumb fascination”), using medical imaging technology, takes the human corpus as site and perhaps uses as a currency for the region, corporeality of endeavour. Other place takers were John Tonkin’s web based artworks [ – link eexpired] and Norie Neumark and Maria Miranda’s Shock in the Ear. Despite the significance of this event in terms of promoting new media arts, its scheduling saw it competing with the rugby league grand final, resulting in a city-wide shortage of electronic equipment. While the IMA gathered whatever was available at short notice, there were varying degrees of success in terms of technological reliability; no wide screens and no instant replays.

Not having much luck with machines, we ventured towards less technologically contingent works and environments. At the Brisbane City Council Gallery, an exhibition of photographic and digital images by Robyn Stacey, curated by Frank McBride, provided close and closer scrutiny of flora in a series of optical illusions and manipulations. It is another overture by which we ‘know’ and reveal nature via technological means. A multimedia installation, Virgin with Hard Drive by Lucy Francis at Metro Arts, revealed a story set in the future exploring art, the artefact, conservation and decay.

Culture is notional, flowing across the nations of the region. Taking the fragrance or stink out of the localilty means we are able to enjoy tourism of the highest order. You can stay at home and, server willing, it all comes to you. However, this is not passive; this is not broadcasting. A different mode of engagement is demanded as the work whispers or screams into you ears and eyes; there is no false sense of security when a system or an economy crashes. IT is other: IT is heaps and heaps of others and you are both component and resident of this Tower of Babel, adding your voice to the many as the cacophony catches just long enough to allow a double click to next frame.

Multimedia Arts Asia Pacific Festival 98, Brisbane, September 18–26, online at http://www.maap.com.au

RealTime issue #28 Dec-Jan 1998 pg. 20

© Linda Carroli & John Armstrong; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Murray McKeich, Memory Trade

Murray McKeich, Memory Trade

There is hype and there is cyberhype: what distinguishes the latter from the former is its exponential quality. It is hype about hype itself, and it ramped up so fast in the 80s and 90s that it ended up pointing straight up, like a giddy soundbite version of John Glenn’s space shuttle launch.

Cyberhype, as Darren Tofts writes, was the consensual cliché of the times. Everything was digital, hyper, info, multi, techno, cyber, as if the whole world was about to go through some kind of gestalt-snapping paradigm shift right before our eyes. But as Michel Foucault once reminded us: perhaps we are not really living through revolutionary times. Perhaps this moment is just a coffee break in history—and a decaf coffee break at that.

As challenging as it may seem, this is one way to read Darren Tofts and Murray McKeich’s Memory Trade: A Prehistory of Cyberculture. McKeich’s Photoshop art, in particular, gives a somewhat scary flavour to the notion that the transformative power of technology, to remake who we think we are and can be, has always been part of what it is to be human. Or in other words it is the inhuman in us that makes us human—our capacity to become otherwise makes us always other than ourselves. If this is so, then the hubris of cyberhype gives way to something darker, to technofear. If this is not the first and only great revolution in our being, that we can’t really be sure who or what we are, going in to this next transformation.

Tofts argues that there are silent antecedents for the information revolution. He wants to map a possible history of what came before it. Or rather, a prehistory: “histories record: prehistories invent.” It’s a matter of assembling, out of unlikely elements, a working model for history itself.

Central to Tofts’ prehistory is the concept of cyberspace, which he calls “a tantalising abstraction, the state of incorporeality, of disembodied immersion in a ‘space’ that has no coordinates in actual space.” William Gibson named it ‘cyberspace’, and imagined how it might look 15 minutes into the future. Tofts asks rather about its 2,500 year past.

It’s a widespread perception that “community no longer conforms to the classical notion of a group of people living in a fixed location.” But did it ever? The idea that, as I’ve put it before, “we no longer have roots, we have aerials” and that “we no longer have origins we have terminals”, may in a sense have always been true. We can read in books or on websites about mythical, organic communities that existed always in some once-upon-a-time, but the very act of reading about such a world is the mark of our distance from it.

That there was always and already a ‘cyberspace’, without which there is no concept of history, is, as Tofts says, “a dizzying abstraction to grasp.” The trouble is that we humans are so embedded in communication technologies that they seem like second nature to us. Or perhaps they seem, to use a term of mine that Tofts borrows: a third nature. Humans build a physical environment more hospitable to them, and this becomes a second nature. Humans build an information environment more hospitable too, and this becomes a third nature. Only these new worlds don’t just make our old selves more comfortable, they transform what it means to be human.

Murray McKeich, Memory Trade

Murray McKeich, Memory Trade

A characteristic of cyberhype is the idea that the old communication technologies are alienating, but the new ones will restore us to a whole and organic way of life —what Marshall McLuhan called the global village. From Tofts’ point of view, this fantasy starts to look like exactly that. There is no Adamic pre-communicational world to return to. There is no millennial transformation in the offing. Rather, the relationship between culture and communication is a matter of permanent revolution.

Tofts is also sceptical about all of those books that announce the end of the book, and all the cyberhype about hypertext, as if clicking a few buttons on the screen could revolutionise the act of reading or writing. Reading is always hypertextual. This is obvious to anyone who has ever picked up a nonfiction book, scanned the index and the contents page, and then accessed the information in the order of their choice. Only fools with brains addled by an unrelieved diet of novels could ever fall for this nonsense about the book being ‘linear’ and computer based hypertext ‘nonlinear’ or ‘multilinear.’

To dispel some of the cyberhype, Tofts embarks on a prehistory of cyberspace that looks at 3 of its dimensions. He examines the history of writing, the construction of abstract spaces, and the invention of technologies of memory.

Writing is a technology. The way people who use this technology think and feel is just not natural. Tofts acknowledges the hostility of some of the more hide-bound lit-crit crowd to thinking deeply about this, but really writing is just one of a series of technologies that have transformed how humans think and feel, and transformed what it means to be human.

There is something inhuman about writing. The act of externalising sense, making it something cold and hard and apart from a human body, is downright weird. For Tofts, writing is where cyberspace begins. With writing, it is possible to detach human thoughts, feelings, expressions, from the time and place of their creation, and transport them to another time and place.

Even stranger, writing does not just externalise something human into something inhuman. It also does the reverse. Strange gaggles of abstract signs, little squiggles marked on a surface of stone or wood or paper, suddenly speak to us in our heads, addressing us and making us pay heed. How strange this is! A human who may be miles away, or may even have been dead for years, is making meaning inside me. Writing, in short, implicates any reading human in an inhuman world, a world where stones and leaves speak to us in our own language.

One of the reasons what were loosely called ‘poststructuralist’ theories of writing aroused so much misunderstanding is that they were often very much about this strangely inhuman side of the way writing works to make meaning. But this is really not a new concern. Tofts revisits Plato’s Phadrus, one of the first texts in the western canon to express an intimation of technofear, the disquiet caused by the inhuman side of technology. The irony is that while Socrates and his mates appear to discuss things like writing as a matter of conversation between humans, it is through the inhuman form of Plato’s written text that they ‘speak’ to us.
What is this strange space within which the dead and distant can communicate with us? It is cyberspace—and we’re already in it. As Tofts writes: “Literacy involved a series of subliminal acts that invoked a virtual space of shared meanings and understandings, the ambience otherwise known as communication.”

Following Derrida, Tofts argues that anything that can be the object of perception in this internal space is ‘virtual’. “The virtual is the link or bond that unifies our experience of the world and our conceptual understanding of that experience.” I think this is rather too restricted an understanding of the virtual, a reduction of a more sublime phenomenon to a special case. In Deleuze’s understanding, virtuality is a much broader category of radical possibility.

All the same, there is plenty to think about in terms of the radical possibility for otherness in human existence that Tofts assembles in his prehistory. Writing is just one instance of a technology, or group of technologies, that provide for an encoding of information in a more or less permanent and stable form, external to the body, which creates a time and space of sense making beyond the scope of the body, and which in turn invades and transforms the body, making it over into a machine for producing and reproducing communication.

While cyberhype wrongly sees the current crop of technologies as something more than an incremental development, it would also be an error to dismiss the current moment of extension and transformation of cyberspace altogether. Tofts identifies one particular key change: “The shift, within technologies and economies of memory, from the specific location that contains a finite archive of knowledge, to decentred networks of ambient information, requires a new metaphor to facilitate social orientation to the changing role of memory and memory trade within the information economy.” A new metaphor, or perhaps a new practice of thinking, both within and about the communication process.

Tofts stresses that the act of making meaning always takes place somewhere. This, for him, is the significance of Plato’s cave: representation always unfolds within a space. The space he proposes for rethinking the current state of third nature is James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, a text notable for its “ecology of sense” of the media world. Following Beckett, Tofts sees Wake as a writing that is not about something, it is that something.

A great one liner: “the pun is the nanotechnology of literature.” It sums up what it is about Wake that makes it such a radically virtual space. In Joyce’s book as in Murray McKeich’s art, anything and everything can be transformed into anything and everything whatever. Here is that space Burroughs announced, where “everything is permitted and nothing is true.” I think Finnegans Wake is less a metaphor for cyberspace in the 20th century, than a metonymic part of it. It is a richly complex part of a space in which humans find themselves, immersed in the noise of what Joyce called the “bairdboard bombardment” by the “faroscope” of TV.

Tofts is here sufficiently past the now unworkable orthodoxies of structural and poststructural semiotics to show why those theories have now to be surpassed. “To be immersed in information is to be information, not a sender or receiver of it.” The ‘linguistic turn’ posited a separate world of signification, which represented a world of things external to it. Poststructuralism undid the assumptions of such an epistemology from the inside. But it’s time to move on, and one of the joys of Tofts’ prehistory of cyberspace is that it lays some conceptual and historical groundwork for thinking media theory free from the limiting assumptions of poststructural dogmas. But it does so by pursuing poststructuralism to its limit, rather than by retreating from it.

“Any use of technology modifies what it means to be human”, Tofts writes—in full recognition that the technology of writing in which this expression appears is also included within its scope. It’s not enough to write about the technology of writing, or of communication in general, as if from without.

Writing is the key to Tofts’ prehistory of cyberspace. Cyberspace “continues the ancient project that began with the introduction of writing, whereby proximity was no longer a defining characteristic of communication between human beings.” He is aware that architecture and transport also play a role in this transformation of the relation between near and far, living and dead, but I think there is more to be said about this vectoral side of the prehistory of cyberspace. Tofts has more to say about the codes of encryption than the vectors of distribution of the memory trade, and these are I think complementary areas of research in contemporary media theory.

Cyberspace is an ongoing revolution, not one that restores a lost world, but rather one that carries us further and further from ourselves, differentiating the future human from the past human by inhuman means. Cyberspace “threatens to transform human life in ways that, at the moment, are still the province of science fiction.” But, increasingly, also the province of media theory.

What I think distinguishes contemporary media theory from, say, poststructuralism, is a much more critical relation to the means of communication within which theory itself forms and disseminates. As such, Darren Tofts and Murray McKeich have made a valuable contribution to an emergent field. The irony of course is that rather than recycle outdated ideas in fancy computer hypertext, they have come up with an original way of thinking and writing the world in the familiar form of the book.

Darren Tofts and Murray McKeich, Memory Trade: A Prehistory of Cyberculture, 21•C/Interface Books, Sydney, 1998

RealTime issue #28 Dec-Jan 1998 pg. 17-

© Dr McKenzie Wark; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Maria Fernanda Cardoso, The Cardoso Flea Circus

Maria Fernanda Cardoso, The Cardoso Flea Circus

Touring the globe in search of the ingredients for the cultural pie that is the modern city’s festival of arts, balances personal influence with the grind of corporate travel. Our very own Robyn Archer exposed some of the vices in this inexorable progress recently at the Museum of Sydney. In between the streaming succession of meetings, performances and phone calls, she escapes to, well, the local museum. Whether Mexico, Bolivia, Sweden, Austria, Holland or Taiwan, assemblages of humanity’s artefacts can be found that go far beyond being “merely entertainment.” Such institutions and theme parks she felt, “will have their day.”

The spectre of the museum as a sculptural shell into which the musty remnants of earlier ages are placed was in question here. Site-Time-Media-Space were the sectors of ‘the museum context’ explored by a range of speakers assembled by the creative director of CDP Media and prime media designer for the venue itself, Gary Warner, “…to stake a claim for the exploration of poetics and design, the advocacy of play, curiosity and wonder…” The experiences of museum specialists who work with media technologies (and the research of artists who produce content with them) formed the substance of the seminar.

SITE …we enter its walls leaving the everyday behind to enter a microverse of contrived tableaux, of intellectual conceits and the frisson of play between certainty and ambiguity, credulity and propaganda…

Susan Alexis Collins, from the Slade School in London, demonstrated the webspace interventions that she makes into street life, ranging from sound and imagescapes in a tunnel under the Thames, to a moving mouth on the pavement of a city street. Linked to a website (www.street/gallery), internet surfers are invited to select mouth movements and spoken phrases to be delivered to passers-by on the other side of the world/road. The sense that these become intrusions into streetlife (observed and measured by a hidden surveillance camera) exemplified the confrontational, and attenuated her attempt at communication of a most basic kind, a prerequisite for even the most experiential museum.

“Garrulous media installations…” were far from Ian Wedde’s mind when as Concept Curator Humanities for the recently opened Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa Tongerewa, he was part of the large team who sought to “find, win and grow a new audience” for Our Place where the collections were to be utilised as a unified resource. The ‘Disneyfication’ criticisms and the demonstrations around the Condom Madonna (part of the Pax Britannica exhibition that stopped off in Wellington after leaving the MCA in Sydney) were enough to attract the crowds in numbers that far surpassed original estimates.

Facing It is the section of Te Papa that commissioned media art from around the world. In a series of extended apologies to potential Australian contributors whose email had gone unanswered, Wedde outlined the rollercoaster he had ridden for the past years around “the rocks of management.” The curator as heroic figure emerged, as contracts were issued to the lucky few “to extend artists’ practice and placing risk-management at the feet of the institution”. The risks paid off and the work of Lisa Reihana among many others, for modest cost, resulted in a photo-based exhibit using historical and contemporary photographic images made in Samoa. The response? The Samoan community are each day encamped within the exhibit.

SITE …Display Technology is becoming a material that can be used to directly address the environs outside the gallery walls…Digital media systems will be devised to react to vectors such as crowd movement, meteorological conditions or the sound of traffic and so become dynamic, destabilising and revelatory…

The complex issue of resourcing specific media projects emerged. Bricks, concrete and salaries are less of a problem than accessing the technology and project budgets. Wedde advocated “relationship brokerage” as the method by which artists, institution and sponsor could collaborate to produce museum outcomes. The issue of curatorial objectivity and discretion was left to another time.

TIME …rituals of delay can be quite pleasurable, or, at the very least build anticipation and create the conditions for narrative, drama, comedy and insight…

Installation artist Maria Fernanda Cardoso has reintroduced the tradition of the live interactive booth to the museums of Europe and America with The Cardoso Flea Circus. In this ‘side-show’ concept complete with tent and circus mistress Cardoso, nothing is virtual, all is real, including the feeding of the fleas on the proprietor’s arm.

Touching steel, steering a submersible, and feeling the roar of an oil platform through your feet was the tangible introduction to the Oil Museum in Scotland, one of several new museums in Europe described by Stephen Ryan. The Creation of the World exhibit at the Natural History Museum in London was an example, of how—not surprisingly—a big budget and too many hi-tech resources can lead to lack of clarity and excessive maintenance costs. Avoidance of disruption is thus another measure of design success.

MEDIA …the creation of memorable media experiences, the crucible of memory being the experience of difference…

Jon McCormack’s long-term project with The Museum of Artificial Ecologies will become a public museum with a collection ‘comprised only of software’. In tracing toward such a place we were led past the reputable (celebrated) Osmose by the Canadian Char Davies and McCormack’s own artificial life projects, and through the many intrigues and ironies of ‘escaping the container’ of the frame and the glass cabinet found in so many museums and theme parks, and were entreatied to agree that object-based museums obscure asking the questions “Who are we?, “What are we?”

SPACE …cumulative spatial mapping—the gradual understanding of the often complex spatial relationships that grows out of exposure to a variety of orientation inputs, some planned many unplanned—graphical, sensorium, aural…

Matters of the spirit were raised by Paula Dawson for St Brigids Church, Coogee, Sydney. The Shrine of the Sacred Heart was opened a year ago as a three-dimensional space within which holographic images are sited. Developed during a research period spent in part at MIT Media Lab, the copper vapour laser transmission holograph enables the parishioner to place their hands in prayer into the image space that simulates 3 visions associated with the Christ figure. Dawson’s superbly delivered and illustrated presentation allowed for the patent irony of a non-believer becoming the re-inventor and interpreter of spiritual and devotional practice, re-exploring the smoke and mirrors of inclusive performance in the service of belief. A project involving advanced technology, this was the best example in the seminar of the kind of quantum leap that museological circles need to make, to recapture the imagination and the passion of museum audiences in the service of meaning and knowledge.

Site-Time-Media-Space—New Media in Museums , a seminar, convenor, Gary Warner, Museum of Sydney, October 17–18.

RealTime issue #28 Dec-Jan 1998 pg. 21

© Mike Leggett; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Joanna Pollitt, Par Avion

Joanna Pollitt, Par Avion

Joanna Pollitt, Par Avion

Hobart’s new performance group Avanti describes its debut production Par Avion as “a multimedia navigation of three passengers suspended in flight.” It is an ambitious production which attempts to make “big screen video projection and live contemporary dance performance blend together…”

The work explores on screen and on stage the briefly parallel trajectories of 3 people seated together on a flight from Melbourne to Hobart; at the same time it endeavours to fuse video and dance into a unified form of communication and reflection. Franc Raschella has a good eye for composition and montage; at times the beautifully shot video imagery functions to background the subtext of dance and motion, whilst at others it leads the story very clearly. The choreography is driven by a turbulent and spiralling force which maintains the primary characters in a state of either colliding or slip-streaming, thereby demanding a precise and very physical performance which Joanna Pollitt, Michael O’Donoghue and Kylie Tonellato deliver with accomplishment.

In its best moments the production succeeds
in achieving a sensation of intimate intersection between the world represented by the video narrative, and the physical world of the live dancers and audience. Unfortunately there were also times when the video narrative was overly complex, and subsequently the visual disparity between the 2 channels of the performance meant it became difficult to follow. Blending video and dance is a difficult balancing act to maintain, and it is a credit to Avanti that it has the vision and courage to do so.

Avanti, Par Avion, devised, produced and directed by Joanna Pollitt and Franc Raschella; performed by Joanna Pollitt, Michael O’Donoghue and Kylie Tonellato, director of photography Franc Raschella, choreography Joanna Pollitt in collaboration with Michael O’Donoghue and Kylie Tonellato, music composed and performed by Imogen Lidgett, Peacock Theatre, Hobart, Nov 12 – 15

RealTime issue #28 Dec-Jan 1998 pg. 35

© Martin Walch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Lisa Ffrench, Territory

Lisa Ffrench, Territory

Lisa Ffrench, Territory

As artforms hybridise and electronic media offer ghostly new ways of being and speaking in performance, you’re not always sure what preconceptions to pack before setting out in your nonetheless open-minded best for another night at the…the theatre…or whatever. Even knowing One Extra’s innovative if interrupted but unique history in dance theatre in this country, expectations now seem to be that you’re about to see another dance work, something reinforced by the first few showings under Janet Robertson’s One Extra directorship. But in Territory, Robertson’s own first work for the company, we’re definitely in performance territory. In Territory dance is just one ingredient, as greedy as it makes you for more, and I did like Sue Healey’s three propelled women, arms spinning, driven but finally in control. The dance is repeated towards the end of the performance, a singular pleasure, the rare luxury of return and contemplation, but suggestive surely of its possibilities elsewhere in the work, possibilities for a deeper weaving-in and integration with other interesting movement patterns. As performance Territory typically juxtaposes dance, spoken text, sculptural design, lighting, music and projection. There are 3 women, an Indigenous consultant (Marilyn Miller—serious subjects dealt with chatty aplomb in direct address to the audience), Lily (a recent immigrant who sings and dances and cooks for us with a passion to belong—Angeline Lai) and a 19th century woman on the land (Lisa Ffrench, isolated, stiff-upper-lipped searcher for meaning, early on perched in a little room high above foreign soil). Their lives unfold in images sometimes in parallel, a mix of the opaque and the literal, most obviously shared in the response to a choreography of being fenced in (moveable fences as much natural as human constructs, part of Eammon D’Arcy and Damien Cooper’s richly ochred, moody, shifting spaces and Jad McAdam’s aural realms) and in response to the weather; first its oppressiveness, then the release of its coming. There’s much else, but Territory inclines a bit too much to opacity and too little to development, too little to what imagined contact between these women across history might actually be like—instead of the abstraction of mere parallels and difference which dominates. Five weeks (so the program note tells us) is too brief a time to realise a work like this, the result is fragmentary and too familiarly of the conventional juxtaposings of an era of performance fast slipping by. That’s not to deny the promise of Territory, but to hope for more development, a greater interplay of elements and…some magical dramaturgy.

One Extra Dance, Territory, director Janet Robertson, choreographic consultant Sue Healey, set design Eammon D’Arcy, costumes Julia Christie, sound design Jad McAdam, performers Lisa Ffrench, Angeline Lai, Marilyn Miller, The Seymour Centre, Sydney, October 8 – 25

RealTime issue #28 Dec-Jan 1998 pg. 37

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Sue Peacock enters the space. A fantastic journey begins with the daylight seemingly fading behind the Gasworks deco factory windows. It’s confusing, I cannot remember what time it was when I came in. From the first moment of Watershed Jeremy Nottle’s lighting design transports me to an otherworld. Illusion, beauty, a red floor, yes, a space I haven’t been to before yet so familiar, erotic, sexy even, how could it not be? A man, a woman and a bed! A piece “for anyone who has ever shared a bed.”

A sleeping man and a silence laden with potential. She sits on the bed, tenuously, looking, “will this be the same as last night”, she seems to wonder. Her presence stirs him. There’s magic here. Just as I wonder about the grainy bed the man’s image rolls away from his visceral body—the illusion is so effective it takes my breath away—his phantom moves and returns and his body appears upright. Now she is sleeping. I know this scenario. Then the dissolve (from the phantom dancers to a kind of psychedelic patterning) which is arrestingly close to what I see when I close my eyes.

The woman is intense. When she dances her eyes penetrate the space and I feel sympathy for her stage-partner (Bill Handley). This woman is demanding. She demands an intimacy and is not amused by his comic attempts at seduction, belly-dancing in the middle of the night? You disturbed my beautiful dream! Please give me access to my slumber. Je suis fatigué. Yet they leap like a ‘flying’ nightmare, nowhere to land, nowhere to lay their heads. They exit ‘real’ space to enter filmic dream-space—content at last to escape the discomfort of the corporeal—we witness illusion, perfect dramatic irony, the poetics of the unspoken, the drift of the sleeping soul. Insomnia; beds and companions; dreams and lovers—I just want to sleep, to dream, to die etc etc. Give me a break, give me an inch so you can take a yard, just whose bed is this? Nocturnal violence erupts, the horror of a bed dismantled by an angry lover falling off the edge of rationality (“there’s only room in this bed for one of us”) and the dawn still hours away.

The silence in Watershed makes the moments of sound all the sweeter, life’s like that. At other times Watershed explodes into frenetic choreography, the lovers leaping over and across the re/de/constructed bed in a full-bodied musical chairs. Graeme McLeod’s video realisations suggest insights into these restless protagonists and make Watershed a delicious conjunction of dancing, video-images and comedy, a mix bound by the intimacy of the action. There’s a lot of beauty in Watershed and a lot of fun too. I have shared a bed with lovers; with young kicking offspring; the occasional friend. I’ve been here before and I literally return—I had to see this piece a second time. It’s enthralling being around this sort of maturity in a dance-work—so many dancers devastate my interest through the lack of exchange in the earnest pursuit of pure aesthetic. What a pleasure! Dance-theatre that resonates with the everyday but which is fantastic in its presence, a presence constantly foregrounding the unconscious, the id, the tired.

Watershed, devised and performed by Sue Peacock and Bill Handley in collaboration with Graeme Macleod and Jeremy Nottle, video, lighting and sound, Artrage Festival, Gasworks, Perth, October 6 – 17; bodyworks ‘98: festival of moving arts, Dancehouse, Melbourne, December 3 – 6

RealTime issue #28 Dec-Jan 1998 pg. 36

© Tony Osborne; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Trevor Patrick and Rebecca Hilton in Lucy Guerin’s Heavy

Trevor Patrick and Rebecca Hilton in Lucy Guerin’s Heavy

Trevor Patrick and Rebecca Hilton in Lucy Guerin’s Heavy

Philipa Rothfield: From the outside

A woman is sitting centre-stage, her back to us. She sidles, slips to her side—prone. She sleeps perchance to dream. Through windows we see 3 sleeping figures line the back of the stage. As a polygraph print-out falls from the ceiling, 3 dancers move from left to right, right to left, their actions as abstract as the graphical representation of sleep. Brainwaves, twitching movements, whole bodies function as a means of dream signification. The abstraction of dance itself is without characters or narrative. Four figures, moving complexities, grouping and regrouping, dissolving into sleep, jerking out of it.

How do we see sleep from the outside in?

BRAIN. Perhaps it is an action of the brain—“delta waves, sleep spindles, REM”, (Heavy program notes). At times the choreography lent itself to such a neuro-physiological explanation. Bodies performed staccato actions, almost surreal, yet doggedly mathematical. The music formed and deformed, oscillating between samples, tracks, voices and evocations. Partners supported weight, shifted mass, turned, and reversed.

MIND. Perhaps the psyche exceeds gray matter—the mind is full of images, thoughts, feelings, and emotions. As Freud illustrated so well, dreams are illogical, disturbing, mysterious experiences, drawing on an unconscious which knows neither order, logic nor the ordered procession of time. The dancers work and rework a little narrative which is (re)played at a variety of speeds: a story which is surreal at any speed. David sleeps, dreams, and wakes up as Ros and Trevor gesture concern, then impishly prance around his body. The men perform a duet, Incubus perching on the sleeping body, summoning dreams.

MOVEMENT. This is a dance, after all. Four bodies in motion, lying in a long diagonal, twitching. They move towards the back corner, in pairs, then a foursome, then a threesome with an odd-woman out. The movements themselves are sweeping, graceful, Zombie-like, sharp, upper body, lower body, and complex combinations, sometimes chiming in with the music, sometimes not. The dancers themselves are stunning, precise to the choreography yet themselves. Rebecca throws herself into a flurry of fast and furious action, David does a confined dance of grace and shifting weight, Trevor rolls his head and body along the back wall, curved spheres translate into 2 dimensions, appreciating each moment of movement, Ros, covering space in a flash, a sprite skipping across the floor, she and Rebecca look out at us: who are they? Are they the dream, the dreamers, the images of a dream, the waves of a brain?

Heavy does not resolve into a final position but our initial sleeper takes her position again, lays herself down to sleep, her back to us, back to front, prone again.


Zsuzsanna Soboslay Moore: From the inside

Those background windowed figures, upright, so we can see. Subjects wired to the dream. The artifice of charting: long polygraph falls, computer spitting out its peaks and dips. This is not how I dream, from outside in. We are the stuffings of sleep, Shakespeare’s pillowslips. Dreams are made of this:

Touch me with silk, I will chant you my palaces. Dip me in quicksilver, I will chart you my night escapades. Knights and dreams and flossy places. I know exactly where I don’t know where I am.

Those thousand and one Arabian nights are tales spun in a heart oscillating with fear. This is the human underface of it. Dreams deal with the puzzles and horrors of life in their sweet/cloying way. Watching Heavy dance, you forget the science of it, the opening night crowd of it; you see patterns (e)merge, patterns of people and patterns of pattern: pairings, shiftings, allegiances that betray you or stay loyal. They are our sanity, these repatternings, as limbs stretch and reclimb the vine and beanstalk that’s been commanded to regrow.

This work, not quite the territory of fairytale, operates in the plane where you might begin to tell a tale. Feel the itch at the edge of a tongue about to speak, story about to be told.

Like spectres, 4 slink in; disappear. Then her breathing back: a thin red peel, silk separating look and blink. She sits like Christine in Hopper’s painting looking across grassy plains; rolls sideways, walking fingers slip us into dream.

Three bodies patterning, one alone. He slips through doors: visits another’s body, climbs in. Against a reflective wall, one smashes sleep; perhaps his Doppelganger breaks free…Twitches, falling faces, touches of Magritte; a Bermuda silliness replayed at double speed and slow-mo.

I remember, a bug-eyed insomniac lurched about by another, playing his wakeful mind; and Rebecca, breaking into jazz, but as if underwater, turning to catch out her shadows. I re-member: Rebecca’s foot-jerks, Trevor’s helpless wrists, David’s pigeon-flying, Ros’ spindly hips. Sometimes, a luna park smile in sinister bones.

And always, the EEG spitting out cocktail limbs.

I remember, it is hard to remember: the territory they dance is largely forming, not formed. A major work which, intriguingly, did not give me dreams, nor make me crave them, but reflected on how they might happen as they are happening. And if nostalgia has a future tense, this might be it.

Heavy, a dance inspired by sleep stages one to four, REM, disorders and dreams; choreographer, Lucy Guerin; dancers, Rebecca Hilton, Trevor Patrick, David Tyndall, Ros Warby; sleepers, Nina Rubinstein, Chris White, Kuntamari Crofts; live music mix, Jad McAdam; lighting design, Damien Cooper; costumes, Anna Tregloan; set Christopher Bruce; Athenaeum II, Melbourne, November 7 – 15

RealTime issue #28 Dec-Jan 1998 pg. 37

© Philipa Rothfield & Zsuszanna Soboslay Moore; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Anna Sabiel, contain.her

Anna Sabiel, contain.her

contain.her is part of the enterprising Performance Space-Metro Screen New Narratives project (see RealTime 25, “Vertical Hold”, p13) and it’s the most engaging and convincing of the three experiments, regardless of some inevitable work-in-progress awkwardness. Being so used to seeing Anna Sabiel suspended by wires in great, darkened spaces, triggering sonic compositions with delicate counter-weighted moves, it was odd to see her earthed, mapping out a grid with a plumb line on The Performance Space floor against an exquisite triptych of large glowing container walls with embedded screens. But Sabiel has the beginnings of a potent movement vocabulary (the show aspires to “journey from the central notion of the body as container through the realm of exchange and to the sea”), just as there is the first stage of a relationship between her and onstage collaborator Heather Grace Jones who speaks her own text (live, recorded, both or triggered by slaps to the body). Jones poignantly evokes a maritime-worker father in text and, through the other media of the work, reaches out from the personal, to the mythic to the blunt political reality of recent maritime union and stevedoring industry disputes (images of the handshake, the voices of unionists and politicians). From the beginning of the performance, footage of a working dock (and the sonic rhythms of its labours) alternates regularly with live images of the audience on the outer screens. The result is mesmeric—like being absorbed into the repeated rhythms of a labourer—mysterious but also quite concrete in Sabiel’s hauling and laying out of rope (I wanted thicker, heavier rope) and in the engagement with his body. Jones’ text refers to the father’s back at one point and immediately on the centre screen we see Sabiel’s naked back in a simple but evocative recurrent action, the arm swung out and reaching behind to slap the shoulder blade. There are other images and lines of development and overlaps (the rope image is onstage-real but also flickers tautly across screen images and texts). One image merges traditional shadow play and computer animation. Sabiel rolls under the central container wall to reappear as a distant shadow moving towards us, almost fills the screen and suddenly falls; soon she is joined on the screen by an animated naked female figure slipping out of sync with a green-line grid of herself and somersaulting into her own fall. In a strange moment 3D animation and 2D shadow dance together while a spooky little ostinato works its way into the space contain.her is a wonderful reverie, a net of recurrent images and moves and their transformations—the formal opening gridding of the floor, for example, becomes in the end an outsize plumb weight, a cone swinging across the stage pouring out a thin line of sand in free lines, circles, curves and slashes. The images that run parallel and in counterpoint to and into the performances are by digital media designer Sarah Waterson (an almost on-stage presence working in view of the audience) with the aid of the invaluable programming lingo provided by collaborator Brad Miller. Thankfully, contain.her doesn’t take the notion of ‘narrative’ too literally, and opens up a space for its audience, for reflection and visual pleasure, and for the enjoyment of the musicality of its shape and the rhythms of the bodies it invokes, for the intimate poetry they speak and the sharp reminder of the changing politics of the workplace. KG

contain.her, digital media design Sarah Waterson; performance Anna Sabiel; text and performance Heather Grace Jones; director lingo Brad Miller; lighting design Shane Stevens; movement consultation Nikki Heywood; New Narratives, The Performance Space, Oct 2 & 3

RealTime issue #28 Dec-Jan 1998 pg. 27

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Dear Editors
In the introduction to his review of the Australian Film Commission’s exhibition stuff-art (RealTime 27, “Unstuffed”, page 21), Kevin Murray aims to set up a way of thinking about and writing about net-art. Criticism, he claims, is new to this medium “so we need to do some ground work.” I agree. The questions he sets out are useful ones. In thinking through the problem, he ponders on the limits of applying a gallery model of exhibitions, curators and reviews to net-art. He then asks, how in a post-critical environment do we cast a critical eye over net-art? “(D)o we forgo aesthetics in the process? Do we end up with just a bunch of stuff?”

How can we decompress this ‘stuff’ so that we can develop a dialogue with it? Murray’s response is a curious one. Having questioned the value of the ‘traditional’ gallery model as a basis for structuring net-art, Murray looks to the ‘tradition’ of conventional criticism as a place to start thinking about what ‘criticism’ might look like in this new environment. He bemoans the loss of “objectivity” claiming that much of what passes as criticism is often partisan—an act of advocacy that champions the political and ignores the aesthetic. In such an environment, he argues, “it is difficult to locate oneself in the neutral position required by conventional criticism.” He continues: “newspapers and their indentured critics provide some guarantee of independence.” This astounds me. Since when have indentured critics provided any guarantee of independence? Can an act of criticism ever be neutral? Having cut my teeth on Donna Haraway’s critique of ‘objective’ knowledge and her work on situated knowledges, I find Murray’s pre-occupation with ‘neutrality’ and ‘objectivity’ mystifying. No act of criticism is neutral, not even an act of classification. I think he has missed the point and the opportunity.

I would argue that the architecture of the internet provides an opportunity to think differently about what criticism may become, what form it may take and who may speak. Instead of a single voice, there is the possibility for a multiplicity of voices to contribute to a critical dialogue. First we need a space and secondly we need the critical tools to promote such a dialogue.

It strikes me that the bee-hive provides the ideal virtual space for the development of a dialogic model of criticism. It allows for multiple voices, the juxtaposition of image and word and the development of a history of net-art. New software packages, such as The Virtual Gallery being developed by Jillian Duffield at The University of Queensland, mean we are no longer limited to mailing lists or the fixed medium of print. There aren’t obstacles. There is potential.

The question of the tools of criticism, is a more complex one. Murray’s ‘neutral’ act of classification may be a starting point, but what do you do once you have categorised sites into box sites/windows and beehive sites? Murray’s ‘critique’ of stuff.art demonstrates the limits of the categorisation process. Having established that the 8 works for stuff.art are mostly box sites, he proceeds to focus on content and only superficially deal with the way the works operate. For example in discussing Gary Zebington’s Repossessed, what does it mean when Murray claims “(t)he coding skills used in this construction are quite impressive but the results suggest a clumsy machine intelligence, rather than the omnipotent digital consciousness promised by the opening graphics”? What is impressive? What is clumsy? What does he mean by “omnipotent digital consciousness”? On what authority and with what tools can he make these judgements? Murray ends up sounding like the omnipotent indentured art critic of newspaper fame. He doesn’t open up dialogue. He passes judgement and there is no transparency.

I agree with Kevin Murray that since criticism is new to net-art, we do need to do ground work, but I don’t think we need to look over our shoulders. Art criticism needs to take a different trajectory. The sites and spaces are in place, but now the task is to develop sets of tools that will allow for a dialogic criticism, not a monologic one. I believe the question is how to decompress stuff, not compress it.
Barbara Bolt
Sunshine Coast University
November 22

Kevin Murray replies:

Dear Editors
I am grateful to Barbara Bolt for airing my prejudices, which I am happy to defend. The crux of her argument seems to be that my review of stuff.art maintains traditional assumptions of criticism. She implies that I view critics as independent arbiters of aesthetic value. I admit that this is an outmoded concept. However, in the case of web-art I think there’s a use in applying an anachronistic framework—a kind of critical ‘mis-reading’ if you will.

Criticism native to the web is proceeding as we speak. Your inbox is now filling up with email from various lists announcing new sites and appending theoretical expositions. Anyone can participate and any subject is permissible. Despite this abundance, it will be rare to find in these mailing lists the traditional currency of superlatives, like the ‘impressive’ and ‘clumsy’ that was spotted in my review. I honestly don’t think I could fully explain exactly what I mean by these labels. Evaluative criticism has a kind of mystique that invites readers to examine their own responses to the work. If I seem out of touch with how others feel about these sites, in ways that aren’t interesting (I rarely agree with Adrian Martin’s evaluations of film, but appreciate where he is coming from) then I hope my critical capital will decline to the point that I am no longer read, or invited to respond.

While an arbitrary system, the point of categorising the stuff.art works as ‘box-sites’ was to point out the inherent formalism in the way the competition was set up. It would take a different kind of program to encourage ‘hive-sites’ and ‘window-sites’ that were mere containers of material coming from elsewhere. The worth of these sites is difficult to predict in advance of their life online. Yet it is these forms that seem to hold most promise for net art.

The funding and official support for new media is currently hugely out of proportion to the kind of critical culture that has developed around it. Apart from RealTime, there is virtually nothing in print that takes a regular interest in the way Australian artists are using new technologies. Perhaps a few subjective, idiosyncratic and biased comments might help address that imbalance.
Kevin Murray

RealTime issue #28 Dec-Jan 1998 pg. 18

© Barbara Bolt & Kevin Murray; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Driving through the postcard perfect Finnish countryside, I was mystified by the profusion of large roadside signage with the Apple Macintosh Command symbol and an arrow pointing down nondescript intersections. Keyboard shortcut this way?

It turns out that this is a Gaelic symbol for heritage and the sign for museum in Finland, which has the highest ratio of museums to citizens in the world. As they also have one of the world’s highest levels of technological advancement, I assumed that digital art would be very well represented in myriad Finnish museums. Not so.

For all its eclectic and funky cultural exports, ranging from the traditional favourite Santa Claus, the explicit adventures of Tom of Finland; Aki Kaurismäki’s legendary Leningrad Cowboys, retro-dysfunctional objects from Bonk, or multimedia pioneer Marita Liulia’s Ambitious Bitch, there is surprisingly little understanding and acceptance of New Media as an art form by the general Finnish public. As in most countries, the older established cultural institutions which do not support new art forms receive the majority of government funding and public and media attention; and with a population of 11 million, there is only a small dedicated national audience for hybrid arts.

Visiting Kiasma, the new Museum of Contemporary Art in Helsinki, I expected this lack of new media presence would be redressed. The just opened and highly praised steel clad building is one of architectural flows, multilevel spaces, and wall touchscreen information interfaces. Kiasma is impressive, but unfortunately provides few adequate environments to show contemporary digital works—including the 4,000 video and four web works in its collection. The exhibition spaces, designed to be contiguous to encourage contextual viewing of traditional sedentary artforms, ignores the discrete pretext of much new media work which provides its own context and environment.

Eija-Liisa Ahtila’s sensitive multiple screen installation Tanään/Today—in which each character addresses the audience with a narrative that centres around the consequences of the death of her grandfather—could not command the attention it deserved with sound bleeding from installations on either side and a steady flow of visitor traffic wandering through the viewing space. The VRML avatar worlds of Conversations with Angels (http://angels.kiasma.fng.fi – link expired) by Andy Best and Martja Puustinen of meetfactory.com, was not available for viewing at all. This work, also at ISEA in September in the UK, had been presented on individual podium terminals dotted around the galleries but were knocked over and broken when viewers leant heavily on them. I was relieved to find the children’s educational room, with comfortable lounges and sturdy monitors, in which to view classics including Bill Seaman’s Shivers and Eric Lanz’s Manuscript.

The most encouraging arena for presenting hybrid work at Kiasma seems to be over the net. Pertuu Rastas, curator of Media Art, is importing ambitious projects into these ill-planned “walls that speak” having already hosted Triad Netdance, a semiotic convergence of dance, image and new media, which took place in June simultaneously in Helsinki, Tokyo and New York, with the images of dancers performing in each location mixed with electronic backgrounds and fed back onto the net. The updating Hyperdance netsite (http://triad.kiasma.fng.fi – link expired) allows the post-event net viewer (with Netscape 4, RealPlayer and high bandwidth) to move through virtual spaces and re-combine choreographic and audio visual elements of the event. Rastas has a very practical philosophy: if adequate hardspace is not available, build audiences by utilising virtual space.

I spoke at length about the incongruities in the presentation of Finnish media art with artist and critic Tapio Mäkelä at E Polar Circuit, the New Media Conference and Workshop which spans 6 weeks each northern summer at the College of Art and Media and the University of Lapland in north western Finland. According to Mäkelä, Modernism didn’t ever get a chance to die in Finland. One factor contributing to the dismal dynamic in digital art theory and practice is that the educational institutions, which house the majority of sophisticated hard and software, are heavily focused on the practicalities of Design rather than the experimentation and process of Art. Additionally, there is only one Finnish Art print publication which is firmly centred around established practice, resulting in narrowcasting of new media arts. Projects like E.Polar Circuit which he initiated in 1997—involving both international and Finnish artists and students in an environment of healthy feedback, processes, problem solving and collaboration—provide one solution to access equipment and to broaden concepts and networks for hybrid art production.

Both Mäkelä and Rastas, like most people instrumental in new media presentation in Finland, have been extensively involved with Muu Media Base, perhaps the best known independent Finnish cultural organisation. Muu (the other) was formed in 1987 with Avi/Arrki as an artist-run media centre, creating a base for experimental works in the fields of video performance, sound, light, environment and city projects, multimedia and net art. Muu produces groupware for cultural programs, and encourages hybrid projects which attempt to involve a wider art audience, like Mental Metro, an underground railway station event involving performance, dance, video, sound works, net hookups, and a site linked to a similar project in Moscow; and Ambient City Radio, which created interdisciplinary environments where architects constructed works with sound.

Membership of Muu (for the equivalent of $AUD50 per annum) provides access to a Mac lab and net facilities in central Helsinki. Muu also exhibits international work: the gallery show in August incorporated mixed media, installation and performance from Indonesia, and in October, it hosted the 4th Muu Media Festival which was open to international application. Another key organisation in Helsinki is the Nordic Institute of Contemporary Art where curator Kati Åberg (ex-Muu) can quickly orient visiting artists to the Finnish new media scene. NIFCA offers a short, 3 to 4 day international artist residency program at its centre on the fortress island of Somenlinna, 10 minutes ferry ride from the lively city centre.

Outside Helsinki there are few places to access interesting work besides artist-run initiatives like Rajatila in Tampere, and Titanik, located along the canal with a great adjoining cafe, in the ancient Finnish capital Turku. Ars Nova, also in Turku, has a standard range of sedentary work, but included two installation pieces in its Biennaali: a sound installation from Simo Alitalo, and Jan-Erik Andersson’s sculpture incorporating digital imaging and fibre optics. Twelve hundred kilometres north at Inari in the Arctic Circle is the Sami Museum which presents a perspective on Sami culture. The Sami are the original reindeer herders of Lapland, crossing the borders of Norway, Finland and Russia, whose territories and lifestyle, although partially maintained, have been compromised by the settlement and religion from of south. Although the museum is oriented more to passing tourism than critical enquiry, it does have 2 galleries dedicated to traditional and contemporary Sami art and object design.

It is evident that Finnish new media practice suffers from isolation even though geographically close to the larger European centres. The positive attitude and energy within the digital community generates prolific and challenging hybrid works. However, the infrastructure for presentation is still lagging. As in Australia, the obstacle of large geographical distances separating a relatively small population, means that communications networks are vital for this arts sector’s survival and growth. The similarities run deeper, with Finnish government funding policy favouring hybrid and collaborative work, and also recognising the need for international input to diversify new media practice. Independent cultural organisations are situated at the forefront of presentation and promotion and artists themselves are utilising the virtual space of the net as an avenue for exploration, collaboration and accessing new audiences.

RealTime issue #28 Dec-Jan 1998 pg. 19

© Melinda Burgess; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Do bodily suffering and the etching of emotion and identity go hand-in-hand? Is the quandary of living, breathing (and hence performing) concomitant with agony? Classically speaking, an agon is a trial or contest between humans and the gods. What humans are we? And, in performance, whose gods are being served?


1. Saints: Tony Yap, St Sebastian

St Sebastian lies bound downstage in a white square. Four mourners (are they?) approach through a curtain of incense, in distilled expressions of hope and/or despair. The piece is a kind of apotheosis of Tony Yap’s work: the best crafted, the most unified of his visions, with (thank god) the almost trademark suffering taken off the female body (or male body in a skirt) at last. I smell Renato Cuoccolo and IRAA here, as I have in all of Tony’s work: the slow group walk, the contained, strained emotion, the sense of a cruel enormity. But, as with much of Renato’s work, I wonder what we are being called into, the purpose of the event beyond the actors’ portrayals of suffering. St Sebastian’s references are Mishima and the Holocaust via Gorecki. Yet what’s Mishima to him, or he to Mishima, that he should weep for him? The escalating voice reading from Mishima’s Confessions of a Mask is a give-away: a steady crescendo from whisper to bellow that leaves little sense in the words. There is a titter in the audience—a response, I think, of laughing at the artifice. Says my companion, tellingly, “Why do they have to make it sound like Orson Welles?”

Whose suffering is it, and rendered to what end? I do not feel for, with or about the performances onstage. Watching becomes voyeurism, perhaps less so here than in Yap’s earlier works because of the sweeping immediacy forced on us by the inherently internalising power of the tear-jerker second movement of Gorecki’s Symphony No. 3. But, as Mishima himself warns, the “intoxication” found in the “conjunction” of spiritual impulse and music can be “sinister”, and the sado-masochism (not to mention homo-eroticism) of this source is, it seems to me, quite dangerously at odds with Gorecki’s dedication to the Gestapo-incarcerated 18-year old (Yap unthinkingly writes “await(ing) her punishment”!). One has to be careful with one’s sources. Mixed metaphors indeed.


2. Sinners: James Welch, Gretel Taylor, Blindness

Blindness seems to me a work of good intentions, tackling a situation of hidden domestic violence. Its source is the “installation” (really a simple exhibition) of photographs of shuttered windows by James Welch. Structurally, this piece suffers from an unvaried rhythm, each channel-switched episode of equal length, dulling the dance’s emotional potential. This feels like student work, albeit with chilling moments, not prodding far enough in movement or concept into the violence and complicit silence it seeks to expose and in some ways understand. Like a newspaper report, it fails to make one recognise one’s own violence in order to help change the givens in the world.


3. Weldschmertz: Sarah Neville, Heliograph

Applause for Heliograph was loudest for the highly accomplished visuals and sound track. The dance—an amorphous body in a torrent of urban environments—moves to one rhythm whatever the source, the face is placid throughout. We may be amoeba, but we are also human: to dance one and not the other denies evolution of substance and ideas, and it could be argued that even free-floating molecules have consciousness and will, which the best Butoh work (which this tries to emulate) understands.


4. Tigers: Lou Duckett, Kate Sulan, Hanna Hoyne, Kitesend

Miss seeing you. See missing you…The kites flown in Kitesend are the people themselves, the holders of the strings, a motley trio each lining different clouds. One is ruggedly nuggetty, one a controlled hysteric, the other an Issey Miyake mistake completely covered in an avalanche of paper folds. Her own eyes papered invisible, she waves from atop her plinth to the others who do not see. The gesture is poignant and powerful in its minimalism. She slowly concertinas to the floor, supine to the others’ erect continuous. An audience member gently pats her in her isolation. The moment is incredibly moving.

Mixed Metaphor Week One, Dancehouse: Heliograph, Sarah Neville, sound Matthew Thomas, light Nick Mollison, image Nick Gaffney, text Becky Jenkin; Blindness, concept and design James Welch, movement Gretel Taylor, co-dancers Renee Whitehouse, Telford Scully; St Sebastian, director Tony Yap, music arrangements Jennifer Thomas, performers Lynne Santos, Ben Rogan, Adam Forbes, Dean Linguey, Monica Tesselaar, Pauline Webb; Quartet, Jennifer Thomas, Jasmine Aly, Siona McLoughnane, Mark Gandrabur; Kitesend, Lou Duckett, Kate Sulan, Hanna Hoyne; Dancehouse, North Carlton, June 25 – 28

RealTime issue #27 Oct-Nov 1998 pg. 4

© Zsuzsanna Soboslay; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Christos Linou in Fiddle-de-die

Christos Linou in Fiddle-de-die

Christos Linou in Fiddle-de-die

1. Tolerance: Christos Linou, FIDDLE-DE-DIE/safety and uncertainty
He enters, descending a ladder, (literally) loses his marbles, walks backwards in, a towards that is also away, his shadow looming as he walks, enlarging, taking over. Later, he talks to it: a man in sheep’s mask, coercing his own shadow. Video shows legs running, stompings in corners of white floorless rooms. Voices invade, aspirations fail. This is a painfully fractured self who can barely tolerate himself, whose own ladder, his place of beginning, falls on top of him. Linou has devised a performance “dealing with drug addiction and AIDS”, the first of which is apparent, of the latter I’m not so sure.

At first, I am bothered by the angular restriction in Linou’s upper torso, though conjecture it may be appropriate to the portrayal. It is an empathetic piece on fractured self-obsession, that nonetheless might be trying of nerves, with its relentless calling, yelling and falling. I saw the piece only on video document (at the artist’s request after I had been called away), where the camera’s more intimate frame helpfully rendered both intimacy and distance.

Angela Pötsch, Temporal

Angela Pötsch, Temporal

Angela Pötsch, Temporal

2. Tributes: Angie Potsch, Temporal
Reading Thomas Rimer’s account of working with Grotowski, about creating work from personal myths. Grotowski is punishing on Rimer when he keeps trying to be huge and meaningful, Rimer noting the way others slowly built long pieces from the smallest of honesties. Potsch’s piece seems to me to have such beginnings: glass, candlelight, the music of glass drawn round the perimeter of a water bowl. The body dancing here sometimes visible only as a fracture. Moving memory(ies). This is a piece which takes time with its qualities—simple elements built into a whole via an exquisite sense of rhythm. The only unfortunate segment is the “hair dance” (like the proverbial “hair acting”) where a private moment—perhaps of grief or loss—is veiled and kept introspected beneath all that lusciousness for too long.

3. Traces: Margaret Trail, Hi, it’s me
Hello, who’s speaking? the voice, vocaliser, or cyborg? Trail’s tripartite Hi it’s me progressively disappears the body, using strands of speech like rope, dissecting speaker from spoken and reknotting the weave. Part One is a jibbering of paranoid and more liberal selves, enacted as a dialogue between her real time, embodied voice (as Trail alternately sprawls, lounges and wriggles in a chair with an almost-endearing self-consciousness) and several taped versions. We next view her, “live with headphones”, seated at a mixing desk. She listens to her own recordings, wiggles her toes, occasionally calls out edits to a phantom producer, like Plato calling out for more light. The third part is a sound-and-light sequence in a darkened room: the edited tape and glimmers of colour like ribbons of remembered substance of the body(ies) which once spoke or telephoned. Are “bodies” ever more than this? I like this last piece, finding it very fine; the first two segments for me a little trying in real time.

4. Pellucid testings: Philipa Rothfield, Logic, with Elizabeth Keen and Jenny Dick
Philipa Rothfield’s Logic tests an intellectual proposition but does so in a way that engages the physical space. The body itself undergoes computations, negations, patternings; a parallel between a body thinking and a mind teasing out its own processes. The proposition of recited text and formulae projected on overheads, the body moving in a distinct yet parallel (con)sequence, sets the stage for the final “body solo” where the formulae, suggestions and patterns are allowed to follow their own logics, double, invert and redouble in a kind of gestural mathematics that is nourishing on many parallel planes and very finely honed. This is a thought-full and feeling-full piece with a gentle, sinewy strength that lingers long.

Logic makes no attempt to render the relationship of performing to seeing as a = b in a literal sense. The “equation”, if you like, is a matching of equal complexities, equal respect, between mind and body, audience and performers, maintaining their distinct qualities (speaker, writer, dancer, see-er). The performance, framed deliciously in a spare rectangular frame of light with projection screen behind, allows both space and fullness of response. Meaning comes through the way one takes a breath—before one equates an association.

These dancings are tests of the time, struggling with the threats of ideas, emotions and disappearances, questioning what is human, looking to what survives.

Mixed Metaphor Week Two, Dancehouse, North Carlton, July 2 – 5

RealTime issue #27 Oct-Nov 1998 pg. 4-5

© Zsuzsanna Soboslay; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Vicki Attard and David McAllister, El Tango in Collaborations

Vicki Attard and David McAllister, El Tango in Collaborations

Vicki Attard and David McAllister, El Tango in Collaborations

Away from the pressure of subscription season tyranny, the Australian Ballet presented Collaborations, a program of new Australian choreographic works. Under this title 4 experienced choreographers teamed up with designers, musicians and composers to create the “new ideas, new blood, new music and new creativity” that Ross Stretton proudly proclaims as part of his unique vision for the company’s future. Collaboration by definition is the working together of various individuals to realise or sustain a shared vision. This is notoriously difficult to do, involving far more than effective communication and a desire to work with another artist.

Working in conjunction with set and costume designer Hugh Colman and lighting designer Rachel Burke, Natalie Weir in Dark Lullaby investigated the potential of a surreal and vaguely ominous environment. In this Caligarian world comprising two massive structures, an industrial fan-like apparatus and a bookshelf, a mysterious drama of sorts was played out. Although the plot was elliptical, one could not fail to notice Weir’s use of familiar archetypes: Hero, Seductress, Villain and Virgin danced by Geon van der Wyst, Nicole Rhodes, Robert Curran and Lisa Bolte respectively. The simplicity and clean lines of the design suggested a black and white frame of reference that sustained the valid use of such archetypes. Throughout, collaborative vitality was evident in the close association of choreographic and design ideas, producing a sophisticated work that ought to be included in the Australian Ballet’s repertoire.

Shorter though no less striking was Stephen Baynes’ El Tango, a light-hearted duet to the seductive tones of the tango. Astor Piazolla’s treatment of this musical form elicited from Baynes’ comic nuances in timing and composition and was danced by Vicki Attard and David McAllister. The choice of these two dancers was insightful. Their ability to identify the cliché in both musical and choreographic scores and to then emphasise this with a look, a pause or sinewy stretch showed the importance of a dancer’s interpretation. This may not have been a radical piece, but I suspect it was liberating for Baynes to present a study in a subscription-free context without having to create a masterpiece. The subtle wit of El Tango is evidence that this venture paid off.

Despite the Australian Ballet providing fabulous technical, administrative and artistic support for those with their necks on the blocks, there was no one work that stood out in terms of audacity. Two works initially displayed this potential. Bernadette Walong’s Slipstream unfortunately fell short with too many undeveloped ideas and an over-enthusiastic lighting design. As lights flashed and drew focus with increasing persistence, we waited in vain for concepts to develop—the sounds of stones on corrugated iron, cocoons suspended mid-air, a tractor tyre tutu lined with fur skins and three women draped in metres of clear, thin sheets of plastic. Slipstream alluded to meaning without providing the necessary developmental links needed for the interpretation of symbols. It was as if we had been invited to a sacred space where life flourished but, like the story of the Japanese Santa Claus nailed to a cross, signs seem to have become confused in the cultural shift. The three women in plastic became rubbish floating downstream and the rubber tyre remained ridiculous.

Adrian Burnett’s Intersext had happier results. With percussionist and Australian Ballet dancer, Roland Cox, a collaboration was established that afforded Burnett a good deal of creative freedom. Unpretentious and completely engaging, this work experimented with and responded to a variety of percussion instruments and rhythmic scores. Burnett’s work is most successful when he moves away from traditional ballet moves—which he does most of the time in this piece. His reversal of gender roles in the duet form is an example of his eagerness to go beyond tradition, crossing into contemporary and club dance genres. He seems to be at home in this context and more likely to be at his innovative best when exploring dance through ‘alternative’ perspectives.

Not every venture in Collaborations paid off, but with more new blood, ideas and less emphasis on elaborate stage production this event could become, with the Australian Ballet’s commitment, an exciting annual one.

Collaborations, The Australian Ballet: Dark Lullaby, choreographer Natalie Weir, design Hugh Colman, lighting Rachel Burke, dancers Geon van der Wyst, Nicole Rhodes, Robert Curran, Lisa Bolte; El Tango, choreographer Stephen Baynes, composer Astor Piazolla, designer Michael Pearce, lighting Rachel Burke, dancers Vicki Attard, David McAllister; Intersext, choreographer Adrian Burnett, composers Matt Rodd, Roland Cox, Andrew Jones, percussionist Roland Cox, dancers Matthew Trent, Daryl Brandwood, Joshua Consandine, Benazir Hussain, Rachel Rawlins, Felicia Palanca, designer Richard Jeziorny, lighting Rachel Burke; Slipstream, choreographer Bernadette Walong, composer Brett Mitchell, designer Judy Watson, costumes Jacques Tchong, lighting Pascal Baxter, dancers Gabrielle Davidson, Lynette Wills, Paula Baird, Lucinda Dunn, Christopher Lam, Gaetano Del Monaco, Alex Wagner; C.U.B. Malthouse, Melbourne, July 1 – 4

RealTime issue #27 Oct-Nov 1998 pg. 5

© Katrina Philips Rank; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Carlee Mellow, Rachel Roberts, Joanna Lloyd (hidden), Belinda Cooper, Live Opera Situation, DW98

Carlee Mellow, Rachel Roberts, Joanna Lloyd (hidden), Belinda Cooper, Live Opera Situation, DW98

According to Gestalt psychology, every perception always involves a figure and a background. At any moment, a perceptual foreground may be in focus whilst its background isn’t, and vice versa. We, as perceivers, actively focus upon the objects of our experience. In order to do so, inevitably, other objects fall out of focus. One of the famed examples of Gestalt psychology is a drawing of a shape—looked at in one way that shape is a cube; observed in another way, it becomes a square with lines emanating from its corners. The three pieces of Dance Works’ 98 season variously evoked Gestalt’s perceptual divide, here a split between the abstract and the real.

The first piece, Waiting (choreographer Sandra Parker), progressed from the real to an increasingly abstract terrain. Perhaps inspired by the snippet from Romeo and Juliet quoted in the program notes, Waiting opened with lots of getting up and down, posing, pausing and stillness spilling into motion. At first, I wondered at the meaning of all this. Then it struck me—the unforgiving temporality of yearning, waiting (“…so tedious is this day/As is the night before some festival/To an impatient child that hath new robes/And may not wear them…”).

Rather than evoke a recognisable lexicon of emotion (not to forget Umberto Eco’s claim that “I love you” is so trite a statement that it is now emptied of all meaning), Parker chose to illuminate her theme in much more abstract terms. Having acknowledged the plane of representation as non-literal, I found the kinetic landscape of Waiting became increasingly surreal. This peaked for me where one dancer occupied the middle of a rather Gothic looking scene—a dark red, barely lit, former church with a tilting floor—while three others moved underneath a stone window lit in silhouette, and a fourth pensively roamed an antechamber. At that point, my perception flipped and the space became a mind, populated by columns and bodies, the connections between dancers, neural synapses. It is not clear to me whether the 5 dancers were one entity, facets of the one entity or more than one being. Nor, ultimately, do I know what happened. What interested me about the piece was the way in which my perception shifted gears away from the real, and further and further into an imaginary landscape.

Live Opera Situation choreographed by Shelley Lasica followed suit in its allegiance to the abstract. The motivating premise of the piece was articulated pretty clearly in the program notes: this is a work exploring the ways in which 4 “voices” work together and separately, as in operatic forms. The juxtaposition of choreographic difference was asserted throughout the piece, emphasised by costuming, music and a surprising array of gestures. Although much of the movement had the mark of Lasica’s distinctive corporeality, the dancers were given very divergent tasks. Various fronts were assumed, sometimes implying interaction, sometimes not.

If there was harmony to be found between the 4 elements (dancers) it was not represented by repetition or similarities of movement. Any sense of harmony or coherence had to be built upon difference rather than erasing it. Over time, it did seem that a certain unity was forming, partly achieved by an interaction between the dancers who, increasingly, constituted a kinetic and spatial intertwining. I also think it was an effect of having experienced this piece over time. Like those 3D computer graphics, letting go of a narrow focus allows other elements to come into play. What might initially be perceived as pure heterogeneity is able to become something else. Is that what harmony is, a set of differences perceived as a whole?
After Waiting and Live Opera Situation, I found the very grounded nature of Sue Healey’s Stung difficult to take in. I was stuck in the abstract register of the first two pieces, whereas this one required a somewhat different appreciation. Not everyone seems to have shared my difficulties. Some who didn’t like the first two pieces found Stung a welcome relief. They laughed at its humour and earthy subject matter. Darrin Verhagen’s music also cited familiar rhythms and recognisable allusions.

A work about the life and times of the bee, Stung also touched on bee sociality. Although the work was not simply direct representation of bee-hood, its strongest moments for me were in its most literal references—to the swarm, and to bees crawling over honeycomb. Some of the movements had a sensual delight about them, the best being a bee solo of wiggled hips and curled arms. Spatial coverage and speed were used more consistently in this piece than the others, suggesting elements of design within Healey’s choreographic vision.

I am quite struck by the divide which seems to have applied to the appreciation of these three pieces. It seems that the perception of the first two works required something quite distinct from what was required of the third. The variety of views here, in conjunction with the heterogeneity of values manifest in the MAP Symposium, just goes to show the inadequacy of the response “it was/was not good” (a banality I myself have been using for years). When we judge a work, we speak not only about the object of our judgement, but about the subject who judges.

DW98, Dance Works: Waiting, choreographer Sandra Parker, composer Lawrence Harvey, costumes Adrienne Chisholm, dancers Belinda Cooper, Joanna Lloyd, Carlee Mellow, Rachel Roberts, Sally Smith; Live Opera Situation, choreographer Shelley Lasica, composer Franc Tétaz, costume coordinator Shelley Lasica, dancers Belinda Cooper, Joanna Lloyd, Carlee Mellow and Rachel Roberts; Stung, choreographer Sue Healey, composer Darrin Verhagen, costumes Adrienne Chisholm, dancers Belinda Cooper, Joanna Lloyd, Carlee Mellow, Rachel Roberts, Sally Smith; Wesleyan Hall, Albert Park, July 15 – July 26

RealTime issue #27 Oct-Nov 1998 pg. 6

© Philipa Rothfield; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

It’s time again for pause at Dance Works, DW98 being their last season at the Wesleyan Hall, Albert Park, a space which has been integral to a number of the company’s works. For me, it’s reminiscent of an earlier Dance Works closing season, 1987’s Last Legs at the Y, then under the directorship of Nannette Hassall, with so many of those dancers having been the teachers and choreographers for members of this current company. So (it seems from my sporadic vantage) this program marks not only another change of venue, but yet another generation of dancers and choreographers. And it seems appropriate too that the season features prominently in the MAP program which is itself a new-generation Greenmill. So what are they up to now?

Sandra Parker, the current artistic director of Dance Works, has created the first piece in a triple bill, Waiting. She sets the scene with a program note, a quote from Romeo and Juliet which describes that condition of intolerable impatience, the infinitely prolonged expectation before a promise is fulfilled. We see 5 dancers in the hall, the oddly angled walls and vaulted ceilings, the decorous light. These women are sparsely placed, reclining, but not settled, leaning in torpor; they shift weight and place with small, almost purposeless gestures—vacant, somniferous, distanced too, as if by a glitch in time, or a video freeze-frame function. The actions never quite stop, but also seem never to run properly to speed. Forward-stop-forward, stop, back for a moment, fast forward, pause—as if the audience might be moved to think the obsessive thoughts of these women who wait, over and over.

Another scene comes to mind—a speedy solo, under a low ceiling far to the side of the main floor. It’s as if we happen to glance through a high window, and catch sight of this dancer, waiting under a railway lamp to meet a train. Matched with another simultaneous, almost languid unison trio, there’s that same stop-start, fast-slow, forward-back juxtaposition.

But Waiting struck me also with its clean and immaculately rehearsed quality, with its strong rhythm and line which never faltered, despite the fraught theme. And it was this, along with the delicate lines of vaulted ceiling, pillars, and shadowed corners, which rendered the piece more pleasantly harmonious in the end, than something disturbing or passionate.

Shelley Lasica’s Live Opera Situation, on the other hand, created its own dissonance, a kind of weird but subtle gawkiness of action and relationship in a piece which, because of that, moved with wit and comic understatement. A general feature of Lasica’s work is that it’s hard to know whether her movement quality is deliberate or not, but whatever it is, the 4 dancers managed to recreate it in a sort of benign but fiddly orchestration of starts and stops, overextended joints and slack muscle tone, which was really a relief after the generic beauteousness one is more likely to encounter in dance.

Lasica has used an operatic conceit as the starting point for Live Opera Situation, examining the behaviour of a quartet of characters, their spatial, physical, emotional, and musical relationships being revealed in this work more as purposeless posturing as they act out the emotional and relational dynamics, if not the actual moves, of the conventional operatic ones. It is also strongly reminiscent of the dynamics of Melrose Place.

The movement is often behavioural, jerky, stop-start, idiosyncratic, lacking in much adhesive unison, although there is a lot of stylish, layering of beige costume fabric. The curiously unfinished feel of each of the character’s sequences sets up a kind of awkward, unrehearsed, ‘conversational’ quality in their relationships. They come together in duets, separate, cluster in cameos, and bounce off each other unpredictably. But these relationships are the central feature of the work, providing the humour and the interest. The music too, from composer Franc Tétaz, provides another unifying aspect, a sense of time passing, as if a clock is slowly striking for this particular soap opera.

Coming out of left field was Sue Healey’s Stung, with the dancers in Adrienne Chisholm’s purple bee costumes, including little hats with feelers on the sides, suspiciously suggestive of WWI aeroplane pilots’ helmets, and little wings etcetera. With the dancers doing a lot of bee-like buzzing and humming and quivering and vibrating and so forth, with their bodies and limbs, especially their elbows, its seriously-silly quality gave it a sort of grand hilarity.

The design of the space was fantastic: Efterpi Soropos’ hexagonal spots, honeycomb-shaped beams on the floor and walls, as well as a number of long stemmed red flowers, weighted at the bottom, which could be moved around or stand in variously shaped clumps, and fall down when required.

Inspired by the children’s “Billy Bee Song”, the program also notes Sue Healey’s interest in the complex social behaviour of bees and other animals, including their territorial desires. And whether this is a serious investigation or an excuse for some light relief doesn’t seem to matter much, because while its choreographic complexity belies any suggestion of naivety, Stung’s imaginative inventiveness and capacity for wilful child-like pleasure is of a sort that’s hard to find any more.

DW98, Dance Works, Wesleyan Hall, Albert Park, July 15 – July 26

RealTime issue #27 Oct-Nov 1998 pg. 6

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

Thirty years ago I remember staying up until the small hours of a freezing winter night to watch the first worldwide live satellite broadcast on television. The high point was watching The Beatles perform All You Need Is Love in a London studio. The Great Cities of the World all fed in short live segments and I recall Melbourne’s featured the first tram of the day leaving the Kew depot.

Standing in Swanston Street at midnight, stamping my feet in 2 degrees of winter, watching touchwhere by Company in Space recalled that event in 1968. touchwhere was a realtime online performance by two dancers—Louise Taube in Melbourne and Hellen Sky in Orlando, Florida. They danced across the globe, “the earth beneath their feet”, the same dance together but separate, mirroring and replicating each other’s movements in the reflective pool of the video camera and the computer. The dance duet was projected on three large screens set into the portico of Melbourne Town Hall—two at street level, on the same level as the live, present performer and the third in the upper balcony level, the place (as a matter of symmetry) where The Beatles stood in 1962 to wave to the assembled populace of Melbourne.

The intriguing thing about touchwhere was the way in which it gathered and placed its audience. The performance was free of charge and available to anyone who chose or happened to be there, passing by on foot or in one of the many trams whose route takes them along Swanston Street.
So there were huddled dance-goers outside McDonalds, watching the dance from the place I was told was the intended viewing position on the other side of Swanston Street. Directly opposite us was a fortuitous audience—couples in tuxedos and ballgowns, clutching bunches of helium balloons who’d just left a ball in the Town Hall where they’d been dancing.

Many of them sat on the steps and watched mystified as a dancer in a silvery sort of space-suit made movements, tracked by a video camera. The audience was placed effectively on raked seating (the Town Hall steps) watching Louise Taube’s live performance in front of a triptych comprising two wings—the video screens projecting her dancing with Hellen Sky and in the centre, in the far distance, on the other side of the street, another audience—us watching them.

From time to time our view was obscured by a passing tram whose passengers, watching out of either side windows, could see the performance and two of the three video projections as well as two differently disported and attired audiences. For the ball-goers, the whole thing was framed by a proscenium arch—the Town Hall portico.

Meanwhile, we watched almost the whole thing—the live dancer whose presence was as significant as the trams, the ballgoers and the three video screens. These various modes of spectatorship were all animated as well as the imagined other audience in Florida. The resonances with De Chirico drawings of figures within architectural spaces or the image in a mirror in a Van Eyck painting were all there too.

At the end of the live performance there was another show—more like a cheerio segment or a chat show as the gang in Melbourne talked and saw themselves talking to Hellen Sky in Orlando about what it was like to be here— freezing cold, but on time tonight, and what it was like to be there—cold in the sense of lacking an audience or space of reception. And the people over there said they wished they were back here with us. The contrast between the exponential advances in technology which make an event like this possible and the smallness, ordinariness of the desires of the participants to make face to face connection was strangely moving. Cyber space is at once so vast and so domestic, so indifferent and yet so intimate.

touchwhere was more event and spectacle than performance. In the role of indented audience, you took on the part of artist advocate to explain to the confused, accidental audience filing past McDonalds who wanted to know what this was. You were also constantly drawn to the other elements constituting the event: the behaviour of the other audiences; juxtapositions—like watching dancers through tram windows; the melding of the images of the dancers responding to the virtual but actual other on the screen; the coolness of the lone, live performer who was centrally placed on the stage from any of these myriad vantage points but who was somehow not the focus of the event.

Company in Space, touchwhere, devised and designed by John McCormick and Hellen Sky in collaboration with sound designer/composer Garth Paine, choreographer and performer Hellen Sky in collaboration with Louise Taube; computer graphics Marshall White; performed live simultaneously and interactively between SIGGRAPH 98, Orlando, Florida, USA and MAP, Melbourne, Australia, Melbourne Town Hall portico, midnight July 20 – 24

RealTime issue #27 Oct-Nov 1998 pg. 7

© Suzanne Spunner; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

The three short works in DW98 —Waiting, Live Opera Situation and Stung—involved three different choreographers and three different composers. Works by two of these composers were played two weeks before, as part of somewhere nowhere, an evening of sonic experimentation, at the gallery space at 200 Gertrude Street.

At somewhere nowhere I arrive late and am preoccupied with the number of chairs, 40 for an audience of 200. A space provided. A space where the audience is the event. A gallery space filled to overflowing, four speakers, one in each corner surrounding the audience who sit or stand in the centre. The chairs are in 2 or 3 rows. You can lean against the wall. I speak to strangers. I find them interesting.

We are invited into a space somewhere between our own living room and a public space, between our own living room and a dance club. This ambiguous middle ground. The crossover from popular culture into acoustic art. Pop music sensibility in an art music context. An impure art. Two of the works do not involve a performer. We are there in their place. We talk, our voices mingling audibly with the voice(s) in the speakers. Later on I listen to the same works on CD in my studio.

The LP record can be seen as an archive, accompanied by extraneous noises which we have trained ourselves to ignore. In the work of Darrin Verhagen these artefacts (as he calls them) have been separated from the music recording and given musical focus. Artefacts, glitches, crackles, little clicks and pops, hiss, scratches, distortion, overloads, these have been used as musical content. In the work 3ppp there is a long delicate section made up almost entirely of clicks and pops. In another section distort is at assault levels.

From one event to another there is a displacement.

In DW98, the composers Franc Tétaz and Darrin Verhagen, whose works we heard at 200 Gertrude Street, have composed music for the dance works by Shelley Lasica and Sue Healey. Here the space produced by the (absent) performer is occupied by the dancers and the audience is seated in a block or clump in heavily raked seating. The music is played through speakers high in the church roof. It charts the space for us, causing us to move into the height and the width of this large hall.

The dancers are on the floor. I feel too high looking down on them. This feels like an unintended dislocation. A rift, a separation. I expect the dancers to become airborne. To swing in the space with the music. To cross over into the trajectory of the music. To play in the air. The dancers focus towards our block. I wish they would leave by another door, look somewhere else. We are in a clump. They have the whole floor, the whole space, all the other walls, and yet they turn towards us.

In the program notes for Lasica’s Live Opera Situation we are told that there is an unheard (of) opera, The Haunted Manor by Stanislaw Moniuszko, which has informed the choreography. It is interesting that there is no reference to this opera in the music composition, given that such quotation would be well within the genre of computer processed music. Instead a series of small fragments have been recorded on different instruments, a piano, a Fender Rhodes electric piano and various percussion instruments, and processed electronically. The dancers have not rehearsed to this music. They maintain their rhythm and tempos from the rhythm and tempos of the opera. There is no attempt to mirror this musical information in the composition. We see movements that seem unaccounted for. We become curious. We puzzle over these inconsistencies. “There is a sense of worlds colliding. The different elements do not always sit comfortably together. It is necessary that a slender thread of light search out not other symbols, but the very fissure of the symbolic.” (Barthes) A fissure, a narrow opening. At these moments something within me is activated. I feel a shift of perception. I feel there is an exchange. No longer a showing but an exchange.

I write this as a process of memory, surprised by what I remember. Like an involuntary memory I have returned to these events uninvited, to invoke a voluntary memory from which to begin. Memory issues strict instructions. To be true to the memory, to the recollection, less so to the actual event. It is to the memory that we pay our respects. To our own desire to see ourselves, our desire for the impossible.

DW98, Dance Works, forum, Wesleyan Hall, Albert Park, July 24

RealTime issue #27 Oct-Nov 1998 pg. 6

© Elizabeth Drake; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Paulina Quinteros’ Fie, Dance Creation 98

Paulina Quinteros’ Fie, Dance Creation 98

Paulina Quinteros’ Fie, Dance Creation 98

The concept of judging new dance works created specifically for a choreographic competition would appear to go against the dance community’s best efforts to value process over product, and its well-founded scepticism at assessing quality. And yet on July 10 and 11 at the National Theatre in St Kilda, the Australian Institute of Classical Dance (AICD) presented such an event in the second biennial Dance Creation choreographic awards. This year’s event fell under the umbrella of MAP, Melbourne’s eclectic response to the demise of Greenmill, and both the AICD and MAP must be congratulated for taking another step towards bridging the often tedious cleft that exists between classical and contemporary dance organisations.

As is any reasonably significant junior sporting event, nervous excitement permeated the air, mixed with healthy doses of cliché concerning the value of participation in such competitions. Much of the text in the program alluded to the importance of developing choreographers by giving them an opportunity to present their work. For Rosetta Cook, the winner of Dance Creation 96’s Robert Helpmann Award, winning is not paramount, whereas having a work seen is. Personally, I am not convinced that having work seen is nearly enough to help choreographers develop a thorough understanding of the subtleties and nuances of dance-making. At most, it’s a start. Without setting up some form of dialogue concerning the works (particularly between judges and competitors), the event becomes a void in which a would-be choreographer presents a collection of movements only to learn whether the work is a winner or not.

There were 20 works entered in Dance Creation 98, 12 less than in 1996 which might immediately suggest that the lure of prize money alone is not enough to entice emerging and established choreographers to create work specifically for a competition. Disappointingly, the 1998 Edouard Borovansky Award for student choreographers was cancelled and the handful of student works were judged as part of the non-professional Peggy Van Praagh award.

Watching the works themselves, I gained immense pleasure from seeing so many dancers moving in such extraordinarily diverse creations— from the stripped back formalism of Francis D’Ath’s Praw to the romantic theatricality of Tanja Liedtke’s Thru Time. Sadly though, in this most human of forms, the majority of works ignored the subtle intricacies, quirks and gestures of human movement. Also, the choreography tended to lack any discernible editing. Perhaps this problem was exacerbated by the AICD’s time regulations which, ironically, restricted the range of works and made most of them far too drawn out. Martha Graham (“Every dance is too long”) must surely have been turning in her grave over the course of the two evenings.

The most bizarre and disturbing aspect of Dance Creation 98 was the simplistic judging mechanism. Judges gave each dance a mark out of 10 without being required to adhere to standardised assessment criteria to do with form, content, innovation or design. On the first night, this led to a great deal of uncertainty as to why some dances were rewarded places in the finals whilst others were not.

I do not doubt that the AICD had the development of dance in mind when organising Dance Creation 98, but I’m not so sure that this particular model of choreographic development gives value for money. In this event, perhaps only the two winning choreographers will benefit from the competition and that as a consequence of receiving some fiscal support. For the others, simply placing a work in a competitive environment does not necessarily constitute development. In future, it may be worthwhile to consider how each choreographer might be provided with feedback that will in itself inform their choreographic process and develop their creative abilities. There is nothing more disheartening to any dancer or choreographer to create without feedback. It is a void bereft of the potential for anything other than self-doubt, uncertainty and, inevitably, apathy.

For the record, the Peggy Van Praagh Award ($5,000) for non-professional choreographers was won by Yumi Sollier for Sensing the Undercurrent, a coherent if overly-long work filled with suitably raw subterranean imagery, and marked with surprising displays of virtuosity. The Robert Helpmann Award ($10,000) for professional choreographers was won by 1996’s Van Praagh winner, Paulina Quinteros, for Fie—compelling evidence of Quinteros’ ease in creating rich and complex movement phrases, and then immersing them simply into a tight thematic structure.

Dance Creation 98, hosted by the Australian Institute of Classical Dance, National Theatre, St Kilda, July 10 – 11

RealTime issue #27 Oct-Nov 1998 pg. 5

© Simon Ellis; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Overheard: “…independents need guidance—they’re flailing about with spoken word and new media.” “I thought that’s what independents are supposed to do, flail about, get lost, go their own way…”

Maps come with a purpose, with exploration, measurement, verification, namings. Maps offer hope and certainty though they can be inaccurate and knowing how to read them is a whole other matter. Maps can be confining. Maps capture a moment, only a succession of maps tells a story. One map can be overlayed with another—same terrain, same time but different story. So it was at the MAP Symposium, a genteel reading of half-formed dance maps, chance meetings, misdirections, losings, fallings off of the edge of the known.

Although only an acronym (for Movement and Performance), the MAP title and aims represented a conscious choice, a suggestion of let’s get everyone on the same terrain (hence the ballet presence), let’s help find a way through the barely charted paths of new media and popular culture and the competing spaces for dance—the theatre, the studio, the site.

For a symposium aimed at harmonious mapping, there was no more provocative way of setting out than with guides Libby Dempster and Amanda Card. Not that anyone actually got upset and pulled out of the expedition, but we were left bemused, pondering two maps, both of occupied territory—the imperialism of 19th century ballet and subsequently of European and American modernism over Australian dance.

Dempster’s map was at first glance binary in form, but every inch of the terrain she revealed turned out to be occupied by ballet, ballet and ballet, its self-mythologising and its fundamental denial of the feminine—ballet’s ‘other’ was pushed off the map, if it was ever on it, a lack rather than a counter-force or a substantial difference. Nowhere to go. Map? What map?

Amanda Card looked at the dance landscape and saw “not the hegemony of the classical but a society of bricolage” and took us off on a dialectical jog on which she established first that because we don’t remember a dance counter culture it doesn’t mean there wasn’t one: “lack of a memory of a counterculture—not a lack of a counterculture.” We went with that and she led us back through the century to the life and imagined work of Sonia Revid in Australia to…a dead end. Revid left no legacy, no inheritors, no school…Just when we thought we were getting a footing, the map was whisked away, it had no history. Dance is not literature, words are not enough. It’s about bodies and the embodiment of tradition.

But Card was kind enough to lead us a few tentative steps in a new direction on a new map, one that acknowledged that the choreographers and teachers that came after Revid did leave a legacy that was, yes, European or American, with a reminder that we ourselves were “foreign, colonial, illegitimate.” She pronounced, “our uniqueness is our lack of it,” declared us “the ultimate postmodern culture” and threw down a collaged map which Australian dancers have created from foreign traditions, imitation and sheer bricolage. But what kind of map was it—she deftly removed the romanticised Australian landscape, noting various attempts by Graeme Murphy, Jill Sykes and others, even Russell Dumas, to make the time-honoured link between the arts and the bush. We were left standing about looking at what was left, wondering is it any good? and what’s wrong with a tradition from somewhere else, if we’re still part of it? Will we go on?…But our guide had gone. Both of them. And we’d only just set out.

Of all the art forms in Australia, dance is the one that seems most beleaguered by the weight of imperial tradition, the same weight that crushed Indigenous culture and guaranteed imitative white arts in the colonies. The other arts don’t have anything quite like the ballet as bogeyman, though the opera and symphony orchestras can be similarly if less devastatingly invoked. Whatever, the Dempster-Card mapping was mildly received. Had their audience heard it before? Had they been ‘hegemonised’ into silence by ballet? Were they shocked at the small space offered them on these maps and their apparent insignificance? Well, it’s not always easy to read the mood of a conference in Australia; participants are slow to formulate questions, issues are not pursued, chairpersons these days have become ‘facilitators’ instead of interrogators, disparate papers are read in queues, connections are not made, no one wants to appear too smart. And there were many at the Symposium for whom this ballet issue was not worrying or they’d accommodated it in some way—as illustrated in Mathew Bergan’s video with ballet-trained choreographers who’d moved into other dance. They were interested in other maps. And there are those who think that we are at the end of a period of domination, in an era of manifesting our own identity, drawing still on the overseas traditions of which we remain a part, but making our own distinctions. It’s a pity therefore that (and for a number of good reasons the curators explained) there wasn’t an Indigenous component in the symposium.

Even more than our white colonial plight, the initial repression of Indigenous culture and its recent ‘acceptance’ (as art, as spirituality, as cuisine, but not too readily as politics or ownership of the map)—is even more telling about this place we are mapping, in the relationship between Indigenous and modernist dance traditions, say, in the constant querying of Bangarra about its syntheses.

Some places we were led turned out to be mapless, the paths evaporating and reforming in a few dialectical turns—“dance is a dematerialisation of modern life…an ethics of dwelling”; dance is “ungrounded…(but)… located in the entire phenomenal world.” These came from Duncan Fairfax in a session on dance and the new technologies. Fairfax had been citing Heidegger, “Dance’s purpose is to open us to a primordial experience of being, a verb, not a noun.” While this was satisfying for the true believers, a nice interplay of the physical and the transcendent, its claim to convince us of the problems inherent in the deployment of new media in dance were problematic in their absolutism—technology “denies corporeality”, puts us at a greater distance from our bodies, it’s “a new drive for control”, “it reinforces rather than transgresses.” Dance is good, technology bad, no dialectic here, no steadying ground on which to map our present. The baddies are Stelarc, Orlan and Robert Wilson—“rumoured”, said Fairfax, to want to replace his performers with techno-substitutes!

From the other side of what was soon to become a session of vaguely competing cosmologies (well, that’s what it felt like, another kind of mapping), Chrissie Parrott did an interesting if undialectical turn. On the one hand, motion capture technology for her is functional, a tool for choreographing without dancers and for saving dancers pain and injury. On the other, the result, which Parrott described with loving lyricism, is an animated dancer (built from the performance of a real one), a very real creature with the potential for an ethereal internet life of its own, exploring various choreographies.
A queasy floating sensation brought on by hovering between Fairfax and Parrott’s opposing universes was relieved by Trevor Patrick, working with the old technology of film, but technology nonetheless, and declaring a Taoist “impulse to unite mind, body and universe” in “a performance about transcendence, self transformation and change.” He said he saw “film as an important adjunct to performance” (something that Parrott was insistent on too, but watching her video presentation, we weren’t really sure what she had in mind). Patrick spoke of the “experience more and more of going into my own body, but people were not necessarily seeing that”, so he turned to film: “dealing with the desire to show what I felt.”

I felt my feet touch the ground and then caught Gideon Obarzanek’s declaration that he was not interested in dance on film, or new technology, but in making films (not about or necessarily including dance, as in his film Wet), and that in dance, picking up on the lingo, his “dancers’ bodies are grounded”, that he works from “the qualities of the bodies, pushing the limits, achieving a hyperreal quality.” The blur between self and other in his own work is through choreography; he said of working with Fiona Cameron recently: “It’s true that I’m not on stage but it’s hard to tell which movement is hers and which is mine.”

The ground had shifted, the conceit of dance as a terrain, a map of competing forces and traditions had shifted to a philosophical, even spiritual, plane and onto the body as map. But it was no ‘mere’ body, but the body as psyche, the body philosophical, ‘hard-wired’ (the techno-talk in the symposium for the inscription of ballet on the body), transformable, the cyborg even.

William McClure, abetted by Sue-ellen Kohler in a rare physical/existential moment in the symposium, took us off the edge of the map of received technique and stepped into…“pure sensation, unmediated by culture”, with the next step, “not a technique, but to keep feeling”, a moment of forgetting…and finding that meshed in various ways with the primordial of Fairfax and the selfless states of Butoh described by Yumi Umiumare and Tony Yap (“you have to stop the mind thinking”) in a session on Asian dance experience (where this time Peter Eckersall tried to keep our feet on the ground). Is this a quest for a new map, or no map? Were we also heading back to the Dempster-Card ‘maps’ when we heard McClure oppose “dance as a type of memorial…and European at that” and ask, “Does the next step have to have its authority in the past?”

In the closing session I noted the flood of binaries (male/female, culture/nature, body/technology, theatre/studio, high culture/low culture, ballet/other, tradition/moment etc) across the weekend, not as a bad thing, but interesting given the attempt to bring a range of very different artists and topics together, and also to indicate that there was much that was ‘in opposition’ that was neither resolvable nor worth fighting over with any intensity. You don’t think of maps as binary, but as complex representations of difference. However, they are mostly two dimensional, drafting the high and the low, pointing north and south, east and west, and like binaries in general providing ways of thinking…as long as they don’t become the only way of thinking, ignoring the third factor (the dialectical spin-off), change, or all the points in between. A map is as good as it is useful, as long as it is current, as long as it can be queried. Maps in MAP were variously fatalistically fixed, liberating, pragmatic, cosmological, fluid, physical, generated by dance, abandoned. As postmodern diversification of forms and the ideas that go with them persists and intensifies, the likelihood of drawing a common map in an event like MAP steadily declines. Occasional points of contact can be made, interests shared, common causes fought for. Some maps simply cannot be overlaid without creating something unintelligible. Nonetheless, the poetry of these sometimes competing maps was the most striking thing about them, the strangeness of their envisioning, the metaphysical yearnings, the blurrings between choreographer and dancer, artist and technology, the autobiographical impulse, the existential moment that took us off the map.

The MAP Symposium, curators Vicki Fairfax, Erin Brannigan, The Bagging Room, C.U.B. Malthouse, Melbourne, July 25 – 26

RealTime issue #27 Oct-Nov 1998 pg. 7-8

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Lucy Guerin, Heavy

Lucy Guerin, Heavy

1. Up there for thinking…

In Sandra Parker’s very musical choreography for Waiting movement is syncopated through bodies, space and time. In the post-show forum she says that once she heard Lawrence Harvey’s music, she could have just kept going. The composer says the collaboration alerted him to all the things to which he was blind.

In Shelley Lasica’s elegant Live Opera Situation music is used contrapuntally. The dancers rehearse to other musics (Indian music, opera), then internalise those patterns and absorb them with others from composer Franc Tétaz. The instability of the relationship between the music and the dancers’ bodies is one of the aspects of the work that the choreographer suggests the audience may experience, but not necessarily.

In Sue Healey’s Stung it’s not humour but strangeness that grabs. The stricture imposed on dancers to embody bees perversely allows us further into the human bodies. Without hands as the logical extension of arms, we concentrate more on the subtleties of shoulders and backs. With new rhythms we observe the ways a body can buzz. This work began with Darrin Verhagen’s music. He’s worked with Sue Healey before and knows what she likes. He knew it would be about bees but is surprised by its humour.

The post-show forum with choreographers, dancers and composers was intimate, relaxed and tentative. It reminded me of the discussion after the screenings of the Microdance films at Intersteps in Sydney last year. Listening to choreographers fresh from the collaborative experience speaking about the difficulties and pleasures of working with film and music, it occurs to me how much more there is to know.

All three collaborations in DW98 broached potentially interesting topics for discussion. What would happen if Sandra Parker had kept going? What is the relationship between Shelley Lasica’s agenda and her audience’s; what if bees were not funny at all? Watching these and other works like them, I can’t help wishing for more—more investigation, more time to refine, more performances and of course, more thinking and talking about the process of creation and its reception by audiences.

Organisers of the MAP Symposium, responding to a “burning need” for critical appraisal, proposed bigger and, on the surface, more crucial questions than these: the place of ballet; the impact of technology; the indelible inscriptions of training; Asian influences; attitudes to space; pop culture. There’s an urgency in the tone of the promotional material suggesting that dance is at a watershed with lines between forms blurring, disappearing. The implication is that dance may have lost its way and that one of the aims of MAP is to “locate” contemporary dance once again in all its forms in our time and along the way, while maintaining crucial distinctions and countering hostilities, to bring it back into conversation with ballet.

One way into this conversation was an interesting prototype shown at the MAP Symposium, Mathew Bergan and Erin Brannigan’s video, Arrival and Departure. Young Australian choreographers talk about the ways they accommodate and make use of their ballet training. Formerly with Bangarra, Bernadette Walong likes working with the dancers from the Australian Ballet but finds herself trying to “soften their joints”; Garry Stewart likes to re-contextualise ballet vocabulary in his work; Brian Carbee is surprised to find himself returning to it. In a later forum Lucy Guerin says she uses its disciplines as a platform for departure. For Rosalind Crisp, it lends a level of legitimacy that gets her teaching work to support her contemporary practice.

Beyond this, the weekend symposium presented a huge array of dancers attempting with varying degrees of success to connect bodies of work with the designated topics. Some prepared papers, some extracted from longer ones. Others improvised. One showed a film. Only one danced. While considerable ground was covered, for me nothing came quite as close to crucial as the more intimate discussions I saw after DW98 which might be why, in the rare breaks between talk, I began to compile a taxonomy of shoes and some sketches towards a choreography of the panel.


2. …down there for dancing

A democracy of Blundstones pervades the MAP Symposium with some notable exceptions, like Vicki Fairfax trying to set the tone at the opening session in blue suede pumps and Op Art stockings. First up, Libby Dempster and Amanda Card and Chair Robin Grove introduce a sober topic (“Ballet and its Other”) in buckles and brogues. Dempster ventures a binary or two—Ballet is the governing tradition in Australia and counter-traditions don’t exist. Philipa Rothfield jêtés from the audience, “Must the other be counter?”, down and up again, “What about Iragaray’s idea of difference as plenitude?” More diverting are Dempster’s gestures at the fictions that sustain the mind of the ballet—the ballet dancer’s body as signifying not simply harmonious beauty but efficient functioning of musculature with nothing wastefully complex; an extroverted body; a phallic body; the female ballet dancer’s body as a public body, freed of interiority, a body fit for bearing universal values.

In a classical ballet scenario, Amanda Card would be the wise maid with the basket on her hip, deftly plucking fragments from a forgotten history of contemporary dance in Australia and, finger under chin, casually questioning the importance of a local, distinctive dance product. Her final comments, more in keeping with Card’s contemporary training, spring from internal stimuli, abandoning all identifiable technique. Australia’s history she says, legs out and crossed at the ankle, is full of ideas of the foreign, the colonial, the illegitimate. Our uniqueness may be our lack of uniqueness. The place is an afterthought, a dumping ground (to which, thanks to Jerry Seinfeld, we can now mercifully add an anus).

In the question time that followed we experienced the first of the always awkward dance between the “any old bodies” in the audience thinking on their feet and the “superior bodies” of the panellists whose steps have been choreographed into refined arguments.

In session two (“Ungrounded Bodies/Escaping the Body”) panellists individually tango round the topic of technology. Gideon Obarzanek shares boots with Duncan Fairfax in refusing it—though for different reasons. Gideon takes inspiration from television (especially animation) and film (especially editing) but using technology to create dance doesn’t interest him. He talks about creating a hyper-real, an “animated look” on stage and of working with the idiosyncratic bodies of his dancers—choreographing the by-products of yoga in Narelle Benjamin’s body, coming to terms with Luke Smiles’ tensile, fast logic. I move him into a sexy duet with Chrissie Parrott in high heels at the other end of the panel. She’s hooked on Motion Capture for good reasons (choreographic possibilities) and controversial ones (a desire to remove the monotony and potential injury for dancers in rehearsal). In the audience, Christos Linou, fresh from his performance dealing with drug addiction and AIDS, shifts uncomfortable at the mention of the disappearing of the dancer’s pain from the choreography. Chrissie teeters on her heel then glides forward, imagining her digital dancer wandering the net picking up choreographic ideas. Duncan Fairfax raises his eyes, “Gee, I’m gonna seem like even more of a Luddite now”, but dives in, executing a few grand jetés along the way. I was expecting wild applause or hisses as he concluded his paper on dance as among other romances “the primordial experience of being” as opposed to technology which “forces us into a picture.” But no. In the choreography of the panel, a polite symmetry pervades. Good dancers don’t bump into one another. Opposing ideas line up and, like the panellists, rarely touch. In one small (very Australian, I thought) gesture, Duncan sends a smile in Chrissie’s direction as if to say, “nothing personal.”

Anticipating splinters, Trevor Patrick wears earth shoes to elucidate—hands poised perfectly on either side of his papers—the subtle body in his impressive work Nine Cauldrons (Microdance). I’m struck by the difference between the speaking artist (slight man in cardigan) and his dancing self (intense, hip, wry). He pulls us inside his calm bubble, talking softly about the subjective camera versus the static stage, the way the moving eye takes the audience closer. “Of all the Microdance films”, says Rosalind Crisp in time, his is the one that “lets me into the body.” Zsuzsanna Soboslay, rocking the baby Mir Mir, whispers in the panel’s ear that theatre audiences are more alert to the subtle body than they might think. Before the shutter was open, she believes, they were already letting themselves in.

“In Search of the Body”: hyphenated dancers in a leggy line compare histories of training. Ballet dancer Paula Baird-Colt joins Jennifer Newman-Preston and Sue-ellen Kohler vamping till ready in medium high boots while stage right Italian booted philosopher William McClure argues for moments of pure passivity of thought between moves, something like…fainting. In a shocking move, Kohler removes her shoes and in the middle of one of William’s sentences (“Dance is a form of…”) adds a few phrases of her own (sinewy squats, high stretches). “…thinking”, they conclude. In her recent work Premonition with Mahalya Middlemist and William McClure, Sue-ellen spoke more eloquently on the subject of next steps than this environment permits. Attempting to explain her position, she stretches her fingers and shakes them in the air, casts her eyes up and out. “When I look at dance, I look at dancers she says, “At people, not technique.”

The tradition of talk I gather is not strong in ballet circles. Nevertheless, Paula Baird-Colt in long and certain sentences lays to rest the notion that for this dancer anyway classical ballet limits individual expression (“There may be 60 dancers but also 60 different ways of dancing even though we’re all being swans together”). Of her relationship to choreographers like Kylian, Duarte, Tharp, she says, “They are you. You offer them things.” How can there be any conversation between this dancer and the one next to her, thinks Rosalind Crisp in the audience, her toes curling inside her shoes. Paula’s position is totally objectified. But then she executes a perfect pirouette: “Twyla Tharp’s In the Upper Room I would perform for myself every day without an audience”, she says.

In the lively boot-oh session (“The Asian Connection”) colour is suddenly an issue: brown Blundstones for Chair Rosemary Hinde; Yumi Umiumare in lace up bovver-boots; Tony Yap in brown Docs; Michelle Heaven, recently returned from Japan with Sue Healey and company, still has dust on her tan riding boots; Peter Eckersall anticipating a quick exit from even vaguely essentialist agendas, opts for grey leather scuffs. Eckersall worries at the transition of forms—Butoh is about the body in crisis and sprang from a set of social conditions in Japan. The Australian version, he fears, ditches the politics and replaces it with a new-agey version of the oriental as meditative, Zen-like, primitive. I contemplate a cast change and shift Yumi Umiumare and Tony Yap to the panel with Kohler and McClure. Both are engagingly fluid in their talk-journies. Yumi trained in classical ballet from 9 years of age, lost herself to the intensity of Butoh and is in the process of retrieving her body’s memory in Australia. Due to a clerical error in his home town of Warrnambool via Malacca, Tony Yap became a visual artist instead of a performing one. Re-directing himself via Deborah Hay and Grotowski-inspired companies like IRAA he wound up with his own Mixed Company creating dance-theatre inspired by Taoist traditions in which he attempts to achieve an emptiness, a method not of training but of being human. “Before a performance” he says, “I want to die.”

In the familiar territory of performance space, Angharad Wynn-Jones’ boots are well-travelled. Eleanor Brickhill’s, like her essay on studio practice, appear nicely polished. Shelley Lasica wears rubber soles and Natalie Weir half-boot, half-shoe. For Shelley, explaining her attitudes to space is a writhing dance. Words must be substituted, sentences restructured for precision. She speaks about the space between speaking and doing, space as behaviour, about bringing the audience into the space of personal enquiry. She has updated her thoughts to make space for those of speakers at the forum just before this. Natalie Weir is a little nervous and moves in straight lines. Creator of works for companies such as Expressions and Queensland Ballet, Dance North and recently The Australian Ballet, she sees space as defined for her. She works within proscenium arches, many of them in regional centres. Her works must tour. Space is self-contained (“as in real life”). She is excited by dancers, their breath, their energy, the way they charge and truly create the space and, sure, she’d like audiences to experience more of this but often she must work with front on staging, the audience looking as if at a picture. Eleanor Brickhill steps tentatively forward to address the unbridgeable gap between.

Popular culture unleashes the sneaker. While Philipa Rothfield time-steps in lace-up boots, Michael Kantor, unlaced, freeforms his desire for a vulgar, provocative, unaesthetic theatre of ideas (“Prepare to be hated”). Before he started working with dance companies, DJ Jad McAdam believed that dance was something to do, not watch. Now, displaying the word “Simple” on his shoe tongue he queries the counter (to what?) while Gideon Obarzanek in dyed Docs pays homage to the popular culture that’s modelled him more than any other. Lucy Guerin neatly marks out in mid-heels the way she uses popular culture (especially music). “Trash and profound thought may co-exist.” In Robbery Waitress on Bail she takes a tabloid story as a starting point, projects it so the audience’s desire for narrative is satisfied and then attempts to dance the endlessly elusive everything else. A woman in the audience comes up with one of the best questions of this popular, though (except for Lucy Guerin) oddly culturally unrevealing session. She asks McAdam “How come club music is getting better and better while club dancing is getting worse and worse?”

I remember in a collaboration with dancers in the early 80s being warned by the choreographer not to overtax the dancers with talk because their bodies would seize up. In one shocking moment I learned that dancing and talking about dancing are different. Up there for thinking. Down there for dancing. Postmodern dance readjusted my centre of gravity. For very different reasons MAP has temporarily tipped it off balance again which is no bad thing. Now I desperately need to see someone dancing.

DW98 and post-show forum, Danceworks, Wesleyan Hall, Albert Park, July 24; MAP Symposium, The Bagging Room, C.U.B. Malthouse, Melbourne, July 25 – 26; Arrival and Departure (video), director Mathew Bergan, producer Erin Brannigan

RealTime issue #27 Oct-Nov 1998 pg. 11

© Virginia Baxter; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

As well as giving us a meticulous and enlightening survey of footwear at the MAP Symposium (I almost wore my gold glittery tap shoes), the RealTime-hosted closing session demonstrated how very close to the beginning of discourse and debate this ‘dance community’ that had gathered in Melbourne was. Trajectories beyond the weekend were signposted by this session, along with questions from the floor throughout the weekend that fizzled before they could be bounced around and discussions at the bar that had no place in the ‘public’ body of the event.

As the curators of the symposium, Vicki Fairfax and I were asked to present a “legend” that would facilitate a reading of the current “topography” of dance practice nationally. With an emphasis on “new choreography” and “cross-form development”, the forum was to draw on the associated performance program to develop this map.

The inclusiveness inherent in MAP’s agenda can be traced back to the spirit of Greenmill, the annual dance festival whose impetus MAP was expected to build upon, and the Project Control Group set up after the demise of that event. This group represented a real will within the Melbourne dance community to maintain a discourse across genres and included Josephine Ridge from the Australian Ballet, Angharad Wynne-Jones from Chunky Move, Hellen Sky and Sylvia Staehli from Dancehouse and Paul Summers from Dance Works.

Coming from Sydney, I was struck by the determined insistence in Melbourne upon a notion of dance community, something that remained problematic for me throughout the project. As Eleanor Brickhill said to me, butchers and bakers perhaps have more in common than some of the dance practitioners involved in MAP. What they do have in common is movement and performance, and even so, the “Performance Space” session certainly gave the idea of movement and spectatorship a good going over. A community, by definition, involves some kind of agreement and people’s attendance at the weekend was proof of this. But what actually constitutes this ‘agreement’ still bears investigating.

Given that we were mapping a community, where were the parameters set? We were asked where the Indigenous content was by an audience member during the closing session. But where indeed was the Indian and the Spanish dance which are now negotiating cultural and disciplinary boundaries in an Australian context? The speakers in the “Asian Connection” session were proof of the enlightenment non-Western practices can provide. In Yumi Umiumare’s description of her creative process—in the dark moving towards the light, the process as the art—I was reminded of Sue-ellen Kohler’s struggle with the competing histories within her body. And Tony Yap’s description of ecstatic religious mediums from his childhood was a perfect illustration of William McClure’s body in “the moment of dispossession.”

Bound as we were to the performance program it became, in fact, a welcome framework. Our decision to include as many practitioners as possible was based on the program’s richness and a belief in the value of the artists’ dialogue in accessing the true state of the art. This strategy also provided a means of overcoming binaries by not conflating the individual with the institution, looking at the ‘grey area’ of particular cases rather than the black and white of theoretical and exclusive ideals. Talks by Lucy Guerin, Yumi Umiumare and Shelley Lasica, just to name a few, were invaluable and I cannot believe students did not flock to hear these people speak.

This raises the issue of who this event was for. For the dance community? For the arts community at large? For students? What about all those people interstate who couldn’t make it? In terms of attendance, there was a tension between answering the needs of the practitioners and advocacy issues. DJ/composer Jad McAdam told me a good story. He was telling his friends in Sydney that he was going to Melbourne to talk about popular culture at a dance forum and they said, “Oh, are they trying to make dance more popular?” Incidentally, the session that McAdam participated in, along with Gideon Obarzanek, Lucy Guerin and director Michael Kantor had the highest attendance outside the film session.

The big question for us was—how can you maintain an inclusive agenda without jeopardising the rigour of the discussions? What ‘common ground’ could offer us a means of getting beyond niceties? Space, technologies, training, cultural cross-referencing—these topics allowed for discussion across disparate practices. There was also an idea to open the forum up beyond the dance community in order to broaden perspectives. People like Michael Kantor, McAdam and philosophers William McClure and Duncan Fairfax provided an ‘outside eye’ within sessions.

Another problem was overcoming the binary which we decided to deal with up front in a session on classical and contemporary dance practice (“Ballet and its Other”). Interestingly, as a few people pointed out, it was the contemporary practitioners who attended the sessions with some degree of commitment and there was a general impression that the ballet ‘knows its place’ well enough not to require much further discussion. In regard to “new choreography”, perhaps there were issues that could have been raised had Stephen Baynes been available to attend. The scarcity of choreographers working in this idiom was one of the realities that surfaced throughout the process, a fact that perhaps should be addressed directly.

The video that Matthew Bergan and I made, Arrival and Departure, grew out of the necessity to create a bridge between classical and current practice. To this end, it focused on the fact that nearly all of our dancer-choreographers began their training with classical dance. If Libby Dempster was asking why we have no “significant counter-culture” to ballet in this country, then here we had the answer—an homogeneous form of dance training dished out across geographic and cultural borders (and shores as well if we consider Butoh artist Umiumare’s initial classical training in Japan). There was some idea about looking honestly at the current state of affairs in order to move ahead; confronting our demons if you like. The ‘Utility’ section of the film sign-posted a negotiation process that some practitioners are undergoing—attempts to deal directly and thoughtfully with their personal histories. One way or another, this area ‘between’ is where our current map is most dense and it is an area that is offering solutions as well as problems.

As Keith Gallasch pointed out in the final session, the binarisms articulated in Libby Dempster’s opening paper did prefigure a whole series of other oppositions. (Dempster couldn’t believe we were still talking about them when she returned for the last session). These included Eleanor Brickhill’s rhetorical “ideals” in regard to performance space—the proscenium space and the studio space, pop culture and counter-culture, the ungrounded body of technology and the grounded body of the dancer. In retrospect, the agenda of the weekend perhaps created a need to describe or reiterate these relationships before proceeding. If, in an ethics of discourse, “we are obligated, through our mutual adherence to the logic of the discussion, to be open to the possibility of the other”, as Duncan Fairfax has said, then perhaps there is still a need to establish who the other is via these binaries.

Taking this possibility into account, the MAP weekend in fact did what it set out to do. It ‘mapped’ the current state of dance practice by mapping the discourse across forms, and the issues this raised, demonstrating in the process ‘where we are at’—collectively. How useful this is in terms of particular practitioners is uncertain, but what it does reveal is the willingness of some to question their position, the choice of others not to do so, and all the struggle that lies in between. There is a danger, I believe, that we could have a repetition of the type of hierarchy that has stymied dance in this country, with new forms taking an intellectual position where ballet had enjoyed a cultural one. What MAP did was to uncover this difficult terrain. What is important now is to move forward and keep accumulating the knowledges shared at these events so that we don’t have to spend forever on introductions.

What MAP didn’t do, to some degree, was allow room for more explicit and penetrating investigation. One of my greatest regrets of the weekend was the disappearance of issues raised by participants such as Trevor Patrick. When someone asked during the closing session if technique is a technology, I wondered whether there had been a lack of desire to listen, or an ability to hear amongst so much detail. For me, the “Ungrounded Bodies” session pivoted around the practice described by Patrick in relation to his film, Nine Cauldrons. Cinematic technology and movement technique became equal partners in this alchemical fusion of forms, the technology of the moving body challenging the technology of the camera to meet its demands. Here was rich ground for the case of overcoming binaries in the form of practical evidence, ground that fell away through a desire to cover more—quickly, rather than less—thoroughly. This problem was perhaps symptomatic of the brevity of the event.

With interstate participants strictly limited due to the budget and myself drawing on contacts in Sydney, participants from that city almost equalled those from the host city, Melbourne. (Chrissie Parrott from Perth and Natalie Weir from Brisbane were the exceptions.) Rachel Fensham’s comment at the end of the weekend that she could see MAP becoming a festival focusing on new movement practice, overlooked antistatic in Sydney which was inaugurated in April 1997 and will return next year under the curatorial direction of Sue-ellen Kohler, Rosalind Crisp and Zane Trow. antistatic focused solely on the dense area of dance research and, given time to develop, should give that sector of the community an effective forum. There was a conscious attempt to make links to antistatic at MAP in the hope of building on issues covered there, and I imagine that two such events could work together in future to provide rich ground for discussing dance and its related issues.

MAP Symposium, The Bagging Room, C.U.B. Malthouse, Melbourne, July 25 – 26

RealTime issue #27 Oct-Nov 1998 pg. 8-9

© Erin Brannigan; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Even at the initial stages of organising the MAP Symposium, there was a sense of apprehension, as if great care was needed if something unpleasant was not to seriously damage the fragile health of our national dance community. What was needed therefore was a good dose of comfort food, a sweetened porridge of common ground. And so, via the unifying elements of ‘space’ and ‘time’, it was thought, a safe, polite environment might be provided in which differences of practice and tradition could be rendered harmless.

In the spirit of fair play and equality, each panel had its even spread of philosophical approaches. But in panels of only a few people, such broad scope often seemed to leave gaping holes between speakers, gaps which the speakers themselves sometimes despaired of crossing.

‘Binary’ was a term I heard used often to describe the state of an argument, and in my ignorance, it seemed that it meant something bad, not wholesome, dead-end. There were histories, known and unknown; ballet and its ‘other’; the embodied and the out-of-body; subjective and objective bodies; public and private spaces; pop and elite culture; the ‘railway tracks’ trajectory of choreographic choice versus that ‘moment’ of losing touch with a known repertoire of choices. I took the ‘binary’ to describe a way of thinking which forced an impasse, precluded creative development, maintained the dependence of each ‘side’ on the other to reinforce their differences. If the ‘binary’ approach was loosened, perhaps the ‘sides’ might disappear and things would be less contentious and much more pleasant for everyone.

Sally Gardner brought to my attention a brief comment—I can’t remember from whom—which suggested that perhaps, speaking of ballet, one might “be more spontaneous” as if that, somehow, would change everything. And a private rejoinder suddenly opened, for me, a crack in the niceness which threatened to descend on all of us: this idea of ‘spontaneity’ lies at the heart of the matter. ‘Being more spontaneous’ is a glib description of what a different dance tradition might encompass. Because there are not just competing practices, but competing traditions and all that they imply: learning to think differently, to see differently, to feel differently, to occupy a different intellectual and psychic space, to develop work along different trajectories. One doesn’t just leap from one tradition to another.

It became obvious to me in several of the forums (for instance, “Ballet and its Other”; “Next Steps: In Search of the Body”; “Performance Space”; and in the comments from some of the artists in Matthew Bergan’s video interviews, Arrival and Departure) that a level of frustration was evident among proponents of philosophical stances other than the balletic tradition. One problem seemed to be that often speakers were trying to discuss not so much actual conscious practices, but the traces left in behaviour, the hard wiring of the nervous system. One is unable to easily slough off what is not simply a movement technique, but a way of thinking, a set of assumptions about the world and about human values. Libby Dempster was not only discussing conscious practices or beliefs, but a kind of unconscious stance, beliefs which are imagined as fact, values not normally available to scrutiny without profound changes in perspective.

Proponents of balletic tradition have rarely sought to investigate this. Many of the artists who work within that tradition were smart and articulate, being able to discuss their own ideas freely. But they seemed to demonstrate little understanding of the ideas of their fellow speakers. Frustration arose, for example, when William McClure and Sue-ellen Kohler proposed the possibility of a different sort of matrix by which choreographic decisions might be made.

Paula Baird-Colt spoke well about her understanding of ballet training and the capacity for choreographic and technical diversity within a company, suggesting that within a ballet company’s fairly stringent technical requirements, that one could see markedly individual differences in dancers and choreographers over time, that in fact it too could be concerned with diversity and individuality. But my experience of ballet is that its primary requirement is that the dancers are physically and technically similar, that differences outside a slim margin are not really tolerated; and it is only after being able to see work many times, close up and from an insider’s viewpoint, that the differences in dancers and choreographers are amplified, becoming inadvertent but lovable idiosyncrasy.

My point is that Paula (and many like her) does not need to understand what her fellow speakers are saying. There is, as yet, no compulsion for change within balletic practice in Australia. And if there is to be dialogue, it will be forced into the ballet arena by virtue of its inability to go outside its own understanding. One can afford to be magnanimous and tolerant of other practices when it is evident that those practices need never pose a threat.

Amanda Card mentioned some early pioneers of Australian modern dance traditions, and their lost history, as if this history might be reconstructed via its traces in the media. But while we can know the theatrical conventions of earlier periods, the ways those artists were represented to the public, we can never know about their actual practices. Our assumptions might be that their work was radical, revolutionary. But the fact is we don’t know what it was, because we did not see the bodies moving. It’s very easy to discuss different practices from an historical viewpoint as if we know what we’re talking about, because words are inexact descriptions of real experiences. And real understanding of the differences in practice only comes with actual experience of these practices, not just as a kind of cook’s tour variety of experience, but as serious study.

I started this article with a touch of cynicism because I thought it was only too evident that language by itself was inadequate to clarify real diversity in practice. Sue-ellen Kohler said about dance on film that there ought to be another word to describe what one saw there, because it was too different from a live body to be called the same thing. Similarly, one can continue to talk about ‘alternative performance venues’ or ‘different practices’ and continue to hear the words repeated as if they are understood, and the words themselves might gain political currency of their own, but without actual experience of the differences, the words are empty.

It is frustrating, in the event of this lack of full understanding, to be so contained by the need for ‘unity’ and common ground, that those very differences, the diversities in practice and values that we are trying so hard to elucidate are in danger of being swallowed in the effort to render them acceptable, tolerable and benign.

MAP Symposium, The Bagging Room, C.U.B. Malthouse, Melbourne, July 25 – 26

RealTime issue #27 Oct-Nov 1998 pg. 9

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

One of the arguments rehearsed during Melbourne’s MAP Symposium concerned the place of ballet in relation to contemporary dance practice. According to Libby Dempster, the dominance of ballet is such that all modern dance in Australia is conceived in relation to ballet. In other words, ballet ‘others’ the rest of contemporary dance. Dempster further argued that no significant counter-tradition exists in Australia.

The view is that ballet is identified with dance (ballet = dance), and anything else is necessarily other to that identity. There are those who took issue with this position. For example, Amanda Card gave a brief history of a dancer, Sonia Revid, in the 1930s whose contributions have never been acknowledged. The implication is that there are subjugated histories of non-hegemonic practices—the trouble is that they are not written and, more critically, have no inheritors.

From the point of view of history, this is fair enough. Theory often skates over the historical in order to make its claims. But what do we say today? Is ballet the controlling term in the governing imaginary of all contemporary dance in Australia? If one were to look to money as the criterion of dominance, then one would have to say, yes. Who else is funded to have a 60-strong company, a school and a secure audience around the country? As regards education, one would need to look at all the institutions across the land in order to ascertain how they stand in relation to ballet. What about the practitioners themselves? A number of performers who had trained in ballet were asked about the influences felt from such a training. Given the histories of those consulted, it was not possible to conceive of a practice which did not in one way or another emerge from ballet. And then there is the question of the audience.

To compare ballet with contemporary dance is to raise matters of power. So, also, is the question of whether there are other dance traditions which significantly contest that ascendancy. What fuels the view that there are no challengers is the fact that we lack the genealogies of British or American dance, a lack which can never be “made up.” Given that there are alternative practices (if not traditions), how influential do they need to be to challenge the singular dominance of ballet? What does it take to challenge? Is a challenge only a challenge if it actually topples a given order of power? Did the resistance expressed in the recent waterfront dispute challenge the new/old Right’s attempt to disempower unionism?

Finally, what of the hegemonies of contemporary dance in Australia? Russell Dumas’ name came up a lot in relation to personal histories and the undoing of ballet training. What is Dumas’ place in the topography of Australian influence? In terms of political economy, what of companies such as Chunky Move (Gideon Obarzanek), Sydney Dance Company (Graeme Murphy), Expressions (Maggie Sietsma), Dance Works (Sandra Parker), Meryl Tankard’s Australian Dance Theatre and others. And I haven’t begun to speak of Indigenous dance in Australia, or of the place of heterosexism and other sexualities (a matter which seems to come up more in contemporary performance).

Questions of power are complex. They involve overlapping histories of domination, recognised histories and unspoken viewpoints. Perhaps I could finish with a position which completely contradicts the foregoing. Susan Manning defines postmodern dance as a break with one (or both) of two conditions of modernism, (1) “the reflexive rationalisation of movement” and (2) “the dual practice of modern dance and modern ballet” (The Drama Review, vol 4, 1988). In a break with the dichotomy between modern dance and ballet, as in Twyla Tharp’s In the Upper Room, what happens to the domination of ballet form? Does it inevitably re-emerge or is it transformed? And where would we look for an answer?

MAP Symposium, The Bagging Room, C.U.B. Malthouse, Melbourne, July 25 – 26

RealTime issue #27 Oct-Nov 1998 pg. 9

© Philipa Rothfield; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

FEET. We are seated in a semicircle, as if we are the audience. Six pairs of feet askew, leathered pairs. The softness of mediating what we’ve seen, the trying to prod further questions open. Still, as in any of the performances, we are on display. I hope my haircut is forgiven.

ANKLES. I go weak at the ankles without my daughter in the room. She is three months old. Amazing what constitutes our being, our vision, our capacity to absorb. At the moment, without her my eyes are nothing, my tongue is dry. With her, the world opens. I am not divided. What are the parallels that keep us closed to dance?

KNEES. My knee-jerk reactions. Techno-ethics. Gideon likes to be “in control”; Chrissie is playing digital until she gets her dancers back. Keeping in work. Being paid or not. I shudder shudder. There are ethics in the calling forth (or failing to call forth) of movement from the body of another being. I speak of the censoring of movement: corridors, shadows, dance, not-dance. Studio vs public work, said Eleanor. The right next move, and not the wrong one. The ugly and ungainly—does it have a place? The multiple, beautiful, untrammelled dancings of a child. Listening to doubt. William McClure’s suspended moment is an inclusion for which we can be thankful as a reminder of how much goes on in the nothing, no-thingness. Sue-ellen silk-slips in, around, a small turn: dancing an option without her shoes on. What opens from silence.

THIGHS. Support. 1) Those impossible squat-walks in Butoh. 2) Ros Crisp talks of classical dance-training as a ticket to ride. Like a plastic card opening the doors to teach—almost anywhere, almost anything else. This is muscle-power; background steroids, still legal. 3) There are four babies here. Rose Godde says next time they will organise a crêche. The inclusions are starting to happen.

PELVIS. Sue-ellen had made a piece following an accident. Others clearly make pieces just out of a desire to (watch the body) move. Sometimes watching motion is enough, sometimes not. Macbeth was in a bad mood when he said we are but shadows and dreams. Strutting, fretting, yes, but there’s always a context out there. Our histories leak into our bodies and sometimes these stories cannot be ignored. The personal is political as soon as it steps into a room.

PELVIS/HIPS. Someone talks of being an “empty vessel” for the choreographer, yet of fulfilling herself as an individual in the dance. (The man next to me says he is horrified, “Think what she’s saying!” Residual oil from salad days in our mouths.) This is not Zen. Trevor Patrick talks about the interrelatedness of outside and in. This is Zen. Tony Yap wonders how we share presence, presuming that sharing as a given. Is this Zen?

WAIST. Who helped unbind the feet, release the waist. Russell Dumas gets two guernseys.

SIDES. Where (some of us) began. Bend and stretch, reach for the sky. Stand on tippy-toe oh so high.

CHEST. Pass.

CHEST. Try again. There are more women than men here.

SHOULDERS. Response-ability, and who’s to blame. There can be laziness in whatever we do: technologising or non-technologising, looking, making, sensing. You have to do the work of seeing—audience too.

ARMS. I embrace you, you adoring audience. Matthew Bergan’s film where dancers enact and debunk their bows.

NECK. Rubbernecking. Remembering our histories.

We FACE up to ourselves sitting down, rise to drink coffee and tea, dine on frittata and hams. We wanted to trace/find the ground. Does the old Greenmill sink or swim from here? Mapmakers copyright mistakes—one added road, an extra contour—to protect their pages from the unscrupulous. Pity the driver lost in a phantom street or drowning in a fake causeway. But at conferences, the value is unmappable. It’s the whisperings in the brain, in the body, the troubled slip-ups in corridors that, like ghost spirits never mapped, stir the next journey on.

The way forward is to remember what we’ve forgotten to say.

RealTime issue #27 Oct-Nov 1998 pg. 10

© Zsuzsanna Soboslay; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Every cloud has a silver lining as the saying goes and the sad demise of the Chrissie Parrott Dance Company in early 1997 has meant that Perth has benefited enormously from the flowering of a range of independent dance practitioners. There are of course the usual problems: the small audience base, the lack of profile for such practitioners and the rather more intangible sense of lack—we don’t have a real dance company. Yet aside from the obvious financial problems suffered by the Chrissie Parrott Dance Company, there has been little or no discussion of the ramifications of one company playing to the same, tiny population year in and year out; the undisputed pressures on a single full time artistic director/choreographer and subsequently, what other models might develop, should they be given the opportunity to do so without the constant pressure to perform, to market and to present a commercially viable product.

Aah yes—to market to market—and therein lies a sorry tale. When will the powers that be recognise that, in order to market, there has to be somewhere—if not something—to market (or even just publicise) into, if you want that audience reach.

Yet on the far side, there may never have been more opportunities to engage with contemporary dance in its many manifestations than at the present time. These productions have run the gamut, from project-based dance companies such as David Prudham and Dancers—whose aesthetic and repertoire bears a strong resemblance to the Sydney Dance Company for whom he worked for many years—to the techno pop aesthetic of skadada and the rather more ambient performances of Fieldworks as well as a number of emerging and mature independent practitioners.

You could say that dance in Perth is thriving. In fact, given the paucity of contemporary performance work at the moment, it is dance that has provided the most interesting experiences of the past few months and frankly, the longer that Perth resists the pressure to lock itself into one company, the better. Not unless a lot more money becomes available than seems likely at the moment…

The trick of course is to get audiences to see this work. Audiences are small for dance at the best of times. Yet one of the major problems confronting local dance artists—as is no doubt the case in other states—is the lack of a reliable, regular and affordable vehicle through which to publicise work widely. The West Australian newspaper carries no daily or even weekly listing. They apparently believe that a daily performance listing would mean losing income from display advertising so they prefer to exclude smaller companies and individuals altogether. On top of which, the standard of reviewing in The West is awful—dull, badly written, not interested and ill-informed. This is justified—as elsewhere—by that favourite newspaper response: their reviewers represent the views of the broader community. Oh really!

So you have the experience of a respected company like Danceworks from Melbourne performing in absentia recently and the best the reviewer can come up with is that it’s one line short of a narrative. The lighting, by national and international award winning designer Margie Medlin, is dismissed as “too bright” or “too dark” (the lighting and projections were fabulous). That this particular reviewer clearly knows nothing about dance or its histories, that she is clearly incapable of distinguishing between work that is polished and work that is not, that the fine performances by all the dancers are completely ignored, that she has no ability to address the sound composition by young composer Amelia Barden etc etc, just has to be endured. There is no choice. I don’t give a flying !*@? whether a reviewer likes a work or not. There are differing views, different tastes and many aesthetic positions. As someone who is paid to reflect on work in public, I expect a certain degree of responsibility, consideration and information. I expect a reviewer to have the nous to admit when they’re out of their depth or it’s not to their taste or they’ve had a bad day and look beyond to what is happening in the work.

Perhaps skadada had the right idea when they screened their first short narrative video at PICA. It was free. I didn’t see any review at all. They had a full house and people loved it. Auto Auto is a bright piece of urban pop featuring Claudia Alessi, her big red cadillac and a car wash, on her way—endlessly sidetracked—to a job interview as a dental assistant. Very cute.

Paul O’Sullivan’s Hanging in There was an equally charming piece of work that explored such questions as why aliens never kidnap intelligent people; the relationship between yoga and classical ballet; lapsed Catholicism and the effects of sleep deprivation (a new baby) on the independent practitioner. There’s a kind of paradox for me in this friendly piece of work which addresses life’s endless frustrations with such patience and admirable good humour, but then maybe that’s because I’m the grumpy type. Paul, on the other hand, uses the simplest means to create a modest but engaging performance that should have had broad audience appeal but, sadly, only attracted very small houses.

Danielle Michich and Natasha Rolfe are two of the brighter young dancers currently ‘emerging’ as choreographers. Danielle (or Dank as she’s known) presented the outcome of a recent creative development period at the Blue Room Theatre in collaboration with Natasha. On Contact was an exploration of—you’ve guessed it—contact inspired movement. It was both skillful and engaging but for me, didn’t have quite the edge that their respective performance works for PICA’s Putting on an Act had earlier in the year. Their works for that season were far more streetwise and witty, but then they were ‘performances’ as opposed to an exploration in movement.

I’ve only mentioned a few of the projects that have taken place over the past 3 months. Maybe Spring has sprung, but I for one find the fact that there is so much going on great cause for pleasure. Given the opportunity, these artists will continue to develop in both range and maturity. If, however, the level and calibre of movement-based activities continues to go unacknowledged by local media and audiences, we’ll be left to wonder, yet again, where all the birdies flew off to.

in absentia, Danceworks, PICA, August 9 – 23; Auto Auto, skadada, PICA, July 19; Hanging in There, Paul O’Sullivan, PICA, August 5 – 16; On Contact, Blue Room Theatre, August 23

RealTime issue #27 Oct-Nov 1998 pg. 12

© Sarah Miller; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Michael Pini and Elizabeth Navratil in Which Way’s Up

Michael Pini and Elizabeth Navratil in Which Way’s Up

Michael Pini and Elizabeth Navratil in Which Way’s Up

Excuse me for staring but…Have you ever had sex? Do people in your country have washing machines? Do you have a drinking problem? Want to go walkabout? Excuse me for asking but…Do you cry when you’re upset?

Four faces peer out from behind rope bars. Four figures enact 4 stories of ‘difference.’ The Indigenous woman, the migrant man, a woman with cerebral palsy, a male CP-er too. But against what or whom is this difference reckoned? Which is precisely the point of writer-director Lowana Moxham’s Which Way’s Up.

This is a performance work made up of composite parts—thematically, stylistically and in terms of the artists who’ve contributed to its development. Specifically, inside and outside of ‘the world of the drama’ are 4 people thrown together because of the perception of others; but Elizabeth Navratil, Guiliano Perez Reyes, Sharman Parsons and Michael Pini emphasise in their wittily ambivalent stage presence the dubious quality of ‘us/them’ definitions.

Two actors and 2 dancers, the 4 performers make their way through a series of vignettes depicting the world of ‘difference’ from either side of the line of dangling ropes which transforms itself from frame to prison cell to patio lattice to, as overarching metaphor, the weave and weft of the small moments that define us. Their actions are given added texture by musicians Simon Sheedy and Martin Lippi, although these 2 performers are themselves removed from the drama (a missed opportunity?).

In one of the show’s most powerful sequences, a couple (Navratil and Pini) are dining at a restaurant. She needs a straw; he has a ready supply; the exchange is deeply sensual. In comes a waiter, impatient yet polite, moving the wheelchair out of the way with exaggerated care, again, and again, and again. Eventually, seizing the day, the couple simultaneously climax in a shower of pink straws—and the waiter is left open-mouthed at the possibility of…sex?(!) He’s the one who seems strangely limited.

Moxham aims to show up old prejudices and break down stereotypes by a careful analysis of the everyday. Not for her a broad sweep through her ideas but rather a playful interrogation of gesture, look and silence. Which Way’s Up is a little uneven in its assimilation of action, artforms and performers but the intentions—and integrity—of the work are clear.

Which Way’s Up, director Lowana Moxham, designer Kate Stewart, movement consultant Scotia Monkivitch, lighting design Geoff Squires, featuring Elizabeth Navratil, Giuliano Perez Reyes, Sharman Parsons, Michael Pini, original music by Simon Sheey, Martin Lippi, Metro Arts Theatre, Brisbane, July 21 – 25

RealTime issue #27 Oct-Nov 1998 pg. 12

© Maryanne Lynch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Michael O’Donoghue and Wendy McPhee in The Fragile Garden

Michael O’Donoghue and Wendy McPhee in The Fragile Garden

The Hobart Theatre Royal Dance Subscription Season Made to Move has been a boon for Tasmanian dance enthusiasts and it is both exciting and appropriate that the home-grown company Tasdance has been included in the 1998 series. Vital Expression, a broad mix of contemporary styles, is an innovative, high quality, triple bill featuring leading Australian choreographers.

In The Fragile Garden the curtain rises on a haunting, gloomy set, dancers languidly reposing on chairs against a rich black velvet backdrop, the set simultaneously electrifying and chilling with its striking crimson velvet central couch and a huge slash of vibrant red cascading from the heavens. The work, created for Tasdance by Sydney choreographer Chrissie Koltai in collaboration with the dancers, is no ordinary narrative work but a fascinating “picture book of emotional landscapes” performed to a variety of music from soul-melting classical and atmospheric harmonies to the confronting discordance of Jeff Buckley. The audience is taken on an emotional joyride, alternately entrancing, jarring, sensual and aggressive. We journey through myriad responses overlain with a confusion of personal entanglements, as the dancers variously become lover, mother, father, brother, sister…

Whilst the work was not entirely captivating, there were moments of great poignancy—the playfully provocative floor work between Jay Watson and Michael O’Donoghue and a powerful “pas de trois” featuring Wendy McPhee, O’Donoghue and an armchair…a dance fragment which aptly represents “love that hurts”, rejection and desire rolled into one. Experience and a long, successful working relationship between O’Donoghue and McPhee is evident in this segment—power in motion. One of the most striking images is of O’Donoghue apparently melding into the chair (it has a personality of its own) to become a kind of mythical headless creature.

The eclectic emotional content of The Fragile Garden is in stark contrast to the ‘pure’ dance of Graeme Murphy’s Sequenza VII named after the accompanying Luciano Berio score. Created in 1977, this vintage Murphy offering was received with appreciative chuckles from the audience. Performing in the original 1977-style costumes—white sleeveless bodysuits taking full advantage of bodylines were quite revolutionary at that time—Watson, McPhee, and O’Donoghue weave their way as one through an array of shapes and patterns, evoking kangaroos, horses, flautists and other instrumentalists emerging and re-configuring with split-second timing. Leaving nothing to chance, this fast-paced, exacting and tightly structured work is playful, witty, and thoroughly engaging.

The final piece, Gideon Obarznek’s 1994 work While You’re Down There, with music by Joey Baron and Melt, opens with some startling, body percussion involving work boots, caterpillar movements and singing by the performers. A quirky mix of solos, duos and trios, this fast, physical and funky work further explores Tasdance’s individual and collective versatilities.

The company took Vital Expressions to Canberra as part of Ausdance’s 21st birthday celebrations. It is very apt that they included Sequenza VII which was created 21 years ago.

Vital Expression, Tasdance, artistic director Annie Grieg; The Fragile Garden, choreographed Chrissie Koltai; Sequenza VII, choreography Graeme Murphy; While You’re Down There, choreography Gideon Obarzanek, Theatre Royal, Hobart, August 12 – 15; toured to Launceston, Queenstown, Ulverstone and Deloraine in August and The Choreographic Centre, Canberra in September.

RealTime issue #27 Oct-Nov 1998 pg. 13

© Kate Fletcher; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Mollie Kelly and Louisa Duckett, Thresholds

Mollie Kelly and Louisa Duckett, Thresholds

Mollie Kelly and Louisa Duckett, Thresholds

Dance Compass packed Thresholds at Theatreworks with what seemed a loyal following and a varied, textured program of both forthright and meditative dances. Martin Krasner’s Stop Go Man is a teetering exploration of balance, overbalance and sass. Colin Davey’s slide image shows wonderful whimsy: 20 men atop telegraph poles, a hard-hat ballet, chrysales ready to peel out and fly.

Simon Ellis’ Touch with improvised voice by jazz singer Christine Sullivan begins with his body suspended over a thumbprint block-mould on the floor. Who/what makes contact? The thumbprint-gelled hand-torch picking out body fragments, stretching shadows, is beautiful. But if light touches, so too could sound: there is little sense of voice shaping body too. Ellis’ strength in his and others’ pieces is his quirkiness, which needs to be extended and encouraged, rather than his tendency to smoothness which is lithe but does not ring as true.

For Reflections in Y, Jillian Pearce uses some standard teaching exercises to choreograph a work on rockclimbing (but one can be too knowing an audience). Alongside its literal ideas are nice realisations in movement and musculature, playing the edge between hard labour, desire, and ecstasy as these dancer-climbers come close to simulating flight.

Robin Plenty’s An Echo Early opens with 5 bodies like brain cells computing the world. A delicate sense that hiatus divides, rhythm unifies. Echoes slip, memory opens. Two bodies sway together for a while: my brain turns. This work is very fine.

Dance Compass is a positive choreographic force, producing enjoyable and highly intelligent work, the eclectic background of its dancers no doubt feeding the diversity of its practices.

Thresholds, Dance Compass, Theatreworks, August 6 – 9

RealTime issue #27 Oct-Nov 1998 pg. 14

© Zsuzsanna Soboslay; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

A chaotic landscape of new language. Words crossed out become strong enough to explode. A challenge, this cybernetic form like Shakespeare, inventive and striking. Fleshis.tics, an erotic mo[ve]ment, a roll of the code. I am getting overtaken by square brackets. The question at the bottom of the scroll bar r u cur[e].i.ous? and yes, I am, I am in a hurry to control and master these strokes, these unconventions. Some of the links won’t work. Is this part of the design r u paranoid?

I want to break her coded terms and become unhinged. With Man, bi[y]tes of dating pain and seduction, SHOT, a pulsing target of pump-started action jampacked with wor[d]ks to explore. A disgruntled book of wizzdums is, like gashgirl, infused with blood and anger where women become“frisking corpses that will leave plastic fragments in the ground”, voluptuous words of spite and pleasure:

If I am lucky I will be empty, void;
and get a job – from 9 to
5, get married, screw
barmaids and abuse my
children like everyone

http://www.feline.to/ [expired]
Feline. Click on her animal eyes, exotically tattooed in leopard markings and enter the grrrls own zone, signposted by primitive drawings and spiritual messages and z’s instead of s’s. Wordz and wit (mmm…) with some nice techy stuff; as you pass your mouse over the poet, the name appears, hovering, insubstantial. Poetry includes Holly Day’s frigid, words over chiaroscuro light through fractured window, streams into stereotype, and Susan Jenvey’s On the Shortest Day, realaudio and sound effects about pain and isolation. There’s not much text online yet; only 3 prose pieces, 2 by the same writer Karen Boulay. Too Late, her affectionate hymn to the anally retentive, has an effective blocked rhythm, the splash of routine. My mouse starts to get twitchy around any section called Mind, Body and Spirit. That new-agey, chakra-healing, re-birthing, go-with-the-flowing means content as dull as a hippie kid’s lunchbox. And believe me, I know.

The Company Therapist. Welcome to Dr Charles Balis’ comfy couch. If you can’t wait the week to visit Dr Katz, or if your own therapist charges a hundred bucks an hour, check yourself in for a daily dose of psychobabble. (Not suitable for hypochondriacs or avoidance personality disorders.) Daily transcripts, weekly updates of filing cabinet contents, patient files—that delicious feeling you are spying, ransacking the sock drawer for clues, evidence, even medication. Will Alex continue to be stalked by Regina? Will Katherine find her father in Alaska? Will Herb ever get over his drug addiction? Will the identity of The Anonymous Faxer finally be revealed?

I’m sorry, your time is up for today…

RealTime issue #27 Oct-Nov 1998 pg. 16

© Kirsten Krauth; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

The pneumatic conjunction of hypertext and fiction should have by now spawned a whole happy brood of bastard mongrels. Apart from the inevitable neologism (hyperfiction), however, there’s not been much hybridity. Some prefab plug-in-addicted multimedia extravaganzas, yes, a few shrink-wrapped join-the-dots novellas, lots of frustratingly static and linear word-processing (put text on template, add pictures, upload, watch users get scroll-bar-RSI) and much hopscotching (recipe: chop text into ungraceful and/or illogical small chunks, string a few links or loops between them, add colour and backgrounds, season lightly with gif animations and stew; do not stir; do not cook; do not improvise). Tristram Shandy did it all better, faster, funnier, 200 years ago.

Having got that small rant out of the way, let’s look at some of the modes, genre and shapes of hyperfiction currently available, starting with the most compact and least scary. Stand-alone hypertexts (which aren’t online and often aren’t html in format: anyone remember HyperCard?), despite their generally precarious positioning as intermediate technology, are still produced at a steady Big Mac rate.

In America especially, programs such as Storyspace are enduringly popular, perhaps specifically because they don’t rely on the extras to go online. Storyspace has also gained ground in schools and universities here (eg RMIT) as an authoring environment, a concept-mapping or storyboarding medium, or a pre-structuring device for websites, but in the US it’s absurdly successful in Composition classes and for hypertexted novels (see http://www.eastgate.com/ for fiction samples and program details). This hermetically sealed version of hyperfiction runs on scaled-down or simplified components of its web-based counterpart and, since it’s not networked out into the vertigo of the www, it’s somewhat easier to manage: you can see the horizons of the text and juggle between precise, comprehensive overviews in ways that aren’t possible on the web.

That means a stand-alone hyperfiction (and don’t forget the steady dribble of Big Name Authors like Carmel Bird who are now releasing novels on CD-ROM) can be domesticated and authorised, processed back into the paper-pulp mainstream. Witness the Norton Anthology of hypertext fiction. Or the new academic journal (sponsored by Eastgate), Modern Fiction Studies, devoted entirely to Storyspace-based hypertextual fiction. Sad.

Meanwhile, the web venues you’d expect to be most amenable to hyperfiction—web journals or ezines—largely perpetuate the inertia caused by still thinking of The Page as the basic design unit, and print analogues as default settings. The seductive properties (and opportunities) of hypertext thus get truncated or overstructured, bad-metaphor-stretched or literalised. The sense of a projective imagination responsively immersed in a fictional environment (with all its gaming potential), the experience of being a semi-free agent inhabiting a narrative sequence, the 3D solicitation to co-construct the story…they all lose out to the legitimation of either The Anthology, The Short Story Collection or The Literary Magazine. Which nearly always means cut-up-n-pasted-n-mounted Text + Graphics = Onscreen hyperfiction.

Read Janet H Murray’s Hamlet on the Holodeck: The Future of Narrative in Cyberspace (New York: The Free Press, 1997), bypassing the hype as you go, to get a feel for what’s being passed up when hyperfiction becomes hypedfiction (inert at one extreme and overbusy with whizzbang whatsits at the other). Have a look at the TextBase site (http://www.skynet.apana.org.au/~samiam/textbase/textbase.htm – expired) to see what can be done when the word ‘hypertextual’ can be unembarrassedly applied to all dimensions of the writing.

There is no reason, given that hypertext allows a synthesis and synaesthesia between text and graphics, for traditional genre borders to remain impermeable either. House ’97, for instance (http://house.curtin.edu.au/ – expired), based at Curtin University, had elements it called ‘comics’ that were nonetheless effective narratives looping through other live-radio and webcast events, stage performances later reworked for the web, and ‘ordinary’ short-story-type fiction. Haiku theatre and other forms of dramaturgy (like soap opera) become meshed or framed or reworked by hyperfiction in the Venew site (http://www.aftrs.edu.au/venew/ – expired). GRAFFITO, a political satire journal, manages to be hypertextual despite being in the form of plain-text emailing list: though it’s posted without graphics or formatting, the poems and rants and stories build on each other, sequel each other, refer allusively and hilariously to each other and current events, and reflect the juxtapositional, jumpy logic of hypertext in the reading experience.

More fundamentally, the text versus graphics ‘illustrative’ relationship so beloved of almost-print designers is satisfyingly sent-up and subverted (as per theorist Gregory Ulmer’s influence) in the Parallel sites (http://www.va.com.au/parallel/x1/index.html) with their artificial and unsustainable separation between ‘gallery’ and ‘journal’ while engaging multidisciplinary and multimedia artists to produce pieces that interact or correlate beyond And Here’s A Gif Of That Too. Moreover, I think we’re seeing a slow generic version of continental shift, as fiction writers become their own designers of elements usually relegated to the practice of poetry (line-length, scansion, extended rhythmic patterns etc) and graphic artists (typeface, colour, texture, framing, pictures, etc). All of this, of course, is irrelevant where the venue for the hyperfiction is either a web journal with a standardised ‘house style’ or a kind of onscreen/online brochure appendage to the ‘real’ print version.

At the level of narrative, the text-vs-graphics relationship between plot and story, and between structure and genre, can be inventively played with rather than imported wholesale from print. So the ‘narrative logics’ of hyperfictions can productively be experienced (to reduce them to metaphors for the sake of categorising): as a series of nested funnels; as branching sequences of choices and nodes; as counterpoint or fugue; as mirrored or paralleled characters and/or stories ; as spliced montages or found-object film; as multiple layers or collages; as bricolage, with your active involvement in 3D construction; as Tinkerbells (from the old Disney story-reading records where Tinkerbell would tell you when it was time to turn the page) read left-right-top-bottom with a button to read further; as loops or cycles; as boardgames (sets of steps or ‘moves’, some chance rolls of the dice, then back to some starting point again); as an automated public-transport ticket dispenser (lotsa buttons taking you nowhere); as braided river-deltas (Kirsten Krauth noted this in an earlier piece); as concordances (with links and other material working like references); as weeds or ‘rhizomes’, spreading across surfaces without clear beginnings or ends or structures.

And when more than one author is involved, or more than one version of a given piece of writing, or enough overlap among pieces to function as an cumulative hypertext, then it becomes even more interesting and complex, with all kinds of interleaving, turn-taking, switchboard, chorus, and other narratorial or narrating possibilities. Ditto for multiple or competing timeframes or characters’ versions of events. Ditto for multiplying techniques of reader-orientation (whose voice is this? is that a site-map? will this button do the same thing each time?), pacing (the sequencing of lines of narrative), web-effects (animation, dynamic html, movies, sounds) and resolution (The End? no ending? several options? ambiguity levels?).

Expectations of this ‘new’ medium and mode for storytelling are perhaps unfairly high, resulting in exaggerated irritability if the message isn’t massaged for the media, but it means many of the old rules of conventional and convention-driven narrative can be bent, broken, ignored, renovated or reinvented.

Even better, since there are no set conventions for onscreen rendering of fiction, every design vector can be extrapolated or modelled from the story itself (I’d say ‘organically’ but that’d be too romantic and optimistic). At the risk of vested-interest, look at the ways a story can be enacted (rather than literalised), a piece about an increasingly psychotic wife who (jealous of her husband’s love for his grandfather’s house) dismantles the house while pretending to renovate it, in the new Extra! journal: http://members.xoom.com/olande/callahan2/index.html [expired].

Why do we have to wait till someone starts up a competition (like the now-annual stuff-art contest run by Triple J, ABC Online and the Australian Film Commission) before onscreen and online writing appears that exploits the medium, mode and emergent genres? Why are so many print and magazine conventions being hauled over hypertexts like an alien diagnostic apparatus? Why are the very design and material components of paper publishing still being translated, literally and often crudely, to the monitor? Why aren’t there more Oz web journals willing to broker, sponsor, solicit, commission and house hyperfiction that earns and enacts its prefix? And if it’s out there, or you’ve been doing it, why aren’t you writing about it for this series on hyperfiction in RealTime?

RealTime issue #27 Oct-Nov 1998 pg. 15

© Dean Kiley; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

“We no longer have galleries, we have art portals.” Mmm, it doesn’t quite have the elegance of McKenzie Wark’s aphorism “we no longer have roots, we have aerials,” but it does point to a future for art in the era of the internet.

The term ‘portal’ is used today to refer to information nodes—such as Yahoo, Netscape, and Wired—which provide ‘on-ramps’ to the internet. On a less grand scale, the art world has begun to accommodate itself within this new architecture. A number of these art portals have opened in Australia, such as Screenarts (http://www.screenarts.net.au – expired), Screen Network (http://www.sna.net.au/) and the Australian Film Commission’s ‘exhibition’ of net art, stuff-art (http://www.stuff-art.net.au – expired). Criticism is new to this medium, so we need to do some ground work.

These domain names provide the online equivalent of traditional physical spaces such as galleries. Where does the gallery model stop? Curators, catalogues, openings, reviews, sales, even exhibitions—how many of these fit through a modem? While it is more efficient to minimise infrastructure, do we forgo aesthetics in the process? Do we end up with just a ‘bunch of stuff’?

There are 2 obstacles in casting a critical eye over net art. First, the fixed medium of print is by its very nature alien to the fluid medium of the internet. Today, the liveliest response to net art comes not from magazines, but mailing lists such as net-time, rhizome or locally recode. In these lists we find an abundance of artist interviews and theoretical arguments in the new mode of ‘net criticism’, which is political rather than aesthetic in concern.

To abide by email, though, is to limit criticism to a live event—without durable record. Without the inertia of print, there is less opportunity for the medium to acquire a history. Without a history, there is little chance for the evolution of an argument, and greater stress on work of immediate sensation.

The second obstacle to criticism is more pervasive. In a ‘post-critical’ environment, it is difficult to locate oneself in the neutral position required by conventional criticism. Today, most of what passes for criticism is mere advocacy. Artists and their friends form the core voice for promoting sites and articulating their meaning. This arrangement suits work with a political edge, though it often fails to locate itself within a broader field of practice. Newspapers with their indentured critics provide some guarantee of independence, though the specialised role of the critic is increasingly challenged by client-friendly editors.

Let’s see what can be done. One reasonably neutral act of criticism is classification. Provisionally, we can identity three genres of net art: boxes, windows and hives. Box-sites offer stand-alone electronic versions of readymade art forms, with combinations of image, text and sound. Though the classic WaxWeb (http://jefferson.village.virginia.edu/wax/) was partly developed in moo-space, its final version is readily packaged as a stand-alone CD-ROM. Window-sites attempt to work within a medium that is specific to the internet. Sites by Heath Bunting (http://www.irational.org/_readme.html – expired) and jodi (http://www.jodi.org) champion transparency as a means of undermining the commodification of information. And finally, hive-sites make art from contributions by visitors—artists are the beekeepers and visitors are their bees. Persistent Data Interface (http://www-crca.ucsd.edu/~pdc/ – expired) demonstrates what a rich mixture can be creamed off visitor confessions.

These 3 genres represent different horizons for web art. Box-sites use the web as a means of delivering ready-made material. The critical strategy of window-sites is to expose the medium by which the information is conveyed. And hive-sites attempt to dissolve the role of individual artist-creator for the collective consciousness of web users. With this provisional classification, we have the basis for some kind of critical judgment. How well do these genres realise the possibilities of net art?

The 8 works for stuff-art are mostly box-sites. Like watercolour for painting, web for CD-ROM enforces limits on multimedia and rewards elegant economies. How does this reduction affect content? The 6 stand-alone pieces in stuff-art range from comic to epic. John and Mark Lycette’s Illustrated Alphabet is a line-drawing animation of whimsical violence. A more complex interactive is Leisl Hilhouse and Simon Klaebe’s Harrowing Hell, which takes visitors on several journeys to hell. In content, it could be compared to Cosmology of Kyoto, but leans towards cheesy in character types. Mindflux’s enigmatically titled EN_T presents a fly whose leg can be twitched to scroll randomly through testimonies of paranoia. Wordstuffs by Hazel Smith, Greg White and Roger Dean contains abstract hypertext about ‘body’ and ‘city’, but also includes a java-based cluster of works that can be jerked and rattled. And a tromp l’oeil window-site is provided by Alex Davies’ Subcutaneous: one element invites registration for a chat session that turns out to be pre-scripted, regardless of visitor input. This deviousness makes up for the otherwise predictable content. Though mostly deft uses of Shockwave, these 5 pieces seem slight in content.

Against the comic trend is Andrew Garton’s Ausländer Micro, which tells an epic tale of a refugee who finds himself as much without sanctuary in the afterlife as he did in war-torn Europe. The depth of this tale stretches the bandwidth of stuff-art, though Garton develops some clever tricks for keeping our attention. Animated graphics in the top frame offer opportunities for manipulation and roll-over icons move text focus between libretto and story.

Though Ausländer Micro deserves praise for effort, the small screen seems too slight a medium for its operatic themes of war and death. Unlike the proscenium arch that frames stage and big screen, the monitor is still wedded to the everyday concerns of the desk. In the end, a tragic theme may be more convincingly developed through a mundane path, such as one of the many mortality indexes online (eg http://www.austunity.com.au/cgi-bin/morcalc.cgi – expired).

The 2 remaining sites draw outside themselves for content. The screen for Gary Zebington’s Repossessed is crowded with quasi-scientific graphics that suggest ‘deep programming.’ The visitor submits a word for ‘sacrifice’, which is then recast into a dialogue. For example, ‘Bone’ becomes ‘What does bone-ly? Under antiquity.’ External sites can be drawn into this information feed. The coding skills used in this construction are quite impressive, but the results suggest a clumsy machine intelligence, rather than the omnipotent digital consciousness promised by the opening graphics.

Finally, Mark Simpson’s Ephemera Engine provides a window of search terms, web cams and real audio grabs from unnamed locations. Transmission is occasionally interrupted by questions such as “Do you sometimes feel you are somewhere else?” As suggested by its title, Ephemera Engine dissolves eventually into a kind of mindless traffic-watching.

The works in stuff-art demonstrate technical creativity, but struggle to find a content that is both meaningful and appropriate to the online environment. What can be done? From the artists, opportunities for genuine visitor participation might be helpful. From the Australian Film Commission, it’s worth considering to what extent its mock title ‘stuff-art’ helped form the kinds of works it harvested. Though perhaps prompted by the Stuffit Mac program used to compress files, broader connotations of the title have a bearing on how the site is approached.

At first glance, the use of the word ‘stuff’ seems to cater for the neo-Neanderthal consumer—the kind appealed to by companies like Iomega (‘Because it’s your stuff’) and Pepsi (‘Get stuff’). This reduction of the world to mere substance seems hardly a promising framework for a new artform.

Yet there may be a more serious aesthetic embedded in this vernacular term. Implicit in ‘stuff’ is a modernist attitude to meaning as material, in the way that Jackson Pollock used paint not as a language but as mud. This accords with the modernist quest to strip the world of its pre-existing forms and confront things in their raw state—‘get stuff’. Is modernism a good starting point for net art? Yes, the modernist quest is a useful rite of initiation for any new art form, helping to define it separately from others. But then it needs to move to expressive possibilities which extend beyond self-definition. The ability of hive-sites to tap collective experience provides one way ahead.

Like much Australian net art, stuff-art shows great promise, but we might hope that something with more conceptual bite evolves out of the primordial stuff online. The emerging hybrid artist-curator-apiarist may eventually lead the way. Get honey!

stuff-art, Australian Film Commission, online at http://www.stuff-art.com.au [expired]

RealTime issue #27 Oct-Nov 1998 pg. 21

© Kevin Murray; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Rodney Ascher, Somebody Goofed, 2D computer animation and print ephemera

Rodney Ascher, Somebody Goofed, 2D computer animation and print ephemera

Why do we still talk of “new media”? Are we in the grip of a persistent cultural logic of digital neoteny? In a refreshing riposte to this desire to keep new media forever young, Mousetrap curators Martine Corompt and Ian Haig inform us that “in 1998 digital media is no longer a big deal.” While not overtly polemical, Mousetrap was as much an exhibition about digital screen culture, to be remembered for cutting the new media umbilicus. Any new medium is quickly absorbed into a culture (this is straight McLuhan 101), tarnishes with ubiquity, and ossifies into style. The laws of media are unforgiving. At a recent forum on visual design at Swinburne University, Christopher Waller (21C, Diagram) noted how the style of glossy, hyperreal power-imaging we associate with the 90s has already dated, and that nostalgia will eventually mentor its revival. Mousetrap demonstrated that la mode retro is a creative force to be reckoned with in contemporary screen culture, though not for anything of so recent a vintage. The diverse range of local and international work garnered for this exhibition declared a “longing for potentially obsolete analogue materials, such as over-exposed film-stock, yellowed paper and photographic grain.” Forget the future, digitally-created art looks like it has re-emerged from the past, “secondhand, tactile, decayed and disordered.” Pace Bruce Sterling, there’s no such thing as a dead medium. The experimental arts will always find a use for such things.

That out of the way we have another problem. Despite the diacritical impetus behind the exhibition, Mousetrap could not avoid falling foul of the regulation pigeon-holing as “multimedia” any artistic practice that in some way uses computers. The film festival organisers may have been trying to capitalise on the popular belief that the term multimedia is sexy. Or perhaps they simply didn’t know what else to call it. Either way, the work is partitioned off as being in some way different, and not necessarily integral to the screen scene created by the festival. To be fair, though, it is more important for this work to be included in such festivals than not. But the continued use of a term that has outlived its usefulness worries me. Multimedia was invented with a technical meaning in mind, referring to the incorporation of multiple signifying modes within the same apparatus. Inflections to do with new modes of creativity or sensibility made possible by this apparatus have never been part of its meaning. These days anything on a CD-ROM or the World Wide Web, or produced using Director, is automatically labelled as multimedia, often with little attention to what is actually going on from a representational or formal point of view. There is no question that discrete forms of screen-based arts, such as video, cinema and digital animation, will continue to thrive, and sustain their own forms of critical discourse. But at a time of energetic experimentation in the screen arts, as we are experiencing now, the continued use of narrow and historically specific terms such as multimedia is like the proverbial can tied to a dog’s tail.

It’s time we stopped using multimedia as a generic term to describe the very specialised and often idiosyncratic work being done by artists who happen to use computers. I propose the use of an alternative term which already has currency in the digital world (we’ll have to do something about that “digital” soon). The word is intermedia. Intermedia, with its suggestions of hybridity (a fusion or cross-fertilisation of different media forms) and intransitivity (between commencement and closure), recommends itself as a more apposite descriptor for the cultural production of the experimental screen arts.

The urge to graft and appropriate diverse media into a synthetic, intermedia environment has been around for some time (why multi rather than mixed media in the first place?). Digital techniques, while offering decisive enhancements, are best understood as enabling technologies that facilitate the importation of different signifying textures into a screen space, and the ability to recombine them in surprising, even unprecedented ways. As Ian Haig noted of the Mousetrap screening program, many of the works “employ digital tools to fuse together cell animation, live action, comics, stop motion animation and found imagery, often producing new hybrid forms of animation, which would not have been possible previously.”

The interactive exhibition offered a range of work that displayed the changing architectures of interface design and principles of interactivity. Presided over by one of the acknowledged masterpieces of intermedia, The Residents’ Bad Day on the Midway, it suggested a sharpened understanding of intermedia as being concerned with spatial relationships and immersive environments, rather than game-playing or puzzle-solving. This poetic was persuasively supported by Jim Ludtke, who emphasised in his artist’s talk the continued importance of exploration and narrative in intermedia (“the story’s the thing”). But the screening program was really the nodal point for Mousetrap’s intimations of intermedia. In bringing together national and international work that determinedly explores the poetics of hybridity, Corompt and Haig have charted more than trends and developments. Their astute sense of what is happening with the screen arts scene suggests that if there is such a thing as a digital body politic, it is being mutated from within by the recombinant force of bricolage. This process can be seen in the collagic, appropriationist style of Rodney Ascher’s punkish grapple with ultra-fundamentalism, Somebody Goofed (1997), which cleverly fuses 2D computer animation and print ephemera (comics, kids’ books, album covers) into a highly distinctive, estranging allegory of betrayal. It is also evident in Laurence Arcadias’ Donar Party (1993), a colourised steel-point etching twitched to grotesque life, which exploits the suggestiveness of a VRML walkthrough to document the pitfalls of a pre-electric surgical scene from the 19th century. As well, Adam Gravois’ atmospheric and decidedly low-fi Golden Shoes (1996) captured the dual intermedia aesthetic of recombination (it looks like a film, but it isn’t) and bricolage, the fine art of making do with whatever is at hand (such as low cost computers and software).

Mousetrap demonstrates that intermedia practice is more concerned with a type of sensibility or attitude preoccupied with all available media, than with the potential of digital technologies per se. Indeed, as Haig advances, the “works shown in Mousetrap expose the possibilities of what can happen when you fuse computer hardware and software, together with…an attitude which embraces the culture of underground comics, contemporary anime, and weirdo cartoons.” New media is dead, long live the re-animators.

Mousetrap, curated by Martine Corompt and Ian Haig, Melbourne International Film Festival; screenings State Film Theatre, interactives Melbourne Town Hall, July 23 – August 9

RealTime issue #27 Oct-Nov 1998 pg. 22

© Darren Tofts; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

John Wood and Paul Harrison, Device, UK, British Bulldogs

John Wood and Paul Harrison, Device, UK, British Bulldogs

British Bulldogs screened as part of the Game Theory series of events presented by Experimenta Media Arts. The program title however is misleading, perhaps deliberately so.

On the whole Game Theory had an inconsistent relationship with the usual Pavlovian stimulus-response-reward scenario clichés that dog many forms of interactive gameplay. The Click Click, You’re Dead component addressed these scenarios fairly exhaustively via mainly commercially produced games; the Game Play exhibition featured playful game related local artists work and the speaking program discussed related topics.

Any behavioural analysis of the artist-viewer relationship would consider the shifting parameters of the ‘rules’ of ‘the game.’ Crucial to modernism, such considerations also can apply to a viewer’s approach to post-postmodernist exhibition: one does not have to decode so much as negotiate the packaging of curatorial conceit.

Through its title (a traditional British playground game) and vague allusions to “playing games” in the program notes, British Bulldogs strategically forged an oblique relationship to the theme, but the videos bore little relationship to games or gaming. By all but ignoring its obligatory thematic context, British Bulldogs became programming by stealth.

It was actually a solid program of recent British video works. Drawn from the catalogue of London Electronic Arts it mercifully avoided the self-conscious carryings on of the Young British Artists and their recent discovery of the camcorder, concentrating largely on a body of work tracing a number of interleaving, parallel concerns and experimental approaches.

In A.Z0.IC by St. John Walker, eerie morphed faces twisted into foetal shape-shifted animal forms accompanied by childlike rhymes (“…we had a dream last night, we had the same dream”). Blake’s Tyger, Tyger and floaty ambient music evokes some quasi-mystical synaesthetic cyberspace. George Saxon and Gina Czarnecki perform electronic prosthetics to create a mutant legless centaur with four torsos able to conceal and produce video cassettes, headphones and video monitors from within its person(s) in Homo-Cyte. Clio Barnard’s Headcase is a glorious mix and match; a self-referential, hammed up, mock-documentary, camp horror home movie about the benefits, thrills and dangers of all things connected with drilling into, removing and secreting heads from their bodies. While The Persistence of Memory by Anthony Atanasio is a far more conventionally stylish montage of associational image consciousness with advertising/music video aesthetics, images of extreme close-up faces, religious gesticulations, crucifix lamps in constant flash-back faux noir collision.

While these works explored the technological transformation of psycho-corporeality, their cross-genre quotation is a reminder that much of the experimental work produced in Britain is commissioned for broadcast funded by a combination of Arts Council and television. In spite of the predictable consignment of the works to the arts-end of programming this has meant that broadcast television has consistently been an important exhibition site and perhaps facilitated a certain degree of hybridisation. It also means that television isn’t necessarily perceived as some sort of low-cultural form ripe only for political interventionism or ironic appropriation.

Other works in this program reflected on the relationship between ‘human’ time and perception and a deeper, geological time span. John Smith’s Blight consists of a montage of largely static ‘still life’ images of a community of houses in the East End of London being demolished to make way for a new motorway. Smith selected fragments of former residents’ reminiscences about the houses and their lives there, “don’t really remember…don’t really remember much…” Set to music by Jocelyn Pook, it is elegantly edited to construct a sort of documentary song from a patchwork of voices, a contemporary folklore protest piece.

Withdrawal by George Barber presents a family walking across a field with a backdrop of hills, mountains and clouds, digitally manipulated so that ‘generations’ of family members disappear and landscape features recede at each repeat of the sequence. Fragments of dialogue about death and religion and trippy ethereal atmospherics suggest a cyberspace of deep time. This and Laws of Nature by Tony Hill evoke a less objective relationship with notions of time and ‘nature’, than might be suggested by the apparently romantic themes and subjects. Starting out looking dangerously like a new age tree hugging adventure Laws of Nature becomes a 25 minute visual poem. Through 360°, elegantly paced swooping camera movements across landscape features, rolling hills and English woodlands, with subtle time-lapse and double exposure, the film is an exploration of mechanically mediated perspectives without humanist ‘subjectivity’ in favour of extended geological space-time. In this sense it is, formally and conceptually, closely related to Michael Snow’s La Region Centrale in eschewing the human viewpoint (literally and perceptually) and the romantic gaze. Yet it has an aesthetic quality far less landscape-formalist covering a number of aesthetic techniques and hundreds of miles of England.

The transitions between millennia, while arbitrary, will it seems always have an impact on the political, cultural and social life of a country. In Britain this is happening in tandem with the devolution of Scotland and Wales which will lead perhaps to an examination of English ethnicity. The works in British Bulldogs suggest that this examination can be coupled with a reflective, but also adventurous, decentring of perspectives and perceptions. Blimey!

Game Theory, British Bulldogs, dLux media arts and experimenta, curated by Keely Macarow, Kaleide Cinema RMIT, Melbourne, July 16; Chauvel Cinemas, Sydney, Sept 29

RealTime issue #27 Oct-Nov 1998 pg. 23

© Steven Ball; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Ionat Zurr, Spiral, digiprint

Ionat Zurr, Spiral, digiprint

With the advent of new biomedical technologies and collateral reconfigurations of human and non-human forms and practices, interdisciplinary endeavours by cultural producers have consistently questioned the often mutually antagonistic spheres of ‘art’ and ‘science.’ Stage one of Oran Catts and Ionat Zurr’s Tissue Culture and Art Project contributes to such endeavours by lending ‘artistic expression’ to tissue engineering experiments in cell and molecular biology.

Catts and Zurr have taken care to avoid the viewer tedium that often comes with pictures hanging on a wall, choosing instead a variety of display techniques for their microscopic enlargements of lurid skin tissues and cellular forms. Light boxes protruding from walls, digiprints on canvas, images behind perspex situated alongside miniature glass figurines suspended in candy coloured solutions, and an image fastened to the surface of a makeshift table are some of the novel arrangements in this display.

One of Catts and Zurr’s strategies to make accessible this abstract science, to render its strangeness familiar, occurs in the ‘Monster’ series of images. Akin to a high-tech rendition of Rorschach inkblots, we can recognise such things as digitally enhanced eyes, accentuated teeth, a hint of lipstick, flared nostrils, a mouth gorging its own distended webfeet.

Elsewhere, a slide-show installation accompanied by a trip-hop, techno-pop soundtrack ensures a certain appeal for ‘youth’ audiences. The soundtrack includes a lame refrain—”What about the future?”—as the exhibition’s single ambivalent gesture toward the ocularcentrism of biomaterial digitisation. A pile of laboratory paraphernalia is placed inanely as debris at the base of projected images. A similar indication of concept formation on the run can be seen in one of the perspex boxes: behind a tissue culture image and resting atop more lab plastic is a taxidermied rabbit—the sort you can hire for a couple of bucks from the WA Museum—and crammed inside its mangy ears are 2 pipettes. This works, I guess, as a crude juxtaposition of the late 19th century scientific art of taxidermy and a late 20th century obsession with gene cloning (remember ‘Dolly’?). In different ways, both refer to a cultural refusal of the expiry date of life. In the corners of this same exhibition space are arrangements of basketball-sized sponge spheres, also spiked full of pipettes.

Exception to this kind of haste can be found in what I consider the most developed component of the exhibition—the non-interactive website. Along with clicking through an image gallery, we read excerpts from the catalogue, an interesting dialogue between Catts and a typically candid Stelarc, an interview with tissue engineer Fiona Wood, and, most engagingly, Catts and Zurr’s Honours theses.

In addition to attracting an exceptionally large contingent of sponsors from public and corporate sectors, Catts and Zurr have gone to some effort in acquiring the necessary laboratory skills in cultivating skin tissue and cells onto non-organic materials (glass and plastic figurines) in preparation for microscopic enlargement and digital manipulation. Coupled with their previous studies in eco-design, digital imaging and photomedia, these artists have a disciplinary versatility that in future might result in artworks that more astutely negotiate the signs and conventions distinguishing art from science, as well as the traversability between and beyond these 2 zones of inquiry and expression.

Indeed, Catts and Zurr would seem to concur, writing in their rather confused catalogue introduction on the cultural and social urgency for art to engage critically with its arbitrary other—science—and advocating an “art that can be seen as the optimal medium to generate a discussion and a debate dealing with the contradictions between what we know about the world, and society’s values which are still based on old and traditional perceptions of the world.” Implicit in this statement is the suggestion that worldly and progressive ‘knowledge’ is synonymous with science, which is fettered by reactionary social values manifest in established modes of perception vis-à-vis art. The technotopian logic here is that with new technologies of perception comes a potential equivalence between knowledge and society.

The thing is, art and science in this exhibition are overwhelmingly fixed in their respective modern traditions: art deals in and dares not transgress aesthetics, while science concerns itself with the identification and analysis of veritable data for utilitarian and commercial purposes. Strangely, then, the exhibition operates as an exemplar of artistically and critically overdetermined paradigms whereby the “artistic documentation” of tissue engineering is somehow justification in itself of the “artistic merits” of the artworks. The very notion of “artistic merit” is never problematised, its particulars never identified; in catalogue statements by 2 university-based scientists researching the field of tissue engineering it is taken as a given, and legitimated as that which pertains only to aesthetics. Ironically, the culture of science—its habits of expression, its techniques of action, its situations beyond disciplinary boundaries—is largely absent, represented only in the transfiguration of the optic of medical technologies, and disclosed in the authorising views of the 2 scientists’ catalogue statements.

In an exhibition of wildly abstract and racy coloured images, these scientists in effect see the Tissue Culture and Art Project partly as a public relations exercise, “providing a realistic image of scientists” and “creating a positive image” so as to presumably counter such myths as the ethically corrupt or socially myopic scientist. Arguably, however, myths of science peculiar to 19th century Gothic literature, Cold War era paranoia, and B-grade sci-fi and horror movies, no longer prevail if R&D funding levels for science are any guide. Indeed, one need only tune in to the many medico-dramas and human body specials on TV, or catch Hollywood megablitzes like Jurassic Park, to recognise that the cultural-economy of ‘science’ fares pretty well in popular consciousness. Yet, as historian of science Donna Haraway, and cultural critic Catherine Waldby have argued, there are valid reasons for ethical and political concern about ethnocentric and commercially motivated ideologies underpinning scientific research that incorporates biomaterial imaging technologies, such as the Human Genome Project and the Visible Human Project.

As an interdisciplinary project, this exhibition’s nowness—its ‘currency’ as both fashionable vocation and high exchange value within the techno-cultural marketplace of arts funding—is contradicted in its fatigued representation of art as primarily a spectacular rather than critical aesthetic enterprise. (This exhibition’s aesthetic is without crisis: the social and political import of tissue engineering is left waiting; its ontology is elsewhere, its territory belongs not to this situation, and it needs to.) Such traditional views on art from large sections of the scientific community (to say nothing of those in the humanities) can be taken without too much surprise; the worry is more the seeming acceptance of such precepts by these artists, as is made apparent in the exhibition’s display techniques.

My frustration with this project’s otherwise exciting interdisciplinary encounter turns on its lack of self-reflexivity. Disciplinary limits and presuppositions are neither made apparent nor critiqued, thus restricting any proliferation of alternative narratives. Rather, the exhibition paradoxically celebrates an unsurmounted divide between art and science, shoring up the disciplinary boundaries which separate the two cultures. Comfort zones remain intact. To be fair, my reservations have left aside the genuine goodwill of the exchange between these spheres of inquiry, and it’s this kind of basis from which critically innovative artworks may hopefully begin to emerge in later stages of the Tissue Culture and Art Project.

Tissue Culture & Art Project, Stage One, Oron Catts and Ionat Zurr, Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts (PICA), August 5 – September 6

RealTime issue #27 Oct-Nov 1998 pg. 24

© Ned Rossiter; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

The Australian Ballet’s Collaborations program and Dancehouse’s Mixed Metaphor and their associated forums were my first experiences of MAP as an event. The first had me worried, the second hopeful and together they represented the very different approaches to “movement and performance” and accompanying critical engagement that MAP was expected to encompass.

The Australian Ballet (AB) forum was ultimately hampered by the chair, James Griffin from Radio National, chosen by Ross Stretton the artistic director of the AB. His lack of knowledge about dance placed him—and consequently the discussion—at an alarming disadvantage, which left me questioning Stretton’s logic. With so many informed, engaged dance commentators in the audience, this was an unnecessary impediment.

With Stretton by Griffin’s side, the conversation hinged around the AB’s “new” direction in inviting four “new” choreographers, Bernadette Walong, Stephen Baynes, Natalie Weir and Adrian Burnett, to create work on and for the AB dancers. Baynes’ comments on inspiring dancers, referring to his experience overseas in the company of dancers such as Marcia Haydee, made sense of this scheme while words failed Walong. Her difficulty was discomforting as she spoke about sound and memory in relation to her original score for Slipstream, surrounded as she was by Mahler, Astor Piazzolla, techno music and the instruments of Ghana.

Magnanimous statements from Stretton about “innovation” punctuated discussions on the novelty of pointe work in a contemporary context (“What about 20th century ballet?” from the audience was greeted with silence from the panel), and the alarming physicality of this new work described by Griffin as “intimate” or “erotic.” Natalie Weir countered this by saying she had never intended her work to be sexual and didn’t consider it so.

Baynes’ attempts to suggest that classical and contemporary are not so discrete were overwhelmed by an insistence upon the “traditional” and the “innovative.” Stretton’s comments about the importance of maintaining the classics in the company’s repertoire, keeping this “tradition” as “the point of reference” was particularly ironic with Walong sitting on the panel. Her tradition picked its way en pointe through a river of stones.

Innovation was not mentioned over at Dancehouse where the question was not why but how. This forum seemed to articulate a real anxiety about the place of the body in a dance-based multimedia environment. The discussion finally seemed to crystallise with Tony Yap and Mixed Company’s highly charged Saint Sebastian epitomising “presence” and Margaret Trail’s Hi, it’s me, “absence”; Trail’s work placed her live interaction amidst pre-recorded voices that introduced a performance place elsewhere.

Keynote speaker Angharad Wynne-Jones opened with a definition of metaphor and mixed-metaphor and a description of the project of performance in articulating a persuasive example of one or the other. (For Wynne-Jones, Mixed Company’s piece seemed sure of its methods/media and therefore presented a persuasive metaphor.) She spoke of the position of the body within this context as “vulnerable” and the difficulty of controlling the expression of the body particularly when you are creator and performer—how the body “leaks” meanings.
Tony Yap’s description of the “organic” creative process that his group underwent seemed to challenge the more methodical approach that Angharad suggested and Philipa Rothfield introduced Christos Linous’ active, invulnerable body to the discussion.

Methodologies, processes and ideas replaced the design, music and space of the AB forum and the discussion flowed without interruption or clunky changes in direction. At Dancehouse the the line between audience and panellists became indiscernible, with choreographers, practitioners and participants spilling across what had been an uncomfortable divide at the Malthouse.

Collaborations forum, The Australian Ballet, The Malthouse, July 7; Mixed Metaphor forum, Dancehouse, July 5

RealTime issue #27 Oct-Nov 1998 pg. 10

© Erin Brannigan; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Talking dance, in the context of doing it, appears to be seriously on the increase across Australia. Sydney’s The Performance Space will present its second antistatic in 1999 (curated by Rosalind Crisp, Sue-ellen Kohler and Zane Trow), PICA (Perth Institute of Contemporary Art) will present its bi-annual Dancers are Space-eaters in the same year, and in Brisbane the Body of Work dance conference was held recently. In Melbourne the demise of Greenmill left a gap which was quickly filled by MAP.
RealTime became part of MAP (Movement and Performance), a new dance event in Melbourne featuring a season of dance works and a 2 day symposium at the Malthouse. In this edition (which first appeared online in August), a team of RealTime editors and writers (Zsuzsanna Soboslay, Philipa Rothfield, Suzanne Spunner, Eleanor Brickhill, Katrina Philips Rank, Elizabeth Drake, Simon Ellis, Virginia Baxter, Keith Gallasch and MAP symposium co-curator Erin Brannigan) respond to the dance works and symposium themes and debate they experienced at MAP.

RealTime issue #27 Oct-Nov 1998 pg. 4

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Waiting: empathetic evolution

Choreographer Sandra Parker tells us she has a bank of movement phrases, fragments, unformed images that she brings to the creative process. Composer Lawrence Harvey too, she says, brought different sounds to the studio; “the sound grew as the dance grew, a lovely experience, movement and sound filling the space at the same time.” Harvey notes that in this cumulative process he would find what direction the dance was going, “geometrically, not just gesturally.”

Someone asked how Waiting came about—from the quotation for Romeo and Juliet? “No”, answers Parker, “that came later. I was experimenting with how still you can be for how long.” Someone else asks, “How do you convert motion into stillness? Music always sounds like movement.” A dancer responds, “When waiting you create a diversion, you’re never quite still, and Lawrence picked up on that.”

Stung: trust

Darrin Verhagen tells us that Sue Healey was in Russia when the work finally came together in Melbourne, that she knows that he knows what she likes, “pops, scratches, tiny sounds”, and that he didn’t know the work would be humorous, it was not discussed, not that it mattered.

Live Opera Situation: languages

For Shelley Lasica “music is like a parallel text”, in this case several parallel texts—an obscure Polish opera and Indian music that the dancers listened and rehearsed to (but not heard in performance by the audience, but maybe ‘heard’ by the dancers) and then the composer’s offering added last. A dancer declares, “It was difficult, we had these other rhythms and then we had to match them with Franc Tétaz’s.” Another dancer says, “We establish our own rhythm, our own score, add another and have two sets of rhythms.” Franc Tétaz adds, “I was doing something very similar to you, though we speak very different languages.” Lawrence Harvey says that he “strives towards a common language through watching, through talking with dancers.”

Franc says he likes “to create an environment to invite the audience into Shelley’s work.” Something in Lasica’s body language suggests, ‘No, that’s not it.’ Lasica says, “It’s a matter of how music and dance intersect,” that she “creates a gap between movement and music.”

Dancers and music

The dancers say, “We always draw on the energy of the music, but sometimes it’s better to be grounded, to not go with the rise of the music, not get whipped up by it, just pick up on the cues, resist the music. Though with Darrin’s music we could get into it…but with Franc’s we had landmarks.” Tétaz muses, “I composed as if I was writing for scenes.”

Harvey declares, “The body is already polyrhythmic, the heart beat, the breathing, the issue of psychological time.”
Lasica closes, “Movement is not generated by music, but by many things, music is another layer.”

Dance Works, DW98 forum, July 24, Wesleyan Hall, Albert Park, July 15 – July 26

RealTime issue #27 Oct-Nov 1998 pg. 7

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

As the MAP Symposium unfolded, RealTime charted some responses on audio and videotape. Here are some samples.

Rachel Fensham It’s really about the question of the will to know, which seems to me to be split between those who are choreographers now (Chrissie Parrott and Gideon Obarzanek) and those who are dancers. It’s the question of knowing through seeing, and the extension of seeing through the camera. Whereas what Trevor Patrick, and to some extent Duncan Fairfax (though he’s not a dancer), was saying was about the will to know being developed through the multi-sensorial body. Now I don’t want to dismiss the will to know through the technos but for those people to deny the multi-sensorial in relation to the technology when it’s in their own histories as dancers working in companies is a great loss. When Gideon was talking about watching someone’s tensile movement, his excitement suddenly came into play. Now he’s trying to use that through the technos but it is actually about the knowing of bodies in relation rather than just bodies through the eye.

• • •

Rachel Fensham What Libby Dempster said was that we have a white, foreign, illegitimate dance history in ballet. I think she’s absolutely right. It is about the colonial heritage and our inferiority in relation to the rest of the world. But if you take that on board, the flipside is that you might want to celebrate it. Sometimes the benchmark might be going to see the Australian Ballet and watching it as a complete parody of what our culture might be. Concomitant with that there is imperialism, power, exploitation, degradation of the land, denial of the existence of Aboriginal people. Can we really just celebrate that? Or does that version of our dance history imply some other kinds of questions. … It’s interesting that for all the problems with the Bangarra liaison [the Australian Ballet-Bangarra Rites of Spring] in a way it is the Australian Ballet that creates the first mainstream cross-over.

Keith Gallasch When ballet was addressed it was always about the Australian Ballet, not for example William Forsythe’s engagement with postmodernity. Here’s a choreographer who reads Deleuze and Guattari and Derrida and works with new media artists, and who has an architectonic view.

Rachel Fensham The point about ballet re-inventing itself is almost the more interesting one, the ways that ballet can change.

• • •

William McClure Silence is not what I was advocating but a sense of silence that comes between phrases which is the question of what is going to come next. There’s an ambivalence, an equivocal sense of how you’re going to get to the next phrase…where you might think, there is no natural necessity which is pushing me on to make the next decision. It’s ungrounded.

Rosalind Crisp It’s grounded by certain choices that you make and the elimination of others. I don’t think there is a state of nothingness. It’s more a state of listening and, depending on the sensitivity and awareness you have in your body, you might make certain choices of movement over others. When I come to craft a work, I’m making choices about certain parameters.

Richard Allen In the moment of nothing is the moment of meditation. I remember when I was working on a piece called The Frightening of Angels, I had this sense of an incredible dark cloud within me and my necessity was to move that dark cloud out of me and into the space, into the light. If there was a sense of nothing, I wouldn’t have done it.

William McClure It’s not an intellectual process I’m talking about. It’s a way of confronting what is happening in a way that doesn’t come with criteria, background, tradition. It’s an existential position.

Rosalind Crisp I find accidents the best creative moments. I’m working in the studio and someone drops by and interrupts me. I keep working while I’m talking to them and suddenly I realise I’m doing something more interesting, more connected. I think it’s a dialogue between pathways that are established in your body and a space where there isn’t anything pre-coded. If I direct myself to feel a part of my body so I’m more aware of it, it might make me do something (HER ARM SHOOTS UPWARDS) within a certain sort of parameter. It doesn’t feel like nothing. But there has to be a space.

William McClure What I’m saying is that the “nothing” is pregnant with sensation. It’s ambivalent, it’s equivocal, it doesn’t give itself away. So whatever representation you lay on top of that sensation or nothingness is then endless possibilities.

• • •

Peter Eckersall Companies like Zen Zen Zo in Brisbane are directly appropriating a post Dairakuda-kan style—shaved heads, white body paint. Some members have also worked with Tadashi Suzuki, so there’s a crossover. They have a very particular idea about Japanese performance which I find a bit rigid. It’s very homogeneous, essentialised. Obviously within the company are different opinions but some seem fixed on this idea that, you know, this mysterious, spooky oriental form allows us to discover ourselves as performers. Butoh doesn’t exist in order for late 20th Century Australian artists to discover themselves. Maybe it exists in order for us to discover our own problematic culture or identity as a nation.

Virginia Baxter There is Butoh and Suzuki-inspired work in Australia in which the Japanese form has been so deeply absorbed into the practice that it no longer looks like Butoh or Suzuki, as in the work of artists like Deborah Leiser, Mémé Thorne or Nikki Heywood in Sydney

Peter Eckersall Deborah Leiser’s work is very much about identity. The Japanese influence in her work is not obvious, it’s not worn on the surface. It’s been absorbed through a series of processes. If you’re going to engage in an experience of another performance culture the trick is then to locate it in the context of your own.

• • •

Yumi Umiumare [Classical ballet] is probably still inside my body. It’s a centredness or a direction. I think it’s very important for technique. I had to get rid of certain kinds of steps, certain rhythms. I had to chuck it out to learn Butoh. It takes a while. I was often told by Butoh teachers, you’re useless because you step. You are good at movement. But in Butoh you shouldn’t “move.” In ballet you need the technique to achieve more quick movement. You have to slow down in Butoh.

• • •

Peter Eckersall The idea of an Asian body needs to be dismissed very quickly. Does somebody who works in the rice fields in the north of Japan have the same body as a Balinese shamanistic trance dancer for example? Where this gets very ideological is in Japan where there’s a debate within Butoh about a Japanese body, with some Butoh artists who’ve achieved semi-guru status saying, this is the Japanese body. It’s essentialising the Japanese body, saying we are all one. It’s not acknowledging the pluralities, the minority cultures within that culture.

RealTime issue #27 Oct-Nov 1998 pg. 10

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

Patrick Harding Irmer in Vesalii Icones

Patrick Harding Irmer in Vesalii Icones

Patrick Harding Irmer in Vesalii Icones

This is a rare opportunity for Sydney audiences to experience a classic music-dance-theatre work. A solo dancer, a cellist, an instrumental ensemble, a live snake, and the Images of Vesalius (14 engravings by the great 16th century anatomist from flayed gallows specimens) are the potent ingredients of music theatre innovator Peter Maxwell Davies’ Vesalii Icones (1969). This is not a music theatre dialogue between voice and accompanying instruments, but between a modern Christ, the dancer, moving through the Stations of the Cross, and instrumentalists with a theatrical life of their own, principally the cello, described by Paul Griffiths in Modern Music after 1945 (OUP 1995) as the dancer’s shadow, partner, or ideal.” Griffiths regards the work as “the most intense” of all Maxwell Davies’ creations, its blend of high seriousness and parodic pastiche a kind of violence—“the violence shown on stage is a violence which the music is doing to itself.” Patrick Harding-Irmer is the dancer, one-time Australian Dance Theatre artistic director Jonathan Taylor directs and choreographs, and Mark Summerbell conducts The Seymour Group.

Vesalii Icones, Music Theatre Sydney, Newtown Theatre, October 8 – 10. Bookings 9519 5081

RealTime issue #27 Oct-Nov 1998 pg. 14

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

Chunky Move, C.O.R.R.U.P.T.E.D 2

Chunky Move, C.O.R.R.U.P.T.E.D 2

Chunky Move, C.O.R.R.U.P.T.E.D 2

There’s a moment in Gideon Obarzanek’s C.O.R.R.U.P.T.E.D 2, the final work in Chunky Move’s latest offering, Fleshmeet, when a solo dancer in diaphanous clothing moves in white light to a slow walking pattern beside a vast tilting screen. The scene startles with its scale and starkness. The movement is beautiful. But too soon the moment evaporates. After the sharply evocative opening, the architectonic relationship between dancer and screen dissolves and what was a vertiginous, ominous presence assumes a secondary role to the enactment of more predictable trios and solos, as impressively fast and lyrical as they are from the fine ensemble of performers. C.O.R.R.U.P.T.E.D 2 feels like a work awaiting its full realisation.

Paul Selwyn-Norton’s The Rogue Tool is a reverie on transformation, an engagement with objects as supports for and extensions to the body. It’s a more sustained piece that gives the audience time to decipher and enter its disturbing world. Dancers move purposefully into position and rigidify, propping each other up with poles like prostheses. People become objects. Their stillness is total, eerie. Through this strange landscape skirts the fabulously dexterous Luke Smiles in routines reminiscent of vaudeville but extending way beyond the limits of time and body. Damien Cooper’s lights have their own rhythm, cutting out in the middle of a movement or coming up to full strength at the end. Fred Frith’s unusually lyrical guitar is sublime, recorded with perfect clarity and played as it should be—loud and clear.

No doubt about it, C.O.R.R.U.P.T.E.D 1 is virtuosic. While sections of the audience revel in Obarzanek’s hyper-animated parody of soap opera, for others its strangely old-fashioned with none of the moral urgings of contemporary soap. It’s classic farce—accelerated action, comic personae, simple suspense, clever detailing of body movement especially from Fiona Cameron in a fabulous dress that seems to have a mind of its own. Like some entr’acte from burlesque, the piece is performed on the forestage in front of the curtain. The sexual politics are as musty—repressed wife discards spectacles and blossoms in momentary sexual dalliance with TV repairman. What satisfies at the level of virtuosity and dramaturgical inventiveness, in substance doesn’t connect beyond cliché. Chunky Move has power and precision, and now in evidence a sense of delicacy, but the pleasures of the company’s work still appear to rest on the surface, something darker, more thoughtful waiting just below, unseen.

Fleshmeet, Chunky Move, choreographers Gideon Obarzanek , Paul Selwyn Norton; performers Fiona Cameron, Brett Daffy, Lisa Griffiths, Kirstie McCracken, Byron Perry, Luke Smiles, David Tyndall; Seymour Theatre Centre, Sydney, September 12 – 26; Melbourne Festival, C.U.B. Malthouse, Melbourne, October 21 – 31

RealTime issue #27 Oct-Nov 1998 pg. 14

© Virginia Baxter & Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Solon Ulbrich and Gilli O’Connell, Bodies

Solon Ulbrich and Gilli O’Connell, Bodies

Solon Ulbrich and Gilli O’Connell, Bodies

Produced and presented by Mark Cleary, director of the Newtown Theatre, with artistic director Norman Hall, the annual Bodies season showcases a range of contemporary dance from independent choreographers around Australia. The event has become a firm part of the Sydney dance calendar offering the opportunity to see the work of a distinctive group of practitioners. This year’s Bodies include Paulina Quinteros (winner of an Australian Institute of Classical Dance [AICD] Dance Creation choreographic award this year in Melbourne), James Taylor, Jan Pinkerton, Virginia Ferris, Solon Ulbrich, Ichiro Harada, Deborah Mills, Cathryn Magill, Jacqui Simmonds, Jamie Jewel, Norman Hall, Veronica Gillmer, Derek Porter, Sydney Salter, Kate Denborough, Kenny Feather, Elizabeth Lea and Peter Cook. The supplementary Youthworks program features student choreographers and dance works every Saturday during the Bodies season.

Bodies, Newtown Theatre, Wed – Sat 8pm, Sun 5pm, October 21 – November 8 tel 9519 5081

RealTime issue #27 Oct-Nov 1998 pg. 14

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

Angeline Lai, Territory, One Extra

Angeline Lai, Territory, One Extra

Angeline Lai, Territory, One Extra

In an unusual combination of talents for dance, or rather dance-theatre, the usual role of choreographer as director becomes two roles, Janet Robertson directing and Sue Healey choreographing. They’re collaborating with designers Eamon D’Arcy (space), Damien Cooper (light) and Julia Christie (costume) in One Extra’s Territory, a dance-theatre work devised by Robertson. Jad Macadam designs the sound environment, Sarah Hopkins has created a series of evocative compositions for cello and voice. Performed by One Extra affiliate artist Lisa Ffrench and newcomer Angeline Lai with a guest appearance by Marilyn Miller (Bangarra Dance Theatre), Territory traces time lines and patterns of migration. At its centre are the journeys of an English bride of the 1890s and an Asian bride of the 1970s both travelling through an unfamiliar landscape. As their ground is mapped and divided they cross paths with an Aboriginal woman whose land lies locked behind cattle gates. Explore Territory at the York Theatre, the Seymour Theatre Centre, Sydney October 8 – 9, 14 – 25. Tel 02 9364 9400

RealTime issue #27 Oct-Nov 1998 pg. 14

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

Ironically, in a festival exploring the permutations of distance, 1998’s Next Wave Festival demonstrated the promiscuous intermingling of artforms and the dissolution of traditional barriers between them. With a program comprising more than 100 separate events, Next Wave abandoned discrete artform streams in favour of a recognition of the increasingly hybrid and cross-disciplinary nature of contemporary art practice.

Next Wave’s art and technology program has consistently provided one of the highlights of the festival, generating high levels of publicity and pulling punters eager to take advantage of the opportunity to actually see new media art for themselves. Though tempting it would be a mistake to see this year’s refusal to replay the artworld apartheid scenario as a symptom of the increasing acceptance of new media into the mainstream contemporary arts world. Most galleries pay the barest of lip service to supporting this and other many new artforms. Perhaps now that most art schools have glossy new multi/new media courses which are already pumping out the graduates, these galleries will be forced to rethink their attitudes and begin to present technologically demanding works as a consistent part of their normal programming.

More pragmatically, the integration meant that one tended to stumble over projects incorporating new media. Equally, given the geographical dispersion of Next Wave events with many in rural Victoria as well as in diverse parts of Melbourne and suburbs, the car-less viewer certainly felt the tyranny of Australian distances. Most of the actual projects, though, concentrated on psychological and emotional distance, producing a strangely melancholic and nostalgic undercurrent as they explored human yearning for closeness and understanding and the impossibility of achieving it.

Company In Space’s futuristic installation I@here, You@there (email order bride) at Gallery 101, all shiny stainless steel and glass surfaces, assorted techno-gadgetry and lonely reminders of the natural world, was pressed into dual service for a 3-up performance in which there was plenty of technology-mediated looking but minimal contact as the participants remained trapped reflections of each other in a masturbatory pas de deux. I@here, You@there (email order bride) contained moments of great poignancy and beauty but was flawed by the logic of the installation layout which at times transformed the performers into product demonstrators showing off the features of one gadget after another. (See also, “I@Here, You@There”, RealTime 25, page 14)

In his elegant minimalist installation self remembering—home in the vaults at Old Treasury (one of the most beautiful and challenging indoor installation spaces in Melbourne) James Verdon exposed his ‘self’ and the audience in a series of mnemonic loci of sexy surveillance gear, soft-focus video and multilayered digital images dispersed within the chilly shadows of bluestone vaults originally intended to protect the monetary assets (and secrets) of a young colonial administration. Exploring questions of subjectivity and surveillance, the work generated a sexual subtext of voyeurism and exhibitionism as viewers spied on each other, swapping gossip—secure in the knowledge that the gossiped about were safely ensconced in another cell—and puzzled out the narrative clues of a self, rendered partial and out of focus by the passage of time and the vagaries of memory. Memory, the private construction of the self through self-surveillance and re-presentation of the past became equated with the social and economic forces, deploying an ever greater range of surreptitious monitoring technologies, which enforce appropriate public self-presentation—identity as a product of context.

@ curated by Kate Shaw was a welcome revisiting of the terrain of video art—which was, as you will remember, going to be the next big thing in the early 80s, but withered through lack of exhibition and critical support. @ firmly positioned video art as a subset of visual art—none of that annoying investment of time of which Robyn McKenzie so vociferously complained at the Binary Code Conference was inconsiderately demanded by interactive media therefore preventing it from being considered an artform. Nosirree. @’s works (by David Noonan, Meri Blazevski and Leslie Eastman) paid out fast, evoking the alienation endemic to a fast-moving society fragmented by physical and social mobility at the very moment that physical space is being collapsed by global telecommunications. All movement (whether it was Noonan’s re-visiting of the roadmovie, Blazevski’s elegiac elevator loop or Eastman’s movement of light from across the world via video-conferencing to illuminate the corners of 200 Gertrude Street), but no destination. It seems all roads, URL or virtual, lead nowhere—but the scenery is very pretty and reason enough to start the journey.

Map 1, Garth Paine’s most recent investigation of immersive interactivity, eschewed the more common privileging of the visual in favour of encouraging the audience to construct their own cartographies of aural space. Activating the installation’s responses by their movement through it, Map 1 immersed the audience in a rich sonic field which encouraged communication as individuals collaborated to map the area and then ‘play’ it like an instrument. Rather than represent distance symbolically, Paine’s work both activates and collapses space—breaking down the polite ‘look but don’t touch’ of most art work by only springing into full existence when physically triggered by a corporeal presence traversing its parameters, and by encouraging and rewarding communication between the participants. As such, Paine’s work foregoes involvement in continuing assessments of the capacity of technologies to perpetuate existing and create new regimes of social control. Instead it offers an optimistic technophiliac vision of a more humane technology which will allow new insights into our world and new ways to express them.

I@here, You@there (email order bride), Company in Space, Gallery 101, May 1 – 28; Map 1, artist Gary Paine, SPAN Galleries Melbourne, May 5 – 23; self remembering – home, artist James Verdon, Gold Vaults, Old Treasury Melbourne, May 1 – 31; @, curated by Kate Shaw, artists Meri Blazevski, Leslie Eastman, David Noonan, 200 Gertrude St Fitzroy, May 8 – 30

RealTime issue #26 Aug-Sept 1998 pg. 6-7

© Shiralee Saul; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Kate Denborough and Gerard Van Dyck in Contamination

Kate Denborough and Gerard Van Dyck in Contamination

Although Melbourne’s Next Wave festival is for emerging artists, not all its performers are all that young or, for that matter, emerging. Contamination was a case in point. Produced by Kage Theatre (Kate Denborough and Gerard Van Dyck), elements of this piece had sophistication and polish. Firstly, the design of the space: the theme was white. White costumes, white walls, white light—the lighting beautifully enacted by Ben Cobham whose work I admire. This time, he erected a wall of white plastic road barriers stage left, and gave them a warm, cream glow. Secondly, in a flash of surreal inspiration, Denborough and Van Dyck had their fathers appear in a back room, dressed in cream lounge suits, play chess, read the papers, and offer the odd comment over the length of the piece. Thirdly, the opening: three performers (Denborough, Van Dyck and Shona Erskine, all highly competent) enter and hang themselves upside down from three meat hooks, twisting and twining with a refined beauty. A hard act to follow but follow it they did, with a series of short pieces consisting of dance, talk, and comedy.

Some of the pieces were lovely, some funny, some not. There was some fine material in the movement. Denborough and Van Dyck are obviously very comfortable with each other and all three performed some entrancing sections. At times, Erskine looked a bit excluded from the action of the piece. Her presence was not as luminous as it usually is, and I think this was because the choreography was largely composed by the Kage duo. I’m not sure whether her contribution was fully thought through. Although she performed a strong solo towards the end of the piece, she was also latterly relegated to the side of the space. Also, the comedy skits were largely between the other two who obviously have the theatre skills and enjoy bouncing off each other.

There were some genuinely funny moments, such as the intervention of Van Dyck’s mobile phone, the appearance of the two older men, preparations for some Afro-Funk groove, and a Meatloaf impersonation to the repetitions of a drum machine (the music was skilfully created and managed by Garth Skinner). Other cameos were not to my taste, dependent as they were upon our laughing at ungainly representations of suburban, working class people.

Contamination was a rich work, with vivid moments and kinetic finesse. Structurally, I don’t know what the whole piece was ‘about’ but I’m not sure that matters. Within the hour or so of performance, there were many interactions and actions which demanded a committed attention, and offered aesthetic pleasures. If anything, I would have preferred to see some of its shorter moments developed into longer considerations.

Damien Hinds, Viviana Sacchero, Helen Grogan, Fiona McGrath, Elise Peart, Emma Fitzsimons and Zoe Scoglio in Distance, Be Your Best

Damien Hinds, Viviana Sacchero, Helen Grogan, Fiona McGrath, Elise Peart, Emma Fitzsimons and Zoe Scoglio in Distance, Be Your Best

Whereas Contamination was not a work of emerging but emerged practitioners, Distance, Be Your Best was jam-packed with young artists with a horizon of future work. A collaboration between Danceworks (director Sandra Parker) and Stompin Youth Dance Company (director Jerril Rechter), Distance brought together two groups of young people from the two sides of the Bass Strait. Indeed, the slowly modulated video shown on the back wall had its dancers tread both beaches of this rough and stormy expanse.

The work began with the two groups of dancers at opposite ends of a very big concrete hall. Slowly, slowly, they worked towards each other, in time, weaving, threading, assimilating and finally, separating. Clothed in silver, red and grey, these vibrant movers performed for well over an hour. Their movements simple, dancerly and well-executed, they looked comfortable in themselves and with each other.

One of the themes was isolation, both urban and semi-rural. The choreography was such that a rich texture of singular but linked movement was established and maintained, conveying a sense of autonomy (many bodies working independently). Towards the latter half of the piece, a series of duets transpired…washing in and out like the sea. Up the back, two women danced solos (or was it a duet?) in front of video projections. And predictably, the two groups finally regained their distinct identities. If this was a work about isolation and distance (certainly its conditions of production bespeak geographic separation), then its participants did not look the worse for it. There is something refreshing about seeing a lot of young people perform with integrity and vigour. Perhaps it has to do with the constructive effects of a collaborative project—one that ultimately defeats the alienation and isolation that formed the initiating theme of the piece.

Contamination, Kage Physical Theatre, Karyn Lovegrove Gallery, May 22 – 31; Distance, Be Your Best, Danceworks and Stompin Youth Dance Company, VCA School of Art, The Unallocated Space, May 2

RealTime issue #26 Aug-Sept 1998 pg. 8

© Philipa Rothfield; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Dear Reader,
Please note: I have just re-read the finished letter and decided to use the convention of underlining words to suggest hypertextual links. Rather than reading the line beneath the word as an authoritarian marker of emphasis, as if words were bound to the page like black flies on white flypaper, the reader is encouraged to interact imaginatively with the potentialities of the text (do a little cerebral hypertextual flea-hopping (See “Notes on Mutopia”). This is just a suggestion.

“It is deathly still in the room—the one sound is the pen scratching across the paper—for I love to think by writing, given that the machine that could imprint our thoughts into some material without their being spoken or written has yet to be invented. In front of me is an inkwell in which I can drown the sorrows of my black heart, a pair of scissors to accustom me to the idea of slitting my throat, manuscripts with which I can wipe myself, and a chamber pot.”
Nietzsche, Fragment of 1862
(quoted from Kittler by Tabbi, in Modern Fiction Studies, Vol 43, number 3, Fall 1997)

On The Letters K and Q

Sometimes there is a queue in our house to use the computer. I like this image of a bold Q forming, like a shallow pool, outside the room with the computer, with me standing anxiously by. I am aware that two persons maketh not a queue. I am also aware that the use of the possessive ‘our’ is misplaced, since we do not, at the time of writing, own our own home, although we would like to. At the time of writing we do not even own our own computers (plural). Please note that interest in and enthusiasm for the net are no guarantee of computer access and/or ownership (singular). The fact that we want to own our own computers—one each, mine and yours, or else it’s over, and I’m taking the car— leads to my first conclusion: here, in what used to be called the Domestic Sphere but which now, surely, after it has had innumerable holes punched in it by penetrations of market, media, man, ought to be renamed the Domestic Sieve; here at least we are still in the Kingdom of the first person possessive pronoun, no matter what the PDH (Partie Democratique Hypertexte) tell us.

But I digress.

Re: The Uses of the Q. I’m sorry. I apologise. I have exaggerated both the intensity with which we want to use the computer, and the associated protocol. We do not queue, as such. I went a little overboard, because in order to parade the badge of (partial/situated) knowledge, to lay claim to some right to write, I felt I must cite extreme feelings for the computer, that I must gesture towards addiction (see Ann Weinstone, “Welcome to the Pharmacy: Addiction, Transcendence and Virtual Reality”, diacritics, fall 1997). Of course, the Q also introduces a hint of domestic conflict into the picture— even, dare I say it—romantic/situational comedy. One man, one woman, one computer, one mouse, one cat…another story. I confess to playing the junkie card, mobilising the (to some) all too familiar scenario of the transcendental rush, the nightly habit of queuing in a dark corner, waiting to make a connection, scratching, itching to log on and get out of it. Intensity sells stories.

Outside the study, gazing into the glassy pool of the letter Q, I catch a glimpse of myself. At least it looks like me, and in this day and age that is enough. I sink into the curly embrace of the Q, wrap myself around myself, and take up my pen—a thin, black, felt-tipped pen. Most people, as they move inexorably towards middle age, develop a preference for one writing implement over another. They exercise their choice. Optimum Scriptive Technologies. Sitting there, alone, I write—Each adjective that qualifies this pen of mine—thin, black, etc—makes me think, My pen and me, we’re special. We are singular types with something singular to say. Just for fun I sign my name, over and over, reducing my irreducibility and singularity to pure iteration(!). And then I wake up and realise it is all nostalgia, that it is not me in the pool at all, and cross out what I have written. Unlike the screen and its blinking little cursor, the trace of what I have just un-wrote remains on the page. Interesting. Bored by waiting in the queue, I pick up an interview with Paul Auster. He has just sold some manuscripts to a Library. A man who specialises in mediating between Libraries seeking manuscripts and writers who might want to sell them, comes to visit Paul every day for several weeks, putting the drafts in order, checking that the words that have been crossed out can still be read, so that the future readers can see quite clearly where the writer has been even though he chose not to stay there. What a job, I think, not sure if I would want it or not. (“Excuse me Paul, is that a ‘t’ or a ‘b’ I’m seeing here? Is that ‘hat’ or ‘had’?”)

What happens to the idea of the manuscript now? Should we be worried, I ask a representative of the PDH? Ought we all to be saving and printing our drafts as we go, just in case that little man from the Library should one day call? Is this a paradigm shift? Is this the future? Is there money to be made in places we nearly went?

My emails are re-routed. The server is down. Or something like that.

Some say it all started with the typewriter. I believe the Heideggerians began this fingerpointing, but I am not sure. It was the typewriter that directed written language away from the body, the hand, away from the ME! ME! to the reproducible discretion of the SHE/HE, left to tap away peripatetically under artificial light, like neurotic battery hens. Around this time, some say, writing became a terrifying prospect. Kafka felt it, (and hence the letter K). Nietzsche felt it before him. Eventually all the big guys got it bad.

(I realised the other day that I wanted to buy a typewriter. ‘Why?’ was the incredulous response. Who ever thought we’d get nostalgic about typewriters? Remember the old IBM Golfball? The speedy Kthunk. Sigh.)

At last it is my turn. I sit down and study the illuminated square in front of me, thinking about all those monks who worked on the first letters of manuscripts. I think about solitude. About writing. About reading. Turning back the pages, I think about the time that it used to be just me, my book and my (moving left to right from age 7 to the present) banana, cold milk, chocolate, coffee, cigarette, chocolate, tea, chocolate, and finally, herbal tea. I have renounced the lot. But have I renounced the intimate relation of the body with reading, writing, and thinking? Am I finally, once and for all, a severed head? (Of course, all this giving up and renunciation are merely a rhetorical ploy, the flip side of my addiction-simulation above). My mother is worried. My eyes, RSI, radons, microns, veiled dangers emanating from behind the screen. Don’t worry, I tell her, reaching for a raw carrot. It gives me something to do with my hands. I hold the little mouse tight. I click. It is a voyage of sorts.

Textual islands rise up here and there, archipelagos of quotations, aphorisms, fragments, and we sail from one to the other, trying to connect the dots, to get something sweet to eat, to make love in the shade. That is what I am doing here and now; hopping from island to island, lily-pad to lily-pad, oasis to oasis, enclave to enclave. I am anachronistic, but what counts is, I am quick.

Istvan Csicsery-Ronay, “Notes on Mutopia” (Postmodern Culture 8:1 http://muse.jhu.edu.journals/post [expired]…but only if a university near you subscribes, I believe.)

I read on. “What matters now is not the straightness and purity of connection, but how many things something can be connected to.” Questions linger. Is the ideal world one in which everything is connected? Is this choice? Or the definition of paranoia? Remember the military-industrial-psycho-medico-multinational-corporate-arts-complex? Is this what we want? Is this what we are getting? Why are all the articles I read online from East Coast American Universities?

I keep my mouth shut while the battles are replayed on the listserv. The Prophets of Doom vs the Angels of Rapture. Mea culpa, I say, one hand on the mouse, the other on the cat, I am just a beginner. I feel like a sneak, a voyeur. I recognise in my inordinate fear of exposure the working of power.

I worry that the PDH has weakened their case, fetishised the footstep in the sand, instead of worrying a little bit more about whose boot was on whose foot. And what about this Hypertext Aesthetic? How come hypertext seems to be the realisation of every theoretical dream of poststructuralism, postmodernism, deconstruction, and now even post-colonialism (see Jaishree K. Odin, “The Edge of Difference: Negotiations between the Hypertextual and the Postcolonial”, Modern Fiction Studies Vol. 43, No. 3 Fall 98). How can it be democratic, reader-driven and avant-garde as well? Have I overlooked something?

Outside, the queue is getting longer. The crowd is getting restless. I look forward to your response and could you hurry, please. People are waiting.

Josephine Wilson

RealTime issue #26 Aug-Sept 1998 pg. 22

© Josephine Wilson; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net



http://www.temporalimage.com/beehive.index.html [expired]
Capital S style and capital C content, full of puns and buzzing with arcHives of fiction and critical theory, beeHive is a recent ezine aiming to “advance hypertext media”. The 2nd issue features Queen Bees and the Hum of the Hive, an analysis of subversive feminist hypertext, and The Red Spider and Razorburn, two short stories lacking bite and edge, about the banality of everyday life with your lover. Fiction this short (under 1200 words) can’t afford to be lifeless; every word has to count. Volume 1 includes Steven Shapiro’s theoretical fiction Doom Patrols, an anticlockwise patience game of wounds, flesh and Kathy Acker. To play you need a java capable browser.

gangway online mag has poetry, short stories and “experimental prose” from Australia and Austria with a sprinkle of Germany and Scotland. Useful if you’re multilingual, which I’m not, so I probably missed the best bits. I couldn’t find anything that resembled experiment in the latest issue but it may have been hiding in German. I was more attracted to the fiction that I couldn’t read—1 manuskript and Destruktion (followed by greek alpha thingamyjig which I can’t find in my insert symbol menu) sound more gripping than A Little Knowledge… or Requiem. A Lucky Dip. There’s duds—watch out for poems about waves in Bondi ALL IN CAPITAL LETTERS—but it only costs 25 cents and hopefully you’ll draw out Andrew Aitken:
Venus the Harlem tennis-babe smiled
at the interviewer on Sports Sunday.
‘My biggest weapon’s not
my serve, but Dad’s AK 47!’

253 or Tube Theatre. An internet novel set on the London underground. 7 carriages, 36 seats = 252 passengers plus one driver, hence the title. Number of words for each passenger = 253. The guy who created this site is either crazy or a Virgo. Every character on the journey is described: outward appearance, inward appearance, what they are doing/thinking. A ptg myself—public transport grrrl—I do this every day in my own imagination anyway. Meet Mr Donald Varda who is re-imagining the ending to An American Werewolf in London or Ms Sabrina Foster who advertises in the personal column as a black woman (she soon regrets it…because she isn’t one). Hypertext is used minimally but to good effect, co-workers linked, stories intertwined, the sense of order works well and sly humour, political barbs and intertextuality mean addiction for pop culture junkies. It’s also an inclusive project, an intermingling of cultures (you wouldn’t want a train carriage of Hansonites but then again…the train does crash in the end). Right behind, there’s another train coming, stalled, full of passengers just waiting for a persona…

RealTime issue #26 Aug-Sept 1998 pg. 21

© Kirsten Krauth; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

The fourth of the Australian Film Commission’s (almost) annual multimedia conferences, mounted in chilly Melbourne, was the cleverly phrased Being Connected—the Studio in the Networked Age, a label that managed to be interpreted through most of the 35 presentations in the assertive, hypothetical or simply descriptive senses.

The focus at the previous AFC conference, Multimedia Languages of Interactivity, had been on teamwork models from quite distinct production environments. The suggestion at Being Connected – the Studio in the Network Age, that producers were hyperlinking the production process was less convincingly projected. With so many more completed products and projects than earlier events to use for show and tell (multifarious websites being invaluable for this purpose), the tendency was to survey outcomes with little opportunity for formal interaction with the presenters, a shortcoming noted at previous events (seeking to amplify the interactive element within multimedia).

The notion of the integrated interactive production team, whilst not so strange to commercial producers, was less evidenced by the practitioners who composed the majority of the audience for this year’s event. Their informality was brought about, of course, by project-based budgets rather than the continuity experienced within the ‘virtual’ facility houses servicing Hollywood from London. Able to access extraordinary resources, it came as no surprise that whilst these companies were able to work in a wide-band virtual studio, the outcome seemed simply to improve their bottom line in relation to where they choose to live and work. Peter Webb’s demo reel of visual effects for Romeo+Juliet hypnotised us with so much digital manipulation and mentioned, almost in passing, the innovative ‘video fax’ ISDN network set-up linking Melbourne and the studio execs in LA.

John and Mark Lycette (‘The Lycette Bros’) described how they had collaborated using the humble email attachment back and forth between Melbourne and Vienna over a matter of hours to devise a prize-winning T-shirt design. Providing JPEG image attachments to ‘faceless’ clients in distant cities is now well practised—whiteboard websites to enable the clients to monitor a project’s progress via the web is standard.

“Technology changes at the speed of habits”, Clement Mok reassured us, as internet telesales boom in the USA. The corporate design guru and information architect suggested that we don’t need metaphors but relationships. “The net should improve the connections between families,” he said via the teleconference link from his Studio Archetype in the USA. (www.clementmok.com)

For the 3% of world-wide families who are able to link there is also Victoria Vesna’s recent investigations into how to build “a virtual community of people with no time”. OPS:MEME (Online Public Spaces: Multidisciplinary Explorations In Multiuser Environments) follows the celebrated Bodies Inc project and likewise delves deeply into online space. “The primary mechanism for facilitating this goal will be the design and implementation of the Information Personae (IPersonae), a combination search engine, personally generated and maintained database of retrievable multimedia links, tool kit for collaboratively manipulating information, and pre-programmed intelligent agent …” The project is in its initial stages anticipating forums such as Being Connected, but, given the kind of patents that may result, raises nonetheless the spectre of the virtual meritocracy.

One Tree, expat Australian Natalie Jeremijenko’s cloned trees for the San Francisco Bay Area, combines, in a meta-project metaphor, symbol and material presence, using a website that will record the life of each real tree, and a CD-ROM that will algorithmically reproduce a tree within a host computer. Here the geographical community and the community of interest are brought together by being connected with nature and into the biological virtual organism.

The AFC-funded ”enables good voice”, and will connect Indigenous people globally around land issues into a documentary form that, under the management of Jo Lane, will ‘live’ for the next two years. Writer and filmmaker Richard Frankland, a man from the Kilkurt Kilgar clan of the Gournditch-Mara nation in western Victoria, spoke eloquently about this opportunity for interaction to occur between all those who see the Land as the focus of our survival rather than our extinction, culturally “in many forms, not one generic form—generalisation is not an option.” (www.whoseland.com)

Hypermedia futures were intriguingly projected by the mercurial Andrew Pam, Technology Vice-President of Xanadu (Australia), the research group assembled by Ted Nelson, one of the definers of online media. As the world wide web begins to stretch at the seams under the incursion of non-standard mark-up and bundled browsers, Project Xanadu—as the ideological conscience of the World Wide Web Consortium—works to encourage standards whilst developing further enhancements and extensions of the phenomena: OSMIC, a versioning tool that will identify original sources; scalability standards to prevent fragmentation across different browsers; replacement of the URL with the URI (Identifier) such that a page can be located regardless of which server it sits on; and transpublishing, transcopyright and micropayments as a means of making media more freely available for minimal cost to the end user. (www.xanadu.com.au)

Hypertext achievements featured strongly. Katherine Phelps gave us a thorough “History of Digitally Based Storytelling”, 1960s to the present. Kathy Mueller, developing her work in interactive drama and game play (“the web will give us the opportunity of making better relationships.”) outlined a theoretical basis for online serials with which she is currently working. (www.glasswings.com.au/)

The more recently completed “…waiting for a stranger” is also the verbal metaphor for Perth writer Josephine Wilson’s “stumble from printed page to screen”, which in collaboration with Brisbane artist and writer Linda Carroli, was an online writing project hosted by ANAT, *water always writes in *plural. (http://va.com.au/ensemble)

Flightpaths: Writing Journeys, a meta-project involving CD-ROM, installation and radio was directed and described by berni m. janssen. Utilising the talents of many other writers who contributed via email from across the country to the process, a CD-ROM anthologised the outcomes.

Flightpaths was one of an impressive group of 13 recently completed CD-ROM projects which were exhibited in the conference foyer. Artists who spoke about their work included Michael Buckley. His The Good Cook integrated words and images as a poetic whole (the production was completed in Dublin town aftr’all), addressing the contemporary urban condition through the (hypermediated) loops and repetitions of the hopelessly insomniac cook. The city and its culture was explored by Sally Pryor in her multi-faceted CD-ROM Postcard from Tunis. Part travel diary and part language coach, Postcard … won the prestigious Gold Medal at the 97 NewMedia InVision Awards, and secured a French distributor.

Troy Innocent’s continuing adventures with artificial life systems delivers Iconica, which combines the multimedia capacity of the CD-ROM with the dynamic interconnectivity of the web, whereby the capacity of the software to evolve its Icons, Forms, Entities, Spaces and Language is extended through interaction with other evolving copies of the system loaded onto other computers also connected to the internet.

Such a metaphor (for the conference as a whole perhaps) produced a rare moment of humour as it became more difficult for the demonstrator to locate one of the ‘beings’ resident within Iconica: “No it’s not there…or there…ah there’s one, no it’s gone…” Observing artificial life, it seems, is to be as elusive and misleading as observing one’s neighbours through the curtains. Quite distinct from the observations made by the keynote speaker Darren Tofts on the issue of memory, the further we immerse ourselves in the networked world, the more technology is able to “remember it for you wholesale”, atrophying the oral tradition of knowing what you can recall. At this stage of the game, “are we ready for the evolutionary loss of the larynx?”

Australian Film Commission Conference, Being Connected: the Studio in the Networked Age, RMIT, Melbourne, July 9 – 11. Conference papers and artists’ and speakers’ URLs will be available for a limited time at: http://beingconnected.afc.gov.au/ [expired]

RealTime issue #26 Aug-Sept 1998 pg. 32

© Mike Leggett; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

What is subjectivity? That’s the issue. How does a physical, biological system like a human being come to have that personal, private but conscious experience of the world which is ultimately available only to oneself and expressible only through the most devious of means. Moreover, what is the self that is conscious of this experience?

These were the questions explored by the 800 or so people from many disciplines in philosophy, the social, biological and physical sciences, as well as computing applications and artificial intelligence, who came together for the Towards a Science of Consciousness III Conference. The range of contributions and possible answers run from complete denial of subjective experience through to the utterly mystical. Important new information about our neuro-biological processes and several new approaches to a quantum physical “mind field” explanation were presented but, ultimately, this edition of the biennial conference brought us no nearer to an explanation of conscious experience.

Great advances have been made in the biology of consciousness, or at least the biology of how we see and recognise objects, how we control our movements, how we interact with others and the emotional underlayer for everything we do. To mention just a few. A very good understanding of seeing, and how we interpret and recognise what we see, has been developed by Christof Koch (Germany/USA), built up from the work of many others. The neuronal processes employed for the detection of colour, edges and movement and the maintenance of object wholeness as we move (scan) our eyes across a scene are becoming well understood. The hierarchical relations of visual-feature-processing neural-assemblies in the cortex leads to concepts of how and where we recognise objects and people, how we separate out the information we need to physically grasp and manipulate an object, and most importantly, whence the visual information that we are conscious of derives.

Al Kazniak (USA) has elucidated much of the neural structures which mediate our emotional experience and the relations our desires and fears etc have to our behaviour. Our understanding of our social behaviour is also being shown to have neural basis. Vittorio Gallese (Italy) and colleagues have discovered in monkeys the visuo-motor “mirror” neurons by which they recognise and respond to the facial expressions of other monkeys. These neurons may serve as the basis for that recognition of the other, which forms the basis of communication and language.

Al Hobson (USA) has shown us a great deal about how dreaming enters our lives, what changes in the chemical modulation of our brains brings about sleep and dreaming and why dreams are so disjointed and bizarre. It’s proposed that dreams are what happens when, with the usual waking sensory input turned off, low-level bodily events and the day’s residuum within our emotional brain become input to the normal visual interpretation mechanisms without any of the regular awake control and discernment applied.

Bernard Baars and James Newman (USA) have mapped a highly suggestive description of the cognitive aspects of consciousness onto an architecture of control and processing assemblies operating between the cortical processing and lower brain attentional mechanisms. The cognitive description has become known as the global workspace. Its anatomical basis is in the inter-relational architecture of the cortex and the sensory relay station called the thalamus.

But all this biological knowledge does not resolve the issue of how it is that we have subjectivity. What is that intimate personal experience of the information flow through one’s brain that ‘I’, a ‘self’, experience? Is the biological process all that is going on, or is there some other thing occurring? This problem seems to arise from the fact that what I experience as first person process is so utterly different from the third person, physical description of the world. For example, what we report to each other about the ineffability of a glorious sunset simply hasn’t got the depth and intensity of the direct experience of that sunset. The green of the leaves may well match a Pantone colour chart but how can I tell you of its intensity when walking through a forest? (The nearest we seem to get is in the transmission of ideas through the range of the arts.)

And this is what is known as the “explanatory gap.” How can we explain the difference between my subjective experience of some phenomenon of the world and the physical explanation of that phenomenon, say in terms of wavelengths of light turning out to be some special colour. This was the major philosophical problem discussed at the conference. What is this explanatory gap? Is it real? And most importantly, if it is, how do we bridge it? This has become what David Chalmers (Australia/USA) describes as the “hard problem” for a science of consciousness. It is what produces some of the most outrageous proposals and makes the whole area so interesting. How do we get from one’s first person experience of something to the third person description of the experience? What gives the experience of a colour or a smell its intrinsic feel, its depth and intensity, its “qualia”? Given the neurobiological explanation of what is happening in my experience of a colour, why do I experience it at all?

Evidently, quantum physicists are having the most fun with these questions. As somebody noted during the conference, for every quantum physicist there is a different interpretation of the quantum physical world. Stuart Hameroff (USA) still holds to the idea that quantum collapse (the manifestation of a consciousness of something) occurs in the skeletal structure of the neural cell, and is still challenged to explain how this could occur in a system operating at biological temperatures. Fred Wolf asserts that there is a field of “mind” throughout the universe, that everything actually occurs within that field and that we simply tap into it for our dose of consciousness. This is the most theologically inclined suggestion and is perhaps the best hope for the mystical and transpersonal psychology types who speak of the ‘spirit’ being primary. But it still remains to ask how it is that any biological ‘I’ might have access to my personal part of this field?

The new quantum physics of information throws a fundamental spanner into the works for all sides of this argument because it introduces the notion of information itself, the differential relations between things, being even more fundamental than the particles discerned through the agency of those relations. This issue, and the detectability of the difference relations, is still being developed as a topic of consideration, though it has deep sources in the work of Kant and Bertrand Russell.

Transpersonal psychology and the mystical experience have the most to gain from the formulation of the explanatory gap and quantum physical explanation. Here the politics of the research start to become evident. Is the neurobiological work all that is necessary or is there something more that should be funded? For my part I think that the explanatory gap is actually a result of the struggle between theology and mechanistic explanation as clearly shown in the work of the 17th century philosopher Rene Descartes. If he hadn’t needed to show himself to be a being possessed of a soul as well as a ‘mechanical’ body then this subsequent confusion need not have arisen. Experience could have been shown for what it surely is: being inside the body’s processing of the informational product of the world, rather than the dualistic interpretation; namely, there is the physical and there is something else, which we find inexplicable.

Disappointingly, the possibilities inherent in the organised-systems nature of neurobiology and the possibilities of artificial intelligence as available through neural networks were left almost completely uncanvassed. As a result I think that the opportunities for a useful understanding of how a physical body produces consciousness were missed.

The problem boils down to this question: Does consciousness require a field of some sort to exist within? Or is the functioning of the biology enough to produce the qualia and subjective experience that defines consciousness? The quantum physicists and the mysterians all assure us that a “field” of some sort is necessary and those neurobiologists and cognitive psychologists who choose to deal with the notion of the qualia of experience suppose that the functioning of the brain is all that one needs. The purpose of most of the philosophers in the debate is to point up this issue: How do you explain the subjective feel/quality of our first person experience of the world. (Ignoring, for the present, the issue of what exactly the world is anyway?)

Towards a Science of Consciousness III Conference, University of Arizona, Tucson, April 27 – May 2

RealTime issue #26 Aug-Sept 1998 pg. 33

© Stephen Jones; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

It was the kid who showed us how it works.

The project—'exhibition’ is too inertly flat—is launched by Kevin Murray. He gives a long, slow and apposite speech, Murrayisms marching neatly out in squadrons of analytical metaphors that line up and do smart manoeuvres on the conceptual, discursive and cultural fields territorialised by A CONCEIT. He talks (off, through and around the exhibition program) about mapping, about ideas of, and, as space. Inevitably he retells that old Borges story of the one-to-one map, the positivist fantasy of the model meeting its referent in an exact fit.

Meanwhile there’s this kid (oh I don’t know…about nine, Enid Blyton-blond, blue sly-eyed, jerky and restless) standing at the kiosk computer in the centre of the (attentive) audience. Unlike the previous well-behaved gallery-goers who’d clicked halfheartedly (next page please) or left the mouse primly alone, the kid discovers a geometric game hidden in the overlapping spinning spheres onscreen, drag’n’dropping this on that and that on them till an exact fit begins another scenario.

Murray continues to summarise what we’ve already worked out: that the invocation of the literary version of ‘conceit’ as per the Metaphysical Poets (Donne et al)—as a deceptive, ingenious and elaborate fusion of disparate and surprising elements—itself models the way the project moves from map to model to choreography to synaesthesia. And back again, providing either a send-up or escape-clause for the empty sloganeering and abstract-art-y pronouncements.

Meanwhile the kid examines the documents, captions and other orientation figures taped to the gallery floor. He does a bad-busker mime of arm-pumping Ready? Set? Go! and skitters from one floor-marking to the next, inscribing as Timezone vectors the designs Murray is describing as Arthur Murray dance-steps.

Murray gestures at some of the stockpile of mapping devices we’ve already collected on our way through the exhibits: keys, symbols, lists, dot-points, typologies, numberings, pointers, drawings, equations, stylised representations, icons, ant tracks, axes, directional arrows, blueprints, movement vectors, flowchart lines, procedural manuals, tables, calibration marks, schematic charts, constructible (think Chemistry-class to-scale model) movable assemblages, captions, titles, instrument arrays, bricolage whiteboards. This is one project where the thematic metaphor providing a coherent model and cohesive microcosm is, precisely, that of models and microcosms, so the collaboration is more than five artists working with roughly commensurate rubrics. In a nice extrapolation of the working principle, it’s difficult to know who—from John Lycette, Greg O’Connor, Darren Tofts, Christopher Waller and Peter Webb—had done what or worked with which bits…until or unless you sifted through the website afterwards. The launch resonates with an anxiety of provenance and of navigation: should one watch multimedia as slide-show; does that do anything; ought we be touching that; am I stepping on an exhibit?

Meanwhile the kid fiddles with anything that moves and immerses himself in whatever doesn’t, bouncing from one item to another in a Chinese-checkers or string-art geometry until he’s seen the sites, covered the territory and can safely be bored.

A CONCEIT worked on mapping the exhibition time-space in three dimensions. There’s the planar (print program), with its ironising of the comprehensive modular diagram as coded index or algebraic commentary or interpretive key. There’s the sited (gallery installation), with its playful proliferation of topographic ideas, objects, stories, readings, sonics, nodes, connections and breakdowns using computer screen, video, slides, models, mounted displays, documentation and all available surfaces. And then there’s the virtual (onscreen), framed by kiosk or pulled-out down the modem line, with its (false) promise of precisely-articulated 3D working model and its sleights-of-interactivity offering uncontextualised tourist circumnavigations of static excerpts. It was effective work, despite some inflatable baroque vaguenesses (‘songlines’? lite-Todorov ‘morphology of a grammar’? ‘This is a place for the intellectually amplified’?) that may also be called hyperbolic conceits, and a frustrating hesitancy (refusal?) to use the usual convergent places (program, website) to disarticulate diverse modelling practices that are not reducible to each other except via the abstraction, simplification and regularisation of Doing-A-Diagram ™. Which may be the archetypal gallery experience.

The launch simulated all three dimensions at once. Given this, I’d have thought further reflexivity was a natural extension: a working back to gallery praxis (eg what’s a curator, and do they decide on the map’s borders?) and to exhibition constituencies (how are we the users/readers/audience placed and routed and corralled?) via the project.

The 4th dimension, that of interactive working through, was generously modelled by the blond mischievous boy: less official map than quick sketch, less hermeneutic than heuristic. Better, he demonstrated how to play with the work(s).

A CONCEIT, a collaborative mapping in 3 spaces, curator Christopher Waller, artists and authors: John Lycette, Greg O’Connor, Darren Tofts, Christopher Waller, Peter Webb, RMIT Project Space, Melbourne, June 2 – 9

RealTime issue #26 Aug-Sept 1998 pg. 34

© Dean Kiley; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Justine Cooper, Rapt

Justine Cooper, Rapt

“What, however, I would ask, are the forces by which the hand or the body was fashioned into its shape? The woodcarver will perhaps say, by the axe or the auger; the physiologist, by air and by earth. Of these two answers the artificer’s is better, but it is nevertheless insufficient.” Aristotle, On the parts of animals

“I wanted to take it somewhere else…create a wandering footnote to the Visible Human Project…and something else again.” Justine Cooper took her own very live body through an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Imaging) scanner and came out with the makings for what I could only describe as an un-hinged, immortal body clock.

Turn on the animated section of Rapt and watch it tick over…build, unbuild…and build again. Each time it re-assembles through a different axis and with different body parts; a body bag of bits and bytes, programmed to construct, destruct and reconstruct in unnatural patterns of growth and decay.

Six hundred image files were generated through the scanning software. Cooper went to work on them, outputting living/dead body slices into two formats for presentation. The high-end process consists of a rendering of volume elements into a series of black and white 3D animations.

The second—low-tech—output form for this work consists of a curtain wall of individually sliced film images compiled into what seems at first a static installation. Readings of the work vary with the degrees of transparency and opacity offered by the film material, as well as the viewer’s perspective—side on, front-on etc—on these quietly complex compilations of the total body.

On viewing the animated section, the spectator is ushered from masterful exterior views of this one squirming computer-made body to unanchored fly-throughs of tissue, bone, sinew and strange body cavities. For a moment an eye-ball rush through the white haze of solid bone structure triggers a brief and beautiful association with moisture-bearing storm clouds.

Cooper remarks, “The movement of the body would be impossible in ‘natural space’ but in this fractured space-time the body spontaneously produces itself—in faithful anatomy—and in contortion. Time appears to dematerialise the body and then reconstitute it, hardly the normal cycle of decay. If entropy gives time a direction, time becomes circular in this case, not linear.”

Some questions, however, remain unanswered: In what other ways could the raw body data be incorporated into objects/events that make art while acknowledging a debt to the technologies and output forms of ‘unlovely’, meaningful medicine? Cooper’s choice of output and process solves much of the mystery.

The combination of projected 3D animation and vertebral curtain of inanimate photograms into a single bifurcated space, mixes pictorial models, reproductive technologies—disturbing the continuity of ‘beautiful outlooks’ upon a digital landscape. While the animation may be viewed with detached mastery, the ice-block of body slice-pics effects a psychological dislocation between whirling ‘auratised’ digital finish and cool, opaque originary data.

In Rapt, Cooper gives medical imaging back to the patient. The advanced science of healing (it gets smarter and smarter—we still die for pathetic reasons) is converted into a ‘plain language’ piece of art. It’s a science show and a side show at the same time.

The work does not stand out in the field of progressive digital art. It draws back, bearing the scars, “the traces of the conceptual determination of the forms proposed by the new [medical] techne” (Jean-François Lyotard, The Inhuman: reflections on time, Stanford University Press, 1991). It also falls into some shadowy space between digital optimism and photographic nostalgia.

Shuffle a stack of X-rays and CAT scans from a personal medical misadventure. Fold them into the time-warp between future professional diagnosis and the lay person’s dumb fascination with celluloid souvenirs of bodily catastrophe. You’ve just entered into the spirit of Rapt.

Justine Cooper, Rapt, installed at Sydney College of the Arts, March; video component screened in D.Art, dLux media arts’ annual showcase of experimental digital film, digital video and computer animation art, 45th Sydney Film Festival, June 5 – 19 and touring nationally, including MAAP, Brisbane.

RealTime issue #26 Aug-Sept 1998 pg. 27

© Colin Hood; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

A series of recent articles in the Higher Education Supplement of The Australian have once again raised the problem of skilling in Communications and Media, and its status in an academic context. Behind the ‘boom’ rhetoric surrounding the growth of Communications and Media in this country, and despite at least 20 years of debate about theory and practice, what we can call ‘the skilling problem’ calls for attention as insistently as ever—especially in the area of digital media.

By way of definition, the skilling problem has to do with instilling competency in students, in particular ‘media’ and ‘communications’ skills, however they may be defined.The definition of skills is a central issue. As a media educator, for example, a key aspect of my job is troubleshooting. This involves working in computer labs with minimal technical assistance, surrounded by students working at different ‘speeds’.

If things are going well, students are undemanding. If the technology is playing up, I can expect numerous calls for help. With tricky problems, ‘help’ involves assuming control of the computer, and rectifying the situation as soon as possible. At this point, the student usually steps back from the machine, or has a break. Recently, however, my assumptions about this scene were challenged when a student commented, “That looks like a really useful skill.” While troubleshooting is part of my own stock of tools as a teacher, crucial to assisting students, I had not considered using these moments to bring troubleshooting into the curriculum.

Anxiety about the skilling problem raises important questions about the definition of skilling, and the links between Communications, other areas of arts practice, and Humanities thinking. Particular modes of skilling can place these links in jeopardy, especially through segmentation of the production process. There is a tendency to think about skilling in Communications as an activity with its own unique set of procedures, concepts and truths, following its own industrial imperative, and with few links to other media or arts contexts. This tendency can in turn feed into an idea of Communications as something that stands detached from other kinds of artistic, technical and theoretical practice.

There are perhaps traces of this phenomenon in the name change of the Sydney Intermedia Network to dLux media/arts. One of the arguments supplied for the change was that developments in communications had given ‘network’ a different meaning (eg a mobile phone network). The assertion of media/arts in the new name can be read as a gesture against a particular image of communications. Similarly, as a Humanities academic it is worrying to watch Communications become detached from the (media) arts, or the Humanities, and connected instead to, say, electronic commerce, or information systems.

Yet, what if one of the causes of this detachment was the skilling problem, and its baggage? What if skilling happened differently? The experience of helping establish a Communications degree at the University of Western Sydney (Hawkesbury) caused me to question the development of Communications, and the parameters laid down for training in that area.

Disciplinarity, transdisciplinarity and ‘non-academic’ disciplines

Rather than succumb to the education-industry dichotomy—the struggle between ‘professional training and critical studies’ that typifies many Communications programs—it is possible to displace these dualities by examining the disciplining effects of institutions (including our own), industry, and the professions. According to this view, ‘the industry’ is a gathering of disciplines, formed in a broader disciplinary field, that should be approached in the spirit of transdisciplinarity. A practical example of this approach relates to what are sometimes known as ‘production subjects’: the problem of how to situate video and multimedia subjects in relation to one another is not simply a problem of connecting two practical areas, but of recognising the disciplinarity of these areas, and of negotiating their passage through the academic domain.

The question of the disciplinary status of traditionally ‘non-academic’ media production subjects is often elided in the university, particularly when coupled to notions of training for industry. It is one thing to construct inter-disciplinarity in the academic domain, but how does inter-disciplinarity apply to a traditionally ‘non-academic’ discipline like video? Production subjects represent an existing and long term disciplinary problem internal to many Communications programs, usually expressed in terms of a chasm between ‘production’ and ‘analysis’ (eg the divide between media production and screen studies).

But clearly what we’ve designated as non-academic disciplines can be rigorous in an academic sense. Production subjects can, in liaison with others, trace a complex interaction between audio-visual literacy, practice, the digital, genre, words and bodies, in a theoretically informed way. Production subjects need not be about setting up video and multimedia as discrete domains, but exploring the in-between of these disciplines. Two subjects I have been involved with are worth mentioning here.

A subject such as Multimedia Communication can become a lens through which the ambitions of multimedia can be examined, as well as a vehicle for questioning different models of communication. A subject like Transdisciplinary Video can take up the problem of disciplinarity by questioning video as an essential entity, and instead seeing it as being marked by and within a range of other disciplines (Broadcasting, Cinema, Sound, the Digital, Painting). Both subjects, along with others, can collaborate in an extended conception of multi-and mixed media communication that disturbs the conventional segregations between different media. This approach would go beyond the usual deterministic exploration of the ‘impact’ of technological change, or ‘digital media’.

I would suggest that accepted categories such as the ‘capital M Media’ are themselves part of the problem. New practices have brought into question the way in which the category ‘Media’ gathers together a field and flattens out a diverse ensemble of practices. Today, we can no longer be certain about what we mean by media even if increased reporting of the media by the media masks this uncertainty to some extent.

Non-linear digital editing provides an example of the ambiguity of media. In the Media 100 digital editing system, media relates to the partitioning of the supplementary hard drives necessary to deal with large video files. (Thus a 17 gigabyte drive is partitioned into 4 x 4 GB media plus one other.) This is very different from conventional understandings of media as a channel, and marks an interpenetration of artistic and technical ideas.

This use of media gives rise to new understandings of the term. Media is referred to as a block, in a broader process of construction. In a different sense, media is seen as a material you work with (or allocate) to achieve an effect.

The tendency to use the plural form ‘media’ to designate a singularity emerges, in my view, out of a digital understanding of forms, where digital files can be articulated in a range of formats for presentation.There is sense in this use of the plural, in that it highlights the way media is being redefined as a multiplicity. But this conception runs at odds to capital M media, with its relation to a homogenising mass. This makes the conventional understanding of media problematic in ways that strike at the core of Media Studies.

Philosophy/conceptual practice

Implicit in the idea that traditionally non-academic disciplines can be accommodated within interdisciplinarity is an affirmation of different forms of conceptual practice—that is, an acknowledgement of diversity on the level of conceptual practice.

What is referred to as ‘transdisciplinarity’ has to do with the interaction and interference between different disciplines and conceptual practices. It is worth elaborating on this idea of conceptual practice in more depth. In Deleuze and Guattari’s What is Philosophy? (Columbia University Press, 1994), philosophy is defined as the creation of concepts. In Deleuze’s Cinema 2 (University of Minnesota Press, 1989), theory is something that is made. It “is itself a practice, just as much as its object”, and so cannot be assumed to be “pre-existent, ready-made in a prefabricated sky.”

Deleuze and Guattari grant philosophy an exclusive right to concept creation. Nevertheless, as Paul Patton argues in an article in the Oxford Literary Review (18:1-2, 1996), this does not mean that it is metaphysically pre-eminent or epistemologically privileged in regards to other activities—Art, Science, Cinema. For example, in relation to the cinema, Deleuze suggests that while the practice of cinema has to do with images and signs, the elaboration and articulation of that practice by filmmakers and critics involves a theoretical work—a conceptual work specific to cinema. While this practice may not be philosophy, it is without question a conceptual practice.

A valuable aspect of Deleuze’s writing on the cinema is the way he defines the significance of this conceptual practice for philosophy. “So there is always a time, a midday-midnight, when we must no longer ask ourselves, ‘what is cinema?’, but ‘what is philosophy?’” Deleuze’s work enables a questioning of philosophy’s ownership of conceptual practice.

As Patton points out, the creation of concepts does not simply mean the creation of novel or new concepts. It also means the creation of untimely concepts, acting against our time, or acting on our time. Transposed into the space of Communications, the notion of conceptual practice allows us to interfere in the way Communications imagines itself as a discipline of ideas. Deleuze and Guattari themselves take up the abuse of “the idea” by “the disciplines of communication.”

More specifically in the media arts, their approach facilitates a questioning of the status of conceptual work in the production of programs and works. Most media handbooks provide an extremely circumscribed account of the role of ideas in the production process. Following a ‘25 words or less’ model, ideas are subjugated to a brief phase in the pre-production stage of a project. “You should be able to write the main concept down in a few sentences, sometimes in just one.” (Mollison, Producing Videos, Allen and Unwin, 1997)

In a context in which a mentality of manufacture has marginalised the concept and ideas—even while bemoaning their absence—the notion of conceptual practice provides tools with which to contest our definitions of production, composition and assembly. In particular, it can help in questioning the usual segmentation of conception and execution typical of manufacture, and now entrenched in our ‘normal’ modes of media skilling.

RealTime issue #26 Aug-Sept 1998 pg. 13

© Steven Maras; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Michael Schumacher and Vitor Garcia in Proxy

Michael Schumacher and Vitor Garcia in Proxy

To launch his 12 month residency at The Royal Festival Hall with a bang, British choreographer Jonathon Burrows curated an evening of international contemporary dance extravagance. The foyer of the Queen Elizabeth Hall was all a-buzz as what seemed to be London’s entire dance-world twittered and tingled in anticipation of the rare delights of this one-off event. Screens showing videos by Peter Newman hung over the packed auditorium, creating a backdrop of party-night animation and punctuating the pauses with inspiring sky-diving, flame-throwing visuals.

Burrows had worked his connections with the Ballett Frankfurt to bring together choreographers sharing his preoccupations with time, structure and physical detail. A booklet of conversations held with each of his guests illustrated the braininess behind this dance. Best read after the performances, it foregrounded many of the thematic similarities of approach made so richly manifest on stage.

Americans Meg Stuart and Amanda Miller performed their own work, William Forsythe showed a duet made in collaboration with Dana Caspersen of his Ballett Frankfurt, and prodigal son Michael Clark was back with a sneak preview of his new work. Paul Selwyn Norton, going soon to Melbourne to choreograph for Chunky Move, opened the event with a duet for two extraordinary dancers from the Ballett, the expert improviser Michael Schumacher and Vitor Garcia.

Selwyn Norton’s Proxy was the longest work of the night at 20 minutes and as such ignored the less is more dictum. While Selwyn Norton delights in the incredible range of expression of his virtuoso dancers, allowing them quirky and elaborate articulations, he distractingly overwhelms these revelations with an unnecessarily generous embrace of theatricality. Strange props, such as the enigmatic rubber mats which littered the stage, and tomfoolery with a mike-stand cluttered the fascinating exchanges between Garcia and Shumacher. The recorded sound-track (Gavin Bryars’ A Man in a Room Gambling), a fictional radio crash-course for card-sharps, said it all; “Pay attention to the moves”, lilted the seductive Latino announcer, “because they are so simple that they need some audacity in order to be performed.” Shame then that Selwyn Norton didn’t give them more space.

Meg Stuart’s solo, XXX for Arlene Croce and Colleagues, was the palate cleanser required after Proxy. On a bare stage she danced her ironic response to the New Yorker critic’s now famous description of Bill T Jones’ AIDS related work Still Here as “victim art.” Infused with human strength and frailty her contortions were both beautiful and abased. To Gainsbourg’s Je t’aime moi non plus, her scrunched up face, jutty hips and stiff sides were bountifully defiant. Ten minutes and she had said it all. The pause hummed with approval.

And catty expectation, because bad-boy Clark was next on, with a glimpse of his first full stage work for 4 years. Dancing with Kate Coyne to a breathtakingly anarchic score by Mark E Smith of The Fall, Clark was in characteristically provocative form. Blinding his straining audience with 6 full spotlights at 12 o’clock the duet was barely visible. While the bitches later sniped that he was hiding, it was fair to say that Clark certainly wasn’t making his new work easy to see. “Welcome to the home of the vain” intoned Smith in his laconically spiteful drawl, and Clark collapsed again from point to splay in a decadent and downright ugly drop. You’ve got to love him…or loathe him.

Amanda Miller’s Paralimpomena translates literally as “leftovers” and her solo comprised “fragments from earlier group works that I felt didn’t get communicated.” Miller flowed around a dark stage like a spirit, ghostily unmuscular amidst the exertions of the evening. Perhaps that was why her whimsical work seemed so brutally dismissed by Forsythe and Caspersen’s show-stealing duet, The The for Jone San Martin and Christine Burkle.

Expert interpreters of Forsythe’s angry physical intensity, these peculiar twins knotted themselves together across the floor, in a seated version of a tantrum which surged through their bodies producing the most extraordinarily exciting shapes. A recorded voice read out time to remind us that there were intellectual battles raging too. As an extract from the full-length 6 Counterpoints, this duet is a thrilling introduction to a world of intellectual and physical rigour. As the end to an evening of vivid provocations it was a perfectly abrupt and unsatisfactory end.

Kick-starting a year of commissions and collaborations with an adrenalin shot of creativity, this event left the audience even more full of questions and opinions than when they arrived.

As it is—Choreographer’s Choice, curated by Jonathon Burrows at The Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, Paul Selwyn Norton making Proxy for Michael Schumacher and Vitor Garcia, Meg Stuart making a solo, xxx for Arlene Croce and Colleagues, on herself; untitled work by Michael Clark for himself and Kate Coyne; Parlimpomena by Amanda Miller for herself and Seth Tillet; The The by William Forsythe and Dana Caspersen for Jone San Martin and Christine Burkle; video installation by Peter Newman, July 9

RealTime issue #26 Aug-Sept 1998 pg. 45

© Sophie Hansen; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Lisa O’Neill and Christie Johnston in All Tomorrow’s Parties 1 and 2

Lisa O’Neill and Christie Johnston in All Tomorrow’s Parties 1 and 2

Lisa O’Neill and Christie Johnston in All Tomorrow’s Parties 1 and 2

With very little financial support, each year Lesbian and Gay Pride presents a festival that speaks to the diverse queer communities of Brisbane. With this in mind, Cab/Sav, a season of short works, followed a cabaret format with performances ranging from the highly physical to the intensely vocal. What to some punters seemed surprisingly lacking in “queer content” was a reflection, I suggest, of the evolution and maturation of queer performance in Brisbane resulting from the combined performance histories of such collectives as Pride, Cherry Herring and the now defunct Crab Room.

The latter two collectives have fostered the continued development of many of the movement-based performers in Cab/Sav. The evening opened with Caroline Dunphy’s flippant flight attendant, complete with flashing semaphore wrist bands. The frivolity of her piece Transonic—a monologue in few words was the exception in an evening of somewhat sombre pieces.

Christina Koch’s Giant’s Hopscotch Party, was an innocently executed dance of death which showed the macabre joy of a giant crushing ‘the little people’ with various Suzuki influenced walks and stomps. Although the piece lost focus towards the end as the movement became smaller and more intimate, it was one of the few performances I have seen where heightened Suzuki movements actually drove the narrative.

A strong physical presence continued with Brian Lucas’ take on war, religion, politics and Patsy Cline in psycho/the/rapist #3—joan of arc. In his simple adjustment of a skirt, Lucas transformed from a hooded, softly spoken, petite Joan of Arc into a towering queen dancing to Patsy Cline. His repetitive use of movement, recorded and spoken text and music created several personae though the connections between them were not always clear. Several images from John Utans and Jason Wollington’s performance remained long after their piece ended, particularly the chalk outline of one of their bodies traced after an intense contact improvisation. Unfortunately, the physical subtleties were often combined with slides of heavy-handed text.

A complete departure from the physical was Shugafix, a selection of songs sung and melodramatically gestured by Lucinda Shaw accompanied beautifully on cello by David Sells. Technical difficulties made the lyrics almost impossible to understand and as the audience were quite adept at reading bodies by this stage of the evening, this still and self-absorbed performance seemed rather incongruous. Mark McInnes, however, managed to successfully traverse my physical expectations of the night in his understated Four Songs. McInnes’ exquisite command of both French (La Vie en Rose) and German (Falling in Love Again), his soft camp introductory patter and his confidence in his own stillness created the intimate cabaret atmosphere promised in the production’s title.

By far the highlight of the evening and the crucial performances that both linked and questioned the separation of the voice from the body was the combination of one of Brisbane’s most talented experimental vocalists (Christine Johnston) with one of our most inspiring physical performers (Lisa O’Neill). In All Tomorrows Parties 1 and 2, Johnston used such diverse musical influences as the humble Hammond organ, Velvet Underground, Bach and the theme from the film Orlando to contrast with O’Neill’s tap-dancing, Suzuki-stomping and sassy dancing. The dead-pan expressions, dry humour and occasional stealing of looks from one another created a sense of two aesthetically similar performers desiring each other’s inherently different forms of expression. Throughout both pieces, we gradually saw each performer attempt the other’s skill, from O’Neill hesitantly joining Johnston on the organ to Johnston’s slow walking exit from the space. The final image of the night gave the impression that the physical and the musical can successfully embrace each other with O’Neill’s sudden possession of the Flying V guitar.

Overall, Cab/Sav may have benefited from a curator or an outside eye. It seemed that the event was drawing on a cabaret format, however, the relatively serious ‘theatre’ atmosphere and absence of alcohol at Metro Arts created an environment where the audience were less able to relax. As a season of short works, Cab/Sav continued local queer performers’ exploration of conceptually mature vocal and physical vignettes which would give its Sydney counterpart, cLUB bENT, a run for its money.

Cab/Sav, Lesbian and Gay Pride Festival, Metro Arts Theatre, June 17 – 20

RealTime issue #26 Aug-Sept 1998 pg. 43

© Stacey Callaghan; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

In dance, some people are beginning to talk about studio practice as if it might be different from other kinds of dance practice. And yet it’s self-evident that any dance artist would have a studio practice: that is, something that they do in a studio, some repeated, habitual exercise, or action as opposed to theory, that is part of their performance-making. But there are several ideas about studio practice which need stressing, if only to assist in separating out some kinds of work from others, and to emphasise their differences rather than similarities, if dance practice is not to be imagined as an homogenous enterprise with a uniform, singular focus or ideal.

Picture two idealised scenarios: a studio, permanently occupied by several dance practitioners who are there for several hours a day, most days, often by themselves, or playing and talking with each other, pulling old ideas apart, finding out what still interests them, rejecting some material, expanding other movement ideas, finding new ones, showing them to each other and guests, feeling out each other’s ideas.

Another scenario: an hour long, highly organised practice session following immediately after a specifically designed technique class, fitted tightly into a schedule of other back-to-back rehearsals; dancers move quickly from one choreographer to another, one dance to another. Each work might be allocated 4 or so hours a week rehearsal time, during preparation for public performance. Choreographers in this case need to know almost exactly what they want to happen in that hour; each move is described by referring to the dancers more or less common vocabularies, with small changes, different inflections here and there, a rearrangement of what is already known. Working at this speed could not be managed if each move had to be investigated first.

The first scenario adumbrates a particular notion of research, something physically-based, on-going, and different from academic or theoretical research. Here it refers to careful inquiry and critical investigation of the body, looks into meanings of action and senses of aesthetics alive and developing in a person’s body. The notion of research in the area of company-based or even independent dance, is often applied to those more or less imaginative re-arrangements of off-the-shelf steps. While this might extend known theatrical tradition, it may not necessarily challenge the wider body of dance as an artform distinct from that theatrical tradition.

Dancers in the first scenario seem to be concerned more with developing ways of working, a body of work which is fundamentally related to the actual bodies of those artists who create it, so that its performance can be engaged with on many levels; it is not a finished product, something fixed and closed, which can stand by itself apart from the artists who create it.

The idea here is one about difference: about a person dancing, whose dance is about his or her own body, whether in performance or rehearsal; or a person who is trying to be something or someone different from their ordinary selves in performance, even if they’re simply trying to be a dancer. There seem to be two quite different performers here, and an almost unbridgeable gap between them.

It takes time for students and other dancers to become aware that what they assume to be their own practice is really based on their relationship to someone else’s class technique. For pioneers like Martha Graham, the purpose of technique class was simply to help her dancers better perform her choreography, so it was firstly a choreographic tool, rather than the pseudo-religious dogma it later became. Similarly, with ballet techniques, the kind of presentation of the body and the steps by which this is accomplished form the basis of the 19th and 20th century classics. For dancers to begin to develop their practice past that kind of externally imposed discipline requires effort, insight and a will to investigate the nature of practice itself, something not as easily accomplished within the second scenario.

How might these differences manifest themselves in performance? Decades ago in Australia, theatre and dance practitioners were seeking to expand audience awareness of what theatre practice might encompass. For many years, audiences have been invited to participate in informal studio showings; we have also had performances in the round, and in site-specific, non-theatrical venues, open rehearsals, works in progress, and the like.

But it seems to me that in dance—maybe not so much in theatre—these events often have been thought of, perhaps unconsciously, as mere practice for some other more important main event—the proscenium arch performance, or something that approaches this. And so, without acknowledgment or even realisation, the work performed in these venues has been made with these grand public front-on venues in mind.

Proscenium stages are perforce also about concealment: blocking views of the performers that distract the audience from a required focus, from much of what goes on, or might go on, both on and off stage. What is shown at these events is an entirely public version of social life, a view of cultural mores and myths to which we might safely claim allegiance and derive identity.

On the other hand, in a studio space, performances occur in what can be thought of as a much more private space, inhabited as if by guests rather than an unknown public. Performances here have the aura of intimacy and invitation. This kind of space seeks to remove the one pointed, single focused, frontal view that proscenium arch stages create. By removing the formality of wings, frame and curtain, we are less subject to its frontal perspective, and have the possibility of analysing what was previously hidden. The relationship between what is hidden and what is visible becomes fluid and subject to the audiences’ discrimination. Preparation, awareness, hesitation, concentration, focus, small shifts of weight and intent all become part of the work performed.

This intimate view needn’t be relegated to the less important view. Dancers can be seen as people, peculiarly physical animals—albeit of a highly attuned and not so ordinary variety—but less other-worldly and fantasy-laden than the ones we have been asked to see previously on stage. It allows for a much more interesting view, more personal, complex, immediate, and multi-layered, which is often more accessible just because we are invited to see real human action, and to make sense of what is before us in the same way as we might regard any person’s behaviour, without needing to resort to a limited and therefore largely imaginary experience of what dancing means. The material can be open-ended, and there is room for an audience to engage with different aspects of what is happening rather than be presented a fait accompli, some singular vision, some crystallised image to swallow. In studio performance, the dancer becomes the main event.

Not only are these different kinds of perspectives possible with proscenium and studio performances, but they are also unavoidable. And I am reminded of many events where problematic spaces caused the fluidity between hidden and revealed action to be misplaced and worked against the better intentions of the creator.

For example, Angels Margarit choreographed Hilton 1109, performing it at the 1996 Adelaide Festival, for a tiny audience of 10 whom she invited into her hotel room. We saw what I interpreted as the confined ennui of a dancer on tour. But I wondered how she could have overlooked the subtext in such a loaded and codified vocabulary. Even in such an intimate setting she became a character, other than herself, as if she was using the stylised dance to protect herself from the intimate scrutiny she had actually invited. Her character appeared bland and stereotyped, without the subtle revelation of real personality.

Many of the dance performers at Sydney’s Newtown Theatre (such as those in annual Bodies seasons) have been required to ignore the potential open space available—and doubtless almost anyone would find that particular grand and cavernous auditorium challenging, and the ensuing vulnerability discomforting—and to confine their work behind what seems like an absurdly small but purpose-built proscenium stage. But when many of the works are in progress, or of an informal nature, or the ideas are in an embryonic form and need a wider, more fluid focus, the tiny but distant vista one is finally allowed shows something which can appear brittle, or incomplete, even careless, rather than something full of possibility and in the process of evolution.

There will continue to be performances which mistakenly underestimate an audience’s capacity to appreciate and engage with dances of immediacy, layered detail and open-ended ideas. And if those people are not to be continually disappointed with what they see, then more artists need to recognise where their own agendas lie, whether their focus is secretly fixed on the Opera House or the Seymour Centre, or really does require less formal venues, so that the studio space is not used merely as a practice venue for them, but can function autonomously alongside them.

Parts of this article were delivered in the MAP Symposium on dance, The Malthouse, Melbourne, July 25 – 26. Articles in response to the dance program and panel sessions will appear on the RealTime website (mid-August) and in RealTime 27 (October-November).

RealTime issue #26 Aug-Sept 1998 pg. 44

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

Existing beyond the visible spectrum, ultraviolet light is a useful analogy for the positioning of experimental short video and electronic media works in relation to mainstream film cultures—particularly work with a queer bent. The marginal existence of much of this work means that it is dependent for exhibition on the somewhat restricted screening possibilities of specialist film and queer festivals and this, in turn, highlights the importance of cultural institution collection and acquisition policies for long-term survival. Hot on the heels of Brisbane’s month-long Pride Festival, Ultraviolet, a selection of 11 short video works and a CD-ROM from the Griffith University Art Collection, screened to a full-house at the State Library of Queensland. Curated by Edwina Bartleme, the program explored intersections between formal innovation and alternative representations of gendered sexualities.

Engaged (1994), by Paul Andrew, explores the world of cottaging, beats and anonymous sex. Counterpointing tightly framed colour mid-shots of numerous men (refreshingly diverse in class, age, beauty, ethnicity and masculinity) with fast-motion, grainy black and white footage of graffiti in public conveniences, the film foregrounds the dichotomy of public/private and the way it manifests differently for men and women. White (1996), by Francesca da Rimini and Josephine Starrs, maps connections between madness, lesbianism and the dominant culture through women’s experiences of psychiatric wards. The use of predominantly white stills (of clinical interiors and bandaged body parts in close-up) constructs a sense of deep-seated alienation and institutional rigidity. No longer connoting purity and goodness, white becomes the colour of disease and oppression, challenged slyly by the soundtrack of detached observations in Italian, Spanish and English (the only suggestion of difference in the work).

The camp underbelly of classic film noir is exposed in Back to the Happy Ever After (1993) by Philip Hopkins, Michael Carne and Shane Carne, in which the ‘male lead’ is played by a ventriloquist’s dummy. In some ways analogous to the regimes of compulsory heterosexuality, institutionalised and internalised homophobia, ventriloquism raises questions about who is speaking and who is being spoken for. The short-circuited, anxious editing in Barry McKay’s Faggots are for Burning (1996) mimics the dilemma of the necessarily closeted gay man positioned as a secret outsider inside the closed(-minded) community of Christian fundamentalists.

A diaphanous and seductive palimpsestic assemblage, Robyn Webster’s video Korper (1995) traces the surfaces of that most unstable border, skin, and other intimate textures relating to the body, blurring the boundaries between inside and outside to create fleshscapes. Featuring a teasing soundscape of soft static, barely audible whispering punctuated with the arhythmic scrape of metal, Korper is beautifully shot in the duo-tone blues of X-rays and fleshy rose pinks. In Cyberflesh Girlmonster (1996), the interactive CD-ROM by Linda Dement, the scanned body parts of various women are re-membered and re-articulated as monsters (a notion also explored in a disorienting close-up of an armpit in Julie Rrap’s Sniff Movie). One way to read the navigation of the girlmonsters and the various texts activated by them is as a virtual beat offering anonymous (lesbian, trans-sexual, cyborgean) sexual encounters. Given that the (often violent) sexualised experiences may be the ‘real’ bodily memories of the flesh donated by others, it’s significant that opportunities for safe, anonymous public sex for women are usually virtual.

Ultraviolet, State Library of Queensland, curated by Edwina Bartlene, Griffith University Art Collection, administered by Griffith Artworks, Queensland College of Art, July 5 1998.

RealTime issue #26 Aug-Sept 1998 pg. 35

© Shane Rowlands; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Sabine Kupferberg, Gérard Lemaitre and Gary Chryst, Nederlands Dans Theater III

Sabine Kupferberg, Gérard Lemaitre and Gary Chryst, Nederlands Dans Theater III

Notable for a festival launch outside of Adelaide, the artistic director seems happy to talk issues. While promising enjoyment and exhilaration, Sue Nattrass is also happy to talk “immigration, multiculturalism, the family, Indigenous arts, and equality” as “the topical issues that interest our community today and…are reflected in this year’s festival.” Not only that, but the 1998 Melbourne Festival has more character and sense of the contemporary in its programming than it’s had for many a year. Compared with Adelaide it’s still a restrained, rather modest looking affair with some parts of the program clearly superior to others, but it appears less determinedly middle-brow and more adventurous than its predecessors.

Nattrass says, she’s “wanted to produce a festival that could be experienced at more than one level” with “threads that link events together. One could, for example, look at Aboriginal culture through an organ and didgeridoo concert at Trinity College, 3 plays—one Stolen, a world premiere, a concert by Goanna, Aboriginal music and performers in the opening celebrations, an art installation at the Magistrate’s Court exhibitions, exhibitions at the Koori Heritage Trust and the National Gallery of Victoria, a symposium at the Victorian College of the Arts, and two photographic exhibitions—one of urban Aboriginals, and, in contrast, one of communities in central Australia.” She indicates you can also follow an Italian cultural strand, or pursue themes of (anti-) violence, or the family, or multiculturalism through the weave of the festival. For Melbourne, this connection with community and issues promises to offer the festival some of the distinctiveness that it has hitherto lacked in going for broad appeal.

Festivals and their ingredients were a hot topic at the recent Imagining the Market conference in Sydney. Robert Fitzpatrick, director of Los Angeles Olympic Arts Festival in 1988—one of the rare Olympics arts events outside opening and closing ceremonies to be highly regarded—hoed into middle-brow complacency about Cultural Olympiad programming: “Atlanta botched it, Barcelona did it only slightly better. This is an occasion for Australia’s arts mitzvah …Safe programming and a low profile will not achieve the desired effect.” He also derided “giving people what they wanted” as “a formula for boredom” and invoked art’s power to “astonish and delight.” In Fitzpatrick’s moral universe, the safe bet “reduces the producer/presenter to being a poll taker, a pimp for present values.” You can only hope that word got back to the directorate of the Cultural Olympiad in their Sydney bunker, but their resistance is probably already up as Barrie Kosky weighed in once again, at the same marketing conference, arguing for truly distinctive festivals and declaring the arts in the Olympics “a complete waste of time, money and venues.” He was vigorously applauded.

The Melbourne Festival is not the Cultural Olympiad, but with Leo Schofield’s elevation from one to the other (with the Sydney Festival thrown in), issues of time, money and venues have become irritatingly prevalent. Schofield’s smug promotion of financially responsible festival management as the artistic criterion for success (with middle-brow programs to match) has led to slanging matches about box-office success. In Adelaide this year the press was on red alert for early box office figures and announced likely success on the first day of the festival. The recent report of Archer’s success having erased the debt of the 1996 festival and achieving a $300,000 surplus must have been galling to pragmatist directors who detest festivals with ideas and which look upon them as “experimentation in a playpen.”

Christine Dougles, Love Burns

Christine Dougles, Love Burns

Christine Dougles, Love Burns

Sue Nattrass has managed to maintain the traditional elements of the Melbourne Festival—the kind of things you’d expect to see any time of the year but with a bigger talent, eg not just any old soprano, but Sumi Jo, current queen of the coloraturas—but alongside more provocative material. The program includes a Bill Viola video installation, a strong line-up of international and Australian visual artists curated by Maudie Palmer in a challenging site, the Old Magistrates’ Court and City Watch House, Louis Nowra and Graeme Koehne’s detested and admired opera Love Burns (based on the same ‘true story’ that inspired the cult movie The Honeymoon Killers), hot UK choreographer Paul Selwyn Norton (see page 45) working with Chunky Move, the limit-stretching dance-physical theatre show Streb from the USA, from France Ballet Preljocaj’s Romeo and Juliet in a totalitarian state setting, Paul Capsis in the Kosky-directed “grunge” Burlesque, plus the festival’s continuing engagement with and reassessment of the works of Percy Grainger, this time on the electronic music connection.

As with the Brisbane Festival, the dance program of the Melbourne Festival stands out: Nederlands Dans Theater III, Ballet Preljocaj, Tango Pasión, Streb, and, from Melbourne, Chunky Move’s Fleshmeet and Company in Space’s A Trial by Video, an interactive dance work. Nederlands Dans Theater III comprises four older and incredibly experienced dancers in works by the company’s artistic director, Jiri Kylian, and should encourage choreographers and a generation of mature Australian dancers to work together. The dance program offers an interesting overview of contemporary dance from just how contemporary a ballet company can be in the form of Ballet Preljocaj (cf William Forsythe and Ballet Frankfurt’s great challenge to all other dance forms in the 1994 Adelaide Festival), to the riches of age, and the power of new media and popular culture.

The music program has its riches too, but in terms of scale and challenge is less scintillating—predictable servings of Beethoven et al with full orchestras while new music (and not so new) is relegated to smaller ensembles and concerts. The Chamber Music Sunset series is titled Music for the Millenium but its offering of Ravel, Shostakovich, Ives, Bartok, Janacek, Schoenberg and Debussy, while truly worthwhile (some rarely heard works) is more backward looking than millennial, save for the inclusion of Rhim and Schnittke, the only living (barely in Schnittke’s case) composers in the series. Electric-Eye places Percy Grainger in the history of electronic music, featuring Martin Wesley Smith and Ros Bandt discussing Grainger’s work, and with Bandt curating new Australian electroacoustic works and performances of Grainger’s Free Music for multiple theremins. Brisbane’s Elision are offering two concerts of contemporary works by Liza Lim, Franco Donatoni, Brian Ferneyhough, Mary Finsterer and others. Guitar Miniatures features Geoffrey Morris and Norio Sato playing an extensive list of works by, among others, Michael Atherton, Gerard Brophy, Chris Dench, Elena Kats Chernin, Raffaele Marcellino, Warren Burt and a selection of Japanese composers. The Rachmaninoff Vespers, a hit at the 1998 Adelaide Festival, is presented in Melbourne with, and this is unusual-to-odd, saxophone and percussion interludes.

In theatre, the Irish are coming, again, this time with the Abbey Theatre production of Thomas Kilroy’s The Secret Fall of Constance White, the story of Oscar Wilde’s wife, but, quite unexpectedly, performed in a blend of “Kabuki, Bunraku and European minimalism.” Gesher Theatre of Israel’s K’Far (Village) by Joshua Sobol was seen by RealTime at LIFT97 (London International Festival of Theatre). Although by no means Sobol at his best, this ambling, discursive play is well-served by a remarkable variation on the revolve-set and some astonishingly informal but precise ensemble playing that could only come out of a Russian theatre tradition. The translation experience is something else. Melbourne’s IRAA, another company working firmly within a European tradition, is presenting a new work Teatro, while Arena Theatre’s Panacea engages with steroids, youth and sport. Corcadorca Theatre Company’s production of Enda Walsh’s Disco Pigs, a winner at Edinburgh and Observer Play of the Year, is “a violent love story of dispossessed, disco-crazed seventeen year-olds”.

Former Kooemba Jdarra artistic director Wesley Enoch directs Stolen by Victorian writer Jane Harrison, a play about the Stolen Generation co-produced with Victoria’s Indigenous theatre group Ilbijerri. Deborah Cheetham in White Baptist Abba Fan and Leah Purcell in Box the Pony present Indigenous performances premiered at the Festival of the Dreaming that are steadily making their way around the festival circuit—Purcell in particular is not to be missed. Andreas Litras’ one-man show, Odyssey, in Greek and English, interplays Homer and the journey of a migrant woman to Australia. From Perth, Gerald Lepowski’s Dark is an account of the life of photographer Diane Arbus. Red, by Lucy Taylor, Rachel Spiers and Mark Shannon has emerged from the 1997 Melbourne Fringe, where it impressed Nattrass, into the festival mainstream with projections, live music and a lost memory with an obsession for…red. The cultural diversity of the theatre program, its commitment to the Indigenous, and to young audiences is clearer than anywhere else in the festival program. So too is its encouraging assemblage of diverse theatre and performance forms.

For the first time in several years I’ve been tempted by a Melbourne Festival—the last time was for the Glass-Wilson Einstein on the Beach, one of the great experiences, and then for Robert Ashley’s Don Leaves Linda with Chamber Made Opera. Melbourne doesn’t usually feature this kind of work, but there’s enough sense of adventure and inspiration across the board this time, enough sense of issues, ideas and forms, even if smaller in scale than deserved, as in the music program, to tempt me south.

Melbourne Festival, October 15 – November 1, http://www.melbournefestival.com.au

RealTime issue #26 Aug-Sept 1998 pg. 15

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Gary Warner

Gary Warner

As a child I was enamoured of the spooky, musty South Australian Museum. You could almost smell the mummies: there was more than a little of the morgue of history about the place with its stern elderly uniformed attendants and shadowy well-trod stairwells. The bird room in the Sydney Museum still has some of that Victorian gothic flavour, and the Macleay Museum (now being promoted for its exotica by the Historic Houses Trust) in the University of Sydney plunges you back quite astonishingly into a 19th century museum culture. These were and remain to a degree places to dream in: it was enough to look (and smell and wander), perhaps to press the odd button to illuminate a tableau. The Museum of Sydney shares that virtual with its slide-out drawers of old Sydney pipes, coins and bric a brac, but there is no smell of formalin or moth balls or dust and ageing wood. The Museum of Sydney has a video wall and it has a “Bond Store” packed with not-quite-but-almost hologrammatic characters from early Sydney (more everyday than famous and played convincingly by actors) ghostily telling their lives and singing songs against dimly glimpsed layers of sea and landscape. It’s a room that benefits from a long and reflective visit, and has the requisite museum eeriness (of which education is only a secondary benefit), especially if you’re in it for a long time and preferably alone. It’s not a space for whizz-bangery and impatience.

Three years after introducing itself as a museum uniquely predicated on the virtues of new media technologies, the Museum of Sydney is reviewing the engagement between the past and the new both here and overseas in a 2 day conference featuring international guests. Curated by Gary Warner, Director of CDP MEDIA (which specialises in multimedia projects for museums, galleries and the likes of the Botanic Gardens), SITE-TIME-MEDIA-SPACE, is billed as cross-disciplinary. It is broadly “intended to contribute to development of understanding and appreciation of the wider creative potentials offered by new media technologies.” More specifically, and this is the nitty gritty we fantasists want to hear, it will “encourage consideration of the ways in which digital media might augment exhibition practices or be employed to create entirely new forms of visitor experience and interpretive techniques.”

Even more interesting for artists is its promise that “(t)he core of the event will be an inspirational series of presentations from local and international curators, exhibition designers, media artists, filmmakers and other professionals at the leading edge of museum and technological endeavour.” I like “inspirational”. As a new site for the working artist, the modern museum places itself ahead of the graphic, scenic, sculptural and taxidemic arts of the past in its artistic appeal for the animator, imager, interactor, interfacer. And, doubtless, the conference will attract the museologist, for whom the sharply changing nature of the museum offers one of those historical moments of enviable perspective.

According to a draft statement about the conference, the internet and the world wide web have tended to favour certain developments in the museum—“collection management, promotion, publishing and communication”—“tending to preclude other applications of new media.” Alertness to “local imperatives” and “staff members’ special abilities and interests” and the prospect of “unusual, innovative, eccentric and specialist exhibition projects” are the new focus. A measure of the conference’s success will be the degree to which it conjures possible ways of telling history and its various and sometimes contradictory truths, and whether it affords sufficient kinds of (sometimes interactive) experience for the visitor to become, as Ross Gibson has put it, “a provisional historian.” (Metro, 100, Summer 1994/5)

The Bond Store, Museum of Sydney Ray Joyce

RealTime issue #26 Aug-Sept 1998 pg. 21

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

A spectacular collaboration of acronyms—QAG, QUT, QANTM, QPIX, dLux and IMA—with assistance from Brisbane Festival, Griffith University, Metro Arts, Arts Queensland, Brisbane City Council and Macromedia, has given brith to MAAP 98, a brand new festival focussing on Art and Technology in the Asia Pacific region to be held in Brisbane in September.

Incorporating public events, forums and exhibitions using online technology, digital animation, video and national television and involving a range of innovative artists working with new technologies and screen-based media, MAAP’s regional emphasis will align it with the Queensland Art Gallery’s Asia Pacific Triennial in 1999. It also offers an opportunity to see and compare some of the best recent work in the one location.

The screening program (SEE) includes: Technophilia curated by Beth Jackson for Griffith Artworks and Queensland State Library including work by Linda Dement, Ian Haig, Ross Harley, Peter Callas, Patricia Piccinini, Stelarc, Csaba Szamosy, John Tonkin, Robyn Webster; a selection of works created by artists from the co-operative artists group Video Tage in Hong Kong; Digital Fresh Out, graduating show reels from multimedia and design students; D.Art the 90-minute showcase of experimental digital film, video and computer animation from dLux media/arts; and SIGGRAPH 98’s international compilation of computer animation art and digital effects. Those who failed to surface for Recovery on ABC TV can catch Art Rage the recently screened collection of video artworks for television.

In the exhibition program (SEEK) search out SMOG, a digital performance event and environmental extravaganza at QPAC, Southbank presented by Griffith Artworks. Featuring work generated on IBM SP2 supercomputer by Jeremy Hynes and Georgina Pinn and researcher Andrew Lewis, the subject is…um… smog. Also included in the program: another piece in the puzzle that is Sea Change—Shoreline: Particles and Waves curated by Beth Jackson and showcasing 12 artists from Asia and Australia online and at the Queensland Art Gallery; Game Play, an exhibition from Melbourne’s Experimenta Media Arts; and Virgin on Hard Drive an interactive multimedia installation by Brisbane artist Lucy Francis and others at Metro Arts.

The Techné exhibition from Imago Arts WA will be showing at Sunshine Coast University College and also at the interactive party at The Hub Internet Cafe that winds up the festival. Arts Edge also from WA features over 30 artists presented in large screen projections and 12 computers. In Alien Spaces Paul Brown web hosts an exhibition of his recent work from The Substation in Singapore. The National Digital Art Awards will be presented at the IMA and works shown until October 3 and there’ll be a special MAAP98 edition of Fine Art Forum online zine at http://www.cdes.qut.edu.au/Fineart_Online/ [expired]

The SPEAK program includes Australia and Asia Pacific Think Tank—a forum to discuss current issues and develop future strategies for digital art networks in the region; and New Technologies and Indigenous Culture, a one-day seminar on intellectual property with regard to Indigenous cultural material featuring live links to Darwin and a multimedia-based infotainment session. QANTM Youthworks is a week of courses in Macromedia web programs such as Director, Flash, Dreamweaver and Fireworks. RT

MAAP98 launches its website at http://www.maap.org.au on August 15, 1998

RealTime issue #26 Aug-Sept 1998 pg. 35

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

http://student.uq.edu.au/~s271502/ [expired]
Komninos’ cyberpoetry site, “poetry that moves in time and space, poetry that requires new ways of reading” is a good introduction to his online works. Animated text poems, deceptively simple. He has written poetry for children and it shows. The words move as examples of what they are, do the actions they describe…sunrise comes up from the horizon, sunset into obscurity. Innovative and memorable, fun and playful, you are forced to consider the possibilities of words, their nature as visual building blocks. The potential of poetry that moves is exciting. I like to imagine putting all these bouncing, shooting, running, jitterbugging words together in a riotous assault. C in quick pursuit of hasing off the screen. Who says the computer means the death of literacy. Spike Milligan-esque, can you imagine what you could do with On the ning nang nong. There are other examples of cyberpoetry featured: interactive, where words change at random and you hit stop to make a poem. As interactive as pokies I guess. Spoken word heard jukebox, where you can hear Komninos reading “faster than a squirt of vinegar.” I like the sensuality of reading poems online, imagining how the poet sounds, the nuance in the work and then hearing the poet’s own voice… interpretation. Java Animated Poems. QuickTime Virtual Reality Poetry. Genres of poetry become poems themselves.

“Black Ice—Fiction for a Wired Nation.” At first glance this section of the site seems male dominated, austere, techno-cold but not so. Good and bad short erotic fiction. Soft core, sometimes cliched and I’ve never been into magic realism. Scoops of techno, which, when it’s good, it’s very very good. According to blurb, Black Ice is modelled on avant-garde literary writing of the past and aims to publish offensive, sexy and formally adventurous works. Commendable ideals and some interesting techno-experiments but nothing really turned me on and I didn’t leave feeling violated.
Amerika Online—Mark Amerika’s column (he recently toured here to mixed reaction)—offers opinion and interviews with legendaries like Allen Ginsberg. He tends to overwrite, very I-driven, which becomes boring, first person, this-happened-then-that—perhaps the internet column format could be played with a little more? Revolutionary hype: Alt X aims to challenge contemporary writing establishments and produce electronic novellas which “experiment in narrative and language” and fight the “oppressive forces of social and literary authority.” Literary terrorism, drive-by-haiku. Yawn.

http://sysx.apana.org.au/~gashgirl/arc/index.html [expired]
Alt X needs to take some lessons from gashgirl in the offensive department. Anything you want, you got it. Feminist speakings—“saboteurs of big daddy mainframe”—lots of cunts, both literal and figurative. Gashgirl likes the smell of blood, the depth of wounds, stomach churning sickening puns. It gets a reaction but then I get bored with self-destruction; I hang around with enough artists. There’s lots of going down, down down down into dreamland, violent fairytales; Little Red Riding Hood’s revenge. Sweet success and the art of killing online. The blinking and blending of technology with words are great and gruesome. Da Rimini knows her machine and rages against it:
She weeps tears of code.
Her thoughts are classified. She has
forgotten her own password.
She is corrupt.
Unrecoverable icon.

http://www.ins.gu.edu/eda/text/journal.html [expired]
The serious site. TEXT. Articles by teachers of creative writing. For all those writing students trying to suck up, click here. Basic layout and design and no pics, hence the name. Creative pieces and writing about writing. Hypertext as bibliographical tool is utilised effectively as a way of referencing. See Susan Hawthorne’s “Topographies of Creativity: Writing and Publishing” for digital resources. For writers interested in critical theory about writing, especially on the net.

http://www.netlink.com.au/~beth [expired]
OK, it’s semi promotional but it’s an example of what the net offers to writers: a haven for their work. Produce a web page that reflects you, show off your best stuff, do a striptease but not down to bare skin. Beth Spencer’s first book How to Conceive of a Girl was published last year. Click on parts of Spencer’s cover to reveal juicy excerpts and contemporary short fiction, poetry and essays. The bitter sweet A Blue Mountains Coin-in-the-slot Telescopic Poem, full of masculinity and mud and feminist footy fever, is even better than its title.

Online road novel. Episodic and intertextual, an idea well suited to the nowhereness of the cyberhighway. Beautifully designed, film noirish—no True-Love-and-Chaos-desert-scenes here—street signs direct the way and if you’re tired and need a driver reviver, Kit Kat and weak white coffee, meaningful messages are signposted throughout. Strong and narrative-driven, you take various roots/routes as a man and a woman hit the road, Jack, and newcomers arrive on the scene to look at the carnage. For Drifters Only: “You start the wipers’ rhythmic dirge. Lo-ner Lo-ner.”

http://writers.ngapartji.com.au [expired]
Ngapartji’s Virtual Writers in Residence: ngapartji = exchange, the act of giving or receiving (Pitjantjatjara language). The best interactive collection of fiction I’ve seen, divided by genre, which encourages the reader to submit versions, reviews and even a rating.
Electronica/multimedia with a wide range of writers/practitioners: John Crouch’s erotic babble, Gibberish, rolls on the tongue like a well-sucked Malteser, while gc beaton’s tangling with artificial intelligence introduces me to someone who I’m sure will become a lifelong friend. Eliza. At last someone who truly understands me. Talk to her—www.ai.ijs.si/eliza-cgi-bin/eliza_script [expired]—if you need some TLC.

http://www.ozemail.com.au/~rmclean/arts/liftk2.htm [expired]
The K Assignment: a serial cybernovel during a writer’s festival, a chapter per day by different writers. With the opening line by Dean Kiley, “Helen Garner’s just finished fucking Patrick White”, I’m hooked. The writing explodes off the screen and into the next millennium, into the psychology of the future. A sci-fi thriller, hilariously subversive, a world where poems only appear as computer viruses and “rhetoric was outlawed after the infamous 21st century scandal involving PP McGuiness, Ray Martin and the use of unauthorised E-motion gravitators”, full of imagination and irony, techno-savvy brilliance and belly laughs. A must for struggling writers hoping to get an arts grant. Will the Rogues Gallery of Minor Poets overpower the Niche Warriors? It’s now your assignment…

RealTime issue #25 June-July 1998 pg. 18

© Kirsten Krauth; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Ashley Crawford and Ray Edgar have selected 51 essays, interviews and studies from their co-edited magazine 21.C and put them together as a book called Transit Lounge. It is hard to categorise Transit Lounge because it’s a book about everything, at least everything to do with the future, and so that means anything to do with the present and the past as well. William Gibson in his introduction indicates that the editors are willing to “fearlessly consider any futurological possibility whatever, to interrogate anything at all for its potential as fast feed into some possible future.”

So you will find essays on Sigmund Freud and Sandy Stone, William Burroughs and Marshall McLuhan, Terence McKenna and Noam Chomsky, and on subjects such as psychedelia’s influence on computer design, interactive art, stomach sculptures, and clowns in media. There comes a time when healthy pluralism can turn into a sloppy everything-is-everything melange, but ultimately this book (like the magazine) is saved by its own enthusiasm for all these weirdnesses and you kind of get swept along in the rush. It also helps that just about everything in Transit Lounge is well written.

As a collection of articles culled from a magazine, it serves primarily two functions. First, as a record of fin de millennium observations on life and the future from a range of writers and thinkers. Second, as a handy pop-future primer for those who might not have been paying attention when early issues of 21.C were available.

The editors have done a good job in compressing a mountain of words into a still hefty (and good value at $35 rrp) 192 big pages of stuff. Gone is the magazine style formatting and instead is a low-cost simplified design of black type on rough paper with silver titles and chapter graphics. Applause to art director Terence Hogan—never has the future business looked so unhyped and understated.

In 51 articles there is a range of quality, subjects and authors. Sometimes these axes align to produce gems: Mark Dery’s interview with Terence McKenna is a highlight. If you thought that Terence McKenna was just a lunatic nattering about Transcendental Objects at the End of Time, then you are only partly right. He and Dery have an energetic discussion about McKenna’s ideas, threaded through with an acknowledgment of the importance of contradiction (and the ability to hold in one’s head seemingly contradictory ideas) for the growth of the new paradigm of non-linear thinking. So you could say on one hand McKenna is intelligent and, on the other hand, mad as a meat-axe, and you would be totally right.

Dery makes another appearance (well, 7 actually—only matched by McKenzie Wark for output) with a lighter and darker think piece on the image of the clown in contemporary culture. Drawing on contemporary clowns such as Jack Nicholson as the Joker in Batman, John Wayne Gacy, Krusty the Clown and the slew of serial clowns in slasher movies, Dery follows the scary clown thread all the way back to medieval mystery plays where the Fool and Death were often interchangeable. Death makes a mockery of life’s joys, and life can thumb its nose at death. Either way, there is a hell of a lot of clown imagery out there—“encapsulating what Stephen King has identified as the Have-A-Nice-Day/Make-My-Day dualism that typifies contemporary culture.” Creepy.

Margaret Wertheim’s profile on Evelyn Fox Keller, “The XX Files”, provides a perfect introduction to Keller’s ideas and her increasingly shakeable faith in her ideas to effect real change. Keller has shown that prevailing masculine views clouded the judgement of those observing the role of the sperm and egg in reproduction—the idea was that all the work was done by the sperm and the egg just lay there—but now we know (or at least believe it when this generation of scientists tells us) that the egg is actively engaged in guiding the sperm by releasing chemicals. The roles ascribed to the nucleus and cytoplasm in the cell are also found to be influenced by gender-based assumptions. Keller wrote her book over 10 years ago, and this article is a re-examination of her ideas and an instructive overview of what little has changed since then.

These are just three of the better pieces in Transit Lounge. Bruce Sterling’s paean to dead media forms, Rudy Rucker’s ode to the BrainPlug, Anthony Haden-Guest’s hymn to Anime and Rosie Cross’s tribute to St Jude are some more. Every reader will have their own favourites.

Criticisms? Both profile authors and profile subjects will be familiar to many who might be considered the target market: James Joyce by Darren Tofts, William Burroughs by Kathy Acker, William Gibson by Phillip Adams, Ted Nelson by Rosie Cross, Noam Chomsky by Catharine Lumby, Stelarc by Nicholas Zurbrugg, Jean Baudrillard by Jean Baudrillard. Maybe it’s too familiar for some, and maybe the dynamic range of experiences offered in the magazine gets attenuated here by the editors’ preferences.

And then there are the quotes and counter quotes throughout: Darren Tofts in talking of Sigmund Freud quotes Greil Marcus, Greil Marcus in talking of Guy Debord quotes Sadie Plant, Rosie Cross in talking to Sadie Plant quotes Donna Haraway. Keen cultural studies students could probably play that 6 degrees of separation game—instead of Kevin Bacon you could find you are only ever 6 jumps away from McKenzie Wark.

Ultimately Transit Lounge has enough good points to overcome any objections from reviewers who think a well balanced review should have some negatives. It is a sprawling mass of ideas and opinions through which readers can pick their own path, and its darkly optimistic enthusiasm for the future is a refreshing change from overhyped commercial expectation or anti-tech hysteria.

Nothing ages slower than visions of the future. Buy a copy and bury it for future generations.

Ashley Crawford & Ray Edgar eds, Transit Lounge: Wake Up Calls and Travellers’ Tales From the Future, Craftsman House, 1998, $35 rrp

RealTime issue #25 June-July 1998 pg. 25

© Michael Hill; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Markus Käch, Works

Markus Käch, Works

During this decade ZKM (Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie/Centre for Art and Media), located at Karlsruhe in Germany, has rapidly become one of the major tertiary education centres in the world concerned with the teaching, exhibition and production of contemporary media art. It is a large, innovative and productive centre and one of its main objectives is to explore how central media technology is to art as we approach the end of this century.

Anyone who has visited ZKM will testify to its multifaceted teaching, curatorial and publishing activities. Someone who has been a pivotal figure in this context, in his capacity as Head of the Institute of Visual Media, is the Australian artist Jeffrey Shaw, who has been living in Europe since the late 60s. ZKM’s artist-in-residency program has attracted a variety of German and international artists including Australians Jill Scott and Peter Callas and American Bill Seaman. Seaman won ZKM’s prestigious International Award for Video Art a few years back.

What follows is an email interview with ZKM’s curator/critic Rudolf Frieling, who is in charge of the video collection at the centre, and is travelling to Australia and New Zealand with an exhibition program of German new media works. The program, prepared by ZKM in association with the Goethe-Institut and presented in Sydney in association with dLux media arts (formerly Sydney Intermedia Network), will be exhibited at the 45th Sydney Film Festival and at Artspace in June. This will be a rare opportunity to see some recent innovative German new media art.

JC Rudolf, what are the main underlying objectives of your visit?

RF To present not only video art but also CD-ROM and internet projects. Accompanying the current artistic practices and issues we have co-produced a CD-ROM on the historic and seminal decades of media art, the 60s and 70s in Germany. I strongly welcome the invitation since there haven’t been too many occasions to establish fruitful discussions and meetings with those who work in related fields in Australia and New Zealand.

JC What significance does ZKM play in the curatorial rationale of your presentation?

RF ZKM is not only the co-producer of this whole package but also crucial in helping to produce media art works. ZKM has hosted residencies of featured artists (eg Bill Seaman) and ZKM produced the only CD-ROM that promotes artistic projects: artintact. Then there is the historic CD-ROM media art action which was curated by Dieter Daniels and myself. Finally, ‘links’ can also be found to internet projects (for example, those by Jochen Gerz or Daniela Plewe).

JC What are some of the more important conceptual, cultural and technological directions that are foregrounded in the works you have brought with you?

RF There is sometimes a disturbing lack of political and social issues that surfaces in the average artistic production—with exceptions of course. The issues at stake seem to be either highly subjective with often supremely formal treatments or the works seem to indulge in playful scenarios (especially the multimedia works). Yet the manipulation of images and the underlying notions about the imagery that surrounds us lead to an intense examination of what an image is, how it is produced, and how it might be perceived.

JC What is your position concerning the future of video art?

RF To put it bluntly: the rise of multimedia will give ‘pure’ video artists a hard time but, on the other hand, this critical moment will help to establish a more concentrated perception of what has been produced so far and of what will be produced in the future.

JC Do you think CD-ROMs as constructed by visual artists, writers and cultural producers are heading for ‘the dustbin of history’?

RF No—the support may change, but that does not mean that the artistic work becomes obsolete. The videotape is still in use and ever more popular with artists from all different kinds of fields.

JC What vital role do media/video festivals and prizes have in the broader context of Germany’s media culture?

RF In the past they had a crucial importance—there was nothing else but festivals. The founding of centers and schools like ZKM and its adjacent Academy of Design will help to broaden this basis. Personally I feel that we need both sides—the hype of the festival and the more continuous reflection of artistic practices within the context of institutions. I have been able to consolidate and enlarge one of the most important media art prizes, the International Award for Video Art, which is a mutual initiative by ZKM and the broadcaster Sudwestfunk. For the first time in history, TV and video go hand in hand—at least for 3 weeks every year. This has become one of the major activities of ZKM and has helped to broaden the public acceptance of the notoriously difficult video art.

JC As a new media author and curator, did you have a curatorial input into ZKM’s digital media museum?

RF I am responsible for the setting up and presentation of our video collection which is united with a large collection of electronic music—in itself a unique combination worldwide. The other 2 public departments of ZKM, the Museum of Contemporary Art, directed by Heinrich Klotz, and the Media Museum, directed by Hans-Peter Schwarz, have been independently curated by their respective directors. There is, however, discussion of works and artists that certainly influences also one’s own work.

JC Finally, could you please say a few words about your collaborative work Media Art Action ?

RF Media Art Action is the first of a series of 3 editions which will eventually comprise the whole history of media art to the present day, hopefully, in Germany. The accompanying book with texts by the artists and introductory chapters by the editors is a perfect way to distribute the CD-ROM and deepen its content. This is, to my knowledge, the first historic review of media art that makes use of a congenial medium. This survey is bridging the gap between purely information oriented databases and a more playful and sensual introduction to the topics and works collected. The collaboration with Dieter Daniels (and with the editor Sybille Weber and the designer/programmer Christian Ziegler) was extremely effective and productive, leading to a ‘product’ that hopefully stimulates others to engage in complementary research and editorial work. I would be more than happy to study historical works from Australia or other countries on CD-ROM. Browsing through catalogues is just not enough when dealing with media art.

Current Media Art: Video Art, CD-ROM and Internet projects from Germany presented by the Goethe-Institut in association with dLux media arts (Sydney Intermedia Network). Video art works at 45th Sydney Film Festival, June 5-19; CD-ROMs and internet projects at Artspace, June 10-27. Rudolf Frieling will introduce the video sessions and exhibition opening. For further information contact dLux media arts tel (02) 9380 4255. ZKM website http://www.zkm.de

RealTime issue #25 June-July 1998 pg. 28

© John Conomos; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

The BioTechSex heart is an empty space, traversed only by code, aching for information, haunted by memories of a fleshly existence. Or so it is understood by many new media artists asking what has happened to erotics and politics, to ethics and intimacy, to embodied subjectivity in the digital era. This is not a nostalgic longing for old media and ideologies, but rather an immersed exploration of digital subjectivity. These concerns animated the State of the Heart exhibition at the Australian Centre for Photography and were explored further at BioTechSex, the New Media Forum organised to coincide with it.

State of the Heart, excellently curated by John Tonkin and Blair French, brought together diverse and thought-provoking photographic/digital media projects. As you moved from space to space in the exhibition, your own digital subjectivity shifted uneasily. In the main room, Josephine Starrs and Leon Cmielewski presented their Diagnostic Tools for the New Millennium comprised light boxes and computer interactive stations. The artists continue their formal interrogations of interface and their ‘schizoid’ attraction/repulsion to new technology—entranced with its “flexibility and freedom” while wary of its obsessions and surveillance implications. At first sight this split was addressed by two separate works—one about love and the other, paranoia. Yet the works took on a strange life of their own with audience interaction, as Starrs noted at the forum: the Fuzzy Love Machine induced paranoia and the Paranoia Machine embraced you. The fuzzy machine photographed you and extracted intimate data before allowing you to play in the database. This activity clearly put some people on edge, making the erotica/danger edge all the sharper. And while the Paranoia Machine represented paranoia, the delight of the interface, even its intimacy, made the experience sensually pleasurable. The Diagnostic Tools in light boxes similarly refused to stay in neat conceptual categories, thus poetically conveying the contradictions and energy of the artists’ own relationship to technology.

The blown up digital photographs in Michele Barker and Anna Munster’s The Love Machine were startling. The work seemed like a straightforward re-presentation of photos from a photo booth in Hong Kong (the Love Machine), which combines features of the two ‘parents’ to re-produce their offspring. The Machine has pre-sets for race, gender, eye and hair colour that are folded into the morph, or morpheme, as Barker and Munster figured it. The elegant simplicity and power of the work emerged as you registered the strangeness of the images of Kenji Barker-Munster, the Asian son, Lissie Barker-Munster, the Afro-American first born, and Mary-Beth, the blond, blue eyed child who held pride of place (though somewhat like another Munster, Marilyn, she was, in her normality, all the more disturbing). The re-ordering of Barker and Munster’s own images on the side walls underlined their disruption of the standard heterosexual reproductive couple—who was really ‘on top’, and where was the desire to see yourself in your offspring’s face going in the digital era? By inserting themselves inappropriately into the Machine and blowing its output out of proportion, Barker and Munster refused an easy, humorous take on The Love Machine with its promise of flesh becoming code and code becoming flesh. Instead they teased out the tensions and political implications of the way normalising (pre-set) culture and power relations produce and code not just The Love Machine but genetic engineering in general—reducing difference and specificity.

The third work in State of the Heart was Francesca da Rimini’s dollspace with Michael Grimm’s soundtrack for an empty dollspace. Well placed in its own little alcove, the viewer was positioned in an extremely disturbing space, where the detailed observations of everyday life that interest da Rimini were at play. More than, different from cyberspace, it was an intimate story space which undermined narrow categories of photography, writing, web work and interactivity. The sound held you there, immersed you, and yet powerfully disturbed your position. Its visual elegance was very moving—with the carefully laid out text, haiku-like, sitting on a variety of screens composed of an eclectic assemblage of photos and drawings. Equally powerful was the writing, a strange and haunting exploration of “identity, desire, death and deception.” The poetic fragments, story segments, and electronic correspondence (written to doll yoko/da Rimini) moved between mournful reflections and pornographic imaginings. The play between these registers was abrupt and disturbing—especially disturbing to be in the same room with other people, to share your uncertainty or witness their discomfort. Inspired by a pond in Kyoto where women drowned their unwanted baby girls, the work moved beyond this focus and operated as a space of reverberation, where the lack of central or single organising narrative left you disoriented, as “haunted by…hungry ghosts” as da Rimini herself.

The artists from State of the Heart were brought together with academics at BioTechSex, one of the best of the excellent New Media Forums. One of the issues that wove through all the provocative and insightful papers was regulation. The level of argument went beyond the common technofear or instrumental reading of technology (the use/abuse debate) to raise questions about the relationship between science (in general and biology in particular), technology and culture and the implications for artists of the bio/sex/tech nexus.

Adrian Mackenzie countered the prevalent technofear that technical codes regularise and smooth out differences; he argued instead that “life introduces something that is not fully determined by codes.” For him, confusion, change, and short-livedness break the seeming totalising power of codes through their depth, their layers. Further, since codes are always embedded in (graphic) marks and must be materialised, they are “contingent”, specific and dependent on a context. Anna Munster approached regulation from a different angle, focusing on the coded regulations and nodes of power already present in (capitalist) culture and therefore already/inevitably embedded in codes and technology. As an embodiment of culture, technology is entangled with social, political, and economic relations. Munster noted the way some cyberfeminists forget this and overly sanguinely appropriate technologies to avoid the problems of humanism.

Biologist Lesley Rogers unpacked regulation and codes, a prominent issue in biology in this era of the human genome project. With stunning examples from the sex lives of chicks and rats, she argued that behaviour can affect biology and its genetic codes. Given the conservative prominence of biology and genetics in this code-obsessed digital era, including in the media, this critique of science from an insider was valuable and satisfying.

The relationship of these critical ideas for art was also raised. Adrian Mackenzie noted the way many artists’ works repeat existing problematic structures in order that they no longer do what they were meant to do. This resonated with Barker, Starrs and da Rimini’s discussion of the ways their works de-contextualise cultural practices, and how this throws into relief the implications of those practices—from net sex to digital reproduction. As Munster pointed out, new media artists are well placed to “work within existing structures and tease out implications and histories.”

State of the Heart, Australian Centre for Photography, March 27-April 25; BioTechSex New Media Forum 7, Powerhouse Museum, March 28.

RealTime issue #25 June-July 1998 pg. 29

© Norie Neumark; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Bangkok Post Online Street Art

Bangkok Post Online Street Art

Often the region referred to as Asia is considered as an homogeneous environment—stricken with poverty, and social and political problems. But of course there are many countries which are placed at different positions on the graph of social-economic well-being. And within each country there are also vast differences.

In the cities in the poorer regions of Asia, such as Bangkok, Hanoi, Saigon, and Phnom Penh, the internet is readily accessible. High-end internet connected Pentiums can be found in venues such as cafes where for about $10 per hour ‘Hotmailing’, telnetting and IRCing are all possible. Often there is a queue to get access—busy with tourists and travellers eager to communicate their experiences in real-time back to their friends at home, or to organise rendezvous points with other travellers. All the tourists seem to have a webmail account. The net is never too far away.

Bangkok is full of new technology and the internet infrastructure is well supported by the government. Schools and universities have access to facilities and internet computers can be found in libraries. Software and hardware are readily accessible, but only affordable to the more affluent, a complete system costing around $1200. At Chulalongkorn University and Silpakorn University, two major academies in Bangkok, media labs equipped with high-end Power Macs can be found in the Creative Arts departments. Though Apple’s marketing has seduced the academics, many of the students decide to own the low-cost high-end Pentiums which come loaded with the latest pirated software.

The images and animations produced by students are of a very high quality but mainly lean toward the advertising industry. On graduation most students will likely be employed by design houses and advertising agencies. Associate Professor Suppakorn Disatapundhu of Chulalongkorn University is very interested in developing electronic art within the Faculty of Fine and Applied Arts. He is aware of the lack of student interest in art and the consequent focus on design and marketing. His hope is that the economic crisis in the region will mean that students might decide to stay longer at university and undertake research projects in the electronic art field. Unfortunately, the general attitude seems to be that if it has no commercial benefit then there is no point to digital art.

The Bangkok Post’s online division recently uploaded photographs of large billboard posters originally created by a group called Artists for Social Change in the early 1970s. The posters were created to commemorate student deaths during a political demonstration in 1973. The drive to increase the ‘creative’ content of the Post’s website wasn’t by local Thai people, but instead by Theo Den Brinker, an Australian ex-pat who is the Director of the online division. The actual photoshopping of the scanned photographs was carried out by local graphic artists—but for them, it was just another task.

A number of Thai artists are producing interesting original work—especially work that is critical of their own country. The military, the Buddhist religion, the government and the King are subjects that some artists have criticised through painting, performance and film works. But using the internet as a medium of expression is a foreign concept. In fact, most of the artists using traditional media to create political work are suspicious of technology—viewing computers and the internet as instruments of authority—and prefer to use the older media that they know cannot be controlled by the authorities and are easily accessible to their audience.

Some people I met claimed that information—such as video evidence—proving the Thai military and the King have acted against the interests of the people exists on a CD-ROM called The Truth. Thai expatriates living in the US have threatened to put this information onto the internet if the government and military acts against the people’s interest and this is apparently of major concern to authorities. China’s plans for building a (government controlled) intranet for the whole country were attractive to the Thai communications authority as they could ‘govern’ the amount of bandwidth used to overseas sites (these were paid in US dollars and at a relatively high rate to overseas companies). This provides a handy excuse to ‘regulate’ net access.

In Hanoi and Saigon, access to the internet is available from tourist cafes but, interestingly, some of the people who run these cafes don’t want to know about the content accessible from their terminals. There seems to be a fear of what this content will bring. Other owners and their families are more enthusiastic about what they can get—but of course this content is largely in English and is filtered through the ‘virtual’ grid of Microsoft, Yahoo, or CNN. It is difficult to maintain interest for culturally oriented or more complex or chaotic sites—those outside the glossy regimented mainstream. Combine this with the access speed issue and most people in these regions can only view the internet as a kind of online newspaper with ‘entertainment’ the main drawcard. On a more positive note there is also a lot of swapping of email addresses between travellers and local café owners which might hopefully be a forerunner of regional grassroots networks.

In Phnom Penh, there is a public internet and training centre which caters primarily for local Cambodians. The centre, funded by a Canadian NGO has, together with the Post and Telecommunications Ministry, set up an ISP called CamNet. Through the commercial activities of CamNet, and with some external funding, the centre provides low cost training courses on web browsing and web page design. Importantly, training is provided in the process of browsing (using search engines properly), something rarely taught here, thereby enabling people to utilise the internet more productively. However it should be noted that it most benefits those fluent in English.

The web is perceived by many in the region as a one way medium, just like a newspaper or television and overall there doesn’t seem to be much interest in setting up websites. In places like Vietnam it is very difficult to get server space, but in Cambodia the students have established free Hotmail accounts and are creating home pages and hosting it with the Geocities advertisement-supported free hosting service. It comes down to whether or not an awareness is created in how to set up and operate websites—and once it is people will generally utilise the knowledge.

The web, when viewed from a country like Vietnam, appears to be a domain of commerciality for the self-indulgent (no-one in the year 2000 will be without their own personal website). Artists in the region already have difficulties in freely expressing what they really feel through their art practice and so new media art isn’t even a consideration under these conditions. It could be that the future for this artform in this region will be determined by how much artists appreciate the marginal and privileged position of new media art and accommodate this in appropriate ways, not just in well-heeled touring exhibitions, but in developing and inspiring its use in accessible, relevant and non-paternal ways.

RealTime issue #25 June-July 1998 pg. 30

© Sam de Silva; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Choreographer Stephen Page and director Michelle Mahrer

Choreographer Stephen Page and director Michelle Mahrer

Layers of time, culture, pain, beauty, geology, grit, finance, taste, politics and art all come into play in the layers of imagery, media, and stories in Urban Clan, a new hour long film about the Page brothers and Bangarra Dance Theatre. Urban Clan, directed by Michelle Mahrer, is about David (composer), Stephen (choreographer) and Russell (dancer) Page. But by being about these 3 it is also about layers—layers of traditional Aboriginal and western cultural expressions, of family and its impact on art and history, of dance and why people do it.

However, even to say Urban Clan is a film ‘about’ something skips a layer of its intention—Urban Clan was devised not just as a film about art, but a film which is art. It tries, sometimes quite successfully, to push the line between documentary and artistic filmmaking. Michelle Mahrer is clear that just bunging a camera in front of a dance is actually “putting a barrier between the audience and the dance.” A barrier which can be overcome by making use of cinematic technique, and “more adventurousness.”

Her adventurousness shows itself in a layering of cinematic source material. The idea of this film, Mahrer says, “was to integrate cinema verite, performance in a cinematic style, and the poetic and spiritual feeling of the Aboriginal world by using a real and poetic interplay all the time.” And at the same time to “create a visual style capturing David, Stephen, and Russell as MTV generation young guys.”

One of Mahrer’s layers is video tape which, she says, the eye perceives as ‘real’. She videotaped interviews in a ‘verite’ documentary style and dance performances in a cinematically conscious style. Then there is archival footage—still photographs and 8mm home movies—which provide some great moments of humour and insight. Worth a few more than a thousand words, the archives show that the Page family has always been close knit, creative, funny, extroverted, and great performers.

Video and archives are then mixed with handheld film footage. Mahrer says that film is perceived by the eye as ‘artistic’ when juxtaposed with video. It is used here for landscape shots which take on a double edge as both real landscape and artistically manipulated image. When analysed at that level it is possible to see this cinematic technique as an apt metaphor for the Page brothers’ relationship to the land. As Aboriginal people they are understood to have an important connection to the land. But they are urban Aboriginals and they are in the process of reconciling that real connection which may sometimes only exist as a memory or a hope, with their own urban experience. Through their artistic practice, a process of reconciliation in itself, their feeling for the land becomes an artistically created image.

The artistry of the Page brothers on an aesthetic level is not questioned in this film. While Mahrer is aware that they have been criticised, this, she says, is “missing the point.” “Here are 3 Aboriginal people doing something positive which is resonating much beyond their career. Bangarra is not about these bits of choreography, that technique or this phrase…The film focuses on a bigger picture of what Bangarra is doing for culture, and the Pages as role models of what it is possible for a young Aboriginal person.”

Urban Clan nonetheless presents a very convincing picture of the dancing, the layer around which all this is centred. Mahrer is quick to credit cinematographer Jane Spring and editor Emma Hay who have both handled the material with sensitivity, skill, and the quality of humility which is the perfect complement to skill—their work draws attention to the dancing, not to itself. The hand held camera moves with the dancing so subtly as to be virtually imperceptible. The edits are silky and wise. The use of montage in some of the dancing scenes may be controversial to dance purists, but I appreciated the intercutting of literal images with the abstract movement. These montage sequences underline the film’s effort to focus on the Page brothers’ intentions by giving us clear visual cues as to what their intentions are.

Urban Clan with its layers of media, images and personalities crystallises the Page’s dance into a mission which comes across as important, interesting, and amazingly pure. In a key moment David Page asks his father “didn’t you fight?” referring to the massacre his father’s tribe experienced and the consequent loss of home, language, and culture. His father spreads his hands in a gesture so articulate and painful as to make a dance in itself. In one shrug he says it all: ‘We fought, we couldn’t fight, we lost, we are still fighting, we are still losing, we do the best we can with what we have, it’s over to you now’. And his sons have taken up the fight.

Urban Clan, A Portrait of the Page Brothers and Bangarra Dance Theatre will be broadcast on July 7 1998, at 8:30 pm on ABC-TV as part of the Inside Story series of documentaries. It will also be broadcast in the UK in July on the BBC as part of their Midsummer Dance Series.

RealTime issue #25 June-July 1998 pg. 7

© Karen Pearlman; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Retina Dance Company

Retina Dance Company

Retina Dance Company

The Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) used to be one of the most progressive live art venues in Britain, featuring international artists and nurturing national talent on the peripheries of performance culture. Inexplicably the programming department recently closed and the live art offer of this excellently resourced centre has dwindled to the ad hoc hire of space to visiting groups such as the Lust contingent who presented the multimedia festival, Strange Fruits, Nature’s Mutations, March 25-28. Links nevertheless remain between previous performance programming, current activity in the gallery, the cinematheque and media arts centre and externally curated events, for Lustfest mixed its media so thoroughly that that old ICA feeling of disorientation and sensory overload remained.

Lust are a cliquey London-based collective of multi-disciplined European artists, “umbilically linked by a network of creative relationships.” Founded in 1992, Lust has annually presented a showcase of experimental performance art with a plethora of premieres and an edgy degree of “it’ll be alright on the night” improvisation.

This year’s festival took advantage of the ICA Bar (regular host to DJs and projectionists) by presenting a series of eclectic musical partnerships to loosen up the punters for the main events in the theatre. On the opening night, Fabienne Audeoud and L’Orange screeched and swooned respectively, offering the A to Z of female vocal tactics to bewildered boozers. ICA members, in for a quick pre-commute pint, were hurried homeward by Audeoud’s operatic improvisations.

In the theatre, Malcolm Boyle’s one man Mission for the Millennium introduced the fearsome faith and fantasy of evangelical revivalist Reverend Anal Hornchurch. Bose and Ficarra’s experimental film last june-4.30am provided respite in its fuzzy evocation of fleeting internal landscapes and the German quintet, Obst Obscure, entered still shadowier realms with their ghostly Kino Concert, incorporating filmic imagery into a Kafka inspired soundscape.

This same spaced out vibe coloured Thursday’s Trance Magic set by Polish vocalist/pianist/composer Jarmilia Xymena Gorna whose wild, echoey arpeggios bewitched the urbane drinkers. In the theatre Jane Chapman’s harpsichord found startling contemporary resonances, in dialogue with Daniel Biro’s Fender, Rhodes’ piano and Peter Lockett’s percussion. Two short films failed to impress amidst these sonic assaults and it was only the concluding performance of Tweeling by Retina Dance Company which reasserted the earlier intensity. Filip van Huffel and Sacha Lee’s demotic twins were all id as they forged the naked will to separate and dance their raw new selves into life. This act of creation, to Jules Maxwell’s evocative score, drew a cohesive conclusion to an epic evening.

Friday focused on a real-time ISDN linked jam with musicians in Nice, however a shamefaced Luc Martinez communicated the first anticlimax of the festival, announcing the failure of the video link. The audio connection to audiences and artists gathered at CIRM (Centre International pour Recherche de la Musique) left much to the imagination. As Martinez manipulated photo-sensitive instruments through a jazzy improvisation, it was unclear whether the intervening noises were his distant colleagues or simply another sample from his own computer. And yet the loss of raison d’etre did not entirely deflate this event as the bilingual apologies were followed by a ghostly, obscurely enchanting exchange with the ether. It is ironic that the much fanfared New Media Centre of the ICA cannot overcome an obstacle as concrete and foreseeable as the two incompatible national ISDN networks which undermined this event. Blame lies both with the venue’s lack of support for visiting artists and with the artists themselves, inadequately prepared, as ever, for the age-old technical hitch.

In more controlled circumstances, the festival drew to a close in the safe hands of saxophonist Evan Parker, in conversation with Lawrence Casserley’s diabolical deck of sound processors. Repeating her anomalous intervention with another disappointing dance/film, Jane Turner’s company presented Hybrid, a work as uninspiring as Friday’s solo, Compost, demonstrating that multiple media can confound artists and confuse audiences, with distracting results.

The enduring value of Lustfest, like most multimedia ventures, lies in its ambition. The disjunction between rhetoric and reality, ideals and outcomes, is typical of such progressive initiatives. Artists inspired by the multiple opportunities of cross-cultural, cross artform creativity, facilitated by new technologies will never be thorough or pragmatic. The outcome of all this abundance is almost by necessity erratic. Audiences, forearmed with tolerance, tempered expectations and a capacity to spot the golden needle in the haystack, will doubtless return to the ICA for Lustfest ’99, if either organisation remains.

Strange Fruits, Nature’s Mutations, Lust, Institute of Contemporary Art, London, March 25 – 28

RealTime issue #25 June-July 1998 pg. 14

© Sophie Hansen; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Solon Ulbrich, Gilli O’Connel, Rapture

Solon Ulbrich, Gilli O’Connel, Rapture

Solon Ulbrich, Gilli O’Connel, Rapture

Moving hastily past the title Indepen/dance for this new triple-bill production, curated by One Extra at the Seymour Theatre Centre, I quickly realised that what was implied by the title had less to do with the artists’ aesthetic concerns than with their economic status.

Such a conventional format, and the equally conventional proscenium arch provided by the venue, the Everest Theatre, didn’t allow much room for the choreographers to play and presented staging problems, not least because of the load of theatrical, aesthetic and technical values and expectations that come with that territory. And if the artists are inexperienced, young, or lack cohesive artistic direction, any divergence from those expectations, intended or otherwise, is not well served. In this environment, work tends to look as if it’s aspiring to the same aesthetic values as, say, Sydney Dance Company, regardless of what the original concerns might have been, and if it fails to compare favourably on that level, then other choreographic ideas become reduced.

But the first of the 3 works was most successful, drawing for its effect on the choreographer’s colourful imagination. h.t.d.a.p.h. (or how to draw a perfect heart), is really a duet rather than a solo, choreographed by performer Lisa Ffrench, with DJ Jad McAdam’s quiet chat-style vocal design setting the ambient mood. We are invited to attend lightly to love, longing, loneliness and late-night radio, as well as Lisa’s obsession with drawing hearts and finding fate in their artistry.

Opening her heart-rending story with a fake-blood-on-the-shower-curtain Psycho routine, she describes further how she has drawn hearts on misted shower glass, on foggy windows, on telephone memo pads. Once again wearing her now infamous rubber gloves—don’t ask me why—Ffrench tells us the story of her obsession with lurve.

Surprisingly enough, before leaving for the theatre that night, a friend suddenly asked, “Do you believe in love?” Startled, I went, “Um, well, um, yes. What an odd question.” When it was revealed that she meant mainly the undying eros variety, I gave it all away by saying, “Oh, that? No, not these days. People over 40 don’t, do they?” And then, having said that, to be confronted as if with a continuation of that odd conversation in Lisa Ffrench’s material! It must be in the air. So I could have thought, oh, dear, I’m all wrong, everybody is thinking about it. Or, I might also ask, why do choreographers mostly deal with issues of interest to people predominantly under 30?

As the program unfolded, it was increasingly the second question which leapt to mind; and it’s not the material necessarily, but its treatment which creates problems. For instance, the last work, Rapture, choreographed by Rosetta Cook and performed by her company of 10 or so dancers, seemed to be a work made for young children. It opened with all the dancers carrying on tiny kiddie suitcases which they fiercely and possessively clasped to their breasts in parody of sulky 2-year olds protecting their favourite toys. While the performers are undoubtedly serious in their intent to depict various aspects of erotic rapture, in the end, the effect is unintended and unfortunate parody: the ‘drama’, the ‘passion’, the ‘pathos’ of young storybook love sends itself up with empty style, little social commentary or exploration, and little contemporary relevance.

The work itself was given depth mostly by the musical design, a collection of schmalzy classics, predominantly romantic, and violin-based, splendidly passionate and love-lorn, played at an overpowering volume. Around this hung the dance material, and some of the duets I remembered seeing in prior performances, set apart and more delicately focused than seemed possible in this longer work. Here, the ensembles and never-ending twining, lifting, pleading, sitting, sulking, running, chasing, throwing, smiling etc, developed an overall blander texture, adding little to the overwhelmingly strong imagery created firstly by the familiar and much-loved romance of the music.

The middle work, dear carrie, choreographed by Marilyn Miller, was as it said, a work in progress, again not well served by the venue. The story is ambitious and personal, dealing with the tragedy of an Aboriginal woman, Carrie, whose life was ruined by the cruelty of displacement, and the spiritual and physical oppression and degradation she experienced at the hands of religious do-gooders. The dance, while simultaneously caught in the net of 70s modern, studded with iconic 90s Aboriginal dance images, structured with its strange anti-climactic ending, and laced with a raw, histrionic soundtrack, had a straightforwardness which might have been simple naivety, but which insisted on its dignity. Even so, while such tragedy is obviously deep, compelling and passionately felt, a quieter, more understated, arm’s length realisation might have allowed space for the audience’s compassion, and communicated the choreographer’s intent better than it otherwise did.

Indepen/dance: h.t.d.a.p.h. choreographer-performer Lisa Ffrench; Rapture, choreographer Rosetta Cook; dear carrie, choreographer Marilyn Miller; curated by One Extra Dance Company, Seymour Theatre Centre, May 15

RealTime issue #25 June-July 1998 pg. 16

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

Ros Warby

Ros Warby

Sitting in the darkness, audience and performers alike wait for Ros Warby’s Enso to begin. We are forced to listen—to the rustles and coughs of others, whilst we open ourselves to the moment. Sometimes it is hard to identify an improvised work but listening is often one of its telltale signs. Enso moves between 3 performers, dancer (Ros Warby), cellist (Helen Mountfort) and singer (Jeannie Van de Velde). The flow of material throughout the piece is punctuated with spaces where each performer listens, waiting for each other to begin.

We are told that the structure of the work is set but that its content is open. There is a sense that the performers know who will begin a section. Eyes flicker towards Mountfort’s cello, ears strain towards Van de Velde’s voice, bodies lean to where Warby is waiting to move. But, and this is another of improvisation’s telltale signs, there is an episodic character to the flow of the piece. At one point, Warby’s movements are driven to the wall by Van de Valde’s vocal crescendo. Then a waiting for the next interaction to occur. A little later, Warby develops a most beautiful, intricate spinning motion across the room, then stops. More listening. A fan of Warby’s dancing, I want more from her. I don’t want her to wait for the others, to do nothing while allowing their contribution. But I have to accept the equity of the situation, its play between leading, listening, following, playing solo, making duets, forming trios.

There is scintillation to Warby’s movement, an exquisite attention to detail—the curlicue of her fingers, the twisted line of an arm—which speak of the moment. The attention permeating Warby’s body fills the most minute of spaces in a glorious detail; a dimly lit arm, curling and shaping itself, the length of a back spiralling into the turn of a head. One of Warby’s distinctive qualities is her ability to vary her speed with little apparent effort. Her work is textured by a subtle variety of velocities. A contemplation of fingers, wrist, and arm becomes a fast moving checkerboard of movement without notice.

Although set choreography can admit of any amount of depth and detail, there is a perceptual awareness which resonates in some improvisational work. One senses that the performer is utterly engaged in the moment, discovering and perceiving the work as it occurs. This distinguishes improvisation from set choreography, for the performer is making the work as it is being performed. Here, the performer, like audience, apprehends the unfolding of the work within the temporality of the performance itself. That makes for a certain degree of excitement.

Seasoned performers, Peter Trotman and Andrew Morrish, exploit that excitement for their own and other’s amusement. Their latest work, The Charlatan’s Web, is full of very funny moments where one performer invents a brazen complication which the other partner must incorporate. We the audience are invited to gloat over the sudden landscape which improvisation is able to thrust upon its subjects. The Charlatan’s Web was developed over 4 performances into an epic tale of character and intrigue. A man without qualities is banished from a religious cloister for the mortal sin of knowledge. He sails away to avoid execution, ultimately jumping ship in order to spin a web of chicanery and deceit. Andrew Morrish plays the hapless novice-cum-artful trickster, and Peter Trotman the feverish priest, who devours his books with a carnal lust.

The work begins with a duet, where Trotman and Morrish move simply from the back of the stage to the front. This enables them to establish a play of timing and rapport. Once established, the duo moves apart. A good deal of the tale is told by one performer moving and the other providing narrative, whether on stage or off. The work has a gem-like quality, of candle-lit cameos such as Trotman’s intense portrayal of the priest huddled over his books, sucking out their contents; the main character is himself a man of many faces; and the narrative just a series of fragments.

This is largely a play between word and movement. Neither performer exhibits a dancerly technique. Their panache comes from their energy and timing. They are utterly committed to their performance and to each other, such that the work as a whole and the contribution of each is seamless. I think the longevity of the Trotman-Morrish partnership—16 years—enables this duo to comfortably risk the narrative flow of their work for the greater good of the piece. Trotman and Morrish have just returned from the 1997 New York Improvisational Festival, where Deborah Jowitt of the Village Voice described them as “two extremely wily, full throttle performers whose nutty dancing and subtle timing elevate verbal wit into inspired madness” (December 1997).

Enso and The Charlatan’s Web are ultimately distinguished by the technical skills that each performer brings to the improvisational moment. Despite the indeterminacy of improvisation, the history of people’s work inevitably speaks though their performance. Though the work itself may be fresh, the skills that make it possible are not gained so easily. It seems like a contradiction in terms to prepare for improvisation, but it takes some dexterity to produce work which surprises even the body making it.

Enso, A Choreography between Movement and Sound, Ros Warby, Helen Mountfort, and Jeannie Van de Velde, Danceworks, Melbourne, March 27 – April 5; The Charlatan’s Web, Peter Trotman and Andrew Morrish, Dancehouse, Melbourne, March 29 – April 5

Philipa Rothfield is a Melbourne academic (Philosophy, La Trobe University) and sometime performer. Her next work, Logic, will be shown at Mixed Metaphor, Dancehouse, July 2 – 5

RealTime issue #25 June-July 1998 pg. 15

© Philipa Rothfield; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Dame Edith Cowan, Australia’s first female Parliamentarian, checks out Arts_Edge

Dame Edith Cowan, Australia’s first female Parliamentarian, checks out Arts_Edge

Unusual to see an exhibition of web-based and CD-ROM work in a State collecting institution. Their particular digital obsession—not surprisingly—is digitisation of their various collections. So it was great to see Arts_Edge at the Art Gallery of WA in March, beautifully installed in the central atrium space of the gallery. It certainly found a very different kind of audience to that at your typical (sic) contemporary or screen-based art space/event: lots of school kids, families and senior citizens. The only problem I could discern, was to do with the number of stations and headsets available. It meant queues.

Arts_Edge was an integral component of Arts on the Edge, the conference on arts and education hosted by the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts, Edith Cowan University. Co-ordinated by Derek Kreckler from the Academy of Performing Arts, this project was developed with a particular commitment to the necessity of creating an archive of these kinds of works before their particular techno-historical and creative 15 minutes has passed.

The exhibition came with a $5,000 cash prize and an Apple computer donated by Westech Computers. The cash was divided between Sally Pryor (AUS) for Postcard from Tunis and Perry Hoberman (USA) for The Sub-Division of Electric Light. Francesca da Rimini and Michael Grimm (AUS) are still working out how to carve up the dual processor Apple 7220 awarded for dollspace.

A much smaller exhibition than, say, Burning the Interface or techne, it was great to actually feel you could spend time with the individual works without needing an entire lifetime to do so. Aside from the excellent winning entries, I particularly enjoyed Melinda Rackham’s Line (web-based) and Dieter Kiessling’s cute CD-ROM Continue, which suggests a parodic link to Minimalism and the Fluxus wit of the 60s and 70s. Rather than attempting to fool us into accepting the ‘false infinities’ that the hype around CD-ROM would have us believe in, Continue takes us to the other end—or perhaps the beginning—to the binary code degree zero. Continue and The Sub Division of Electric Light are just 2 of the works exhibited in the witty ZKM Artintact series (See John Conomos’ report on ZKM on page 28).

Many will be familiar with Canadian Luc Courchesne’s Portrait One also screened in Burning the Interface. Portrait One is a witty virtual dialogue between the viewer and a ‘slyly amicable girl.’ Image association determines Slippery Traces: The Postcard Trail, a collaboration between George Legrady (CAN) and Rosemary Comella (USA). The viewer navigates a maze of about 200 interconnected postcards, snapping on hot spots which take you to other images through literal, semiotic, psychoanalytic, metaphoric or other links. Speaking of slippery, Brad Miller and McKenzie Wark’s Planet of Noise occupied a machine of its own and chasing the hot spots to move through the ROM provided hours of family fun. Great graphics and sound.

A coherent and enjoyable exhibition with an excellent catalogue essay by the McKenzie Wark, an important outcome from this event is the archiving—by the WA Academy of Performing Arts—of all the works exhibited: 4 web-based and 10 CD-ROM works. The archive is intended to be developed over a 10 year period.

Exhibiting Artists: web works: Line, Melinda Rackham (AUS); The Error by John Duncan (Italy); Maintenance Web by Kevin and Jennifer McCoy and Torsten Burns (AUS); dollspace by Francesca da Rimini and Michael Grimm (AUS). CD-ROMs: Shock in the Ear by Norie Neumark (AUS); Slippery traces: the postcard trail by George Legrady (USA); Portrait One by Luc Courchesne (Canada); Manuscript by Eric Lanz (GER); Troubles with Sex, Theory and History by Marina Grzinic and Aina Smid (Slovenia); Cyber Underground Poetry by Komninos Zervos, (AUS); Postcards from Tunis by Sally Pryor (AUS); The Subdivision of Electric Light by Perry Hoberman (USA); Continue by Dieter Kiessling (Germany) and Planet of Noise by Brad Miler and McKenzie Wark (AUS).

Arts_Edge, coordinated by Derek Kreckler, Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts and Imago Multimedia Centre at the Art Gallery of WA, March 27 – April 8.

RealTime issue #25 June-July 1998 pg. 11

© Sarah Miller; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

It is an unfortunate sign of the ironic times we live in that 21.C magazine won’t be ringing in the new millennium. The magazine of the future is to be discontinued after 7 fruitful years of projection and speculation, in which the technoculture that now seems so familiar was carefully mapped out and articulated. Its last issue, “Revolting America”, edited by R.U. Sirius and prophetically subtitled “No Future”, is the magazine’s reluctant swansong, signalling, after Baudrillard, that in at least one incarnation the 3rd millennium has indeed already come and gone.

21.C had many qualities that made it distinctive. Its variety and unpredictability made it difficult to identify any singular contribution to the accelerated countdown to the future that has become so rampant in the last decade of the 20th century. However its determination to cross all checkpoints was in fact the quality that made it stand out from the crowd. 21.C was less pretentious and fashion conscious than Mondo 2000 and much broader in its scope than Wired. It recognized that the contemporary world was multi-faceted and fuzzy, a poetic body sans organs, as dependent as ever upon all areas of pre-digital cultural production. Unlike other publications attending to the trajectories of the present into the future, 21.C recognized the importance of cultural memory as well, and did its best to tease out its traces and demonstrate their propulsive force in the casting of these trajectories.

As any vigilant reader will know, 21.C fussed over its moniker as often as it changed editors: “Previews of a changing world”, “Scanning the future”, “The magazine of culture, technology and science”, “The world of ideas.” All of these missed the mark, for above all else the magazine was a preparatory guide, a concentration of reconnaissance dispatches from the future: 21.C: Mode d’emploi, a user’s manual for the world to come. On the occasion of 21.C’s passing, I spoke to publisher Ashley Crawford and editor Ray Edgar.

DT Tell me a bit about 21.C’s history.

AC & RE 21.C has had, to say the least, a tumultuous history. In a funny way 21.C has been a bit of a who’s who of Australian publishing. It was started in 1991 by the Commission for the Future, and it’s interesting to see how it captured so many imaginations. While it was Australian everyone wanted in: Barry Jones, David Dale, Robyn Williams, Paul Davies, Margaret Whitlam, Phillip Adams, the Quantum mob, lots of savvy media folk. After Gordon and Breach took it over and approached us in 1994 it went international and changed dramatically. Our mob was more R.U. Sirius, Kathy Acker, Bruce Sterling, Rudy Rucker and John Shirley; still big names, just in different circles. A different beastie altogether.

DT 21.C has been a focal publication for discussion of contemporary culture and technology. Why is it being discontinued?

AC & RE In effect it is being discontinued as a magazine but will live on as a series of books by regular 21.C contributors. However as a magazine in its most recent incarnation 21.C suffered from several problems. The company publishing the magazine is a successful publisher of highly specialized medical and scientific journals. 21.C was far from specialized in that respect and accordingly the company had great difficulty working out how to market a title which had broader appeal. Without marketing it was difficult to establish the nature of the magazine in the public’s eye. There was also the problem of advertising. As an editorial policy we avoided sucking up to the Bill Gateses of the world. The material was not about promoting product and when products were discussed such as Microsoft, Disneyland, Nike, software etc, it was usually with a critical tone as opposed to fawning. Most magazines rely upon press releases to inform them, we relied upon our writers and our instincts—probably a mistake.

DT In his Introduction to Transit Lounge [a recently published 21.C anthology, see review on page 25] William Gibson described 21.C as “determinedly eclectic.” What kind of audience were you attempting to reach?

AC & RE Again a problem. Given that the magazine’s brief was the future, well the future effects “everyone” and that was reflected by readers’ surveys. We had subscribers ranging from unemployed 18 year old hackers through to US Vice President Al Gore, scientists, graphic designers, architects, you name it. Given that it wasn’t being actively marketed towards any specific segment, well, Gibson got it right when he described it as eclectic.

DT 21.C provided an important space for Australian digital artists to get their work out into the international community, and looking through the catalogue of back issues, the promotion of new media arts was one of its most consistent features. How important was this to your editorial policy?

AC & RE Very important. One of the most amazing things about our work with digital artists and illustrators is that we could confidently state that Australia produced the best work in the world in this field. 21.C’s main sales ended up being in North America and we regularly received parcels from San Francisco and New York illustrators trying to get a gig in 21.C. However there was no comparison to the work being done here by Troy Innocent, Elena Popa, Murray McKeich, Ian Haig, James Widdowson and others. It was a wonderful challenge to illustrate the magazine. Given the futuristic topics we couldn’t exactly send a photographer to 2020 to take a snap. The illustrations had to reflect the content, but could rarely be literal. They were impressionistic images of a world yet to come.

DT It could also be argued that 21.C really got into discussions of multimedia art before anyone else. What’s your sense of the magazine’s contribution to multimedia criticism?

AC & RE Well naturally we would hope that it has a lasting impact. I strongly believe that the writings of McKenzie Wark, Mark Dery, Bruce Sterling and in a more quirky sense R.U. Sirius, Rudy Rucker and Margaret Wertheim stand up very strongly indeed. Really, not many other publications have delved into multimedia criticism as heavily as 21.C with the exception of MediaMatic, which definitely leads the field in terms of words, but which unfortunately doesn’t have the budget to illustrate the discussions as lavishly as we did.

DT In the final analysis, you always had a problem with categorisation, didn’t you? Do you think in the public imagination 21.C was over-identified as an internet/cyberculture publication?

AC & RE Yeah, people described it all sorts of ways. A socially aware Wired, an intelligent Mondo 2000. But it was by no means a Wired, and it was not really what you’d call an internet magazine, although as a subject area that was a regular element. But it was more what was being done creatively on the New, eg Mark Amerika’s Grammatron or Richard Metzger’s Disinformation, than it was about commercial or technological developments. 21.C was, essentially, a cultural studies magazine produced in an age of cyberbabble, trying to make sense of the creative furore in an undefined cultural era.

Darren Tofts is the author (with artist Murray McKeich) of Memory Trade. A Prehistory of Cyberculture forthcoming 1998, Craftsman House. He is also working on a collection of essays on art, culture and technology.

Some aspects of 21.C can still be found here http://www.21cmagazine.com Eds. 2013

RealTime issue #25 June-July 1998 pg. 24

© Darren Tofts; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Tee Ken Ng, Untitled

Tee Ken Ng, Untitled

Part of the wonder of encounters with artworks is the juxtaposition between your own efforts to comprehend a piece, if that is what you do, and the intepretation presented in the ‘artist’s statement’. The disjuncture that can at times emerge prompts some questions. To what extent is an artwork independent of its accompanying text? (Can or should it even be thought in such terms?) Does the extra-discursive nature of experimental artwork sabotage the potential it may have to correlate with the logic of written statements of intent, flimsy as they often are? These are some of the reactions I had to two exhibitions that use decommodified and new technologies to explore both the place and use of technology in culture and society.

Electronic media are used by three of the seven artists in fresh, an annual exhibition at PICA where select emerging artists dialogue with a curator—PICA exhibitions officer Katie Major this year—as they develop their artworks for public display.

Tee Ken Ng’s installation Onto Itself makes use of reflective smoked glass to form a pane of illusion between two television monitors on which usually incommensurate subject matter converges: a running tap bubbles water over one TV surface; a suspended glass mug contains a straw of TV static; a digitally produced inanimate object contracts and expands its way into life as it passes, somewhat paradoxically, through TV static in an evolution of descent. While these arrangements do have a momentary fascination that comes with their peculiar form of presentation, they are less successful I think at communicating the counter-discourse on or critique of televisual discourses suggested in the artist’s statement.

Similarly, Neale Ricketts’ statement promises interesting things for Click, a large video projection of mostly indistinct images: “By comparing the nature of the format (film) with the essence of the subject (waste), I am hoping to encourage an exploration into notions of waste and its by-products, which thus recycled, are able to once again, be meaningfully consumed by our society.” Unfortunately, such ambition, important as it is, does not translate across to the work itself. Ricketts is also interested in issues of public surveillance by video cameras, and signifies this to a small extent by placing at the base of the video projection two video monitors with connected cameras, one of which transmits the image of the audience onto a monitor as they enter the installation space, while the other just points to the second monitor.

Part of the problem of employing new technologies in artwork as vehicles to communicate a critique of the technologies’ attendant culture, is that the capacity for dazzle tends to overwhelm the subject of critique. The artwork becomes a display of what technologies can do, rather than an articulation of, say, decommodification and cultural practices of consumption.

Across the car park divide from PICA, in the modest space of Artshouse Gallery, is an exhibition of sculptural works by visiting Melbourne artist Michael Bullock. Resting on cardboard supports poking out of one the gallery walls, are 10 cardboard scale models of obsolete technologies: TVs, a vacuum cleaner, a toaster, speakers, a tape player, an iron, a record player. Above each object is a typewritten text, usually a humorous anecdote of the artist’s habit of collecting and accumulating various mechanical and technological devices manufactured mostly in the 70s, only to then store them in a closet or back shed as a particular item fails to perform beyond its use by date.

Like Ng and Ricketts, Bullock too is interested in the kinds of peculiar things we do with technology in its stages of decommodification. Quite different though is his strategy of expression, avoiding the risk of the technology of production overwhelming its product, the artwork itself. His cardboard models, which could well have been pre-assembly line prototypes, stand somewhat pathetically as items once desired for their sheen and ‘new frontier’ domestic status. In some cases, objects like the record player or toasted sandwich maker have undergone a process of recommodification as the item attains a kitsch or cult value status. Bullock’s text and sculptures are mutually constitutive of each other, with the text situating the junk technologies in a contemporaneity that is both out of the closet and away from the ignored display shelves of manufacturer’s showrooms, if such things exist.

fresh, an exhibition of installation, time based and electronic media works, curator, Katie Major, Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts (PICA), March 26 – April 26. End of the Line, a project of sculptural works by Michael Bullock, Artshouse Gallery, Perth Cultural Centre, April 17 – 26

RealTime issue #25 June-July 1998 pg. 30

© Ned Rossiter; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

After receiving relatively small amounts of support (nominally ‘program grants’) from the Australia Council in 1996 and 1997, the Paige Gordon Company failed to receive subsequent funding towards a new work Raising the Standard. Arts ACT, the company’s main funder did support the creation of the work. However…

JP What made you want to leave Canberra?

PG Although we didn’t receive Australia Council funding, we have been pretty well-funded by Arts ACT—the second best funded company here. However, dollars funding is one thing, support in terms of ongoing administration is another altogether. They fund you to a point and then expect you to survive. So no company in the ACT ever gets a chance to grow. In terms of a full-time dance company, $80,000 just doesn’t cut it. It’s crazy. And they have an expectation that you’ll do the work for free, and you’ll keep on doing it for free. And that’s ‘quote-unquote’ what they’ve said to me. There’s no valuing or comprehension of what a full time contemporary dance company means. It’s happened to a few companies, dance companies in particular—Meryl Tankard going, Vis a Vis going, and then Padma Menon going. So if my skills are going to be better rewarded somewhere else in the marketplace, then I’m going to seek out that opportunity. That’s exactly what I did.

JP Is it also more difficult now with the presence of The Choreographic Centre?

PG I guess as soon as that was set up and well-funded, it was going to be knock out competition. The Centre gives little bits of support to lots of artists and so, in terms of grants, they’re actually pleasing a lot of people. And I’ve spoken to the artists who have been there and they say it’s a great opportunity. But in terms of development of their craft, I don’t know how much it contributes. And the Centre doesn’t have to build audiences—they’ve got a capacity of 60 in their theatre, and they’ll get that anyway because people are interested in dance. It is a good place to have a choreographic centre because Canberra is a transient place, everyone comes and goes. But in terms of follow-up for the artists, I’m not sure it meets a need.

Canberra’s a great place but people would love to have a dance company they could call their own. There are lots of people who don’t want The Choreographic Centre. And there are lots of people that, yes, they like seeing performances there but they don’t feel a sense of ownership. And whilst I think it is really true that The Choreographic Centre is fantastic nationally—where else could it really be other than the national capital—it’s a shame that things can’t be considered equally in funding terms. I think there is enough room for the centre and for a company and I think the funding bodies should recognise that.

JP How did you carve out your own niche in the context of bigger companies visiting more frequently and presenting work on a larger scale?

PG We’ve visited all the high schools in Canberra to help them with their rock eisteddfod performances; we do corporate gigs (like the opening of the Canberra museum and gallery); and we did the opening of Playhouse. I see dance as being a really vital part of living—not just on stage. And a place like Canberra is fantastic for that. It’s also great that Meryl Tankard and Chunky Move and the Australian Ballet and Bangarra come and do that big stuff, which then enables me to do work on the fringe and outside the mainstream.

JP What does the new position with Buzz Dance Theatre in Perth hold for you?

PG Well my work is going to develop—while I’m on salary, which is wild! And the dancers will be on salary and the studio is going to be heated and we won’t have splinters in our feet and we’re going to have administrative support and a production person. And I’m going to have a chance to be in the studio every day. I’m walking in big shoes—Philippa Clarke has been there for 8 years so there is really quite a high standard. The company also does a lot of regional touring, and a lot of school work, which is important for developing the next generational audience. As well I want to bring to Buzz the national network of contacts that I have.

JP Have you been happy with what you’ve done here?

PG Well it’s always easier to assess your work in hindsight. I think that most of the pieces that I’ve done, I’ve been happy with. I like to put a work on and then 6 months later look at it again, that’s part of the choreographic learning process. It does take years and I’m quite happy to spend my life learning the craft. I want to be able to say when I’m 60, ‘Yeah, I think I got about five shows right.’ I really want to keep evolving.

JP Are you leaving with any negative feelings?

PG The reason why I sought out the job in Perth was related to just knowing that after 7 years of going ‘please, please, please’ I couldn’t do it anymore. I knew that while we were going to be up for triennial funding next year from Arts ACT, we were also told that it was going to be the same amount of money. What did they want, my blood? So while I’m not leaving with any really negative feelings, I think Arts ACT do need to realise that if they want to nurture a professional dance company—or theatre company, or opera company—they actually need to look at how they’re structuring the grant applications for those organisations.

With the Australia Council, they funded us for 2 years running, and then they changed their policy so it was project-related funding. So, Made to Move for instance, who are quite interested in touring my work, are not going to take us on just the possibility that we may get funding for next year. So they take on the companies that have guaranteed funding for next year. So it’s a bit of a bad situation that dance has got itself into. I don’t know how, but it has.

The Paige Gordon Company production Party Party Party has received the support of Playing Australia and Health Pact and will tour in August.

RealTime issue #25 June-July 1998 pg. 16

© Julia Postle; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

If the addition of music to this the third Australia Council Performing Arts Market was welcome but predictable, the presence of new media arts came as a very pleasant surprise. Of course, an expanding number of performing artists work with the new media but expectations are usually of sound and screen works unmediated by any presence other than the viewer/interactor. As New Media Arts Fund Manager Lisa Colley reminds us later in this article, the fund is about this and much more.

Linda Wallace, director of the machine hunger company which won the tender to present new media arts at the Performing Arts Market, told me in a telephone interview she had proposed the “production of a set of useful information tools for the market.” She described the market as “an event which I viewed as an initial gateway to the Australia Council’s ongoing, long-term strategy for marketing new media arts.” She was also mindful that the market audience might not necessarily know much about the new media arts area, so the tools needed to be simple and accessible. machine hunger produced a publication, a video and organised the exhibition which also featured a range of CD-ROM works.

“The publication was cost-effective at A5 size, 24 pages, enabling space for 20 artists, companies or projects, one per page. I was project manager and editor, and Susan Charlton joined machine hunger as deputy editor of the publication, which we titled Embodying the Information Age.”

How did Linda go about selecting the artists? “From a list of New Media Arts fundees I curated the final group. I saw it as both a curatorial and a marketing project, primarily for new media arts, and secondly for the Fund and the Australia Council. So I didn’t curate on the basis of how much money different artists had received from the Fund, instead, the artists selected were diverse in their approach to new media arts, and also had a professionalism which could be relied upon to ‘deliver the goods.’ There are performance groups, digital/installation artists and crossmedia projects like Metabody. I put emphasis on the potential of the internet as both a medium for art and also as an information medium for festivals—it’s critical for festivals to understand how the internet can extend their reach, and the reach of featured art projects, to a global audience. Some of the festival directors at the market seemed to understand this.”

What was your prime aim? “To get the publication into delegates’ hands and later onto their bookshelves. It was something I felt that overseas and local delegates would want to take home with them, as it is a stylishly presented, useful object covering a number of areas and artists, and with email contacts. I was keen to avoid the paperfarm approach of stacks of ugly brochures and junk, and also the busy pop ‘multimedia’ aesthetic. In terms of design our exhibition, or stand, was minimal, with the eyecatching, jewel-like publication, a jumbo monitor showing either a CD-ROM work or the videotape which featured a larger range of new media artworks.”

I emailed Lisa Colley at the Australia Council for her account of the fund’s venture and asked, “Why New Media Arts at a performing arts market?” Lisa wrote back, “New media arts are broader than sound and screen cultures. We need to keep in mind the purpose of the fund which is based on interdisciplinary, collaborative work that crosses art form boundaries. Many of the artists supported by New Media Arts see themselves as performing artists, so we wanted to ensure a showcase for their work within the Performing Arts Market. A number of the shows, including Burn Sonata, Hungry and Masterkey in the Adelaide Festival and the market had their genesis with the current fund’s precursor, Hybrid Arts. As well, we wanted to ensure that works difficult to show as part of the Showcase [a set of half hour performances of excerpts from larger works—ed.] because of technical requirements were given an opportunity as well.

“Also, we knew that international visitors to the market were interested in looking at work that was outside of the international festival performance circuit. This could provide a broader range of opportunities for artists here in terms of residencies, exhibitions and so on. Many festivals have programs that cross over into exhibition and installation work. This proved to be true and we had substantial interest from overseas presenters who want to commission work, pick up existing work and, in longer term relationships, develop exchange opportunities.”

I asked Lisa about the value of the booklet, Embodying the Information Age. “We wanted to produce something that had a life beyond the market. It is critical that we can inform people about the work that is supported by the fund. Of course it only reveals a small number of the artists in this area, but they are representative of a much bigger movement. We have also put excerpts from the booklet up on the web pages that we developed to coincide with the recent launch of the New Media Arts Fund and we hope to add to this over time. As more work supported by the fund is created we hope we can inform people about the outcomes. This is something we are constantly being asked for, and is a way of value-adding to the grants process. The spread of information can be expanded by hyperlinking to artists’ sites as well as organisations like RealTime and exhibition sites currently being developed. As with the booklet, we’re not acting as agents for these artists—they have their own email and web sites and can be contacted directly about their work.”

What kind of response was there to the presence of New Media Arts at the market? “There was a very positive response from international delegates who thought it was a natural and timely addition to the market. I have now established contact with a small group of presenters and producers and we are in email contact and hopefully we should see some results. The artists so far have experienced a very positive response to the booklet with many of them having been contacted about work both nationally and internationally. It has proven a very useful tool for their own marketing and promotion. We have now circulated it to all our Australian diplomatic posts and have plans for further circulation nationally and internationally. It represents part of a broader advocacy and marketing strategy for the work of new media artists which we hope to develop further. The fund now having a more secure position within the Council will allow us to develop this approach more comprehensively and with a long term view.”

I asked Susan Charlton about responses to the New Media Arts fund initiative. She emailed back that, “The fact that we were tangential to the market was an advantage in that we could really fulfil an advocacy role without the same commercial pressures that a lot of other companies would have been under to make deals. In this way it was a well conceived first step—for the Fund and for delegates just beginning to think about the area. At the same time, contacts didn’t just dissolve into the ether. Lisa Colley from the Fund was also there to assist possible connections between delegates and the artists they expressed interest in.

“Also the fact that the market was associated with the Adelaide Festival, rather than being linked to the National Theatre Festival in Canberra as it was in previous years, was in our favour. The diversity and multidisciplinary nature of the festival program enhanced dialogue about the possibilities of artists of various sorts using new technologies in their work. Delegates were not just locked into a theatre mindset.

“Many were already familiar with new media arts, but there were several who weren’t. Those new to the area seemed to be propelled by forces greater than themselves. They recognised that there was a demand for new media arts from their audiences and they had to get up to speed to be able to create programs. The New Media Arts stall allowed them to take the first steps of inquiry without feeling foolish. Most attention came in the first days, but once the showcase program began everyone was very committed and focussed on that. However many purposely revisited us in the closing days to make sure they had everything they needed.”

Invariably the benefits of the Performing Arts Market are long term. It’ll be interesting to see how the new media arts figure in the next market in 2000 as more artists and performers generate more possibilities from their engagements with technology. In a forthcoming report we’ll look at the work of the various agencies involved in the promotion of new media arts.

New Media Arts at the 3rd Performing Arts Market was a project of the Audience Development and Advocacy Division of the Australia Council in association with the New Media Arts Fund, February 1998.

RealTime issue #25 June-July 1998 pg. 12

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

“The virtual attaches itself to the body to assuage its fears. The virtual is constantly reiterating: here is something, where actually there is nothing. The virtual is an appendage to life, the interface with life. The virtual belongs to the establishment of reality, not to what the virtual is accused of—unreality, immateriality.”
William Forsythe, Frankfurt Ballet

In this work dancers Hellen Sky and Louise Taube perform a series of playful meditations on the body mediated by technology. As in their earlier work The Pool is Damned, though highly sophisticated and proficient in its use of technology, there’s still some sense in the company’s work of the poignancy of early experiments.

“What does the weight of my flesh and bones have on this conversation?” the recorded voice in Mediated persistently asks.

The work is installed in Gallery 101 in Collins Street, Melbourne, an hermetic white studio with a set of experiments in progress. Aluminium frames form mirrors, frames, screens, trays. The audience moves to each of the installations as the dancers animate them. They lie in the tray of sand at the rear of the room, 2 dancers of almost identical stature, spooning, shifting as in sleep. As the bodies move, the sand makes a space for the lacy projections of bodies on the screen nearby. As often throughout the performance, the audience focus is largely on the dancers until they gradually notice the projected images. They tap one another on the shoulders and point to screens. Gradually they take in the 2 at once, the mode mostly required of them in Mediated which seems less interested with the possibilities of delays and disjunctions, occasional dominations, than the experience of simultaneity.

The dancers move to a standing frame and dance in tandem against their own captured images from the sand. The image of the bodies is amorphous, then all edge. Its shape confined to a smaller frame, the shape of the choreography blurs. We look at the real dancers, glean the shape of their dancing and compare it with its vapour trail in the virtual. There’s less sense of the technology intersecting the dance or attempts at creating a choreography of the screen.

A large central screen. On blue squares the dancers perform a mirror dance at its most interesting when their separation moves them out of synch. Their live images vie with projections of another body. A series of spots on the screen trigger lighting and Garth Paine’s interactive sound environment.

Then something quite distinctive happens. At the other end of the room suspended horizontally less than a metre above the floor is a large tray full of water, another aluminium frame but with a glass bottom. A camera underneath the tray looks up through the water at the ceiling. High above is a screen. As Hellen Sky moves over the water, Louise Taube pushes the tray from side to side. Sky’s projected image above is sharper than we’ve seen up to now, then screen and body turn to water. A filter emphasising facial planes, the live body is transformed, becomes radiant, golden. The ceiling of air conditioning ducts becomes painterly. The audience gaze goes from the real body, through the water to the ceiling. Our fears are temporarily dispelled. Suddenly the screen is a liquid space, the body breaks the membrane momentarily fulfilling our desires for something more than mediation. Soon one dancer operates the camera to look at the other and there’s a sense of the two creating something in real time, at play with the technology. The performers’ action agreeably shapes the audience’s attention.

The final sequence occurs in a corridor broken up by small red laser lights. At the end of the space a monitor relays recorded images of a dancer’s body—like architectural drawings of hips and thighs and feet. The dancers moving through the lights trigger this sensual cycle of body images on CD-ROM.

Later we go backstage to see John McCormick’s own ‘installation’. Along one wall, a set of vintage Amiga computers and the odd Apple, cords, plugs and keyboards balanced precariously. He tells us that some of the technology is so old now you can’t get it fixed. He’s had to take to it with a soldering iron.

The scale of Company in Space’s investigation is as impressive as we’ve seen in interactive dance in Australia. In concentrating on the interplay between the technology and the dancers, Company in Space are well on the way to creating a work of significance. At this moment, the projected bodies are so different from the live ones that an act of dissociation occurs, the audience giving each a different kind of focus. The technology searches for its aesthetic and we look for the live and screen bodies to begin a more equal conversation with the audience, but the sense of an emerging hybrid fascinates.

Mediated, Company in Space, Gallery 101, Collins Street, Melbourne for Next Wave Festival, May 2, 9, 16, 23

RealTime issue #25 June-July 1998 pg. 14

© Keith Gallasch & Virginia Baxter; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Angie Pötsch

Angie Pötsch

Angie Pötsch

Dancehouse’s Mixed Metaphor season of multimedia movement works will launch the MAP (Movement and Performance) season of dance events across Melbourne throughout June and July. Presented annually by Dancehouse, Mixed Metaphor provides a crucial platform for experienced choreographers and artists creating works which aim to push conceptual and kinetic attitudes and blur the boundaries between dance, text, sound, image, design, physical theatre and technology. The first week of Mixed Metaphor 98 features: an internet link-up between San Francisco and Melbourne, where text and body converge through a digital dialogue in Heliograph, devised and performed by Sarah Neville with Matt Thomas, Becky Jenkin, Nic Mollison, Nik Gaffney; an exploration of suburban architecture and secrets, Blindness, choreographed and performed by Gretel Taylor with Telford Scully, Renee Whitehouse, James Welch; a surreal mapping of the myth of St Sebastian inspired by the writings of Yukio Mishima in Out of the Schoolroom Window by MIXED COMPANY directed by Tony Yap. In week two, Margaret Trail performs ‘Hi, it’s me’, an investigation of the body’s relationship with transmitted sound; Christos Linou performs his portrait of addiction and the AIDS virus, FIDDLE-DE-DIE; Philipa Rothfield, with Elizabeth Keen, creates a conversation between logic and the body in Logic, and Angie Potsch paints and dances with light in temporal. The Mixed Metaphor season also features a number of site-specific installations: a collection of red books, Red herring, by Charles Russell; photographs of urban architecture by James Welch; Kitesend, a ‘moving’ installation employing paper sculptures, by Hanna Hoyne and Lou Duckett. At an open forum entitled metaphorically speaking on Sunday July 5 at 2pm, issues and ideas arising from the works in the season will be discussed. RT

Mixed Metaphor, Dancehouse, June 25-27 at 8pm & June 28 at 5pm; July 2-4 at 8pm & July 5 at 5pm

RealTime issue #25 June-July 1998 pg. 15

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Michelle Ferguson in The Ecstasy of Communication

Michelle Ferguson in The Ecstasy of Communication

Michelle Ferguson in The Ecstasy of Communication

not hyper real
not virtual real
this is just real
watch your back
wear sensible shoes
and be prepared
to play ball
from Ecstasy poster

When the publicity for The Ecstasy of Communication came out, I found it difficult to envisage just what Ecstasy was going to be. The title gives nothing away other than its implication, perhaps, of some engagement with illicit recreational substances. In fact, it’s taken from a work by Jean Baudrillard questioning the credibility of much of what is presented by the mainstream media.

A project of Salamanca Theatre Company, the piece is a joint effort involving Hobart and Sydney-based artists with no traditional use of script or story-line, but a multitude of images and environments. Salamanca caters primarily for school-aged audiences (without any patronising theatre-in-education-type agenda) and also presents some theatre for a wider audience.

Ecstasy is co-directed by Salamanca’s Artistic Director Deborah Pollard and Alicia Talbot from Sydney. The designer is Samuel James of Melbourne, who constructed the maze along with Don Hopkins. Sound design and video installation are by Nicholas Wishart. The performers are from Salamanca, 14 of them rotating the roles each night of the season.

This novel collaboration between emerging artists incorporates a variety of visual artforms, video, photography, computer-generated images and soundworks, along with integrated grabs of live performance, randomly encountered as one travels through the maze. Alicia Talbot described the event as “a bit like being the ball inside a pinball machine”. A local newspaper came up with another analogy: “a website made into a real space, a maze with corridors and illusions in which it is entirely possible to get lost”.

The idea is this: audience members arrive at the scheduled starting time, are organised into groups of about 10 and, at 10 minute intervals, are invited into the “reception area” of the maze, where a hyper-efficient, slightly hysterical “secretary” (very amusingly played on opening night by Sarah Chapman) “interviews” them, gives a few suggestions for negotiating the maze—and off they go, more or less separately from that point. (You find your own way, you don’t have to stay in your group and you go in whatever directions the fancy takes you.)

The first obstacle is the entrance proper, which starts as a passage but becomes a low tunnel through which one has to crawl. From then on there are choices of mysterious doors, concealed entrance ways, intersecting corridors and specially constructed rooms, nooks and alcoves. Everything is in semi-darkness. Each space has a raison d’être; there are artworks here and there (nothing conventional, of course), an interactive, a video to watch, or a peephole, a sound installation or walls of textures to explore, or… The attractions are ingeniously simple but very seductive: a phone and answering machine installation with messages “just for you”; a TV showing a video by, for example, Matt Warren from the Empire Collective (featured in RealTime 23), complete with a box of TV Snax; a tableau photograph by Craig Blowfield staged as a visual pun on Bernini’s Ecstasy of Theresa and itself constructed as a photo-collage—a postmodern in-joke for Art History groupies; a red room carpeted and lined with fake fur and padded satin, to caress and roll around in…or whatever you choose; a closed-circuit TV where you can be the star, a fairground-style mini-theatre where you direct the actor…

Negotiating the maze was a fascinating experience and particularly notable for the camaraderie the whole exercise engendered between participants; as you ran into people in the various nooks and crannies you engaged with them, enthused with them about the experience—whether you knew them or not. It was that kind of event—much more people-friendly than even the most wine-soaked exhibition opening!

Interestingly, for an interactive piece incorporating technology with live performers, there were none of the embarrassingly forced “audience participation/humiliation” components beloved of stand-up comics…the sort of thing that makes one uneasy about sitting in the front rows at some theatres.

The contribution of several teams of personnel deserves mention. There was a rotating team of Salamanca Theatre performers, many of whom also worked on the volunteer construction team. Besides those cited earlier, multimedia works for Ecstasy were provided by Robin Petterd, Sean Bacon, Mark Cornelius, Sally Harbison, Brian Martin, Sarah Greenwood, most of them former or current students at the local School of Art.

It’s difficult to make any unfavourable observations about The Ecstasy of Communication. It occurred to me, that the event may not be suitable for people with limited physical mobility. However, the availability of different entrance ways and access-points permitted some flexibility in this regard. The event generated a lot of interest amongst local schools and teachers. The prospect of accommodating largish groups of school-age visitors, let loose in a semi-darkened maze seems, to me, likewise a bit daunting—but again, not an insoluble challenge. I understand student visitors entered into the spirit with excitement and got the most out of it.

These are minor speculations, really, in the scheme of things. The sheer vision and inventiveness of Ecstasy, its ambition and scope, the skill and effort that went into bringing it to fruition—the pleasure and the surprise of the whole interactive experience—these are its achievements. The over-used and often incorrectly ascribed description ‘unique’ is, in this case, perfectly accurate.

The Ecstasy of Communication, Salamanca Theatre Company, The Long Gallery, Salamanca Place, Feb 2 – March 13

RealTime issue #24 April-May 1998 pg. 36

© Di Klaosen; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Alan Widdowson and Andrew Fifield in Twelve Seas

Alan Widdowson and Andrew Fifield in Twelve Seas

In London, I saw John Tavener at a performance of one of his cello works. Very tall and resplendent in dark suit, shock of white hair matched with equal shock of white leather slippers and a profile like Franz Liszt, his presence matched the soaring quality of the strings. There is yearning in the pull of his cello pieces, yearning and a human growl that has been subsumed in a battle of soul and animal with the ethereal realm. Appropriate, too, for Gary Rowe to have chosen Tavener’s Chant and Eternal Memory for solo cello/cello with strings for units of his Twelve Seas, interspersing long silences between the pull of strings. This is an elegant, meditative piece that seems awash with the blues of melancholy, waves, memory; of the loneliness of being marked by a ghost who is you/not you, a mirror not quite of the same substance. Four dancers slide and pivot across and into the space, meeting only in the general hum of time, but never in the specifics of a handshake, birthing, wartime. The movements are flags marking moments of longing; moments caught leaning against a ship’s rail. Even an eyeblink is long—what you see between the sheets of skin with which we view, sense, absorb the world.

The arc of an ocean marks the opening, a projection with voice-over. The projections are held to this vista: only the sun moving across to mark a progression in time. Fundamentally, we stay on a long sea journey throughout the piece. There is no landing (although there is, perhaps, the desire to land); Poseidon’s element, perhaps the song of corpses thrown in.

Ruth Gibson enters, sliding backwards, her arms stretch ahead, behind, a gesture from the heart into the world. She is vulnerable, with her backward slide, but also engaging, strong. This is the gift one makes in entering: an egg’s offering. This is the risk one takes: to extend and meet, perhaps, no more than a curved line.

Two men enter, backwards. Mirrored by the two women; fisher-people pulling nets along the square. So quiet, this crossing the grid of the world. The men flick their feet like a horse its tail. Heads lift, dreaming of balloons. I watch their limbs: Gibson’s arches as they slide, Fifield and Widdowson’s foot-edges flickering turns, Sky’s arms going for a dive.

I’m not impressed with publicity touting a “fusion of movement, design, music, and text”. A piece this sure doesn’t deserve to have its elements stated like starting blocks each at a different race. Image and music are subtle and discrete, text spare; success or failure rests on the quality of embodiment and the diffusion of physical force, in relation to an almost personified sense of time. There is a moment where Gibson’s elbows bend, then knees, arms reaching up (foot stretched ahead) as if lifting a block of turf into the sky. This is a lovely moment, where muscle meets cosmos, time enters the blood. Less successful is when Fifield and Sky, for instance, become too translucent, as if force, leaking at the elbows, no longer fuses out to the world.

Ships horns sound: departures, long journeys, salt air. Couples re-enter, carrying one another. Is memory carried, or the carrier? One spirit with four legs—two that walk, two that fail to touch the ground. Another with four arms: a pair that hold, a pair stretched like the mast of a ship, ready for sail. Motion propelled not by volition but another force. Each action has its shadows.

Hellen Sky as Gibson’s double shadows Gibson’s opening solo movements like the wind prodding and provoking her turns. The volition to move is the push of something else’s hand. This is the force of another, an outside, who yet fails to copy, to mirror exactly, because not quite of the same blood. This is appropriate and quietly taunting, leaving a great sadness when Gibson next enters the space alone. “I have chosen you before, in other lifetimes, other centuries”, says the voice-over. The Double is a lonely accompaniment. Two can be stranger than one.

There are other moments of syncopation between the men, I suspect unintended, because these fractured moments are not quite exact enough and the synchronicity for the most part is so good. And yet I like the idea of them, these fissures, breaks in coordination: they fit the bill, intellectually, psychologically. They seem caused, mostly, by a subtler elasticity in one body, a different catch of breath in the ribs. Widdowson in particular seems to me to dance with a rubato which could be quite exquisite if given rein.

In the end, “the sea takes its colour back”. What is given is returned, goes back home. I must admit I dreaded the idea of a piece about this subject, fearing it exhausted before the dance began by a decade of theory and projects and plays; but Rowe has created an elegant, subtle and quietly disquieted piece that hovers in the place that expands and cools like ocean water, rising, falling in a day. This, too, is the who, the we, the I, the self that dives and dissolves and reforms as it swims. The subtle interplay of grasping, mirroring, and release, the residue of salt lining our human rims.

Dialogue with Gary Rowe

GR I worked from the text The Coral Sea by Patti Smith to create the movement/choreography—the ‘poetic’ images from that writing became the source/resource which defined/redefined the process of improvisation/composition. I also listened to We shall see Him as He is by John Tavener which too became a score (albeit a loose one) during the composition of the material.

ZSM What do you look for when you work with your dancers? What is the dialogue?

GR I work with people that I know personally as friends and colleagues and I try to work also with the same set of people—that really allows a ‘shorthand’ approach to work when time is limited (we both know what we are getting!). All the performers are practising artists in their own right and work from widely differing backgrounds of study and training—they are all involved in their own artistic research and development. I implicitly place my trust in them, in their ability to create and perform. All material created comes from an improvisational process which then is directed by myself into some form. I ask of them to enter fully into a process of creative development that hopefully allows their own personalities to come through. The dialogue is one of creator/performer and director, which evolves through time. I think that we all know each other well enough, and the demands of the work, to be able to be ourselves in the roles that we lay out. I am totally reliant [on] these people as they ‘become’ the work. I ask them to enter my ‘image’ world and to inhabit it with their own connections and to be there developing a language in movement.

ZSM The students in your workshop made much of how you trained them in sensing relationship, enabling improvisations with four, six, eight or nine students together on stage. How is your training of this skill different from that of other dance teachers/choreographers?

GR The difference is difficult to highlight. My teaching method has evolved from being ‘taught’. I don’t think I have one way of training a skill in perception. I would not want to claim such a standpoint. What I do pursue, challenge and encourage students to do is to work from a place where visual/choreographic strategies are as one. Training in how one ‘sees’ the world (both an external and internal process—a moment, a fragment of time, the larger picture) is central to how one sees language. Movement is located for me in that matrix—what we choose to see or to be seen. The choices inherent in this process are central to my teaching methodology.

ZSM Another description was about how you encouraged them to “open the body”. What is it you think you “open” bodies to?

GR I hope that I ‘open’ bodies to the multiple complex of possibilities that arise from working and the taking of responsibility and action for one’s imagination/creation and to make that manifest in some way.

ZSM The text for Twelve Seas was sometimes exquisite. Still separable, though, into moving and spoken parts. Although I work differently myself, I didn’t mind it in this piece, due to its meditative nature. Sometimes the words functioned like music, like rhythms interspersed with the strains of Tavener’s piece. This is perhaps effective because the cello itself has such a human voice.

I’m wondering, though, whether you ever have speech more linked with movement? Do you ever get your dancers to speak as they dance?

GR I have as yet to make a piece where the dancers speak. This I feel requires a special skill and creates a different kind of work to what I am interested in. The text when used in the work is read by actors, sometimes live. The next work is being made in collaboration with [Melbourne dancer/academic] Philipa Rothfield and will be a series of five solos each with a philosophy paper attached. Themes of lying, death, love, place and acceptance/resistance will be explored. The text will be read by a female actor, delivered as a paper, whilst the dance proceeds.

Gary Rowe returns to Australia for more workshops next year.

Twelve Seas, Exploring themes of the double. Gary Rowe Company (UK). Conceived and directed by Gary Rowe. Created and performed by Andrew Fifield, Ruth Gibson, Alan Widdowson, Hellen Sky. Photography by Jim Roseveare. Sound: Michael Burdett. Dancehouse, Carlton, February 5.

RealTime issue #24 April-May 1998 pg. 39

© Zsuzsanna Soboslay; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net



Hollywood Road winds its way along one of ‘the Levels’ on Hong Kong island. Its naming precedes its more famous counterpart by a couple of hundred years, being one of the original streets laid down by the British colonial traders. Antique businesses have since colonised the area, providing windows onto the artefacts produced by Chinese artists from the past several millennia. It is as if each diorama, viewed through the barrier of glass, reveals the vast wealth of craft skill and applied imagination in order to mock the ephemerality of cinema and its attendant real estate culture that throngs throughout Hong Kong and the New Territories. Within this context of the popular and the traditional, contemporary artists in Hong Kong are making determined inroads both locally and internationally. But in order to comprehend this, we need to go back again.

In June 1997 the British Colonial Authority “handed over” the administration of the region to the People’s Republic of China (PRC). This was a highly promoted and publicised international event whereby one of the world’s biggest commercial centres, home to eight million people, changed owners.

The event was represented as the end of the colonial era and a return to the motherland. The people of Hong Kong are quite philosophical however, regarding it as saying goodbye to one coloniser and hello to another, for they are Cantonese and make up 90 per cent of the population, with the ex-pats (predominantly Europeans, mostly English of course, Americans and Australians), mainland and others making up the rest.

During the British colonial period, Hong Kong’s cultural activity was divided along ethnic lines with little integration and even less encouragement and support—until ten years before the British departure, when public money was invested into Museums, Galleries, Arts Centres, University art departments and cultural non-government organisations such as Videotage.

Videotage (www.enmpc.org.hk/videotage) was formed in 1985 as a video artists’ collective to organise screenings of work in Hong Kong and overseas. By 1996 it had established some non-linear post-production facilities, and gained the resources to maintain an office, library and archive, and administer events including the annual international Microwave Festival of media art. Its current director is Ellen Pau, a widely exhibited video artist who, like many Hong Kong artists, supports her practice outside the arts—she is a hospital radiographer.

In 1997 the Microwave Festival invited Kathy High (USA) to curate several programs of video, myself to curate a 10 day long exhibition of artists’ CD-ROMs (a long run by Hong Kong standards), and Steve Hawley (Britain) as artist in residence. The works selected gave a profile to the concerns and discourse prevalent amongst contemporary artists working within the ‘western’ aesthetic and language tradition. The audience were mostly under 30, had Cantonese as their first language and received the work within the multicultural context that is modern Hong Kong.

Computers are not expensive and CD-Video is a major consumer item. Software can be obtained cheaply if necessary—$AU7.00 will buy a CD-ROM with 30 top-line Mac applications, illegal copies like these being protected by the Pirates Union! Artists are just beginning to work with digital media as the opportunities become available through the universities and access centres like Videotage. Artists like Brian Wong, having pursued post-graduate study overseas, are not only beginning to produce challenging interactive multimedia but teach its basics in the universities.

The Microwave conference and seminar were well attended by artists, students, educators and members of the booming web industry. Many of the issues were, in parallel with realpolitik, about transition. From linear video art to options for interaction; and fears for the negation of one form by another; on an institutional level, in galleries and university departments, a tendency to hasten the eclipsing of one form by another, especially in those areas being driven by marketed technology. Repurposing the technology was felt to be a major component of any artistic enterprise and that this was not just restricted to technology but also to people and the wide range of skills and disciplines that, likewise, converge toward a multimedia outcome.

This expertise and experience has been around for 15-20 years. The performance group Zuni Icosahedron (www.zuni.org.hk) has at its core Danny Yung, a well known performance artist who spent some years in the USA, and is currently director of the Centre for the Arts at the University of Science and Technology (HKUST).

Para/Site is an artists-run gallery (“the first of many” according to Danny Yung) which acts as a focus for people from a range of disciplines who publish artists’ books, including some digital output around the largely site-specific work, and also organise on-site forums. One writer explains that “it is necessary to think primarily in terms of ‘borders’—of borders as parasites that never take over a ‘field’ in its entirety but erode it slowly and tactically”. “The dominant group will have a well planned strategy to guard its field”, warns another.

Meanwhile the well established Hong Kong International Film Festival is now entering its 22nd year, showcasing the famous local industry and world cinema. The Independent Film and Videomakers Awards, a Cantonese-culture vectored event is run by Jimmy Choi at the Hong Kong Arts Centre, a multi-artform venue in the newest part of the CBD in downtown Hong Kong. Entries come from all over the world, representing an alternative viewpoint to that of the Film Festival and, intriguingly, reproduce the deliberations of the Awards Jury verbatim in the catalogue.

Funding for much of this activity (only a fraction is described here) originates with the government (the Provisional Urban Council), which devolves to the HK Arts Development Council (similar to the Australia Council and currently employing ex-pats Hiram To and Jonathon Thomson).

A double analogy could be made between the complexity of the many Chinese cultures and the many cultures on the internet, in comparison to Mandarin culture and the efforts of Microsoft Corp. According to Tung Kin Wah, the CEO of the Urban Council, “Hong Kong would be more stable if there are fewer dissenting voices…” Clearly there is official concern about accentuating differences between vibrant Hong Kong and cautious China. Since many Hong Kong artists, not only those working in the media arts field, speak about the issue of identity, the terms under which the 50-year window will be maintained will be central to their ability to contribute to the wider development of the regional as well as the national community.

Hong Kong Video/CD-ROM Festival, December 1997; Videotage, director Ellen Pau (www.enmpc.org.hk/videotage); The Microwave Festival, December 6 – 12, 1998; Hong Kong International Film Festival, April 3 – 18 1998; The Independent Film & Video Awards are in January 1999, director Jimmy Choi, Hong Kong Arts Centre

RealTime issue #24 April-May 1998 pg. 25

© Mike Leggett; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

D.J. Cassel, 10,000 Feet, Ringling School of Art and Design

D.J. Cassel, 10,000 Feet, Ringling School of Art and Design

SIGGRAPH is the Special Interest Group in Graphics of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM). I first got there in 1981 and followed the event fairly religiously throughout the 80s. If my memory is correct ’81 was the last year that you could turn up with a videotape in your bag and have it shown in the Electronic Theatre. It was also the first year the event included an art show. As an artist myself it was like going to wonderland. After years of being marginalised for my work in art and technology I found myself in a “birds of a feather” session with 50 or so others from around the world who all shared my vision and interests.

Throughout the 80s SIGGRAPH was an exciting melting pot of talent and ideas. Computer graphics (CG) were “a solution looking for a problem” and specialists from many diverse disciplines rubbed shoulders to share the latest techniques and gossip. In 1986 there was a panel on the film industry. Looker (Crighton, 1979), Tron (Lisberger, 1982) and The Last Starfighter (Castle, 1984) had all used computer effects (CFX) and, although all went on to become cult movies, none did well at the box office. At the panel a frustrated producer joked that it was easier to get a location helicopter than agreement to use CFX and studio execs reiterated the conservatism of Hollywood.

In television the situation was different. By 1986 the digital video post-production boxes had had a significant impact particularly on current affairs, news and the wealthy commercials sector. Digital systems were helping to push video as a master production medium with digital production gear like vtrs, switchers and cameras hitting the marketplace. The video post houses grew as the 16mm film facilities, which had relied on regular TV work, closed their doors.

SIGGRAPH 86 was a turning point. New York photographer Nancy Burson was there to promote her new book Composites which documented her digital imaging. In a press session she proclaimed that the era of “photographic truth” was over. At another “bird” session a group of creatives claimed CG as their own and predicted that, in ten years time, SIGGRAPH would be their event. Back then we were a distinct minority. SIGGRAPH belonged to engineers, mathematicians and computer scientists. Many laughed at our claim. They didn’t even like the increasing number of creative and media people getting elected to SIGGRAPH committees. At one point its parent society, ACM, expressed concern that its integrity as a professional society was being compromised by these outsiders.

Now, in the 1990s, computer imaging has found its own vertical markets and a whole host of new conferences, trade shows and symposia have sprung up to exploit demand. For many of us the expensive trip to SIGGRAPH has become less essential. So it was good for me to be invited to be a judge for the SIGGRAPH 97 Computer Animation Festival.

Los Angeles in August was in heat wave and the air-con for the 15 storey glass atriums at the LA Convention Centre was having trouble keeping up. Over 47,000 people milled around, mostly to see the trade show. In addition to the technical papers core (now a minority draw) were panels, screening rooms, the art show, the major trade show, the “start-up” park, the Electronic Garden, the education program, the outreach program and a host of lesser events. The Computer Animation Festival (CAF) offered four evening and three matinee performances in the Shrine Auditorium (home of the Academy Awards). Then there were the unofficial events, shows and parties all over town.

A chance meeting in the bar of the Hotel Figueroa best illustrates the changes in SIGGRAPH over the past decade. A schoolteacher from Malibu was down for the day to see the show, her first visit to SIGGRAPH. She explained that, if she hadn’t had been told in advance that it was a CG show, she would have assumed it was just another film industry extravaganza.

For me the domination of Hollywood is a problem. Glasnost and the drying up of Defence Department contracts have forced the military supply industry in the US to diversify. Many have moved into the entertainment sector. This union of Silicon Valley and Hollywood is being described as either the Hollyvalley or Sillywood depending on your point of view.

I hope I’m not just an aging internationalist academic who is concerned about the power, parochialism and lack of ethics of the military/entertainment complex. The interdisciplinary foundation of SIGGRAPH, arguably its most attractive feature, is under threat. I spent much of my week discussing this with SIGGRAPH officials. If they don’t succeed in reframing the show with a broad-base appeal it will become just another tool for the Hollywood propaganda machine. Links to the film industry are not helped by the decision to host SIGGRAPH in Los Angeles then Orlando on successive years.

Next year will be SIGGRAPH’s 25th anniversary and the committee are keen to explore historical links and re-establish the cross-disciplinary emphasis. They may not succeed.

The Shrine Auditorium, like so many places you’ve seen on TV, was seedy and disappointing. First impressions were the smell of dirty carpet and the need for a fresh coat of paint. As a jury member I was a privileged VIP and found my way to what had been described as the best seat in the house (centre, front row, balcony) ahead of the crowds jamming at the doors. This was my first mistake. Minders moved in around me and, just before the show started I was surrounded by suited studio execs. The Japanese to my left. Caucasians to my right. They ceremoniously crossed the aisle to shake hands, bow and exchange business cards. Trusted lieutenants whispered essential data to chiefs…“that’s xxx CEO of xxx, spouse’s name xxx you should go and say hello”…before the ritual. This is a world that I neither inhabit nor aspire to.

I regretted not taking a seat in the stalls, 20 rows from the front, sharing in the vicarious rage of the crowd and enduring the inevitable crick in the neck. Studio chiefs don’t rage, they clap politely, talk incessantly and clearly have trouble in comprehending why works by students, pieces of scientific visualisation and other unnecessary stuff is cluttering up the show.

But it’s precisely that egalitarianism that makes the SIGGRAPH CAF (and before it the legendary Electronic Theatre) such a valuable and exciting event.

My favourite was The DNA Story a fascinating piece of biological visualisation from Digital Studio SA that tells the story of the “transcription, replication and condensation of a mitotic chromosome”. Students’ work was well represented with three pieces from Ringling School of Art including Sharing a lyrical tale of ice cream on a hot summer’s day and 10,000 Feet the tragic story of a talking Teddy who mistakes his speech tag for a rip cord. Australia was represented with extracts from Jon McCormack’s Turbulence, and Changing Heart, a spectacular IMAX theme park opener from Animal Logic. The Hollywood studios were represented by Titanic, The Fifth Element and Lost World. CFX specialists Pacific Data Images fielded their usual high calibre down-time production in Gabola the Great.

People said it was a good show but, there again, I was wearing a badge that proclaimed my jury membership. Reliable feedback suggests that the show was good but, over the past three or so years, has levelled out. Not such a surprising outcome when you consider that major annual ‘quantum jumps’ that accompanied SIGGRAPH throughout the 80s and early 90s are no longer possible. The medium is maturing, the big picture has been painted and innovation now remains in filling in the details and, of course, telling good stories.

Back in the mainstream film industry I was surprised when jurying to discover that most of the puppies in 101 Dalmatians were computer generated (by ILM). On reflection it was obvious. The cost of maintaining a pack of trained, live and constantly growing puppies would have been prohibitive. CFX have arrived and their success is precisely that most audiences don’t know they are there. Dinosaurs, volcanoes and tornados are obvious but the major use of CFX in Hollywood today is more mundane and practical. Things like wire removal, retouching and compositing.

It’s here that digital post, which hit video in the mid 80s, has now hit the film industry. Every Disney animation feature since Rescuers Down Under has been mastered digitally. Most opticals are now “digitals” done on systems like Kodak’s “Cineon”, Quantel’s “Domino” or one of the new crop of “shrink wrapped” film-resolution app’s for general purpose workstations and personal computers. One industry specialist I spoke to claimed that there is only one optical house still trading on the West Coast “…and they’re only doing titles”.

Specialists also predict a major shake out in the CFX industry before long. The margins are too small for a competitive international industry. One example I was given was a quote from a UK company of $200,000 versus $1,200,000 from one of the big California CFX houses. The larger companies like ILM and Digital Domain are expected to go into full production and contract out SFX work to “one off” companies who set up to service one production with short-lease premises, rented computers and fixed term contacts from a growing talent pool of freelance CGI specialists.

In fact this is already happening and many regret the passing of the large specialist companies who can sustain the in-house research and development that has been an essential component of the medium’s development to date.

Launched at SIGGRAPH and essential reading is Clark Dodsworthy’s Digital Illusion—Entertaining the Future with High Technology, published by ACM SIGGRAPH and Addison Wesley.

Sydney Intermedia Network (SIN) will screen the Electronic Theatre program from SIGGRAPH 97 at the Chauvel Cinemas, Paddington, on Tuesday May 26 (information tel 02 9380 4255).

RealTime issue #24 April-May 1998 pg. 21

© Paul Brown; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Beth Stryker and Virginia Barratt, crosSeXXXamination

Beth Stryker and Virginia Barratt, crosSeXXXamination

crosSeXXXamination is a collaborative website project by New York artist Beth Stryker and Australian artist Virginia Barratt (ex-VNS Matrix). The exhibition was the culmination of Stryker’s artist-in-residency at Artspace and was the first public viewing of the crosSeXXXamination website.

The site-specific installation housed two Powerbook computers in circular cubicles with plastic curtains creating a sense of privacy and intimacy while offering voyeuristic glimpses of the interior to those outside the cubicles. In the window frontages of Artspace, small video screens projected images of bodies and body parts supplied by guest artists. Opening night also featured a performance where audience members were invited to be examined by solicitous plastic-clad attendants, their tender ministrations given a sinister twist by the fact that the ‘consultations’ took place on top of a dissection table.

Timed to coincide with the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, the project has been influenced by Alan Turing, well known for his work on artificial intelligence. In his paper “Computer Machinery and Intelligence” Turing described a game where a man and a woman each sitting at remote computer terminals try to convince a third party who interrogates them that they are a woman. In the now famous Turing Test it is a software program that competes with a human, both trying to convince the interrogator that they are the human. The idea of the test (which has become a popular benchmark for testing computer ‘intelligence’) is for the computer to convincingly perform as human or ‘pass’ as human. These boundary crossings—male/female, human/computer, deviant/straight—echo throughout the crosSeXXXamination website. Turing himself was forced to undergo organotherapy, a hormonal sex change, as a supposed cure for his ‘deviant’ sexuality after he was arrested for consensual homosexual sex.

crosSeXXXamination parodies and subverts the way in which medical discourses seek to discipline and pathologise socially ‘deviant’ subjectivities and desires. On entry to the crosSeXXXamination site, the user/subject checks a number of randomly generated statements before being processed, eXXXamined and classified.

Your subject code classification is an indecipherable hieroglyphic (my most recent was ‘Bxxx.LB.brut’ which didn’t tell me much—kind of reminiscent of those arcane squiggles doctors make about you in their notes when they don’t want you to know what they’re doing!).

You can then click your way through to the next section where you ‘claim your body’. Having been interrogated, classified and assigned a body yourself, you can now interrogate and examine the revealed body parts (yours?), cut-up image fragments of head, torso and legs. Clicking on each segment reveals new images which disintegrate on further clicking to reveal new images. If you haven’t already guessed it, yes, you are still being interrogated; the images that you show a particular interest in determine where you will next end up…this can take some patience as you need to keep clicking on ever smaller segments.

Finally, you move into one of the various examination rooms designed by the artists Beth Stryker, Virginia Barrat and guest artists Sarah Waterson and Rea where you will be met by one of a variety of eXXXaminers. Unlike the situation in the Turing Test where it is a human examiner interrogating a software program, in crosSeXXXamination the tables are turned as the computers interrogate, provoke and question the human users/subjects.

Xstatic> I’ve been waiting for you…Will you stay with me…?

Xperiment> Do you always wear clean underwear?

MachineLove> Look into yourself to see if you see what others see in you.

After you have concluded your examination, you can choose another body by clicking in the graphics at the top of the screen. This will take you to a new section where you can scroll through and select various different bodies (text descriptions), for example, “inmate autopsy brutal softcore”, “butt lesboy autopsy invert”, “alien blueboy Other softcore”.

crosSeXXXamination is a technically ambitious, conceptually provocative and visually intriguing website. However, navigating the site can be a frustrating experience with lengthy waits while images load and an absence of instructions about how to progress at certain stages.

Users can quickly get confused and irritated if they are not given sufficient guidance or feedback that they are doing the right thing. It is difficult to know how much of a site you have seen. How do you know when you are finished? A number of users I spoke to got stuck in the Body Shop, confused about how to progress any further or whether that was all there was to see.

Some users will also have problems if their computers do not handle Java well (Java is programming language for the web). PCs generally perform better than Macintoshes in this area and there is still the odd bug that needs to be ironed out. This is a website that requires patience and perseverance (and a reasonably fast system!) but it’s worth the effort.

One of the particular strengths of on-line art projects such as crosSeXXXamination is their dynamic nature. As well as users being able to interact with the work in real time, aspects of the site are themselves randomised, so that users will have a different experience every time they visit the site. On-line work can also be adapted, modified and added to over time. The creators of crosSeXXXamination (along with guest collaborating artists) plan to continue the development of the website and tour the work in its exhibition incarnation both nationally and internationally.

crosSeXXXamination, [expired] A collaborative website project by New York artist Beth Stryker and Australian artist Virginia Barratt, Artspace, Sydney, February 5-28.

RealTime issue #24 April-May 1998 pg. 30

© Kathy Cleland; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Interface Culture: How New Technology Transforms the Way We Create and Communicate
Steven Johnson
New York, Harper Collins, 1997

In the emerging discipline of “interface criticism” there is an unfortunate tendency to de-historicise the relationship between people and information spaces. The idea, a la Borges, of the digital world coming into being five minutes ago, with no memory of a past, is a nonsense. In Interface Culture Steven Johnson has impressively treated this cultural amnesia and set the record straight, hopefully once and for all, on the history of the interface. There have been other studies of interface development and design, however Interface Culture is written with such verve and modest authority that it resounds as the most persuasive and engaging work on the subject to have appeared so far.

Interface Culture is thoroughly researched and fluently written. It covers all the familiar bases and offers a succinct account of what could be called the standard genealogy of the interface. This incorporates its founding moments and decisive breakthroughs, the usual suspects, such as Douglas Engelbart, Ivan Sutherland and Vannevar Bush, and their signature technologies, the graphic user interface, Sketchpad and the Memex, respectively. It also outlines the predominant conceptual models of interface design that can be traced back to the late 1960s and the pioneering work done by Engelbart and researchers at Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Centre. Johnson maps out the dramatic, transitional stages and trends within interface design, such as the shift from command lines to windows, desktop metaphors and the principle of direct manipulation which liberated the user from the need to remember esoteric strings of code. In its place the graphic user interface (GUI) offered a more intuitive, visual representation of different modes of operation—it revolutionised the way people conceived of information space by creating an illusion of information as something representable in comprehensible terms, and by allowing users to control the illusion by moving information around (cutting and pasting etc). Johnson also teases out the social and cultural assumptions behind such trends within interface design, quite rightly demonstrating that there is a lot more to the stages of the interface than technological determinism. Drawing on the work of Sherry Turkle, Johnson suggests that the shift from the “fixed position of the command line” to the “anarchic possibilities” of the windows environment traces the route of the subject in Western philosophy, from the breakdown of the unified Enlightenment self to the proliferation of multiple viewpoints, contingency and relativism; the state of being otherwise known as the postmodern condition.

This is not to say that Johnson touts a doctrinaire, postmodernist line, replete with clichés of non-linearity, indeterminacy and fin-de -everything. On the contrary, He is astute and cautious in his development of a critique of interface culture. He clearly has no truck with the cool, aphoristic posturings of the post-literate set, arguing that if a new way of writing is upon us it is not the offspring of cyberpunks or hackers. More specifically, he redresses the default theorising which relegates old media to the dustbin of linearity, and supplants it with the multiplicity of new media, such as hypertext. In the admonitory spirit of Ted Nelson, Johnson refreshingly advances that much web-based writing is “unapologetically linear” and one-dimensional, and is a far cry from the free-form, revolutionary poetics customarily associated with the web. Johnson denounces the theme of “disassociation” as it pertains to hypertext, and elegantly articulates how the navigation of information space is a synthetic, rather than fragmentary act, “a way of drawing connections between things, a way of forging semantic relationships”. In this he has consolidated the emerging field of interface philology, which recognises that the digital age is not a break with the past, but a continuation of it, a transitional moment in the evolutionary drama of the grammar and technology of language.

This is nowhere better illustrated than in the inventive historical links Johnson articulates (he describes Interface Culture as a “book of links”), connections between desktop metaphors and Gothic cathedrals, hypertext and the metropolitan novels of the 19th century. He develops a series of fascinating and at times disarming conceits, in which a remark from the poet Coleridge (“The principle of the Gothic architecture is infinity made imaginable”) becomes an heuristic device for conceptualising the way the interface structures and represents abstract information; or the tumultuous reception of modernist art works, such as Ulysses and The Rite of Spring, and the early responses to the GUI; or more significantly, that the identification of information space is as profound as the discovery of perspective in the visual lexicon of the Renaissance. It is not only that such parallels have the ring of rightness about them, as they are deftly woven by Johnson’s measured prose, but that they fit into a much larger perception of the residual effects of cultural change. While we may no longer live in a world in which the novel, as an art form, fulfils the needs it satisfied in the 19th century (as people grappled with the technological effects of the industrial revolution), its underlying structure, or logic, prevails in the interface, which “performs a comparable service”, namely, of providing intelligible maps of the “virtual cities of the twenty-first century”. The significance of this Johnson makes compellingly clear, observing that the “way we choose to organise our space says an enormous amount about the society we live in—perhaps more than any other component of our cultural habits”. For too long the interface has been delimited as a pointy-clicky way of working with information, when it is more profoundly and more fundamentally a semantic gestalt that has taken many guises over the centuries. The GUI is its most recent manifestation.

Interface Culture is a timely work that makes a vital contribution to current debates about interface design, information space, and the status of literacy in the age of the digital network. But even more than this, it is a wonderful archaeology of remembrance, a testament to the cultural memory of this thing called the interface.

RealTime issue #24 April-May 1998 pg. 22

© Darren Tofts; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Poonkhin Khut, Pillow Songs

Poonkhin Khut, Pillow Songs

Pillow Songs is amongst the most powerful installations I have experienced. Entering the installation through a light trap I was immediately immersed in a darkened space, an aura of deep blue incandescence emanating from the single light bulbs hovering above three simple beds. As I lay down and my head came to rest on the pillow, an oceanic space rippled by sonic waves rolled out before my closed lids, and began to gently propel me across its textured surface.

I was hearing a subtle blend of the synthesised and the found. Extreme long fades in and out (mostly beyond immediate detection); modulations of pulses and beats, time-signals and thunder; the sounds of a radio tuned to the warbling between stations; a dog barking in the fog of winter dusk; sounds I had not encountered since I lay as a child with my first transistor radio hidden under my pillow long after my family had gone to sleep; drifting in and out of consciousness, hearing a voice, a passage of music, the rain on the roof and the hiss of off-station static.

Aware of the subjective nature of my response, I could also sense the broadly recognisable character of many of these sounds. My dreaming was but a single current stimulated by the stream of the artwork in which I was immersed.

Poonkhin Khut has been working with sound, installation and performance since 1987, and graduated from the University of Tasmania in 1993. Pillow Songs exemplifies his clean, minimal approach. Significantly, Khut makes conscious use of the space between sounds to define their quality, and to animate the role of silence as a sonic texture in its own right. His use of digital sampling and recording enables him to retain a “digital silence”, and this in turn facilitates his manipulation and layering of what he characterises as “wet” and “dry” sounds. Samples are bounced from DAT to computer and back until the right texture is attained, and these tracks are then edited onto CD.

The gallery installation realised an interesting alliance between low and hi-tech in that the computer mastered CDs were played through three conventional CD players programmed to deliver a selection of tracks that were re-mixed each day. These signals were then channelled to each of the three beds. Much of the success of Pillow Songs can be attributed to the consistent strength and individuality of these primary tracks, and the generous acoustic space which Khut allows to exist between the combined tertiary elements. The mix manages to maintain a tension between the mysterious and the recognisable whilst remaining open and suggestive.

Pillow Songs, an audio installation by Poonkhin Khut, Sidespace Gallery, Salamanca Arts Centre, January 16 – 30

RealTime issue #24 April-May 1998 pg. 46

© Martin Walch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Sound Mapping, Hobart Wharves

Sound Mapping, Hobart Wharves

Sound Mapping, Hobart Wharves

Sound Mapping is a participatory work of sound art made specifically for the Sullivan’s Cove district of Hobart in collaboration with the Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery. Participants wheel four movement-sensitive, sound-producing suitcases around the district to realise a composition which spans space as well as time. The suitcases play “music” in response to the geographical location and movements of participants.

The prime mover behind the project is Hobart-based musician Ian Mott. Mott holds a BSc from the University of Queensland and a Graduate Diploma of Contemporary Music Technology from La Trobe University. His prime artistic activity is designing, developing, building and composing for public interactive sound sculptures—currently in collaboration with visual designer Marc Raszewski and engineer Jim Sosnin. Ian is also a specialist in real-time sound spatialisation and the real-time gestural control of music synthesis and interactive algorithmic environments.

“Sound Mapping”, as Mott explains, “creates an environment in which the public can make music as a collaborative exercise, with each other and with the artists. In a sense the music is only semi-composed; it requires that participants travel through urban space, moving creatively and cooperatively to produce a final musical exposition. Music produced through this interaction is designed to reflect the environment in which it is produced as well as the personal involvement of the participants”.

Sound Mapping uses a system of satellite and motion sensing equipment in combination with sound generating equipment and computer control. Its aim is to explore a sense of place, physicality and engagement to reaffirm the relationship between art and the everyday activities of life. For Mott, “Digital technology, for all its virtues as a precise tool for analysis, articulation of data, communication and control, is propelling society towards a detachment from physicality”.

Sound Mapping, Hobart Wharves

Sound Mapping, Hobart Wharves

Sound Mapping, Hobart Wharves

For music, the introduction of the recording techniques and radio in the early 20th century broke the physical relationship between performer and listener entirely, so that musicians began to be denied direct interaction with their audience (and vice versa). Sound Mapping addresses this dilemma, for Mott believes that “while artists must engage with the contemporary state of society, they must also be aware of the aesthetic implications of pursuing digital technologies and should consider exploring avenues that connect individuals to the constructs and responsibilities of physical existence”.

The Sound Mapping communications system incorporates a single hub case and three standard cases. All the cases contain battery power, a public address system, an odometer and two piezoelectric gyroscopes. The standard cases contain a data radio transmitter for transmission to the hub and an audio radio device to receive a single distinct channel of music broadcast from the hub.

Prior to the project’s commencement, Mott anticipated that “the interaction between onlookers and participants will be intense due to the very public nature of the space. The interaction will be musical, visual, and verbal as well as social in confronting participants with taboos relating to exhibitionism. This situation is likely to deter many people from participating but nonetheless it is hoped the element of performance will contribute to the power of the experience for both participants and onlookers”. From my observation, these are precisely the reactions that the project did receive.

There is some precedent for Sound Mapping. Mott explains: “Participant exploratory works employing diffuse sound fields in architectural space have been explored by sound artists such as Michael Brewster (1994) and Christina Kubisch in her ‘sound architectures’ installations (1990). Recently composers such as Gerhard Eckel have embarked on projects employing virtual architecture as means to guide participants through compositions that are defined by the vocabulary of the virtual space (1996)”.

As a participant myself, I found three-quarters of an hour of wheeling a quite heavy suitcase rather draining. I think of myself as reasonably fit, but I reached the stage where just dragging the case was as much as I could do, despite Mott’s repeated urgings to swing and swerve the trolleys through space in more creative patterns, so as to generate more varied sounds. Not an activity for the frail.

I have to say, however, that I liked the concept of the work very much and was struck by the visual and aural impact of the piece on the several occasions when I encountered groups of engrossed participants making their way around the wharf area. Certainly, well executed public events such as this one enliven the sometimes staid atmosphere around Hobart. It is good to see art-making genuinely getting out into a wider and participating community. The lively nature of Hobart’s wharf area over summer—Tall Ships and all this year—made it a good venue for such a project.

Sound Mapping, A Sound Journey through Urban Space, by Ian Mott with Marc Raszewski and Jim Sosnin, in collaboration with The Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, January-February 1998, Hobart

RealTime issue #24 April-May 1998 pg. 45

© Di Klaosen; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

A sizeable fold gathered at the very smart (or ‘bourgy’, depending on your perspective) Ngapartji Multimedia Centre in East End Rundle Street for FOLDBACK, the day long forum exploring media, sound and screen cultures, organised for the festival by ANAT (the Australian Network for Art and Technology). Richard Grayson gave a user-friendly welcome invoking the the 10th anniversary of the other summer of love—“the famous event in south-east England, where techno ecstatics transformed the urban psyche of hyper-decay and escalating pan-capitalism into trance and psychedelic experiences” (ANAT newsletter)—stirring our barely repressed British memories of driving minis through Essex out of our gourds, on the lookout for parties we could never find. Paul Brown who says he actually found the party, stirred some of the same nostalgia in his account of the slow emergence of multiple media practice as 30 years on the fringe, citing rampant conservatism behind the form’s status in the artworld as part of a global salon des réfuse. There was some sense in this hankering that “legitimacy” meant legitimacy in the visual arts world which suggested perhaps a narrower engagement with the arts than expected. This was happily contradicted in subsequent sessions that demonstrated the vital relationships between new technologies and writing, sound and performance. A very writing-based day all round.

Cyberwriter Mark Amerika re-traced his steps from underground artworld, performing “acts of voluntary simplicity”, through his swerve into publication with the cult hit The Kafka Chronicles, which hurled him unwittingly into the public sphere and onto the digital overground. While he was busy collapsing the distance between author and reader, his online publication network, AltX (www.altx.com) was attracting the attention of international money marketeers. Like a lot of the international guests at the Adelaide Festival, Mark Amerika seems to be able to pat his head and rub his tummy at the same time. He may have achieved some fame and a little fortune as web publisher, but he’s still addressing the frictions between electronic art and writing. His writing-machine (Grammatron) still grapples with spirituality in the electronic age, asking questions like “Who are I this time?” (www.grammatron.com).

ANAT’s first executive officer, cyber-artist Francesca da Rimini, took some of her own advice (Quick! Question everything) rudely interrupting her own spoken text with others emanating from her cyber pseudonyms gash girl, doll yoko and gender-fuck-me-baby.

In *water always writes in *plural Linda Marie Walker and Teri Hoskin, from the Electronic Writing Research Ensemble, linked up live with Josephine Wilson (WA) and Linda Carroli (QLD) who have all been part of the first joint ANAT/EWRE virtual residency project, writing together online to create a work entitled A woman/stands on a street corner/waiting/for a stranger. Duplicating the act of writing for a live audience was an interesting if slow process, producing some nice accidents of speech: the odd poetry of phonetic translations, the Simple Text voices reproducing typos; suggestive intervals between writing and spoken text. You can read the piece on http://www.va.com.au/ensemble/water

Programming Linda Dement after lunch was a brave move. Still, it was soothing to hear a female voice in the dark still in love with the possibilities of technology for realising her expert if sometimes gruesome images. You would expect a sustained sequence of bloody bandages accompanying a diatribe on censorship to empty a room but here the pleasure of seeing the work of this former fine-art photographer projected on such a scale and in such vivid detail held too much fascination. Me, I spent a lot of time looking at the floor. Afterwards, diatribe met diatribe when a man in the crowd accused Linda Dement of male-bashing, citing “the situation in Bosnia” and then “all of history” as reason enough to censor, presumably, any statements along gender lines.

No wonder the cheery Komninos Zervos with his Underground Cyberpoetry received such a warm response after this error type-1. His CD-ROM was produced while Komninos was ANAT’s artist in residence at Artec (UK) last year. Using performance-poet delivery and adopting an assortment of streetwise London personae, Komninos playfully navigated his word animations. Screen became spin dryer, words tumbling as Komninos moved among us. The performance potential of multimedia works is really only beginning to be explored in Australia. Outside groups like skadada in Perth and Company in Space in Melbourne, we don’t see a lot of performance engagement with the new media. It’s an area that ANAT clearly see as important.

nervous_objects is an eclectic, accidental experiment in internet artistic collaboration. They met at ANAT’s 1997 Summer School in Hobart and have continued to collaborate online, in locations as remote as Perth, Woopen Creek and New York City exploring notions of realtime internet conferencing and manipulation of artistic pursuits in virtual and physical space. In their first project Lingua Elettrica (http://no.va.com.au) at Artpace and created for ISEA 97, they built an interactive website and publicly destroyed it. In a day otherwise free of technological accidents, nervous_objects encountered a few, making it sometimes difficult to decipher their precise intention. Their calm in the face of calamity produced a laid back form of subversion.

The stakes lifted when Stevie Wishart entered. Not an Adelaide Festival accordion in sight but improvising with medieval hurdy gurdy and live electronics she extracted an amazing array of sounds and tones. Real Audio was streamed from Sydney and mixed as it came through. As Stevie played, Jim Denley navigated the new CD-ROM track created with Kate Richards from Stevie’s new CD (Red Iris, Sinfonye, Glossa Nouvelle Vision GCD 920701).

In the energetic Q and A session, Mark Amerika brought up the need for new writing about multiple media, citing the likes of George Landau and Gregory Ulmer as critics who practice what they preach and engage with the work on its own terms. Chair of the New Media Arts Fund, John Rimmer, asked just how much technical difficulties (lags, delays, congestion) are intrinsic to the work and how they might develop given more bandwith. For nervous_objects, if it gets too fast, too polished it’s not interesting anyway. There was some discussion of Garry Bradbury’s score for Burn Sonata using pianola and digital technology. When someone in the audience thanked nervous_objects for sharing their process. Garry begged to differ, accusing them of utopian dreams of machines generating ideas. The nervous_objects said it was something that pushed them and they certainly didn’t expect the machines to generate ideas. Working with content issues was what they were doing. Afterwards all repaired to the Rhino Room for the launch of the excellent new CD by Zónar Recordings, Dis_locations, Incestuous Electronic Remixing, coordinated by Brendan Palmer. RT

FOLDBACK, ANAT, Adelaide Festival, Ngapartji Multimedia Centre, March 8.
An accompanying exhibition, possibly to tour, was exhibited at Ngapartji for the duration of the Adelaide Festival’s Artists Week. http://www.anat.org.au/foldback

RealTime issue #24 April-May 1998 pg. 27

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

Meryl Tankard’s Australian Dance Theatre, Possessed

Meryl Tankard’s Australian Dance Theatre, Possessed

Meryl Tankard’s Australian Dance Theatre, Possessed

Prelude: The industry

While watching Performing Arts Market performances I was struck by the presence of performance stalwart Katia Molino, seeing her one day performing with Stalker, on another with NYID, both shows requiring considerable physical fitness and dexterity. It was a reminder that there is a broad body of work loosely defined as physical theatre within which various subsidiary forms exist and across which a number of performers participate. Thor Blomfield, one time performer with and now Marketing and Project Coordinator for Legs on the Wall, commented that given “there’s an increasing crossover between companies, for example Legs people working with Stalker”, just how valuable last year’s Body Contact Conference, convened by Rock’n’Roll Circus in Brisbane, was for an area of performance he describes as “encompassing a range of contemporary circus, physical theatre and street theatre groups.”

Blomfield said of participants Circus Oz, Rock’n’Roll Circus, Bizirkus, Club Swing and The Party Line, artists from Darwin, Legs on the Wall, Desoxy, Stalker, some overseas artists and others that “it was an interesting combination that had never come together before. The sense of community in physical theatre has been growing but this conference was the first time we’ve come together formally. It’s timely now to discuss where we all want to go and what we need to do in regard to training, funding and touring. The base for our work was in circus, in the foundation of Circus Oz 25 years ago and that was uniquely Australian though with the influence of Chinese training. Now physical theatre has moved into taking on more European influences and other Asian physical performance traditions.”

Asked why is it important for these groups to talk about the future, Blomfield explains that there are industrial issues to discuss, training proposals (a national circus school), the exchange of information (being informed about overseas work, the rare opportunities to see each other’s work), understanding how companies operate artistically (Desoxy, Stalker, Mike Finch—ex-Circus Monoxide, now director of Circus Oz—spoke about this on a Body Contact panel) and issues like the role of the director, which can be critical for ongoing ensembles working with guest directors. He indicated that there was some preliminary debate about what the proposed training school should do, whether it should provide conventional circus skills or also include, for example, courses in Butoh and various training regimes.

A committee was formed at Body Contact to hold a conference in October 1998 so that these issues could be pursued in more depth, perhaps even to consider whether or not to form an association of companies to promote the standing of physical theatre, which Blomfield describes as being sometimes treated by the broader theatre profession as “the little kid they really don’t know about”. Belvoir Street’s inclusion of Legs on the Wall’s Under the Influence in their 1998 subscription season could be the start of something. Other areas Blomfield would like to see explored include marketing (making the most of marked US interest), physical theatre’s relationship with dance (choreographer Kate Champion has directed Leg’s Under the Influence; one of the Legs’ team was advising Meryl Tankard’s ADT on the use of hand loops for their Adelaide Festival production Possessed) and speech in performance. Physical theatre has proved itself an elastic form, one rich in hybridity and political range as well as being eminently marketable: doubtless for the artists and companies in this area to confer regularly, to see each other’s work, to debate training and artistic issues, to think collectively on industrial and marketing issues, can only enrich their work.


Physical theatre dances

Legs on the Wall, Under the Influence
Adelaide Fringe Festival, February 25

I didn’t know what was cooking, the sausages sizzling at the entrance to the ‘performing area’ situated on the seventh floor of the carpark, or the audience beneath the tin roof in 40 degree heat plus lighting, say 45. Either way it wasn’t a good smell. And yet, Legs were cooking, giving a virtuosic physical performance despite being awash with sweat. They pretty much held their audience though it wasn’t clear how Legs were managing to hold each other. This is a company blessed with a kind of performance ease, physical feats are achieved without ‘drum rolls’ and the acting is laid back and lucid. To ease into this, a prelude of apparently casual exchanges and acrobatic events (and their ‘accidents’) unfolds as the audience enters asking has the show begun—well yes and no (except to say that this particular postmodern gag is a bit overripe and is somewhat scuttled when lights etc finally do mark a start. A pity.)

Physical theatre has always lent itself to the choreographic impulse (doubtless inherited from the lyricism of the circus trapeze artiste), and is certainly evident in Desoxy and The Party Line, but here, under the direction of choreographer Kate Champion, it goes further, not into dance per se, but into a dextrous patterning of moves and holds that provides a magical fluidity for the work, everything from small gestural motifs and work with domestic objects and clothing to large scale sweeps of movement and a coherent dance-theatre totality. It was fascinating to watch the thoroughness and the inventiveness of the movement and I found myself surprised at how much the performers must have had to absorb choreographically when already faced with considerable physical challenges. Legs are not to be underrated. As for the show as theatre, this early version was too discursive, key images (as the broad narrative works itself out) seemed to repeat themselves as long in duration as their original incarnations, one-off numbers looked more than suspiciously like unintegrated individual performer favorites, some scenes wandered too far from the dangerous intimacies central to the work, too many lines fell short of funny and into whimsy, personalities were just a little too abstracted, and the overall shape plateaued early, a not unfamiliar problem for physical theatre with its constant battle to escape the string of tricks. But for all of this it’s very good and by the time Under the Influence reaches its Sydney season hopefully everything that already works—the physical skills, the choreography, the ease of playing, the sensual energy and cheery fatalism—will be sustained by tighter scripting and shaping.


Dance does physical theatre

Meryl Tankard Australian Dance Theatre
Ridley Theatre, Adelaide Festival, March 14

Possessed is the next stage of Meryl Tankard’s adventure with dance that leaves the ground, seen first in Furioso but also evident in another way in her choreography for the Australian Opera’s Orfeo. I have a vivid memory clip of her dancers as Furies flinging themselves relentlessly at a giant revolving wall. It looked dangerous. There is some harness work (first explored in Furioso) in Possessed’s central scenes, but the impressive new material that frames the show in the first and last scenes suspends the dancer by wrist, or by both wrist and ankle, using loops. While doubtless placing enormous strain on joints and muscles, there are advantages for fluidity and freedom of movement for the dancer in the air. Of course, it’s not a trapeze and they’re starting from the floor, so there’s not a lot they can do by themselves without help from the ground, the push that leads to swing as their earthed partner determines the direction of the swing and acts as catcher and cradler (and assistant). That said, once airborne, the dancer can amplify their swing and create delicious physical shapes and defiant arcs out over the audience. It looks dangerous as the arcs extend and the dancers swing fast and low over the fence around the big stage. It’s exhilarating because it looks so free, so unencumbered. And these dancers look so at home taking the grace they defeat gravity with on the floor into the air. The opening scene featured male pairs, generating a surprising intimacy, the aerial device allowing them ease at lifting the fellow male body, leaps into space being taken off the body of the ground dancer, returns from space greeted with great care. That aside, the women dancers provided some of the most spectacular and unnerving flights. If Possessed has any meaning, it tells of an obsession with flight and the defeat of gravity. Psychoanalyst Michael Balint called these possessed “philobats”, lovers of flight, and suggested that we all have some of that obsession in us, though we’re mostly happy to let others do it for us, at the circus for example. Not surprisingly then, the audience for Possessed clapped and cheered at every stage of these flights.

Another possessed body appears in the second scene—an obsessive sporting body, its centre of gravity low to the earth, absorbing everything in its almost militaristic path (shades of NYIDs’ monopolistic one-dimensional fit body at the Performing Arts Market), first possessing individuals in separate gender groups and then obliterating even that difference, taking with it every expression of pain and anxiety and the strange shapes that pitifully express them—a clawing fall to the floor or a wipe to the eye. A later comic scene has a group of men parading like women in a beauty contest—high heels and parodic stances (but around me the audience broke into shrill cheers exclaiming, “the Chippendales, the Chippendales!”). A line of women in red dresses challenge the men to do it right and all but one fail and exit, the victor taking his place centre line, locked in the same smile he began with, totally absorbed.

Much else in the evening seemed incidental, making it a show of bits and ultimately a bit of a show, despite the consistently powerful contribution of the Balanescu Quartet. The first, second and the final scenes of Possessed could be assembled into a powerful work instead of the sprawling entertainment it unashamedly is. Some in physical theatre might see Tankard as appropriating their aerial space, and there are times when the showbiz of it all seems to say so, but physical theatre is not all circuses these days and Legs on the Wall have a choreographer-director who’s worked with DV 8. Stalker have come down off their stilts and are working the air in other ways. It’s an intriguing physical moment.


Gravity Feed, The Gravity of the Situation

Gravity Feed, The Gravity of the Situation

Gravity Feed, The Gravity of the Situation

Embracing the unbearable

Gravity Feed, The Gravity of the Situation
Bond Store tunnel, The Rocks, Sydney
March 19 – 22

Gravity is upon us, from above and from beneath. It is weighty, it sucks, it pulls, it compels and commands from all sides. We act because we must, bound to this archaic form the cube which contains nothing yet everything. This is the tabernacle of damned creatures, and in its lightness is the source of their constant anxiety. Program note

Part of me wants to read this show literally. I resist. This is performance. We all inch our way in past signs that intimate danger. We are in a high ceilinged tunnel not in a theatre. Men in tired suits, some unshaven, hair straggling or shaved creep and dart about, oblivious to us, gathering lit candles in paper bags, placing them on a high ledge above a tall ladder, or in a cluster on the ground further down the tunnel. Me, I think I’m witness to some tramp ritual, a subterranean fire-worship culture, such is their care for their charge, fire that disintegrates that which is heavy into flame and ash as light as air. A soundtrack rumbles the resonant tunnel into a hymn of unremitting threat and mystery. It doesn’t let go of us. One of the men tugs at a huge metal cube walled with what looks like triple-ply cardboard (light but remarkably tough) and lets it roll down the slope of the tunnel, barely impeding its speed with all of his bodyweight. This is the first of the journeys of the cube, a miraculous device, Prometheus’ boulder to be rolled endlessly up the slope, a self-generating Platonic ideal that grows new walls as soon as old ones fall away (great design and construction), a perfect material to ignite (it takes and then refuses, glowing like a Red Milky Way), a tabernacle for unwilling worshippers whom it sucks to its centre from time to time and then once and for all. I can read The Gravity of the Situation literally, not as a tramp fire cult, of course (but what about those swinging buckets of flame?); it’s what it says it is, its heavy heart upon its sleeve. But lightness is as feared as much as gravity in this inverted Manicheanism. In a delicate and suspenseful moment the men hold the cardboard walls they’ve liberated from the cube vertically above their heads and criss-cross the space fearfully, juggling the surface area of the walls against the air in the tunnel.

The Gravity of the Situation is something more than the beginnings of the great work we’ve all been expecting from Gravity Feed after The House of Skin. What it needs now, now that the scenario is there, the shape is there, the marvellous cube is there, is for all the attention possible to be lavished on the choreography of bodies and space, a distillation of the opening, the establishment of a surer relationship between performers and Rik Rue’s awesome sound composition, and even perhaps opening space in the soundtrack so we, the congregation, can hear the performer bodies groan against the weight of the light and the heavy. In the past, Gravity Feed works have evaporated. Isn’t it time to embrace the unbearable lightness of being?

RealTime issue #24 April-May 1998 pg. 33

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

This is a strange experience; not weird, not wild, but odd. The odd opportunity to see one video several times and to read it differently (or not) each time because its soundtrack changes, each video voiced in a new way. I say voice, because voice, sung and spoken, is pivotal in this performance. Onstage three female singers, sometimes four, synch into spare soundtracks, adding to instrumental and/or vocal lines, or going it on their impressive own. As a music concert it’s mostly great, and gets better as it goes.

Often we don’t ‘hear’ soundtracks (even when moved by them), unless they’re as obtuse as the Titanic’s or packed with favorite tunes, unless we’re soundtrack addicts. In Voice Jam & Videotape image and music are almost in equal partnership. “Almost” because it’s the films in this performance which are repeated, not the musical compositions. Each video enjoys the benefit of two or three accompaniments. Although this is a Contemporary Music Events’ gig, it’s still a matter of music servicing the videos. (CME has produced a show where you sit in a cinema and listen to music without film.) Kosky tries to keep the balance by placing his singers next to the screen. By the last screening, I know what I’m inclined to look at.

Tyrone Landau, Rae Marcellino, Elena Kats-Chernin and Deborah Conway have created compositions that warrant multiple hearings. This could not be said of the viewing of most of the videos. Elena Kats-Chernin’s score for Judy Horacek’s animated The Thinkers, about The Stolen Children, was exemplary, matching this artist’s whimsical style with a musical cartoon language just serious enough to sustain the message. It markedly improved my still limited appreciation of the video, amplifying its moments of magic—especially the images of flight. David Bridie’s score for the same video, including the voice of Paul Keating, while politically pertinent, laboured the point, making the cartoon curiously twee, not up to the weight of the soundtrack. Deborah Conway’s composition for Lawrence Johnston’s Night, a Sydney Opera House reverie built from close ups of roof-shell details (tiles, edges etc.), added an aural density and a sense of the architectural space dealt with—many voices inside the Opera House, spare visual detail on the outside. Conway appeared (discreetly in the dark) adding her own voice to the multitude, the musical quality not dissimilar from that she helped create in the marvellous soundtrack for Peter Greenaway’s Prospero’s Books.

The one video that worked for me and that worked at me with the help of its composers, was Donna Swann’s dis-family-function. I’m usually not fond of narrative short films, but the almost silent movie, family-movie innocence of the work with its blunt edits and nervy close-ups (and none of these over-played), is engaging and I was more than happy to watch it twice. A gathering for a birthday party for an ageing mother starts from several points until the characters converge for a backyard party and the giving of gifts. Landau’s reading is relatively dark, male voice and piano, other male voices added, finally joined by the live voices of the onstage women singers. There’s something faintly disturbing about the score, a kind of restrained (almost Brittenish) poignancy, an inevitable unravelling of feeling and never a literal response. The onscreen image of the mother sinking into herself after the giving of gifts (dog bookends, dog statue, dog pictures, a real new dog—in the presence of her elderly-barely-willing-to-budge old dog) is sad. Rae Marcellino’s score is just as good, but much closer to what I imagine the videomaker might have had in mind. Its opening, rapid lines of “ma ma ma” immediately signals a lighter, everyday mood, and you don’t go looking for the video’s simple seriousness, that just hits you later. But in the choral work, as in the Landau, there’s something oddly holy generated as we watch these strangers—the mother, the dog, the son with his Indian girlfriend, the gay couple, and the young parents with baby, lolling in the sunlight, the near-but-never-to-be drama past.

Voice Jam & Videotape, curated by Barrie Kosky for Contemporary Music Events, Mercury Theatre, Adelaide, March 6 – 8; Salvation Army Temple, Melbourne, March 13 – 15

RealTime issue #24 April-May 1998 pg. 46

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Les Ballets C de la B and Het Musiek Lod, La Tristeza Complice

Les Ballets C de la B and Het Musiek Lod, La Tristeza Complice

Les Ballets C de la B and Het Musiek Lod, La Tristeza Complice

My father played a button-accordion, for ‘old-time’ dances. And he was good. He was a sought-after musician, everyone could dance to his music. My mother was a good dancer. My parents took me to these dances, once a month, and taught me all of them. Occasionally at Christmas my father brings out his accordion. And we all sit around the lounge-room and eat and drink. I think my father should be in this festival. I grew up, in the country, with accordion music and dancing. I also grew up with dark nights outside the Mt McIntyre Hall where the cars were parked, where the fights started.

I always wondered what anguish or despair, caused the punches, the smashed bottles, and the violent speech. I wanted to be in the carpark and the hall at the same time. To see both, as if layered. I think I’ve seen this now. The carpark was dangerous, and the dance-hall wasn’t. A thin wooden wall separated them. In La Tristeza Complice (The Shared Sorrow) no wall separates living and dying, just invisible honour. And this dying is not literal, it’s living death. It’s sorrow. And the sharing of sorrow forms tenderness that is so terrible, so resisted and resented, that it barely exists as that. Still, it does. There’s no denying it, thank god. It’s energy that makes each of the ‘characters’ so full of life that they almost burst. It hurts to watch them play it out. Their bodies take a beating, or, they beat their bodies. It’s brutal, and sensual, to watch. There are awful, funny, scenes, yet one can’t laugh, one forbids oneself (somehow), and here lies the tenuous border.

The pacing of the work is careful. It swings from menacing calm to harsh chaos. Neither are deadly, yet each carries death like a precious weight which lifts now and then, leaving the person in a state of even greater loss, as if death holds cells together, is a friend. And this manifests when the winged break-dancer arrives with his small magic carpet, a silly Hermes with a silly message, a trickster whose one prop is a clue, too literal to be trusted—and someone covers it with broken glass for him to dance on. He’ll dance anywhere, be tortured anywhere. Calm and chaos append each other, one beckons the other. There is no rest, even in sleep. The finely tuned roller-skate segment declares the company’s tough poetics; a sustained poetics that keeps ‘faith’ to the bitter end; faith summoned up by one great indignant sentence: “So, who decided all of that”.

The whole work is composed of tiny, fragile, passing events that infect each other, changing the dynamic and dimension of ‘life’. You see a dozen young beings, together but totally alone, and sure of their aloneness. And this is perhaps Platel’s clearest intention: that despite the goings-on of others nearby, or in real contact, the self insists on its utter difference, its own expression; it cradles its own story like a gift. This is powerfully told when the black girl begins to sing her sorrowful song—“if love’s a sweet passion, why does it torment”—and the transvestite crawls all over her, pulls and bites her, drags her this way and that, covers her face, but cannot stop her song.

La Tristeza Complice, as political performance, respects the self whose screams are reduced to single syllables—no, damn, shit, how, bang—and to brief statements—“I’m Belgian, I’m from Belgium, I’m Belgian”. It’s that simple. The transformed Henry Purcell music (mostly from The Fairy Queen) is played by the ten accordionists from the Conservatoire in Antwerp, the soprano sings, the dancers dance. They all might die, they all might kill. It’s about (if ‘about’ is a fair word) circulating desire (for love and sex). Marguerite Duras wrote of this fierce, sly, worn currency. She also wrote of the gaps within desire and body: “Sometimes they look a hundred years old, as if they’d forgotten how to live, how to play, how to laugh…They weep quietly. They don’t say what it is they’re crying for. Not a word. They say it’s nothing, it’ll pass”. (Summer Rain)

I saw La Tristeza after the opening of the Adelaide Biennial, All this and Heaven too (at the Art Gallery of SA), and before watching the spectacle of Flamma Flamma (at Elder Park). That is, I saw the strong epic black and white texts of Robert MacPherson and the quiet domestic solitude of Anne Ooms’ chairs, lights, and books, and then listened to a Requiem (Nicholas Lens’ Flamma Flamma), and watched the hundreds of children carry their glowing lanterns, and embrace the river-lake, and inbetween witnessed people brutalise and comfort each other. It was like being burned by flames of every intensity, and squeezed to life.

La Tristeza Complice, Les Ballets C de la B and Het Musiek Lod, Playhouse, February 27, Adelaide Festival 1998

RealTime issue #24 April-May 1998 pg. 4

© Linda Marie Walker; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Needcompany, Le Pouvoir/Snakesong

Needcompany, Le Pouvoir/Snakesong

Needcompany, Le Pouvoir/Snakesong

Faced, as Jan Lauwers put it in the Festival Forum on design, with the empty screen of the computer, dreaming a starting point, how to enter, how to begin testifying to the disturbance and disruption being caused within me and within the company I keep (strong disagreements abound), faced not simply by any one show but by the sheer monstrous Animal of the Festival itself. Knowing that the moment I enter that first word on the screen I will have made my entrance like a performer onto an empty stage. That breathtaking feeling of actually having to begin the irreversible momentum of the show. Wang Rong-yu, waiting for the rice to begin its unstoppable flow as the eternal wanderers emerge and the red drapes rise. Leda, with the uneasy music enveloping us in the dark, poised to fuck herself with her puppet Zeus, thus beginning the unending human saga of the interplay between eros and death. The American soldier, camera in hand, stepping on to the gravel path outside the Japanese house, about to face the horrors of Hiroshima and with one ejaculation to fertilise a 50 year comi-tragedy of East-West relations. Iyar Wolpe, on the brink of the white cloth stage (screen? page?) of the Bible, opening with those words which are at a soul-point of her race and which seem to speak for so many of the (Judeo-Christian) shows I have seen so far: “My heart is sore pained within me…” It’s there in the names: Burn Sonata, La Tristeza Complice, Snakesong, The Waste Land, Possessed. I appreciated the direct concern in Naomi’s question to Lauwers in the Forum: “Why is your show so painful?” And equally I understood his response (to paraphrase and shorten): “Because the world is a painful place”.

Never was this pain so vivid than when (by chance scheduling) I went, with the wanderers’ song still filling me, to hear the snake’s lament on the destructiveness of power mixed with erotic desire. The very belief system that Songs of the Wanderers, with its final unifying spiral, represented was rent asunder and its loss painfully evident in the disintegrated world of Snakesong. But the need for an aesthetics with which to express this rent and this loss gives rise in the work of both Belgian companies seen here this year to a charged and intense theatricality. It is one which, to use the words of Rudi Laermans in describing Meg Stuart, an artist we saw in the 96 Festival, “inhabits the realm of the uncanny” and is thereby sacred in its own perversely relevant way.

The harmonic completeness of the Taiwanese work, its organic rhythm, with scarcely a step or a move or a shift of tone out of place, the sheer lavish, joyous power of the rice-saturated spectacle, the layers of image and sound are all woven into an impressive, comforting, impermeable texture. It is not a cultural purity that creates the strength and impermeability. The touches of Western modernist expressive dance mixed in with the Eastern ritual journey and the sound track of Georgian folk songs are oddly disjunctive elements. But the artistic force, the accomplishment of the work seemed to me to be one of synthesis. Lin Hwai-min’s previous work Nine Songs is described in the Souvenir Guide as containing “disruptive moment(s)…when the audience is forced to experience a critical estrangement”. I felt no such estrangement in Songs of the Wanderers, from my position in the dress circle watching the map of the journey written into the rice. Here was an example of what Rudi Laermans, in talking from a different angle about the very different work of Meg Stuart, calls an “essential” (stage) image: “these images are so much ‘image’ that they never transform into words…(they) do not affect because of their ‘meaning’ or content, but by their ‘being-an-image’”. And later: “An image cannot be reduced to the metaphorical addition of a number of qualified poses, movements, or gestures. An image always keeps these elements together, and synthesises them into a particular…image”.

The power of a work like Songs of the Wanderers is at times overwhelming, undeniable. But it is for me at one with its limitations. I see it, I hear it, I feel it, I am in awe of it but it remains outside me, choreographed to the point of completion. How do I get in there? Despite Lin’s professed interculturality, this was also a question of cultural difference, of course. Wanderers is at the sacred end of the spectrum. It contains none of the profane late 20th century savvy I witnessed (and recognised) in the Taiwanese work on show at LIFT in London last year. The limitation is not in the work so much as in me—a profane Western voyeur both seduced by and resisting the seduction of Orientalism. I was enormously grateful for the final meditation upon the spiral as time to allow the spell of the work to move through my veins before I re-entered the Adelaide sun to let it sweat out.

Needcompany’s Snakesong/Le Pouvoir demolished all the tenets of artistic form and sensibility upon which Wanderers was based, putting a grenade under the belief in art as a force of synthesis. Snakesong had holes in it open enough to breathe through and deep enough to suicide in. In traditional terms it was undramatic, a-theatrical, inconsistently performed (the acting/performing dualism raised by Keith Gallasch in one of the Festival Forums was here the bloody knife edge upon which the very nature of identity rested), scenographically ‘ugly’, with scant respect for its audience, too loud, too laid back and unresolved thematically. And yet for all this it was liberating, witty, intriguing, confronting, irritating, satisfying, disturbing and with complete respect for its audience’s future.

The image seed from which it evidently grew was that fragment of the Lascaux cave paintings in which a man with a bird’s head and an erect penis lies prone next to the dead body of a bison. What a starting point! There at the birth of Western art is the eroticism of death, the fatality of sex, the paradoxes which have haunted it ever since. Following the opening darkness, the tortuous music and the twisted images of classical myth, the shocking interrogation scene drives hard into these paradoxes with unflaggingly overt histrionics. Did Leda die in sex (the little death) or was her death violent and meaningless. “Did you die (come) together?” The debate powers on and on through double translation. It really matters to them, these investigators, these actors, it is an issue to engage with fully, one important enough to keep chasing through the pain and the boredom, even though they know it is insoluble. It is rare these days to see such raw commitment to an argument on stage. The issue is still crucial enough to make demands on our passions. The myth is still with us, insoluble. We still suffer from it, as the gathering in the contemporary Antwerp scene makes all too clear. The competing egos, the lack of focus, the ache of betrayal, the lack of motive or certain cause, the inability of the characters to work from the heart when the actions needed are so simple and so necessary. The men and the young women are affectless, disengaged, able only to relate through violence and denial. The ‘room’, with its plinths and microphones and objects of a civilisation’s failed history is an empty mix of classical ruins and postmodern kitsch. This is a wasteland of the Millennium. It is little wonder that the extraordinary central woman, whose determination, courage, indomitability and dry dismissive wit is the only whiff of hope in the entire play, ‘dies’ out of it, orders the others off and leaves the mess for us to deal with. Her final wry smile at us is horrifying in its implication.

Needcompany—even the name is a cry for help. “Help me! I’m Belgian!” as the actress in La Tristeza yelled out. ‘Belgian’ in this late 20th century has, through the power of its theatre companies, come to mean ‘human’.

Festival Forum, Design; Songs of the Wanderers, Cloud Gate Dance Company; Le Pouvoir/Snakesong, Needcompany; Adelaide Festival 1998

RealTime issue #24 April-May 1998 pg. 6

© Richard Murphet; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

For a long time I’ve wanted to compose musical scores from bits of text and coloured paper, and stack them on a shelf as a slowly amassing single work, or sentence (called ‘Litter’ perhaps), “as if the logic of fiction is one that pertains to the emotions” (Brenda Ludeman, Visual Arts Program); I’ve wondered what it would sound like, I always wonder what writing sounds like as music, or looks like as dance; and I’d been watching Junko Wada for a while before thinking there was something familiar about her movement, not something I’d seen before, or understood, but something I recognised faintly, or more likely imagined; then it came: she’s writing; it was like watching words come-about, pause, float briefly, and join-up like beads; I didn’t like this thought, I chastised myself for misreading the contorted hands and the calm feet, and the body separated into many parts, all at once; it seemed that each move interrupted itself (like a minor subversion) in its middle so that it was seen, insisted on being seen, and was isolated from what was otherwise fluid; still it persisted, this thought, the horrible ability (want) I have to align various forms to ‘writing’; her body a type of stylus, acute, accurate—each move equivalent to the next—inscribing her dance into me, lightly; the engraving did not occur by harsh cuts, rather by repetitious and concentrated (condensed) strokes; the performance wasn’t about grand vistas, it was some other spatial knowledge: a topology of small dove-tailing details: “(s)he is the worker of a single space, the space of measure and transport” (Claire Robinson, in Folding Architecture).

Junko Wada is not going anywhere (she’s staying put, digging in), there is no journey other than thought (where she was sending me), and this thought is restless and malleable; it is simultaneous thought of here and of that other place so far back there’s no known path; she writes: “back to when I was an amoeba-like single cell”; she’s showing a confined, restricting space, small white empty, to be intricate (to be an architecture folding and unfolding, to be flesh: “Her architecture would be…a local emergence within a saturated landscape” [Claire Robinson]) and endless; that is, the space is strange—in parched geometry there is the naked written and writing body—and this strangeness is left alone by the soundscape of Hans Peter Kuhn; so, therefore, there are two separate works which throughout the performance remain distant (he’s building, she’s building, apart), parallel, creating, for me, yet another space (a third) which belongs to neither, which belongs to the audience (a gift, if you want); the soundscape is as minimal as the dance; and I don’t remember its shapes, instead I remember single sounds, single events–—rain, and to my chagrin the almost too-human ones, his whistling, his voice singing a Marlene Dietrich song, the pouring of the white wine into two glasses, and his footsteps across the floor to where she stood, waiting, and the handing to her of a glass, to toast the idea of ‘ending’ (I liked the music because it did not mark the dance, it did not drive or state, it was comfortable being there, present, and available at will) and this brought me right back, with a thud, to the ‘real’ of human display—to humans performing for humans, in diverse and delicate ways—which chronicles and archives the immeasurable and the unchartable, fleeting fragments (have I told you of the three dresses, red, yellow, blue, of how they worked ‘against’ the body, making its utterance somehow more live, and awkward too?)—and then not so much as ‘noise’ but as ‘objects’ or ‘positions’ in the space where I was, where the watchers were, skirting the dancer’s square, leaving her ‘room’, her work, to her; the third space is a prolonged interval then—where thinking is invited, a thinking between, in this case, movement and sound, or dancing (as it comes from the inside out), and music (as it goes from the outside in); and this making, imagining, of the interval, or plane, by bringing into proximity, but not interweaving, two very considered forms—one that stretches, reaches to the limit, and another that rests, resides with slight tension—collects nowhere else but in oneself (who is saying nothing, while the gathered cells, a universe, are now at the bar taking their first post-show sip, putting themselves in, edging themselves toward, a state of speech [to borrow from Barthes]).

Who’s Afraid Of Anything?, Junko Wada/Hans Peter Kuhn; Space Theatre, March 5, Adelaide Festival 1998

RealTime issue #24 April-May 1998 pg. 6

© Linda Marie Walker; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

One of the problems of writing about performances is the difficulty of notetaking in the dark. The disruptions it causes to other audience members, its potential to distract the performer, not to mention your own thoughts, are all reasons to avoid it. At the beginning of the festival I bought a pen with a light in it but it’s March 12 and I haven’t used it. Anyway, while you’re writing something down, you risk missing something else. The other difficulty is actually deciphering the notes you make afterwards. It’s like trying to remember dreams. The only words I wrote at the conclusion of Wendy Houstoun’s Haunted Daunted and Flaunted were her final ones. Who knows why I felt the need to write them down. I think endings in the theatre are given way too much importance, like nothing else has happened up to that point. I smiled when Hans Peter Kuhn said in the Forum on Tuesday March 10 that he and Junko Wada worked for a set time on Who’s Afraid of Anything? and when the time ran out, the work was complete. So much for endings.

Anyway the words I thought I scrawled on my program after Wendy Houstoun’s performance were “You can hear the human sound we are sitting here speaking” but looking at the scrawl I found “icnsethehunanoisewersittinghermak” or “I can see the human noise we are sitting here making”. A friend said she thought she heard something about “cities” which just goes to show how imprecise are the twists and turns of memory—more or less the territory that Wendy Houstoun is probing in this remarkable work.

“I am awake in the place where women die.” (Jenny Holzer)

After a festival full of words, my notebook holds a collection of such sentences—impressions, paragraphs scratched over drinks after performances, addresses, snatches of sudden poetry, eavesdroppings, meeting points, restaurants, snippets carried around in my head until I could find a place to write them down, headlines (like the one that appeared the day after the Barbara Hanrahan book was released—“Diary from the Grave” and Friday’s mysterious “Drug Dog in Limbo”. At this stage of the festival there’s an impulse to make connections so today Jenny Holzer and Wendy Houstoun meet on the page.

In note form, Jenny Holzer reads: “Repressed childhood/desire to paint 4th dimension. Art school—attempts reduce daunting reading list distilling books to sentences. Public posters/inflammatory essays/truisms”. (I almost broke my rule and stood up at question time to tell her about Ken Campbell who when he was in Sydney a few years ago performing his show The Furtive Nudist, spent days at the Museum of Contemporary Art writing a list of questions to which Jenny Holzer’s statements might be the answers). “Now installations. Latest work Lustmord—installations of words taking in whole body experience (where the eyes go). Words backwards/forwards/ reflected, juxtaposed with human bones to be picked up and read. ‘Resorted’ to writing, she said, because there are many places it can go but it doesn’t come easily.” Of the many sentences in her presentation I wrote down this one which came from a friend who was assaulted by a policeman: “When someone beats you with a flashlight, you make light shine in all directions”. “Nowadays—romantic inclination—writing text on water—as light—from multiple perspectives.” In Lustmord she writes as the perpetrator, the victim and the observer.

Wendy Houstoun too is all three. Before she enters, a voice from the speakers announces some random violence has been perpetrated on a woman. The voice appeals for witnesses, tells us that an actor will recreate the incident. The work is inspired by the BBC’s Crimewatch. True to life and art after this, my memory of the precise order of events is not sharp. Well, I have sharp memories of incidents. How sharp? Very. Particular movements? No. I’m not a dancer but I’d like to be. Details? I don’t…wait a minute, I remember a sequence where she took us through her dancing life by decades, going way back to the foetal position in 1969. I remember fragments of movements shaking her body. What kind of movements? Well like I said, I’m not a da…but they were unpredictable, unfamiliar, beautiful, no wait, wait, some were memories of other choreographies. I remember there was a Swedish bell dance she had learned which turned out to be incredibly useful, and I agreed with what she danced, sorry, what she said about jazz ballet and the Celtic dance revival. But that makes it sound satirical which is not what I meant to… What do I mean to say? Well the subtlety of… How? Well I remember she said she spent a year moving in two dimensions and how funny she was. But that makes it sound…There was much more. How much? Like I said, all I have is fragments, commentaries on her own body. She let us into her body and showed us her fear. That’s what I said, fear.

Wendy Houstoun is from Manchester, I think. Holzer’s crisp monotone is US mid-West. She is dryly witty, measured and fluid in the flesh. The words she exhibits electronically are short, sharp, sometimes savage. When someone asks her to explain what she means by “Protect Me From What I Want” she laughs and says “I don’t think I can”. Wendy Houstoun’s text is continuous, reminding us just what a physical act speech is. Unlike much dance using the spoken word, here it is not segregated in patches, or voiced-over, or used for interruption or pause. Words are inseparable from her body. She doesn’t enhance them with movement. They are partners. She does little more than speak them as she dances (no mean feat)—speaking of which, how Wendy Houstoun’s bare feet show the shape of a dancing life. And this work could not exist without the words. Without them the wonderful sequence of visual jokes (“Two small movements go into a bar”) would fall flat. The argument from people who don’t like the idea of dancers speaking is that dance has its own meaning and words get in the way. In Wendy Houstoun’s hands, feet and neck, the meanings of both words and movements begin to open up.

On an earlier page of my notebook is one of my first festival experiences, La Tristeza Complice, and as I flip the pages, Les Ballets C. de la B. become the bodies of Jenny Holzer’s “It takes a while before you can step over inert bodies and go ahead with what you were doing”. I wish she had seen those bodies dancing.

Haunted Daunted and Flaunted, Wendy Houstoun, The Price Theatre, March 10; Jenny Holzer; Artists Week Keynote Address, Adelaide Festival Centre, March 11, Adelaide Festival 2000

RealTime issue #24 April-May 1998 pg. 7

© Virginia Baxter; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Saburo Teshigawara, I Was Real–Documents

Saburo Teshigawara, I Was Real–Documents

Saburo Teshigawara, I Was Real–Documents

Why do people begin to cough during silences; do they wait for silence. Why do they want to be heard; are they really coughing. No wonder Saburo Teshigawara includes coughing in this work, I Was Real– Documents. It does define a space, small and sudden, where others can’t be. It marks terrain, which is communal, and yet exclusive, like the “sshh” does.

I was a little anxious about seeing this show. I’d seen it in London and loved it. Here it was even better. I was closer for one thing. But, there was something else, something extra that is difficult to describe: perhaps ‘tougher’ hints at it. Something that defied exhaustion, or passed borders, or dissolved desires.

The work is composed of several distinct parts or movements (like music), which flow into one another. These are bracketed by a beginning which is dark and slow, and an ending which is light, brief, and strangely, falsely, idyllic. Teshigawara uses air, air as material, to make space come about for the body, sculpting it with a relentless and often frantic style of dance that is so full of detail and nuance that it saturates the gaze. Looking changes as one understands that ‘air’ cannot be owned, that it, here translated into ‘moving’, is free. Space itself dances; breath is the material of the constant present and the tense and tension of this fact, as force, creates the next moment (or gives it reason to arrive, as ‘thing’, new and surprising). The bodies of the dancers are distinct and alone on the stage. There is only one time when they touch each other, and then it’s as if, in brief closeness, they establish separation by voice, by calling, screaming. In this particular movement or ‘document’, where the voice is amplified, and at once beautiful and painful, it’s clear that every cell of the body holds memory, and as the body pushes its limits, by repetition and commitment to detail—that in some sense is only the extraordinary possibility of every lived second—the idea of air and breath is put into doubt. I mean, the idea of what each is, as space and time, as language, is questioned. These ‘documents’, as they are shown, side by side, are themselves archives, and are, overall, from another larger archive. Each body, in its isolation, in its knowledge of being only itself, carves a world that is complex, abstract, and delicate.

Saburo Teshigawara & KARAS, I Was Real–Documents

Saburo Teshigawara & KARAS, I Was Real–Documents

Saburo Teshigawara & KARAS, I Was Real–Documents

Teshigawara himself, dressed in white and then black, is compelling; he draws one directly into the dance, to where he is, into his bare fluid aesthetic, into the body he makes for you. Emio Greco is stunning, I hope I don’t have to wait another 12 months to watch him dance again.

Perhaps seeing Documents in the Playhouse, where I was closer to the dancers, made them more ‘real’ and intense. And the experience was overwhelming. I’ve hardly touched the surface of the work, I’ve not mentioned the sound, which is a dimension in its own right, or the costumes, or the projections, or the…

These ‘documents’ pay respect to what it is to be human and to remember and to breathe; and this ‘is’ makes nonsense of wanting to re-define the word ‘sacred’, of wanting to loosen it a little here and tighten it a little there. It too ‘is’.

I Was Real–Documents, Saburo Teshigawara & KARAS; Playhouse, March 11, Adelaide Festival 2000

RealTime issue #24 April-May 1998 pg. 8

© Linda Marie Walker; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Wendy Houstoun, British performer and director of dance theatre, is on the move. She returned from teaching in Vienna to perform in a platform of British contemporary dance in Newcastle. She next travelled to the Adelaide Festival, to perform her solo trilogy, Haunted, Daunted and Flaunted. Before that she completed a site-specific commission for the Spitz cabaret club in London and conclude a mentoring project for emerging choreographers at The Place Theatre. Houstoun has been to Australia before, having toured with native Lloyd Newson’s company DV8. She has an affinity with Australians. “People often think I’m Australian”.

Houstoun’s trademark melange of monologue, movement and mood swings, hovers around the fringes of the contemporary dance scene; uncomfortably in the UK, where she is often criticised for subordinating movement to theatricality, more easily in Europe and beyond. In Newcastle she was programmed into the marginal mid-afternoon slot, but still stole the show with the international promoters. Her part time manager has been avalanched by offers for touring. “The Italians didn’t understand a word I was saying”, Houstoun shrugs, “but they still wanted to buy the work”.

Working on the Spitz commission when we met, Houstoun was remarkably chipper about her lack of progress: “That excruciating first step can take ages. One minute of dance can take five days to make”. On her own again, Houstoun is nevertheless clear that solo shows such as the trilogy are not the way forward. “Haunted was a way of breaking with Lloyd,” she admits, referring to the many roles she has created for DV8. “We were in a bit of a trap. We always started from devising and patterns would emerge and we’d repeat them and become sort of mutually dependent. It became hard to change or accentuate our ways of working. I would always end up cranking up the energy to get on the edge and become manic.” The links are not broken however, “Lloyd still comes to have a look at what I’m doing. He can see what is under the work”.

Houstoun is not in any hurry to get back onto the treadmill of international touring. “The trick is to keep free. There’s a degree of ordinariness in my work which I want to maintain. It’s to do with the claims you make for what you do. I want to avoid raising too many expectations. I can still change direction pretty easily.”

She’s at a turning point again: “I’m looking for a more internal way of performing now. I want to make smaller, quieter work. All this expressiveness is a bit juvenile”. The trilogy could already be seen as a first step towards this aim. There are traces of the confrontational characters Houstoun created for DV8, however this work allows a range of personae to take the mike. “I don’t see it continuing”, Houstoun says, “The whole idea of a trilogy was a bit of a joke. It just sort of carried on. The next thing should be quite different”.

Should be. Following Adelaide, Houstoun will work with theatre director Neil Bartlett on a series of performances in British cathedrals. “There will be a choir of 100 people, actors, dancers; anything could happen”. As we discuss the relationship between text and movement in her work, we stray into her experiences as movement director for the Royal Shakespeare Company and Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre. Houstoun continues to feed off theatre but reaffirms her commitment to dance as “the best way to get at human interaction. Acting is boring in the end. I get tired of the relationships the actors have with each other, with the director, with the text. They’re always talking everything through. Dancers take direction better, they take on shape without needing to know why”. Directors she admires (and she has workshopped with the best of them) are those who, like Deborah Warner, exhibit, “a light touch”. “Deborah has more of a manner than any specific technique. She leaves a lot of room around things. She’s not subscribing to any school of thought”.

There’s no doubt that the actorly dimension in Houstoun’s work will remain. Houstoun loves words and used them as the starting point for the trilogy. “Words often come way before the music. I often have to switch off, suspend thought to make the movement and to put the two together”. The words she wrote for Haunted were stored away long before the idea of the performance emerged. “I looked at the structure of a few plays. I pinched the odd quote. I’m interested in ways of talking to people, not so much what the words mean, but what they suggest. Speech as resonant of something else.”

In Touch, the short dance film Houstoun made with director David Hinton, there are no words. “A lot of the ambiguity goes out of words in film.” The medium still appeals however, “I enjoy the rigour of film, the way it eats ideas”. The pseudo-documentary she made in 1997, with Hinton again, taught her some lessons. “Maybe Diary of a Dancer didn’t work as a dance film. It was too long, gentle, lyrical. Not slick. It’s genuine. It has helped me to get away from some of the hardness too.”

And Houstoun is back to the impetus behind the steady progression of her career. “I need to negotiate ways to keep on making interesting work.” Whilst she cultivates a self-effacing modesty, it’s clear from the patterns of her career that she is always one step ahead of her current project, retaining the most interesting parts and moving on.

“How do you mature with your work?” she asks searchingly. “Credibility and respect are hard to negotiate.” Yet as the enthusiastic response to the trilogy and the offers of innovative collaborations with directors, musicians and choreographers keep on coming, Houstoun appears short of neither.

Haunted Daunted and Flaunted, Adelaide Festival, Price Theatre, March 10 – 14

RealTime issue #24 April-May 1998 pg. 38

© Sophie Hansen; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Some dance writers make it a point of honour to avoid personal involvement or knowledge of the dancers or choreographic process prior to seeing a performance, hoping that the work might somehow be less tainted by their own biases, and they will be clear of ‘irrelevant’ distractions, more objective, a state counted as desirable and attainable. Indeed, it would be silly to pretend that having seen a dancer’s work over many years, liking their attitude, understanding the process with an intimate kinaesthetic awareness, a viewer wouldn’t enter a performance with certain expectations, a particular focus and set of assumptions, all of which carry a high intellectual charge.

With this in mind, my understanding of Ros’ work is a long one, having, in this particular project—part of her MA honours thesis at UWS—been invited to document over five weeks the three dancers’ internal thought processes, even to intervene by suggesting what they seemed to me to be doing, and requiring them therefore to respond by explaining in words that very intuitional improvisational modus operandi.

So, with the feeling that any ‘performance’ is just a momentary crystallisation in an ongoing process, I watched this particular manifestation. And in fact, the lights, designed with Iain Court’s delicate touch, and the palpable expectations of the audience induced a feeling of closure, pinning down some of the ideas, and making invisible some of the more vagrant possibilities in the work, threads of ideas I had seen before, too errant to become part of this ‘performance’ pattern.

What I have often seen which distinguishes Ros’s work is that its subject matter tends to be open and layered, inviting contemplation. Each performer can be seen not as a technician parading various accomplishments, but as an individual with a uniquely developed personal language and physical demeanour. The motives for movement are different for each of the performers. Even though my ‘outside eye’ might have relied on its ‘dancerly’ experience, in the absence of a studied choreography, I was drawn more often to what seemed like ordinary, if heightened, behaviour, thoughts and feelings and their physical expression, the ‘non-dancing’ character of each, the parts that can get submerged beneath specific styles.

Julie Humphreys, in her dance Telling Stories to the Sky, has a most distinctive improvisational persona. Perhaps it is not her intention, but her dancing seems to draw from a slightly eccentric emotionality, a whimsical, funny, secret shyness, a state of mind that anyone might remember having been in: not feeling sure, being vulnerable, self-conscious, and aware of your own foolishness, in a place where there is no hiding, and no alternative except to be yourself. It is not about epically beautiful feelings or lines, or ‘aesthetics’, and indeed she is not hidden behind any ‘dancerly’ performer’s shell. What you see is Julie Humphreys being really funny, breathing and laughing, sitting with awkwardly folded legs, running, gesturing, looking sideways, communing with something as if she’s watched, being herself, and reminding us about the soft, secret, silly side of being human, in this particular rather difficult and distracting environment, this public exposure called performance.

Gabby Adamik’s solo, Tidal, seems more straightforward in its dynamics. She works not so much with a muscular strength as with a central physical core to her body, undergoing seizures by waves and currents, pulling her to extremes, and back to calm, being thrown around, but clothed in a more indeterminate flesh which plays little part in these internal ebbing tides. Gabby’s is a short, contained and well-formed idea, a strong and supple solo, with a rich, clear texture, a rising-ebbing symmetry.

Ros Crisp’s duet with Gabby, Audible Air, has a similarly uncluttered structure: the dancers commence, widely spaced and obliquely angled, on either side of the stage, moving around and past each other, to change places. There are meetings in this dance, responses, awareness of each other’s presence, self-containment, listening. It has a cooler, less intensely personal quality. You might see only one dancer at a time, widely separated as they are, depending on which side of the space you sit. I was aware of their changing spatial relationships, creating a deep and acutely angled field. The image of a blurred distant figure behind one which was very near and crisply focused, made a strange photographic image, emotionally more removed than the other pieces.

Ros’s solo rendition of Audible Air, opening the program, also works with a quiet physical listening, not so much concerned with perceiving external sound, but with a slow internal cyclic resonance, waiting for the seep and swell of sensation and attendant imagination through the body cavities, through the breath, along axons, charging synapses, waiting, filling and emptying again from her body’s contours.

On one level there is a clear dancerly beauty in her energy and gesture. Her expression has a practised and refined emotional sensibility about it—unlike Julie’s more unravelled quality—which rests easily on a long and established physical practice. If speed, control, flow and precision are not primarily what she is concerned with, those qualities come to work inevitably and extraordinarily, providing a compelling focus for those who might find unsettling any departures from orthodoxy.

In the program notes, she has quoted Claudel:
Violaine (who is blind): I hear…
Mara: What do you hear?
Violaine: Things existing in me.

Omeo Dance Project, Four improvisations directed by Rosalind Crisp: Audible Air, Solo—Rosalind Crisp; Duet—Rosalind Crisp and Gabrielle Adamik; Telling stories to the sky, Julie Humphreys; Tidal, Gabrielle Adamik. Omeo Studios, Newtown, February

RealTime issue #24 April-May 1998 pg. 40

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

Shelley Lasica, Dress

Shelley Lasica, Dress

Shelley Lasica, Dress

In addition to her many solo dance performances in non-theatre venues, Shelley Lasica has developed an extensive repertoire of collaborative works with dancers as well as artists from other fields. In Character X at the 1996 Next Wave Festival she collaborated with architect Roger Wood, composer Paul Schutze and visual artist Kathy Temin. Following her series entitled Behaviour spanning four years and six performance works, a video and a publication, Lasica embarked on a new series of theatre pieces. The first, Live Drama Situation, was shown at the Cleveland Project Space in London last year. The second in the series, Situation Live: The Subject, is a performance about theatrical interaction, loss of memory, coincidence and the subject of space. This time, Shelley Lasica collaborates with dancers Deanne Butterworth and Jo Lloyd, writer Robyn McKenzie (editor of LIKE magazine and visual arts critic for the Herald Sun in Melbourne) and composer Franc Tetaz who works as a composer and sound engineer with artists as diverse as Regurgitator and Michael Keiran Harvey. Situation Live is about what happens in the interaction between spoken, written and movement language.

In Dress, Shelley’s collaborator is fashion designer Martin Grant who created the 10 striking dresses with Julia Morison for the exhibition Material Evidence:100-headless woman at the Adelaide Festival. In Dress we see the way a body behaves and is arranged by the physical habits of clothing. Rather than making a costume for a performance, Martin Grant has designed an outfit that both defines and resists the performance of it. Dress was recently presented at Anna Schwartz Gallery as part of the Melbourne Fashion Festival. RT

Situation Live:The Subject and Dress: a costumed performance will be presented for three nights only at The Performance Space, Sydney, April 15-17 at 8 pm

RealTime issue #24 April-May 1998 pg. 40

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

Brett Daffy and Kathryn Dunn in Bonehead

Brett Daffy and Kathryn Dunn in Bonehead

Melbourne’s very own contemporary dance company Chunky Move will headbutt its new audience at a preview screening on Saturday May 16 at the CUB Malthouse with their new hour-long dance film Wet commissioned by ABCTV, choreographed and scripted by Mr. Chunky himself, Gideon Obarzanek, and directed by Steven Burstow. A cluey collaboration—Burstow is one of a very few Australian directors interested in exploring the interface between arts live and on TV.

In a city full of fancy footwork, Chunky Move aims to do its bit to shift the boundaries of conventional performance in dance. The company’s move from project-base to three-year funding status will allow it to realise works on a larger scale and to reach a wider audience. Let’s hope that it also buys the company some of the time it needs to seriously develop new work. At the Adelaide Festival, companies like Belgium’s Les Ballet C. de la B. made local mouths water with the relative luxury of their work processes—18 months non-stop for La Tristeza Complice. Nurtured over time, the works are developed further over a number of productions. Robert Lepage (The Seven Streams of the River Ota) says he doesn’t write anything down until the 200th performance!

At this stage, the program is looking decidedly chunky. First up will be a remount of their recent work, Bonehead for performances in Melbourne in May following a tour of the work to South America in April. Gideon Obarzanek sees Bonehead as a work about the body as utilitarian being or object. “At one time,” he says, “the body is able to be an hilarious caricature of a vulnerable victim, while at another, it is seen number-crunching frenetically through virtuosic movement combinations, reducing it to a mechanism of bone, sinew and muscle.”Bonehead features some of Australia’s most skilful dancers: Narelle Benjamin, Brett Daffy, Kathryn Dunn, Byron Perry and Luke Smiles and newcomer, VCA graduate, Fiona Cameron. A tour to Germany in June will be followed by a collaboration with Paul Selwyn Norton (UK/Holland) after which the company goes into intensive development for Hydra, a large scale work combining performance and sculptural installation which moves dance out of the theatre and into the pool. Hydra has been commissioned by the Sydney Festival and will tour Melbourne, Perth, Brisbane and internationally throughout 1999. In June next year, a new triple bill will premiere in Melbourne including a commission for Lucy Guerin.

RealTime issue #24 April-May 1998 pg. 40

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

Pseudoscience is a kind of halfway house between old religion and new science, mistrusted by both.

—Carl Sagan’s words and The Red Shift’s story. With this latest work-in-progress, Garry Stewart takes the shared spaces between science fiction and science fact and blows them in different directions with an appropriately cosmic movement vocabulary.

The Red Shift in workshop is a series of seven short scenes, some of them using a complex choreographic tool that has led to the creation of original, innovative chunks of movement. Stewart and dancers Bernadette Walong, Richard Seidel, Kate Levy and Elizabeth Thompson worked with Gideon Obarzanek for three workshop sessions, exploring movement possibilities through the strategy known as 9 point improvisation. Stewart explained the methodology to us before the showing. Each dancer—working in their own imagined box with nine points in different spatial planes—moves between the points, in different orders and using different kinds of movement.

The result is sometimes awkward-looking, sometimes fluid, and always interesting; the force of the movement heightened by an often frenetic pace. Stewart seems to have an ability to meld movement forms with a kind of organised anarchy—in The Red Shift he has Seidel spinning on the floor in a new type of breakdancing across the space. A radical pas de deux emerges from the breakdancing solo. Sequences spin in and out of each other to maintain the pace, while slides of ‘alien spacecraft’ and crop circles impose their visual stories on the performance. The dancers are more or less dispassionate—except for the moment straight from Close Encounters when lights beam down upon them and there are a few moments of performance anxiety.

After the showing, Stewart expanded on the choreographic process and some of the problems he and dramaturg David Bonney have encountered. One that is particularly puzzling for him—although a common dilemma for many artists looking to create new and challenging work—is the accessibility of the performance. Stewart was concerned that the story of the piece and the related notion of fictional and factual science barriers blurring was not being communicated to the audience. One audience member thought the slides too directive, instead of allowing the audience to determine the story for themselves. It will be interesting to see how ‘well-supervised’ the piece becomes through reworkings.

The beauty of The Choreographic Centre is its focus on exploration and process above and beyond product. A relief really, especially at a time when federal government arts policy fails to embrace the richness of investigating the medium of performance, or to acknowledge artistic practice as a means of research.

Garry Stewart made reference to this in his program notes, saying “The Choreographic Centre offered the time and space to test out new methods of working, and…ideas which had been satelliting around in my head for some time could finally be put to the test”. It makes sense—give someone the resources of time, space and money to look into even the vaguest conceptual problem, and they’ll work to solve it. The research problems of artistic practice can give rise to innovations which extend that practice, and The Red Shift does offer some interesting, creative ‘solutions’ to continual ‘problems’ like narrative and structure.

Garry Stewart, choreographer, The Red Shift, The Choreographic Centre, Canberra

RealTime issue #23 Feb-March 1998 pg. 34

© Julia Postle; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

En-Knapp in Vertigo Bird

En-Knapp in Vertigo Bird

En-Knapp in Vertigo Bird

A boy stares out to sea from a high sand dune, thinking, waiting, ready for action in his commando-style jumpsuit. This is serious play. He signals with obscure gestures to a figure on the beach (he plays all the roles), arms and limbs flying in an ‘action man’ display of skill. The figure on the beach bolts, twisting and spinning as he runs. The camera work in Boy (UK) choreographer Rosemary Lee, director Peter Anderson, takes us into an imaginary life, small hands fluttering out codes, epic slides down the side of a dune. Between close-up and long shot we can piece together gesture, intention, space and terrain in this beautiful depiction of the intensity of child’s play—the choreography remains true to the unthought, incipient actions of childhood, and the direction privileges each moment with grand, almost monumental shots.

This short film was one of the international dance video/films that made up Videosteps, curated by Michelle Mahrer and part of Leisa Shelton’s Intersteps programme at The Performance Space. This event also included the launch of the Microdance films. What people at the screenings saw was a kind of map of the interface between dance and film, two points which, speaking cinematically, could become ‘documentation’ and ‘cinema’. This neat binary of mine grew out of a belief that the utilitarian use of film/video for the creation and recording of dance, was a type of primitive practice in relation to recent examples which engage in the technical and historical aspects of film, along with the dance as subject.

An example of this ‘primitive’ practice within Videosteps would be Douglas Wright’s Ore (New Zealand), directed by himself and Chris Graves, a film that for me, marked a point around which the other films could be placed. Ore is a film of Wright’s solo from Buried Venus (1996) and if you’re talking documentation, this is a fine example. The virtuosity of this curiously Nijinksyish dancer is highlighted by some great editing; the intention of the film is clear as you find yourself marvelling, striving to comprehend. (Where’s that pause button?) Ex-Wright dancer Brian Carbee comments that the film cannot compare to the live performance, cannot be more than a mediation which is devoid of the magic of a physical presence. I suggest that this style of dance film must always fall short as a ‘replacement’ in comparison to those films which actively negotiate the filmic form. Then Carbee brings me face to face with my own bias, asking—but how can film be truer to dance than to represent a dance performance to the best of its ability? For a dancer, this may well be the fundamental aim. It is dance, he points out, which is expected to bend towards this monolith of the 20th century arts; it is dance which is adapting to film. Meanwhile, I feel myself slipping between two worlds, but decide to stick to my guns and argue that “it’s a two way street”. There is a definite satisfaction in those films which embrace the whole—the dance, the filmic expectations and possibilities, the movement both on the screen and of the frames.

A certain tendency in dance film to patch together dramatic sections and discrete dance sequences performed to the camera became clear after seeing the films Effort Public (Germany), Vertigo Bird (Slovenia) and The Father is Sleeping (Microdance) in this programme. Effort Public expresses the class struggle with the effort of dance becoming the main physical metaphor. Men throw and catch each other like sides of meat in an industrial, dark space where the dance can never stop, always in frame, moving off, or in the background. Filmic ‘tricks’ such as a play on reflections in a pool of water and the tracing of a chain reaction across objects, sit outside the drama which is located in the movement. The film really only frames and selects the dance, the factory space acting as a ‘set’. Vertigo Bird, choreographer Iztok Kovac, is alarmingly similar, set as it is, in “the labyrinth of mining pits” in the town of Trbovlje (program note). The drama is established through the shots of workers moving around with the dance sequences remaining separate, except for a scene where the workers act as an audience, the aim of the work to seek “a connection between two worlds” becoming clear. Here we slip into a documentation of ‘audience’ response. In The Father Is Sleeping, choreographer Matthew Bergen; director Robert Herbert, everyday gestures between father and son develop into a new and touching movement language, but a separate dance sequence by new performers at the height of the action fails to make contact with the central drama.

Then there were cases where The Dance was the sole subject driving the work and we perhaps came close to that balance between the two elements, the film ‘showing’ the dance as only it can—doing the dance created specifically for it. The most remarkable in this regard was Nine Cauldrons (Microdance), director-choreographer Trevor Patrick; co-director Paul Hampton, which can be summed up in the word performer Trevor Patrick chose to describe his cinematic encounter—“seductive”. The camera is in the thrall of the moving body—every detail from fabric moving across skin to the twist of an ankle is rendered with an obsessive gaze, the ‘eye’ now dangerously close, now taking in the body, costume, movement and all. The alchemy of the filmic process transforms and reinvents.

In opposition to this harnessing of technology in the service of the choreography is an indulgence in filmic techniques at the expense of choreographic invention. Lodela (Canada), is an uncanny visual fantasy of epic proportions, memorable for the shimmering void of white back to back with a similar void of black. Two figures mirror each others’ movements in these opposing ‘worlds’ but the movements add little to the black/white, life/death oppositions established visually.

Like Boy, Reines D’un Jour (Switzerland) takes us into a singular world and acquaints us with it through movement that seems organic to its context. If film has an historical association with narrative fiction, both Boy and Reines D’un Jour negotiate this history while also accessing the avant-garde possibilities of a non-text based short. The Swiss film is located in the Alps and draws on romantic cinematic imagery, from lush green landscapes to bodies tumbling down a hill to rustic cottages and village feasts. The joi de vivre of such scenarios is given free rein in the ecstatic bodies of the dancers who move through the landscape, not as locals, but as visitors responding to the environment. Social dancing is intertwined with other dance; men challenge each other, women lean and support one another, couples tease each other. And all without a trace of irony—completely disarming.

It perhaps confirms Eleanor Brickhill’s concern that “the good will” is gone from audiences (RealTime #24)—in this case Sydney dance audiences—that people didn’t seize an opportunity to see some great international and local dance film/video. An interest in the dance film genre is not imperative. For dance, the most elusive of the performing arts, the opportunity to transport performances from around the world to our own theatres is like a small miracle.

Videosteps, curated by Michelle Mahrer in Leisa Shelton’s Intersteps, The Performance Space, Sydney, November 1, 8 & 15, 1997

RealTime issue #23 Feb-March 1998 pg. 37

© Erin Brannigan; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Ros Warby and Lucy Guerin

Ros Warby and Lucy Guerin

Ros Warby and Lucy Guerin

• The once and future Premier launches extensions to the Dancehouse (Carlton) space. There is indeed some truth in the glorious statement with which he concludes his proceedings: “I am the Lord of the Dance” (sic). If Chunky Move thinks it’s autonomous, take note.

• The launch is followed by a showing, seating guests with pillows on the floor. The once and future Premier gets a sore arse, complains bitterly in the stalls.

• Between the rhetoric and the dream, is a
place of hard work, lonely hauls, less funds. Sometimes, not even a pillow. Funding in Victoria has been so draconian that over the last six or so years, middle-range companies and spaces have folded, practitioners sat and wept as some of Babylon’s multifarious voices died. In 1996, needing a new director and perhaps new criteria in order to survive, Danceworks called for expressions of interest to see in which direction they might move. At that time, the Board invited a limitless submission of ideas on how the company might metamorphose (into a production facility; towards performance…). It seems they couldn’t then decide, asking Helen Herbertson to hang on as caretaker for another two years. With the appointment last month of Sandra Parker as AD, the company now seems intent on consolidating its identity as a group focused on the production and development of dance. Hopefully, she’ll please the still-incumbent Lord.

Parker, whose work as dancer and choreographer has been seen at Green Mill, PICA, WAAPA, VCA, Tasdance, Vis-a-Vis and Next Wave, and includes collaborative work in Australia with filmmaker Margie Medlin [in absentia, March 96] and in New York with Shelley Lasica, is planning a year focussing on dance craft, with less emphasis on multimedia development than in her previous work. Her links in choreographic thinking with makers such as Lasica is apparent in Two Stories, an architectural piece shown at the red-brick shell Economiser Building in November. The four dancers—all quite recent graduates of VCA—are technically proficient in a space that lends itself to abstract contemplations across spatial planes. Two neon-edged, black with red-bordered squares mark the two “stories”, which are zones of physical exploration of relationship to time, pattern, and space rather than narratives of plot or character-line.

Whilst this has the feeling of a major work, I found the piece cold, despite the very fine lighting by Ben Cobham and competently-structured electronic score by Amelia Barden. These features did not distract from an essentially neutralised dancer presence only occasionally, and troublingly, disrupted by deep-breathed bodily feeling. Particularly problematic was the inconsistency of embodiment between the male and female dancers’ bodies. Suddenly, in the last quarter of the piece, David Tyndall’s dance is infused with muscular bite and personality. The work speaks through a potentised being. Thereafter, there are glimpses of this in one or two of the women dancers. The inconsistency gives the clue to perhaps an unresolved relationship between personal and abstract, or, alternatively, the potential in future works for explosive choreography.

I find similarities between this work and Lasica’s Situation Live for two dancers. A similar exercise in dance architecture (though in a space one-fifteenth of the size), this piece also explores human interrelationship, in an odd combination of extension and stasis in the dancers’ bodies. Amongst intriguing squarish shapes, edgings, lifts and slides, steppings and rollings patterned into well-structured configurations, the dancers exhibit a consistent and strange angularity. Their rod-like shoulders and contained upper ribs somewhere need release. Abstraction is not cold per se, but becomes such in the context of tight (or uninhabited) bodies.

In one of the segments, the two dancers armwrestle as if on both ends of a Chinese torture-stick—an interesting moment which hints less translucently at the work’s stated source in a scripted scenario by Robyn McKenzie about relationships. For the most part, however, the idea of a text “behind” the work is both misleading, and a paper tiger: as in Two Stories, the narratives are based in physical and textual interrelationship, here pocked with rigidities which detract from the success of the abstractions.

The fabrics of the dancers’ costumes provide nice antitheses: sleeved tops and fitted skirts in contrasting full-blown floral and 60s abstract lines and stripes. This image is a successful working on the difference and tension between passion and abstraction, which the choreography might have reflected elsewhere. Francois Tetaz’ Balinese-influenced electronic score likewise develops its own counterpoints between the developing forces of texture versus melodic contour.

Helen Herbertson’s Danceworks swansong was to curate the December season at Athenaeum II, recalling three current or previously New York-based Australian dancers to present new works. Each shows a distinctly dry New York flavour, with the occasional spice of blarney. The programme is satisfying overall, but intriguingly poses questions to do with immediacy and residue: what impacts, and what holds over after viewing.

I am struck by how much each dance suits one or other of the dancer’s (never the choreographer’s) bodies better. In each piece, this is a surprise, denoting the importance of collaboration, of seeing and exploring, sculpting and training in long term partnerships between performers. This is surely one of the principles of ensemble and sustained work in theatre and dance, which in Australia is becoming so difficult to maintain.

Rebecca Hilton’s House, invigorating and quirky, shows a hip sensibility and independent mind with nonetheless a concern parallel to Phillip Adams and Lucy Guerin with dance bodies, dolly bodies, music-box girls and molls. Hilton’s choreography perhaps mocks the confines of house, family and home by playing rebelliously with catwalks and waltzes, shivas and leather-rebels, with leaps and jumps that square the stage. Bodies trick each other, as limbs refuse to catch but make a space to loop another through. Adams’ Grey Area is also athletic—Hilton especially revelling in the work’s muscularity—but distracts me with its carrying of chairs and sorting of objects, reliant on furniture to turn its humour. I feel there’s an urban joke here failing me (or the fabrics fail my fancy). Despite the sludge of white noise between scenes, the chair-edges hold me too surely in a dance piece whose title and envoy means to focus on the speechless in-betweens.

Geurin’s Robbery Waitress on Bail (with a new sound score replacing the one used last year in Sydney) works more with characterisation than the other two. Initially, this quality makes me like this piece the least, although such a linear narrative tends to make it, initially, the easiest to recall. Ros Warby in particular infuses her characterisation of the waitress caught in the act of faking her own kidnap with her boyfriend with a sullen immaturity, rocking and hugging her hips as if in moral exclusion of a rich and judging world. Her and Guerin’s uniforms are tight and short; they blow bubble-gum in the face of the waitress’ role of availability. It is these held images which intensify in memory: rocking against the huge Athenaeum walls, two small figures in huge blank spaces. Extracts from the source news story projected onto small suspended screens, whilst not a particularly likeable device, nonetheless amplify the contrast between such concentrated news abbreviation and the vacuum in which daily transgressions are dared.

The ghosts of ballet are teased and prodded within these three works, alternately stroking and grating against the way movement in our culture is codified. Such spirits are as potent in their own way as the ghosts in Asian dance traditions which Arthur and Corrine Cantrill evoke in their short film of a Balinese dance. Their Moving Statics programme—one day in a well-curated and important film component to Dancehouse’s bodyworks festival—seems concerned with capturing either the body-intelligence with which a performer ripples into shape from one moment to the next (close-up footage of mime artist Will Spoor); or, ancestral spirits infusing ritual music and movement (single-frame time-exposure footage of a Ramayana ritual dance); or, the way the retina itself imprints a sequence of images and constructs meaning from a composite of expectations. Any looking is ghosted by memory and such composing of meaning; Dancehouse’ dance lumiere component lets film technique further expose dance to this process.

Although one can see the Cantrills’ curatorial logic, the other pieces in this afternoon do not match the quality of their own work. Christos Linou’s self-portrait shadow piece shows little structural invention; his Animated Doll film fetishises movement and confounds “wonderment” into eminently forgettable, breakable parts. John Harrison’s film forgets that Kali is goddess of creativity as well as of destruction, obsessing with dark swirlings and black eyes. His acid bathing of film-stock creates interesting ghost-effects, but is relentlessly one-sided; and no-one can convince me that blasting human eardrums with intentionally bad-quality sound can ever effect anything of symbolic value.

In a workshop context, it was nice to see where Rosalind Crisp’s work has developed from her solos into a two-hander at the Double Dialogues conference, Theatreworks. Partnering another dancer seems to have released a different spirit in her work. Crisp cites a workshop with American Lisa Nelson (at Sidetrack’s CPW8 last year) which challenged and freed her previous focus on personal emotion, with the result that Julie Humphreys seemed to take over Crisp’s usual persona, leaving Rosalind free to stride the stage like a watching angel, animating the strings of space with a kind of fully-embodied detachment that seemed to carry even more power. At times, I thought I was watching Rodin’s l’homme arme crossing the stage.

The conference itself was full of the awkwardnesses, disjunctions and non sequiturs that happen when practitioners start to theorise and theorists at times introduce practitioners without a clue as to how they engender work. That said, some fine working and speaking was heard and shown in the corridors between conclusions, and edges (thank god) remained frayed. Mark Minchinton, in his keynote address, debunked the keynoting put upon him, and insisted that the point of any analysis, or indeed, of any interdisciplinary activity, is to poke, prod and stir and that under no circumstances should performing arts research forget about fun. Minchinton spoke, teasingly, about the necessary teasing between the two fields of play and analysis (twin propellants of creative making), and positioned himself like a fierce but amiable and protective lion on the portal to this Dialogue.

The conference event reminded me that the moat is often more powerful than the castle. Let’s cushion no blows: both launches and talk-fests can lose the point. Though dance tugs at the lords, no-one can really lord the dance. Pillows or not.

Two Stories, choreographer Sandra Parker, The Economiser Bldg, November 25; Situation Live: The Subject, Director/choreographer Shelley Lasica, La Mama, Nov 12; Return Ticket, works by Rebecca Hilton, Phillip Adams, Lucy Guerin. Danceworks season curated by Helen Herbertson, Athenaeum II, December 14; Moving Statics, curated by Arthur and Corrine Cantrill, Dance Lumiere, Bodyworks 97, Dancehouse, December 7; Double Dialogues: Lines of Flight, Deakin University School of Visual, Media and Performing Arts/School of Literary and Communication Studies/Theatreworks conference, Theatreworks, St Kilda, December 5.

RealTime issue #23 Feb-March 1998 pg. 35

© Zsuzsanna Soboslay; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Matt Rivera, Jennifer Howard, Sandra Stanton in Tharp!

Matt Rivera, Jennifer Howard, Sandra Stanton in Tharp!

Matt Rivera, Jennifer Howard, Sandra Stanton in Tharp!

The idea of comparing Twyla Tharp and her new company Tharp! with Russell Dumas’ new work, Cargo Cult, makes sense, firstly in terms of their shared influences—both have continuing and evolving relationships with ballet and the American avant-garde—and then the way those influences have been quite differently deployed.

Dumas’ artistic directorship of Dance Exchange began not so long after leaving Twyla Tharp’s first company and the rich American environment of the 70s. Since then, he has developed Dance Exchange as an ongoing and expanding network (both national and international) of dancers and other artists. Tharp’s focus seems somewhat narrower than it used to be, now firmly in the territory of mainstream American ballet, with her current company of all-new “non-professional” dancers.

It’s been said about both of them that, while it’s taken people many years to appreciate the kind of work they offered, when it finally happened, it wasn’t the work that had changed, but the audience. It was Tharp’s early work of the 60s and 70s that made her reputation: the detailed and complex choreographic exploration bringing a provocative sense of combat into a warm-fuzzy new dance environment. But the programs brought to The Sydney Festival, while resting on that reputation, seemed largely to be made of different stuff, and one might wonder whether the audience’s youth and tumultuous applause was for the work or the reputation, given that it is unlikely they had seen work made 30 years ago.

Dumas’ Cargo Cult, on the other hand, was built entirely from the original—being an accumulation and development of material which has been worked on over the years by several generations of dancers since his directorship began.

Something else which is often said of seminal artists (including Twyla Tharp and Martha Graham) is that the dances they choreograph are designed to make better dancers. In other words, their dancers do not train first in order for the choreographer to come along and use that training to make their dances. Instead, the dancers train by developing and embodying ways of being and thinking about the world directly from the choreographer, and this feeling about movement is the actual ‘technique’. That’s the theory, anyway.

The title of Dance Exchange’s new work, Cargo Cult, is not mere fancy. It says something about culture and its structure, and particularly our cultural history, and how we have often transplanted ideas from the place where they originated into our ‘foreign’ context. Our theatres are built to house international artists, whose ‘product’ we ‘acquire’ without understanding the reason it has developed the way it has. We mimic the aesthetics without understanding the cultural infrastructures which create them, and in our lack of understanding the ideas become cultish and degraded, being cut off at the roots. Most of Dumas’ dancers have been required to study overseas, not just the ‘steps’ or ‘styles’ of particular artists, but the cultural contexts in which those artists create their work, to find out how and why the ideas which we might have cherished for generations, have evolved.

Trevor Patrick in Cargo Cult

Trevor Patrick in Cargo Cult

The eight dancers in Cargo Cult bring not just their phrases and steps to the work, but individual processes. While material is drawn from a shared choreographic history of Dumas’ previous works, and a common physical understanding, the dancers’ ages and professional backgrounds vary greatly. Material is worked in such different ways in the three almost simultaneous duets and two solos, that each seems like a separate line of thought expressing distinct individuality, while retaining a deep aesthetic unity.

Cultural embodiment is, in part, what Cargo Cult endeavours to explore. At one point, we see Cath Stewart’s soft, pouted lips and up-tilted, relaxed jaw whispering, and although we can’t hear the words, we know it is French because the feel of the language is clearly visible. In fact, Stewart’s entire 50 minute solo, including this snatch of speech, was created in France amidst a polyglot group of people in which features of cultural difference and similarity were of great import. Perhaps it’s drawing a long bow to say that just as a specific cultural context provides a matrix by which language and feeling is understood, so does the context in which dance is made. But the point is that it is the embodiment of context in which feeling and gesture develop together which goes towards creating more interesting dancing than simply learning imported steps, or laying them on culturally untuned bodies.

The imported artistry of Tharp! could be a case in point. Critical comment was mostly luke-warm: too clean, too balletic, too naive, too commercial, all of that. Not what we have come to expect from Tharp. Unfortunately I was unable to see the second program which featured probably the two more interesting pieces, the oldest work, Fugue, and the newest, Roy’s Joys, in which her old style was reputedly more in evidence, although ‘compromised’ somewhat by the dancers’ youth.

People said it wasn’t the dancers’ fault that the works lacked substance—especially the three pieces in the first program, Heroes, Sweet Fields and 66. Must it have been the choreography then? The publicity for Tharp! reminds us constantly that these dancers have ‘raw’ talent, chosen from schools rather than professional circles, which presumably means they have an as yet unadulterated ballet school training, and are young enough not to have developed injuries, affectations or idiosyncrasies which need to be worked around. They also probably do not have the depth of experience to understand how to play with rhythm or movement so that it comes alive, or to be able to interpret action in any way other than through a foursquare ballet school demeanour, which flattens choreographic nuance, should it exist, into the prescribed patterns for which ballet schools are famous. And if the dances have been designed to make them more interesting dancers, it will take a few more years yet.

Certainly it seemed Heroes was made like a well-crafted demonstration work for graduating dancers, with high legs and multiple tours abounding, of which the drive and execution were impeccable. It may be mere hearsay that Tharp once said you know that you’ve grown up when you have no more heroes. In this case, the heroes she gave us were a team of three spotless, epically unmoved young men against whose torsos young girls hurled themselves mercilessly. Perhaps it was simply a comment about youth.

Sweet Fields and 66 both made what I interpreted as unmistakable references to some particularly American cultural icons. Shaker hymns, and simple vocal chants in open fourths and fifths accompany the short dances in Sweet Fields. To say this work is simple is not just a polite way to say nothing is going on. A pale circular spotlight underpins the symmetry of pairs in processional patterns and the simple walking steps of a folk tradition. Running, rolling, leaping and rhythmic variations in lines, squares and circles provide the bare structure which seeps through at the bottom of a transparent filmy balletic style and a brief touch of Graham; an aged brown filigree pinned to the preserved bones of tradition.

66 on the other hand, went for the bluster and chintz of popular Americana: Route 66, Buster Keaton, Sunset Strip, Hollywood musicals, Disneyland, the ‘coolth’ of vibraphone, denim and basketball, too absurd for words.

But then, one might say to oneself, this is our Twyla! She, a choreographer capable of being in full control of what she wants us to see, must be creating something this facile for a reason. But what, if not to point out that these are American traditions born of a very particular cultural climate? This is not Europe, and not Australia, even though we once adopted much of the imagery as our own. Now it all seems faded and tacky, and the dancers’ youthful slickness is unpersuasive. Perhaps it’s just that Tharp is sick of being a hero, and has opted for the more substantial comforts of fame.

Cargo Cult, Dance Exchange, The Performance Space, December 1997; Tharp!, the Capitol Theatre, Sydney Festival, January 20-25, 1998

RealTime issue #23 Feb-March 1998 pg. 36

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