fbpx

Tom E Lewis, David Gulpilil, Crocodile Dreaming

Tom E Lewis, David Gulpilil, Crocodile Dreaming

APPROACHING ITS THIRD INSTALMENT IN FEBRUARY 2007, THE BIENNIAL ADELAIDE FILM FESTIVAL HAS ALREADY ESTABLISHED ITSELF AS A SIGNIFICANT SCREEN CULTURAL EVENT, BUT ALSO ONE THAT APPROACHES AN IMPORTANT PERIOD OF CONSOLIDATION.

Festival Director Katrina Sedgwick is tightening and refocusing her program: “We felt that we were too big [in the second festival], we perhaps grew too quickly.” The program has been trimmed from 13 days to 11 and will ultimately have about 90 titles to screen, the vast majority of them now to play twice to foster greater flexibility for cinema-goers’ schedules. While AFF will perform its core function of bringing art cinema to a quality starved audience, ultimately the distinguishing features of the festival remain its collaboration with its sister events and its slate of projects in which it is an equity investor. These, along with the summer setting, differentiate AFF on the national festival landscape.

Amongst the announced program highlights include the experimental silent feature Passio from Paolo Cherchi Usai (the Director of the National Film and Sound Archive of Australia), which combines a plethora of confronting imagery from the twentieth century with a live accompaniment from the internationally acclaimed vocal ensemble Paul Hiller and the Theatre of Voices. Also on the AFF agenda are all the commissioned films from Peter Sellars’ New Crowned Hope Festival (Vienna), which includes works from Bahman Ghobadi and Mahmet-Saleh Haroun, Garin Nugroho’s Opera Jawa and Tsai Ming Liang’s I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone (p22). These works have been financed with the stipulation that they each use a theme from Mozart’s final operas as a springboard, and have already been attracting the attention of festivals such as Vancouver and Pusan. The AFF recognises that Sellars’ commissioning of films (starting in 2002 with his involvement with the Adelaide Festival of Arts contributing to, among others, Rolf de Heer’s The Tracker) has served as an inspiration for its own investment fund (Look Both Ways, Ten Canoes).

While the investment fund has been AFF’s most idiosyncratic attribute, a recent announcement of a similar equity pool at the Melbourne International Film Festival suggests that the fund is considered a success on a national level. AFF contributes to the budget of features and shorts, generally as a co-investor in a traditional Australian financing model. However, the 2007 program will premiere a feature with the festival as the sole investor: Kriv Stenders’ Boxing Day. A follow up to his film Blacktown (2005) with the same spartan production methodology, gritty social realism, and modest budget ($100,000), the film unfolds in real time over a single afternoon as a father battles to reunite his estranged family. Part of the project’s evolution occurred at the last AFF as Sedgwick revealed: “Kriv and I chatted after the screening of [Kriv’s] Illustrated Family Doctor in 2005. At that point I didn’t know about Blacktown, but was intrigued by his ideas. I asked him if he had anything else on his slate.” Stenders took the opportunity to pitch his collaboration with actor-writer Richard Green. Admitting that she is “particularly interested in the creative opportunities that digital technology provides”, Sedgwick was attracted to the idea of taking the risk on a low budget digital feature. After it picked up a South Australian producer in Kristian Moliere, the AFF board decided to back the project despite having no marketplace attachments in place and without a full script, the project being heavily improvised in rehearsals from an existing outline. For the Boxing Day team, the advantage of an investor with primarily culturally driven concerns and an interest in securing its own premieres shone through in a scenario when other funding avenues weighted towards commercial outcomes were closed. Hopefully Boxing Day’s festival exposure will lead to wider distribution.

The AFF is also a minority investor in Rolf de Heer’s latest venture, the silent, black and white slapstick socio-political satire Dr Plonk, and has not limited its slate to features, through including the short dramas Crocodile Dreaming (director Darlene Johnson), Spike Up (Anthony Maras), Swing (Chris Houghton) and the joint Australian-Chinese animation Sweet and Sour (Adelaide’s The People’s Republic of Animation and Shanghai Animation Film Studio).

The big news from the AFF is the announcement of a $25,000 prize funded by Natuzzi, the Italian furniture designer and manufacturer (also a Venice Film Festival sponsor) for best international feature. This jury-awarded prize will raise the profile of the festival considerably and doubtless increase the number of international filmmakers seeking to screen in future festivals.

AFF ties in neatly with several other screen cultural events. Commencing at the beginning of AFF and running for four days, the twentieth anniversary of the Australian International Documentary Conference (AIDC) provides a forum for 600 delegates and guests to discuss factual film and television as well as participate in a busy dedicated marketplace. Also on the schedule is Crossover Australia, (co-presented by the AFF and the South Australian Film Corporation and kicking off before the festival and AIDC), a residential think tank for experienced content producers to brainstorm crossplatform and interactive projects under the guidance of mentors such as British TV producers Marc Goodchild and Robert Thirkell.

The AFF cleverly carved its own niche in its first two editions and now looks set to consolidate with idiosyncratic programming, creative investment, a substantial prize and its continued collaboration with other significant screen events.

Adelaide Film Festival 2007, www.adelaidefilmfestival.org

RealTime issue #76 Dec-Jan 2006 pg. 17

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

Fritz Hauser, Schallmachine 06

Fritz Hauser, Schallmachine 06

Fritz Hauser, Schallmachine 06

LEGENDARY SOLO PERCUSSIONIST FRITZ HAUSER’S MODEST INSTRUMENTATION COMPRISED SOME SMALL CYMBALS, A SNARE DRUM, two SMALL GONGS, AN ORCHESTRAL BASS DRUM AND A FEW HAND-HELD THINGS TO SHAKE AND RATTLE. THIS SET UP IS SIMILAR TO THE ROCK OR JAZZ DRUMMER’S KIT, THOUGH FOR HAUSER IT IS AN EXTENDED ARRAY—HE HAS BEEN KNOWN TO PERFORM ON A SINGLE DRUM.

Hauser was a central figure in the music program for this year’s Melbourne International Arts Festival, and he gave an additional concert in response to popular demand.

The performance begins with the nearly inaudible but sensuous touching of a seed pod. As he shakes the pod with one hand, he begins to touch a cymbal with the other, developing a quietly droning harmonic second voice. He then exchanges the pod for a tiny tambourine that speaks over the cymbal, developing a more complex voicing. He taps his fingers on the snare and a cymbal, moves to another cymbal and bass drum and then progresses to drumsticks. A rhythm emerges, sustained like a ritualistic chant, building to a crescendo before a clash of cymbals and a sudden pause. Gongs, cymbals and drums then alternate in a series of dramatic gestures.

Hauser clatters a set of wood blocks, moves again to finger the cymbals and then builds a drone in the bass drum; its resonant groaning speech is mournfully articulate. Declamatory rhythmic thuds overlay this voice, as he explores the perimeter of the drum skin, building a conversation. Abruptly, he strikes with small towels, creating a duller thud and introducing a light-hearted feel. He even blends in the whooshing of drumsticks through thin air, before extending the comedy by rubbing his own body with bunches of rubber tubes that make bird-like chirping sounds. He concludes the hour-long work at the snare, building harmonics in a crescendo before fading out.

Fritz Hauser is a veteran in the field of percussion music. His hands are as finely tuned as a surgeon’s, the precision and control in his playing producing a purity of sound. His movements and gestures recall some of the great jazz drummers, suggesting his tutelage, but he has pared back percussion to its essentials. Hauser’s work is really about making sound from simple objects, and emphasising the uniqueness of these through contrasting textures and resonances. He develops an extraordinary variety of sounds, immersing us in kaleidoscopic tones, colours and patterns. It seems so easy, yet it’s enthralling.

In response to overwhelming applause, Hauser offers a short encore, meditatively bowing a cymbal and then clattering it on the snare’s skin, a delightful vignette that neatly epitomises his oeuvre.

schallmachine

Hauser was also part of the team, with Boa Baumann and Aphids’ David Young and Rosemary Joy, which produced the intriguing Schallmachine performances in the normally hidden interstices of the Federation Square buildings. Audience members arrive at 40-minute intervals and are divided into groups of three. My group is guided by torchlight through a darkened, narrow, winding corridor with corrugated concrete walls to a dimly-lit section with three raked seats in single file. In front of us, a man sits at a small table with a wooden box like a large shoebox, perhaps 60 centimetres long. He begins to touch and tap the box with his fingertips. He lifts the box a little, causing it to emit chiming and rattling sounds. In this silent space, it is all we can hear (apart from the occasional distant rumble of a train below the square).

The performer (John Arcaro of Speak Percussion) now opens a creaking lid—the top of the box divides into three lids hinged at the side—to reveal small, beautifully crafted brass chimes that he strikes with sticks, and small ceramic tiles that he touches or taps. He opens drawers at the side of the box, inside which are more brass plates, ceramics and tiny ball bearings that slide around. He uses a variety of sticks and his fingers on these objects to generate sounds, and slowly pours the ball bearings onto a resonant surface. The box seems to have an endless variety of magical cavities and each object inside produces its own enchanting sound—a cabinet of curiosities. For 20 minutes Arcaro plays the box and its contents, teasing our ears with an unfolding symphony of taps, scrapes, chimes and rhythms. Both the ritual and the sound of manipulating the lids and drawers are essential elements. The work possesses a Cageian charm in its lightness and simplicity, enlivening our perception and renewing our appreciation of the complex and heavily saturated world of sound in which we live.

The word ‘schallmachine’, a composite of the German schall (‘sonic’ OR ‘sound’) and English machine, suggests a machine for making sounds. Beautifully constructed by Rosemary Joy, these are unique instruments, sound-making kits with which anyone could create improvised or scored works. They recall Marcel Duchamp’s Boîtes en Valise (Boxes in a Suitcase) that contained samples of his artworks. Aphids have been using Joy’s instruments since 2004 in more extended performances, such as David Young’s Scale (see p49).

sonic essences

The Hauser and Aphids performances address the essence of sounds. At one end of the sonic spectrum, an infinite variety of sounds can be orchestrated into a coherent passage of music; at the other, a single sound can live on its own. The musician plays with time, memory, weight and texture and synaesthetic response. Terms such as ‘drummer’ and ‘percussionist’ locate this music within particular musical traditions but don’t fully acknowledge the dramatic, compositional and improvisational elements of these performances. Rosemary Joy’s instruments make magical sounds but test the idea of the musical instrument, and a concert for an audience of three in an air duct shifts the paradigm further. It is delightful to encounter these ideas in this way.

Fritz Hauser, Solodrumming, BMW Edge, Federation Square, Oct 20; Aphids, Schallmachine, Federation Square, Oct 22-23 & 25-28

RealTime issue #76 Dec-Jan 2006 pg. 32

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

Alex Bradley, Hetain Patel, Migrate

Alex Bradley, Hetain Patel, Migrate

Alex Bradley, Hetain Patel, Migrate

THERE ARE TWO MEN IN THE ROOM. I DO BELIEVE THEY ARE WEARING NEAT BLACK UNDERPANTS. THEY GLOW UNDER THE EXHIBITION LIGHTING, TAWNY SLENDER ANIMALS, ONE SLIGHTLY MORESO THAN THE OTHER. Behind them, through the small window, the harbourside gleams in shades of orange, as though the day were turning—there is a sense in this room of perpetual sunset.

Gallery 5 in Bristol’s Arnolfini is small for a gallery, about the size of a child’s bedroom. There is dark blue carpet on the floor. The window facing the entrance is covered in sun-screening film. During the course of Migrate the walls to the left and right of the door, facing each other, are mirrored.

“Migrate

A duration performance by Alex Bradley and Hetain Patel

Migrate, verb; to move from one specific part of something to another.

Cells that can form pigment migrate beneath the skin.

Over two days (the artists) will occupy Gallery 5 using henna to transform themselves and their environment. Through this process, the artists will explore how the perception and meaning of the body can be altered and redefined… this collaboration of bodies, one black, one white, will dissolve opposites and suggest more complex relationships.”

The men are intent, they look at each other, they are serious, and it is impossible to cross the sight lines between them. One draws on the other: lines accumulate on flesh in a rough looking, crusty green paste. The other watches the growing effect on his body in the mirror—back, arms, feet. Each will draw on his own skin as well. There is a heavy, sweet smell, a slight chemical catch in the back of the throat. A dish of little silvery cones is on the floor. One of the men—just now he caressed the other with a slow cursive line—walks over to it, picks up a cone and breaks off the tip. He returns to his companion and, squeezing out the contents of the cone, continues to inscribe, scrawl, scribble with the henna on the other’s skin.

Each figure echoes off into infinity in the flanking mirrors, becoming dimmer, smaller, vaguer, as do the reflections of the watching audience. “The artists will create a durational performance, the traces of which will remain as an installation.” The next day the room will be empty except for a set of eight polaroids of the two, placed on the floor.

People came and sat on the carpet to watch—we were asked to take our shoes off. The men’s concentration was all on each other, the audience merely observing. I couldn’t work out what my response was supposed to be. It felt obtrusive, for instance, to go up to one or other of them to look more closely, to try to make out a word or a sentence or an ideogram. What if I got in their way, or tripped them up, or smudged them? As a spectacle it was…muted. Partly because they didn’t speak, and also, in spite of the constraint between audience and performers, the action was quite informal, improvised, and the lines being drawn were neither particularly careful nor elaborate. That dun-coloured light filtered in from the window and time didn’t seem to be moving very fast. I wondered how they were going to pace themselves to have enough skin left to paint on till the end of the day. I wondered if they would not have been more comfortable with something to rest on, take the weight off while drawing on hard to reach places. I also felt that what I had read in the program notes didn’t mesh with what I was seeing. These two were hardly opposites, and what was that about dissolving? A binary would have to be there in the first place if you’re going to dissolve it.

It bothered me, when I thought about it more, that the work had that careless, personal informality. I thought of festivals, families, women; I remembered some of the intricate henna painting I’ve seen, the virtuosity of it, a real celebration of the decorative impulse and the domestic circumstances it arises from. I thought of how, on really dark skin, henna is almost impossible to notice except on the palms of the hands. So I guess what was bothering me was that the work as I had seen it, and read about it in the program notes, wasn’t evoking much for me except the act of two blokes in a room, drawing on each other.

Because I couldn’t get to grips with the performance I went to see Alex Bradley who lives just round the corner, to ask him about it.

He was still covered in cursive scrawls! “Look what he did. Look what I did. Look how those lines change when I move.” It was strange how the character of the marks had changed away from the gallery, on a person going about his daily life. Now they were loose, naively charming, careless, free, as personal as handwriting, and Bradley stood, a decorated man. A person who has been used as a surface and used another back, exchanging subjectivities.

He said he’d received compliments from the Singh brothers when he went to the corner shop—with a T-shirt on, of course— “Nice henna!”—and that the ladies had inspected him and asked all about it, genuinely interested. (He didn’t say whether the compliments had come in the same tone of voice one man might use to compliment another on his handbag.)

What does it do to a body to be marked in this way? Imagine the following is a mind map, with little arrows instead of commas: becoming an object, exchanging subjectivity, cultural exchange; translation, literacy, literature, numerous arthouse films; masking, disguises, signifying, different types of gesture; claiming and marking, dominance, permission, exposure, vulnerability; tattoos, scarification, body modification and primitivism (cave painting, hunter-gatherers); prosthetics and the ultra-body. I’m sure whole dissertations could be written about this if one were so inclined.

As our conversation continued I began to understand that Migrate had been the beginning of something. The curator had made it possible for the artists to perform a significant, open-ended gesture in front of an audience, inviting interpretation. It’s the beginning of a dialogue between Patel and Bradley whose further implications, whose other shadowy protagonists, will become more apparent as time unfolds. The performance has been an action that accumulates meaning as the traces of it cause reaction in the artists’ lives, and cause their dialogue to progress. I’m struck by the fact that the thing, the significant action, whatever it was—two blokes in a room drawing on each other—turned into something more real for me once it was out of the gallery; maybe that’s a defining aspiration of live art practice? I would have liked the program notes to help me understand this—the problems I had with the work stemmed mostly from thinking about it as a finished thing. But it’s great that a curator will do this, will prioritise making, doing, an action, above proposal writing as the thing that makes new artwork happen; will support the beginning of an unpredictable process through the gallery system, and enable it to unfold in an open-ended way.

Migrate, Alex Bradley and Hetain Patel; We Live Here, Arnolfini’s Associate Artists program, Gallery 5, Arnolfini, Bristol, UK, Sept 23-24

RealTime issue #76 Dec-Jan 2006 pg. 46

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

George Gittoes

George Gittoes

AFTER A 20 YEAR BREAK FROM DOCUMENTARY FILMMAKING, THE VISUAL ARTIST GEORGE GITTOES RETURNED TO THE FORM IN 2004 WHEN HE RELEASED THE SELF-FUNDED SOUNDTRACK TO WAR—A FILM IN WHICH WE ALL LEARNT THAT TANKS AREN’T JUST KILLING MACHINES, THEY’RE DEADLY STEREO SYSTEMS. NOW, IN RAMPAGE, HE’S VENTURED INTO A TOUGH MIAMI ‘HOOD IN A HIP HOP DOCUMENTARY WITH APPEARANCES BY SWIZZ BEATZ, FAT JOE AND DJ KALEB.

Gittoes returned to documentary because of the digital camera. The price of shooting dropped dramatically and the amount of equipment to be carried diminished. Gittoes says, “Now I can shoot a film and it can be in a cinema, but it is not unlike doing a painting or a drawing. I can do it pretty well by myself.” Gittoes is a real life example of the technological revolution many anticipated in the mid 90s. He’s also a fervent promoter of the notion of the ‘superdoc’—“a doc that has pushed up the values so it can work for people going out to the cinema—like a feature film does.” Gittoes described the job of a superdoc director as the same as the job of a feature film director: “you have to get the best performances out of people. You haven’t got actors so you’ve got to create situations where people transcend and actually lose their inhibitedness and they’re caught up in a moment. They are absolutely real, they’re not doing some pre-thought out speech.”

Gittoes gave an example of this from Rampage: “I went and interviewed Joe Byrne in his office. Most documentary filmmakers would be happy with that because he is an expert in terrorism as well as having been a cop in Brown Sub [a Miama ghetto, home of the film’s main subjects, Elliot and Marcus.] As someone making a superdoc I knew that that was boring. Basically you can’t be boring.

“So, Byrne had not been back to Brown Sub for years. I was aware that he wouldn’t know how dangerous it was. So I organised for him to meet me there, he had an inkling of it because he brought his gun. And Elliot didn’t want to go back there because his brother had been killed there. The gang was threatening to kill Elliot and me and all of us. So we get this very very tense dramatic scene where the people who killed Marcus are actually circling us. And in the back of my mind the clock’s ticking and I’m thinking how many more minutes have I got to shoot before we get shot. That is superdoc making.
Rampage

Rampage

“Because of that tension, Elliot doesn’t talk to the camera as a talking head, he is angry with me and he talks right through the camera. He virtually abuses me, he says, ‘How would you feel coming back to the place where your brother was killed? What if someone close to you was killed?’ Joe Byrne, the tough old cop who has seen a lot of homicides, says, ‘Yeah we’d better get out of here.’

“That’s the difference between your ABC commissioning editor-type documentary, where the talking head expert does their boring thing across a desk, and a film that’s actually got the values of drama.”

Gittoes thinks that television commissioning has a detrimental effect on the art of documentary filmmaking: “I’m a ‘fine artist.’ Soundtrack to War [2004] is being shown in the Museum of Modern Art, in ACMI here in Melbourne as art. It is art. Documentary up until the superdoc was applied art and it will always remain applied art if insecure documentary makers have to go and get presales and work through the guardians of the gate, the, what’s his name, Stuart Menzies and Dasha Rosses and Jennifer Crones—these people who play Medici with public money, who want to take control. Documentary film is a collaborative thing but ultimately it has to be a single vision, like a work of art—like a Kubrick or Scorsese film. And yet it is being turned into an applied art.”

Gittoes had investment from the FFC for post production on Rampage and spoke about the effect that this had on him and the film: “One of the suggestions of the FFC was that we cut out South Beach, and lose the Australian section of the film. And I disagreed with that and I had sleepless nights over what they were going to do to me. Without [Australia’s] South Beach I don’t think that there is any comparison [with the poverty of Brown Sub]. Ultimately it’s all on the director and the buck stops with the director even though these bureaucrats want to control documentaries. They can just refuse to give us money next time if the film bombs at the box office.”

When Gittoes talked about other films he considered to be superdocs he mentioned Bowling for Columbine: “One of the big elements was the fact that Michael Moore acts as a bridge between being the viewer and the subject of the film. Now with Rampage, frankly, there might be politically correct people who would say that if it was a pure documentary that I should not be in it. I don’t know where they get that from. They’d be happy for Attenborough to be walking around with the elephants. Those people would probably find that there are dozens of rap films that they’d never watch, which I have watched, which are inaccessible because they don’t have a character like me. There’s a tremendous precedent for Rampage which is Nick Broomfield’s film Biggie and Tupac, where Nick’s getting around with his little bum bag and his microphone and he’s from another culture, like I am. Of all the films I’ve seen on Tupac, that’s the one that works the best.”

In the end though, Gittoes says, “Really, the only rule with a superdoc is that it has to work. And you only know if it works if some cinema chain is prepared to put it on against dramas. Rampage is getting more exposure in more cinemas than any drama recently made in Australia. It’s getting more cinemas than a film like Candy which has got all the big actors and producers.”

Rampage, director-producer George Gittoes; playing in Australian and London cinemas and in festivals in Copenhagen, Stockholm and New York. www.rampagethemovie.com. Distribution: Madman, www.madman.com.au

RealTime issue #76 Dec-Jan 2006 pg. 18

© Catherine Gough-Brady; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Humphrey Bower, Fyodor's Demons

Humphrey Bower, Fyodor’s Demons

Humphrey Bower, Fyodor’s Demons

PHILOSOPHERS HAVE LONG THEORISED THAT THE UNIVERSE IS A PROJECTION OF OUR SELVES. WE SENSE THE WORLD THROUGH OUR SKIN AND VIA OUR CREATIVE GAZE, REPRESENTING IT IN OUR OWN IMAGE. A CRISIS OF SELF ENGENDERS COSMIC CRISIS, AND VICE-VERSA. THEATRE MAKER HUMPHREY BOWER’S ONE MAN SHOW, FYODOR’S DEMONS, RESONATED DEEPLY WITH SUCH EXISTENTIAL PROPOSITIONS.

Collaborating with dramaturg Sophia Hall, Bower placed a confessional narrative from Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Devils alongside the bleak parable of the Grand Inquisitor from The Brothers Karamazov. The former details the moral indifference of a self-interested layabout who seduces or rapes his landlord’s young daughter (Dostoyevsky’s text figures the acts as ethically indistinguishable) leading her to suicide. The second is a series of Orwellian pronouncements made by a Catholic Inquisitor who has imprisoned the reborn Christ for performing miracles outside of the Church’s authority: an aggressive justification of ruthless institutional power.

Although Bower’s pre-recorded voiceovers and performed millenarian musings on the presence of Satan in a Godless universe had little overt relation to the principal character’s story, the juxtaposition implied that each enabled the other. In a cosmically corrupt world, men have no values, while the protagonist’s behaviour created the conditions necessary for the victory of evil. This rendered Fyodor’s Demons a fable for our times of war, terror and torture, where political crisis and moral nonchalance go hand in hand. Will our leaders too come to make icons of those victims whose spectres haunt them and which can engender a tragic, ethical consciousness?

It was not however principally the text which distinguished Fyodor’s Demons, but Bower’s performance. The space was consistently portentous yet precise, a clearly demarcated area lit only by candles. A chair acted at one moment as a prop and at another as a resonant presence standing in for a figure whom Bower addressed. Opposite was a bed on which he variously lounged as though smirking at the universe, or collapsed into as though his very soul had reproached him. The actor effectively contrasted his normally relaxed, slightly doughy demeanour with moments in which almost imperceptible muscular flexion suddenly defined his body in space and in tension as his character leant back and folded his arms behind his head, smug in his cruel mastery of body and action. Like the Devil, Bower’s protagonist adopted an array of outwardly innocent masks, providing a parallel between his chosen method of theatrical exposition and the content—dealing as it did with moral deception and false, performed roles. Drawing heavily on the dramaturgy of Jacques Lecoq and Robert Draffin, and using a text which prefigured Albert Camus’ The Fall, Fyodor’s Demons was a masterwork of theatre craft.
Paea Leach, Solos Project

Paea Leach, Solos Project

Paea Leach, Solos Project

Paea Leach’s two pieces in her Solos Project similarly depicted worlds which various forms of embodied perception engender. Devised with choreographer Shannon Bott, Housework created a realm and mode of being at once playful and easy, yet one within which Leach negotiated physical and spatial obstacles. Dressed in a baggy costume adorned with planetary bodies, Leach performed on top of and around a raised, inclined cruciform structure with two arms like a broken H. An illuminated model of a house floated behind, suggesting a Surrealist conflation of object and psyche. Who was dreaming whom, the performer or the house? Fabric flapping as Leach swung her arms or bounced in a standing position on her toes, the choreography often reflected a sense of playful interaction, roughly translating as ‘We both know you are watching me perform this slightly absurd action, but I will not let on.’

In the more serious second half, Leach rapidly swapped between two poses side-on to the audience, staring straight ahead as her feet deftly crossed the gap between the set’s arms, repeatedly placing herself on the brink of a miniature precipice—after which she stepped into this void and found rest. The speed and precision of Leach’s negotiation of Alex Jack’s and Jessica Hutchinson’s set implied the empathy between one’s home environment and one’s body. This house was custom built for these feet, just as these feet were shaped by familiar space.

Sustained by a wonderfully varied radiophonic score from David Corbet incorporating static, beats and plucked, pastoral guitar, Housework offered a gentle ambience of consistent, subtle developments. This contrasted with the aggressive bodily transits and multiple, distinct sequences which made up Leach’s collaboration with choreographer Simon Ellis, Four Acts of Violence Leading Up To Now. The “violence” of the title was somewhat misleading. Certainly, the driven choreography and the representation of those states approaching exhaustion (offered both live and through close-shot projected sequences) implied physical assault. Sharp, bright sounds of inspired breath and echoes of body slaps were played back, while spoken, projected and pre-recorded text intermittently referred to scenarios suggestive of recent attacks. Nevertheless, acts of violence were not depicted or named. Like pain, violence haunted the work as an unrepresentable presence, or an upper limit for the production’s aesthetics. Four Acts was redolent with the possibility that violence had precipitated its course, yet such acts were elided.

A comment on the Four Acts website (www.skellis.net/FourActs/index.html) was apt here in identifying the passage of time itself as the traumatic “act of violence” presented. Leach’s body smashed, whirled and collapsed within a markedly horizontal space, a realm defined by the passage from left to right—or of being squashed down, from above, and into the horizontal—rather than a space of depth. Leach was constantly almost hurtling offstage into a new cinematic frame, a new time, seeking release from traumatic endurance. The richly affective dramaturgy of Four Acts demanded one read through it, beyond suggestions of the representation of emotions or even ideas present within the work itself, and instead look for those absences and boundaries of what one witnessed on stage, transcending to some degree the experience of watching the show itself.

If Fyodor’s Demons and Housework offered worlds projected by bodies and individuals, Four Acts represented a thoughtful dissolution of body and presence through what was nevertheless a highly kinaesthetic experience.

Fyodor’s Demons, performer, devisor Humphrey Bower, designer Clair Whitley, lighting designer Nick Higgins, composer, painter Jess Ipkendanz, dramaturg, adaptor Sophia Hall; Blue Room, Oct 26-Nov 18; The Solos Project, co-devisor Paea Leach; Housework choreographer Shannon Bott, composer, projections, co-devisor David Corbet; Four Acts of Violence Heading Up to Now, co-devisor, choreographer Simon Ellis; designers Alex Jack, Jessica Hutchinson, costume Paula Lewis, lighting Richard Vabre; Bakery Artrage, Perth, Oct 27-Nov 3

RealTime issue #76 Dec-Jan 2006 pg. 33

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

Anthony Pateras at the Junee Railway Roundhouse Workshop

Anthony Pateras at the Junee Railway Roundhouse Workshop

Anthony Pateras at the Junee Railway Roundhouse Workshop

EXPANSIVE IN ITS SCOPE, A FAULTLESS CURATORIAL LOGIC DISTINGUISHED THE 2006 UNSOUND FESTIVAL. BOTH ON AND OFF THE RAILS, THIS AMBITIOUS PROGRAM OF LIVE PERFORMANCE, SOUND ART AND INSTALLATION SURVEYED SOME OF AUSTRALIAN MUSIC’S MOST OUTLANDISH MARGINS.

An improbable centrepiece of the festival was the Loco Motivus, an iron-horse caravan of resident aliens and coastal fringe dwellers, shunting between isolated heritage townships, and even less likely venues. Whether consciously or not, the Loco Motivus harkens directly to a defining moment in contemporary culture: Pierre Schaeffer’s 1948 discovery of musique concrete with Etude aux chemins de fer. This work of Schaeffer’s—proto-turntablism with recordings of steam trains—described the possibilities of a radically new compositional paradigm: one which was contingent not on instrumental technique and a hierarchy of composer, conductor and performers, but pivoted rather on the playful maladaption of new technologies, and a restored sensitivity to environmental sound. It is the significant precedent for the most creative music of the intervening 58 years.

This historical lineage becomes dramatically explicit at the festival launch in Shannon O’Neill’s performance: the rigorous live interrogation and digital reprocessing of the sound of his own trip west along the train line from Sydney. For this listener, the most successful elements occur in O’Neill’s inscrutable estrangement of his source material, and a refusal of the motoric rhythm that recording suggests. The “wheels of steel” analogy is advanced even further by Rod Cooper, who marries his considerable accomplishments as a sculptor in wood and metal to a studied avidity for dissonance. His new performance unites “prepared turntables” (with self-made discs and phonograph cartridges) with another of his stunningly fashioned instruments. Cooper’s sound exemplifies what two other festival performers, Robin Fox and Anthony Pateras, have defined as “maximalism”: an approach to sound which cultivates complex structures along both horizontal (dynamic) and vertical (timbre) axes: a close listening is rewarded with the revelation of new and unfamiliar sound-worlds.

Friendly visitor from the USA, Al Duvall, explores an occluded anachronism of vaudevillian performance through his elementary yet tuneful banjo strumming, punctuated by fiery kazoo outbursts. What compensates for the absence of virtuoso proficiency are Duvall’s lyrics: extravagant mixed metaphors and colourful inversions of ‘horse sense’ proverbs. The local analogue might be Chad Morgan, and Duvall’s wry, ironic humour served to remind the audience that, like ourselves, our fellow travellers from across the Pacific lake are also capable of an antic sophistication with vernacular idioms. Duvall’s national tour is at the invitation of the Dual Plover label (RT74, p51), and as such it’s merely the most recent explication of Lucas Abela’s discreet proposition that some varieties of experimental music locate their historical lineage not in ivory-tower brain-trusts, but in vaudeville and the music hall. The argument is a provocative one: it proceeds from the assumption that experimental music might be a form of popular live entertainment, and with a considerable debt to low-culture folk traditions.
Alan Lamb, Aeolian Harp/Wire instrument on Pindari Farm, unsound06 festival

Alan Lamb, Aeolian Harp/Wire instrument on Pindari Farm, unsound06 festival

Alan Lamb, Aeolian Harp/Wire instrument on Pindari Farm, unsound06 festival

The contention is beautifully illustrated by another performer, Gary Butler, who brings a bricoleur inventiveness to his raucous guitar improvisation on an otherwise saccharine show tune. Butler’s facility with his instrument affords him an hilariously enlarged sonic vocabulary, but also serves to essay a sardonic investigation of hierarchical power structures—a concern which is taken to outlandish extremes the following day, in concert with the Von Krapp Family’s carriage of the Loco Motivus.

Of Australia’s several festivals of creative music, Unsound is probably the most successful at accommodating installation and site specific work. Accordingly, the second day is a sonically embellished form of package tour. First stop is an inspection of Alan Lamb’s aeolian harp at the Pindari property; although this work is heard to much better affect aboard the Loco Motivus when we listen remotely by CB radio to a live wind-and-wire broadcast. The Coolamon Up-To-Date Store, with the Goldbergian overhead apparatus of its antiquated cash railway, is a perfect frame for Ernie Althoff’s work, D’s Guest Appearance (2006). Eponymous “D” is the “Declivities”, a circumspect chorus of gumnuts rattling within adapted record players—providing background to a whimsical interplay of aleatory automated soloists. Assured in its delicate modesty, this work’s whimsical crypto-Zen is well served by its elegant simplicity.

Lunchtime later, a duet from Al Duvall and Singing Sadie farewells our embarkation aboard Loco Motivus. Sadie’s performance has profited from the discipline of a lengthy North American tour, and a greater confidence and finely nuanced persona are the result. Their collaboration works to the advantage of each; Sadie’s vigorous Tanztheater hoofing and shrill caterwaul set in perfect counterpoint to Duvall’s bemused folk observations.

The Loco Motivus is a striking achievement, not least for the logistical planning required of project Coordinator, Sarah Last. The train is a group work by some two dozen artists, either working alone or in small ensembles. Some artists have a carriage to themselves, others work within the lesser dimensions of a single berth. The model might have been the Constructivist film trains of 1920s Russia, or the Queensland Writer’s Train that once (and, perhaps, still does?) brought the likes of po and Peter Carey to country schoolkids. The Von Krapp Family employs the coach car to make its mockery of neo-conservative behavioural norms, providing an absurdist exaggeration of the logic of Un-Australia. Robbie Avenaim’s installation is a mechanised drum orchestra, partially driven by audience interactive foot pedals. (Later that night, Avenaim will demonstrate a rare delicacy of touch in his solo percussion performance; an aspect of his work which has perhaps been submerged within other ensembles).

Dave Noyze also offers his audience some diminished control, via the ostensible button to summon the porter, which now brings only a dolorous foghorn honking. The carriage he shares with Garry Bradbury is a labyrinth of space and sound alike, with each off-corridor vestibule populated by the noises they orchestrate from their mixing posts. Abject Leader’s carriage has become the site of their latest performance in expanded cinema, with multiple film projections through colour filters looped along the ceiling, and variously focussed on one of the three sheer fabric screens hung across the carriage. While Sally Golding busies herself with the rudely bouncing projectors, Joel Stern provides a tour-de-force performance on processed trumpet and thumb piano. The effect is ultimately overwhelming, but not unpleasantly so; there is always the possibility of respite between carriages, or a congenial chat with other passengers down in the guard’s car. Culmination of sorts occurs at the Junee Railway Workshop locomotive turntable—a revolving section of track encircled by a dramatically imposing roundhouse. Rod Cooper’s tubular sound sculptures entertain individual auditors in queued succession before Anthony Pateras provides a dazzling turn on an incongruously white piano in the toolroom. Pateras tests the limits of his keyboard preparations with a breakneck agility, matching his seemingly unlimited sonic vocabulary to a succession of different performance styles.

The situation of margins and centre is always relative. A few weeks prior to its Unsound reprise, Pateras premiered this new work for solo prepared piano in concert with the LA Philharmonic before a rapturous 2,000-strong crowd. At the festival’s final concert, later that night in Wagga, Tom Ellard extemporises the hilarious video montages that have delighted Big Day Out audiences for years. The example of both these artists, and Unsound itself, volubly demonstrates that the audience for creative music, in its broadest possible conception, might be less narrow than is sometimes assumed.

Unsound 2006, co-directors Sarah Last, Adam Bell, Wagga Wagga, Nov 10-11, http://space-program.org/unsound06/

RealTime issue #76 Dec-Jan 2006 pg. 48

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

JOHN PILGER IS A PARTICULARLY DISSONANT FIGURE IN PRESENT DAY AUSTRALIA. THE DVD RELEASE OF HIS DOCUMENTARIES ABOUT THIS COUNTRY CREATES AN OPPORTUNITY TO LOOK AFRESH AT THIS CONTROVERSIAL EXPAT JOURNALIST AND FILMMAKER.

Based in London, though returning to Sydney regularly, Pilger provokes criticism not only from the right but also some on the liberal left for his work’s morally loaded political rhetoric and selective use of factual information. This has gradually resulted in his disappearance from the Australian media, a situation in stark contrast to the prominence of his work in the UK.

This discrepancy, Pilger argued in a 2004 lecture at the University of Western Australia, is revealing. “Of all the western democracies,” he argued, “Australia is the most derivative and the most silent. Those who hold up a mirror are not welcome in the media. My work is syndicated and read widely around the world, but not in Australia, where I come from.” When he is mentioned here, it is via conservative columnists’ attacks on his UK Guardian or New Statesman articles. It might, then, come as a surprise that this locally marginalised figure is probably our most internationally celebrated journalist, winning at least 20 major international awards including two BAFTAs, an Emmy and the UN Media Peace Price (twice). Yet here he is mainly treated as a dangerous extremist. (After a rare local interview on Lateline two years ago, Gerard Henderson in the Sydney Morning Herald lambasted the ABC for even allowing Pilger a public hearing; the critique Pilger was making of the US presence in Iraq now seems rather less radical.)

The particularly effective conservative belittling of his work in Australia notwithstanding, philosophically at least Pilger is in fact a ‘conservative.’ He is the quintessential old-school crusading journalist, confidently claiming to report the ‘truth’ denied by the mainstream political discourse of the day—however, one committed to working within what is now perjoratively called the ‘tabloid’ press. This determination to work at the very heart of the accessible, non-elitist (and commercial) media is, I believe, a key reason for his being misunderstood by skeptical consumers of the ‘quality’ broadsheet press: “I believe in popular journalism”, he has said. Likewise, most of his films have emerged through involvement with ITV in the UK, a commercial broadcaster which has supported Pilger since his first film in 1970. Interestingly, he says the sustained attacks on his work really got going with the films, perhaps in response to their garnering consistently large TV audiences in Britain.

The 3-DVD selection of Pilger’s films about Australia is not without its problems: there is a lot of repeated material, phrases and footage throughout, and his delivery can sound pompous. Yet the films contain details, interviews, archival images and provocative analyses that make up a sustained critique of Australia’s historical and political heritage in a sometimes incendiary counter-narrative of nation. Made just prior to the Sydney Olympics, the film Welcome to Australia tells a very different tale from the nationalist PR blitz that happily co-opted Indigenous dance, art and Cathy Freeman while effectively hiding the real conditions of Aboriginal Australia.

Yet while decrying successive governments’ denial and recalcitrance in this area, Pilger also offers a hopeful note of progress when it comes to activism and community-generated moves towards change and reconciliation. However, like Michael Riley’s early photography (p20), this cautious hopefulness today comes across as elegiac indeed. Five years into the ‘War on Terror’, at no point in my 36-years have the issues relating to reconciliation and Aboriginal human rights been less substantively discussed. The Iraq War, asylum seekers, terrorism for conservatives and progressives alike, these are the zeitgeist issues of debate. Pilger ends by arguing that no genuine, meaningful Australian nationhood can be claimed until that of the ‘original Australians’ is fully recognised and accounted for.

One of the most powerful ideas argued in the films is that Australia has, with momentary exceptions (notably that of late 1940s and early 70s Labor Governments), never really been a sovereign nation. Other People’s Wars addresses the way in which we happily send our young off to fight for (British, then US) empire; and while the World Wars are recalled all over the country by ‘Lest We Forget’ plaques, we continue to deny the war at the dawn of our own history—let alone tending to reparations. (How many residents or tourists enjoying Sculpture by the Sea know Bondi Beach was used for Indigenous weapons manufacture for many years in the fight against the British invaders, as Pilger recounts?) He argues that the largely unknown Aboriginal battles for land (after the initial offer to share it with the whites was rejected) surely exemplifies qualities supposed to characterise Australian values—typically used to describe white ‘Diggers’—of the underdog, fighting against all odds, freedom from tyrannical rule and invasion. Yet, Pilger soberly points out, not one plaque is to be found heralding such bravery and heroism.

Of course his work isn’t beyond criticism. The tone of the films at times seems patronising; the apparently straight claims of offering the truth do sometimes rankle. And formally, his filmmaking—virtually unchanged throughout the years—is stilted and conservative. Yet too often engagement with Pilger’s work stops at these distracting elements. Filmmaking and methodological artistry aside, these films boldly articulate the shameful big picture elements of Australian nationhood, giving no quarter to the government line under cover of ambiguity or ‘balance.’ The cumulative impact is both rare and startling in its provocation.

Pilger’s work has always been controversial, perennially ‘untimely’ in a Nietzschean sense. Yet renewed global condemnation of US foreign policy in the wake of Bush’s adventurism, and the first-world’s historical and ongoing behaviour towards non-Western nations more generally, should make his analysis increasingly difficult to marginalise. Nevertheless, in present-day Australia the (new) political correctness seeping through our media institutions over ten years has meant Pilger’s work is commonly seen as morally repugnant. That his tone is sometimes sanctimonious in its own moral and historical surety (all the more startling today in being so at odds with the equal ‘certainty’ of right-wing polemicists) shouldn’t distract us from the real power of these films. They act as untimely meditations upon our problematic nation—the sting of which has never been more needed.

Documentaries That Changed The World: John Pilger's Australia, 3 DVDs, 240mins, distributed by DV1, www.dv1.com.au

RealTime issue #76 Dec-Jan 2006 pg. 19

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

Aimee Smith, First Entry

Aimee Smith, First Entry

Aimee Smith, First Entry

IN WG SEBALD’S FINAL NOVEL, AUSTERLITZ, THE WRITER COMPARES THE NOCTURAMA OF ANTWERP ZOO AND THE WAITING ROOM OF ITS CENTRAAL STATION. BOTH IMPOSING BUILDINGS, ONE IS FOR THE DISPLAY OF NOCTURNAL ANIMALS AND THE OTHER FOR THE SHELTER OF TRAVELLERS.

Sebald likens his fellow travelers to “the last members of a diminutive race which had perished or had been expelled from its homeland”, suggesting “that because they alone survived they wore the same sorrowful expression as the creatures in the zoo.” This analogy exemplifies the liminal sensibility of Sebald’s travel narratives in which an openness to chance, recollection and coincidence has the cumulative effect of providing insight. Kylie Ligertwood has been inspired by the way Sebald’s acclaimed writing seems to be without deliberation and its content generated en route.

Ligertwood recently invited five artists of interdisciplinary persuasion to step into her darkened studio at PICA and in discrete improvised performances respond to the strangeness of her installation. Executed specifically for the performances, it comprised a shifting, abstract projection and a pensive arrangement of components such as clock, red rug, piano stool and suspended door handles. It was personal in scale and the audiences who were squeezed into the studio felt physically implicated in the work. Due to the precision of Ligertwood’s arrangement, it could have read like a surrealist painting that had jumped out of its frame. However the artist, more animateur than stage manager, ensured that the configuration was pared back. Her installation did not disturb the chamber-like structure of the room but did cue our imaginations for the performances about to unfold.

For Ligertwood, and any audience members who attended all five shows, the residue of previous performances must have hung in the air. This was certainly the case for the two successive performances I experienced. Tanja Visovesic’s jerky movement reminded me of the neurological disorder once known as St Vitus’ Dance and Roderick Sprigg matched Visovesic’s psychic torment in a punishing physical workout. Sprigg’s performance was more akin to sculpture because he remained mute and relied on a disembodied recorded voiceover while the primary function of Visovesic’s body was as an instrument for her voice.

There was a sense that a kind of transference from one artist to another was possible. Ligertwood’s twilight installation had a watchful quality that seemed to absorb the performers’ energy both physically and metaphorically. The dust disturbed by Visovesic as she ripped up the turf laid in the studio became airborne and mingled with Sprigg’s perspiration. Both artists underwent painful and obscure processes of retrieval—Visovesic communing with the dead and Sprigg tapping into muscle memory to complete his grueling routine. Their powers of concentration were formidable. Visovesic called on all present including those who had previously inhabited the studio when it was a schoolroom. Sprigg, however, shut down from his surroundings more and more as the gap between his mind and body visibly closed. The walls of the studio were imbued with the artists’ slant on memory but also traces of any previous activity.

The selection of artists attuned to Ligertwood’s melancholy poetics was crucial. These two understood that their task was not to blend performance and installation nor to be interpreters of the underworld feeling created by Ligertwood. Their approach set up an exchange with the installation rather than any relationship between performer and backdrop. On this count, the restrained, compressed nature of Sprigg’s performance was more effective than Visosevic’s, which was occasionally too overwrought for the soundtrack provided by her minstrels. Coming second, Sprigg also benefited from the way in which Vivosevic’s performance had deepened my level of attentiveness to the space.

First Entry triggered musings about what the artists might have had in common and how they diverged. In the charged atmosphere of the Tower Studio, inexplicable echoes and flows between the six artists and the five audiences did not seem far fetched. Although Ligertwood’s citing of Sebald did order my response to the performances, any chain of influence between them was not even or regular. Ligertwood and her collaborators successfully eluded any suggestion of a domino effect. In the reciprocal spirit of the project, Ligertwood is now responding to the performances with audio works to be broadcast across the Perth Cultural Centre and with video and further installation in PICA’s clock tower.

First Entry, insallation, Kylie Ligertwood, performers Tristen Parr, Clyde McGill, Aimee Smith, Roderick Sprigg, Tanja Visosevic; presented by Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts & Artrage; PICA Nov 1-5

RealTime issue #76 Dec-Jan 2006 pg. 34

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

Bille Brown, Tom Flanagan, Feasting on Flesh

Bille Brown, Tom Flanagan, Feasting on Flesh

Bille Brown, Tom Flanagan, Feasting on Flesh

feasting on flesh

What holds Feasting on Flesh, a sex-food burlesque at The Studio, together is a demented waiter (Tom Flannagan) whose spitoon runneth over. He pours the contents of this bottomless horn of plenty into the glasses of his audience (with a warning grimace as one begins to drink) as well as providing a string of astonishingly rapid sight gags, whisk juggling, somseraulting and gleeful flashing. In a show that oscillates sometimes trimly but more often loosely around the subject of food and sex, this agreeable lunatic keeps the audience in the loop as some strange activities are staged—a naked man strung up like meat; tomatoes trodden into a naked back by stilettoed stripper Gypsy Wood; heads on platters; a pleasingly ample Candy Bowers declaring herself chocolate cake in pulsing talk-song; some spectacular, sensuous aerial work (Mark Winmill) and deliberately bad magic acts. Presiding over events and other people’s nakedness is the elegant Bille Brown looking like the classic dinner-suited protagonist of 19th century pornography (usually a Brit in French eyes), reciting literary tidbits and finally orchestrating an orgiastic display of flesh fit for a feast.

Feasting stays for the most part firmly within a burlesque framework replete with bum and tit jokes and erotic fun (the naked stripper gladwrapped: “That’ll keep her fresh a bit longer”, quips Brown; or the equation of icecream with sperm after some hard cone licking by the girls) and with added, if predictable, poetic takes on the curious pleasures of oysters and figs. The food-sex connections are sometimes literal, sometimes lateral, sometimes absent—the waiter whisks eggs and milk and does a spectacular backward somersault from the balcony to the floor, amazingly keeping his creation intact: Voila! Eggflip. Later, Brown inserts a wedge of chocolate cake neatly into the waiter’s upturned arse. The audience gasps, though that’s about as risque as it gets. It’s a fun night, stretching more than the burlesque envelope just that little bit. The other integrating element is a singing drummer (Gotye) who provides an almost constant musical and effects soundtrack plus a bevvy of maudlin songs in sad pop-tenor about lost love. Although possessed of a fine voice, which the audience applauded rapturously, it was hard to see what such misery had to do with the food-sex thing—perhaps something about the insatiability of human need; after all none of the pleasures onstage were the real thing. Well… real cocks and arses and uncensored rudery. But love? That aside, director Scott Maidment keeps the action and the double entendres moving right along with visceral verve.

one more than one

The Emma J Hawkins-Keith Lim movement duet in Branch Nebula’s Plaza Real was a striking, wordless meeting of very different bodies (RT64, p44). In One More Than One the whole show is theirs and, again, they are at their best in choreography that is not complex but idisoyncratically, adroitly and vividly realised (movement consultant Rowan Marchingo; director Nikki Heywood). Their mutual manipulation transcends the cliches that a duet of tallness and short stature could engender. Hawkins and Lim are also strong stage presences with attractive voices, but writing is not their forte. The subtleties their physical engagement suggests are not to be found in the text—long strings of questions about the most obvious of short/tall and cultural prejudices. The consequence is a didactic theatre-in-education feel compounded by a sluggish first scene setting up the imminent relationship and an ongoing, tiresome deployment of plinths (admittedly later put to good use in playing with the relativities of height). The Hawkins-Lim partnership is a potent one in the Sydney performance scene, and while they have many able hands assisting them on One More Than One, perhaps they should add one more, a writer to that list.

it just stopped

It’s bloody heartening to see something so unbalanced. I exited all giddy and punch drunk with objections to the Sewell vision with its endless string of hit and miss one-liners and bloody catharsis. I’m on his side. Who needs redemptive moments and empathetic characters? Life isn’t At The Movies . Those poor bloody Sewell-Yanks (Kym Gyngell as Franklin, Catherine McClements as Beth) in their all too real ivory tower, let ‘em have it, them and their New Yorker and New York Review of Books and their total ignorance of the world outside their apartment. But, really, are New Yorkers the problem? Well, they got bombed. Hang on, weren’t The New Yorker and New York Review of Books two of the the very, very few American publications not frightened into submission by the War on Terror and its attendant dimnution of civil rights? Sewell’s male protagonist, whose madness turns out—in a final act dramaturgical road crash—to be the only consciousness of the play (bugger the wife), is writing a Wagner apologia for the Review (to wit: Wagner’s greatness transcended his anti-semitism which was of the times). In all my years of reading the Review I’ve rarely ever seen that kind of argument.

So what?, you’re thinking. After all, scatterfire satire has become the hit and miss of The Glasshouse, where taking a position is anathema—strike out at one and all. Sewell’s Americans are unfunny and uninteresting, just loud-mouthed. If you ask me, the play should have begun with the arrival of the Australian neighbours (John Wood as Bill, Rebecca Massey as Pearl) announcing the beginning of the end of the world and making their devilish offer of escape and life, but also of slavery. Then the spiritual and cultural poverty of the Americans could have been revealed rather than lengthily exposited.

Sewell’s great creation in It Just Stopped is Bill as realised by John Wood: the very latest model of the Australian male, weirder and more cunningly and cruelly contrary and brutally pragmatic than anyone in Casey Bennetto’s Keating!. But, because Sewell is so obsessed with the evil of his Americans, the play ends up in the lap of impotent Franklin (think about Sewell’s choice of name). His paranoia turns psychotic, he kills Bill and goes down himself to the strains of Wagner and the devastation of New York in a Gotterdamerung both private and public. But before being shot, Bill turns out not to be the monster Franklin has conjured, but a tolerably benign chappy offering him the editorship of an Australian equivalent of the Review. So, Bill and Pearl turn out to be the figments of an overwrought and limited American vision of Australians. But as William Blake said of Milton, the poet’s wonderful portrayal of Satan in Paradise Lost made him of the devil’s party. Sewell’s Australian devil, Bill (until de-fanged), has the best lines while Rebecca Massey as Pearl offers a finely crafted version of Mrs Australia—pearls and cardy, alcoholic, tunnel-visioned, unpredictable and physically dangerous. Our Australian demons cannot be sheeted home to the Americans. Australian complicity in US dirty work is only as interesting as what we know about ourselves and not the degree to which we imagine ourselves seduced. The play is a fascinating experience, if only for what it almost says—but it just stopped.

keating!

It didn’t take long for Paul Sheehan, one of the Sydney Morning Herald’s right-wing stringers to come out whinging about Casey Bennetto’s musical, Keating!. In Sheehan’s world, balance is a one-sided affair so the prospect of an out and out celebration of the career of a distinctive Australian like Keating is just not on. It’s always amusing to see the right arguing for complexity from positions that are simplistic and tired—the show’s Howard-hating! But for Sheehan, of course, it’s all right to slag Keating. Keating! is unapologetically pro-Keating and operates within a very tight frame: it knows its limits and exploits them. Composer-lyricist Casey Bennetto takes the language of an era, pops it adroitly into pop pastiche and sketches a life. He lets the songs do the talking—there’s no dialogue—and they say it all, not just delivering the Keating vocabulary (replete with its own hiccups and evasions and obscurities, like the j-curve) but the language of a brutally monetarist era (which Bennetto as Hewson raps out only to be out-rapped by Keating invective) and the subsequent Howard-bites. Mike McLeish is fine as a showbiz Keating, all pose and verve, while Terry Serio is more calculatedly satirical as Hawke and then Howard (especially funny and revealing when he is sequentially kitted out in Howard’s four persona outfits). Bennetto does Downer’s petulance and keyboardist Ennio Pozzebon does a good Gareth Evans if short on the volatility. The band is superb, well integrated into the action and allowed their moments of virtuosity. There are gaps. The seriously talented band could surely have incorporated a bit of Keating’s beloved Mahler among the pastiche in the manner, say, of Uri Caine’s jazz interpretations. And, some more detail of the Keating demise, other than the Gareth-Cheryl romance, could have been built into the final phase of the performance. Sheehan of course conjures soft left audiences seduced by Keating! The Musical, but they’re not stupid. They recognise the great things—Mabo—and wonder about others—the skewed Creative Nation. They acknowledge the man’s fallability, but would rather, as the musical’s comic finale fantasy plays it out, have had Keating win the 1996 election for us to still savour this man’s rough wit, flashes of idealism and sheer unpredictability in place of Howard’s ‘reforms’ and measured untruths.

fast cars & tractor engines

I missed Urban Theatre Projects’ Fast Cars and Tractor Engines the first time round (RT70, p41) but caught it this time in Bankstown at the end of its Western Sydney tour. A form of verbatim theatre with the performers working from their subjects’ recorded voices, played to them through headphones, the effect is marvellously verite and the selection of material culturally revealing, and often great fun, in the most un-stereotypical of ways. Anthony Brandon Wong, a late cast replacement, performs with all the ease, expertise and passion of fellow players Mohammed Ahmad and Katia Molino, while director Roslyn Oades frames the action with a simple domesticity textured with witty gestural choreography. It would be great to see this interesting idea extended in some new directions. Urban Theatre Projects turned 25 in November: we’ll celebrate that in our next edition.

Feasting on Flesh, director Scott Maidment, design Chris Booth, lighting Jo Currey, producer Sarah Stewart, Strut & Fret Production House; The Studio, Sydney Opera House, Nov 9-18

Atypical Theatre Company, One More Than One, performer-devisors Emma J Hawkins, Keith Lim, director Nikki Heywood, movement consultant Rowan Marchingo, dramaturg Christopher Ryan, design Kate Shanahan, lighting Clytie Smith, video Shehane Bekarin, video consultant Sam James; sound Jonathon Creenaune; presented by Western Sydney Dance Action & Riverside Theatres; Riverside Theatres, Parammatta, Oct 25-28

Stephen Sewell, It Just Stopped, director Neil Armfield, design Stephen Curtis, lighting Paul Jackson, composer John Rodgers, sound design Russell Goldsmith; Company B & Malthouse; Belvoir St Theatre, from Oct 4

Keating! The Musical, writer, musical director Casey Bennetto, director Neil Armfield, design Brian Thompson, costumes Jennifer Irwin, lighting Damien Cooper, choreography John O’Connell; Belvoir St Theatre, opened Nov 15

RealTime issue #76 Dec-Jan 2006 pg. 47

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

Michael Riley, Hetti, 1990

Michael Riley, Hetti, 1990

Michael Riley, Hetti, 1990

IT’S DIFFICULT TO CONVEY THE EXPANSIVE FEELING WHEN CONFRONTED BY MICHAEL RILEY’S CLOUD (2000) SERIES. THERE’S A SENSE OF SUDDENLY BEING SHIFTED TO ANOTHER PLANE—A WORLD OF DELICATE, EPHEMERAL VISIONS AND STARTLING TAXIDERMIC ARREST.

The background of each image is the deep blue Australian sky, flecked with patches of white cloud. A different object or creature appears in every picture, suspended mid-air and sharply delineated from the soft blues and whites of the background. A locust is seen in extreme close-up, as if mounted in a scientific display case. A cow grazes in the sky. An open bible floats earthward, face down. Most iconic of all, a feather blown up to enormous size is captured with such fidelity that every strand appears rendered in loving detail. The Cloud series stands as Riley’s final photographic statement, created shortly before he passed away in 2004, claimed like so many Indigenous Australians by disease brought on by the effects of childhood poverty. But the National Gallery of Australia retrospective, Michael Riley: sights unseen (touring the eastern states into 2008), provides audiences with a chance to place Riley’s best-known work in the context of his broader photographic and filmic career.

In rough chronological order, the exhibition begins in Sydney in the early 1980s, not long after Riley moved to the city from Dubbo. Having revived his teenage interest in photography and studying under Bruce Hart at the Tin Sheds Gallery, Riley began photographing Indigenous rallies and events in Sydney and Melbourne. These first pictures are somewhat rudimentary, but provide a fascinating glimpse into the energy and anger fuelling Aboriginal activism at the time. As well as passion, there is a sense of optimism and empowerment, generated by the mobilisation of people and ideas. From a contemporary perspective Riley’s images speak of a history that has been systematically concealed by the whitewash of the Howard era.

The shift between the photojournalistic style of these early colour works and Riley’s studio-based portraits of the mid-1980s is startling. The marches and everyday activities are replaced by highly stylised fashion-influenced images of Koori women in luminous high-contrast black and white. These represent an obvious but important intervention in the politics of representation, reworking images of beauty and ‘cool’ in the mass media to celebrate the spirit, sassiness and diversity of Indigenous women.

It’s not just the Indigenous subjects—all members of Riley’s social circle—that mark these early portraits as a break with the conventions of fashion photography. Photographs like Kristina (no glasses) (1984) see Riley’s friends coolly returning the camera’s stare, meeting the eye of the viewer with a steadfastness that is the opposite of fashion photography’s objectifying gaze. Even when these women don’t look directly out from the image, as in Tracey (head down) (1986), there is a feeling of mutual complicity and trust, a strong impression that the subjects are participating in their own representation rather than being rendered as fetishised objects of display. It is perhaps indicative of how little has changed that these photographs still seem a radical intervention in the order of images today.

As Riley pursued his interest in portraiture throughout the 1990s, the high contrast black and white of the mid-1980s was replaced by more graduated tones and simple backdrops. His skill became more subtle and less stylised, but the shared exchange between camera and subject was only enhanced by the apparent simplicity and casual air of series such as A common place: Portraits of Moree Murries (1991) or Yarns from the Talbragar Reserve (1998). The Moree series depicts Indigenous people from Riley’s mother’s country, while Riley himself spent his early years at Talbragar Reserve outside Dubbo. Just as his first studio-based portraits evoke and rupture the objectifying gaze of fashion photography, these images of Indigenous people are an understated riposte to the tradition of Western ethnographic studies. Riley’s documentary films Quest for Country (1993), Blacktracker (1996) and Tent Boxers (1998) can be read as companion pieces to these series, giving voice to some of the tales etched into their subjects’ faces.

Riley’s 1990 series Portraits by a Window is for me the most moving of his work in this genre. Comprising friends and their families lit by diffuse light from windows in the Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Co-operative building in Chippendale, Sydney, the series forms a fascinating record of prominent Sydney Indigenous figures of the time, including Tracey Moffatt, Djon Mundine, Brenda Croft and the Perkins family. A photograph of Charles Perkins, posing with his son Adam, is rendered poignant by his death a decade later from renal failure—the same disease that was to claim Riley. Perkins’ daughter Hetti is captured in one of Riley’s most tender frames, casting her eyes downward in an image of grace that feels both fleeting and timeless. My favourite is of the young dancers Tracey Gray and Alice Haines. All the elements of Riley’s portraiture seem to coalesce in this image: the steady gaze into the lens, the pose that is both casual and highly composed, and a beauty that emanates from the women rather than being constructed by the camera.

In the late 1990s, Riley’s colour photography took on a more abstract tone, as he began to photograph landscapes, skies and bodies of water. As in his portraits, these images of the physical world never present a distanced, objective view. Works like Spirit clouds (1997) picture Australia’s environment as a living, breathing space of constantly changing patterns, spirits and emotions—a natural world infused with an Indigenous Australian perspective. Djon Mundine writes in the Sights Unseen catalogue that Riley’s work “is not a surface recording but an allusion to the spiritual within the land and his attachment to it.” Again, there is a clear link here with Riley’s films, which in different ways explore the Indigenous histories and perspectives inscribed into the Australian landscape and its scarring by European presence.

The Flyblown series (1998) embodies Riley’s “spiritual vision of landscape from within” (to quote Mundine again) and illustrates several key motifs running throughout his later work. The painterly sky-scape Untitled [blue sky with cloud] continues Riley’s interest in the ephemeral formations of the Australian environment. The grim still life Untitled (galah) depicts a bird’s corpse spreadeagled on a patch of baked mud, testament to a harsh environment made harsher by mismanagement and abuse. And Untitled (bible) shows a crucifix-embossed book lying face down in water, part of Riley’s ongoing reflection on the ambivalent relationship between Indigenous Australians and the Christian church. Especially when viewed alongside Riley’s film Empire (which was shot at the same time and shares several common images), Flyblown constitutes a sensitive but unsettling portrait of the Australian environment and the alien presence of Europeans within it.

Riley’s final series, Cloud, combines his exploration of transient cloud formations with the astonishing presence of decontextualised objects rendered with such exactitude they seem totally unreal. There’s a sense of hope and liberated possibility in this series, and its placement at the end of the retrospective marks it as the culmination of Riley’s achievements. But there’s also an air of sadness around these images, borne of the knowledge that Riley himself is no longer here to explore the imaginative vistas opened by his final work. Riley was only 44 when he died—instead of an ending, Cloud should have marked the beginning of a mature vision.

Part two of this article in RT77 will focus on Michael Riley’s films.

Michael Riley: sights unseen, curated by Brenda L Croft, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, July 14-Oct 16; Monash Gallery of Art, Vic, Nov 16 2006-Feb 25 2007; Dubbo Regional Gallery May 12-July 8 2007; Moree Plains Gallery, May 19-July15 2007; Museum of Brisbane, July 27-Nov 19 2007; Art Gallery of NSW, 22 Feb 22-April 27 2008

RealTime issue #76 Dec-Jan 2006 pg. 20

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

Scene

Scene

DEBATE SURROUNDING DANCE FILM IS HARDLY NEW, BUT IT SEEMS FROM THE FORUM, CUTTING FILM FOR THE BODY HELD IN PERTH (AS PART OF ARTRAGE AND IN ASSOCIATION WITH REELDANCE), THAT THE DISCUSSION IS HOTTING UP.

This passionate and crucial debate is about the hybridisation of art forms and the role dance film plays. Does the human body need to be ‘present’ in dance film? Should there be an emphasis on the role of film rather than dance in critical analysis? There was choreographical dissent in the forum. Multiple voices interjected, chuckles and scoffs from frustrated participants and a dancing around the potential for offence. Unfortunately, the Body Cuts selection of local dance films following the forum was, with several exceptions, less provocative and stimulating than the debate surrounding the medium.

The 14 films, curated by Edith Cowan University Research Fellow Jonathan Marshall, was a mixed bag of student and professional choreographer and filmmaker excursions to the very boundaries of dance film. An Apple a Day (director Jeremy Stuart, choreographer Emma Chatt) is influenced by the choreography of bygone musical cinema. Dirty Laundry, by DJ Childsplay and Tanja Visosevic, provocatively stretches the limits of what might be considered dance film with a furiously repetitive movement of a fist in a washing machine. Scene (led by Tanja Visosevic) is a series of still images of bodies: an armpit, an ankle, a painted toenail, a body mounting a body. However, in some films the camera seemed to be removed from the moving performer as though the filmmaker, or choreographer, was scared of the potential of their own embodiment.

In opposition to the dislocation I sensed in Body Cuts is the extraordinary repertoire of dance film by the ReelDance award finalists. Watching these films was like witnessing a living, breathing, dancing painting. Each finalist creates a dialogue between (notions of) landscape, the corporeal and narrative. However, three of the films in Body Cuts did achieve this sense of dialogue. Threads, directed, choreographed and performed by Claudia Alessi, is about a solitary woman in a confined domestic space caught on a super-8 camera, giving the impression of a fading memory. The film incorporates a lovely manipulation of light, repetitive and scattered movement with some fabulous choreography against a window—a possible escape from isolation and confinement—which ends with Alessi sewing together the loose ‘threads’ of her dress, a closure of the foggy and frenzied, yet remarkably warm, moments of memory.

Lapsang, with cinematography, editing and direction by Andrew Ewing with a remarkable soundscape by Found: Quantity of Sheep, is a masterful excursion into the embodied movement and temporal score of water, death, light and touch. The film is of a woman dying in a bath, and then later in the ocean, interrupted by shots of a man frantically removing bloody evidence while dressed in an anti-toxin suit and mask. The film plays with repetitious movement—an extreme close-up of a revolving eye, the man scared to touch the plastic body bag, the woman sucking in air bubbles underwater, a frenzied gesture of wiping her face and smearing her makeup. As the film progresses the score incorporates more instruments until a crescendo matches the turbulent movement and fast paced editing. Lapsang is fleshy, dynamic and rich.

The untitled film directed by Zena Loxton and choreographed by Jessyka Watson-Galbraith is as subtle in its choreography as it is playful with light and space. Two neighbours meet. The first, wearing a white pleated skirt that reflects a silhouette like a window blind along her corridor wall, moves with spiralling extensions of her elbows and arms. We see the neighbour: she wears a black pleated skirt. She is all ankles and pointed toes. The score is a fluid mix of soft jazz and as the two meet winding up the stairs, it is as if they embrace. These three films captured a conversation between dance and film by exploring movement, light, sound, space and time in a way that left me aware of the potential for such a visceral and emotive experience.

Forum: Cutting Film for the Body; Body Cuts, A Selection of Short Dance Film from Western Australia; curator Jonathan Marshall, presented in association with ReelDance, Artrage, PICA and Edith Cowan University; Cinema Paradiso, Perth,
Nov 5

RealTime issue #76 Dec-Jan 2006 pg. 34

© Renee Newman-Storer; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

CONCEIVED BY ARTISTIC DIRECTOR DAVID YOUNG AND COORDINATED BY HIS APHIDS ENSEMBLE, NEW MUSIC MACHINE DEMONSTRATED THE ENORMOUS BREADTH, DEPTH AND TALENT EVIDENT IN MELBOURNE’S NEW MUSIC SCENE.

The inaugural New Music Machine festival showcased several Melbourne-based ensembles over three evenings, premiering many new works and giving some better-known works a timely airing.

Each of the first two nights comprised three one-hour concerts. Speak Percussion opened with performances of pieces by US composers James Tenney and Frank Zappa, a joint composition by John Cage and Lou Harrison, a haunting work by local Warren Burt, and a new composition by Erik Griswold. Vanessa Tomlinson, who performs with the Twitch ensemble as well as Speak Percussion, gave a memorable account of Burt’s Beat Generation in the Californian Coastal Ranges, for solo vibraphone and electronics. In this work, a haunting, whining drone underpins a studied, meditative overlay of chords, set to a strict, dramatically slow rhythm. In Erik Griswold’s new Strings Attached, four of Speak’s six performers play snare drums with drumsticks connected by white nylon ropes to a maypole centre-stage, while the other two play snare and tom toms, at opposite ends of the stage, using sticks roped to each other’s sticks. The ropes oscillate in waves as the drums are played, with dramatic and visually stunning results.

Twitch then premiered their 6×6, a huge work for which each of the six members wrote one movement. This turbulent, chaotic piece—for prepared piano, violin, viola, ukelele, percussion, trombone, recorders, electronics and assorted objects and devices—recalls Dada and Fluxus events, but there is method in the madness, as the performers work from scores including graphic ones. Twitch has developed an individual and coherent musical form out of musical references pushed to the limit—a rubbery-sounding prepared piano, morphed voices speaking—shrieking nonsense syllables drafted on the spot and comic elements including a balloon being rubbed, a large book being slapped shut and another being repeatedly thrown to the floor. Some elements are recorded and replayed during the work. The performers, in stocking masks with whitened eyes and reddened mouths, create a cathartic piece of theatre.

The first evening concluded with David Young’s enchanting Scale, scored for toy piano, guitar, a speaker and six of the delightful instrumental boxes made by Rosemary Joy (similar to those used in Schallmachine, p32), the whole accompanied by projected imagery. We hear soft taps, squeaks and scrapes as if we are eavesdropping on a microcosmic world. Scale is a gesamkunstwerk in miniature, and is directed through graphic scores and detailed written instructions to the performers. The CD version includes a new text, The Uninhabitable of LB, by Cynthia Troup, and you can become absorbed in the entire work—sound, images, text and performance notes—in the confined universe of your own computer.

The program for the second evening, broadcast live by ABC Classic FM, was for three established groups, the David Chesworth Ensemble, Dead Horse Band and Jouissance. The Chesworth ensemble performed its award-winning Panopticon as well as Floating World and a newly commissioned work, Sport, that includes energetic shouts and umpires’ whistles and whose arrhythmic progression mimics the stop start action of sporting competition. The Dead Horse Band performed Kate Neal’s energetic fusion piece Dead Horse 1 (2005), for string quartet, electric guitar, bass, piano and drums, and her new String Trio, a quietly introspective and heavily textured work that is actually for a quartet of violin, viola, cello and double bass. The acclaimed vocal and instrumental setting of Byzantine hymns, Akathistos Fragments, by the ensemble Jouissance and directed by double bass player Nick Tsiavos, completed the program.

On the final night, the Australian National Academy of Music presented a performance of John Cage’s legendary Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano (1946-1948) and a series of improvised works by Anthony Pateras and other ANAM musicians, all involving prepared instruments. Cage’s Sonatas and Interludes was rendered by a team of four pianists, including Nigel Butterley, who has championed the work in Australia, and three ANAM musicians, with Butterley reading excerpts from Cage’s Silence between changes of pianist. This was a magical rendition, though there were some interesting differences in approach to pianism and interpretation by the four performers. The program note thoughtfully included a copy of a 1973 letter from Cage to Butterley in which the composer discussed preparation, suggesting, “You will often be able to tell whether your preparation is good, by whether or not the cadences ‘work’.” In preparing a piano, the pianist re-invents the instrument and its music. Neither synthesiser nor computer could produce the same effect (or convey the still important flavour of iconoclasm).

Pateras’ intense, carefully sculpted and minimalist Continuums and Chasms (2005-6) for prepared piano followed. Compared with Butterley’s mild augmentations that produce chiming, bell-like sounds, Pateras’ modifications generate rather claustrophobic sonorities—the whole top octave of strings is heavily gaffer-taped to make a sound like closely miked marbles cascading onto a concrete slab. In the lower registers, Pateras employs the usual bolts and screws and also cardboard wedges and other soft material to damp the strings, producing overall the sound of a percussion orchestra. The evening concluded with some very effective improvised works for solo viola by Mary Oliver, for the trio of piano, guitar and drums by Pateras, David Brown and Sean Baxter, and for a quartet of those three plus Oliver on violin.

New Music Machine’s programming suggests that contemporary music is highly diverse, ranging from the sublimely spiritual to the noisily secular and from the virtuosic to the manic. Minimalism, the exploration of sound and instrumentation, especially percussion, and the possibilities of group improvisation remain fertile areas of development. This was a well-organised and memorable festival, competing successfully with the musical elements of the Melbourne International Arts Festival that preceded it. The festival lacked only detailed program notes for some performances, important especially for new audience development. Too few people attended this wonderful series, despite the low ticket prices, but ABC Classic FM radio gave strong support by broadcasting Friday night live and recording Thursday’s performances for later broadcast.

New Music Machine, Australian National Academy of Music, South Melbourne Town Hall, Nov 2-4

RealTime issue #76 Dec-Jan 2006 pg. 49

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

Vladimir's Vladmasters at MadCat

Vladimir's Vladmasters at MadCat

MADCAT WOMEN’S INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL CONSCIOUSLY SETS OUT WITH SAVVY AND INNOVATIVE CURATORIAL PROWESS TO “EXPAND THE TRADITIONALLY ANAESTHETIsED NOTIONS OF WOMEN’S ISSUES AND ATTEMPT TO BURST THROUGH THE CONFINES THAT CAN ENCASE GENRES.”

The curatorial premise then is simple enough—seek out and showcase all the varieties of innovative and challenging film work from around the world that are directed, produced or otherwise created by women.

Transplanted New Yorker Ariella Ben-Dov is the driving force behind the festival. This is the 10th year of MadCat, and founder Ben-Dov never imagined it would evolve into such a major event, with over 1300 submissions, 12 separate programs running over three weeks, and five venues in the San Francisco Bay area.She recognises that audience endurance is a factor and pleads with the crowd to absorb ‘as much as your ass can take.’ The cheering response suggests that she needn’t worry too much.

The creative atmosphere and energy of San Francisco’s experimental film scene is fundamental to MadCat’s durability and positive reception. Long recognised as a global hotspot for avant-garde film (and in American terms, the counterpoint to NYC’s equally vibrant experimental film culture) San Francisco is home to myriad symbiotic film collectives that share audiences, filmmakers, curators, resources and spaces. Some notable examples include established events like Craig Baldwin and Noel Lawrence’s outsider-friendly Other Cinema series, the excellently curated San Francisco Cinematheque, and the incredibly well resourced film programs put together by Pacific Film Archive. And bubbling ebulliently alongside these are underground artist run collectives including New Nothing Cinema, Oddball Cinema and Studio27, which utilise unconventional spaces and draw heavily on expanded cinema and intermedia traditions. Women filmmakers and curators are strongly represented in all of these groups, and MadCat is in the privileged position of being able to draw creatively from this constantly evolving milieu of female film artists toiling away in darkrooms and studios throughout the city.

kerry laitala

MadCat’s strong fascination with the medium specificity of film also sets it apart from other women oriented festivals. Indeed, much of the most striking work displays a technical wizardry (or witchery) with hand-manipulated celluloid, optical printing processes and photo-chemical and mechanical treatments. Local film artist Kerry Laitala is a prime example, her work arising from a chaotic, almost alchemical process involving single-frame Bolex constructions which are layered, painted, scaled and radically re-worked through the use of an optical printer. Laitala’s recent films Terra Firma, Orbit and Transfixed were shown across various festival programs. Terra Firma (2005) incorporates an original decaying nitrate print of a 1905 San Francisco film, Trip Down Market Street (shot four days before the 1906 earthquake and fire), and reconceptualises it through direct filmmaking techniques such as hand contact printing and visual explorations of the technologies that punctuate both the history of the city and, more obscurely, the history of film. Orbit (2006) is another work that hinges on the collision of indeterminate technical processes (“mis-registered images made when a lab accidentally split the film from 16mm to Regular 8”) with beautifully captured source material (the pulsating and flickering lights of a spinning ‘gravitron’ funfair ride). Transfixed (2005), augmented by a typically lush David Shea soundtrack, enigmatically blurs between hazy liquid abstractions and a paganistic children’s costume parade, contriving a strangely frightening experience full of handmade effects and trick imagery.

zoe beloff

New York film artist Zoe Beloff is a special guest of MadCat 2006, gracing the festival with two programs of her beguiling and obsessional work. Beloff challenges cinematic and pre-cinematic history in a highly idiosyncratic manner, freely re-imagining the technological evolution of moving image media to create an unusual form of pseudo-documentary that is speculative both technically and conceptually. The child of two psychologists, Beloff deals not only with the beginnings of cinema, but the beginnings of psychoanalysis in her films. The two concerns are of course indelibly linked; the ‘phantom’ quality of projected images often struck early film audiences as deeply supernatural, a kind of materialisation or conjuring of objects both there and not there. Cinematic illusionism has always been a perfect form for the representation of unconscious desire.

Beloff heightens the sense of illusion and hallucination with her implementation of 3D techniques. Her work here draws primarily not from 1950s gimmick cinema but rather pre-cinematic spectacles such as phantasmagorias, modified magic lantern devices used to project frightening images such as skeletons, demons, and ghosts onto walls, smoke or semi-transparent screens. Beloff’s 3D is not the familiar red and green anaglyphic system, but a far more sophisticated technique based on the manipulation of polarised light from stereoscopic black and white images that converge and morph as they hit the silver screen.

In Charming Augustine (2005), Beloff speculates through the use of 3D “on what cinema may have been had it been invented a decade earlier.” A fictionalised depiction of Augustine, the iconic young ‘hysteric’ photographed and written about while captive in France’s Salpêtrière Asylum in the 1880s, the film explores the ‘performative’ aspect of hysterical behaviour—a pathology that is ‘acted’ out—and the way in which Augustine’s ‘symptoms’ captivated her doctors with their theatricality and photogenic qualities. We are invited to view Augustine as both mentally disturbed and as a kind of charismatic ‘star’ of the asylum.

Beloff’s Claire and Don in Slumberland (2002) uses real sound recordings of a 1949 psychoanalytic session of a male and female under hypnosis as the narrative basis for a densely constructed mixed-media collage piece utilising 16mm film projectors and coloured stereo slide projections. The manipulative voice of the invisible narrator-psychiatrist prompts and probes the hypnotised Claire and Don, depicted visually as real floating heads attached to ragged doll bodies, their subconscious roaming in a “free floating fever-dream of the Cold War era.” The dialogue is lucid, confessional and somewhat absurd; bodies and voices swap randomly; distant moans, groans and whimpers add to the sense of dislocation. Beloff also treats festival audiences to a selection of early films on psychiatric practices (some acquired fortuitously on eBay and of significant historical importance) and a classic early Betty Boop cartoon featuring a phantasmal creature called “mysterious mouse.” These films help contextualise Beloff’s work and demonstrate the breadth and imagination of her research.

vladimir’s vladmasters

One of MadCat’s most anticipated events is the performance by Vladimir, the Portland based artist who handcrafts her own unique Viewmaster reels, packaging and marketing them in small editions known as Vladmasters. Unless your childhood was cruelly bereft of stimulation you’ll remember the Viewmaster; images are inserted into circular cardboard frames and viewed as 3D projections by holding the plastic viewer up to the light. In 2004, Vladimir was crowned World Champion of Experimental Film by Portland Experimental Film Festival and although that title may be open to some conjecture, there’s little doubt that her work is beautifully formed and hugely enjoyable. Vlad travels with hundreds of Viewmasters and unique reels, enough for each audience member to experience the event in a kind of collective subjectivity. What unifies the experience is the fantastic use of sound, with narration, music and instructional bleeps and dings (for clicking to the next image or changing the reel) keeping the audience in sync and transforming a potentially isolationist technology into something gloriously communal. Indeed, the sound of the enthused crowd clicking their Viewmaster triggers in unison and panic as the pace rapidly increases functions both as a comic and a structural device emphasising the rhythmic playfulness and fluidity of the form. The images themselves construct charming narratives derived from sources including unexplained real-life phenomena, ancient Greek myths and surrealist dinner parties. Vladimir’s work is emblematic of the broad scope of MadCat, where many of the events challenge the way audiences participate and interpret cinema, something of an eternal pre-occupation for avant-garde film.

Over its first decade, MadCat has developed a reputation that stretches far beyond its locality and its program of over 80 films and performances mark it out as an event of international significance. However, as Ariella Ben-Dov accepts and then shares a massive 10th birthday cake with the festival audience, it’s clear that the long-term durability of the festival has its basis in the vitality, camaraderie and imagination of San Francisco’s flourishing film art community.

10th MadCat Women's International Film Festival, San Francisco September 12-27; www.madcatfilmfestival.org; www.othercinema.com/klaitala; www.zoebeloff.com; www.vladmaster.com

RealTime issue #76 Dec-Jan 2006 pg. 21

© Sally Golding & Joel Stern; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Anne Bean, Twelve Hundred Fathoms and Ashes

Anne Bean, Twelve Hundred Fathoms and Ashes

ON OCTOBER 29, 2004, ANNE BEAN DELIVERED A SHORT PERFORMANCE, CALLED YEARNINGS, TO A GROUP OF FIVE YOUNGER WOMEN ARTISTS IN LONDON. THE WOMEN HELD THE PERFORMANCE IN THEIR MEMORIES. THERE WAS NO DOCUMENTATION, THEY WROTE NO NOTES, AND THEY DID NOT DISCUSS IT.

On October 29 2005, one by one, each of the women, followed by Bean herself, re-created the performance—or what they could remember of it—to a small public audience, including myself, in the original venue. As the seasons have turned, I’ve continually found myself wondering how much of that performance might still remain with me. A year on, it’s 8pm on October 29 again, and time to sift through the residue.

Autumn came late that year, and the trees were more golden than ever I remember. Drizzly and dark, driving out that night. That big turquoise scarf draped round my neck, new and glorious on its first outing. Days before, I’d walked through the park in a red summer dress, but this was the evening the weather changed. Tonight the world is framed by warm woollen tassels.

The Yearnings performance had taken place as part of Reap, an expansive year-long collaborative investigation into the nature of time, memory and ephemerality, led by Anne Bean, in and around Southwark Park in South London. Throughout the complete cycle of that year, dozens of installations, actions, films and rituals charted patterns of growth and decay, accumulation and dispersal, absence and presence, memory and metamorphosis. Month after month, I had travelled across the city, to observe time’s transformations.

Months of cancelled trains, snarled traffic and lost ways. Tomorrow I’ll make the same journey yet miss Reap’s final firework: the clock that’s been counting backwards all year will explode without me. But tonight I glide through the city.

In the disused church at Dilston Grove, Twelve Hundred Fathoms and Ashes, Bean’s immense installation of slow-burning incense had hung from the ceiling in coiling red and yellow cones, interlaced with a web of thin blue threads. Smouldering continuously for a year, a glowing ember and a wisp of fragrant smoke counted off the days until nothing remained but curls of ash patterning the floor. Remember Me, a carpet of 5,000 apples, stayed stubbornly rosy for over half a year, until suddenly the fruit began to crumple. Briefly, the healthiest-looking apples revealed a hidden phrase, but then, as the rot took hold, the message slipped elusively back out of view. Meanwhile, that same line of poetry was being passed around the world for a year, being translated from language to language, stretched further and further from its origins until no trace of the source survived.

Repeatedly, Reap would reveal the unpredictability of time’s processes. Like recessive genes, long-abandoned words would mischievously reappear in the translation, the promise of meaning flickering in then fading out. One apple would scarcely wrinkle, while its identical neighbour collapsed in on itself in a frill of white mould. Count on change, and it throws back continuity. Expect consistency and encounter capricious shifts. In Yearnings, the materials offered up for testing were the human mind and body. Could a brief performance be successfully transported in a woman’s memory across 365 days?

They can close the tunnel under the Thames without warning, and you’ll never reach the other side. No second chance with live performance. So much uncertainty, always, chasing that moment. Catch the moment and hold it close.

In the traditions of oral poetry, or religious ritual, initiates learn through repetition. In Yearnings, however, the participants had just one opportunity to absorb the performance. Anne Bean was investigating not the capacity to memorise but the process of remembering.

I’m looking for a scout hut. What will a scout hut look like? So much anxiety, always, finding these scattered sites. Does the stress of site specificity heighten awareness and intensify experience? Stress, they say, can stretch time.

Alongside her award-winning solo career, collaboration has been a regular feature of Bean’s practice (one of her longstanding collaborative relationships has been with artists Richard Wilson and Paul Burwell, notably as the Bow Gamelan Ensemble).

Just as her work has responded to the everyday metamorphoses of natural phenomena—the weathering of stone, the melting of ice, the sudden shifts of shadows and sunlight—so Anne Bean has been drawn to the shapeshifting slipperiness of collaboration. Many of her solo actions have played with ways of affecting and distorting her own voice (filling her mouth with pearls, pouring honey down her throat, tampering with recordings). These vocal manipulations are analogous to the effect of collaboration on her artistic voice—allowing an idea to eddy in unexpected directions by diverting it through another person. Bean’s willingness to embrace the random interference of chance in all its forms is an extension of her belief that the artist can never be in full control of their work, since “time is an inescapable collaborator in all art and life.”

That teapot! The biggest teapot you’ve ever seen, with two spouts. Two streams of tea, to fill double the cups, in double-quick time. A plate of madeleines, to aid recollection of temps perdu; and the Reap wine for later, bottled exactly a year ago, for drinking tonight. Six streams of recollection: Miyako Narita, Lucy Baldwyn, Lucille Power, Holly Darton, Meg Mosley, and Anne Bean. One performance poured into six vessels, exactly a year ago, for sharing tonight.

The idea for Yearnings evolved partly through a brief mentoring relationship Anne Bean had earlier had with those five participating artists. At the time, Bean had been both reflecting on the role of the older artist, and revisiting her own early work. In 2002, she agreed to re-do a live performance from 1973 for the Whitechapel Gallery’s A Short History of Performance. Meanwhile she recreated a further 30 actions that she’d first made between the ages of 18 and 24 (1969-1974) and performed them to camera (1996-2005). These “reformations”, as she described them, she titled “shadow deeds” and showed in her zretrospective, Autobituary. But which was the shadow? The deed which existed a third of a century ago, fractured into a few black and white photographs, and the hazy testimonies of a handful of witnesses? Or the crisp colour footage of the freshly committed but copied act? Which was more authentic—a lifeless record of the original, or re-embodied experience?

Six faded photographs are propped along the wall. Quick snaps taken a year ago, the day the women met. Rain-splattered and sunburnt, they tell a deceptive story. Advanced in their disintegration: they seem relics of another age. Time has been tampering with the evidence.

The question of what remains is performance art’s most enduring dilemma. Is it possible to make work which transfixes its audience unequivocally in the here and now, but which still leaves something meaningful for posterity? Photographic documentation is no less subjective or untrustworthy than the recollections of witnesses. When the bulk of a video camera swoops down between the audience and the artist, it critically alters the tension/tense of the live event. This artist isn’t here with you, in the present; it says, she’s there with someone else in the future.

How many witnesses? Twenty-five perhaps, on the municipal stackable chairs—five placed in a circle, the rest clustered behind. Five of us beckoned to the circle. Between each re-rendering, we will shuffle and switch places, relinquishing the central vantage. Recollections from the circle so much more potent than when relegated to the rear.

Any performance will splinter into many independent co-existent realities. Like the biblical loaves and fishes, it can be sub-divided endlessly without diminution, and still serve all. Every audience member, every artist, every anecdote, every film frame, holds their own piece of that reality. Multiple and mutable, the truth expands, contracts and adapts, transformed by time and context.

Experience percolates through the cells of the body like water through limestone, changing and being changed. Memories, like apples, experience different rates of decay.

Six times the room descends into darkness as each woman takes her turn. In the gaps between, I sweep the floor clean of petals. Piecing together the past, some women have yearned for a colour, others a scent. Curls of pungent yellow chrysanthemum, or crushed red roses. In the dustpan I watch the remembered and the misremembered mingle.

Yearnings acted as a metaphor for memory, and the multi-directional communication of experience.

Beginning in darkness, a woman enters the circle, lights shining from her dress. Bare feet, long black dress, flowers from a basket strewn on the floor, trodden in until the scent releases. She turns to each witness, placing in their hands a wooden spindle wound with thread, and one of the lights from her dress. Lines of thread radiate from her. She turns, slowly, and the thread unspools, wrapping her in its web. Perhaps she speaks as she turns: her voice mixing with the gentle rattling of the unravelling spindles. Gathering pace as she spins now, the illuminated spindles are pulled violently out of grasp. For a few moments the lights hang free; are then extinguished; and darkness resumes.

With a look of intense concentration, like a child entrusted with a brimming glass of water, the first woman has allowed her memory to spill through her fingers. The performance is at its most condensed. She shrugs and flees. The next, enters, then immediately realises the flaw in her order of events—retreats, rethinks, restarts. Body memory has suddenly been re-activated, with its own overriding logic.

As version followed version, the pattern became clear. The performance’s metaphor, and the actions and symbols that carried it had survived. The words that were spoken had evaded recapture. A quirk diverted the pattern: Lucy Baldwyn, from the original quintet, was unavoidably abroad, and chose to write instead about her memories and send her friend to read them. Baldwyn was no nearer to reproducing the incantatory text Bean might have voiced, yet the delivery of her rich and poetic meditation redressed the balance of wordlessness in the evening overall. Together, the succession of reinterpretations formed a composite truth. The intensive inquiries of the intervening year had subtly redirected the focus of Anne Bean’s own thinking. A year on, even Bean was unable to sift for certain what might have been from what has been; the things she thought about saying from the things she decided not to say. Bean was not the gatekeeper to the memory. We all had a key.

Tomorrow we’ll return to the church for one last event. We’ll string together letters bent from glowsticks and spell out the phrase that had been hidden in the apples. ‘At the still point there the dance is.’ In glowing green letters suspended from helium balloons, a line from TS Eliot’s “Burnt Norton” bobs against the rafters of the church in darkness, before floating off across the dark city sky. “Anne,” I asked, surrounded by glowsticks and sellotape, “do you want me to make a full stop”, “Why not” she said. And the full stop drifted far away.

RealTime issue #76 Dec-Jan 2006 pg. 35

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

IT IS RARE TO COME ACROSS SOUND ART THAT HAS BEEN SPECIFICALLY CURATED FOR A GALLERY. MORE OFTEN THAN NOT THE PRESENTATION OF SOUND IS A PRAGMATIC EXERCISE USED TO OVERCOME THE LOGISTICS OF PERFORMANCE SETTINGS AS WELL AS TO POSITION SOUND WITHING THE REALM OF ART.

Unsurprisingly, most sound exhibitions, like sound performances, require the listener to engage with a specific work for a fixed time. This style of engagement is typified in the use of headphones, loops and other devices that confine the individual’s experience to a single work in the context of many. This practice of isolating works seems to stem from the presumption that the integrity or experience of sound relies on the preservation of certain conditions associated with the protocols of performance or pure, uninterrupted listening.

Unlike many other sound exhibitions, the works in Potent are played into the gallery space together, so that sound is not restricted to the perceived confines of individual creations, but exists as a whole. The result is not a barrage of noise but a considered interrogation of the relationship between sound, its accompanying visual and physical forms, and the way these elements contribute to the listener/viewer’s experience of sound in a gallery context.

In his exhibition catalogue essay, curator Ben Byrne elaborates that sound cannot be understood as “any kind of stable being”, but rather is “a continual becoming, a potential to be experienced.” The notion of sound as potential (from which the title derives) is central to this exhibition.

Each of the works in this show pays particular attention to the way visual and physical representations inform or direct the act of listening, and the extent to which they determine what is actually heard. Sumugan Sivanesan and Sam Smith’s collaborative work, Plywood Box 2006, plays with the notion of sound as the art object. The work consists of a large plywood box and a video—of the two artists ‘playing’ and exploring the box as an instrument—edited into short clips and projected onto the gallery wall. Here, being in physical contact with the box provides a very different experience of sound and space. Audience members are forced to orient themselves sonically in relation to the box which acts as both an ambiguous point of reference from which the sound emanates, and an artefact of the sound being heard.

Sam Bruce’s Partially Manifest Cube requires the listener/viewer to lean over and touch a vibrating box in order to hear it fully. In Bruce’s work, hearing relies upon seeing and touching, such that the sound itself and the act of listening are simultaneously produced by this complex, sensory interdependence. The top surface of the cube is inlaid with a screen displaying a writhing geometric landscape that threatens to burst open and out of the cube. Touching this work feels like placing one’s hand on the lid of a crucible of movement and sound, giving the idea of sound as potential, a palpable, physical reality.

This experience of sound being bodied forth by the art object is explored in Jasper Streit’s Resonator, where sheets of black cardboard are hung along the gallery wall like a series of modernist canvases. Deceptively, the cardboard sheets—attached to resonators—act as the speakers through which the sound is transmitted and, as such, invite the audience to experience the work more intimately. Resonator, like most works in this exhibition, creates a deliberate disconnect between what is received affectively and signified visually. This disjunction is most poignant in Ivan Lisyak’s You’ll be happier with lower standards. Lisyak presents what can only be described as an unrelenting, epileptic video strobe of blue and red spots that insists on the presence of sound whilst being completely devoid of it. His work, in anticipation of his audience’s frustration, is ingeniously all volume and no sound—a kind of absolute potential that never actualises.

By contrast, Ivar Lehtsalu’s Untitled, Two Channel Generative Digital Audio System, defines the possibilities of sound according to the parameters of technology itself. Here, sound moves through a generative figure eight, oscillating between two computers whilst being played from both at once.

By establishing a context in which works cannot be conceived as temporally, spatially or conceptually discrete entities, Potent makes us rethink the boundaries of the listener/viewer experience as well as the art object itself. In doing so, it breaks the mould traditionally reserved for gallery exhibitions of sound, drawing attention to the way the visual relates to the directed perception of sound, and how the continuity of sound relates to the discontinuity of visual forms.

Michelle Jamieson is an arts writer who has recently completed an honours thesis at the University of New South Wales on the ontology of data and subjectivity.

Potent, curator Ben Byrne, first draft, Sydney, Nov 1-18

RealTime issue #76 Dec-Jan 2006 pg. 49

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

The CarriageWorks, built in the 1880s in Sydney’s Redfern and now with radically redesigned interiors, is Performance Space’s magnificent new home. This new contemporary performing arts centre has two wonderful performing spaces (800 and 300 seats), one of them huge, with flexible seating and rigging and accoustically excellent, roomy high-ceilinged rehearsal studios, offices and a vast naturally lit balconied foyer ideal too for performance. In our hard hats with architect Tim Greer of Tonkin Zulaikha Greer, journalists and NSW Arts Minister Bob Debus, we heard the centre’s Director/CEO Sue Hunt describe Performance Space as “an anchor tenant”, “a key partner” and as “providing a backbone” for The CarriageWorks. Asked about the new home, Performance Space Director Fiona Winning is “very excited about the move, by the new environment for some of the things we’ve always done and the opportunity it offers us to do things we’ve never been able to do. Collaborating with artists, audiences and some new partners in the local area, we’ll be opening in March with a program that places radical experiment alongside meditative community events and politically charged physical performance next to place-based installation. We’re up for the challenge of the change and can’t wait to get in there.” Resident with Performance Space at The Carriage Works will be physical and outdoor theatre companies Stalker and Erth. The first outside hirer will be the Sydney Festival opening the centre in January 2007 with the Australian Dance Theatre, Akram Khan & Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui and Israel’s Bathsheva Dance Company, a fitting prelude to this long-awaited adventure.

RealTime issue #76 Dec-Jan 2006 pg. 1

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

Still Life

Still Life

THE SPRAWLING MARQUEE THAT IS THE VANCOUVER INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL (MORE THAN 300 TITLES ARE SPREAD OVER A GENEROUS 15 DAYS) IS SUPPORTED BY THREE MAIN PILLARS: CANADIAN FILMS, DOCUMENTARIES AND EAST ASIAN CINEMA.

These provided two program highlights in this year’s event, one the latest instalment from one of the young masters of contemporary global cinema, and the other a retrospective of one of the medium’s last pure innovators. While China’s Jia Zhangke and Canada’s Norman McLaren could hardly be further apart in aesthetic style, production techniques or thematic preoccupations, both maintain singularly bold visions that successfully resonate widely with discerning international audiences.

east asian cinema

Operating under the banner of Dragons and Tigers, Vancouver’s Asian focus has generated considerable interest for North American critics and local cinephiles. Programmer since its inception in 1992, Tony Rayns’ last ever selection for the festival consisted of the usual heady mix of commercial cinema, underground arthouse projects and cutting edge animation. This eclecticism reflects a healthy film culture that values a diversity of styles across all levels of production. Any program that includes Yiang Liang’s grungy guerilla piece Taking Father Home, Ann Hui’s crowd pleasing, star-studded Post Modern Life of My Aunt, and a stunning anthology of short independent anime from Japan and Korea will be regarded for its breadth rather than for identifying clearly discernable trends. More than just spotlighting the region to Western audiences however, the Dragons and Tigers program can make some claims to launching several notable filmmakers’ careers through its Jury Prize for Young Cinema, which has recognised incipient excellence often well before other festivals and critics. Previous winners include Jia Zhangke (in 1997 for Pickpocket), Wisit Sasanatieng (with the anarchic Tears of the Black Tiger, 2000), Takahashi Izumi (The Soup, One Morning 2004) and Liu Jiayin (Oxhide, 2005, RT67, p22). Jia Zhangke’s latest film, Still Life, appeared in this year’s program (though ineligible for the jury prize), fresh from its much debated winning of the Golden Lion at Venice as the surprise competition entry.

jia zhangke’s still life

Still Life (the actual title in translation is The Good People of the Three Gorges) centres on two parallel stories set in the literally crumbling Fengjie province, primarily in several townships being slowly demolished before flooding by the Three Gorges Dam. A morose, ineffectual middle-aged man is searching for his estranged daughter and ex-wife, while a woman from Shanghai has come looking for her husband, seeking a divorce. The protagonists wander amongst the detritus of the region with an air of quiet desperation, discovering the remnants of a discarded society while they hunt for family members. Villagers cling to their existence, living in houses clearly marked for razing; prostitutes ply their trade in roofless dwellings; and work parties of demolitionists perform life endangering tasks for paltry remuneration. Jia finely balances the mood between mournful and surreal as routine daily exchanges are rendered heroic against the backdrop of the doomed landscape of abandoned towns, meandering rivers and jagged cliff faces.

The opening seconds of Still Life reveal a much grainier High Definition look than Jia’s previous work, there is a more immediate rawness akin to documentary than the cleaner (albeit still digital), sweeping compositions that were the backbone of The World (2004). This is not to say the staging of Still Life is not meticulously crafted; it consists primarily of long takes either tracking over groups of workers or a static frame soaking in the collapsing townships. The length of the shots gives the film a lugubrious pacing that adds, rather than detracts, from its impact as the viewer is invited to explore every facet of the collapsing physical environment and the characters’ internal journeys within it. In an extremely bold manoeuvre, the narratives are framed by two ostentatious magic realist devices (which won’t be revealed here) that further underscore the surprisingly epic nature of the film, rather than jar disconcertingly. As sombre as Still Life can be, it concludes on a cautiously upbeat note, a bravura final shot that becomes a celebration of human capacity for survival, and the film avoids becoming merely an indictment on the bleak social conditions and the emotional malaise of its inhabitants.

Critics of Jia’s work complain that the landscape tends to overshadow his characters, dwarfing them both physically and emotionally, and as a result they seem distant and insignificant in scale; it’s difficult to get too involved in their desires and problems. It is true that again in this film the introspection and underplayed emotions of the characters are in contrast to the louder emotional drum beats on display in more popular cinema, and that their occasional passivity can slow the narrative momentum. However, the time and space given to the performances are refreshing and encourage further reflection and interpretation of action and motivation.

norman mclaren

On watching a wide ranging retrospective of Norman McLaren’s work, it is easy to be impressed with the Scots-Canadian experimental filmmaker’s body of work that combines accessibility with the truly avant-garde. It is a testament to his abilities that McLaren gained a slew of mainstream prizes, in arenas including the Academy Awards and the Cannes, Berlin and Venice Film Festivals when his films rarely contain anything approaching a narrative, and some consist entirely of a swirling, transforming colour palette shifting to a pulsating jazz soundtrack. His films, now well and truly canonised by the Canadians, hold up to scrutiny decades after their production.

McLaren worked primarily through a self-taught form of animation by painting directly on to film stock or manipulating it through scratches and other indentations. But over a lengthy career spanning through the 1940s to the 1970s, his technique became more varied and deviated from his trademark paint and ink (as in Begone Dull Care, 1949), to playful stop motion with ethical underpinnings (Neighbours, 1952 and A Chairy Tale, 1956) to experimental dance pieces (Pas de Deux, 1968). It is his paint and ink work that is perhaps his most striking, and innovative. His mission to “visualise jazz” is remarkably successful, capturing the free form sound through an ever-changing swirl of colour, bubbling textures and anthropomorphic lines: his sketches dance hypnotically. As digital tools are now the stock and trade of the animator, it is with some nostalgia we view McLaren’s engagement with negatives as a literal canvas, but also with amazement at the end result that possesses at least as much visual dynamism as a contemporary music video. McLaren was not afraid to experiment even further with the stock, scratching the soundtrack of the film to provide startling aural effects. He revels in slight imperfections as much as the clear cut successes, the occasional tangible rough edges often adding to a film’s charm.

McLaren’s visual style is infectious, assisted by a playful sensibility that can’t resist turning to humour. His stop motion pieces are marked by a Keatonesque physical comedy, and his jazz pieces are as naturally upbeat as their accompanying scores, the object being to delight rather than to preach through esoteric posturing, a welcome stance from an experimental filmmaker.

Entering the 1970s, McLaren’s musical interests turned to his own electronic compositions, with some synthetic beats that proved his pioneering skills were not limited to the visual. His animations changed proportionately; the rawer, colourful explosion of the jazz period animations were replaced by cleaner, symmetrical, uniform shapes that march rhythmically to the electronic soundscape, encapsulated in Synchromy (1971).

The National Film Board of Canada (NFB) was McLaren’s employer for 40 years, evidently giving him time and space to work on his own projects which he did a prolific rate. The NFB have released a seven-disc box set that comprehensively captures the range of McLaren’s work. His opus is invigorating, an inspiration to continue searching for and celebrating new methods of visual expression.

Whilst lacking the glamour and marketplace components of its eastern cousin in Toronto, the Vancouver Film Festival is focused on bringing quality art cinema to Canadian audiences, and to this end is highly successful. With the continuity of its programming staff and director (Alan Franey has led the festival for almost 20 years) a key factor in its achievements, VIFF acts as a good model for festivals large in scope but wish to keep their focus specialised.

Vancouver International Film Festival, Vancouver, Canada, Sept 28-Oct 13

RealTime issue #76 Dec-Jan 2006 pg. 22

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

Amber McMahon, Deborah Mailman

Amber McMahon, Deborah Mailman

Amber McMahon, Deborah Mailman

TO BEGIN AT THE END. IN THE SONG OF ORPHEUS, THE FINAL ACT OF THE BARRIE KOSKY-TOM WRIGHT THEATRICAL EPIC THE LOST ECHO, THE STAGE IS FILLED WITH BEDRAGGLED, EXHAUSTED FIGURES, MANY STRIPPED TO THEIR UNDERWEAR AND SEATED ON PLASTIC CHAIRS. TWO MEN IN BLUE BODY BAGS ARE NEAR DEAD, FROM TIME TO TIME TOPPLING TO THE FLOOR

We may well be in the underworld that Orpheus entered in search of his Eurydice and simultaneously immersed in the story of Narcissus (wrapped in photographs) and Echo (doomed forever to repeat the words she’s just heard), but mood and performance are predominantly embodied in a performance of Schubert’s Wintereisse song cycle. For the anonymous singers in this limbo of lost love there is no heavenly consolation for their sorrow, no gods to blame or to turn to, no sense-making cosmology. Schubert’s love madness is doomed to repetition and echo, lost in a romantic narcissism that will reverberate into the 20th century and the present as psychology. Nor is it now a young man’s angst, the lead being taken by an older man (Peter Carroll in superb voice and with bursts of mad energy) and then, in turn, the voices of all the key players, young, old, male and female.

The Act IV stage seems full of the ghosts (the many mythic roles these actors have played in The Lost Echo’s earlier acts) of ancient Graeco-Roman polytheism as told by Ovid. We have journeyed from creation, and its near undoing in the story of Phaeton taking on his father’s chariot of the sun, into a plethora of grimly funny and then dark, demanding tales. In Acts I and II gods, demi-gods and humans mingle and the line between humans, flora and fauna is easily traversed, as in many creation myths, in cruel or occasionally kindly metamorphoses enacted by the gods. In Act III, a version of Euripides’The Bacchae, an early rationalist and pragmatic stand is taken against women’s secret Bacchanalian rites with disastrous results for its politician instigator, Pentheus; but the seeds of doubt have been sown and a new order prophesied. And so, some six to seven stage hours after creation, we find ourselves in the eerie world of Act IV’s Wintereisse.

The grand arc of this journey, from polytheistic plenitude to its mere echo, is realised in a bravura display of story-telling techniques. Myth is the stuff of story-telling and Kosky and Wright structure The Lost Echo around ways of telling, often true to Ovid’s methods and spirit. For these tellings, the raked stage is essentially bare if frequently transformed by the deployment and choreographing of the Actors Company and a chorus of NIDA students, lighting, objects and huge concrete and glass rooms that come and go, hovering in the space. Most commonly tellers address the audience directly and action either emerges around them or absorbs them into it.

Act I is a wild, dense world populated with many figures, suited gods, strange boy-girl creatures with bloodied genitals and a mass of uniformed school children among whom is Callisto (Amber McMahon). The act begins with Teiresias (John Gaden), seer and once-upon-a-time a woman, as our narrator describing Phaeton’s near destruction of the world as he loses control of Jove’s horses who pull the sun across the skies, the disaster graphically evoking our own fears of environmental ruin. But engrossing plain telling soon expands into what Kosky describes in the program notes as “an erotic satyr-panto”, all movement, grimly funny farce and music—Coward, Cavalli (from his 17th century opera, Callisto), Kern and others springing out of tales as musical and theatrical forms meet seamlessly and magically metamorphose into 21st century hybridised theatre.
Paul Capsis (with fan), John Gaden, Dan Spielman, Deborah Mailman, Brandon Burke, Hayley McElhinney, Marta Dusseldorf, The Lost Echo

Paul Capsis (with fan), John Gaden, Dan Spielman, Deborah Mailman, Brandon Burke, Hayley McElhinney, Marta Dusseldorf, The Lost Echo

Paul Capsis (with fan), John Gaden, Dan Spielman, Deborah Mailman, Brandon Burke, Hayley McElhinney, Marta Dusseldorf, The Lost Echo

Kosky and Wright push Ovid’s transformations into our times, preoccupations and fetishes. When Jove disguises himself as Diana to seduce the young Callisto it’s as if exploiting a schoolgirl lesbian attraction—Jove transforms himself into an older schoolgirl, but she is played by Paul Capsis. Amber McMahon is superb as the eager, powerless, bewildered child trapped by manipulative adults including Pamela Rabe’s vengeful gothic cocktail queen Juno, all elegance a-totter, the actress executing a superb near fall when slipping on a puddle of semen. Callisto is punished for a sin not her own by being transformed into a bear, our sense of her sheer vulnerability heightened by her nakedness save for a cheap bear mask. Her final metamorphosis, a kind of redemption, is to become the Bear of the heavens, and the theatre fills with stars.

In Act II each telling of profound loss is very much the performance: the female speakers appear downstage, addressing us intimately but with action elsewhere producing a disturbing visual and thematic counterpoint, for example, an orgiastic mass of men in a glass-fronted room. Mostly we can’t hear them but, phalluses in hand, they will burst into song or dance. Hayley McElhinney as the suicidal Myrrha fatefully desires her father, Rabe as the nymph Salmacis rapaciously becomes one with Hermaphroditus, Marta Dusseldorf as proud Arachne weaves her portrait of the gods as brutal seducers and is turned into a spider by Minerva, spited goddess of weaving. In the final story, there’s a more layered telling. Procne (McMahon) tells of her sister (Deborah Mailman) Philomela’s plight, her tongue torn out by Procne’s husband after raping her. Philomela, by her side in an identical dress simultaneously signs the story, the lyrical dance of her hands increasingly desperate as we learn how the sisters kill Procne’s son and feed him to his father, and the gods benignly turn the sisters into birds. The stage now fills with birds of an altogether secular kind, the rest of the cast, male and female, as Las Vegas showgirls with high feather head dresses, glittering gowns and high heels in slow procession aptly singing Purcell’s “Remember me, but ah! forget my fate” from Dido and Aeneas. Our anthropomorphism is but an echo of ancient metamorphoses and kitsch becomes high poetry as Mailman’s silent scream visually pierces such aural beauty, Philomela’s pain undiminished.

In Act III Dan Spielman adroitly deploys curious speech rhythms and a quirky physicality to create an otherworldly Bacchus, drawing us into his tale which soon transforms into Euripides’The Bacchae staged in a toilet block and the only portion of The Lost Echo that approaches conventional theatricality. In a mix of argument, song and farce that climaxes in the bloody demise of the stiff, unyielding and suited Pentheus (Martin Blum), we encounter Tieresias (Gaden) and Cadmus (Peter Carroll) all frocked up. They could be off to the Mardi Gras, but it’s the secret Dionysian women’s’rites, taboo to men and extremely dangerous, with a deep cultural and spiritual appeal that appals the censorious Pentheus who would like women to simply sew, spin, work. Now the music is Bach, monotheistic, supremely orderly but equally complex, juxtaposed with Kosky’s settings of Ladino songs (Jewish-Spanish, echoes of kindred monotheisms).
<img src="http://www.realtime.org.au/wp-content/uploads/art/0/92_kg_lostecho_105.jpg" alt="Martin Blum, Peter Carroll, John Gaden
The Lost Echo
“>

Martin Blum, Peter Carroll, John Gaden
The Lost Echo

Act IV takes us back into story-tellings, but the Wintereisse songs (with “Blame it on the Boogie” as antidote and some astonishingly vigorous dancing from the whole cast) do most of the work, Kosky describing them as “two dozen heart breaking postcards from a journey into exile”, a reminder too of the poet Ovid exiled from his beloved Rome for slighting imperial Augustus. Amidst the songs and Echo (McElhinney) and Narcissus’(Eden Falk) distress, Paul Capsis enacts another secular metamorphosis, drolly delivering cooking instructions to a bothersome caller, banal interruptions to exquisite miseries.

All this, and more! The Lost Echo was a rare and treasurable theatrical experience, a work of intelligence and aesthetic boldness on a scale rarely encountered in our theatres. Kosky himself was a palpable presence, playing piano and conducting throughout, visible in his prompt pit. There was committed and convincing singing and dancing from the Actors’Company (notably Carroll, Spielman and Capsis, outside his usual territory) and the NIDA students, and great performances—among the many: Mailman as a totally convincing blokey Satirino and the eloquently silent Philomela; all the women story-tellers of Act II (including Colin Moody as Beryl); Spielman’s Bacchus, Peter Carroll’s singer in Act IV and Pamela Rabe’s Juno.

If Acts III and IV don’t quite have the power of I and II (which could be re-staged as a satisfying whole) they nonetheless formally transform the thematic and aesthetic world of the first two, where polytheism is a given, into something more recognisably our own and, so, complete a great theatrical journey. Of course, it’s all ours, ancient and modern, part of our European heritage, but too much of it has become echo.

We might ask, however, what is more agreeable—the indifference of one God, the cruel antics of many, or lonely interiority? That aside, The Lost Echo calls up myth via Ovid to amplify its echoes and resonances into something palpable and contemporary. At a time when the warriors of the culture wars and anti-sedition legislation shut down civil rights, tearing out the tongues of dissent and difference, we should ask, as playwright Timberlake Wertenbaker does in The Love of the Nightingale:

What is a myth? The oblique image of an unwanted truth, reverberating through time…

Sydney Theatre Company, The Lost Echo, director, musical director, designer Barrie Kosky, translator, dramaturg, writer Tom Wright, performers STC Actors Company, NIDA 2nd Year Drama Students, choreographer Lisa O’Dea, co-designer Ralph Myers, costumes Alice Babidge, lighting Damien Cooper, sound design Max Lyandvert; Sydney Theatre, Sept 9-30

RealTime issue #76 Dec-Jan 2006 pg. 36-

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

A Lake Without Water

A Lake Without Water

THE HEADLINING PROJECT IN ARTSPACE’S VIDEO, MOVING IMAGE, SOUND AND PERFORMANCE SEASON WAS A LAKE WITHOUT WATER BY ALEX KERSHAW WITH VIDEO ARTIST SCOTT OTTO ANDERSON AND SOUND DESIGNER GAIL PRIEST, A MESMERIsING MULTI-CHANNEL VIDEO INSTALLATION EXAMINING THE CONTENTIOUS NOTION OF LAND OWNERSHIP AND EXPLOITATION, SHOT ON LOCATION AT WEEREEWA, THE DRY LAKE GEORGE IN THE SOUTHERN TABLELANDS OF NSW.

On this site, Kershaw staged an ambitious, Brechtian-influenced exploration of the land and its maligned uses, involving local farmers, property surveyors, a musician and an auctioneer in performances, ambiguous actions and partially decipherable monologues. Comprising three large-scale projections, two smaller projections onto custom-built tables, and three more LCD screens, the installation envelopes the audience with a virtual sense of environment, occupancy and complicity.

In one dream-like steadycam sequence, the viewer/camera perspective appears to float between the banks of a dry riverbed, around labourers planting trees too close together on its sandy bed. Like an overzealous gesture towards reforestation, the trees are placed where even weeds couldn’t grow. An adjacent projection shows two men in Akubra running down a moss-covered, rocky hill scattering plan-sized paper at their feet. While the journey down is fast, the trudge back to the top is symbolically and physically gruelling. Cleaning up the mess is amplified by Priest’s soundtrack of crunching paper. On the far wall of the installation, two LCD screens display looped performances; in one an auctioneer calls a horse race into the empty valley, while in the other a red-uniformed bugler plays a tune into an empty water tank. While these recorded performances have an absurdist element, the parched nature of the landscape and the hollow resonance of the soundtracks also lend the installation an overriding sense of desolation.

Two projections of Weereewa from the air are cast down onto table-tops, panning across the landscape like frames from Google Earth. In these sequences, drought and salinity leave decorative, graphic marks in the landscape. From the air, farms look like geometric abstractions, punctuated here and there by the appearance of white-rimmed, black welts of salt that have risen to the surface of the earth. Conceived during a time of rising alarm about Australia’s ability to sustain its farming industry and adequate water supplies for its populace, A Lake Without Water is a timely meditation on propriety, planning, speculation and the mythopoeia of struggle in the Australian landscape.

In the entrance gallery, Canberra-based artist Elvis Richardson constructed a helix-shaped column of unwanted domestic videotapes with hand-written titles such as Rex Hunt’s Fishing 1995, Time Cops, Tarzan, Big Brother and an Australian Bicentennial Authority Community Presentation—a reminder of the technological advancement and uses of the medium.

Richardson’s work was part of Tomorrow, again, a selection of 20 video and documented performance works (recorded from a live performance night, October 27) curated by Scott Donovan. The project showcased the work of Australian and international multimedia practitioners in Artspace’s entrance, reading space and ante room. A large projection of Ronnie van Hout’s I’ve Stopped Trying (2003) in the main space featured various camera angles of the artist lying still on a sports oval wearing a blue tracksuit, sneakers and only just visibly breathing. The work set a tone of quiet antipathy that was echoed in Justene Williams’ Photo Me (2006), a video self-portrait of the artist-as-photo booth, regurgitating images from her mouth, and French-Algerian artist Hakeem B’s Just Do It (2002), a video of an angry young man speaking an un-subtitled dialect, followed dryly by a recipe for making couscous. In Carla Cescon’s Portrait: An Autobiographical Narrative (2006), a woman poses sweetly in front of a video camera using infra red light before being roughly slapped off her chair and labeled a “vampire”, a placard stuck into her vagina.

Tony Schwensen’s documented live performance, Trans-Scandinavian, shows the artist attempting to assemble an IKEA wardrobe wearing only his trademark saggy shorts while two women read the instructions in Swedish. Schwensen’s construction appears to halt at a point where the wardrobe exhibits some potential—it could be anything from a wooden chest to a coffin. Vicky Browne’s two gold and silver sculptures continue this critique of pointless consumption by repurposing obsolete personal stereo technology into glittering kinetic objects. One device scrapes the needle of a record player around a CD, while the other uses old Walkmans to spin a groove into an empty deck.

In the back room, West Australian artist Michelle Theunissen’s solo project, Elastic Boundaries, provided an emotional counterpoint to the coolly subversive undertone of Donovan’s curation. In this gently uplifting installation, two super 8 projections screen original footage of the artist’s daughter flying and back-flipping within its frames. Subtle differences can be discerned between the younger girl and her older self, while a third video projection on the floor captures the young woman in changing costumes, grounding her to a sense of social expectation. Theunissen brought to Artspace’s audiovisual season a focus on a personal experience of transformation.

A Lake Without Water, Alex Kershaw with Scott Otto Anderson, Gail Priest; Tomorrow, again curator Scott Donovan; Elastic Boundaries, Michelle Theunissen; Artspace, Sydney, Oct 27-Nov 18

RealTime issue #76 Dec-Jan 2006 pg. 55

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

Ballet de l'Opéra de Lyon, Superstars

Ballet de l’Opéra de Lyon, Superstars

Ballet de l’Opéra de Lyon, Superstars

LYON’S 2006 IMMERSIVE BIENNALE DE LA DANSE IS its TWELFTH. THEMED AROUND THE EXPERIENCE OF LIVING IN CITIES IT IS STAGED in an AMIABLE CITY IN LOVE WITH DANCE. WE WITNESSED ONE WEEK OF A THREE WEEK DANCE PROGRAM THAT EMBRACED THE WHOLE OF LYON, FROM THE CENTRE TO THE SUBURBS AND SURROUNDING REGIONAL TOWNS AND A COMPLEMENTARY PHOTOGRAPHIC EXHIBITION, DES CORPS DANS LA VILLE (THE BODY IN THE CITY), INVOLVing 32 GALLERIES, FROM IMPROMPTU SPACES TO THE MAGNIFICENT LYON MUSEUM OF CONTEMPORARY ART.

In turn the dance biennale was embraced by large audiences from the city to its the periphery, for example at Le Toboggan, an impressive arts centre where we saw Australia’s Force Majeure play to a receptive full house on the last of its three packed performances. The Sydney-based company, directed by Kate Champion, was the first Australian company to be invited to the Biennale.

The intensity of this festival of dance and its public involvement was more extensively revealed in the Défilé—a 3 hour pageant in which some 24 groups of citizens from the suburbs and surrounding towns displayed a range of dance styles on and around floats often incorporating musical performance involving DJ-ing, contemporary brass bands playing fine progressive compositions, and found object ensembles (favouring large plastic water bottles). Each group works with a choreographer and designer, is funded by the city and draws on additional resources according to its ambitions. The makeup of the groups ranges across age, ethnicity and ability and all made good use of the metres of material supplied by local manufacturer sponsors in a region famous for its textiles. Each group presented a commentary on the idea of the city—utopia, distopia, fantasia—employing diverse devices, forms and images—cycling, recycling, modern dance, hip hop, art history (the Bauhaus body as city) and the history of city clothing, from elegant medieval to 20th century Chaplin, to hip hop armies and sci-fi glitter and transparency. Public fancy dress inventiveness was also on rich display at Bal Bollywood, an evening of Bollywood dancing DJ-ed, performed and taught from the stages of a massive suburban nightclub.

Lyon’s Biennale de la Danse emerged in the early 80s from the vision of the director of the city’s Maison de la Danse, Guy Darmet. Darmet’s energy, charisma and the biennale itself are said to have convinced the citizens of Lyon once and for all that they are not the dour cultural inferiors of Paris but the Latins of France. This was in evidence as this easy-going city threw itself into Défilé and Bal Bollywood and packed theatres and studios for the wide-ranging dance experience programmed by Darmet and Assistant Programmer Sylvaine Van den Esch.

We arrived in Lyon when the festival had been underway for a week, and after our departure there were companies like Les Ballet C de la B we regretted having to miss. Even so we had a packed program, sometimes seeing several shows a day but even then finding by word-of-mouth that we’d missed something significant, for example architecture-trained Julie Desprairies’ (Compagnie desprairies) site-specific performances, Là commence le ciel. In Desprairies’ work people are incorporated into nature, buildings, freeways; bodies become part of their environment. The word was good also on Tokyo choreographer Kim Itoh’s take on a butoh classic, Kin-Jiki, and Nacho Duato’s Multiplicite: Formes de silence et de vide for his Madrid-based National Dance Company. There was a lot of excitement about the eight-strong local Pockemon Crew who’d been “taken from the portico of the Lyon Opera House to the Maison de la Danse.” The portico has become a permanent public venue for hip hoppers and break-dancers as audiences weave their way to performances in the house.

The Lyon Opera House is a 1756 building in the heart of the city strikingly renovated in 1993 by Jean Nouvel who also designed the Musee du Quai Branley in Paris. Here he added a new arched steel and glass upper level housing, amongst other facilities, rehearsal studios looking out over the city. Nouvel’s interiors have a rich, dark, immersive quality: black marble; escalators; metal walkways; an ominously bulging fibreglass sculpture like a black cloud; and the whole place suffused with soft orange light. Oddly, the same orange stares at you from a bulb in the back of the seat of the person in front of you in a theatre with a huge stage but an intimate auditorium with six levels of shallow balconies, the whole mostly in black and with a gun-metal sheen.

 

Ballet de l'Opéra de Lyon, Superstars

Ballet de l’Opéra de Lyon, Superstars

Ballet de l’Opéra de Lyon, Superstars

ballet de l’opéra de lyon: rachid ouramdane

We’d heard that Yourgos Loukos, Director of Dance at Ballet de l’opéra de Lyon, runs a strong program, consistently inviting, progressive choreographers work with his dancers. Loukos writes, “although a classical formation, (the company) is oriented towards contemporary dance; given the wide range of dance styles proposed, the artists acquire many different techniques”. In a typical year, guests include Trisha Brown, Mats Ek, De Keersmaeker, Russell Maliphant, Sasha Waltz.

But the choice of young French choreographer, Rachid Ouramdane, for the Opera’s contribution to the Biennale was seen as particularly bold. Ouramdane’s Superstars shared the bill with New Yorker Tere O’Connor’s Creation.

In Superstars, a massive white box fills the huge stage littered with six Macintosh computer screens of different sizes and two white loud speakers. Guitarist Alexandre Meyer, also dressed in white, mixes his own sound from the side of the stage and traverses it as he plays. The work is a series of solos in which the dancers from the Opera Ballet express aspects of their lives. The challenge for us was that most of the speech was French without surtitles. A subtle force slowly flows through the poised body of the first dancer, vertically and then horizontally. Suddenly she speaks, in French, then briefly in English about the challenge of growing up white in South Africa, her words punctuated by great chiming guitar chords. Rapid upper body movements parallel her account of living with an albino sister in a culture distinctly black and white; hearing the everyday sound of rifle shots; sensing the power of an otherwise disenfranchised black culture when you’re the only white family in the district; and attending a Whites Only school. And learning what fear is. The dancer conveys a strange kind of stability as she vibrates with remembered trepidation. This dynamic sculpting of the standing body seems the foundation for most of the solos that follow and it’s matched by the architectural feel of the design, of a space slowly transformed by bodies and soft waves of coloured light (Jean-Michel Hugo) emerging from unexpected points of the space. Instead of elaborate dance we witness states of being. Overall, Superstars didn’t appear to head in any particular direction, each piece seeming complete in itself even where overlapping.

These solos by members of the resident company were based on childhood recollections and ranged through a variety of images including sport and cross-dressing. One of the more striking was of an angular, statuesque dancer in red holding her body in difficult poses for long periods, then lying on the floor, arching her back high to an organ-like guitar composition, the light narrowing into a pool around her. The show stood magically still. Superstars was a provocative work; despite the language challenge, it remains strong in the memory.

Tere O’Connor’s Creation also started out with a strong architectural feel, a large mass of bodies forming a block beneath a suspended row of dense curtains, another block of the same proportion. Small variations in group patterning and individual moves evolved in the crowd in various permutations of placement and displacement against the mutating design. But, disappointingly, Creation dissipated into something more waftily generic replete with literal game-playing, robotic moments ending with some very formal dancing against uninteresting flown-in wallpaper panels.

 

force majeure

We travelled to Force Majeure’s Already Elsewhere in the free bus to the theatre provided by the festival. On our way to Le Toboggan (Centre Culturel Ville de Décines) the landscape changed from old inner city to high-rise to two-storey suburban buildings till we were on the rural outskirts of the city. Force Majeure were programmed as part of the Centre’s 06/07 Saison Eclectique. Le Toboggan was but one of the performing arts spaces we encountered on our visit to Lyon that program boldly. The venue was spatially ideal for the work. Audience members and reviewers we spoke to were responsive to the concept, the design, the stylish realisation of the work and the skill of the dancers. For us it was good to see the work for a second time and with a very different audience and to admire its most sustained sequences, like the dynamic but nonetheless lyrical race of performers across the rooftop in pursuit of Kirstie McCracken, teacup and saucer in hand. The decision to translate substantial amounts of the spoken text (delivered by Veronica Neave) into French paid off. Already Elsewhere perfectly fitted the biennale’s theme of the body in the city, bringing a distinctly strong element to it, the sense of the suburban and the fragility and everyday fears of urban life.

 

cie l’explose

Cie L'Explose, Frenesi

Cie L’Explose, Frenesi

Cie L’Explose, Frenesi

Cie L’Explose from Colombia, performed Frenesi, choreographed by Spanish born Tino Fernández. Although inspired by bull fighting, the corida, this doesn’t become literal until the very end when a male dancer finally dons the costume of the matador and even then it’s symbolic. The work begins abstractly in the ritualised dressing and undressing and preparing of male bodies for an unspecified event. Four women lift and turn four naked men on gurneys and dump them unceremoniously on the floor. The first to come to life is a man of short stature whom the women dress in leather belt and buckles while the other men gradually dance to the sound of flamenco clapping. The short man topples the others and is subsequently involved in a cleverly sustained duet of pursuit and entwinement with one woman and a frustrated attempt to engage with another who stamps a raw, vibrating flamenco. He collapses, defeated. The women oil the men, their limbs hanging limply from the gurneys like scenes from some Francis Bacon butchery. Finally one emerges, slips into matador pants and dances triumphantly over a naked woman rolling downstage to us, raw meat tied to her body. Despite or maybe because of its curious sexual politics, but moreso because of its dramaturgy, Frenesi is an intriguing experience, offering a version of men, or rather one man, raised from the abject to the triumphant, overcoming women (and men of short stature). The bull no longer represents the horns of the male’s ambiguous relationship with the forces of nature—there are other more urban and domestic forces to contend with. The choreography was idiosyncratic, the manipulation of bodies almost always interesting.

Seeing this performance primed us for our first foray into cuisine Lyonnaise—mysterious meats preceded by very good oysters and washed down with a genteel Cote du Rhône.

 

atelia de coreografia

A less engrossing dance experience was to be had from Rio de Janeiro’s Atelier de Coreografia in ExtraCorpo, choreographed by João Saldanha. In the intimate Le Rectangle, we sat stiffly around the edges of a white space to experience an extremely formal set of variations with accompanying abstract gestures. Initially bodies appeared almost statue-like with limited fluidity, small spins and falls until, gradually, an increasingly flexible geometry emerged. This was a work of high modernism inspired by the choreographer’s association with Oscar Niemeyer, the architect of Brazilia. In comparison with Frédéric Flamand’s Metapolis 2, seen later, the relationship between architecture and choreography seemed vague at best. Occasionally there was welcome additional detail from two of the younger female dancers whose textured, rippling movements suggested something more than stark abstraction. The accompanying recorded music was suggestive of a dense primordial soup as the work moved towards its more complex, agitated conclusion.

 

selenographica

A cluster of smaller shows included Kyoto’s Selenographica in What Follows the Act in which the choreographer Maho Smiji appears in a chamber work of domestic surrealism, performing with Shuichi Abiru and an accompanying musician on flute and recorders in the western manner. This awkwardly staged work was eerie and quaint by turns with some resonances with the Noh play and Japanese ghost stories.

 

noland

Death also figured thematically in Noland’s Paper Ship. The young company from Istanbul fused an elegy for a dying patriach with a celebration of an emerging romance framed by city life. Dancers Esra Yurtlut and Alper Marangoz and video artist Burak Kolcu have created a work of modest scale, indistinct choreography and loosely integrated video images of Istanbul. Although the storytelling was at times overly literal there were some strong moments when bodies became entangled or toppled into each other, the characters struggling simultaneously with loving and grieving.

 

ballet national de marseille

Ballet National de Marseille, Metapolis 2

Ballet National de Marseille, Metapolis 2

Ballet National de Marseille, Metapolis 2

Metapolis 2 is a fresh interpretation of an earlier work, Metapolis 1 by Frédéric Flamand, first performed in 2000. Flamand was formerly the director of Belgium’s Charleroi/Danse-Plan K but has taken over the Ballet National de Marseille.

For Metapolis, the internationally renowned Iraqui-British architect Zaha Hadid designed two mobile, asymmetrical bridges to be moved about by the dancers, to provide platforms but also spaces in which to insert performing bodies, as well as for the bridges to intersect, one riding over the over. The sheer scale of work is impressive: a large ballet company with seemingly unlimited means using architectural creations in conjunction with new screen technologies. The entire back wall forms a screen amplifying massively the movement of a foot straining against the slope of a bridge, or displaying the rush of filmed city streets against a running phalanx of onstage dancers matching the speed of vehicles. Images (some recorded, some live) are also projected onto the bodies of the dancers absorbing the city into their green-screen costumes. A male dancer lies on a green sheet on the floor, his movements projected onto the screen image of a traffic tunnel so that he appears to fly effortlessly through it. Dancers appear to fall into holes in the city.

Although Metapolis II reproduces much of what we know of the city experience—speed, congestion, mutability, vulnerability—and evokes its imprint on our lives as image and as states of being—alienation, romance, adventure—the sheer scope of the work, the number of scenes and devices threatens to make for a rather generalised response. What city? Any city. Likewise the ever graceful, fluent dancing within a framework that is often geometrically formal threatens sameness. Flamand has yet to invent a language as idiosyncratic and contemporary as Forsythe has for his ballet-trained dancers. However there are solos and duets and small moments of drama that break the mould, as do the sudden images that offer unexpected and privileged views of the city. A slice of city is projected on a dancer’s huge skirt while he is in turn projected, slowly turning 360 degrees, onto the big screen in a vertiginous dance of actual body, virtual body and camera eye.

In Metapolis II’s climactic scenes, black and white footage of street riots and demolition are screened, the dancers mounting Hadid’s bridges and watching—Flammand drawing, he says, on a Tiepolo painting of people looking into a world that frightens them. The work ends energetically and optimistically, maybe ironically, with energetic ensemble dancing against a fast trip through a huge digital city.

 

farruquito y familia

Our surprise festival experience was Farruquito y Familia. Although not usually enamoured of flamenco dance, we found ourselves swept along by this pared back Gypsy version of the form with its dressed down, raw power, precision, humour and informality. Juan Manuel Fernandez Montoya ‘Faurruquito’, still a young man, leads the family ensemble he inherited from the great Farruco (1935-1997), dances exquisitely, sharing the stage with brother and cousins and not least with his aunt and his mother, who arrives on stage late in the show with all the presence and power of the matriarch. Young local gypsies from the audience joined in the encore, a young girl in their number stamping in sneakers, dancing with complete confidence to riotous applause.

 

isabella’s room

Needcompany, Isabella's Room

Needcompany, Isabella’s Room

Needcompany, Isabella’s Room

Belgium’s Jan Lauwers sees himself as “a man without a city”, so it’s not surprising that Isabella’s Room appears not as rooted in the biennale’s city theme as other works, and starts out, at least in its storytelling, in a lighthouse, “an inbetween place; somewhere between land and sea”, where Isabella is born. Lauwers and Needcompany’s show is a very lateral take on 20th century history and the very long life of one woman, Isabella. Two cities do aptly figure, Paris where Isabella finds some respite from personal trauma among the cultural objects brought back from colonised Africa, and Hiroshima where a lover witnesses the appalling pain and devastation of the H-bombing.

Isabella’s Room is a marvel of the undoing, hybridising and remaking of theatre. In a press conference Lauwers, who appears in the production in a white suit, playing guitar and joining in the dialogue and the dancing (and what dancing, joyful and mad), confessed surprise at having created a musical. Not a bad thing, he thought, reflecting on the dark Needcompany works of the 90s and sensing a need for an antidote, albeit a critical one, to the current grimness of the world. So, Isabella’s Room is full of singing and dancing along with dialogue played directly and intimately to the audience amidst Lauwers’ collection of anthropological objects inherited from his recently deceased father. (In what curious ways is Lauwers himself Isabella?) The company’s self-choreographing dancers (Julien Faure, Ludde Hagberg, Tijen Lawton, Louise Peterhoff) spring into idiosyncratic action either on their own or draw in the whole company, or provide upstage counterpoint to downstage dialogue, offering some of the most distinctive and satisfying dance we witnessed in the biennale.
Compagnie desprairies, site-specific performance, Là commence le ciel

Compagnie desprairies, site-specific performance, Là commence le ciel

Compagnie desprairies, site-specific performance, Là commence le ciel

Lyon’s dance biennale was our first visit to a festival dedicated entirely to dance; such an event is a true rarity in Australia. It was an enlightening and enriching experience and it was wonderful that Australia’s Force Majeure could be part of it.

Biennale de la Danse 2006 Lyon, France, Sept 9-30

RealTime issue #76 Dec-Jan 2006 pg. 2-3

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

Babylove, Shu Lea Cheang

Babylove, Shu Lea Cheang

Babylove, Shu Lea Cheang

IN 1967, A MERRY BAND OF UTOPIAN POP ARCHITECTS KNOWN AS ARCHIGRAM DEVELOPED A REVOLUTIONARY CONCEPT IN URBAN PLANNING: AN ‘INSTANT CITY’ THAT COULD BE DEPLOYED BY BLIMP TO ANY LOCATION.

With great fanfare and hullabaloo, an unheroic suburb or off-season holiday camp would be transformed into a bustling cultural centre overnight. This concept was articulated in a series of drawings showing the changes that would be wrought on a normal English town following the arrival of the Instant City blimp. From a ‘sleeping town’ a bustling urban centre emerges: buildings spring up and the city is transformed. The instant city embodies the great hopes of modernity, the dream of mobility, of people and infrastructure in motion.

Instant City was included in the Edge Conditions exhibition at the San Jose Museum of Art as part of ZeroOne San Jose, an inaugural major festival, partnered with ISEA2006, of new media and “art on the edge” that landed in the capital of Silicon Valley for 7 days in August 2006. Festival director Steve Deitz cited the Archigram drawings as a point of inspiration for parts of the curatorial concept behind the festival. This was evident in the festival’s spirit as much as its theme: Zero One aimed to “transform San Jose into the North American epicenter for the intersection of art and digital culture.” Instead of helicopters and blimps, it did so through a program that encompassed exhibitions in nearly every local museum and gallery, events in every available venue, screenings, gigs, book launches, street performances and public space projects. In addition, it included ISEA2006, a major conference held in a hall worthy of Ridley Scott, where guest speakers were shown live on large video projections, a running commentary was displayed on large screens and the audience sat on rolling office chairs. And, okay, actually there was a blimp: a small artists’ dirigible called the Fête Mobile that perilously patrolled the breezy streets of San Jose throughout the festival, beaming LED displays and wireless networks as it went.
Tripwire, Tad Hirsch

Tripwire, Tad Hirsch

San Jose‘s downtown architecture is notable for being not very tall, but this isn’t because its aspirations aren’t grand. The area is in the flight path to the Norman Y Mineta San Jose International Airport, located just two miles from downtown. As a result, there is a permanent height limit for all buildings. San Jose is a city held in check by its airport: mobility and the city are in conflict. This uneasy relationship with the airport was played out in more than one project at the festival. For the project Tripwire, Tad Hirsch (MIT Media Lab, US) and a team of artistic collaborators installed sensors hidden inside coconuts that were hung in the trees throughout the city. When a low-flying aircraft exceeded a maximum audio level, the system would automatically telephone the airport’s complaint line. The pre-recorded complaints, which can be heard on the project website, appear to reinforce Californian stereotypes. One caller complains that he can’t hear the Steven Hawking book-on-tape on his iPod, and another is totally stoned. Still, Tripwire was an elegant intervention into a very local problem (http://web.media.mit.edu/~tad/htm/tripwire.html).

Another environmental monitoring project took aim at the more general problem of smog, for which the airport can share responsibility with San Jose’s freeway system. PigeonBlog, made by artist Beatriz da Costa (US) and her students Cina Hazegh and Kevin Ponto, employed a flock of carrier pigeons to transport environmental monitoring equipment. Pigeons are filthy animals, and the sheer bloody-mindedness of using them to keep the air clean suggests a kind of poetic justice. But as one conference-goer observed, the pigeons used in the project weren’t dirty at all; they were actually clean and well-mannered, an altogether unfamiliar proposition. Class politics aside, the pigeons of San Jose captured the attention of both local and international media. For once, pigeons had their moment in the spotlight.

Airports were on everyone’s minds at the festival, not just the pigeons’. The Federal Aviation Administration had just announced a ban on any liquids or gels on aircraft, and many conference-goers were subjected to long delays and invasive searches as they made their monsoon-inducing, carbon-belching way to San Jose. Acclair, a project by Luther Thie (Israel) and Eyal Fried (US), tapped into this anxiety with an uncanny sense of timing. The project was a satirical corporation that claimed to offer a service to air travellers: brain fingerprinting, which would collect information from a passenger’s mind before they boarded the aircraft. Some of the information would be used for security clearance, while the rest would be analysed for potential marketing opportunities. The project raised the question of how far a person might surrender their civil liberties to an authority figure, and suggested that the great dream of mobility might come at increasingly high personal costs in the future.

shu lea cheang

Archigram created The Instant City at a time when it was more fashionable to articulate visions of the future before the practicalities had been entirely considered. Many of the projects presented at ZeroOne dealt with the world on a much more logistical level than Archigram was ever able to do: monitoring statistics, intervening into problematic public policy, raising awareness of social and environmental issues. Dealing with the world on this level can be poetic; so much of human experience is encapsulated within small tasks. But in the world of 2006, it takes a remarkable artist to strive to articulate grand visions for the future that aren’t based on criticism and failure, but on potential kinetic energy. Shu Lea Cheang is such an artist. Her installation at San Jose City Hall consisted of a set of teacups, similar to the ride found in many amusement parks, each of which held a large plastic figure of a baby. Visitors to the installation were invited to sit in the teacups along with the baby, steering their way around the foyer space, perhaps colliding gently with other teacups. Each teacup played music that was scrambled and remixed by turning the steering wheel. As with many of Cheang’s works, there was a kind of sci-fi story behind the piece: the babies were clones, the love songs a database of emotional content, and the shared experience of the teacup ride a kind of romantic fantasy. In contrast with prevailing contemporary attitudes and mass media opinion, the piece evoked the possibility of love between human and clone, and elicited the underlying humanity of technology.

not the next new thing

New technologies and visions of the future are so closely linked, they are nearly inextricable. The discussion of the role of new technology in art was a central preoccupation of ZeroOne, as one might expect, and this conversation was articulated through a variety of curatorial stances throughout the festival. The exhibition Edge Conditions, hosted by the San Jose Museum of Art billed itself as being emphatically NOT about ‘the next new thing.’ The introductory text for the show suggested an ambivalent relationship with the field of new media art: “whether it is devices such as pencils and chisels, or ubiquitous aspects of modern life such as electricity, phones, computers and the Internet, technology is simply a set of tools that are more or less familiar at any given time.”

The exhibition offered no shortage of ideas about art in technological times, but these ideas were expressed through a wide variety of media. Ingo Günther’s Worldprocessor may be one of the best examples of this. Between 1988 and 2005, Günther (US) created 300 collage pieces using globes as his source material. Some of the globes are visualisations of data sets, such as television ownership and economic strength relative to land area. Others are more conceptual, such as an image of the earth with every land mass whited out, leaving only the ocean. Like many of the other artists in the Zero One programme, Günther investigates ideas of mobility and the environment, and uses data as raw material, but he does so while still working with physical objects.

Another geography-based project in the exhibition used light as its raw material. Light from Tomorrow by Thomson and Craighead (US) achieved a poetic simplicity despite being awfully complicated to produce. Two weeks before the exhibition opening, the artists travelled to the Kingdom of Tonga, located in a time zone a day ahead of San Jose. They installed a sensor on the island of Nuku’alofa, which transmitted light readings to the exhibition space in California. There, these measurements were translated back into light waves courtesy of a responsive, specially designed light box. A visitor to the exhibition could see the morning light growing in intensity, or the last rays of twilight slipping away—as translated through a sensor, a network, and a light-emitting panel.

In contrast with the thinking behind Edge Conditions, the importance of the tool within art was beautifully articulated in a presentation by Machiko Kusahara (Japan) given as part of the ISEA programme. Kusahara made a presentation based on a paper called “Device Art: A New Concept from Japan.”

It is obvious that the goal of a tea ceremony is not to just enjoy a cup of tea. The importance lies in the whole experience, including the process and the devices used, such as teaspoons and bowls. These tools are functional and made of appropriate materials, and yet there is something more to them than just usefulness. We know that refined tools can make one’s life easier. They also serve as a medium in communicating with others. In a tea ceremony, correctly chosen devices change the whole experience.
Tripwire, Tad Hirsch

Tripwire, Tad Hirsch

This could also be applied to art. It is problematic to separate devices from experiences if the experience is only possible through the use of devices consciously chosen for their purpose.

Kushahara addressed the question of why artists who make games and toys for mass markets could be considered artists, rather than simply product designers; she questioned the distinction between high and low art, an idea which was imported into Japan from the West, and she highlighted the importance of the tool in the creation of artistic experience.

The San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art presented NextNew2006: Art and Technology, an exhibition that likewise placed the digital tool in a central role. The organisers of the show asked five established artists from the region to choose an up-and-coming talent.

The resulting selection was surprisingly coherent, offering a variety of takes on the materiality of digital technology. The centrepiece was Everything Must Go (Grey Market), a floor-based installation by Stephanie Syjuco consisting of paper cut-outs featuring images of e-waste, used and obsolete electronic equipment: calculators, lap tops, mobile phones. Nate Boyce used Jitter and Max MSP to approximate the effects of 1970s video synthesisers, creating psychedelic, pop culture-infused noise videos. Joe McKay’s The Color Game invited two players at a time to use three sliders to match pulsing colour fields projected on the gallery wall. The game was a deconstruction of onscreen colour in the spirit of structural film, asking the viewer to evaluate and isolate the constituent elements that make up a colour display.

Interactive colour fields, telematic light displays, environmental monitoring, digital tools: the ZeroOne programme was wide ranging and diverse. The festival-going experience felt a bit like a walking tour of Alaska, a terrain too large to be properly explored on foot. It was clear, though, that the seeds of a successful biennial festival had been sown. The community was involved, city hall was volunteered as a venue; the programme had institutional and grassroots support, and an international profile. ZeroOne may not have landed from a blimp, but it did succeed in transforming the cultural landscape of San Jose. If ZeroOne didn’t succeed in articulating an optimistic view of technology and society in the future, it did, at least, give us a reason to look forward to August 2008.

ZeroOne San Jose: A Global Festival of Art on the Edge & the 13th International Symposium of Electronic Art (ISEA2006) August 7-13, www.01sj.org

RealTime issue #76 Dec-Jan 2006 pg. 23

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

Stace Callaghan, Between Heaven and Earth

Stace Callaghan, Between Heaven and Earth

Stace Callaghan, Between Heaven and Earth

STACE CALLAGHAN’S LATEST ONE WOMAN CELEBRATION SEES THE PERFORMER DRAW INSTRUCTIVELY ON HER RECENT ON AND OFF-STAGE LIVES. LAST SEEN ON STAGE IN ACTIVAT8’S THE KNOWING OF MARY POPPINS, IN A ROLE THAT SIMILARLY CAPITALISED ON CALLAGHAN’S UNIQUE PHYSICAL STAGE PRESENCE, BETWEEN HEAVEN AND EARTH TRACES HER FICTIONAL ATTENDANCE AT AN ENLIGHTENMENT TRAINING CENTRE: A “BOOTCAMP FOR YOUR SOUL.”

Hosted by Guru Frank, the first of eight characters to appear throughout the show, bootcamp is, Stace hopes, a place to meditate and reflect. It becomes, in fact, much more. Diagnosed as F.I.N.E. (Frustrated Insecure Neurotic Emotional), Stace is instructed to relinquish her “E.G.O” (Everybody’s Got One) and surrender to Frank’s advice because he’s the “G.U.R.U” (God, U Really Understand). Inoffensively accompanied by a church hall dance beat and armed with a dangerously elucidative talking stick, Frank comes across as a thinly veiled jab at the capitalisation of Enlightenment, but his direct address and ad-lib manner quickly set the tone for the performance to come.

Early audience involvement establishes what will become a familiar interactive convention for the evening. This is a show that is meant to move its audience, first literally, but ultimately, spiritually, and Guru Frank’s ritualistic interrogation of the L.A.T.E. (Lazy Ass Time Eaters) comers begins the process with audience members continually being drawn on stage throughout.

Stace’s journey for enlightenment begins on a wooden pallet that defines her meditation cell. After settling in to her task she is visited by religious figures St Hildegard von Bingen and then by St Teresa of Avila. Both women experience intense, physically altering encounters with their God and encourage Stace to continue in her search, mindful that one must be prepared to feel as well as listen. Marie Byles, the first female lawyer in Australia and Muriel Cadogan, the first woman to promote physical fitness in Australia, subsequently visit and each inspires Stace to persist through physical injury in the process of caring for her body. The intersection of the body with the spirit is an ever present theme of the show as Callaghan highlights the profundity of embracing an embodied spirituality.

Alison Ross’ peopled, yet practical, set design provided a utilitarian platform for Callaghan to communicate plainly and acutely with her audience. Under the cohesive direction of Leah Mercer, Callaghan’s unique performative and healing abilities have coalesced into a show that has come quite a way since its creative development.

Ultimately, Callaghan’s audience are encouraged to use the performance as the beginning of their own journey of healing. Stace manages to overcome the charlatanism of Guru Frank and does make some sense of her place in the Universe. This is an honest and charming performance that, while never quite following through on its barbs at organised religion, does present a compelling case for the continuing celebration of spiritual diversity.

Between Heaven and Earth, devisor, performer Stace Callaghan, director Leah Mercer, designer Alison Ross, lighting designer Clytie Smith, composer Robert D Clark, dramaturg: Shane Rowlands, Visy Theatre, Brisbane Powerhouse, Oct 10-14

RealTime issue #76 Dec-Jan 2006 pg. 38

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

Matt Warren, Provocation

Matt Warren, Provocation

Matt Warren, Provocation

TO USE TEXT WITHING AN ARTWORK (HOWEVER RANDOMLY) CAN IMBUE THE VISUAL WITH INEXTRICABLE EMOTIVE POWER.

Using the universal significance of text as a thematic springboard, curator Colin Langridge brought together seven Tasmanian artists who incorporate text in their art in Quote, an exhibition encompassing sculpture, video, installation and works on paper. Spread over the ample space of Salamanca’s Long Gallery, Quote presented a number of new works by some of the state’s most accomplished artists.

One of the highlights was James Newitt’s dual video projection Arberg Bay (2004 & 2006). Suspended in the middle of the gallery each video documented a road trip taken with and without friends to a remote coastline on Tasmania’s rugged west coast. Subtitled conversations and images of sweeping landscape created a surprisingly moving visual poetry that evoked the bittersweet experience of growing up. An artist reluctant to pin down his practice to one medium, Newitt has branched out from his formal training as a graphic designer to consistently experiment with video. While there is still some technical improvement to be made, Newitt is one of the more promising emerging new media artists currently working in Tasmania.

Inspired by Brian Eno’s Oblique Strategies, Matt Warren produced Provocation, a text and performance based work visually recording the execution of four tasks. Following instructions written on a small white card, individual performers were asked to do things like “At twilight, stare at smoke billowing from EZ Zinc works factory chimney whilst listening to Sigur Ros’ Hoppipolka.” Sitting onscreen with their backs turned to the viewer, each performer revealed their thoughts via a sound loop accessed through a pair of headphones. Voyeuristically meditative in style, experiencing Provocation was not unlike eavesdropping.

Surveillance cameras, spyglasses and monitors were used to explore aspects of remembrance in Tricky Walsh’s complex installation, The Memory Bank. Looming in the centre was a fence-like box fashioned from strips of perspex. As the eerie light from a nearby projector fanned across the surface, hand written words etched onto the exterior became momentarily visible. Hanging from the ceiling were tiny cameras beaming an image of the viewer across selected areas of the work. Every subtle movement shifted the direction of the light and revealed more or less content. Dissecting the fragments of memory left behind by the progression of time, Walsh’s work meticulously exposed the theatrics of intimate thought.

Sally Rees provided a simple yet effective sound work based on the disruptive tide of spam emails and relentless advertising techniques. In the act of reciting random scraps of information about Rolex watches, sex toys and stock portfolios, Rees created a form of disjointed lyricism that blended seamlessly with a background soundtrack of ambient chatter in Incoming (2006).

Working specifically with the construction and placement of words and information were Brigita Ozolins and Justy Phillips. Ozolins’ outdoor installation Still As (2006) used the historical account of an escaped convict to interpret the cold stone yard of Kelly’s Garden while Phillips’ Because of everything else I want it to be was a collection of mix and match cards featuring portions of overly sentimental prose. Banally determining the meaning of certain words through minimalistic fonts and flat colours, the sharp slickness of Phillips’ work generated a difficult distance between viewer and work.

Bill Hart’s kaleidoscopic Memetic Variations incorporates quotations from Noam Chomsky and Roy Harris using a software program to translate the text into 24 languages before reverting to English. Visually reminiscent of a matrix code, Memetic Variations investigated the cryptic nature of language and our inherent struggle with effective communication.

While suggestive of the depth and importance of text as a communicative tool and of impressive quality, the selection of works only brushed the surface of the aesthetic possibilities available for manipulating text into a visual medium. Focusing mostly on conversation, theory and prose, bypassing new developments in technology and language like blogging, SMS and graffiti, the experience of Quote was at times like being in a library when all you want to do is check your Blackberry.

Quote, curator Colin Langridge Long Gallery, Salamanca Arts Centre, Hobart, Aug 13-Sept 10

RealTime issue #76 Dec-Jan 2006 pg. 53

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

Sébastien Camboulive, Extrait de la limite pluie-neige, 2005

Sébastien Camboulive, Extrait de la limite pluie-neige, 2005

IN 2006 LYON’S BIENNALE DE LA DANSE PARTNERED LYON SEPTEMBRE DE LA PHOTOGRAPHIE, AN EXHIBITION SPREAD THROUGH 32 GALLERIES AND OTHER VENUES ACROSS CITY AND SUBURBS. WE MANAGED TO EXPERIENCE ABOUT A QUARTER OF IT, ENGROSSED WITH PHOTOGRAPHERS EXPLOITING THE PAINTERLY POTENTIALS OF THE DIGITAL, CAPTURING EVERYDAY HUMAN MOVEMENT IN UNEXPECTED, SOMETIMES DANCERLY MOVES IN PUBLIC SPACES AND RECORDING THE GROWING CROSS-CULTURAL COMPLEXITY OF CITY LIFE.

At the Maison de la Danse, Didier Grappe seems to shoot from the waist so that the weight of the image leans toward the legs and feet of his Hamburg street subjects as they set off in different directions, or form lines, advancing on the photographer with a bounce in their step. Sébastien Camboulive’s images capture pedestrians mid-movement, clustered at the centre or the edge of intersections and all moving in different directions. One or two of them have stopped as the others dance on. Camboulive’s large format series offers a strong aesthetic take on the social kinetics of crossing the street. His recurrent choice of the same kinds of moment and space suggests a loose visual choreography, the thin line between artifice and the everyday.
Laure Bertin, Sans titre, 2004-2005

Laure Bertin, Sans titre, 2004-2005

Laure Bertin’s small images recall, without being imitative, the paintings of Edward Hopper. They have the same sense of bodies caught in moments of stillness amidst distinctive colours and in unremarkable contemporary city settings—a girl at a table against a blue wall that perhaps suits her mood; a man framed in a doorway; a girl standing in front of a shop window in which we see the street, a tree, power poles and the girl herself reflected, framed by yellow columns and red walls.

In the same show, Aurélie Haberey offers a mysterious series called Les Secrets in which people disappear or crawl into foliage with hints of evasion or illicit behaviour, but mostly of merging. Pauline Rühl-Saur’s ghost figures are captured moving while seated on highly coloured furniture in public spaces—shades of the works of Australian photo media artists, Darren Siwes and Merilyn Fairskye.
Mona Breede, Distance 1, 2005

Mona Breede, Distance 1, 2005

Painterly digital realism reaches its apotheosis in the work of Mona Breede, L’Arriere-Plan de L’Existence, at the Lyon Goethe Institut. She too does street scenes but they have an epic, wide screen quality portraying contemporary street life, a multicultural populace, the overpowering presence of advertising and the geometries of public and architectural space.

In Distance 1, two businessmen are caught in mid-step, behind them a man in a shirt, head down moves in the opposite direction. The red street sign between them translates as “The most important distance in the world is the distance between people. Law Department.” People appear etched, like animated still lives moving on a background of solid colour and sharply defined shadow. Can any reality be this sharp? In Distance 2, on the same street, the subjects are Asian. The works have the peculiar power of photography and painting hybridised—and not kin to photorealism.

Breede’s New York series of people walking against a low, less than familiar New York skyline are very narrow, long photographs with an even more painterly intensity. The work runs around 3 walls in long strips. These also have a slightly Hopperish feel, hard edged but soft, with a luminosity that might almost be regarded as nostalgic if its subjects are utterly contemporary. A similar approach is applied to a rich ethnic mix of pedestrians captured in a German street against a graffitied wall and a blue sky, with an even more pronounced flattening of distance.

Efrat Shvily’s black and white photographs at Espace Arts Plastiques de Venissieux are of almost completed Israeli settlements set up on Palestinian land during the first Intifada and awaiting their new inhabitants. They evoke a terrible feeling of artificiality and imposition accentuated by their monochromatic suggestion of other just as problematic times. The new settlements already look like ghost towns.

Centre Sociale Bonnefoi is a community centre in an area of Lyon where descendants of Algerian immigrants live. We met the photographer Ghislaine Hamid whose work was on display, large transparencies attached to the internal windows of the building so that they could be seen or not, as people wished. Image-making in Islamic culture was at issue here. Hamid had decided to document the all male Algerian gathering place in a nearby public space—a large circular road with open meeting space in the middle and shops and offices around the edge. She said she took the photographs so that local women could see what the men got up to in a mix of long shots, portaits and clusters of movement, like the one we’ve reproduced here outside a wedding dress shop.
Ghislaine Hamid, Les hommes debout, 2006

Ghislaine Hamid, Les hommes debout, 2006

The project took Hamid a year. Because she was a woman with a camera she had to gain the trust of the men; she had to understand that this public place was a community space and how it worked—the young men gathering in the centre, others further out. The women told Hamid that they liked the photos for the unthreatening ease revealed in their male friends and relatives, but commented, “We don’t have time to sit around like the men.”

Our final stop is at the magnificent Musée d’Art Contemporain, part of a Renzo Piano creation using his favourite terracotta tile that houses a cinema, shops, restaurants and a conference centre as well as the infinitely flexible gallery—every wall can move.
Sébastien Camboulive, Extrait de la limite pluie-neige, 2005

Sébastien Camboulive, Extrait de la limite pluie-neige, 2005

By way of monumental Robert Morris installations and through a wonderful exhibition by young Japanese artists—Aya Takano, Cho Ao Shima, Aosha—working exquisitely out of manga, anime and the Japanese print tradition, we are guided to the works of too many photographers to absorb before we fly out of Lyon. We witness an incredible range of responses to people in the built environment from vivid scenes of a street bazaar in India to Florian Ebner’s enigmatic studies of young European men caught in casual movement, and David Moziconacci’s Asian workers in New York at work and asleep on factory floors, to Valerie Jouve’s immaculately detailed but nonetheless spontaneous images of people she’s approached in the street. Occasionally we sight surreal images, but there is a larger sense that the everyday is strange enough or, as in Breede and others, that the everyday can be heightened just enough to bring home its otherness. Elsewhere (Geraldine Lay and Christian Buffa) it’s to be found in works that drop background into near black making their subjects luminous, or disappear depth of field.

We relucantly drag ourselves away from a captivating exhibition to enter our own little still lives in the demanding if sometimes dance of airport queuing and airline travel.

Our thanks to artist and curator Nicolas Garait for guiding us through aspects of Lyon Septembre de la Photographie.

Lyon Septembre de la Photographie, la region humaine, des corps dans la ville, Sept 15-Nov 4, www.lebleuduciel.net

RealTime issue #76 Dec-Jan 2006 pg. 6

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

Lian Loke, Kirsten Sadler, prototyping Bystander

Lian Loke, Kirsten Sadler, prototyping Bystander

Lian Loke, Kirsten Sadler, prototyping Bystander

ARTISTS HAVE ALWAYS SOUGHT WAYS OF SEEING THE THINGS THEY ARE MAKING THROUGH OTHER EYES. GETTING MORE THAN ONE PERSPECTIVE ON A WORK IS OFTEN AN ESSENTIAL PART OF THE CREATIVE PROCESS. IN THE WORLD OF COMPUTER-BASED INTERACTIVE ART THIS NEED IS INCREASINGLY FOCUSED ON A VERY PARTICULAR KIND OF ARTEFACT: THE PROTOTYPE.

This article is based on interviews with artists and curators involved in prototyping interactive art and a reflection on my own work with Beta_space: a dedicated public prototyping environment.

All artforms have their particular ways of being unfinished: rough cuts, maquettes and works-in-progress. These act as proof of concept and invite feedback. The prototype has been imported into interactive art from its origins in engineering via the interdisciplinary field of interaction design. It refers to an original, functioning model which might be hi or lo-fi, and which might represent component aspects of an art-work or a full mocked-up version. The growing use of prototyping in the field of interactive art reflects the need for artists to learn from design methodologies that deal specifically with the problems of human interaction with complex computer systems.

Lian Loke and Toni Robertson are experts in the fields of software engineering and interaction design. They are also artists with practices in performance art and print-making respectively. In 2004-5 they worked with Ross Gibson and Kate Richards on the design of the interactive art-system Bystander, which included several prototyping sessions involving members of the project team and invited participants.

Toni describes prototyping as part of an iterative process of “bringing into being”, through visualisation:

Prototyping is a way of being able to see and reflect on some aspect of an unmade work as part of its making. It’s a way of seeing things that do not yet exist in order to get them to exist.

Toni points out that many artistic processes are iterative in this way and use “interim representations” to reach their final product. In interactive art, however, these representations are the only way that makers can work with the amorphous and uncontrollable aspect of human use. To create a system that effectively responds to this unpredictable material frequent tests are required to challenge the creators’ assumptions about what people might do, as Lian describes:

In interactive works like Bystander, artists are…experimenting with the way people make meaning and with trying not to direct that…Because of the scale of Bystander there were lots of mockups and evolving prototypes along the way…lots of assumptions got challenged—like how people would behave in the space and react to the material.

The level of involvement of the public in prototyping however is controversial. Kate Richards has a long history of using prototyping as a producer of multimedia projects and in her own creative practice. She prototyped her most recent work, Wayfarer (with Martyn Coutts), to an invited group of colleagues during a Performance Space residency in September. She warns that while prototyping is essential it requires careful use:

What’s important is for artists to ask “what are the appropriate tools [from interaction design] and when to use them?” It can be a problem for artists to be too audience focused. Interactive art has to function, so you’d be crazy not to use these tools…but the tools can’t drive the work. The artist has a vision and they have to create the thing and it’s not going to work for everyone.

How can we use prototyping to open up the creative process and include the audience whilst understanding and avoiding the risks? This question is being addressed in the Beta_space initiative—a partnership between the Powerhouse Museum and the Creativity and Cognition Studios at the University of Technology, Sydney. Beta_space is an experimental exhibition venue in the Powerhouse where artists can develop interactive artworks through feedback and collaboration with an audience.

Involving people in public exhibition settings in the process of prototyping can provide valuable benefits. In terms of technical refinement the demands of public exhibition and public use cannot be recreated in controlled environments. For artists the responses of a diverse audience to a prototype can be incredibly rich and revealing. On the other, hand opening up the creative process takes a lot of courage. It is hard psychologically to leave something ‘unfinished’, open to judgment before it is ready to stand alone. Matthew Connell, Curator of Computing and Mathematics at the Powerhouse, and a driving force behind Beta_space, points out that this can also be uncomfortable for the audience. Showing work-in-progress demystifies the normally closed practice of making and challenges the audience’s notions of how to respond to artworks in a museum as complete expressions of an artist’s intentions.

The first part of the solution to these problems is the way the prototype is presented to the audience. A prototype should not be presented as an ‘unfinished thing’, but as part of an ongoing process of dialogue between artist and audience. The prototype is a way of stimulating and grounding imagination. It offers a tangible, shared experience which can be the basis of discussion. It is important to manage and support dialogue between audience and artist by framing the prototype this way and providing structured opportunities for audiences to contribute to the discussion.

The second part of the solution is in supporting the artists. George Khut experimented with prototyping his work Cardiomorphologies during a Performance Space Residency and at Beta_space. (For a vivid description of the finished work, see Tim Atack’s “Cyborg Dancing”, RT72) Khut describes the experience as “a luxury”, to have the opportunity to “take myself out of my own given point of view and see the work differently.” But for him the question was: “How do you derive meaning from this cacophony of voices?” At Beta_space we concentrate on helping artists to meet the audience half-way by articulating the function of the prototype as a part of a trajectory of developing practice. We work with artists to help them clearly express the experiential objectives they are working towards and their aims for the prototype exhibition.

In the case of Cardiomorphologies, there were two key aspects to the audience experience that Khut was trying to create: firstly a sense of integrated physical and mental engagement with the work and secondly a reflective state in which participants consider correlations between thoughts and specific physiological states. For the prototyping process we established a set of affective aims at the outset which articulated these experiential goals as clearly as possible, such as “sensual and kinaesthetic”, “close fitting”, “explorative/curious” and “enabling.”

During the prototyping sessions, audiences described responses that showed how aspects of the visual and sonic design were generating the visceral experiences Khut was interested in. One of the participants said, “At this point…I’m all engaged by the circles…I think they’re amazing and I was trying to experiment with my own breathing to see how much of the shape I can sustain …I’m trying to create something with my breathing here. It’s a very joyful experience.” On the other hand, collaborative work with audiences in workshop environments showed that some of the more reflective aspects Khut was working towards were not materialising in the work. Unexpectedly we found that the format of the prototyping sessions, in which audiences described their experiences in great detail, either alone or in groups, actually contributed in itself to achieving this “reflective state.” This led to a reassessment of the experiential goals for the work, and also of the means to achieve them.

Seen this way prototyping can be approached as more than just a design tool, but as a form of creative practice. Khut reflects on the impact the process has had on his work:

I am considering how these [processes] might constitute a form of relational or dialogical practice in their own right, developing the idea of the gallery as a place where people can explore and extend their abilities to imagine and relate aspects of their experience and being in interesting ways.

The implications of this approach to public prototyping also reach to the heart of curatorial practice. Prototypes are situated somewhere in the provocative middle-ground between objects and experiences. As museums and galleries make the transition from an object-based to an experienced-based culture, public prototyping can itself be considered as a prototype for a new way of conceptualising their role as cultural institutions. For Matthew Connell Beta_space is itself a test-case, a forerunner of what he describes as “a vision of a new kind of museum space that is all about process, experiment and collaboration.”

Thanks to Matthew Connell, George Khut, Lian Loke, Kate Richards and Toni Robertson for their contributions to this article. If you are interested in showing a prototype in Beta_space please visit www.betaspace.net.au

RealTime issue #76 Dec-Jan 2006 pg. 24

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

Tony Osborne, Ten Wonderful Years

Tony Osborne, Ten Wonderful Years

Tony Osborne, Ten Wonderful Years

TWO VERY DIFFERENT SHOWS ABOUT TWO VERY DIFFERENT AUSTRALIAN ICONS. BOTH CHALLENGING EXPECTATIONS AND IMMENSELY ENTERTAINING. THE ‘HEROES’ ARE NED KELLY AND PRIME MINISTER JOHN HOWARD.

In both instances I thought I knew what the performances would involve—the dramatisation of the well known aspects of Kelly’s life and a partisan sideswipe at the ‘achievements’, platitudes and hypocrisies of John Howard after 10 years in power. I should have known better: press releases alerted me to some promising aspects of both productions: Terrapin Puppet Theatre had negotiated the use of Sidney Nolan’s Kelly series with the National Gallery of Australia and Ryk Goddard, artistic director of is theatre, had just returned from a Churchill Fellowship working abroad with major figures in improvisation.

Whatever side of the political fence you sat on, you could enjoy the ‘theatre restaurant cabaret’ of is theatre’s Ten Wonderful Years (with a beer and a very good curry thrown in). The show comprised non-stop skits, the compere Tony Osborne tying it all together, sometimes with just a bit too much ‘are-we-having-fun’ enthusiasm. There was sexual innuendo, a deliberately silly and transparent magic act involving a woman in a bunny suit, a thought-provoking if a little laboured (pardon the pun) sketch about working for Labor and voting for Howard, and the astute Howard litany—‘alert but not alarmed’, ‘comfortable and relaxed.’ The show also featured the astounding Rotating Rhonda-Felicity Horsley twirling 10 symbolic hoops, keeping everything moving using some extraordinary arm moves while partially disrobing—nothing sexist, though! There had been a major competition prior to the show’s season to find a theme song for it—won and performed by the extraordinarily talented 17-year old singer-songwriter Alex Duncan with a fine voice and subtly ironic lyrics.

Terrapin’s The Legend of Ned Kelly was, of necessity, more cohesive, and no less interesting. Performers Gai Anderson, Clinton Barker, Laura Purcell and Sam Routledge sing and mime their way through the less familiar earlier stages of Ned Kelly’s life. Large scale puppets in the Nolan style, are used to great effect: Kelly’s mother complete with numerous babies seamlessly ‘born’ from beneath her skirts; two-dimensional near life-size figures in serried rows on moving frames, whirling across the stage as a posse of police officers. Against black tabs, seven large mobile panels fill the stage in various configurations in the unfolding of the story and provide screens for the digital projections (by Cazerine Barry) which extend the narrative. Poetry and text by Finegan Kruckemeyer and music by IHOS’ Constantine Koukias hit the right historical note and mood in an hour crammed with action and detail. Director Annie Forbes, cast and crew are to be congratulated on creating a strong, moving entertainment, suitable for youthful and older audiences alike.

In 2007, The Legend of Ned Kelly is touring to the Come Out Festival, Adelaide, May 14-18, Arts Centre Melbourne, May 29-June 1 and the National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, July 1-15 [Melbourne and Canberra dates to be confirmed].

is theatre, Ten Wonderful Years, Backspace Theatre, Hobart, October 3-7; Terrapin Theatre Company, The Legend of Ned Kelly, co-devisor, director Annie Forbes, co-devisor Richard Jeziorny, animation Cazerine Barry, composer Constantine Koukias, lighting Daniel Zika; Theatre Royal, Hobart, September 7 -11

RealTime issue #76 Dec-Jan 2006 pg. 38

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

Christian Thompson, The Sixth Mile

Christian Thompson, The Sixth Mile

MHUL, MEANING IDEA OR CONCEPT FOR THE CENTRAL QUEENSLAND BIDJARA PEOPLE, WAS THE TITLE OF THE INDIGENOUS IDEAS WORKSHOP AT THE AUSTRALIAN CENTRE FOR THE MOVING IMAGE (ACMI) IN MELBOURNE.

Organized by artist and curator Christian Thompson, this five-day workshop brought Indigenous artists from all over the country together to discuss and constructively critique each other’s work, as well as engage with the practices of contemporary artists in Melbourne. Fiona Foley, Gary Lee, r e a, Jenny Fraser, Karen Casey and Dianne Jones joined Thompson at ACMI to address pertinent issues for Indigenous practitioners, such as the current reception and positioning of their work in national and international art worlds, institutional collecting practices, the significance of global Indigenous artists’ networks and the future of contemporary Indigenous arts practice.

The second day of the workshops featured the Mhul Conversations, an all day public symposium where the artists provided audiences with insight into their past and recent art projects. In ACMI’s screen pit, Melbourne-based Dianne Jones spoke about her Mona Lisa photomedia series, which was commissioned by the Centre for Contemporary Photography (CCP) for last year’s Black on White exhibition. Presented with a brief to explore the ways in which Aboriginal people see non-Aboriginal people (do they see non-Indigenous Australians as ‘Other’?) Dianne responded by interviewing her nephews and nieces, who each have a black and a white parent. It turned out that they perceived themselves as living in between Indigenous and non-Indigenous cultures, unable to express their feelings. The artist explains: “These kids have always been told they are Nyoongar, but no one ever asked them how they felt about their non-Indigenous heritage.” Wishing to override the binary opposition between black and white, Dianne subsequently placed her nephews and nieces within Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa painting. She remarks: “many people have speculated about Mona Lisa’s identity but, so far, have been unsuccessful in determining who she (or he?) is.” Focusing on the beauty in her subjects, the artist celebrates the ambivalence of their cultural identities, effectively rejecting straightforward representations of black and white.

In discussing his photographic practice Gary Lee, an artist from Darwin, showed his ability to actively engage the audience with humour, but without being consciously funny. His series Nice Coloured Boys (the title is inspired by a Tracey Moffatt work) which Gary commenced in 1994, currently contains over 700 images. Photographing men during visits to India, Nepal and Bangladesh, the artist allows his subjects to choose their pose while he focuses on their beauty. At times the photographs, some of which show men exposing themselves to the camera, enticed laughter from the audience. However, the conceptual premise of these works is far from laughable. Lee laments the lack of imagery in our daily lives of sexy, beautiful, perhaps even desirable ‘coloured men.’ Having recently extended his practice by taking pictures of good-looking, young Aboriginal men, the artist challenges preconceived notions of black sexuality, beauty and what he describes as “the fear of desirable coloured boys.” Interpreting recent rejections of his work by Australian exhibition venues as a result of “the inability of white people to deal with black beauty shoved in their face”, Lee illustrates in his paper some of the constraints currently faced by artists in the Australian art world.

Christian Thompson, whose work was on show both at CCP and the Shrine of Remembrance, also deals with constraints in his recent video art, albeit of a different kind. Previously the artist was known for his work in photography; many of us remember his 2003 Emotional Striptease images in which Indigenous Australian models posed in front of renowned art institutions in Melbourne. Dressed in Victorian clothing while holding Indigenous cultural objects such as boomerangs and a nulla nulla (a deadly weapon), the models defiantly returned the camera’s gaze and recreated a presence for themselves in colonised and institutionalised spaces. However, over the past months a shift has occurred in the artist’s practice. From extrovert photographic work through which Thompson sought to establish his presence and identity as a Bidjara man, he has moved into making more introspective, intimate works in real time.

The new video work on display as part of his Sixth Mile show at CCP presents the viewer with a very intimate, family ritual. We see Christian and his father involved in what could be interpreted as a greeting ceremony. Speaking in Bidjara, their bodies turned towards each other, the men are engrossed in acting out the same gestures repetitively. The non-Bidjara viewer, who can’t understand what is being said, is nonetheless invited into this private space of communication and learning between father and son. The artist explains that this work follows on from earlier videos that similarly focused on Bidjara rituals, made visible by means of a Western visual language. It forms a response to the increasingly conservative government policies and, in particular, to the recent media coverage of dysfunction in Indigenous communities, something described by the artist as “Aboriginal man-bashing.” Choosing video because of its potential for direct and intense audience engagement, Thompson offers insight into Indigenous rituals and notions of masculinity and father-child relationships in personal and challenging ways.

Other significant issues arose in the symposium, provoking discussion with the audience and amongst artists about what constitutes Indigenous Australian art; what kind of creative expression is expected from Aboriginal artists in art worlds; the importance of art in supporting Indigenous communities, whether through the creation of positive representations or by involving community members in the art making process; and the exploration of digital media and the ways these can be incorporated into art practices. The symposium in combination with the Mhul Workshops for the artists was an opportunity for Indigenous practitioners to exchange a broad range of ideas, experiences and knowledge with audiences and each other, away from the public gaze. As such, it formed a unique event.

Mhul Workshops, Oct 30-Nov 3; Mhul Conversations, Oct 31; Australian Centre for the Moving Image; Christian Thompson, The Sixth Mile, Centre for Contemporary Photography, Melbourne, October 27-Dec 16

RealTime issue #76 Dec-Jan 2006 pg. 54

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

What is Parcel? A design team? writers? editors? One of Parcel’s attractions for the people who work in and around it is that the positioning statement seems to change every few months.

Parcel was formed in Sydney in 2004 by writer and editor Heidi Dokulil and communications designer Graeme Smith. The idea was to make a satisfying and intelligent living out of what they like doing: designing and writing, talking to people about design and visual culture and setting up interesting scenarios for dialogues between designers and manufacturers, artists, educators, children, the public and any groups interested in a more complete view of the world as a designed place.

A recent project informed by these interests was the exhibition, Conversations of Things New, which Parcel curated and designed for the Italian Trade Commission at Federation Square, Melbourne and St Margarets, Sydney. The exhibition explored collaborations—through interviews, talks, a film, a magazine and design process artefacts—between Australian product designers and Italy’s heritage-rich manufacturers.

www.theparcelgroup.com

RealTime issue #76 Dec-Jan 2006 pg. 6

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

Scotch Egg, Gado! Gado! Gado!

Scotch Egg, Gado! Gado! Gado!

Scotch Egg, Gado! Gado! Gado!

ELECTROFRINGE HAS OUTGROWN THE CHEERFUL AMATEURISHNESS OF ITS ROOTS AND TAKES THE QUOTIDIAN BUSINESS OF FESTIVALS IN ITS STRIDE. THE RUN-OF-THE-MILL BUSINESS OF FESTIVAL, WHICH IS INNOVATIVE AND WELL CURATED EXHIBITIONS AND SHOWS, ARE ALL PRESENT AND CORRECT. MORE CAPTIVATING though ARE THE ODDITIES OF THE MANY-APPENDAGED BEAST.

Because while these events aren’t always successful, neat, or even deliberate, the volume and quality of that bizarre spontaneous insanity is the flesh on the solid Electrofringe bones of conventional festival fare.

It’s a delicate business, the fostering of spontaneity. Hybrid media jam venue Collabrador doesn’t have it this year, not to the same degree as last year’s digital arts debauch of the same name. Unreasonable Adults, however, are doing a solid job over at Gift/Back on Hunter St. Like most things at Electrofringe, if it doesn’t begin in cyberspace, it at least protrudes into it, and I guess that’s the motivation for their inclusion in a new media show. Either that, or their hybrid media nature puts them on the same page of a funding acquittal. Whatever the excuse, they are a stack of frenetic fun, remixing such diverse ingredients as books, videos, ministerial correspondence and chocolate bars from punters into an equally diverse profusion of video snippets, photos and sleep deprivation. In their hands, random items, suggestions and textual snippets from all-comers are the seeds of an ebullient upwelling of things performative. The injunction “make a one-minute musical”, a discarded embroidered red dress, and the SMS poem (or IRC chat log?) ‘she is…’ become possibly the world’s shortest musical to still cram in a toe-tapping tune at one minute and 42 seconds. As such, it’s a marked improvement on the genre of the musical all round, with new media cred to boot.

The Unreasonable Adults’ genius is in the material they coax from their audience. As many media as they are toying with and as dispersed the crowd, the Adults still work the Electrofringe audience with a captivating mix of childishness and wryness. The submissions they elicit in the course of their play are little works of art themselves, and they are preserved on the Unreasonable Adults website: “You have to randomly include numbers one inclusive to 512 into your improvisations in no sequential order. Or sequential if you want more of a challenge.” “When you say the word ‘and’ you have to physicalise a Rodin pose…” Or the items “2 x Multicoloured feather boas; Chimes; a packet of 15 whistles; four leaf clover ‘good luck’; Tetrapak purse with 25 cents and old celery; a piece of coral from Daydream Island.”

Holding the banner for the non-sampling, 100% new material contingent is Spain’s hybrid dance Colectivo Anatomic whose AV dance/musical performance piece RAW is noticeable both for its total absence of any unoriginal or sampled material, and its verbose concatenation of every conceivable funding-ready sounding component of new media art. Custom control interfaces? Tick. Motion tracking eyeball controllers? Tick. Mobile devices? Hybrid media? Custom software? Multichannel live video remixes? Tick. What it lacks, sadly, is coherent vision. It’s not like they are at all unskilled, either. Their custom motion-sensing video projection piece was surely the most tightly integrated, well-rehearsed and smooth motion tracking projection performance I have seen. But it was still two dancers running around without detectable motivation after a projected dot, sandwiched between two other performances, with little coherent justification other than showing off their PDAs.

Back to the world of questionable intellectual property then, where we’re all comfortable. Filastine’s set at the festival was an essay in, among many things, artful appropriation, world cultures of music and industrial zoning chic. From a podium of two shopping carts affixed with auxiliary bullhorns, they mix Cuban, drum and bass and hip hop tracks in at least three languages and play a profusion of percussion instruments, including the shopping carts themselves. It’s a danceable but painfully literate set, crossing smoothly and respectfully between traditional rhythms of South America, the Middle East, India and various schools of music in which I am totally unversed. In terms of source material, if not production techniques, this set is remarkable for the explicit avoidance of the musical hegemony of the West, combining tracks and loops on their own terms. After the somewhat restrained record playing of the prior hour, the crowd explodes. This dreadlock’d gentleman has the advantage of being at one of the moments, if you had to pick two, that climax the festival. The other contender occurs only a few minutes later, an unplanned exploration of collaborative live jam spontaneity: dual-gameboy-and-megaphone gabbacore DJ, Scotch Egg, aka Shigeru Ishihara has taken the stage and incited the crowd into near epileptic convulsions with what afficionados term ‘spastic beats’, and is dancing onstage with a woman in a furry chicken suit. Then Newcastle fixture Peter “Shok” Hore, aka Peter Michael Howard, Serial Pest, crash tackles Shigeru’s precarious bar table of gear, simultaneously invalidating a half dozen warranties and dislodging sundry leads, cartridges and batteries. The most ear crushing silence I have ever heard ensues.

The crew down the stage lights while Hore is bodily ejected from the venue. In the brief window of audibility Filastine has started spruiking his music from an upturned bin by the toilets, and it’s the grimy panic-riddled but desperately fun face of This Is Not Art (TINA) we’ve come to love. I don’t have exact change to buy his latest album… “You can download it with p2p filesharing instead,” he says, “or I’ll throw in my last album for 5 bucks and we can make it a round 20.” Having thus found a model solution to a decade of digital intellectual property conundra and scored me two new CDs in a single act, we are drowned out by the birth cries of Scotch Egg’s rebooting Gameboys. Three minutes later Hore walks back in the other door, which has a different bouncer, and is dancing in the front row to the renewed barrage. Oh yes, we like our intractable madness here.

TiN Radio is the stalwart hold-out of TINA/Electrofringe institutionalised chaos, a kind of grab-bag festival clearing house of podcasts, net streaming and even FM broadcasting. Sandwiched between pine-effect chipboard partitions, behind a sign proclaiming “Newcastle Sight-impaired Radio”, the studios heave with an endless stream of guests through the not-just-metaphorically open doors of the not-quite anechoic space, snuffling and cracking through the not-really-studio-grade mixer. Under-resourced, perpetually late and messier than my bedroom after a housefire, TiN Radio looks like a disaster in waiting, but they reliably produce the goods, particularly in the genre of ‘rawcus.’ The wanton collaboration of The Night Share, for example, is dead on the money. This project is a joint venture between many parties united under the banner of Radio National’s most fearlessly mutating audio project, The Night Air. Although it isn’t quite the debut of their Radio National remixing project, it is the boldest thus far.

The first part of the show, Live Feed’s consensus internet-driven mixing experiment is the most radical in production—a different studio setup with impromptu ill-prepared vox pops, live input, including actual pancake chef, in the studio and production over the net-driven August Black’s browser-based Userradio collaborative software. The product is predominantly smooth and surprisingly subtle, with occasional jarringly repetitive interjections, distinctly close to the typical aesthetic of The Night Air. Which may or may not be an endorsement of The Night Air, depending on your faith in the public. For my part, it makes me exceedingly happy. After half an hour of this, Enter Escape’s more conventionally disco production is a welcome stylistic break, dropping the collaborative impromptu mixing for a solo impromptu bracket, macerating the Radio National back catalogue into a parodic mélange of détourned reportage… The Religion Report, amongst others, is thoroughly raided for funk cliches on the theme of “soul”, and all this is interspersed with the room noise and cheers of a crowd of fellow collaborators in the throes of mixing down their own contributions on this, the final night of the festival. And, of course, it’s all podcast.

Electrofringe, curated by Sumugan Sivanesan, Ben Byrne, Cat Jones; This Is Not Art, Newcastle, Sept 28-Oct 2; http://www.electrofringe.net
Unreasonable Adults, http://unreasonableadults.va.com.au/giftback_newcastle.html
Filastine, http://www.filastine.com/
DJ Scotch Egg, http://www.adaadat.com/artist.php?artist=3
TiN Radio, http://www.tin.org.au/
The Night Share/Electrofringe: live_feed, Sophea Lerner, Andrew Burrell, August Black, Jodi Rose, IONiC, Stephan Wieland, Shannon O’neill, Lloyd Barrett, Lucas Darklord, TiN Radio, http://www.abc.net.au/rn/nightair/stories/2006/1732373.htm

RealTime issue #76 Dec-Jan 2006 pg. 25

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

Howard Matthew, Terrestrial

Howard Matthew, Terrestrial

Howard Matthew, Terrestrial

STRIDE UP MINNA CANTHIN KATU TO THE SITE DESCRIBED AS THE “BALCONY OF THE CARSLON DEPARTMENT STORE.” AN EMPTY, INACCESSIBLE BALCONLY SPACE; ITS ORNAMENTAL NON-FUNCTIONALITY AT ODDS WITH THE FUNCTIONAL POLITE MODERNIST STYLE THE BUILDING EMPLOYS. THIS IS NOT A TRAVEL GUIDE TOUR OF THE SITES OF KUOPIO; I AM FOLLOWING THE ANTI-CONTEMPORARY ART FESTIVAL MAP IN ORDER TO LOCATE NOT JUST ANY SITE BUT THE SITE OF MY SITE-SPECIFIC WORK.

It is this vacant space that I had committed to ‘fill’, both with activity and with cardboard boxes over the period of the festival; did the proposal equate with the brochure’s introductory suggestion, that the works would “seek commitment to a site and a certain situation”?

Now in its fifth year, ANTI continues to alter its physical character through a program that each year occupies numerous very different sites in this Finnish lakeland town. This time around, in addition to the balcony, works also inhabited the city hall, a tennis court, an observatory, a youth centre, a hotel, a cinema, the airport, the university, an apartment, an office and an empty property. By occupying these sites the artists appropriated them for new purposes, whilst Kuopio’s inhabitants continued to use these spaces and the extended matrix that connects one to another. On a basic level, this dual usage of public space amounts to “an imprint on Kuopio and its inhabitants” but what kind of imprint? By and large the sites were mediated by the ANTI organisation, with artists having never been to Kuopio, never mind having haptically engaged with their chosen site.

A discussion of the problematics of site-specificity is of course commonplace. The ANTI introduction itself references Miwon Kwon’s One place or another, site-specific art and locality (London and Cambridge, Mass: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2002), in relation to the festival’s own ongoing attempts to integrate into Kuopio and the life of its citizens. The term ‘site-specificity’, Kwon suggests, has been replaced by an array of novel terms, which include site-oriented, site-responsive, context-specific or socially engaged. In relation to particular works, and approaches, the list could also include type-specific, kind-specific, sort-specific….

Of course, each work has its own specific take on this growing list, some more apparent than others. In Howard Matthew’s Terrestrial (UK), this is one of a number of concerns that are addressed, head-on, through the CD monologue that accompanies and chronologically frames our ‘one-to-one’ encounter with the artist: “Terrestrial is a piece that I’ve performed across the world. As a site specific performance the content has been re-worked to respond to each respective site. But increasingly I’ve found it more problematic to respond to a site I know little or nothing about prior to my arrival.” This awkwardness seems physically manifest as Matthews stumbles, blindfolded, in expanding circles around the perimeter of a small hill, on which sits an observatory. Hands outstretched, using all four limbs to find his way, as though using these bodily mechanisms to feel around questions such as, is performance “still a tool I could use to articulate my feelings or explore and meditate on issues”

Each person watching, and listening, to these intertwined concerns does so through the opening in the observatory dome, focused on an exploration of where the work is positioned, as much in relation to the festival and the artist’s own practice, as much to physical site. Using a telephoto lens to track Matthew’s stuttering perambulation involves manually winding the observatory dome and clumsily repositioning the camera tripod in order to take our instructed one shot. This act of watching brings into question our relationship to his predicament; should we be watching as he stumbles at this juncture, both physically at the base of the observatory and metaphorically as he questions his own practice.
Aileen Lambert, Breathe

Aileen Lambert, Breathe

Aileen Lambert, Breathe

This dilemma over my own viewing position carried across to Aileen Lambert’s work at the airport. Situated some 17 km away meant catching the bus and the driver’s quizzical look when I requested a day return only heightened a sense of being out of place. In hindsight and given more time, I would have spent the day at the airport, read a book, done something else, and waited to see if I noticed the work. Instead I was there on time, waiting for the performance to start, to experience the work. A similar effect had been noted in relation to my work on the previous day, as a string of people followed me along the street: a particular type of audience functions as a big arrow pointing out the ‘art.’

Strolling around the tiny airport, Lambert hones in on the desired glass surface, leans forward, hands behind her back, and goldfish-like exhales onto the partition that separates her from those inside. This simple gesture, repeated time and again, mirrors the festival’s own desire to leave its mark, but creates only a series of ephemeral traces. This intimate relation between the artist’s body and the skin of the airport is in stark contrast to the environment as the departing passengers are processed and leave without forming any kind of bond, or direct engagement with place. Lambert’s is a vain attempt to reclaim something of a personal relation from what remains, on the whole, an ungenerous non-place.

By adding a social dimension to the various spaces that artists occupy, there is the potential to transform places into situations. This notion quite aptly pertains to a festival such as ANTI, where the negotiation of the work is as much down to experiential circumstances as to any specific presentation: travelling from site to site by foot; a chance meeting with others; accepting an invitation into a home to hear a series of resonating trial tones that would otherwise have gone unheard; arriving only to see the performer exit, leaving you in an empty cinema, the used props littering the floor and the smell of popcorn lingering in the air.

Cognitively, these situations can only be grasped from where we stand, from our own personal experiences of them. My participation in the festival, walking repeatedly up and down the grid of streets that make up the town, allowed a wealth of time to perceive its inhabitants. On the one hand I passed numerous people, ANTI brochures in hand, searching out the various works; on the other I was involved in ongoing relations, where what we were looking for was less clear, and there was no brochure to guide us. I passed one small shop numerous times over the four days, and each time, without fail, a man watched from the window. This is by no means the type of “local encounter transformed into long-term commitments and unretractable social marks” that Kwon appeals for, but it is a form of acquaintance that the situation allowed.

ANTI – Contemporary Art Festival, artistic directors Johanna Tuukkanen, Erkki Soininen, Kuopio, Finland, Sept 28-Oct 1, www.antifestival.com

RealTime issue #76 Dec-Jan 2006 pg. 41

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

Ana Prvacki, The Leap of Faith

Ana Prvacki, The Leap of Faith

Ana Prvacki, The Leap of Faith

WITH A BUDGET OF $SING10 MILLION, 95 ARTISTS AND COLLECTIVES AND 198 ARTWORKS, THE FIRST SINGAPORE BIENNALE IS THE BIGGEST CULTURAL EVENT EVER STAGED ON THE ISLAND STATE. With THE AUDACIOUS AIMS OF PUMPING LARGE AMOUNTS OF MONEY INTO CONTEMPORARY SINGAPOREAN ART AND ITS RELATED INFRASTRUCTURE, THE NATIONAL ARTS COUNCIL OF SINGAPORE is ATTEMPTING TO TRANSFORM NATIONAL MENTALITY AND INTERNATIONAL STEREOTYPING.

The desire is pragmatic: to move to an innovation-based economy by encouraging its citizens to be more creative, and present Singapore as an open-minded culturally sophisticated city—to show Singapore’s “softer side”, as a representative put it. Despite Singapore’s notorious limits on free speech, the Biennale is presented as an opportunity for Singaporeans “to view diversity in art, new ideas and expressions”. (The National Arts Council’s vision statement is titled “Creative People, Gracious Community, Connected Singapore.”) More instrumental goals for the support of contemporary art are hard to imagine, but few are complaining when arts funding in Singapore has increased tenfold in the past decade. This Biennale, long on the cards, represents the culmination of efforts to cultivate the semblance of a thriving local visual arts scene worthy of international recognition. And of course the government’s desire to present Singapore as the cultural, as well as investment, hub of the region coincides perfectly with Singaporean artists’ understandable eagerness to carve out international careers.

Support for such a large event was secured by the Biennale’s position as the “anchor cultural event” for “Singapore 2006: Global City. A World of Opportunities”—designed to “highlight Singapore as a dynamic, well-connected and entrepreneurial economy”, and focused around the hosting of the annual meetings of the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank. These meetings brought with them 16,000 international delegates. Part of the Biennale was closed for delegates only and public protests were forbidden (one indoor venue was provided to protestors who registered in advance). All of this provided me with a starting point for understanding and appreciating this biennale. In some ways this transparency of the links between art, commerce and politics was refreshing—with the rhetoric of the National Arts Council almost another artwork in itself—and it focused attention on what the curators and the artists actually did under these uniquely Singaporean circumstances.

Veteran Japanese curator Fumio Nanjo was brought in as Artistic Director of the Biennale and enlisted a team of young curators: Roger McDonald (Japan), Sharmini Pereira (Sri Lanka/UK), Eugene Tan (Singapore). Together they fleshed out the curatorial theme of ‘Belief’, alluding to the violent clash of faiths in the world today as much as a general crisis of personal and collective values. Although far from exclusively sacred, the theme involved seven major religious sites, all in use by the Singaporean public. This was part of a strategy to utilise the existing architecture of the city in new ways and offered various layers of experience—the terms ‘interface’ and ‘encounter’ were frequently used—accessible for “multiple levels of audience.” Take the opening, a spectacular public event situated on a central grass square (the Padang), which managed to support both a swank invite-only marquee attended by the Prime Minister, as well as an open public party. It combined the pure spectacle of a 60-metre high floating sculpture of helium-filled balloons each with LEDs inside—Open Burble (2006) by Usman Haque—and Jenny Holzer’s scrolling text projection on the walls of Singapore’s former City Hall.

The artists in the Singapore Biennale hailed from 38 countries scattered across the world. More than half were from Asia, with 12 from Singapore (with Amanda Heng and Brian Gothong Tan gently parodying the biennale as a tourist event). Most of the artists were under 40, but the range extended to Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama. Her Ladder to Heaven (2006), glowing fibre-optic cables with mirrors attached above and below, shown at a Hindu temple, suggested a religious universality. In a critically self-reflexive vein at one of the Catholic churches, Cristina Lucas’ My Struggle (2004) depicts a street preacher raving about art. Similarly fused with pathos, Lucas’ More Light (2003), shown elsewhere, recorded the artist’s confessional session with a priest, asking why the Church has abandoned its support of contemporary art. Meanwhile, on the banks of the river a ‘miracle tree’ rained periodically through the day as if by magic, in a poetic public installation by the Dutch artist known as IEPE. Everything in this biennale was precisely calculated for maximum impact.
Iepe, Singapore Miracle Tree

Iepe, Singapore Miracle Tree

Iepe, Singapore Miracle Tree

The Biennale also gave public access to some of Singapore’s historic buildings for the first time (the event was co-organised by the National Heritage Board). One of the key venues, City Hall—the former Supreme Court building—was ceremonially opened by New Zealand artist Daniel Malone’s Steal this Smile! :), a reenactment of a 1967 peace demonstration by Abbie Hoffman. Curators, artists, schoolkids and anyone else in the vicinity were provided with red and white netball-style singlets and held hands to ‘levitate’ the building (and by extension the Biennale itself). Inside, over 30 artists made installations in the former courtrooms, often responding to the almost overbearing site, with many pointing to the theme of justice. High points included Singapore artist Ho Tzu Nyen’s The Bohemian Rhapsody Project (2006), an elaborately staged soap opera based on the lyrics of the Queen song, and South African Jane Alexander’s bizarre installation featuring human-animal hybrids, red rubber gloves scattered over the floor and three hooded figures on trial for some unknown crime.

There was event as well as site specificity, with some artists responding to the coming IMF meeting. The Finnish collective YKON’s M8 Summit of Micronations, Singapore (2006) directly parodied such meetings, with a video of ‘leaders’ laughing hysterically around a huge oval table. More earnestly, Tomás Ochoa’s video installation, The Myth of Sysyphus (2006), showed people on the street in Morocco and Switzerland responding to the question “What are the last thoughts of a suicide bomber?”—with surprisingly tender insights. In the centre of the building, Rashid Rana’s Departure Lounge (2006), a massive six-screen video installation simulating the view of the sky from a jumbo jet, suggested the paradoxical forces of mobility and stagnation within global events.

At the newly refurbished National Museum of Singapore Mariko Mori and Carsten Nicolai headlined a high-tech section of the Biennale. Nicolai’s space-ship like sculpture, synchron (2005), combines architecture, light and sound; entering it is to experience space sonically. Mori presented a glowing glass tomb adjacent to a curatorial cluster that included a video, The Last Supper (2005), by Swedish artists Bigert and Bergström. This elaborate if heavy-handed documentary—featuring a chef recreating the last meals of prisoners on Death Row—was compelling in this context. Together with Japanese artist Makoto Aida’s gory ritual suicide painting, Harikari School Girls, Jonathan Allen’s beheaded Salome photograph, and Hiroshi Sugimoto’s Last Supper photographs, this whole section came to be about execution—needless to say, a hot topic around Singapore. The inevitable question of whether works in the Biennale had been subject to censorship had been raised in the press launch (apparently there was some ‘negotiation’), but here was proof of curatorial freedom—and of the apparently non-threatening nature of symbolic resistance.

The third key venue was Tanglin Camp, a maze of colonial buildings used for military training of both British and Singaporeans. This site featured a number of ‘interactive’ works such as Ana Prvacki’s The Leap of Faith (2006), which required visitors to wear a strap-on magnet outfit and approach a metal wall, with predictable results. Otto Karvnen’s Belief Board (2006) simply asked visitors to write down their fantasies and ‘solutions’ in an open exchange. Philip Brophy, officially the only Australian artist, didn’t know the theme was ‘belief’ until he arrived to install his work—but his glam performance video Fluorescent (2004) looked and sounded spectacular. Another favourite here was Makoto Aido’s hilarious The Video of a Man Calling Himself Binladen Staying in Japan (2005) in which the artist plays the terrorist leader drunk on sake. Meanwhile, fellow Japanese artist Takashi Kuribayashi provided some child-friendly magic, with works that involved putting your head up through a fishbowl to discover a view inside an aquarium.

There were Biennale experiences to be had almost everywhere on the island, from Hermès boutiques to housing blocks. Simryn Gill, listed as Malaysian, proved once again what a subtle artist she is, with a personal intervention into Tanjong Pagar Railway Station (an outpost of Malaysian territory in Singapore), producing a small publication for sale in a newsagency documenting the history of the site and its extraordinary colonial mural, combined with photographs of contemporary travellers.

While international curators and the well-heeled could take advantage of the series of Asian Biennales promoted in September (the Singapore-Gwangju-Shanghai package), the most important audience for the Singapore Biennale are of course the locals. With taxis plastered with advertising, and Kusama’s huge red and white dots wrapped around the trees along the main shopping avenue (Orchard Road), the 4 million residents of the small island nation were certainly targeted. The Straits Times featured daily coverage, full page ads, editorial features and more. Australian artists and curators could only dream of such blanket positive coverage. I later learnt that the newspaper is part managed by the state and runs a ‘non-adversarial’ policy towards the government (one wonders which is worse: such a uniformly positive view of society, or Murdoch papers and their bigot columnists). In any case, breathless articles about the security measures for the IMF meeting (“fun facts”) and the spectacle of the Singapore Biennale jostled side by side. In Australia we tend to conveniently forget the proximity of arts and culture to government propaganda, here politics and spectacle are one. And, not to forget shopping, an ancillary event revealed eight large sculptural commissions at Singapore’s biggest new shopping complex, Vivo City.

If the Singapore Biennale was impressive as cultural policy, the overall quality of the art was nevertheless high. The world hardly needs another biennale, but who is to deny Singaporeans the pleasure of joining the circuit? Of course the notion of the biennale promises recurrence, and one of the talking points in Singapore was whether this will be an isolated event (remember the Melbourne Biennial), or an ‘occasionale.’ One hopes it will be judged an official success, “stimulat[ing] broader demand for visual arts in Singaporeans, further cultivating and elevating [local] appreciation for contemporary art and enhancing Singapore’s cultural image as a progressive and attractive cosmopolitan city to live, work and play in.” Even if we’re uncertain about some of the hype, we can always believe in the art.

www.singaporebiennale.org

RealTime issue #76 Dec-Jan 2006 pg. 52-

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

Seemannslieder

Seemannslieder

Seemannslieder

CHRISTOPH MARTHALER’S THEATRE SLOWS TIME TO A STANDSTILL. HE STAGES PASSAGES OF WOUND-DOWN TIME, OF EMPTY TIME AND OF MEMORY TIME. HIS DRAMATURG STEPHANIE CARP CALLS HIM A DIRECTOR OF THE ‘MEANTIME’—WHEN SOMETHING HAS CONCLUDED AND SOMETHING NEW HAS NOT YET BEGUN. A TIME BETWEEN. A TIME OF WAITING, OF REMAINDERED THOUGHTS, LEFTOVER PEOPLE AND ONCE FORGOTTEN SONGS. Seemanslieder, created with ZT Hollandia/NT Gent in a Dutch-Belgian co-production, is the first Marthaler production to come to Australia. It’s in the 2007 Sydney Festival program.

Born, in Erlenbach near Zurich, in 1951, Marthaler is a classically trained musician. He began to develop his distinctive theatre language working in Basel between 1980 and 1988 with a series of music theatre compositions and song recitals. These included collages of various folk songs and evenings after Erik Satie, John Cage and Kurt Schwitters. The title of his song project on the Swiss military, Wenn das Alpenhirin sich rötet, tötet, freie Schweizer, tötet… [When the Alpine mind reddens, Kill free Swiss, Kill], mocked the Swiss national anthem and nearly caused the sacking of the theatre’s artistic director.

Since the early 1990s, Marthaler has created theatre works for Berlin’s Volksbühne am Rosa-Luxemburg-Platz, Deutsches Schauspielhaus in Hamburg and Schauspielhaus Zurich where he was artistic director 2000-2004. He has directed many operas including Pelléas et Mélisande, Fidelio, Katja Kabanowa, Pierrot Lunaire and, most recently, Tristan und Isolde at Bayreuth. His award-winning theatre productions are regularly invited to the Berlin Theatertreffen and to festivals worldwide.

All Marthaler’s work must be considered music theatre. As a composer, he develops a score of gesture, speech, music and behaviour. Text and narrative are subordinated to rhythmic compositions, self-repeating segments and enactments of ‘dead’ time. His use of live music is always extremely playful and choral arrangements of songs are present throughout all his works. This is equally true of his versions of plays—including Chekhov’s Drei Schwestern [Three Sisters]; Horvath’s Kasimir und Karoline; Zur Schönen Aussicht [To the Beautiful Prospect]; Dantons Tod [Danton’s Death] by Buchner—as of his found text assemblages—including Die Stunde Null [The Zero Hour] devised from speeches by post-war German politicians; Groundings, concerning the decline of the Swiss airline industry; or Die Fruchtfliege about the life cycle of the fruitfly. It is also true of his song-collage projects—such as Murx den Europäer! Murx ihn! Murx ihn! Murx ihn ab! [Kill the European! Kill him! Kill him! Kill him off!] composed of nostalgic German Volkslied; Die Zehn Geboten [The Ten Commandments] after the songs of Rafaelle Viviani; or his staging of Schubert’s Die Schöne Mullerin. Other composers present in Marthaler’s theatre include Charles Ives, Noël Coward, Lloyd Webber, Monteverdi, Berg, Shostakovich, Stravinsky, Offenbach, Puccini and Verdi, to name a few.

Singing in Marthaler’s theatre occasions acts of collective memory. Mostly sung very quietly, songs grow out of silence bringing individuals from solitude into chorus. They are sung as if half-remembered, very fragile, harmonious and beautiful. Sometimes, they’re like a prayer repeated. Sometimes, a long lost refrain. Every now and then, an aria turns inward. Here and there, a daggy vaudeville turn. They express impossible longings for a lost past and a longed for present.

In Murx! singing constitutes an historical haunting and scouring of national identity. Subtitled Ein patriotischer Abend [A Patriotic Evening], the piece, created in 1992, has been called a requiem for the former East Germany. It takes place in a vast empty hall: some run-down public institution with wood-panelled walls, fluoro lights, an empty elevator moving up and down without passengers, and several huge furnaces which require regular stoking. The clock on the wall has stopped, but a bell repeatedly rings, causing the inhabitants of the room to queue to wash their hands in a washroom upstage. Otherwise, they sit at their respective tables and engage in banal, repetitive rituals, petty spats and obsessive acts. Only when they sing are they united. The Volkslieder sung in Murx! carry repressed memories of Germany’s fascist past and connotations of the still open wound of reunification. Songs of glorified nationalism lose all innocence and even the very act of singing recalls the use of such songs in Third Reich rallies. At one stage, two of the actors play klezmer music, at first very softly, then others take it up, and for a while, it fills the hall. It hangs in the air like a beautiful memory. The furnaces on the side of the stage are stoked. The song seems to escape from within. In the memory time of the song, voice becomes an act of ghosting, a prayer in a room where clock time has stalled.

A few years before, in 1992, with a version of Labiche’s Die Affäre Rue de Lourcine, Marthaler commenced his collaboration with set and costume designer Anna Viebrock. For over 15 years across opera and theatre, they have staged variations of the same banal room peopled by fragile communities of melancholic, washed up figures. Their body of work is a continuing articulation of recurring ideas and states. Uninterested in novelty or reinvention, Marthaler patiently elaborates his alternate temporal order in Viebrock’s empty rooms.

Every set which Viebrock designs is a waiting room of some kind. Like the spaces photographed by Candida Höfer, the rooms which Viebrock places onstage posit an architecture of absence. Belonging to a recent past, often institutional, her rooms contain an air of slowness, of deliberation, of space remembered—an old sound recording studio, a disused factory, a wood panelled ballroom, an emptied library, the stairwell of an apartment block, the stage of a community hall, a foyer. Often, Viebrock’s stages begin as copies or translations of found spaces, old photographs or abandoned buildings. Her rooms, though concrete in detail and autonomous in presence, are often ambiguous. They contain traces of multiple uses, or overlap heterogeneous spaces, as in the room of Die Zehn Geboten which crossbreeds the nave of a cathedral with a dusty old stage. All Viebrock’s rooms bear the marks of their use and the wear of time. Their furnishings are dilapidated. The people too have a sense of being left behind. Their clothes place them in another era, yet they never belong to ‘period pieces.’ According to theatre writer Stephanie Carp, they are “remembered and dreamed people”, necessarily familiar. So, Chekhov’s Prozorov sisters might be recognised “crossing Alexanderplatz holding plastic bags at the close of a workday.”

Marthaler always places a community on stage. His people are alone together. Found in Viebrock’s rooms they are subject to the same laws of entropy. In this sense, as in his stagings of Horvath, all Marthaler’s pieces are folk plays concerned with forgotten people, language collapsing into silence, a persistence of song and a poetry of the everyday. An affinity with Chekhov resounds in shared concepts of organic communities and the cyclic nature of time. Marthaler extends the powerlessness of his onstage figures resulting in a deepened abnegation of climax and suspense in favour of a draining of drama. When the figures in his Three Sisters wish for a glorious future, it is already a memory, a function of lapsed ideology and actions long faded into routine.

This theatre of quiet, slow life enacts a withdrawal of drama from the stage. The figures onstage are withdrawn too. Unable to play heroes, they wait their entire lives for something that never comes. It even seems as if they would rather not be on stage. They stare into corners, face the wall, perform exercises, quietly recite old texts. Every now and then someone trips, or a glass breaks, or a sudden fit disturbs compulsive patterns.

The Marthaler family of actors (including André Jung, Ueli Jäggi, Olivia Grigolli, Matthias Matschke, Judith Engel, Jean-Pierre Cornu, and Graham F Valentine) are all great, gentle clowns. Onstage they are unforced, light, always playful and often very funny. Through little quirks, obsessive routines and their shared songs, they form Marthaler’s island of stranded people. People who are unable to belong in the shiny world of advertising. People whom the rush of capitalism leaves behind. From their silence, Christoph Marthaler extracts frailty, neurosis and longing. He finds the beauty of the powerless.

Speaking at the start of rehearsals for a new work, Winch Only (premiered in Brussels in May 2006), Marthaler said, “We still don’t know what we’re going to do. The prerequisite first of all is to create a real group of actors capable of understanding each other and what everyone’s feeling. And the best way to do that is to sing and eat together! We sing a lot and improvise. We always do that when we’re not dealing with specific work on a play or opera. We have to get to know each other and our voices first.”

Marthaler’s music theatre shares Italo Calvino’s favourite motto, ‘festina lente’, hurry slowly. Against capitalism’s perpetual novelty and urge to speed, he allows theatre to maintain a distinct tempo. He slows the heartbeat and stops life’s flow to observe and reflect. Duration is staged as a musical melody, a multiplicity and a dynamic continuation of past into present time into a future. Marthaler’s humanist theatre is a refusal to speed up or catch up.

ZT Hollandia/NTGent, Seemannslieder, director Christoph Marthaler, designer Anna Viebrock, Sydney Theatre, Jan 10-13,

www.sydneyfestival.org.au

RealTime issue #76 Dec-Jan 2006 pg. 8

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

ON A BUSTLING FRIDAY NIGHT IN BRISBANE’S BURGEONING SOUTHBANK PRECINCT, IT WAS HARD TO MISS THE LARGE CROWD GATHERED AROUND WHAT LOOKED LIKE A GLOWING BLUE HIVE-LIKE STRUCTURE, THE [V3] ART+ARCHITECTURE SHOW.

Flanked by the two long, thin canals that run parallel to the Brisbane River and QPAC, the 3D multiscreen installation consisted of five large screens arranged in a hexagon with a space left for entry and perambulation. Projectors were unobtrusive, mounted high on the outside, and though the breeze was fresh that night, the screens, slung between sturdy poles and carefully buttressed, remained resolutely smooth. The steel scaffolding securing the screens with an impressive array of clips and struts, was the first sign that this was no ordinary video art event. As key instigator, Rachel Barnard of the Architectural Practice Academy, noted, “we put a lot of effort into making sure the screens would stay up and withstand the wind.”

Barnard explains how the project came about when she and other architects from yarch.Q, a committee of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects, “were talking about films that are architectural and how it would be great to get a cinema to show a series of these…We’d attended a workshop involving a 360 space simulator to view in 3D moving image analysis of space, which we loved, but hadn’t had a chance to explore it further. So we thought, let’s do it. We then came up with a whole series of ideas and 8 months later actually did it!”

The cinematic reference is important, because the second part of the show, in which the works were screened sequentially, after artists’ introductions, felt a lot like a short film program (albeit a multi-screen, outdoors one). The film program effect was offset by the opening and closing events in which spectators saw images of themselves in the space on the night. Rachel explains: “On arrival, there was a delayed live feed playing—in this way the viewers encountered themselves from the past. This process of looking back in time at oneself aimed to titillate but also emphasise the temporal nature of new media art works. Similarly at the end of the night there was a delayed live video feed which showed the construction and the event itself at the end of the night.”

The program of works included video art by local artists and architectural new media presentations. Christina Waterson’s Concealed Revealed is normally hidden in the urban fabric of everyday life. A series of still images interwoven with video pieces, the fast-paced montage of Concealed featured scenes of quotidian reality overlaid with the kind of analytic frameworks and schematic diagrams architects are privy to but of which the rest of us are generally unaware.

A different kind of architectural analysis of the space was evident in Chermside Theatres, by m3Architecture project team Michael Lavery, Ben Vielle and Emma Healy. This featured a 3D ‘fly through’ of the proposed architectural re-design of the site formerly hosting the Dawn Theatre. For an art audience, it was a reminder of the level of sophistication and aesthetic achievement professional animation can attain. Similarly, in architect Ashley Paine’s untitled 1-minute video produced for the exhibition, a complex layering of appearing and disappearing graphic patterns sought to reveal, according to his statement, “new patterns that reinforce the shifting and subjective nature of vision in the original work, while introducing temporality and instability to its construction of visual space.”

On the relationship between art and architecture, Rachel says the affinities are evident, as “they converge both conceptually and actually. After all, both deal with space. [V3] is an example of this convergence. As architects and designers we wanted to explore the relationship between the moving image and space. What happens if a video work ‘expands’, so to speak, to form a spatial experience? We tried to arrange our screens so that people could not only watch a moving work but inhabit a space defined by the moving works. From this we played with ideas of dimensionality, temporality, and the spectator as spectacle.”

Of the work by artists, Gen Staine’s Time Space Frames was ideally suited to the event, especially since one of its most striking images features an alarming series of cracks appearing on the performing arts building (located adjacent to the installation). I found myself wishing again that this beautiful, subtle work, which comments on photography, urban architecture and memory, was longer, especially in the multi-screen mode.

Chris Bennie’s No Faculty Among Us, consisting of a single moving image of a shimmering swimming pool, was also striking in its simplicity. The ethereal effect of the rippling aqua water and serene lane striations was suddenly upset by the appearance of the swimmer, and made strange by our realisation that our view was upside-down. The emphasis was on the revelation of the purely pro-filmic; according to Bennie, “the work aims to render the repetitious and the common as remarkable and extraordinary without embellishment or pretence.” Formally strong and confidently executed, No Faculty Among Us was shorthand for the assured, creative and revealing exploration of space that characterised the whole [V3] night.

[V3] Art+Architecture event, organisers Rachel Barnard, Ye Ng, Jane McGarry for Architecture Week, Queensland Performing Arts Centre forecourt, Southbank, Brisbane, Oct 27

RealTime issue #76 Dec-Jan 2006 pg. 26

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

Bayan Shbib, Safad-Shatila (Vice Versa)

Bayan Shbib, Safad-Shatila (Vice Versa)

The world is developing and changing every day and our responsibilities do not allow us to let our life remain the way it is. We cannot change however, without dialogue, by opening up to the other, defying isolation and rejecting silence.
Farouk Husni, Minister of Culture, Egypt

I WAS ON THE JURY OF THE 18TH CAIRO INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL OF EXPERIMENTAL THEATRE, ALONG WITH 10 ARTISTS, PRODUCERS, CRITICS AND ACADEMICS HAILING FROM MANY COUNTRIES—MOROCCO, MEXICO, CHINA, GERMANY, RUSSIA, EGYPT AND OTHERS.

A government sponsored event, in a great international city, the festival featured 62 works from 47 countries. Each company registers to participate and raises its own resources to present their work in Cairo. Once there, works are shortlisted by an international Viewing Committee into the ‘official’ and ‘fringe’ parts of the event. The 25 works in the official program are part of a competition for a range of awards—best performance, direction, scenography, ensemble, actor and actress.

Every night, we were driven in convoy to a series of venues across the city. We’d arrive and be ushered into the first few rows of the theatre to watch works from Libya, Palestine, Iraq, Lebanon, Ghana, Japan, Bangladesh, Croatia, Uzbekistan and others. If the performances were in Arabic, our interpreters would simultaneously translate the text into the first language of the jury member. The hubbub created by the translations joined the general noise of the space—the sound of mobile phones ringing and being answered, people coming and going and discussing the work throughout. The theatres, during the festival at least, are lively social spaces.

The work we saw was incredibly diverse, formally, technically and aesthetically. From the simple storytelling theatre of Ghana’s Abibigroma Theatre Company, in their joyous fable The Story Aranse Told, to the overwrought incoherence of King Lear As A Sufi by The National Theatre of Jordan. From the visceral physical ensemble work by the all male cast of the Russian company Moon Theatre’s Romeo and Juliet to the intense vocal ensemble work by the women in the Armenian Experimental Group’s production of 4:48 Psychosis by Sarah Kane. And from the austere representation of rural life and courtship in Uzbekistan’s Bukhara Puppet Theatre’s When Stars Are Lit to the intricate mediatised scenography in the Japanese company Chiten’s production of The Crucible.

Given Western neo-colonial ventures in the region, the ongoing violence in Palestine and Iraq and the recent July war in Lebanon, it wasn’t surprising that representational forms exploring issues of violence, war, forced migration and grief dominated the Arab works in the Festival.

Nisaa’ fil Harb (Women in Wartime), by the Iraqi National Theatre focused on the experiences of three women displaced by war and terror, seeking asylum on the borders of Germany. Rithaa Al-Fajr (Lamentations at Dawn) by Mazoon Theatre from the Sultanate of Oman was a dialogue between the ghost of a dead warrior and his grieving widow.

More complex and controversial works were presented by the Palestinian Ashtar Theatre and The Experimental Theatre of Syria.

Safad-Shatila, Vice Versa, is a solo work by Bayan Shbib for Ashtar Theatre tracing a young woman’s decision to counter violence with violence. One Palestinian woman’s loss of home and country, during Al Naqba in 1948, merges with another’s loss of her husband and family during the Shatila massacre in Lebanon in 1982, prompting a response that grief is futile and only direct action is viable.

Written and directed by Jawad Al-Assadi, Hammam Baghdadi (The Bath of Baghdad) is a sophisticated and devastating work. It’s set in a public bath-house in Baghdad where the competitive relationship between two brothers, who drive trucks between Amman and Baghdad, is played out. They share horrendous stories of finding a mass grave, playing football with the severed heads of the enemy and trying to avoid violence only to stumble into more. Textual references to, and physical actions of cleansing, spiritual purging and burial rituals merge with the imagery of the city as a blood bath. Saddam’s reign of terror melds seamlessly with the terror of the American occupation in The Experimental Theatre of Syria production.

The diversity of work in the festival prompted many debates among audiences, the Jury and in The Experimental, the daily publication of the festival. Just what does ‘experimental theatre’ mean across east/west cultural contexts? Is it useful, indeed possible, to compare work from first and third world economies and from countries where contemporary practice has been institutionally supported for generations and those where it is not? Isn’t it disingenuous to present (and judge) what are ostensibly subversive practices in Egypt in the context of the government’s patronage?

This final paradox and the absence of independent artists around the festival, prompted me to visit Townhouse Gallery, an independently run arts space in the back streets of Downtown Cairo.
Fayez Qozoq & Nidal Al-Sigary, Hammam Baghdadi (The Bath of Baghdad)

Fayez Qozoq & Nidal Al-Sigary, Hammam Baghdadi (The Bath of Baghdad)

It’s in a poor area that’s dominated by tiny engine repair shops. The locals in the surrounding streets welcomed us with pride, knowing we must be in the neighbourhood to visit their arts centre. They took us to the beautiful old building that had been abandoned in 1956. The genesis of the centre, established in 1998, has been totally connected with the lives of the locals, who have renovated the building and continue to work, play, visit and pray in the space daily.

It’s a great story of community interactivity, lateral business planning, arts and audience development. It emerges from the social context of poverty and working children alongside the cultural context where artists are subject to censorship and an official expectation that phaoroanic culture and its imagery is the most legitimate representation/content for Egyptian art.

Townhouse programs are a mix of contemporary arts development and presentation, community development and business training. They include participatory programs, open access spaces, exhibitions and events. They have street front galleries, a library, rehearsal and residency spaces and are in the process of developing a new space for live performance. They host a range of international artists each year whom they invite to interact with and respond to their part of Cairo. High profile initiatives include: Photo Cairo, an annual regional photographic survey show and symposium and the Open Studio Project hosting process-based projects with local and international sound artists.

The government, media and art schools have ignored or attempted to blacklist Townhouse, but international foundations, development programs and businesses have funded to the extent they have 22 staff and are expanding their programs each year. All this operates alongside the policy: “all decisions are made in conjunction with our neighbours.”

Minister Husni’s call for dialogue informs not only his prestigious Festival of Experimental Theatre but is enacted here in the back streets of Downtown Cairo in an everyday, potent and politicised way.

RealTime issue #76 Dec-Jan 2006 pg. 40

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

Blind Date

Blind Date

Blind Date

In retrospect, despite some strangely negative reactions in the Melbourne press, the 2006 Melbourne International Arts Festival succeeded in creating an atmosphere that was at once embracing and open. Aside from the performances, it kept its audience continuously stimulated in and outside theatres and galleries with symposiums, lectures, spontaneous speeches, bands and parties, post-performance and panel discussions, archival video and reference materials, lengthy program notes and reviews. This gave anyone interested in how the artists were thinking about the world and how it translated to their art the opportunity to participate.

sakamato & noto

In Insen, the connection created between Ryuichi Sakamoto with his pin-drop timing at the grand piano under a single spotlight and Alvo Noto at his computers housed in a mirrored horizontal obelisk lulled me into a soporific stupor then jarred me with dissonant explosions and light from an oblong screen spanning the space between them, and the vast historical transformations their instruments imply.

marie brassard

Reminding me of an Eartha Kitt song, in a carefully contained performance Marie Brassard’s solo, Peepshow, tantalized with a psycho-literary exploration of control from the perspective of Little Red Riding Hood. From the first trauma of being put into the ‘wrong’ group at school, we are taken through repeat meetings with various male manifestations of the monster and the wolf. Performed with a phaser-effect on her voice so she can perform man, woman and child, it seemed the highly protected landscape inside this person could only be traveled by a therapist, or series of therapists who, just like daddy, provided all the little girl could want. Brassard is clever and funny, manipulating stereotypes to lightly brush guilty nerves.

bill t jones

The Bill T Jones/Arnie Zane company in Blind Date produced a lavish political dance which cast the thirsty addiction of the multinational North American military enterprise into multiple and fragmented ironies. Among its many penetrating observations: a childhood memory of Turkish dancer Asli Bulbul of boys at school playing a game where they would grab each other’s testicles and only release them when the national anthem had been whistled, and then the refrain about “fourth generation warfare being widely dispersed, nonlinear and with indefinable battlefields, in which distinctions between war and peace, civilian and military may disappear.”

romeo castellucci

Br.#04 Bruxelles, Tragedia Endogonidia

Br.#04 Bruxelles, Tragedia Endogonidia

Br.#04 Bruxelles, Tragedia Endogonidia

By contrast, despite a diverting debate about the use of actors or non-actors, Romeo Castellucci’s Tragedia Endogonidia: BR.#04 Brussels produced some densely reduced images: an African cleaner in a maid’s outfit mopping the floor in a marble room aka the European Union, a white baby being taught by a robotic tutor, a bearded old man in a bikini no longer having the strength to lift his own weight wrapping himself in cloth inscribed with Hebraic script followed by a policeman’s uniform. The old man’s younger colleagues perform the act of beating a man with truncheons, cordoning his bloodied body like a crime-site and stuffing him in a bag in front of a microphone for us to hear his groans. The old man ‘dies’ in bed and a young boy-master with a cane, top-hat and what in silhouette appears to be a duck mask, struts on to pull out a tooth from the gum of a woman whose hair is falling out and to break a fluorescent light with impunity. The African woman returns in a gown from the 19th century; Moses’ tablets, which have been kicked over in the violence, hang from the ceiling in relief with hair coming from them; and out-of-focus credits roll.

dumb type

After interviewing dumb type (RT 75, p6) and seeing Voyage, and unlike those who seemed to find the performers’ investment out of balance with the technical production, I found most scenes—words dropped upon bodies to tolling electronic pings, an idle woman on a fake grass island floating among glaciers and speaking her innocent dreams in English—to signify a critical perspective. Even the daggy caving metaphor for the two women struggling to find each other in the dark at the beginning of the show was in irreverent contrast with the icily efficient perfection of the projected crystalline images of the all-seeing satellite surveillance imagery and ultra-slim lines of the solo dancer’s pointed limbs at the end.

yamazaki kota

Yamazaki Kota’s unsubtle choreography of the Australian dancers in graceful balletic symmetry combined with grotesquely blunt actions in Chamisa 4?C was a courageous attempt to represent a very real paradox: the yellow wall of light with a swinging light bulb framed by a mini-proscenium; sudden exposures of light and high wind from an off-stage fan; a woman in black in front of a full-length mirror and bodies standing with their dripping hands outstretched. The latter image was in unintentional solidarity, although with important differences which cannot be disregarded, with the deep pain of the radiation poisoning of Trevor Jamieson’s people from the land around Maralinga described in big hArt’s Ngapartji Ngapartji.

Melbourne International Arts Festival: Ryuchi Sakamato & Alva Noto, Insen, Hamer Hall, Arts Centre, Oct 12-14; Peepshow, devisor, director, performer Marie Brassard, music & sound design Alexander MacSween, design, lighting Simon Guibault, Malthouse Theatre, Oct 24-28; Bill T Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, Blind Dates, State Theatre, Oct 25-28; Societas Raffaello Sanzio, Tragedia Endogonidia: BR.#04 Brussels, direction, design Romeo Castellucci, writings, direction, vocal, sound, dramatic score Claudia Castellucci, original music Scott Gibbons; Malthouse Theatre, Oct 12-15; dumb type, Voyage, Playhouse, Arts Centre, Oct 18-20; Kota Yamazaki, Lucy Guerin, Chamisa 4ºC, Beckett Theatre, Melbourne, Oct 25-28

RealTime issue #76 Dec-Jan 2006 pg. W

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

photo: Tim Whiteley

On October 19 2001, a small fishing vessel commonly referred to as SIEV X sank in Australian waters, drowning 353 of the people onboard who were seeking refuge from war-torn countries in the Middle East.

For four years, led by project founder Steve Biddulph, a growing number of people from many streams of belief and activism have been working together to construct a permanent memorial. Landscape architect Dr Sue Anne Ware from RMIT has been collaborating with the group to help develop the idea.

photo Tim Whiteley

Beginning with a national invitation to school students and an initial idea from Queensland schoolboy, Mitchell Donaldson, for 353 bars in the shape of a boat, the project evolved into a collaboration with students, community groups and activists all over Australia who inscribed a series of decorated white wooden poles with the names of the refugees in Arabic and sent them to Canberra.

At 2pm on October 15 in Weston Park on the banks of Lake Burley Griffin, “to our amazement and gratitude, 300 poles arrived,” reports the organisers’ website (www.sievexmemorial.com), “along with 1400 people including Sir William and Lady Deane, ACT Chief Minister, Jon Stanhope, MPs and leaders of various churches, ambassadors… The line of poles was awesome to see laid out on the ground. It stretched for over 300 metres.

photo: Tim Whiteley

“Eventually it took 600 volunteers to stand up during the ceremony. We still don’t know where they all came from,” says project co-ordinator Beth Gibbings. “A drumbeat accompanied the procession down the hill. Then the poles were raised, amid tears and joy in the audience, the students and three men whose families who had died on the boat five years ago. The Kippax Uniting Church Tongan Choir sang a gospel song. Then the poles were gently laid on the grass.”

The idea was for the memorial to remain for three weeks but a late intervention by the National Capital Authority meant that the event was restricted to a single action on the day—a powerful action nevertheless, that stands strongly, as the organisers assert, as “a national symbol of conscience and caring, that every human life is precious, and a message of human unity that we won’t be divided by fear.” RT

RealTime issue #76 Dec-Jan 2006 pg. 9

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

left - Ivy Alvarez, right - J S Harry

left – Ivy Alvarez, right – J S Harry

left – Ivy Alvarez, right – J S Harry

THE RED ROOM COMPANY WAS ESTABLISHED IN 2003 WITH THE AIM OF CREATING, PROMOTING AND DISTRIBUTING POETRY TO THE PUBLIC IN NEW AND UNUSUAL WAYS.

Since then it has produced projects such as the innovative Toilet Doors Poetry project in which illustrated poems replaced advertising in the dual public/private space of a number public toilets around Australia, and Poetry Crimes, which used radio and the internet to showcase poems on the theme of crime and justice. In 2006 the first series of The Wordshed, a television show devoted to poetry and writing, was aired on the Sydney community television station, tvs. For The Poetry Picture Show 10 established and emerging poets were commissioned to each write a single poem that engaged with the moving image, to write poems that ‘moved.’ The Red Room Company then made 10 one-minute films inspired by short sections from the poems. The work resulted in a one-off performance of films and poems, augmented later by podcasts, videocasts, a DVD and a continuing blog devoted to discussion of the project.

The night began with JS Harry’s long poem “Journeys Digital—& ‘Other’ Worlds.” Somewhere, around halfway through, these lines reverberated with me:

It is over five months since Saddam’s huge statue
was pulled down — & that act — & scene
turned into photographs,
& recycled, for money,
sometimes with enigmatic US soldiers’ faces
& a few close-ups of excited teenage Iraqi boys, & men,
with stories about the ‘fall’ of Saddam’s regime
on newspaper front pages around the world.

The decision for Harry to read first was a good one as the poem prepared the audience for the complex issues that the dialogue between film and poetry opens up. Harry’s poem dealt with the entanglement of life with the bracken of visual technologies that increasingly construct it, and how this plays out in one of the most watched (and, perhaps not coincidentally, hidden) countries: Iraq. “Isn’t it rather soon for it to be released as a DVD?”, one of the characters asks, articulating a generation’s unique anxiety about the relation of the image to the real. The density of bodies—from the dictator’s statue to real flesh bodies—was continually brought up against the surface of the television and photographic images that represent them.

Other poets took the brief to write poems that move in various ways. John Tranter—whose work, at least since his 1973 collection, Red Movie, has been engaged with cinema and the moving image—contributed a bizarre and hilarious reading of Martin Ritt’s Paris Blues (1961). David Prater did something similar in revisiting the 80s flick Can You Feel Me Dancing?, while Sarah Holland-Batt’s The Limitations of Form was written after Michelangelo Antonioni’s Blowup (1966). Briohny Doyle’s poem, The Widest Wide Shot, used the conceit of the film pitch to explore the connections between memory and image, while Felicity Plunkett’s The Negative Cutter: An Introduction to Editing borrowed phrases from the technical language of film editing as jumping-off points for poems.

The film inspired by JS Harry’s poem was an abstract piece constructed from various images deployed in the poem: the audience saw a magnifying glass scrolling over a map of Iraq, a huntsman spider, and heard horrific effects that sounded like they were derived from ice cubes being snapped out of a tray. Having just heard Harry’s poem, the audience seemed unsure what to make of this work. Was it a film translation, or an accompaniment? Furthermore, what kind of film, if any, could have taken this poem—already so critically engaged with image-culture—somewhere else? Possibly it was the absence of narrative in Nathan Shepherdson and Sarah Holland-Batt’s poems that encouraged the filmmakers to extend the poems into their own filmic spaces. But apart from these two examples, the filmmakers chose to respond literally to the poems’ images, depicting only their most ‘visual’ aspects.

The films were projected after each poet had finished reading. Guarding the integrity of each poem and film in this way meant there was little opportunity for the artforms and their various elements—spoken language, moving image and soundtrack—to work in combination. There was a sense that this meeting of poetry and film was a bit over-determined: that two forms, always necessarily connected, were being introduced as if for the first time. An imbalance in the organisation of the show became apparent: while the poets were commissioned to produce their work, the films were produced by members of The Red Room Company themselves in collaboration with the poets, meaning there was a similarity of style and approach across the 10 films. Taking on different filmmakers might have brought a fresh approach to each ‘film-poem.’ Other text-image projects from the last few years have worked successfully in this way: the Red Room’s own Toilet Doors Poetry project and the 2002-2003 project Cornerfold (www.cornerfold.com.au), which commissioned artists and designers working in computer media, comic artists, zinemakers and writers to create online animations.

Over the last four years The Red Room Company has expanded the reach of Australian poetry, distributing and broadcasting online, on radio, TV and in public spaces. Its projects have given people who might not have otherwise had a chance to encounter poetry, and to meet it in ways not normally presented. The challenge for the Red Room now is to allow poetry the room to change and evolve as it starts to engage with new media, while keeping those things that poetry already does best: the quiet work of language in a room or on a page. Hopefully the Poetry Picture Show and its online existence has opened up a dialogue in this area that will continue.

Ten of the poems and films from The Poetry Picture Show are available as podcasts, CD, DVD or online at www.redroomorganisation.org and with commentaries in The Poets’ Guide to Picture Shows blog at the same address.

The Red Room Company, The Poetry Picture Show, Old Darlington School, Redfern, Sydney, Oct 6

RealTime issue #76 Dec-Jan 2006 pg. 26

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

Wladyslaw Kazmierczak and Ewa Rybska, Sonne Statt Reagan

Wladyslaw Kazmierczak and Ewa Rybska, Sonne Statt Reagan

THE BARE, WHITE HALL OF THE EMPIRE STUDIOS IN LONDON RECENTLY HOUSED AN AMBITIOUS POLISH ART PRESENTATION ACCOMPANIED BY POLISH VODKA AND BEER.

There were three performances by four artists—Pawel Kwasniewski (London Tango), Karolina Stepinowska (untitled) and Wladyslaw Kazmierczak and Ewa Rybska (Sonne Statt Reagan). For those of us who don’t know much about Polish Performance Art, there was also a program briefly outlining its history and a talk on the subject the following day. That history may be shaped by independence and isolation, but the work in this presentation seemed haunted by relations with the outside world.

Kazmierczak’s enthusiastic program prose is a performance in itself—performative writing that exudes both enthusiasm about his subject and a distinctive, clipped-English voice. Performance art in Poland, he writes, “was for artists mainly a form of expression which sidestepped political censorship and did not lead to contention with the circles of vanguard and conceptual art.” Without the political freedoms of the West, Polish artists turned to performance as a way of escaping both the evolutionary thrust of dominant practice and the oppression of the censors.

Kwasniewski embodies capitalism and socialism, left-wing and right-wing. As a not-for-profit artist, he calculates the economic worth of his performance. He describes the steps that have lead him to the Empire Studios—the cost of his travel, his loss of work, his reputation and career—and punctuates each with two ping pong balls: “a little to the left, a little to the right.” The balls bounce merrily off in opposite directions, a metaphor for Kwasniewski’s life. By the end of the performance this scruffy middle-aged man has revealed himself to be a successful journalist and businessman, worth over four million pounds in property and assets. But his art, he reminds us, is not-for-profit. He cuts a square centimetre of his arm and wipes the blood onto his financial calculations. Nobody buys it.

Here is a united Europe’s dream—what successful integration, what seamless suture of East and West. For a London audience, Kwasniewski also questions a number of Polish stereotypes—is he really a media mogul? (Not a plumber?) By declaring his (real or imagined) economic worth he disrupts the conventional wisdom of an Eastern Europe under the spell of a wealthy and complacent West. He captures and redirects the gaze of economic history that underpins Western Europe’s relationship with the former Soviet bloc.

Stepinowska is not so lucky. Cutting her hair off, banging her head against a wall, eating carnations and drinking red wine until she is sick, she enacts the trope of heartbreak. Whoever has broken her heart is unknown, and irrelevant—the fact of her forced transformation is compelling enough. It’s clearly a profound and internalised loss, and one that descends into self harm. Unlike Kwasniewski, the emotional clichés in Stepinowska’s piece imply a generality to her state; in the context of the show, it’s tempting to read it as the state of Poland in modern Europe. Her earnest, but doomed, transformation is echoed by Kazmierczak’s description of Poland’s ‘trauma’ of exposure to the West after the fall of Communism in 1989.

As she leaves, Stepinowska takes the mirror, her reflection. Has she won back her identity after her body literally vomited in protest at the change? Or is she condemned to be defined by how others see her— from the outside in?

Completing the trajectory of political engagement, Kazmierczak and Rybska’s piece tackles international relations on a large scale. Their performance begins with them playing toy electric guitars with pious enthusiasm, and ends with rubbish and firecrackers being chucked onto the stage. Kazmierczak wears glasses with the lenses whited out, and two crucifixes like black clown eyes, painted on. They place cards at the front of the stage detailing Iraqi civilian deaths since the ‘allied’ invasion.

Kazmierczak and Rybska’s demented, anarchic protest has both the US and Christian Imperialism in its sights—huge targets that are matched by their depth of angry feeling, but not their power. Their impotence could be speaking from within the notorious phrase, “You forgot Poland.” (George W Bush’s retort to John Kerry after the Democrat belittled the strength of allied forces; liberal US media was quick to suggest that Poland didn’t count for much.) Even their reference to Joseph Beuys’ “Sonne Statt Raegan”, the famous artist’s pop song against Ronald Reagan’s arms policy that plays in the background, seems outdated and strained.

While this piece dramatically asserts Poland’s place in the world—both as participant and protestor—it also dramatises its ineffectiveness. Emotions are delineated by other cultures—a German song, images of US presidential history—and the artists’ expression reduced to infantile tantrums.

It seems characteristic of the struggle for the voice of Polish performance art that it will be defined in these terms—the infant brother in the shadow of a better established cultural tradition. Kazmierczak cites RoseLee Goldberg’s famous tome on performance as both a model for a Polish history and a paradigm that’s difficult to escape. Perhaps that is why Kwasniewski’s piece seemed the most successful: personal and intimate, it doesn’t extrapolate Polish sentiment to an unrealistic scale.

But it is simplistic to chart these works as emotional points on a map of Polish relations, just as it is anachronistic to imagine a British audience will fulfil or remain within the boundaries of Polish cultural understanding. (Does Kwasniewski know about Polish plumbers? How many UK viewers will understand a German song?). And yet the presentation is shaped by the responsibility of Polish history and relations. Curator Beata Dudzic says that the show was inspired by “thousands of Poles coming to England seeking jobs”, and Kazmierczak wants the program to serve as an “introductory monograph of Polish Performance Art.”

In the end, it’s the scale of these aspirations that undermines each individual piece: successful on their own, they buckle under the weight of representation. Kwasniewski stands the tallest, redirecting the assumptive gaze and asserting his independence. Poland’s isolation is over, and compromises will be made—Kwasniewski, at least, makes them on his own terms.

Polish Art Presentation, curator Beata Dudzic Empire Studios, London, Oct 28

Kazmierczak and Rybska will appear in NRLA 2007, see p44

RealTime issue #76 Dec-Jan 2006 pg. 39

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

I La Galigo Production

I La Galigo Production

I La Galigo Production

ROBERT WILSON’S I LA GALIGO IS THE FIRST KNOWN THEATRICAL STAGING OF AN ANCIENT EPIC POEM OF THE BUGIS PEOPLE CONVEYING THE CREATION MYTH OF SOUTH SULAWESI, INDONESIA. IT DESCRIBES HOW THE GODS OF SKY AND SEA COLONISE MIDDLE EARTH—A SAGA OF INCESTUOUS TWINS REMINISCENT OF THE NIEBERLUNGENLIED.

I was pleased this was a major avant garde engagement with an Indonesian regional classic instead of the endless parade of Javo-Balinese intercultural collaborations. It was a sumptuous, expansive (and expensive) display of clever stagecraft. There was much to be admired —wit, flair, grandeur, cuteness and kitsch. There are wars, sea voyages, spurned love, and traitorous cats, played out with trademark Wilson precision against a colour-saturated cyclorama. At three hours 15 minutes it was not so much slow as laboured – repetition and symmetry without counterpoint moving from the hypnotic to the predictable.

The undeniable triumph was Rahayu Suppanggah’s robust score, a sensitive and knowledgeable blend of pre-Islamic music and original concepts. Female vocalists sang from the original text, segueing from the raw timbral quality of the Bissu into sweeter tones of modern folksong. Whilst Suppanggah’s use of a pan-Indonesian selection of instruments never felt like a geography lesson, the dances were less subtle. I wondered how they differed from sendratari, the modern dance-dramas influenced by Western staging? And if they didn’t then what was Wilson’s distinctive contribution beyond overall production values? The contemporary wave of Indonesian choreographers has moved beyond the telltale cliches of that dated genre and created internationally regarded work without bypassing their complex relationships with a multi-layered social reality.

Wilson preferred a superficial and linear treatment of the great cosmic plot without reference to the conditions of its existence, privileging instead his painterly images. Many raved about the great sarong birth scene, but manipulating lengths of cloth to make multiple meanings is a developed art form in Indonesia. To me the more impressive device was the exquisitely efficient murder of the songket-weaving sentinels. That use of contained potency was thrilling.

Elsewhere the Wilson idea of hypnotic stasis seemed pushed to the brink of histrionics. Mannered posturing forced into rigid tableaux and feigned dialogue with eyebrows seemed more Manchu than Malay, or perhaps derived from the high formal tone and austere aesthetics of Noh. The cockfight was closer to home—cloth chickens animated with flair and style in a familiar atmosphere. This was the real thing—the acting both natural and spontaneously stylised and as naturally potent as the dance of septuagenarian Mak Coppong, the only traditional performer besides the Bissu priest, and distinct from the urban academy-trained artistes of the company.
I La Galigo Production

I La Galigo Production

I La Galigo Production

The Bissu remains external, his role peripheralised, reduced from storyteller to ritual janitor—just the man with the keys. As a shamanic journey, the work provided no closure, no ritual resolution to return us to this world, bracketing it instead with the theatrical device of procession —as if we view another audience returning from whence they came.

Whilst Wilson abandoned his desire for an international cast in response to the voice of cultural politics, ensuring the project provide abundant opportunities and benefits for Indonesian artsworkers, on reflection he might have been well advised to follow his instincts.

In the past Wilson has used his devices to defamiliarise, but here he starts with the unfamiliar. Without a shared grasp of underlying meanings his beautiful pictures are bereft, bearing none of the patina of the 14th century hand-inscribed manuscripts which remain the source inspiration. Rich with illuminations, there is nothing clinical or austere in the patinaed pages of Wilson’s source. Yet from his long opening procession of silhouettes to the final reprise one is struck by the austere Wilson aesthetic and high formal tone. And in terms of the oral epic recorded therein, a poetic play of words and imagination full of lexical ornamentation, embellished over centuries of oral transmission, it makes a strange match for a director renowned for his rejection of words and textual meaning.

I La Galigo, director, set and lighting concept Robert Wilson, text adaptation and dramaturgy Rhoda Grauer, music: Rahayu Supanggah, Bissu priest Puang Matoa Saidi, costumes Joachim Herzog, lighting AJ Weissbard, producer Change Performing Arts, Bali Purnati Centre for the Arts, State Theatre, Victorian Arts Centre, Melbourne International Arts Festival, Oct 19-23

RealTime issue #76 Dec-Jan 2006 pg. W

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

Akram Khan & Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Zero Degrees

Akram Khan & Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Zero Degrees

Akram Khan & Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, Zero Degrees

IN A STRONGER THAN USUAL SYDNEY FESTIVAL PROGRAM, DANCE PLAYS A PIVOTAL ROLE, NOT ONLY FEATURING LEADING AUSTRALIAN AND VISITING COMPANIES BUT ALSO OPENING SYDNEY’S NEW REDFERN-BASED CONTEMPORARY PERFORMING ARTS SPACE, THE CARRIAGEWORKS, WITH AKRAM KHAN & SIDI LARBI CHERKAOUI (UK-BELGIUM), AUSTRALIAN DANCE THEATRE AND BATSHEVA DANCE COMPANY (ISRAEL).

At the Sydney Opera House there’s Lucy Guerin Inc, Meryl Tankard & Taikoz, and The Holy Body Tattoo (Canada). The theatre program is more modest but boasts the wonderful Maly Drama Theatre of St Petersburg in Uncle Vanya along with Gate Theatre (Ireland) with a trio of Beckett adaptations for the stage, Company B’s new take on Snugglepot and Cuddlepie and South Korea’s Yahangza’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

But it’s the hybrid works that have some of the festival’s strongest appeal, above all in the Christoph Marthaler Seemannslieder in collaboration with the Dutch-Belgian companies ZT Hollandia and NTGENT, merging musical performance and theatre in unexpected ways. Likewise there’s Lou Reed’s Berlin, a live performance of his 1973 cult album realised here with Reed and band as staged by visual artist Julian Schnabel; dancer-choreographers Akram Kahn and Sidfi Larbi Cherkaoui collaborate with sculptor Anthony Gormley; ADT’s Garry Stewart with Montreal roboticist Louis-Philippe Demers; Lucy Guerin with dancers media artist Michaela French and designers Bluebottle; and, not least, Geelong’s Back to Back Theatre join a host of collaborators to work a public site into an intimate theatrical/media space. Here’s my ticket wish list, in welcoming artists whose work I’ve seen and admired, but also with quite a bit of guesswork and reliance on reputations—the risk-taking that comes with arts festivals. By the way, let me add this wish, for a greater commitment from the festival to Sydney artists who appear in such small numbers relative to their counterparts in festivals in other Australian cities.

Christoph Marthaler/ZT Hollandia/NTGent: Seemanslieder

The great European director (p8) evokes the pull of the ocean on body (sober, dreaming & drunken) and voice in sailor songs, pop and lieder.

Maly Drama Theatre of St Petersburg: Uncle Vanya

Superbly theatrical and wonderfully lateral in the 1996 Adelaide Festival, this company’s Vanya will doubtless yield great emotion and unexpected insight.

Akram Khan & Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui: Zero Degrees

In the premiere CarriageWorks’ performance, superb dancer-choreographers British-Bangladeshi Akram Khan and Flemish-Moroccan Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui (Les Ballets C de la B) dance to a meeting point, the zero degree, with music by Nitin Sawhney and design by sculptor Anthony Gormley.

Australian Dance Theatre: Devolution

Choreographer Garry Stewart, robotocist Philippe Demers, filmmaker Gina Czarnecki and the powerful ADT dancers create a frightening world in which humans and machines uneasily coexist. Interview with Garry Stewart: RT 71, p2; review: RT72, p32.

Lucy Guerin Inc, Structure and Sadness

Choreographer Lucy Guerin’s reverie on the 1970 collapse of the West Gate Bridge as felt in analogous tensions of the body. Review: p31; Interview: RT75, p4

Back to Back Theatre: Small Metal Objects

Outside Customs House Square by Circular Quay at peak hour, the audience watch a very real passing crowd amidst which a disturbing drama unfolds. A hit at last year’s Melbourne International Arts Festival. Review: RT70, p4; interview RT69, p6

Meryl Tankard and TaikOz: Kaidan, A Ghost Story

Choreographer Meryl Tankard in a collaboration with Sydney taiko drum ensemble TaikOz and visual artist Régis Lansac create their version of a classic Japanese ghost story.

Batsheva Dance Company

Three works: the intimate Mamootot with nine dancers and audience on four sides at the CarriageWorks; Kamuyot for groups of young people over 6 without experience of dance; and the epic Telophaza for over 40 performers and screens, choreography by Ohad Naharin, staged in the Capitol Theatre.

The Holy Body Tattoo: Our Brief Eternity

The Holy Body Tattoo, Our Brief Eternity

The Holy Body Tattoo, Our Brief Eternity

The Holy Body Tattoo, Our Brief Eternity

The Holy Body Tattoo “explores the nature of human endurance through ideas of surrender, fragility and broken elegance” From Canada, three dancers, an electro-industrial score, images by William Morrison and texts by William Gibson and Chris Halcrow tackle the forces of progress. www.holybodytattoo.org

Gate Theatre: Beckett Season

Michael Gambon in Eh Joe, directed by Atom Egoyan, is a staged version of the TV original; Barry McGovern in I’ll Go On, a dramatised selection from the Beckett novels; and Ralph Fiennes in First Love, from the novella.

CIRCA: The Space Between

A rare Sydney outing for Brisbane’s globe-trotting physical theatre, CIRCA, with a work about the desperate need for togetherness and its attendant tensions.

Company B: The Adventures of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie and Little Ragged Blossom

With John Clarke at the writing helm expect both a faithful realisation but also a satirical re-write of a white Australian children’s classic.

MCA: Centre Pompidou: Video art 1965-2005

Curated by the Pompidou’s curator of New Media, Christine Van Assche, this large scale exhibition includes over 25 renowned video artists from across the globe including Isaac Julien, Nam June Paik, Garry Hill, Jean-Luc Godard, Samuel Beckett, Bill Viola, Valie Export, Pierre Huyghe and Tony Oursler.

Lou Reed’s Berlin

A grim paean to life on the edge, the cult 1973 LP Berlin is now performed live for the first time, featuring Reed himself, a fine band and Antony of Antony and The Johnsons, with musical direction by Bob Ezrin, who produced the original album and Hal Willner, creator of the 2005 Sydney Festival Leonard Cohen tribute, Came So Far for Beauty. The concert will be directed and designed by New York painter and filmmaker Julian Schnabel (Basquiat, Before Night Falls).

The Famous Spiegeltent

Kaki King

Kaki King

The ubiquitous tent features an unusually adventurous musical program with Australia’s The Necks, Clogs (a classy electro-acoustic US-Australian combo), New York virtuoso guitarist Kaki King (echoes of the late great John Fahey), another fine guitarist and singer-songwriter M Ward (US), eclectic harpist-singer-songwriter Joanna Newsom (US) of the weird child voice, and Brazil’s Bossa Nova Hot Club.

Roseanne Cash: Black Cadillac

US progressive country great Cash sings from her latest CD, Black Cadillac, about parents Johnny Cash and June Carter, in a concert with song, spoken word and film.

The World Famous: Crackers?

Audiences over the age of 12 stand for an hour surrounded and awed by the fireworks of pyrotechnicians The World Famous at Sydney’s Olympic Park. Also features The Human Sparkler.

Sky Orchestra

In a work about listening while asleep, at sunrise hot air balloons will fly over western Sydney broadcasting the creations of sound artists Luke Jerram and composer Dan Jones.

Have a go…

Arts festivals always involve risk-taking and some of the following look intriguing: Akhe Russian Engineering Theatre’s multimedia performance, White Cabin; the hip hop theatre of Will Power’s Flow (US); Compagnie Au Cul Du Loup (France) at play with found sounds in a show titled Mousson; and even the Domain series. Jazz in the Domain’s Noite Brasil is the two and a half hour creation of composer-guitarist and bossa nova boss Oscar Castro-Neves with a percussion section led by no less than Airto Moreira; and Symphony in the Domain features not only Barber, Bernstein and Copland but also works by Frank Zappa and John Zorn. KG


www.sydneyfestival.org.au

RealTime issue #76 Dec-Jan 2006 pg. 10

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

Image Lythe Witte (front left) and Property Resistance (back right) lounging with friends at the Oasis Jazz Club

Image Lythe Witte (front left) and Property Resistance (back right) lounging with friends at the Oasis Jazz Club

SECOND LIFE IS LEGO FOR ADULTS. RATHER THAN BUILDING MINIATURE HOMES WITH COLOURFUL PLASTIC BRICKS, GROWN-UPS ARE PUTTING THEIR HARD-EARNED CASH INTO TRANSLUSCENT CLAY: PIXELS.

Second Life (SL), if you haven’t already heard, is an online virtual world with over one million registrations. It’s a 3D space that you enter and move around. Unlike massively multiplayer role-playing games like World of Warcraft, Linden Labs (the company behind SL) decided to offer no game, no missions, no tasks or roles to play. It is up to the residents of SL not only to inhabit but create it and everything you can do in it, pixel by pixel. So what do the SL residents, who are on average 32 years of age, choose to create?

everyday avatars

In Hinduism, an avatar refers to the embodiment of an immortal being. In virtual worlds, an avatar refers to the embodied representation of each player or resident. I have an avatar, but cannot claim any access to divine knowledge. And, unlike the imaginative incarnations of Hindu beings, such as Hayagriva’s human body with a horse head, the bodies preferred by SL residents are surprisingly vapid. Most avatars in SL are ‘ideal’ forms such as tall, slim, glamorous women and men with washboard abdominals and even musclier arms. Unlike real life, it is harder to put on weight, age and be ugly in SL. In order to corrupt your avatar you need to either tweak your appearance or buy another. You can look, dress and act any way you like in SL, for a price.

You can choose another gender or species, various personae (Brad Pitt, Yoda), an abstract installation or create your own. Your decisions about how you portray yourself in this world are important because other avatars judge you on those choices. Many residents choose idealised forms for the experience—how it feels and how you are treated. As well as a body, SL residents can buy clothes, hair, hats and nail polish. Everything you try on fits: jeans, dresses, jumpers, tuxedos. These personalisation practices are not unique to SL or virtual worlds, but the facility to be infinitely bold is embedded in the option to program yourself, literally. SL also provides the capacity to weave this construction beyond the avatar to a home and lifestyle.

virtual house and garden

Residents of SL can purchase land and build homes. Rather than suburbia or futuristic hover cars (although they are there), the landscape of SL is a collection of islands that can be tweaked to your heart’s desire. There are tranquil waterfalls, three-storey homes with waterfront views and yachts docked out the front, castles, shopping malls and casinos. Homes can be fitted out with stainless steel kitchen fittings, fireplaces, shag carpets and swimming pools. Residents buy their homes, goods and services from small or large inworld department stores and, wait for it, their favourite designers. Just like real life, there are celebrity fashion and furniture designers and architects in demand. Indeed they often have their own websites and print magazines to advertise and discuss their businesses. Parallel to these SL-specific designers are real world ones that have come in to SL to extend their ‘brand’: residents can buy Adidas sneakers, sip cola out of Coke cans and drive a Pontiac. Why do residents choose to work in a world where they don’t have to?

taking home virtual bread

There are two factors that facilitate this activity: Linden Labs “recognizes Residents’ right to retain full intellectual property protection for the digital content they create in Second Life” (Second Life website) and the inworld currency (Linden Dollars) can be converted to US dollars and deposited into your real life bank account. There are residents, therefore, who earn a living from the money they make in SL. Anshe Chung, for instance, earns over one hundred thousand (real) dollars each year from selling virtual real estate (www.anshechung.com). A resident doesn’t have to run their own business though; they can earn Linden dollars from the services they provide as model, lap dancer, escort, DJ, wedding planner, bouncer, bar person or artist. There are also many real life visual artists, filmmakers, musicians and writers creating inworld representations of their works and streaming live performances.

is SL all work and no play?

Irrespective of the seemingly infinite potential that SL provides as a creative platform, it is a ghost town without the richness of interaction. It is not until people socialise and converse about scientific theories, business practices or relationships that visitors become residents. This shift to seeing oneself as part of a world is facilitated by the cultural and intellectual activity within SL and the ability to communicate more richly. Rather than rely on voice or text, you can run scripts that animate your avatar to laugh, hug and even seduce. Indeed, residents start relationships with varying degrees of real life consequences, get married and have virtual children. However, you can participate in many ways without such intense bonding.

How about dancing and sucking on a cigar at a jazz club or attending an inworld concert with Suzanne Vega or U2? You could also check out The New West, an exhibition of resident—created virtual art which was part of ZeroOne San Jose/ISEA2006 (www.ludica.org.uk/NewWest/). Or, if your inclination is literary, attend Cory Doctorow’s book launch and read his book inworld. If it’s theatre you’re after, see a play at The New Globe or play an elf in a Lord of the Rings simulation. If it’s knowledge you’re after, then attend a lecture streamed in from the Harvard Law School (blogs.law.harvard.edu/ cyberone) or take a class in international new media at Second Lifes’ NMC Campus (www.nmc.org/sl). Or, you could learn about rockets via a live video feed from NASA at the International Space Flight Museum (slispaceflightmuseum.org). If all this ‘high’ culture is a bit too much in a cartoon land, you can always fly over Big Brother in SL and watch fellow avatars throw scripted tantrums over virtual food (www.bigbrothersl.com). Doesn’t this sound like an ideal world?

straw homes

Virtual homes are like houses of straw in that they can be easily blown down by the big bad corporation. When SL is down because of a ‘griefer’ attack or for updates, people are locked out of their second life, their mode of interaction with friends and family, their businesses and classrooms. Sal Humphreys, a post-doctoral Research Fellow from the Queensland University of Technology, has observed the implications for people moving their social lives online to proprietary spaces. So, why do people invest so much time and money in a world that they do not own? Residents do not see themselves as subscribers paying to access Linden Labs’ proprietary world.

Instead, some see themselves as paying LL to manage the world on their behalf. LL is in service to them. This is a paradigm shift in the way ‘users’ are approaching many so-called user-generated sites…a shift that is not shared by the corporations who run these sites. Players, residents and staff persist however. Why?

beyond holodecks

Many online virtual worlds trigger fantasies that the Star Trek holodeck has been realised. A holodeck is that mutable space where the crew of a future spacecraft can summon any scene their imagination conjures. Just like Lego constructions scattered over the loungeroom floor, the holodeck is a space where fantasy takes place. Virtual worlds like SL, however, induce the butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling that a pervasive parallel world is emerging around us. If you can socialise, marry and work in this second life, then isn’t it an equal reality? Irrespective of the intangible nature of the SL world, for many it’s the beginning of a new world and a new species.

Second Life: www.secondlife.com

RealTime issue #76 Dec-Jan 2006 pg. 27

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

Jo Lancaster, Acrobat

Jo Lancaster, Acrobat

Jo Lancaster, Acrobat

IT’S BEEN A LONG TIME SINCE WE’VE SEEN ANYTHING FROM ACROBAT, THE BRILLIANT BUt UNLUCKY TROUPE THAT WAS LAST SEEN IN AN EPONYMOUS SHOW AT THE 2004 MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL ARTS FESTIVAL.

It was during this season that Jo Lancaster, co artistic director with Simon Yates was struck down with such violent morning sickness that she was virtually unable to perform, leaving the show only 40 minutes long. It was still celebrated, despite obvious and glaring holes—the tumbling routine at the end in which Simon Yates heroically performed line after line with no respite for example.

Acrobat announced during that season that they were folding. So it was ironic that next May the company was awarded $30,000 by the Sidney Myer Foundation. Since then we have only seen Circus Ole, a fabulous collaboration with The Snuff Puppets.

So we were very much looking forward to seeing Smaller, Poorer, Cheaper, Acrobat’s latest offering at The Melbourne Fringe Festival. To write this article I’ve interviewed Mike Finch, Teresa Blake and Karen Hadfield.

Smaller, Poorer, Cheaper is essentially three solo pieces: Jo Lancaster on difficulty and motherhood; Mozes in an extended exploration of disease and toxicity; and Simon Yates finishing. As with all Acrobat shows, the skills are primary and performed at a very high level. I began by asking if the show had an underlying theme or cohesiveness.

Blake says of the show, “All of the pieces have a simplicity and an artlessness. It’s a very essential show. It feels like each of the performers doesn’t actually have to do as much as they do. There seems to be hardly any attention to transitions. It isn’t very sophisticated theatrically.”

Simon’s slack wire routine really sticks out. It has a Flying Fruit Fly or Circus Oz aesthetic (Simon has performed in both, and the act was created during a stint at Circus Oz), a sort of goofy, full scenario. It’s been performed a lot so it has a polish that the rest of the show doesn’t have. People have commented that Acrobat would benefit from using a director. But maybe it is this ‘artlessness’ that is their appeal. Maybe a director or a more sophisticated dramaturgical approach would lose something.

I ask Finch what the performers wear. “Not much”, he says. Acrobat’s aesthetic has always been functional. It could be described as a non-aesthetic. They don’t dress up the tricks, they strip their routines back to essentials. Costuming in this show is virtually non existent. Jo begins naked, sniffing through a pile of undies until she finds a pair to wear that smell the least (we assume, and hope). Mozes is also nude for a lot of the time. Apparently the roller skating brings to mind Helpmann’s comment about male nudes in ballet: that you can’t get some bits to stop when the rest does. Simon begins in undies and dresses himself in a suit on the slack wire, his much loved routine, which while largely unchanged manages to convey something new in this context.

So a lot of the visual information of the show is about the body. Jo’s body shows us the results of having two children and constant, demanding training. It is sinewy and hard, like a farm worker’s body, says Teresa.

Mozes finishes his solo with his Blood Rope act. The rope begins to drip and then pour blood down his body as he contorts and entwines himself in it. This is about the inside of the body coming out, the way disease can become primary, can hold a body hostage.

Simon uses a repetitive handspring drill as a study of limits and endurance. He handsprings onto a table, then raises the surface by a centimetre and does it again, and again, and again until the height defeats him.

Both Jo and Mozes do a swinging trapeze act. The same skill, fairly similar acts. This doesn’t seem to worry or tire the audience, who are instead interested in the different executions of the same skill. Jo strips it of performativity, preferring to let the moves speak for themselves. Mozes is a consummate showman complete with compliments and flourishes. And then Simon brings the trapeze down too. But instead of a trapeze act he sets a rope loop and, surprisingly, does a back ‘sault to toe hang in the loop. This is a trick you don’t see often. Well, it’s quite difficult and is over so quickly…I suspect that the “bang for buck” quotient seems too low for a lot of performers. But then this is Acrobat and they’ve never been very interested in the “bang” anyway.

I asked Karen for her favourite moment in the show: “Jo holding a vacuum cleaner to her breast to show how it feels sometimes to be a mother. All the information came together. The look of her body, the difficulty of the tumbling (she does a tumbling routine wearing heavy boots).”

Teresa mentions that “Simon does Jo’s hair for her before she goes onto the swinging trapeze. This simple act is incredibly moving. It gives us a glimpse into their relationship. It speaks of a couple even though they perform solo. It speaks of interdependence and loyalty and, I suppose, love!”

Mike describes Simon “desperately struggling to do circus by himself. He drags on a large boxer’s punching bag. It looks almost heavier than he is. He hangs it from a snapshackle and drops a plumb bob underneath it. He painstakingly sets up the teeter board underneath that. When he is satisfied that everything is correct, he stands on the other end of the teeter board and pulls the snapshackle open, dropping the bag and pitching himself into the air.”

I ask, “Was it sad?” Mike says, “No! It was funny! And heroic!” Teresa agrees, “Heroic is a good word.” I suspect that it was sad though, underneath. Sad because the performers don’t work together. Sad because it’s so tough. Sad because even though they seem to conquer adversity, to triumph through sheer physical prowess, the adversity is always there.

Apparently Acrobat already have some European work lined up for this show. I hope that luck goes with them this time.

Acrobat, Smaller, Poorer, Cheaper, Arts House, Meat Market, Melbourne, Sept 21-Oct 1

RealTime issue #76 Dec-Jan 2006 pg. 42

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

Dreamland

Dreamland

Ivan Thorley’s Dreamland depicts what happens when an individual’s illusions, manufactured by an entity ensconced in a high-rise office, fall apart. The stark contrast between the dynamic italicised title, Dreamland, scrolling along the back wall (the innovative invention of Olaf Meyer) and the melancholic inertia of the protagonist (Leon Ewing), a faded performer who had once dreamed of a stadium full of fans, creates a certain alienated domesticity which permeates the show. Told through music, scenography, dance and recorded voice-over, this is the story of a queer punk who seems to have awakened to his life as a semi-skilled and somewhat jaded clown.

We initially meet him as he sits with us in the audience. His woes are writ large in the text he speaks to us in the dark—tired thoughts of an entertainer from the Cobain generation walking the blunted knife-edge night after night for a demanding ‘here we are now, entertain us’ audience. Canned applause follows. We follow him in his saggy strong-man unitard and grease paint into this world of no meaning, of ‘unreason’, of endless distraction where “cause and effect are unfashionable.” His scorn is pretentious: “What audiences put up with! In Europe they would have left by now.” Following an amusing, bitter confession regarding his lack of public recognition and delivered via his alter ego, a deep-ocean fish puppet, we are presented with familiar brattish dissatisfaction, which will doubtless become a psychological disorder. Simultaneously obsequious and inflated, the iconic despairing clown plays out the thwarted celebrity phantasies of our late capitalist entertainment industry.

Yet we suspect there must be a deeper cause for his ennui. In a flashback, a mimed story of love on bended-knee and heartbreak is played. The clown’s ‘heart’ in the form of a stuffed doll is presented to dancing showgirl twins (Holly Durant, Amber Haines) who then squabble over and dismember it. It becomes a voodoo doll, and the man-boy clown falls apart. As the conjoined girls writhe on the floor, he proceeds to pound the puppet with his bass-guitar. Any sense of hubris defeated is circumvented by the listless tone of cartoon horror modeled on the work of Dave Louapre (Beautiful Stories for Ugly Children, etc). Nothing is authentic. Truth is a commodity. Life is only worth living if it is represented on the screen. These phrases seem to run through Dreamland suggesting the side-effects of the aimless malaise of comfortable consumer culture.

Thorley quotes Mark Dery (in turn quoting Marshall Blonsky): “[the audience] can control the message and its multiple possibilities of interpretation…restoring a critical dimension to passive reception.” However, Dreamland is as yet in the initial stages of an experiment in form and ‘post-dramatic’ story-telling. Although Thorley aims to “incorporate political advocacy” along the themes of “ecology and sustainability”, these larger issues are yet to be exhumed from the veneer of gormless distraction Dery writes about. Had the clown been more sharply drawn, had the twin dancers taken more agency, had the sources of delusional misspent youth been explored beyond the realms of the personal, the cute aesthetic might have offered the potential to subvert the forces of oblivion. Dreamland can go further yet.

Dreamland, devised by Ivan Thorley, performers Leon Ewing, Holly Durant, Amber Haines, visuals Olaf Meyer; developed at CultureLAB, Arts House; 2006 Melbourne Fringe Festival Hub, North Melbourne Town Hall, Sept 29-Oct 6

RealTime issue #76 Dec-Jan 2006 pg.

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

spat+loogie, National Treasures, installation for Karaoke Bedlam, MAAP

spat+loogie, National Treasures, installation for Karaoke Bedlam, MAAP

IF YOU HAVEN’T HEARD, THE HOTTEST ACCESSORY FOR THE YOUNG AND EMERGING ARTS EVENT IN 2006 IS SPAT+LOOGIE’S NEW!SHOP.

After an initial Performance Space residency in 2005, new!shop premiered at Next Wave (RT73, p2), toured to Canberra Contemporary Art Space (RT73, p48) and inevitably landed in Newcastle for Electrofringe.

new!shop, we are told, is our retail future. Installed in an actual shopfront, the spat+loogie team stock shelves with bemusing objects marked only with barcodes, which when scanned reveal their life affirming purpose (eg Bright Future Sun Glasses, Fear Mask, DIY Botox Kit) through stills, text and video snippets. The shop has efficient, friendly staff who offer you samples, direct you to specials and occasionally lock all the doors and undertake security checks of the not-so innocent looking shoppers. Although no money is exchanged and no items actually acquired (some lucky shoppers in Newcastle did get badges), new!shop is a satisfying experience for the art shopper with its no-fuss integration of performance, installation, technology and social commentary.

I caught up with the new!shop creators spat+loogie (Kat Barron and Lara Thoms) as they ran between rehearsals for the three projects they are currently working on. They only had time for one beer.

Gail: When your were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?

Kat: I think I wanted to be an illustrator or a doctor.

Gail: And what stopped you going down that path?

Kat: I think what stopped me was that on the night I finished the HSC I went to have dinner with Lara’s family and her grandmother got out a future predicting pendulum and told me that I needed to be an artist.

Lara: That’s true! I tossed and turned and never really knew…In high school I was really pissed off a lot of the time and a bit of a socialist and never wanted to work for the system. My dad is a filmmaker so I got quite interested in image making and artmaking. I think at some point I thought I wanted to do acting, but didn’t really have any dreams of a particular career.

Gail: You seem to have known each other a while.

Lara: Yeah but we weren’t really friends at high school (laughs)…We went away after school and became really close friends. We moved in together and started making art in a little studio in a tiny terrace in Surry Hills.

Kat: A balcony!

Gail: What’s your training?

Lara: We’ve both got Media Arts Production Degrees in Communications from the University of Technology (UTS). Aside from that I’ve done imPACT ensemble (PACT Youth Theatre’s training workshop) and lots of little bits and pieces. We did a little short course at VCA a couple of years ago.

Gail: How did your collaboration come about?

Kat: We used to just make a lot of little collages and paintings together…passed things between each other.

Lara: We also travelled together and did a travel zine. We’ve got this pretty amazing trust in each other. We can leave something half finished and be happy for the other to finish it without even checking up on it…We do have slightly different skills but we have the exact same aesthetic, so we never really have problems with bickering.

Kat: Lara is more interested in performance…I guess I do more new media stuff. But we do both as well.

Lara: It’s quite equal but Kat is actually a lot better at getting things done and I’m a lot better at talking about things. So I can sit down with performers or anyone and go on for a while, while Kat’s behind the computer. She’s a can do-er. She’s more technically proficient than I am…

Gail: It’s been a good year for spat+loogie.

Lara: I think the past 12-15 months have been such a steep learning curve—trying to work out the art world and festival lands. So many people have put work into new!shop that it’s been really worthwhile being able to give it a bit of a life.

Gail: How did you get new!shop off the ground?

Kat: We got a Kickstart grant from Next Wave which was a year long development.

Lara: We were really inspired from seeing the previous Next Wave festival. There were so many multiform works and things in non-traditional spaces, young people doing really experimental stuff. After the festival we sat in a café and said we have to do something like that right now!

Gail: And what’s next?

Kat: Gathering Ground [a large scale site-specific project by PACT Youth Theatre and Redfern Community Centre taking audiences on a performance tour of the Block in Redfern, for which spat+loogie are the designers. Ed.]; The Whistling Man [PACT Youth Theatre’s imPACT ensemble performance for which they are creating media design and video]…

Lara: And then we’re going to MAAP [Multimedia Arts Asia Pacific Festival] to do a karaoke installation for Karaoke Bedlam [RT75, p32]. Then next year we’re doing a site-specific vending machine in Bankstown through Terminus Projects and the Western Front. [We will] create objects that represent the Bankstown community that they can take home, after visiting a website and receiving a token through the mail. That’s accompanied by a very slow process of stocking the machine in the beginning. So it’s called Unstance—it’s not an instant vending machine, it’s about process.

Gail: What do you have to do to make a living?

Kat: We’re both careworkers at The House With No Steps for adults with mental illness. And we also do graphic design work… I think next year I’m going to get a job working at the AV department at UTS!

Lara: I guess the fact that we don’t spend a lot of money on anything is a bonus. I mean I live in a squat; we avoid consuming heaps of new things all the time.

Gail: Thus the impetus for new!shop. Do you have any grand plans for the future?

Lara: I guess in the short term, we feel that new!shop’s been really successful and we believe in it because it attracts unexpected audiences. We really like the idea of non-art crowds interacting with the work and it would be nice if that could have more of a life and go overseas. That is something that we’ll try to do in the near future…and in the long term… I can’t even think about it!

Gail: It’s an insane question I know. I just thought I’d try it out.

Lara: It would be great to have a practice that’s really sustainable… a few days a week, paid [to work] on your own projects but I don’t think the world works like that at the moment. I think even if there was some really great job that secured us in one place for a long amount of time we’d get really fidgety and want to put our feelers out and do lots of different things.

Gail: The ultimate restless, hybrid artists?

Lara: Restless, yes…

http://www.spatnloogie.com

RealTime issue #76 Dec-Jan 2006 pg. 12

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

Quartet, Margie Medlin

Quartet, Margie Medlin

MARGIE MEDLIN’S QUARTET EXPLORES MULTIPLE PERSPECTIVES ON THE MOVEMENTS OF MUSIC AND DANCE THROUGH REAL, VIRTUAL AND MECHANICAL MEDIUMS.

In this second article on Australian/UK-based artists in receipt of prestigious Sciart Awards from the Wellcome Trust in the UK (see Gina Czarnecki, RT 75, p33), RealTime talks to Margie Medlin about her Sciart project.

Medlin is completing the performance stage of research on the project throughout the UK winter with shows scheduled for February 2007 at the Great Hall of St Bartholomew’s Hospital in central London. In this ornate historical setting, Medlin and her team will place a dancer, a musician, a robot camera and two screens, one framing a virtual dancer, the other the point of view of the robot camera.

The idea of using a musician’s gestures to effect a virtual dancer is fascinating—it raises questions of a kinaesthetics of music—what movements produce which sounds which in turn produce new choreographies…? How does it work in Quartet?

A duet between the musician and virtual dancer [created by Holger Deuter] uses both gestural and audio data. Stevie [Wishart] plays the violin, works with her voice and controls 3 virtual instruments based on computational models of human hearing created by Todor Todoroff with the Physiological Lab at Cambridge. Stevie is wired with sensors so that any single action from her can do several things at once—creating sound from any of the 5 instruments, effecting the virtual dancer’s body parts, speed of movement…The virtual body control interface for the project was created by Nick Rothwell.

Is Stevie improvising this performance live?

We are going to have to set a lot of it although she is primarily an improviser and we began with this. We have tried out many of Stevie’s violin playing techniques, such as cross-bowing and plucking, to discover which are the most useful actions in terms of effecting the dancer’s movements and also which have the most intuitive relationships for Stevie as an instrumentalist. Our work together in July and August this year was the first chance we’ve had to connect the two systems as a creative investigation rather than systems testing. The idea is that we make presets or states of sensitivity in the virtual body that Stevie can improvise within. This is very refined work and needs a lot of concentrated effort from Stevie and the team to calibrate her instruments and the interface with the virtual dancer. And at the same time we are looking for visual keys for the audience to understand the connections playing out in real time.

So Stevie is really choreographing the virtual dancer…?

That’s it, or rather her sound and gesture. The other duet is between the live dancer and the motion-controlled robot camera that Gerald Thompson, Glenn Anderson and Scott Ebdon created for the project. The dancer [Carlee Mellow] is wearing three sensors, two 2D sensors, one on her shin and one on her thigh, and a 3D sensor on her chest. The data collected from her sensors becomes the information that runs a motion controlled robot camera.

The robot has three limbs and five motors each operating on an axis and then there’s a small surveillance camera mounted on the robot’s ‘forehead’ capturing its real time point of view. This will be projected during the performance. So the actions of the real dancer are being replicated by the robot and there will be a video projection of the footage shot by the robot camera. This moving image is a representation of the dancer’s movement—from her point of view.

And the data from the real dancer is also going to the virtual dancer, to her left leg and chest. The data from Stevie is going to the virtual dancer’s head, the right leg, the arms the hands and right fingers. Part of the reason we did that is because it’s incredibly difficult for Stevie to meaningfully control the virtual body, to get a sense of connection or flow through the body. In the first stages of Stevie’s connection to the virtual dancer we could only work with ‘close-ups’ on an arm or a leg. We needed to make connectivity through the whole of the virtual body and expand the connection between the dancer and the musician. This is a crucial point because the project is about the transfer of information, how it changes from medium to medium. So the musician and the dancer are controlling different parts of the virtual dancer’s body, but the live dancer’s stuff isn’t programmed at all—it’s responsive.

So the ‘real’ dancer is filling a gap in the information—and is the dancer responding to the musician?

Sometimes yes. There are a number of segments within the performance, for example there’s a duet between Stevie and the real dancer, a duet between Stevie and the virtual dancer, a duet between the real and virtual dancers, a trio between the robot, the virtual dancer and the real dancer etc, building to the quartet.

So the project is about the relationship between the virtual, real and mechanical, but also the observation of those relationships?

An observation and a highlighting of each of those relationships and what happens with the transfer of material, data, intention between them. But also the essence of where that information is coming from—for instance the real people, the musician and the dancer. I’m hoping that the nature of the source of the data will be highlighted as well—what you are drawn to, what’s alluring, what catches and holds attention, where you think the power lies between the virtual, the mechanical and the live elements.

Your interest in the dancer’s point-of-view was apparent in the film you did with Sandra Parker, In the Heart of the Eye. What is it about this particular line of research that keeps you coming back?

It’s about the choreography of cinematic space. There’s been a whole other stage in relation to this research in between, with my three screen work Miss World 2002 which has not been shown in Australia, and it started with Elasticity and Volume [installation, 1998]. When you look at the footage of the dancer’s POV alone, it doesn’t make any sense and can’t hold your interest, its confusing and irritating. As soon as you put the dancer with it, it makes complete sense and is really fulfilling. I’m interested in the relation between that out of control image and the sense of embodiment you get when you put that image in a relationship with the ‘source’ dancer. It’s about the poetics of looking, creating an imagination of looking.

Rebecca Hilton has been the choreographer involved in the first two stages of development. The other choreographers involved in the project are Lisa Nelson (USA), Lea Anderson (UK) and Russell Maliphant (UK). What will they each contribute?

Rebecca made some of the material that Carlee will develop for the performance—a set of alphabetic building blocks—but Lea, Russell and Lisa haven’t been involved at all yet. They’ll come to the rehearsal and each have 10 days. I have asked Russell to work with Carlee on the dancer’s solo and to work with Stevie on the gestures and sounds that she makes and how that impacts on the virtual dancer or vice versa. I’ll ask Lea to work with Carlee and the robot camera and I’ll ask Lisa to work with Stevie and Carlee on the improvisational relationship between the two ‘real’ elements.

They are all very different choreographers in terms of style. Will that complicate things?

I think it’s all very complicated. Having different artists exploring these complicated systems gives an expanded idea of what is possible. I am interested to see how people can use these systems. They will not be given any time to make technical developments but will be asked what they can get from the systems we have developed.

Quartet will be presented at The Great Hall, St Bartholomew's Hospital, London, February 14-18, 2007. Quartet has been funded by Sciart Production Awards 2005-6 in collaboration with the Physiological Laboratory at Cambridge University and the Arts Council of England. It is co-produced by the Performance and Digital Media Department at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, with support from the Australia Council for the Arts, Arts Victoria, and ZKM Center for Art and Technology, Germany. www.quartetproject.net

RealTime issue #76 Dec-Jan 2006 pg. 28

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

Rosie Dennis, Heidrun Löhr

Rosie Dennis, Heidrun Löhr

Rosie Dennis, Heidrun Löhr

“EARLIER THIS YEAR I PRESENTED A SOLO AT NRLA 06. I PERFORMED BEHIND A SEATING BANK WITH A COUPLE OF HUNDRED PEOPLE CROWDED AROUND ME—HUDDLED IN A SEMI-CIRCLE. IT WAS THE FIRST NIGHT OF THE FESTIVAL AND I WAS THE FIRST LIVE EVENT. I REMEMBER FEELING LIKE I WAS GOING TO VOMIT RIGHT UP UNTIL THE AUDIENCE WALKED THROUGH THE DOOR. AT THE END OF 20 MINUTES MY SHIRT WAS WET WITH PERSPIRATION. OVER THE NEXT FEW DAYS I MET ARTISTS FROM ALL OVER THE WORLD, TALKED TO PRESENTERS ABOUT FUTURE POSSIBILITIES AND WATCHED LIVE ART FOR 10 HOURS A DAY. AS AN ARTIST IT WAS ONE OF THE MOST EXHILARATING EXPERIENCES I HAVE HAD TO DATE.”

These are the words of Sydney-based performer Rosie Dennis, who appeared in the 2006 National Review of Live Art (NRLA) as part of the Elevator program which highlights the work of emerging artists. For the 2007 program Dennis has been kicked upstairs to the One Year On program which keeps close track of artist development.

Dennis will premiere Hitting a Brick Wall Since 1984 which she describes as “examining the emotional fragility of a woman’s identity that has been fractured and fragmented under the strain of success. It explores the theme of long-term disappointment and the frustration and fatigue that can come with ongoing failure.” If this sounds a bit too much like a variation on the agonies of A Star is Born, the festival brochure also offers a corrective glimpse of “A school fete. A diamante tiara. A standing ovation and a girl lost in the glorious success of her own dreaming.”

The National Review of Live Art is a pioneering, 26 year-old annual festival of live and time-based art, an enriching, diverting and sometimes infuriating celebration of performance manifest in many forms and a multitude of bodies from around the world. In February 2006, the RealTime team caught a couple of days of NRLA in its new home, Glasgow’s Tramway, originally a public transport facility. Previously the festival had been presented in the Arches in the centre of the city beneath the main railway station. Artistic Director Nikki Millican (whose New Moves International runs the NRLA and the impressive New Territories dance festival) has a deep fondness for the Arches and its demimonde appeal describing it as “always night-like.”

If Tramway lacks the ambience of the Arches it certainly makes up for it with convenience, comfort (it was zero outide), big flexible performance spaces, numerous studio and exhibition areas, and a couple of cafes. Nor is it a slick venue; the internal architecture is mostly functional and the feel is all accessibilty—it’s not surprising to meet suburban locals and their children.

The comfort counts when you’re dashing between shows or queuing to see if you’ll get into one that word-of-mouth has pronounced a must-see. Aside from very intimate, small audience works you can’t book for NRLA shows, the result being a hit-and-miss festival experience. However, the NRLA’s appeal is also to be found in its open-ended relationship with time. While shorter performances are tightly timetabled and the daily printed program awaits you on arrival, durational works once commenced operate on their own terms for hours, a day or the length of the NRLA. You visit, you stay, you return, you witness or you miss the drama of an interruption—a fire alarm triggers evacuation of the building or an artist is suddenly unwell—or the completion of a work. (Poor Ron Athey had to be released from the many hooks in his skin as firemen hurried artists and audiences out of the building).

NRLA was well attended, many of the audience in it for the duration, student numbers strong (tickets are cheap), plenty of European visitors and a few from the US, and a contingent of key figures in UK live art infrastructure.

The main components of the NRLA are the Residency Artists and Invited Artists programs. Resident artists work throughout the event, making themselves accessible to other artists and audiences, as did photographer Manuel Vason who exhibited and spoke about the images (of performances no one but he witnessed) created in collaboration with leading practitioners (www.artcollaboration. co.uk). Live art duo FrenchMottershead orchestrated massive group photographs of audiences and artists in A Daily Ritual to Capture the Presence of Everybody (www.frenchmottershead.com). Shot and subsequently displayed in the Tramway foyer, these highly detailed images compounded the sense of community that was a feature of the event.

NRLA also runs The Winter School, an annual program of professional skills development and research projects open to artists, emergent and experienced, working in live art and related practices. Often the mentors will the artists featured on the Resident and Invited Artist programs.

The 2006 Invited Artists program included both established works and others commissioned by NRLA. Sekou Sundiata’s Blessing the Boats (US) was a poetic meditation on a life of poetry, drugs, racism and kidney disease: a time capsule from the 70s opened by this eloquent writer-performer. In Death is Certain, Eva Meyer-Kellers (Germany) conducted a quiet aesthetic assault on a punnet of strawberries as we gathered around her. She tortured, injected, burned and drowned the fruit, one piece at a time, producing a droll commentary on art practices along with some more disturbing resonances. Additional performances were staged to meet audience demand. Geraldine Pilgrim’s Sea View (www.corridor.eu.com) was like a stay at an eerie bed & breakfast, its wallpapered hallway punched with holes that reveal underwater swimmers returning your stare, its bedroom offering a vista of a tilting ocean horizon and, worse, a slow leak over the bed, a steady plop, staining the bed rusty red. Elsewhere, Sarah Potter invited her audience to be touched and cradled, to challenge our increasing sense of separateness and consequent lack of compassion, and her own feeling of being “detached all the time, like I’m sending information to the printer, but it isn’t connected.” At the entrance to this meditative event, a printer churned out Potter’s evolving thoughts.

One of my favourite NRLA pastimes was to visit Lisa Wesley & Andrew Blackwood’s (UK) growing maquette creation in a glass house in Tramway’s backyard. The all white modelling of buildings and objects and the artists’ play with perspective, revealed the sheer oddity of growth and decay in contemporary urban landscapes. Ron Athey’s Incorruptible Flesh (il luminous) was erogeneity writ large. Stretched out before us in a small dark space, face fish-hooked, scrotum massively ballooned with saline solution, anus tattooed and bared, flaring with its image of the sun, Athey’s HIV positive body was essentially a still image of pain as art and art as pain. Jennie Klein, writing on the NRLA website felt that the work was “unbearably beautiful, evoking in many viewers a feeling of profound tenderness and protectiveness towards Athey,” Some accepted the invitation to rub oil onto his body.

I admired NTGent’s Omvallen (Flemish for “to turn over”) by writer-director Sanne van Rijn. This fast-paced surrealist domestic farce for two masked female performers was staged in a small, magical wall-papered bourgeois home, a perfect companion piece for Pilgrim’s Sea View. The minimalist turnover of obsessive actions and murderous powerplays was grimly engrossing and exhilaratingly well choreographed. NTGent will be in the 2007 Sydney Festival collaborating with director Christoph Marthaler and ZT Hollandia on Seemanslieder.

I’ve only been able here to offer a glimpse of works from a huge program which included artists from Thailand, Japan, Taiwan, Philippines, Pakistan, India and Poland. Artists that attracted attention in the Elevator program included Rosie Dennis, Nic Green and Rajni Shah. Shah’s long overlapping performances included transforming from an Indian bride to Elizabeth I in an investigation, sometimes deft, sometimes awkward, into Englishness where costumes were lowered onto the performer by stage managers and the deployment of cloth, a salt border and makeup created an intriguing installation. Shah and Nic Green are also in the 2007 One Year On program.

nrla 2007

NRLA 2007 will take place again at Tramway with the Black Market International collective and Anne Seagrave as resident artists. Seagrave will perform a major work comprising a one-hour daily performance, Jamais Vu, a staged self-portrait publicly erased by the artist herself over five consecutive performances. The 11 member renowned international artist collective Black Market will occupy one of Tramway’s large spaces for the duration of the festival, creating a five-day “life installation” with audiences welcome to drop in at any time.

NRLA’s 2007 Invited Artists again come from around the world and with an astonishing range of projects that vigorously defy conventionality. The UK’s Simon Raven and Aaron Williamson present The Dawn of the Deli, which they declare “the realisation of a new ‘slow slapstick’ genre” with monks “attempt[ing] to answer the growing demand for monk-brewed condiments, authentic moon-dried tomatoes, goat’s brie…” to an accompanying Gregorian/Death Metal mix. From Quebec, performance poet, sound and live artist Alexis O’Hara offers herself as The Sorrow Sponge. Mistermissmissmister, from Portugal’s Ana Borrahlo and Joao Galante, is about the “erotic imaginary, confronting the viewer “with characters whose bodies are extremely exposed and that show a very obvious gender/sexual ambiguity.”

Chumpon Apisuk’s (Thailand) SilenceSilence is a meditative response to the disappearance of a human rights lawyer Somchai Nilapaijit. The program also includes, curious, the UK duo (Leslie Hill and Helen Paris) familiar to Australian audiences, in a new work, (be)longing. Guillermo Gómez-Peña & La Pocha Nostra members Roberto Sifuentes and Gabriela Salgado will boldly “create a poetic interactive ritual that explores neo-colonization/de-colonization through acupuncture and the re-enactment of the post-9/11 ‘body politic’.”

Gwendoline Robin from Belgium will be explosive in a different way, triggering small bombs on her body in the manner of stunt men but with poetic intent. The UK’s Richard Hancock and Traci Kelly present Dermographia, drawing on the Devils of Loudon, Genet, and the Deleuze and Guattari notion of ‘becoming-animal’, all “written through the skin of a static performer, a silent observer, and a solemn witness.”

On the multimedia front, there’s Res Publica from France in man in |e|space in partnership with Belgian collective LAb[au], creating a four-screen interactive environment with live dancers who, “under the cover of darkness, will be reduced to glowing lines emitted by costumes whose long light sticks will outline their body movements, captured and processed in a 3D digital environment, then projected onscreen.”

A strand of contemporary music works makes a distinctive and apt addition to the NRLA agenda. Daan Vandewalle (Belgium), in a work of pianistic endurance, plays the Alvin Curran marathon piece, Inner Cities, in which audiences can come and go at will. Electronic music pioneer, playwright and director Giovanni Fontana will present Electronic and Sound Mask. Jan Kopinski & Reflektor will play Kopinski’s Mirrors. This Opera North commission features the composer on saxophone, plus piano and soprano, in a work about “dislocation, memory, and transition” embodying reflections on Polish history using visual imagery and the country’s musical traditions. (NRLA 2007 also includes Poland’s Kazmierczak and Rybska, see p39.) The Panacea Society featuring leading European performance artist Andre Stitt on vocals and Matt Cook on guitar and laptop will play FREAKBEAT-PSYCHE-GARAGE-PROG-TECHNO-MUSIC with visuals from VJ Jacuzzi Junta.

The above is just a sampling of a packed NRLA 2007 program, enough to illustrate the astonishing range of work that falls into the encompassing live art ambit, an ample, fecund space for shows high budget and low, innovative, silly and outrageous, meditative and, not least, politically charged.

The National Review of Live Art, Tramway, Glasgow, Feb 7-11, 2007, www.newmoves.co.uk

RealTime issue #76 Dec-Jan 2006 pg. 44

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

Ursula Yovich, Snugglepot & Cuddlepie

Ursula Yovich, Snugglepot & Cuddlepie

Ursula Yovich, Snugglepot & Cuddlepie

IT’S MID-MORNING AND THE NEWLY IF NOT QUITE COMPLETELY RE-FURBISHED BELVOIR STREET THEATRE IS BUZZING WITH WORKMEN AND THEIR DRILLS, THE FLOOR IS GRITTY, THERE’S LOTS OF COMING AND GOING. AND THERE’S A SIGNIFICANT IMMINENT DEPARTURE.

After more than a decade, General Manager Rachel Healey is leaving Belvoir St Theatre and Company B for the Sydney Opera House where she’ll take up the position of Director, Performing Arts vacated by Sue Hunt, now CEO of the CarriageWorks.

Healey describes her time at Belvoir St as “a fantastic partnership for over a decade”, one of “great intimacy and personal commitment.” Above all she is describing her working relationship with artistic director Neil Armfield. She anticipates that her new job will be of a very different kind: even though, when we meet, she’s moving to the Opera House the following week. She quips, “It’s not like I’m getting divorced and then getting married the next day!”

As in any good relationship, Healey says, she and Armfield developed shorthand communication, shared a similar intuitiveness and were in constant exchange: “You have to have this and you have to believe in it.” Healey was on the Company B artistic sub-committee and was involved in casting, commissioning and the operations of the B-Sharp program in the downstairs theatre. Despite the scale of her involvement in the life of the company, Healey says “I had no desire to be called executive producer. I was the general manager and I was responsible for keeping the company in the black, building reserves, not letting the company collapse.” Her aim always was to firm up the foundations of a “left of centre and challenging” company and make it flexible—not least if its artistic director ever chose to move on.

When Healey arrived at Belvoir St, the company’s reserves were a mere $100,000, now they’re around $1.4m (although, she remarks, a sizeable chunk has had to go on Seymour Centre theatre rental during the rebuilding). The reserves not only offer security, says Healey, they also “look after the artists of the future.” When Colombia’s renowned Bogota Festival wanted Benedict Andrews’ 2003 production of Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera, Healey knew the company had the reserves to help the trip happen. Other tours included taking The Small Poppies to Dublin and Cloudstreet to New York and beyond.

Healey says her departure from Belvoir St feels sudden: there’s still work to be done on the $11.5m building. As we talk, I’m conscious of her eagle eye on the foyer activity around us. She describes her former office as an incredibly crowded and uncomfortable “cocoon” behind the box office and with a view of the customers coming into the foyer—“perfect for keeping touch with everything that was going on—I heard some fantastic things!” Management, she feels, has to be integral to the life of the company. She was adamant that the new offices be kept in the theatre building, but when the company was refused the right to add two storeys to the building, an alternative site had to be found for offices and rehearsal space. Luckily a warehouse building almost immediately across the street from the theatre became available, “one floor for offices, and another, an ex-judo studio with a lovely old pressed metal ceiling, for a brilliant rehearsal space.”

Sudden or not, Healey feels that her departure comes after reaching “major milestones”: radically improving conditions for performers and patrons in the rebuilding of the theatre, developing international touring and building financial reserves.

Given the key roles played by Healey until now and Armfield (with three shows to direct in 2007) it’s promising to see that with the support of Arts NSW Wesley Enoch will be the company’s inaugural Associate Director for the next three years. Enoch will direct Alana Valentine’s Paramatta Girls and Howard Brenton’s Paul. Healey says that Enoch, who directed his own Black Medea for Company B, will “develop a relationship with the company that goes beyond show-to-show.” As well as being on the artistic sub-committee, he will be involved with the education program, with B-Sharp and work with the literary manager, all of which Healey sums up as “a dialogue with the company.”

company b 2007

Neil Armfield sums up the 2007 Company B program in his introduction to the subscription brochure as looking “at faith and obsession and religion, childhood and fantasy, theatrical song and dance, [and] a couple of the most extraordinary classics of 20th century theatre…” And he proposes these as necessary antidotes to Australian money culture, reduced civil freedoms, anti-sedition legislation, the engineered weakening of public education and the new government-given power of media monopolies. In a co-production with Adelaide-based Windmill Performing Arts of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie and Little Ragged Blossom, writer John Clarke and director Armfield will doubtless meld homage to the May Gibb’s children’s classic with satirical infidelity: “The stinky old Banksia Men want the bush for themselves, gumnuts are being thrown overboard”, says the subscription blurb, and cheekily suggests, “Adults, why not see it twice? Once with the kids, once with your local MP.” Music is by Alan John and design by Stephen Curtis. Elsewhere in the program the life-art nexus undergoes even more scrutiny, whether in Ionseco’s Exit the King (in partnership with Melbourne’s Malthouse) with Geoffrey Rush as king of the clowns (a stellar lineup of Bille Brown, Julie Forsyth, Gillian Jones), or in Michael Gow’s Toy Symphony where writer’s block (Richard Roxbrough as the writer) unleashes reflections on the origins of creativity. All three plays are to be directed by Armfield.

Belief is most directly explored in Howard Brenton’s Paul, directed by Wesley Enoch with Ewen Leslie in the title role. It’s a provocative account of the life of a saint that drew street protests from Christian fundamentalists in London. Brenton’s work is rarely seen here, but in the company of David Hare, David Edgar and Howard Barker, he has been one of the great forces in British theatre since the 1970s. Stephen Sewell, in many ways a kindred spirit of these writers, tests the beliefs of a middle-aged woman (Lynette Curran) who ventures into the Middle-East, against the wishes of her family, in The Gates of Egypt, to be directed by Kate Gaul.
Mike McLeish, Terry Serio, Keating!

Mike McLeish, Terry Serio, Keating!

Mike McLeish, Terry Serio, Keating!

Sydney past and present provides material for the 2007 season. Wesley Enoch directs Alana Valentine’s Paramatta Girls with a cast that includes Leah Purcell and newcomer Roxanne MacDonald, from Queensland, who Rachel Healey tells me is an impressive performer. Valentine’s cultural archaeology of recent but forgotten history focuses on eight inmates of the Girls Training School (1908-80) using documented recollections in a reunion setting. The success of Casey Bennetto’s Keating! has landed him another Company B opportunity, Real Estate. Keating! is reviewed on page 47 and is touring Canberra, Wollongong and WA for the Perth International Arts Festival.

Last but not least, theres’ a fascinating choice in Benedict Andrews as director for Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? with Catherine McClements as Martha. As always with Andrews we can expect a distinctive and revealing approach to the play. (There’s no mention who is to play George. The most recent George of Broadway and the West End has been the wonderful American clown Bill Irwin, working with Kathleen Turner.) Albee’s acerbic account of a ruthless playing with truth is domestically self-contained but resonates nonetheless with the wider world of political spin and historical distortion, of secrets true and false. In an age hostile to nuance and the demands of compassion the play delivers, above all, painful complexities.

Company B’s 2007 program admirably sets out to dissolve distances—between us and our local history, the Middle East, the political and religious roots of our culture, and our creativity and capacity for compassion.
Company B, Belvoir St Theatre, <a

www.belvoir.com.au

RealTime issue #76 Dec-Jan 2006 pg. 14

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

Lisa Griffiths, Isabella Trigatti, Amanda Phillips, Crush

Lisa Griffiths, Isabella Trigatti, Amanda Phillips, Crush

Lisa Griffiths, Isabella Trigatti, Amanda Phillips, Crush

ADELAIDE’S AMANDA PHILLIPS AND MELBOURNE’S FRANCES D’ATH HAVE UNITED TO CHOREOGRAPH A POWERFUL AND AT TIMES GRUELLINGLY INTENSE NEW WORK, CRUSH, AS PART OF I HEAR MOTION, A NEW PLATFORM FOR PROGRESSIVE DANCE ARTISTS PRESENTED BY THE CITY OF TEA TREE GULLY’S GOLDEN GROVE ARTS CENTRE.

Exploring the polarity of the word ‘crush’ and all the bittersweet yearnings it evokes, Phillips and D’Ath guide the audience through a journey that begins innocently enough but travels into the literally crushing extremes of human experience. From the coy uncertainty of young love into the battle that is parenthood (the child always on top) through to confronting, orgiastic images of lust and substance abuse, the rape of other cultures and the struggle to be acknowledged as an individual, Crush rolls with all the highs and lows of a rollercoaster. It must have been quite a ride too for the choreographers, given two weeks to create the work and collaborating for the first time.

Raceless, genderless and indistinguishable from one another, a small group of hooded dancers arrives quivering in the dark, clinging to walls and gliding softly through the space, generating tension and mystery but also a very clear sense of cohesion, a functioning unit.

The dancers take on more individual personas. With these come personal interactions, almost as though noticing each other for the first time. Sexuality awakens: the dancers play out the magnetism and uncertainty of first heterosexual love, and the consequence—a headstrong and demanding child, delightfully portrayed. The playful, cartoonish interactions between weary mother and energetic daughter are the lightest in the piece.

But life isn’t just light, and the work quickly descends into darker territory. Writhing bodies connect in ugly, lusty displays as the music kicks into heavy metal grabs. Distorted expressions of sexual ecstasy are etched into the dancers’ faces, conjuring images of hazy nights on the town peppered with drugs and anonymous couplings. Revelling in this grotesquery, the dancers hold nothing back—daring the audience to be at once titillated and appalled.

Curiously removed from all of this, one performer [Fang Ling] sits on a couch and watches. Later she is dragged to the floor, and overwhelmed in what appears to be a savage attack. Whether intentional or not, the symbolism of cultural rape remains one of the most enduring images of the production.

Children emerge in white and mimic their black-clad elders. There is a sense of rising chaos and then the dancers notice their audience for the first time, silently recoiling in horror. Planted audience members take to the stage, one emptying her handbag and declaring a need to be acknowledged. Daring maybe, but the effect is anti climactic—a teasing performance, fascinating in its mix of sharply contrasting imagery, has been spelt out for us.

Moving from the melancholic to the erotic and exploring the fragility and innate cruelty of social experience, Crush is original contemporary dance performed with commitment and passion. The demands on the dancers are considerable, encompassing routines that are sensuous and languid, fast-paced and highly synchronised. Whether gently discovering each other or clawing furiously, the dancers sustain their personas in a dark and dangerous yet familiar circumstances, in the end with enough energy and sense of hope to survive a mad, crushing world.

Crush, co-choreographers and co-directors Amanda Phillips, Frances D’Ath, dancers Lisa Griffiths, Gala Moody, Adam Synnott, Alison Curie, Kuo, Fang Ling and ensemble, composer Alexander Waite Mitchell, lighting designer Sue Grey-Gardner, rehearsal director for ensemble Jo Naumann; I Hear Motion, City of Tea Tree Gully Golden Grove Arts Centre, Adelaide Oct, 12 & 13

RealTime issue #76 Dec-Jan 2006 pg. 29

© Alex Vickery-Howe; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

BALI IS AN ISLAND EMPTIED OF TOURISTS. THE BOMBINGS OF 2002 (REPEATED THREE YEARS LATER) WERE THE CATALYST FOR THE FIRST UBUD WRITERS AND READERS FESTIVAL IN 2004.

As the island commemorated both terrifying events this October, it also welcomed visitors to this year’s Writers Festival. On the night we left Bali, we were among a handful of guests in a large, old hotel not far from the bombsites; stray dogs and skinny cats prowled through the empty tropical grounds.

A tribute to Indonesia’s most famous writer, Pramoedya, who died earlier this year, opened the 2006 festival. His life spanned Indonesia’s turbulent 20th century, from Dutch colonialism to Japanese occupation, the battles for independence, political purges, the corrupt rule of Soeharto—who kept Pramoedya in prison throughout his 35 years of power—and the recent democratic elections. Shameful events in a country’s history have a way of reappearing. During the week of the Writers Festival, the Jakarta Post referred almost daily to the events of 1965 when up to 2 million people were disappeared or murdered in Indonesia in an anti-communist putsch.

The festival was an opportunity to hear Indonesian writers, poets and intellectuals (Goenawan Mohamad illuminated the work of Pramoedya; Acep Zamzam Noor, Nirwan Dewanto, Linda Christanty and Ketut Yuliarsa are poets and writers to seek out). Writers, many of them South-East Asian, attended from all over the world: Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Malaysia, Britain, Canada, Singapore, Hong Kong and Australia. We heard about the relationship between modernity and Islam, the future of Asian literature, and the relationship of writers to the places in which they find themselves—so often, in a globalised world, places they call home. These writers are featured in the Autumn 2006 edition of the Asia Literary Review.

The Bali bombings have made the once ubiquitous tourism a rare commodity; the searing events have created a new focus for traditional dance (legong), music (gamelan), shadow puppetry (wayang kulit) and performance poetry on the island. As you watch you’re struck by how artists and performers are using their work to comprehend events, inventing new forms to express change. In Bali, writing is an art connected to all the other arts and to all the senses; only in Ubud would a writing event integrate all the manifestations of culture.

The highlight was Wayang Kulit on Skateboards. The dozen shadow puppeteers used adapted skateboards to shimmy smoothly back and forth behind the giant screen, lit by a video projector, subtly changing scenes provided by a power point display. Along with the traditional characters of princes, villagers and Balinese mythical figures, we saw soldiers, a petulant tourist and two quaking kangaroos. The story, performed in Indonesian Bahasa with English bits thrown in, included allegorical references to the cataclysmic bombings and ironic commentary about the relationship between Indonesia and Australia. Accompanied by a gamelan orchestra, the performance communicated sharply and sometimes hilariously, even to those of us illiterate in Bahasa. Made, the director/voice of Wayang Kulit on Skateboards is planning a collaboration with Australian hip-hop performer Morganics, another guest of the Ubud Writers Festival, on The Tempest. That’ll be worth a trip to Ubud.

A need to protect the openness and tolerance of Balinese culture was the impulse for the closing night celebrations, held in the opulent baroque grounds of the late, self-aggrandising expatriate Spanish artist ‘Don’ Antonio Blanco. Balinese playwright Putu Wijaya performed a riveting tale of a caged bird set free, despite protest by his old loving master, only to be devoured immediately—an allegory for the dangers facing his country’s fledgling democracy. The most spectacular performance of the night featured girls and women iridescently costumed, combining traditional southern Indian traditional dance with Balinese legong.

As the visiting London-based Pakistani writer Ziauddin Sardar (Why the World Hates America) commented, “We write to ensure our culture survives, that the culture and knowledge is passed on; we write our culture alive.” There is a deep pleasure in being part of a community that is passing on traditions to the next generation, connecting tradition to the present and bringing the present to life.

RealTime issue #76 Dec-Jan 2006 pg. 42

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

Don't Want to Sleep Alone

Don't Want to Sleep Alone

EACH YEAR THE PUSAN AND TOKYO FILM FESTIVALS PRESENT THE OPPORTUNITY TO SIZE UP NEW DIRECTIONS IN ASIAN CINEMA. IT WAS SIGNIFICANT THIS YEAR THAT BOTH FESTIVALS DEVOTED SO MUCH SCREEN TIME TO MALAYSIA WHICH IS STARTING TO LOOK LIKE THE NEW REGIONAL CINEMA OF NOTE—FOR LOCAL FILMMAKERS AND AS LOCATION OF CHOICE FOR CHINESE FILMMAKERS.

Malaysia had a studio-based entertainment cinema in the 1950s and 60s which withered as Hong Kong, Bollywood and Hollywood took its place. Its problem—and perhaps now its opportunity—came from the way that Malaysia comprises a range of races and ethnicities: Malay, Chinese, Indian and the lingering influence of colonialist Britain. With the reduction in costs associated with digital technologies, the ability to work around the government’s Malay-based ‘bumiputera’ (sons of the soil) policy, and the decline in Hong Kong production, Malaysia is starting to look like a good bet as a cheaper centre for films which can appeal to a mix of people across Asia.

Local Malaysian filmmaking over the past few years has been deeply collaborative with James Lee (My Beautiful Washing Machine) and Amir Muhammad (The Big Durian) heading a group who work in different roles on each other’s films in order to maximise the amount of material they can get made cheaply. This approach is now starting to bear fruit. Not only did Lee and Muhammad have new films this year, but there was a range of work by their collaborators.

Tan Chui-mui’s Love Conquers All, which was produced by Muhammad and shot by Lee, came away from Pusan as the major prizewinner. A young woman moves to Kuala Lumpur and falls in love with a man who pursues her relentlessly. He warns of the exploitation and degradation that lies down this path, but to no avail. The title is both ambiguous and ironic in the sense of a Fassbinder melodrama. Love conquers not adversity, but those who love.

The stylistic influence of filmmakers such as Jia Zhangke (see p22) and Hou Hsiao-hsien is central, as it is to so much Asian cinema at the moment. Tan works hard against melodrama in setting forth the harshness of her observations. Moments of stillness are more telling than actions. Silence is preferred over dialogue or the emotional manipulations of music. The cruelty of the world should first be faced in a clear-eyed way, and only then should emotional engagements come forward.
Rain Dogs

Rain Dogs

Another spare, de-dramatised film is Rain Dogs, directed by another Lee-Muhammad collaborator, Ho Yuhang. This is the story of a young man who doesn’t have the viciousness in him to make a success of the transition from the kampong to urban life. “Don’t think so much while you eat”, his mother tells him, and the line makes sense in the context of the film. Ho has worked out how to employ the minimalist style in a remarkably controlled fashion. There is some small element of camera movement in just about every shot. Often it is a slow track in or back, enough to suggest a contemplative storytelling presence without being ostentatious. Scenes are generally done in single takes, and crucially dramatic moments are either elided, played out in long shot or with characters turned away from the camera. In every way, this is a reversal of the Australian cinema’s prioritisation of dialogue-driven scenes which set the stage for actorly performance. The triumph of Jia Zhangke’s Still Life at Venice this year means that we can expect to see a big increase in this severely restrained and distanced form of storytelling.

If its rise as a production centre in the 1960s contributed to the decline of Malaysian production, Hong Kong’s cyclical decline has had a direct effect on the revival of Malaysian production. Rain Dogs is part of the First Cuts series of low budget digital films funded—and more significantly, distributed—by Hong Kong star Andy Lau’s company Focus Films.

Focus is also distributing the new film by Yasmin Ahmad, another of Lee-Muhammad’s collaborative group who acts in Rain Dogs. Her own films were the subject of a retrospective in Tokyo. Ahmad’s four features are all autobiographical, linked by the character Orkid. Her most recent film, Mukhsin deals with the tomboy, Orkid and the boy who develops a crush on her during school vacation. Ahmad (who works in advertising) is a little more mainstream than many of her colleagues and she prominently rejects the art cinema convention of silent, interiorised characters. She sees families bound together by playfulness. Her parents’ love is measured by their ability to joke, sing and play with each other as they age. Seriousness of demeanour is one of the unfortunate consequences of the fall into adulthood with its fraught sexual entanglements.

Ahmad also stresses that her characters are Muslims, and that this is in no way incompatible with a deep human warmth and cosmopolitan tolerance. In Mukhsin it is the family’s more strictly moralistic neighbour who has the tables turned on her when her husband decides to take a second wife. Ahmad sees no contradiction between her faith and the embrace of Western culture. Mozart accompanies kite-flying just as Nina Simone’s version of “Ne Me Quitte Pas” is used playfully on the soundtrack as Orkid races for a final glimpse of a first love that she never recognised as such.

The way that Hong Kong is becoming important less as a place than as a point of productive relationships is also brought out by Patrick Tam’s return to directing, After This Our Exile. Tam was one of the leading figures of the Hong Kong New Wave in the 1980s, and was the mentor of Wong Kar-wai, whose 2046 he edited. Tam has taught for years in Malaysia and hence shot his comeback film there. HK heartthrob Aaron Kwok stars as a violent loser who drives away his wife (Charlie Young from Seven Swords) and then leads his son into petty crime.

The English title (in Chinese, it is simply called Father and Son) encourages a more abstract reading, and while there are a few moments of stylistic flourish and the film is shot by Hou Hsiao-hsien’s cinematographer Lee Ping-bin, there isn’t much to sustain this approach. Maybe the son is paradoxically the villain? In his childish innocence he refuses to countenance any kind of long-term solution to his dysfunctional family situation.

Perhaps the most important thing is that the use of stars such as Kwok and Young signifies an increasing willingness on the part of Chinese cinema to draw Malaysia more prominently into its range. Tam’s film, taken together with Taiwan’s Tsai Ming-liang’s decision to return to the country of his birth to shoot I Don’t Want to Sleep Alone in Kuala Lumpur indicates that something interesting is happening in another of our near-northern neighbours.

So finally, why Malaysia and what might we in Australia learn from this? Australian filmmakers have shown a desire to work cheaply on digital video over the past couple of years, but the key thing that is missing is the ability to tap into international styles that will generate interest in regional festivals and markets. Australia’s adherence to theatrical models of filmmaking looks increasingly conservative in the context of what is going on in Asia now. Not only does Australia need to absorb international styles, our filmmakers and institutions need to expend more energy on international marketing and co-production, finding ways into the distribution pipelines that are emerging within the region.

Pusan International Film Festival, Pusan, South Korea, Oct 12-20; Tokyo International Film Festival, Tokyo, Japan, October 21-29

RealTime issue #76 Dec-Jan 2006 pg. 15

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

Marie Brassard, Peepshow

Marie Brassard, Peepshow

Marie Brassard, Peepshow

THE 2005 MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL ARTS FESTIVAL OFFERED AT LEAST THREE WORKS WHICH HAD ME GUSHING WITHOUT APOLOGY TO ANYONE WHO WOULD LISTEN. THIS YEAR, HOWEVER, THERE WAS ONLY REALLY ONE WHICH PROVOKED THE SAME EMBARRASSING DISPLAY.

Not to overstate things: there were many, many pieces which were very good, but only a handful which were great, and only Marie Brassard’s Peepshow was an absolute must-see.

an issue of space

The problem wasn’t in the programming, but came down to space. Firstly, several shows were negatively affected by being placed in inappropriate venues. This was most notable in works staged at the Arts Centre—though blame cannot be levelled at artistic director Kristy Edmunds, since a quarter of the festival budget is allocated to hiring the Arts Centre before she even begins to select the year’s offerings. Secondly, and conversely, some truly exceptional works have the ability to reinvent the spaces in which they’re set. This year, Malthouse was the big winner in this regard. Though I’ve seen countless stagings in the Malthouse’s Merlyn Theatre, each night I attended the venue during this year’s festival I felt I was entering an undiscovered space.

Last year’s festival highlights were almost all set in unconventional locations: the concourse of Flinders Street Station; a pair of hotel rooms at the Grand Hyatt; the majestic, cavernous Exhibition Buildings. This added to each work’s uniqueness, and made for some unforgettable experiences. I can’t help but think that no matter how good this year’s works were, however, some were still hampered by an inability to transcend the restrictions of their location.

Robert Wilson’s I La Galigo is a perfect case study. It is, as expected, a piece of mammoth scale, both in duration and physical size. A retelling of Sureq Galigo, the ancient, epic poem of Indonesia’s Bugis people, it features a cast of 50 and a sizeable number of musicians accompany the story’s telling. And like most creation myths, of course, it’s a gripping narrative that maintains interest throughout with plenty of bloodshed, incest, omens and outrage. Played out across the entire stage of the State Theatre, Wilson ensures the opera is suitably grandiose and carefully paced.

But the program notes for I La Galigo note that audiences are free to wander in and out of the auditorium throughout the work’s unfolding, as would occur in a traditional piece of Indonesian theatre. This is a pleasing allowance, given the show’s three-hour span, but clambering past 20 pairs of knees for a breath of air isn’t really something most Arts Centre patrons look well upon. Despite the opera’s excellence, I couldn’t help but feel it would work better in an open-air amphitheatre, or a venue which really encouraged the audience to appreciate the work in a more involved, less reverential way. When several patrons whispered to one another near my seat, there was no shortage of hostile glances from others nearby: Shhh! This is art!

romeo castellucci

Romeo Castellucci’s fourth instalment in the 11-part Tragedia Endogonidia series, BR#04: Brussels, would likely have suffered a similar fate had it been staged to too large an audience. In the Merlyn, however, it created an intimate and immediate experience that for me made it an unqualified success. Castellucci’s method with this series was to travel to a European city with his company and create an impressionistic tragedy without chorus, a sequence of scenes without dialogue that responds to, but does not explicitly comment on, that city’s history, culture and place. In the case of Brussels, Castellucci’s performers enact ritualistic displays which connote governance, relationships of power and brutality, and the passing of time as played out upon the human body. Images are sometimes strikingly simple: a curtain opens on a baby, perhaps eight months old, gurgling away on a blanket, while a robotic head at the rear of the stage recites numbers. Simple, yes, but hugely evocative of all sorts of ideas: vulnerability, growth, education, emptiness, immediacy. The fact that the unattended baby is in no way directed by Castellucci also drives home the work’s ineffable liveness, and the accompanying chance and unpredictability that go with any form of live performance.

Theatre of this type can be the most difficult to create, since Castellucci does not generate fixed meanings, nor deny such meanings, but establishes the conditions required for meaning-making. The sequences we bear witness to, and their juxtaposition, allow their audience to mentally wander through vast chasms of possibility, echoing with notions of religion, mortality, power and the passing of time. We’re never sure what Castellucci’s intentions are, but surely we’re past the need to find such authorial intentions. This is the kind of work which trusts its audience’s capacity to interpret, and offers a rich abundance of material with which to do so.

At the same time, Castellucci’s is not merely an intellectual exercise. Many of the provocative scenes don’t simply appeal to our cerebral, analytical side: bloody police violence, the decrepitude of an aging body or the frailty of an infant all call forth immediate, bodily responses, whether revulsion, sympathy, abjection or delight. It’s an excellent deployment of theatre’s liveness, its temporary nature, in which an audience and performers share a space and a moment, both of which will soon be gone. While many conceptual performances would seem as vital on paper as in actual production, this work, at least, is utterly and necessarily alive.

marie brassard

I’ll confess that, despite the enraptured reports I’d heard, I wasn’t too optimistic about Marie Brassard’s Peepshow. The promise of a solo piece whose main point of interest was the electronic alteration of its performer’s voice conjured up images of, at best, a Laurie Anderson-style experiment with technology that might have had some urgency two decades ago or, at worst, the kind of gimmickry that kept many a BBC sound engineer in business during the Doctor Who years of my youth. The moment Brassard uttered her first words, though, I was instantly converted. Over the next hour and a half, she became, variously, a child of six, a deep-voiced man, a guttural ogre and much more besides. The technology she employs is so effective that, indeed, I have no idea what the ‘real’ Marie Brassard sounds like; this is entirely in keeping with the chameleon-like nature of the work as a whole.

Peepshow is about the mutability of identity, most especially as expressed through desire. Brassard wears a heavy blonde wig and oversized sunglasses, concealing her face, and a long red coat and black boots which equally serve to cover rather than reveal. She is the lone figure in a setting of thick rusted pillars and dense shagpile carpet, and for most of her monologue is lit by a dim, shifting lightscape that often creates the effect of viewing the performer through murky water. Her voice always pierces that space between stage and audience, however, and acts as a tour guide through a tangled maze of taboo, horror and sensuality.

She begins with a retelling of the Red Riding Hood fairytale, but despite the story’s iconic familiarity we hang on every suspenseful word, unsure what twist will emerge in the next sentence. From here, her narratives spiral out to encompass childhood humiliations, wistful memoir, fears of what lurks beneath the bed and several disturbing sadomasochistic journeys into what may be fantasy, but may be all too real. Like every other aspect of this compelling work, however, it’s clear that Brassard is far too confident in her ability to construct and exchange masks for us ever to mistake confession as autobiography. At the same time, in donning these masks Brassard produces the sense that at that moment, at least, these identities are a kind of truth, and that fantasy itself offers an experience both real and unreal.

I La Galigo, direction Robert Wilson, adaptation, Rhoda Grauer, music Rahaya Supanggah; State Theatre, Victorian Arts Centre, Oct 19-23; Societas Raffaello Sanzio, Tragedia Endogonidia: BR#04 Brussels, direction, design Romeo Castellucci, writings, direction, vocal, sound, dramatic score Claudia Castellucci, original music Scott Gibbons; Malthouse Theatre, Oct 12-15; Peepshow, devisor, director, performer Marie Brassard, music & sound design Alexander MacSween, lighting Simon Guibault, Malthouse Theatre, Oct 24-28

RealTime issue #76 Dec-Jan 2006 pg. 30

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

Rose English, Ji Maoling, Ornamental Happiness

Rose English, Ji Maoling, Ornamental Happiness

Rose English, Ji Maoling, Ornamental Happiness

PICTURE A JEWELLERY CASE: A SMALL CIRCULAR BOX EXPENSIVELY LINED WITH BLACK PLUSH; AND DISPLAYED IN THE CENTRE AN IRIDESCENT PIECE OF EXQUISITELY CRAFTED SPARKLE. THIS IS ORNAMENTAL HAPPINESS, THE LATEST PIECE FROM ROSE ENGLISH, WHICH PREMIERED ON THE OPENING WEEKEND OF THE 2006 LIVERPOOL BIENNIAL.

An intimate 25-minute confection for a maximum audience of 50, Ornamental Happiness, is allegedly an hors d’oeuvre for a much grander show planned for 2008, when Liverpool becomes European Capital of Culture.

Tantalised by the scent of fresh deep-pile carpeting, English’s audience at the Unity Theatre queued behind velvet drapes before being ushered to the close-set rings of seating surrounding a circular podium. Here, a pair of Chinese acrobats (Ji Maoling and Lu Dan) proceeded to move through a succession of graceful contortions, poised on top of one another, whilst simultaneously balancing pyramids of cocktail glasses on the tips of outstretched toes. In each dainty glass hung a tiny bead betraying each subtle tremor in the near-stillness of their taut bodies with the shiver of delicate tinkling. From the edges of the curtains, came the occasional voices of singers, and a steady supply of ever-more vertiginous trays of glassware. For the final pose, glasses on foreheads were joined by curvy, transparent candelabra affairs clenched between the ladies’ teeth, as the podium gently rotated.

Rose English herself—the performance diva once renowned for her eye-popping sequinned showgirl costumes and luxuriant eyelashes—merely padded in stockinged feet, in demure matronly black, appeared on the perimeter of the action from time to time, serving up another round of tinkly balanceables. A peripheral, unspeaking figure, she’s reduced here to stagehand. English’s work, whether in solo performances or extravagant theatricals, has always engaged with the thrill and artifice of spectacle. Skilled aerialists, contortionists, tango dancers and Olympic ice-skaters have swung, sashayed and swooshed around her, whilst English has spun her humorous philosophical riddles and verbal pirouettes. In her 1988 piece Walks on Water, a stuntwoman leapt dazzlingly through hoops, whilst star-of-the-show English comically lapped up the applause. “I don’t want to be an acrobat anymore…I want to be a comedian”, the unsung heroine had lamented. Something of the irony of Walks on Water (the star couldn’t—and got wet) is mirrored in the title of Ornamental Happiness. Rapt in their concentration, the Chinese duo may provoke happiness in their audience but they fail to embody it themselves. Silenced by their shimmering mouthpieces, these women, however skilled, are ‘mere ornament.’

The memorable and mesmerising sound of that delicate crystal clinking, remains beautifully haunting. Ornamental Happiness is a celebration of the purity of unadorned performance, and the capacity for its essential spirit to resonate within us; yet the gagging of its protagonists leaves a quiver of unease.

Liverpool Live (the Biennial’s 4-day “festival of urban apparition”) played with the notion put forward by Manray Hsu, Taiwanese co-curator of the 2006 International, of ‘Archipuncture’, or urban acupuncture. Live artists were scattered around the streets on the premise that strategically placed artistic interventions might help release blocked energy flows and heal the ailing body of the city.

Action Hero’s To My Island offered safe passage under flyovers and across busy roads in search of ‘a place to call our own’: the eventually unreachable promised land of a petunia-planted traffic island. Kazuko Hokhi (Evidence for the Existence of Borrowers) wandered bewitchingly around the back corridors of the Parr St recording studios, revealing ingeniously constructed objects (including a fully functioning teaspoon guitar) made from rescued everyday detritus, as if by the tiny folk in the children’s novel.

Bound by a large piece of white elastic, the groups in the care of Gustavo Ciriaco and Andrea Sonnberger were led on a long ‘silent walk’ through shopping malls, back alleys and cathedral gardens. Loosely confined within the elastic, the participating walkers moved amoeba-like through the city, sometimes bunched up tight in a long shuffling snake, sometimes spread amblingly wide, as the roadplan dictated. Part individual, part organism, we took up simultaneously more and less space than we’re used to, jammed up close to our fellow walkers, yet distanced from the Saturday morning shoppers around us. Here Whilst We Walk (which has also trailed through Rio, Lisbon and Madrid) offered a strangely altered spatial sense of the city, a shifting dynamic of shared perception and an accentuated sense of the present.

Joshua Sofaer presented a sly critique of the ‘look how many nations we’ve got represented’ tendency of international art biennials, in a piece that stole Liverpool’s Capital of Culture slogan: World in One City. Slick in his pinstriped suit, Sofaer whisked groups around the Tate Gallery in the style of the curator-led tour. With wickedly well-observed gestures and tone, he introduced each of the works in a persona reflecting the perceived nationality of the exhibiting artist. Juggling stereotypes, Sofaer morphed from voice to voice, speaking in made-up languages. His perfectly honed gibberish, sounded convincingly like Japanese, Arabic or Australian English, but was empty of all meaning; reflecting the reductive absurdity of gallery labels which present singular views of each artist’s complex cultural identity.

Liverpool Live 06, A Festival of Urban Apparition, Bluecoat Arts Centre & Liverpool Biennial, Liverpool, UK, Oct 26-29

www.bluecoatartscentre.com/liverpoollive; www.biennial.com

RealTime issue #76 Dec-Jan 2006 pg. 43

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

Jindabyne

Jindabyne

Jindabyne

I look at the creek. I’m right in it, eyes open, face down, staring at the moss on the bottom, dead.

Raymond Carver, “So Much Water So Close To Home”

WHEN CLAIRE, THE NARRATOR OF RAYMOND CARVER’S QUIETLY POWERFUL SHORT STORY, IMAGINES HERSELF TO BE THE DEAD WOMAN THAT HER HUSBAND HAS FOUND IN A RIVER, IT’S A MOMENT OF CONDEMNATION AND EMPATHY.

In Carver’s “So Much Water So Close To Home”, and in the recent film adaptation, Jindabyne (by Australian director Ray Lawrence) Claire’s husband chooses to continue fishing with his mates, despite having discovered the murdered woman floating downstream.

It’s this choice—to keep fishing—that provides the central ethical conundrum and terrific moral ambiguity in both story and film. But in Jindabyne the murdered girl is not just some young woman from out of town, she’s also Aboriginal. Lawrence, and screenwriter Beatrix Christian’s decision to include issues of race in this considerably extrapolated version of Carver’s story shifts the focus considerably. Several reviews have admired Jindabyne’s engagement with the theme of reconciliation, but few have examined precisely how this actually functions in the film.

Christian explores the fallout from the choice by the four men to “fish over a dead girl’s body” as the Jindabyne newspapers put it. For most of the film we closely follow the emotional and ethical struggles of our protagonists. Claire (Laura Linney) cannot come to terms with what her husband Stuart (Gabriel Byrne) has done. Much of this material—Claire’s secret, unwanted pregnancy; her past postnatal depression; Stuart’s midlife crisis (he dyes his greying hair, leers at young women, sympathises with some nearby blokes who call his wife “bitch”)—seems hackneyed (male sexual power and mateship versus female sensitivity). Yet, as many reviews have noted, Jindabyne skilfully avoids histrionics by sharply cauterising painful conversations at crucial points. But when the film broaches the huge and complicated matter of reconciliation, it falters, drawing a precarious bow from the collusion of the men (who lie to cover their negligence) to comment on Australia’s failure to confront and make amends for the suffering of its Indigenous people.

In Jindabyne we learn little about the murdered woman, Susan, or her family: the scenes dealing with their “sorry business” and their pain remain sketches. As the tensions build, the film seems at first to resist trite conclusions. Jude (Deborah Lee Furness) seethes with angry grief over her daughter’s death, withdrawing her love for the surviving grandchild (whose misbehaviour presumably stems from her own sorrow). Yet paradoxically, Jude is the least troubled by the fishing incident, despite (or because of) her husband’s involvement. “Move on”, she exhorts Claire; “let it heal over”, though her own brittle anger reveals she hasn’t managed this herself. This complexity is welcome, and true, for grief isn’t something we “get over.” Claire, the moral centre of this film, copes with her disquiet by frantically trying to make amends for her husband’s negligence. But the authenticity of her attempts at reparation are muddied by her own deception.

However this promise of complexity, confronting moral ambiguity and lack of closure is undermined by a hollow resolution. Once all the signposts about the conclusion begin to appear, the film loses its power. Having so far resisted neat homilies on personal conflict, the film invites the audience to contemplate the various human responses to an act that resists easy moral judgement. But this central conundrum is never fully realised, and when Claire and her friends gatecrash Susan’s memorial, all this good work goes to waste.

Psychoanalyst Julia Kristeva has contemplated the appropriate aesthetic response to events that overturn and tax our moral universe. She identifies, in some artistic responses to the Second World War and the Holocaust, “an aesthetics of awkwardness” and a “noncathartic representation” (Black Sun: Depression and Melancholia). Without comparing Aboriginal deaths and displacement with these events, it does seem that certain traumatic histories resist redemptive closure, and do not conform to Western (and Christian) notions of catharsis as resolution. Jindabyne suffers from trying to iron out all its awkwardness, from introducing a catharsis that doesn’t emerge organically from the central concerns of the film. What Jindabyne suggests in its penultimate scene—an Aboriginal funeral ritual—is that white people’s engagement with Indigenous culture might be a form of reconciliation. But let’s examine what really happens in this episode.

Undoubtedly, Aboriginal “sorry business”, like any community’s grieving, is an intensely private affair. But American Claire is undaunted, or ignorant of this. Impelled to make amends for her husband’s act, she arrives at the bushland memorial of the murdered girl and stands on its periphery. If Claire can just bear witness, it seems she might somehow right some of the wrong. The four men who went fishing have become town pariahs, accused of “white hate crimes”—graffiti that calls up a complex history of race relations barely touched on in the film. Three of these men have sudden, inexplicable changes of heart and also appear at the ceremony. (Given their previous reluctance to admit their wrongdoing we expect to be shown how they reached this decision, but we’re not.) Now all our central characters have invited themselves into what is presumably sacred space. Stuart is slapped and spat on by an insulted elder, but eventually stands by his wife and whispers, “I want you to come home Claire.” Her longing look suggests much is forgiven, but why? What has happened, apart from this Aboriginal ritual at which Claire and her friends are merely spectators? While the smoking ceremony proceeds, Jude arrives with her granddaughter. (Again we’re not shown why or how this came about.) They have their first moment of harmony, banishing their own “bad spirits”, saying, “be gone”.

There is something badly wrong with this scene: both as a resolution to Jindabyne’s many strands of considerable conflict and, as several reviewers see it, as a metaphor for reconciliation. As the white onlookers observe the ceremony, we sense their longing for a meaningful communal ritual of their own. Unable to gain solace from their previous attempts (a barbecue that descends into a fight, an Irish Catholic rite), these suffering characters hijack the Aboriginal ritual, which conveniently functions as the required ‘profound’ event to propel their catharses. At no point are we invited to understand the particular significance and meaning of this ritual for its black participants because we’re given little insight into the texture of their lives, or the particularity of their suffering. A syrupy English song, sung by the murdered girl’s relative is intentionally moving, but seems included for a (white) audience to better interpret the emotion of this scene. As viewers we are always positioned with the film’s central characters—as outsiders looking at a generalised scene of Aboriginality.

Because she was Aboriginal, Susan’s death has far greater symbolic meaning than the unknown victim does in Carver’s story. Her memorial offers us no genuine insight into how the film’s central characters have mysteriously resolved their considerable conflict. Consequently it seems a superficial display of Indigenous mysticism for the purpose of driving a formulaic white catharsis. If reconciliation is about adopting “colourful”, “mystical” or “deep” Aboriginal practices to provide meaning, profundity and healing for a spiritually bankrupt white culture then we have a long way to go. Unlike Carver’s narrator, who imagines herself in the murdered woman’s place, dead in the water, the characters in Jindabyne remain tourists on the edge of Aboriginal culture, too focused on their own concerns to get “right in it. Eyes open”, to wade in deep. In the most telling two lines, the film sums up its lost opportunities. Claire offers the grieving family money for the funeral, assuring them, “It’s not charity.” And they respond, “You buying something then?”

 

Jindabyne, director Ray Lawrence, screenplay Beatrix Christian, April Films; DVD launch date to be annnounced

RealTime issue #76 Dec-Jan 2006 pg. 16

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

Byron Perry, Kirstie McCracken, Lucy Guerin Inc, Structure & Sadness

Byron Perry, Kirstie McCracken, Lucy Guerin Inc, Structure & Sadness

Byron Perry, Kirstie McCracken, Lucy Guerin Inc, Structure & Sadness

ACCORDING TO JÉRÔME BEL, TO WATCH CONTEMPORARY PERFORMANCE IS TO GAMBLE AGAINST THE ODDS. “DOES ANYONE ASK FOR THEIR MONEY BACK?”, ASKS CLASSICAL THAI DANCER, PICHET KLUNCHUN. “NO, THEY ACCEPT THE RISK”, SAYS BEL.

I prefer to think of that risk in other than economic terms: that we go to performance to risk ourselves and that, every now and then, the risk pays off. We become smitten, taken over, inhabited by a power beyond and below who we are. A crowd of individuals walks in, lights dim, marking a break with theeveryday. There is an energetic connection between the audience and a work, poised to dissipate but sometimes, sometimes it explodes. At its most animal, it bites, like Marie Brassard’s wolf (Peepshow) or pounds like Romeo Castellucci’s truncheon (Tragedia Endogonidia). The wound is our human mortality, an opening which may be covered but never closed.

 

brassard

Marie Brassard uses sound distortion to assume multiple shapes, the wolf who stalks Little Red Riding Hood, a young woman stalking an older man, a child, a man, a woman. Eyes shrouded in dark glasses, her impenetrability contrasts with our own, for we are invaded by her voice, his voice, its voice. There is a corporeal immediacy about sound. It sets moods, timbres of feeling outside the sagging impact of language. In Brassard’s case, however, the texture of sound is melded with text, compelling us to take a journey, following crumbs in a dark forest. Like Bel, Brassard too speaks of a gamble. Here it is a child’s expectation that school will take the student beyond the obvious, through unexpected doors. The child is disappointed but we are not. Our final destination is the wolf’s lair, a series of doors leading beyond the known world. Like Herman Hesse’s novel Steppenwolf, this theatre is for the madman within.

 

castellucci

Romeo Castellucci’s epic consideration of creation through the book of Genesis—Genisi, from the Museum of Sleep (MIAF 2003)—provoked a visceral excitement, from the small flickerings of light to the blinding whiteness of Auschwitz, the antithesis of creation. This year’s Tragedia Endogonidia was also performed in white, white marble, splashed with red. The horror of a police beating, reminiscent of Dario Fo’s play Accidental Death of an Anarchist, was magnified by the sounds of the truncheon. Sound does something beyond the visual. We can watch from a distance, but sound enters the body, it touches us in the passages of the mind.

 

wilson

Robert Wilson’s collaboration with Indonesian artists operated in other ways. A highly visual work, recalling shadow puppetry, I La Galiga performed an epic consideration of human desire and spiritual fulfillment based upon Sureq Galigo, the epic poem of the Bugis people of South Sulawesi. Wilson’s refined sensibility manifested in the most delicate of colour changes, shifting tones and frames, allowing for the collaborative contribution of Indonesian dancers and musicians, resplendent in texture and textile, musical mastery and narrative power. If Tragedia Endogonidia was a meditation on time, I La Galiga occurred before time began, in the netherworld of gods made human. While the story hails from early Bugis society, Wilson’s dancers and musicians provided a corporeal link, a bodily genealogy reaching towards the cultural origins of Sureq Galigo. One of the great pleasures of the work was seeing fantastic performers from a tradition quite outside the Western canon. Their energy, their use of form, gravity and focus was quite particular, forming a hybrid of Indonesian art and Western theatre tradition. Having seen some Japanese Noh theatre recently, I was reminded how a work over several hours unfolds rhythmically, unable to be contained in the one thought, the one soundbite familiar to conventional Western theatre.

 

warby

Unlikely works also achieve vastness. Ros Warby’s Monumental was performed alone in a large space yet was equally compelling in its own attempt to address the philosophical question of being and time. Through engaging with non-human life, Warby immediately extended the realm of the solo dance form into larger questions of existence. Her work as bird was not produced through mimesis but arose through a powerful evocation of the being of the bird. This was boldly enhanced by black and white projections of birds, that opaque look of the bird, its stare. Warby rendered the jointedness of birdlike action through a choreography of line and angle, an inhuman collage of movement without sentiment. Margie Medlin’s lighting design and (with Ben Speth) her wonderful images of sections of Warby’s body in movement amplified the sense that this was not about the person. Black and white enlargement of bodily sections achieved a kinaesthetic abstraction beyond the human. Warby’s skill manifests in the ability to differentiate qualities of movement in motion, to sustain change within a body over time. If art relates to our becoming animal rather than the rarified human (Deleuze), Ros Warby has allowed the spectator to experience much more than the celebrated dance of personality.

 

guerin

Lucy Guerin’s Structure and Sadness also looks beyond the human, at the interaction between animate and inanimate. Taking its lead from the collapse of Melbourne’s West Gate bridge in 1970, Guerin’s work explores physical forms of dependence. A meandering house of cards is slowly assembled, snaking through space. While we might admire the domino effect played out in miniature, the actual meaning of the collapse was tragic, not aesthetic. Fiona Cameron represented the way we live and die, blind to the fortune which lies around the corner, as distinct from the god-spectator who is able to predict disaster. Structure and Sadness was moving, combining physical meditation with human predicament. The movement leant on the materials of the work in a way which mirrored the theme of dependence and vulnerability at a kinaesthetic level. We watch the assemblage of fluorescent tubes over time—construction, destruction, construction—into a neon iconography of the bridge that fell.

Guerin also showed a work that she developed in Japan, a double bill with Koto Yamazaki. Guerin’s Setting was a gentle rendition in danced form of an interaction which might occur between people who share neither language nor culture. Objects were used onstage to delineate space and life aspiration. The gentle yet quirky affection between performers suggested something similar from the choreographer. The domestic proportions of Guerin’s collaboration contrasted with Yamazaki’s epic aspiration to depict the Australian landscape, a bold vision, but the piece looked like a satire of B-grade horror movies, minus the humour. The dancers worked really hard and with great integrity but I found myself emotionally outside rather than inside Chamisa 4¾C. Such are the risks of making and showing work.

 

yamazaki; bill t jones

I am sorry to kick a choreographer when he’s down but I also found Fluid Huh-Hug’s Rise:Rose underwhelming. It began with a certain refined energy, and Yamazaki’s own dancing melded seamlessly with the choreography but, by the time Paul Matteson performed a series of earnest ballet moves, the piece had begun to unravel. Its earlier sections with the three performers had some lovely interactions, and Mina Nishimura’s dancing was really interesting. But the piece seemed to lose the plot, lacking an editorial sensibility which might have saved the day. The same problem was evident in Bill T Jones’ Blind Date, a commendable critique of American militaristic, God-bothering imperialism. Its overload of images, text and movement detracted from the power of the work. Although Blind Date avowed continual questioning, attempting to break open American forms of certainty, the dancing itself was so confident, without question. Whilst performers took the risk of falling backwards into the arms of fellow performers, this looked more like a game than an expression of vulnerability. What Blind Date did offer was a palpable sense of community, of support, attention and emotional concern between the dancers.

 

bel

Finally then to Jérôme Bel’s Pichet Klunchun and Myself. I loved this piece, for its performative gems (Klunchun was superb), its ability to represent theatrical difference and for its sheer stimulation. The interaction between the two men was a lesson in the kinds of corporeal literacy implicit in each artist’s work. Although national differences were addressed, the work did not degenerate into cross-cultural banality. Specific questions were entered into, such as the representation of death, the territorial specificity of Klunchun’s body within space, and Bel’s disruption of the canons of Western theatre. Through conversation and enactment, the work allowed for multiple perspectives, for the wandering of the audience around issues of kinaesthetic investigation. Space was made for our own relation to the work. The focus of both performers was intense. Klunchun’s demonstration of walking was so clear, so physically differentiated and nuanced. And lest we imagine that he simply replicates the canon, he also explained the sense in which he has deconstructed and reconstructed his dance form. Bel and Klunchun are highly thoughtful artists, able to articulate their concerns in words and deed in ways which inform the experience of watching.

Melbourne International Arts Festival: Romeo Castellucci, Tragedia Endogonidia BR#04 Brussels, Merlyn Theatre, Malthouse Oct 12-15; Ros Warby, Monumental, Playhouse Oct 13-15; Lucy Guerin Inc, Structure and Sadness, Merlyn Theatre, Malthouse, October 18-21; Robert Wilson, I La Galigo, Arts Centre, State Theatre, Oct 19-23; Kota Yamazaki/Fluid hug-hug, Rise:Rose, Arts Centre, Playhouse, October 22-23; Marie Brassard, Peepshow, Merlyn Theatre, Malthouse, Oct 24-28; Bill T Jones, Blind Date, Arts Centre, State Theatre, October 25-28; Kota Yamazaki, Lucy Guerin, Chamisa 4ºC/Setting, Beckett Theatre, Oct 25-28; Pichet Klunchun and Myself, Arts Centre Playhouse, Oct 26-28

RealTime issue #76 Dec-Jan 2006 pg. 31

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

Ursula Yovich, Katherine Fyffe, Emily Hunt, Afternoon of the Elves

Ursula Yovich, Katherine Fyffe, Emily Hunt, Afternoon of the Elves

Ursula Yovich, Katherine Fyffe, Emily Hunt, Afternoon of the Elves

LINA AFTERNOON OF THE ELVES IS A PLAY ABOUT TWO VERY DIFFERENT GIRLS AROUND MY AGE (10) WHO LIVE NEXT DOOR TO EACH OTHER SOMEWHERE IN AN AMERICAN SUBURB.

The play is based on an award-winning novel of the same name by Janet Taylor Lisle (we’re reading it now thanks to mum buying the book) and is directed by Linda Hartzell (of Seattle Children’s Theatre where it was first performed).

I think the story is really about what is important for a friendship. Is it more important to have ‘friends’ that need you to dress like them, be the same as them, do as they do…or to actually have a real friend (like in this play) who is very special but ‘different’ and who cares about you? This is the choice of a very normal only-child called Hillary, invited to share a secret with her next-door neighbour, Sara-Kate. Hillary is new to the area but has heard about Sara-Kate from the other kids at school, and not very nice things either. But one day she is invited into Sara-Kate’s backyard, and what does she see? A small village, which, Sara-Kate says, was built by elves! And it is Sara-Kate who is looking after it too!

Hillary sees that her new neighbour is a very special girl, even if she seems a bit mysterious and is having problems at school. (Hillary’s parents are not so sure the friendship is a good idea.) And Hillary has her own questions: why would the elves build a village like this—out of old bicycle wheels, garden boxes, bits of wire left lying around— amongst the overgrown weeds of Sara-Kate’s yard, and not somewhere else? Why was she the chosen one? Whatever the answers, the elves’ little village brings the two girls together. But there are still other secrets Sara-Kate has not told Hillary. What is she hiding and why does nobody ever see Sara’s mum? Is she sick, mad, or…dead, like the girls at school keep saying?

I think this was a really interesting play. I loved it, and I couldn’t wait to see what would happen next. My favourite characters were Sara-Kate and Hillary. The others, the ‘popular girls’, were always wearing the same things. They made me think about some of my friends at school; how they’re always dressing the same too! Summing up, I would definitely like to see this play again sometime. For now I’ll finish the book. On to you, Nathalie…

Nathalie (6 years old) I agree with Lina. I wasn’t ever bored either. I liked the way you got to see the two backyards. Sara-Kate’s is messy and darker and Hillary’s neat—too neat and boring—and brighter. They turned around on a revolving stage. The elves must have been very clever to build such a beautiful little village! A strange sound came on when they must have been nearby and their elf ferris wheel began to turn all by itself! Mum says I should say that the ‘performances’ were all good although there were some American words which could have worked just as well or even better in ‘Australian.’

Night of the Elves, director Linda Hartzell, adapted by Y York from the novel by Janet Taylor Lisle, performers Margot Fenley, Katherine Fyffe, Emily Hunt, Jen Taylor, Rory Walker, Ursula Yovich, designer Mary Moore, composer Glyn Lehmann, lighting Mark Shelton, creative producer Cate Fowler, Windmill Performing Arts and Sydney Theatre Company; Sydney Theatre, Oct 27-Nov 5

RealTime issue #76 Dec-Jan 2006 pg. 46

© Lina MacGregor & Nathalie ; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Our celebratory/incendiary cover image text is but one of many that cascade across the screen in alarming and witty juxta/transpositions and lateral/literary narratives, often to fine jazz, in the web-based work of YOUNG-HAE CHANG HEAVY INDUSTRIES from South Korea who will feature in this year’s MAAP: Out of the Internet international media art event out of Brisbane and libraries and galleries around the world (p2). Go to www.yhchang.com for a great collection of YHCHI works.

MAAP is just one of a host of festivals we’re covering in this edition and there are many more on the way. Historically, festivals were sometimes events of ritual inversion—of power, of the sacred, of gender relations—and often celebrated with fire—bonfires and fireworks. The intensity of any festival can engender a sense of transformation, of an old self purged and the world viewed anew. That’s what we hope of art festivals, renewal of our senses and values and a reinvigorated appreciation of art and its capacity to change itself and transform us.

In these dangerously conservative times we expect a lot from art and arts festivals. We ask them to keep us intellectually alert, politically aware and to protect our senses from being restricted, even shut down, by the dark forces of censorship and narrow views of what constitutes human experience. Nigel Jamieson’s Honour Bound (p42) powerfully merged a direct demand for justice for David Hicks and an immersive theatricality; Version 1.0’s Wages of Spin wickedly reframed the world of politics and media, distilling verbatim the appalling illogic of our politicians and their Iraq war so that we could not, as we laughed and gasped, ignore their criminality. With the works of Romeo Castellucci, Robert Wilson, Dumb Type and others in the coming Melbourne Festival we will be expecting no such direct appeals to our consciences, but we hope that they will rewrite the world for us in some way. The worlds conjured by these artists are strange ones that can take us far away from our everyday selves; others are more alarmingly familiar.

In his essay on Michael Haneke’s remarkable film, Hidden, Hamish Ford (p18) attributes some part of the film’s greatness and the considerable dialogue it has generated to the proximity between the lives of the film’s central couple and its audience. Hidden is neither bourgeois melodrama nor social comedy, where such proximity can provide a cosy refuge. This is an uncomfortable affinity and one distressingly difficult to categorise and put aside—hence the depth of the film’s challenge to our sense of responsibility and the intricacies of our complex connections with nation and history. In an era of comfortable narratives and perpetual demands for closure, Haneke, as Ford sees it, demands of us an adult response: “[His] seemingly bleak world view actually grants the audience the ultimate respect and space so that, separately and together, we might take responsibility for processing the ethical conundrums played out on screen—because in many ways they are our own, or our culture’s—and only thereby, albeit provisionally, ‘completing’ the film and creatively re-entering the world.” KG

RealTime issue #75 Oct-Nov 2006 pg. 1

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

Drawing Restraint 9, Matthew Barney

Drawing Restraint 9, Matthew Barney

Drawing Restraint 9, Matthew Barney

Earlier this year, as part of its Future Classics program, the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) presented the Australian premiere of New York artist Matthew Barney’s newest film, Drawing Restraint 9 (2005). Complementing this were screenings of Barney’s recent De Lama Lamina (2004), the Australian premiere of Alison Chernick’s documentary Matthew Barney: No Restraint (2006), and a brief return season of his iconic Cremaster Cycle (1995-2002) (unfortunately marred by the non-arrival of the Cremaster 4 print). The ‘future classics’ tag, a conspicuously optimistic divination, suggests that Barney is developing into a proto-auteur, the ACMI program serving as unofficial Barney film retrospective. This is an interesting accomplishment for an artist who makes films but isn’t quite a filmmaker.

A petroleum jelly sculpture, the Japanese whaling vessel Nisshin Maru and the music of Icelandic singer (Barney’s partner) Björk are some of the unlikely elements in the Drawing Restraint 9 mix. The film obliquely tells the story of two Occidental tourists (Björk and Barney) as they are welcomed onto the Nisshin Maru as guests during a whaling expedition. As they undergo traditional Japanese rituals beneath deck including a tea ceremony, the sculpture, in the shape of Barney’s emblematic field symbol (an elongated oval, horizontally bisected by a bar—representative of whales in this film) sets from liquid to jelly, and moves through a series of transformations and disintegrations. Obscurity of concept and idiosyncratic deployment are clearly Barney staples.
Drawing Restraint 9, Bjork

Drawing Restraint 9, Bjork

Drawing Restraint 9, Bjork

The film is the 9th (and already superseded) instalment in an ongoing, otherwise non-cinematic Barney project, which since 1987 has explored the process of creativity under artificial restraints. This informs Alison Chernick’s making-of documentary more than it does the diegesis of Barney’s film. His filmic creations (he is predominantly a sculptor) are so ostentatious they seem to demand heuristic analysis, yet are more immediately accessible when viewers pose as aesthetes. Drawing Restraint 9 is no exception.

Björk suggests in the documentary, No Restraint, that since Barney mainly considers himself a sculptor, his films are primarily in service of that role. Yet Barney and his distributors are evidently courting a wider, more instantaneous audience than sculpting alone could attract. Along with this come the twin demands of narrative and spectacle, awkwardly coupled with the competing expectations that Barney deliver both an aesthetic cinematic ‘event’ and something transcendentally artful. This is the tightrope he began walking in 1995 with Cremaster 4, and perhaps in a way that the earlier films were only able to achieve intermittently, Drawing Restraint 9 may just have enough to satisfy such diverse demands.

If Barney is at his best with Drawing Restraint 9, perhaps in this case one of the best things about Barney is Björk. The film’s much touted status as collaboration, rather than Barney vehicle with Björk in tow, is exemplified by the importance of her eclectic score, which strengthens the film’s most striking sequences. From the sub-bass symphony in the film’s opening passages, which abruptly bursts into a cacophony of ecstatic industrial noise, to the haunting electronic arpeggios and Björk’s intense soprano wailing that underscores the pivotal storm scene, the music evokes a visceral reaction to the film’s driven visual juxtapositions. Like all his preceding films, the music is a vital ingredient and Björk excels in crafting a unique soundscape.

Though a superficial glance might suggest otherwise, the film resists the narrow orientalist impulse of most American representations of Japanese culture. Drawing Restraint 9 couldn’t be more removed from obsessions with kooky otherness (though it might strike some as kooky itself). The film’s cinematic resonances are many, from its Powaqqatsi-like pseudo-ethnographic documentary moments in the opening stretches to the Cronenberg-esque transformation in its denouement. It also bears that unmistakable Barney hallmark, the plodding back-and-forth editing style. Nevertheless as an idiosyncratic exploration of form, shape, biological transformation and, above all, individual artistic whimsy, Drawing Restraint 9 sees Matthew Barney still very much doing it his way.

Matthew Barney: No Restraint serves as both the making of Drawing Restraint 9 and companion-piece to Barney’s artistic output till now. Chernick’s documentary explores not only the production of his latest film but also Barney’s meteoric rise to darling status on the New York arts scene through his other Drawing Restraint projects, the Cremaster films and various other works. As demystification of the obtuse symbolic logic in Barney’s latest film it is only partially successful, focusing quite a lot on the confusion Barney’s vision creates for many of his Japanese associates and the crewmembers of the Nisshin Maru. Chernick portrays Barney as manic, determined and enigmatic. The insights into the ongoing Drawing Restraint project raise the uncertainty of whether to afford primacy to process or product in Barney’s work. If only the documentary were less of an appetiser, it may sit oddly within Drawing Restraint itself as an exploration of the process and its unique constraints.

The other relatively new Barney film at ACMI was De Lama Lamina (the ACMI screenings were the film’s Melbourne premiere). The film was made after Barney completed the Cremaster Cycle and is part documentary, part remix/re-incorporation of his collaboration with American-Brazilian musician Arto Lindsay for the Salvador Carnival celebrations. The title translates roughly as “From Mud, a Blade” and while its thematic fusions of organics/technology and nature/culture is pure Barney, as a cinematic document of a performance in a specific time and place, it is unique within Barney’s emerging filmic cannon.

Lindsay’s Latin funk band perform atop a truck pulled by a tractor/tree fusion, during the Carnival parade, as environmental activist Julia Butterfly Hill and the Greenman (a naked man decorated with fluff and goo, bulbous, floral and beak-like protrusions and an Orangutan doll) create sculptures of organic/artificial composition above and below the engine. This is all surveyed by multiple hand-held digital video cameras and complemented by a cunning mix of the live music that gradually builds to a feverish climax. The intensity of this aural build-up and the audacious representation of the Greenman’s sexualised mechanical encounter (which one assumes from the credits, was shot later in the studio, not live) are among the film’s successes.

Drawing Restraint 9 has been given staggered screenings nationwide, with brief seasons at the Nova Cinema in Melbourne and the Chauvel in Sydney, representing a new frontier in Barney’s colonisation of the cinema scene. As with any premature attempts at canonisation, whether Barney’s filmic work warrants the ‘future classics’ tag is yet to be proven. Though there are undoubtedly fantastic visceral and visual pleasures within his works, he continues to attract criticism for lazily translating gallery art into cinema for a post-MTV generation. While this might say more about the audience than the artist, it is largely the former that builds reputations and determines the classics, for better or worse.

Barney’s cinematic works exist in a multimedia spectrum including gallery installations, books and sculpture-as-prop, to some extent suppressing the urge of cineastes to claim his works fully as their own. While being equal parts gallery art and pop cinema undoubtedly presents challenges to discourses of reception, it is not as if this is entirely new. David Lynch fused the worlds of surreal cinema and television melodrama in Twin Peaks long before the birth of motion picture television and continues to pursue his aesthetic obsessions in a variety of media, even furniture. Completely independent of whether a work is ‘good’ or ‘bad’, categorisation is a popular obsession. Barney, love him or hate him, serves as but one reminder that rigid categories do not simply exist unchallenged, but are constantly under review.

Future Classics: Drawing Restraint 9, directors Matthew Barney, Bjork; Matthew Barney: No Restraint, director Alison Chernick; De Lama Lamina, director Matthew Barney; Australian Centre For the Moving Image, Melbourne, May 12-17

RealTime issue #75 Oct-Nov 2006 pg. 22

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

Caroline Daish, Falling Snow, short film made during the residency

Caroline Daish, Falling Snow, short film made during the residency

Caroline Daish, Falling Snow, short film made during the residency

In May this year I undertook a HotHouse Theatre Artist Residency—A Month in the Country—with Jason Sweeney and Caroline Daish of Unreasonable Adults, a hybrid performance ensemble based in Adelaide but with members in other states. We came together to develop Last To See Them Alive, a performance based on my research towards a Master of Creative Arts at UTS.

The residency takes place in Albury where we are provided with a farmhouse, a large rehearsal studio and a vehicle. We move in, put the kettle on and begin to design Caroline’s (first) demise.

The Last To See Them Alive plays with what it means to be the victim and/or the victor in the games of serial murder and serial monogamy. In a single girl’s life which will come first—marriage or murder? We spend quite a bit of time imagining murder scenes—some taken from true-life crimes, and some lifted from Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, Wire in the Blood and Sex and the City (full of ‘little deaths’ if not murder). To understand the serial killer and serial monogamist we became serial viewers. Our longest shift of straight viewing of various sex crimes (whether those of a criminal nature, or related to sex etiquette) was 8 hours. Here’s a question for Carrie: is it still a crime if you orgasm while being raped?

With the popularity of crime fiction and the recent trend of positioning true crime stories in women’s fashion and lifestyle magazines I had to ask: what is so appealing to single girls about serial killers? Is this the kind of book a woman reads when she says, “I’d rather read a book most nights than have sex”? There are ‘little deaths’ during sexual intercourse (if you’re lucky), but there are pages upon pages of big, bloody, visceral death scenes in crime fiction that offer a greater and more prolonged thrill. Fear lingers whilst orgasms subside? Terror embeds in the body and mind while men come and go?

Each of the texts we are working with attempts to answer a key question: where do narratives of terror and pleasure intersect in the body and how does this translate into performed ‘character’? I have written a series of monologues which propose a ‘character’ of a single girl and her relationship to a serial killer, distorting the traditional romantic fantasy portrayed in romance fiction to ask: ‘How do you meet Mr Right in an age of Serial Killers?’ Imagine if Carrie Bradshaw accidentally wandered into the world of SVU—a space in which terror becomes a pleasure to anticipate.
Caroline Daish, Falling Snow, short film made during the residency

Caroline Daish, Falling Snow, short film made during the residency

Caroline Daish, Falling Snow, short film made during the residency

We begin our creative development by setting ourselves tasks designed by Jason which help us to break down and exploit the texts—we conduct tours of the death sites around the house, invite people into the pathological interior of the home in which acts of violence are romantic interludes, dig up buried bones of previous victims in the garden, host a sinister tea party and confess to rape fantasies whilst preparing dinner. We explore what it means to tell a story about yourself through the spaces you inhabit—how would a stranger make sense of your life by reading your home, the way you make the bed (or don’t), the placement of objects, the choices you make in furnishings? How would you set up your home if you knew with certainty that one day, a serial rapist or killer was going to break in and attack you? Is it possible to influence your own victimology report and, if so, does this still make you a victim or a victor?

These tasks become a constant experiment in form—how is the performer positioned in an interaction with an audience in an intimate setting (a house)? How intimate can this interaction become? One scene takes place on the couch in the loungeroom waiting for a gentleman caller, constructing the crime scene with the audience; a scene in a bathtub with one audience member, holding carving knives and hiding from the threat outside—“He was here last night, I know it!” Serving tea and biscuits as dual personalities fight for control of murderous impulses and the longing for a gentle touch. Sitting at the piano by moonlight singing about the serial killer BTK: “have you ever asked yourself why you’re so interested in what he did to those women but couldn’t care less about what he took from them?” A tour outside the house in silence as a woman, naked beneath a yellow rain, coat digs up the bones of a victim—the silent witness reaching out from beyond the grave.

Unreasonable Adults will present Last To See Them Alive as a Scratch Night for the Studio at the Sydney Opera House in late February 2007, working with Julie Vulcan (one of the members of the ensemble and of Sydney’s FRUMPUS). From there, it is expected that the work will premiere as part of the Mutations program for the SPILL Festival of Contemporary Performance in London in April, 2007 run by the UK’s The Pacitti Company. In the meantime, Unreasonable Adults have been presenting another work, GIFT/BACK, as part of Electrofringe in Newcastle.

It would be difficult to overstate how beneficial this residency has been for both the project, and the team of collaborative artists involved. The space to relax and create is such a privilege. The reception by HotHouse staff, and the community (a special mention for the staff at Electra café on Dean Street) was warm and friendly. This is a simple model for creative development, one that sadly is not replicated elsewhere. At a time when the Theatre Board of the Australia Council for the Arts is opening up a dialogue about the future direction of funding for the theatre arts it seems important to note the incredible value of such initiatives.

For more on Unreasonable Adults: http://unreasonableadults.va.com.au/

Fiona Sprott’s performance texts Often I find that I am naked and Partly it’s about love, partly it’s about massacre have been performed internationally. Easy Ryder premiered at the 2005 Adelaide Cabaret Festival and drowning in my ocean of You was produced by State Theatre Company of South Australia in its 2003 the laboratory program.

A Month in the Country: how much longer?

Residency places and programs for performing artists of the kind visual artists and writers are used to (if in lesser numbers in Australia than in many other countries) are very rare, especially ones that take them right away from the pressures of everyday life. HotHouse’s unique Month in the Country provides a former farmhouse near Albury, a large adjoining timber-floored studio, funds towards travel and living costs and has been home to hundreds of artists over the last 3 years. They include Lano & Woodley, Angus Cerini, Sue Broadway, Zeal Theatre, Tamarama Rock Surfers, My Darling Patricia, Flying Fruit Fly Circus, Wesley Enoch, Jacklyn Bassanelli, Ingrid Voorendt, PACT Youth Theatre, Eleanor Brickhill and collaborators working with a number of these artists. The program now faces a doubtful future. One-off initiative funding for the first 3 years from Arts NSW has finished and a new application has had to be made, while Arts Victoria, some capital works establishment funding aside, has offered no support across the period despite 50% of the artists using the program coming from Victoria. I asked HotHouse Artistic Manager Charles Parkinson what will happen to the scheme if funding is not forthcoming from NSW. He says that if artists want to use the space, but without financial support, Hot House will continue to make it available. Although sometimes rented out or occasionally used by HotHouse itself, Parkinson says that the residency program is “primarily a service for the industry.” He doesn’t understand why funding bodies can’t see that performing artists have the same need as visual artists and writers for creative isolation. It’s not uncommon, he reports, that artists say that they’ve achieved more in the few weeks of their residency than in months in the city. The program has allowed artists to work with each other across state borders, provided ideal studio space so rare in cities, and as Fiona Sprott reports on this page, combines creativity and relaxation, a hard-won pairing for many artists, and one that allows for invaluable reflection. KG

HotHouse Theatre: A Month in the Country, www.hothousetheatre.com.au

RealTime issue #75 Oct-Nov 2006 pg. 46

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

Multimedia Art Asia Pacific (MAAP) was established to focus the ‘unmapped’ new media culture of the Asia Pacific. It has partnered organisations and governments in the region to produce festivals in Brisbane since 1996, in Beijing in 2002, Seoul 2003 and Singapore 2004. MAAP showcases the work of the region’s leading and emerging new media artists. MAAP in 2006 is titled Out of the internet, and is centred in the State Library of Queensland (a recognition of the growing importance globally of public libraries in net culture) and in partnership with a number of international partners. Eds.
Kaiju Noodles, part of Manhua Wonderlands

Kaiju Noodles, part of Manhua Wonderlands

Kim Machan, MAAP Artistic Director

How does MAAP in 2006 relate to previous events?

This MAAP is shaped differently and draws on a small, tight group of artists and is focused more on the internet. The artists in Out of the internet have leveraged the internet in their work in some serious ways. They all have a long history with MAAP and I wanted to have an opportunity to develop a refined curatorial approach.

The first premise is how we might bring the work from the ethereal nature of the internet into a physical space. I wanted artists to consider the physicality of their online work. This idea comes from considering how internet art is treated in museums and galleries. I’d like to have the artists’ work acknowledged for its artistic authority by processing it into or through significant venues to enhance its ‘cultural capital.’ The curatorial architecture twists and grounds internet art simultaneously and self-consciously into place and context. There are partner venues including international museums and galleries and libraries, additional online projects, a symposium and lots happening here in Brisbane.

How do the terms ‘multimedia’ and ‘new media’ operate in MAAP?

MAAP started way back in the golden days of the dot.coms. In 1997 there was an almost hysterical desire to have artists explore the new hard toys and software entering the general market. Those were the days when there was a different catchphrase for each year. In 1996 the buzz word was multimedia, 1997 interactivity, 1998 content is king, 1999 user is content. Well, it was something like that!

Those were heady days and somewhere back in 1997 there was a proactively guided collision (or collusion) of corporate, government, education and arts sectors to start up a media arts festival. Call it a coincidence, or an alignment of planets, there was a lot going on. From that initial support MAAP was able to organize and assert its own identity before the dot.com bubble burst in 2001.

As for new media and multimedia, everyone seems to get very concerned with definitions and changing meanings. I admit that I have had to tediously define and redefine these terms but, really, just let me say that the multimedia in MAAP was settled upon as the language likely to get us more cash sponsorship at the time. More importantly, it is a steadfast word that has a history in the visual arts. Our committee felt confident that if the IT handle wore out, the visual art meaning would pervade.

What were some of the strands of inspiration this year?

It started with the question of the next city in which to base MAAP. After MAAP in Singapore (2004) there was no obvious location. I had a core group of artists I wanted to work with and consulted them—each had a different preferred city. I changed my position: why did MAAP have to be in one city? Why not use the opportunity to try to get artists into their preferred situation? It became an enormous challenge, one that also worked into ideas I was formulating about the digital networks within Asia.

What’s the curatorial logic behind the fragmentation of the sites of MAAP?

The premise was inspired by Seth Siegelaub’s seminal exhibition July, August, September 1969 where he arranged 11 artists to show in 11 different locations around the world. [Siegelaub is an American curator and theorist who was closely engaged with conceptual art in the 1960s and 70s.] In transcripts from an interview [Alberro and Norvell, Recording Conceptual Art, 2001] he describes the useless nature of the museum space and challenges the New York-centric nature of the art world. He’s very excited about the speed of communication and expresses an interest in Jack Burnham’s theories of switching from an object-oriented to a systems-oriented society [US sculptor and theorist Burnham was writing about art and technology in the 60s and 70s, eg in Beyond Modern Sculpture, 1968]. In some respects I am putting to test the notion of working in reverse.

The artists in MAAP 2006 are working in the world through the internet already. I am shepherding the work back into taking a material form in the museum context, to achieve authority, blending the different fields in which they operate, and joining another official art history context. Making a representation of all the works in the State Library of Queensland adds another dimension—or escape route—out of the closed museum context.

Out of the internet then grafts onto the established library network through links on library home pages all over the world. It is a gigantic challenge and the project has many aspects that will have different levels of success. It is an elaborate sculptural curatorial form which is elaborated further with the Manhua Wonderlands project that heads into another direction with a series of street contexts.

The works in the exhibition Out of the internet (and into the night) have varying approaches to the internet: some are dependent on the physical form to create internet visualization (Charles Lim). Other works reconfigure the internet cinematically (Candy Factory, YOUNG-HAE CHANG HEAVY INDUSTRIES). GPS technology is employed in another work (Feng Mengbo) to create the writing of Chinese characters through city streets. Stories and voices are uploaded and downloaded (Iain Mott)—the form is both an online and physically presented space.

Are the locations finalised yet?

In conjunction with Out of the Internet, New York's Museum of Modern Art will host a Candy Factory presentation in their MediaScope series; Iain Mott will exhibit in the Zendai Museum of Modern Art, Shanghai and Charles Lim in The Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane; Feng Mengbo will create work in Singapore; and Out of the Internet coincides with a YOUNG-HAE CHANG HEAVY INDUSTRIES' commission with Tate London. The process has been very involved. The idea was to secure a placement of each artist in a museum, thereby sharing a large exhibition load. However, museums have strict conventions that are difficult to subvert and I often felt like a curatorial contortionist, though it’s been a fascinating process to work through.

What have been some of the highlights of your long involvement in MAAP?

Highlights are usually artist-based moments—achieving something that helps an artist to realise something special. To see YOUNG-HAE CHANG HEAVY INDUSTRIES become such an important artistic contributor to contemporary art after her initial artist residency with MAAP in 1999. To see Candy Factory achieve a project with MoMA. Working on MAAP in Beijing in 2002, was an amazing highlight and perhaps one of the most challenging, but perhaps Out of the internet might be my toughest to achieve, in the form I imagine it to work.

Thea Bauman: Curator, Manhua Wonderlands

Manhua Wonderlands curator Thea Baumann explains that the project “was developed to provide cross-cultural media arts education initiatives and exhibition opportunities for young people in urban, suburban, regional, and remote areas of Queensland. It also aims to create new audiences for media arts practice by exploring alternative spaces and models for exhibiting new media art forms”. These include:

Chromophonozone (see Dan MacKinlay on SOOB) is “a series of one night gatherings at the Don’t Tell Mama karaoke club in Brisbane’s Chinatown district. Artist Jemima Wyman transforms a room in the karaoke lounge into a stage for karaoke revellers who stumble into the space, don sequinned balaclavas and let loose in a series of uninhibited, semi-anonymous, anarchic, krumping-and-karaoke battles. The ‘happenings’ are documented and then fed back in situ into the club onto a 16-monitor wall creating instant karaoke film clips.”

Kaiju Noodles: “A cross-cultural collaborative hip hop video between video artist Sean Healy, Japanese MC Potato Master, musician Alan Nguyen and costume designer Madeleine King. The hip hop film clip is a kaiju monster battle and is filmed in urban spaces and in online simulations of urban spaces—at costume play and anime conventions; on and under bridges; construction sites; on trains; and in video game arcades, but also online, at Google Earth—all subtitled in Japanese and English.”

Karaoke Bedlam: “A fleeting, one-night-only event at the Don’t Tell Mama club in which invited artists take over a room in the club to explore karaoke pop culture as channelled through the lens of hallucination/augmented reality, mania and madness. Karaoke Bedlam incorporates site specific installations, projections, performances and uses the infrastructure already existing in the space [screenings on the monitors, sound works on the karaoke system] in the presentation of media art works”.

Van Sowerwine: Artist, Purikura Infestation

Purikura Infestation: Baumann describes this installation as an “Aliens-meets-Hello Kitty site-specific, collaborative installation of monstrous, tumorous creatures invading a sticker booth, and a stop-motion animation installed in a vinyl pod, exhibited in a sticker booth stall in Brisbane’s commercial shopping hub, Elizabeth Arcade.”

Purikura artist Van Sowerwine says she “got involved about a year ago…the project started off as part community development, and I liked the idea of running new media workshops for young people. Early this year I ran workshops with young women from Asian backgrounds on stop motion and drawn animation, focusing on ideas of virtual pets and Purikura (sticker booths). Through a partnership with the State Library of Queensland I also ran similar workshops for teachers in Brisbane and young artists and students in Cairns and Townsville. I found the workshops really rewarding, particularly the first set in Brisbane where I was able to open up a new set of skills to young artists already working in other media.

“Thea was also keen for me to develop new work, inspired by the workshops, to exhibit as part of Manhua Wonderlands at MAAP, and suggested I collaborate with another Brisbane artist, Alice Lang, to create a work exploring Purikura. It’s been great to have the opportunity to work with Alice. I moved here from Melbourne 18 months ago and this is the first collaboration I’ve done with a another Brisbane-based artist. It’s made me remember how much I enjoy collaboration—it can be so much more productive and rewarding than slogging along on your own!

“We’re creating a work that will be installed in the sticker booth shop in the Elizabeth St Arcade. It will be a mini-sticker booth, but quite strange and covered with bulbous forms. Inside is a strange character I made, watching an animation of itself on screen. The work is quite different aesthetically from Alice’s and my work, which is quite refreshing. It’s quite garish, with lots of bright colours that neither of us use in our work. We’ve worked on most of it together so I feel like it’s been quite a successful collaboration in that we’ve produced a single work together rather than simply putting 2 disparate practices side by side.”

Kim Machan is a founding member and artistic director of MAAP; Thea Baumann is a curator, new media artist and producer; Van Sowerwine is a filmmaker and installation artist.

MAAP: Out of the internet, artistic director Kim Machan, artists YOUNG-HAE CHANG HEAVY INDUSTRIES (Seoul), Feng Mengbo (Beijing), Iain Mott (Australia), Candy Factory (Fukuoka, Japan), Charles Lim (Singapore); Manhua Wonderlands, curator Thea Baumann, artists Jemima Wyman, Van Sowerwine, Alice Lang, Luke Ilett, Sean Healy; State Library of Queensland and international partner venues, Nov 30 2006 – Jan 25 2007, www.maap.org.au

RealTime issue #75 Oct-Nov 2006 pg. 2

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

The OnScreen Film and New Media Course Guide is available as a PDF (840k)

RealTime issue #75 Oct-Nov 2006 pg. 23-

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

Tari ITO, Comfort Women

Tari ITO, Comfort Women

Tari ITO, Comfort Women

The top floor of the Europa Restaurant has been roughly swept and rows of chairs set up for the audience. There is a large gap around a hole in the floor, marked out with red tape. During Communist times the Europa was a popular meeting place for Party bigwigs but now the only hint of former grandeur is its size. The Europa is in a state of dereliction having been stripped of everything—light fittings, plumbing, wall panelling. Electricity for sound and lighting is sourced from one or 2 functioning powerpoints in the room adjacent. Interakcje 8 International Action Art Festival is launched.

The opening night includes performances from Poland, Quebec and ourselves (senVoodoo) from Australia. The room is bursting with local townsfolk and media, a flock of cameras settling around Janusz Baldyga, stalwart of Polish performance art since the 70s, who opens with a work about the burden of materialism.

Interakcje takes place in May in Piotrkow Trybunalski, a poor town of around 86,000 in central Poland. Run by Piotr Gajda and Gordian Piec, the festival is funded by the city council. Ryszard Piegza, the festival’s founder, although absent in 2006, remains a figurehead alongside Jan Swidzinski, at 80 one of the grand old men of Polish performance art. Interakcje has been running since 1999 and this year extended to satellite events in Poznan, Krakow and Bielsko-Biala.

Artists are provided with accommodation for the duration of the festival, a catalogue, meal tickets and per diems. Given Piotrkow’s unemployment rate hovers around 30%, the generosity is overwhelming.

Young locals are heavily involved as performers and volunteer crew. They also make up the bulk of the audience. It’s fair to say that they gave the festival its main fuel. The festival crew and performers were striking in their energy and imagination; the gang of tipsy teenagers that watched performances night after night offered a refreshing change from the earnest atmosphere that can prevail at performance events.

The second night began with Peter Grzybowski, a Pole based in the USA. His was the only performance that made reference to the Iraq war, a topic strangely absent from public discourse in a country that has troops in Iraq. Grzybowski’s piece was a sustained yet not entirely successful attack on brutality and the media.

There was an intensely masculine energy to the performances on this night, which, when interrogated with passion and honesty, was searing. Pole Mateusz Felsmann shaved himself until he bled, staunched his face with squares of white cloth, then stapled them to the wall. After printing the wall with his bloody cheeks, he knelt before the display. The work unconsciously resonated with everything from Scorsese’s The Big Shave (1967) to the blood printed cloths in performances by Ron Athey and Kira O’Reilly. Felsmann’s poise and focus created a unique performance that was to be one of the most intense and moving of the festival.

Omar Ghayat from Cairo followed with an interactive work. Ghayat refreshed familiar motifs—the bandaged man, the alienated suit, audience members placed inside compartments marked on the floor with tape—and delivered a heartfelt comment on communication, technology and social isolation.

This year’s Interakcje had a spotlight on emerging Quebecan artists invited by performer, teacher and curator Richard Martel, who has a long association with the Polish performance community. The most striking of these was Christian Messer. With only a chair and an onion as props, Messer created an anguished piece about heartbreak, the claustrophobia and anger of love. His climax had the audience scrambling out of the way as he tied a rope to a chair and swung it around and around, eventually smashing chunks of plaster from the walls.

The destitution of the venues gave a cathartic, anarchic feel to many of the performances. People let loose in every direction. The 3 guys from Grupa Wlochy set to work on a large round table and shelves with hammer, nails, saw and drill. They became increasingly frenzied and violent, a sort of orchestra of chaos, subsequently laying into a column which had glued to it a page of Kierkegaard’s Poetry of Fear.

Another highlight was a work by veteran Nicòla Frangione, who runs the Monza Festival in northern Italy. Frangione works with video, slides, music and spoken word to create hypnotic, provocative and highly amusing collages. Much of his text takes the form of manifestos, poetry as a sensory experience. He performed with such rhythm and passion that, although most of it was in Italian, little was lost on the audience.

Les Fermières Obsedées, a trio from Quebec, reminded us somewhat of Sydney’s Frumpus. They brought a colourful contrast to a program otherwise almost completely pared down, non-theatrical, ideas-based performance. In costumes, wigs and smeared make-up, Les Fermières stomped up and down, smashing holes in the wall with knuckledusters. They built nonsensical rhythms from repetitive movement, ending covered in paint, Coke and spit, and with grazed knees. If overlong and indulgent, it was nonetheless high-spirited and funny.

For 5 days and nights actions and performances took place in the streets, in Europa and another empty building, slightly less derelict, which also contained the festival office. Photos of the performances featured heavily in the local paper. Although the audience dwindled gradually, their spirit of commitment and energy was unflagging. The shabby rawness of the spaces intensified the intimacy of the performances.

Each morning in the hotel dining-room performances of the night before were discussed along with performance art in general. Old colleagues from the festival circuit were re-united, new performers examined with curiosity. Discussions continued in the cheap restaurant where we were ticketed to eat or at one of the 2 bars in the main square. What is this thing called performance art? How is it catered for in Poland/Spain/Egypt/Australia? All of us spoke the international language of whingeing about lack of funds. We were pretty much the only people in the town bars.

We were told that when Interakcje first began, the townsfolk were out and about a lot more. But now that economic depression had hit Piotrkow hard, nobody could afford to so much as go out for a beer.

Towards the end of the week performances became more frequent and improvised. In a park one afternoon 6 of the festival volunteers created a poignant comment on intimacy. Beginning at far corners of the lawn, they began threading themselves together before onlookers realised what was occurring. They ended in a tight circle, applauded by the public.

Another local, Huba Byczkowski, performed a light-hearted gender-transformation. In the context of a conservative government and an extremely powerful and homophobic Catholic church, the work also took on a darker, courageous hue.

There were grumbles about the programming. Zbigniew Warpechowski, pioneer of Polish performance art, gave a long dissertation on the second last evening right in the middle of a run of performances. Warpechowski has written 5 books and his installations and videos are in national museums. The audience, comprising largely non-Polish speakers, sadly and inevitably drifted away.

Warpechowski spoke of how conceptual and performance art as evolved in communist Poland had offered liberation—endless undefined possibilities. He was bleak about the current state of affairs, complaining that artists who are fashionable manage images, and that even state galleries look at art with a commercial eye. Interestingly enough, although schooled in Stalinist times, Warpechowski finds the new conservatism and political correctness just as limiting as previous regimes.

There were 2 compelling performances from Japan on the last night. Tari Ito created a beautiful homage to ‘comfort women’ (those forced into prostitution during WWII). Ito worked with slides and a latex costume at once elegant and grotesque with inflatable breasts and buttocks. She is a seasoned performer, with years of dance and movement study behind her. Her subtle butoh-esque moves and direct narration took on the tone of a grieving ritual. Seiji worked with nothing but his body and a table, creating a puzzle of flesh, object and space.

On the last night of the festival, the bedraggled delegates were invited to dinner by the mayor. This was once a public event, but is now private so the townsfolk don’t resent his spending money on art. The Kaczinski government gained power in Poland late in 2005 on a platform of family values and anti-corruption leading to the closure of long-running performance festival, Castles of Imagination and Warsaw’s queer-friendly club, Les Madames.

The Mayor of Piotrkow Trybunalski has been accused of taking bribes, his case is still pending. When I asked Piec, who also works at the town council, what the future held for Interakcje, he smiled enigmatically. The future, he said, is always uncertain.

Interakcje 8-Interactions, International Art Action Festival; Piotrkow Trybunalski, Poland, May 8-12, www.wizya.net/inter.htm

RealTime issue #75 Oct-Nov 2006 pg. 48

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

Lucy Guerin

Lucy Guerin

Lucy Guerin

Lucy Guerin is showing 2 new works in the 2006 Melbourne International Arts Festival. A major new production, Structure and Sadness, about the collapse of Melbourne’s Westgate Bridge in 1970, receives its world premiere October 19. Setting is a duet made in Japan premiering in Australia on October 25 as a double bill with Japanese choreographer, Kota Yamazaki’s Chamisa 4degreesC (see p6). The double bill was instigated by the Australia Japan Dance Exchange (AJDX) and comprises 10 events in both countries in 2006. AJDX is co-ordinated by Hirano Productions in Melbourne and Japan Contemporary Dance Network in Kyoto. With 2 important contributions to the festival, Guerin’s status as one of Australia’s most important contemporary choreographers is confirmed. I spoke to her about the projects and the prospects for Lucy Guerin Inc.

You’re just back from Japan. How was that?

I was away for 6 weeks and it was a really enjoyable experience. I was in Kyoto and Yamaguchi, presenting the work in both places. In Yamaguchi we were in a brand new arts centre which was fantastic.

How did the premiere go?

Well, I think. The pieces are very different, and yet there are some similarities, so it worked as a double bill. Both choreographers ended up working with the experience of being in a foreign place.

Had you met the other choreographer, Kota Yamazaki, before?

I met him for a drink when he was over for the last Melbourne Festival. But he’s not that confident with his English, so we didn’t talk much. And this time we only chatted a little too.

So the double bill is not collaboration?

Not at all, the productions are very separate. He made his here and I made mine in Japan. We auditioned our dancers separately. I’m working with a Japanese composer, Haco, but that has nothing to do with Yamazaki.

So the similarities come by chance?

Yes, I think we both found our experience of each other’s country very foreign.

Was this your first visit?

Actually I had been there with Russell Dumas and Becky Hilton when I was 22, on our way back from touring somewhere. But we weren’t performing, just looking at Kyoto and Tokyo, as part of our ‘education’ with Russell.

Did you have a chance to take in much this time?

Not really. The 6 weeks were pretty intensive. We were in the studio for 4, producing for one and performing for another. I did have a bicycle though and loved riding around.

So the work is not about Kyoto or Yamaguchi?

No, the piece was inspired by the dancers. I interviewed them on my first visit and Haco recorded the interviews to make a soundtrack, which then inspired the choreography and the props. The piece is made entirely from these external sources, which is new for me. Normally I make my work from an internal concern.

Why embark upon a new process for a commission? That’s risky, isn’t it?

Yes, very risky. But I’ve done a few commissions and find that the context in which I end up working is often very different from what I was expecting. So if you arrive with too many plans and preconceptions, it can be hard to achieve what you had in mind. This time I decided to just head over there and respond to the situation and let the piece grow out of my experience rather than impose any pre-thought-out ideas. It was a lot more enjoyable. And terrifying too! This could really not have worked out.

When you’re making a commission you certainly feel responsible to the people who put the money and support behind it. There’s an extra pressure. But my last experience of a commission, in Rotterdam, was not so good and I didn’t want to repeat it. Why do these if they’re not worthwhile? I needed to question my whole way of approaching commissions.

And you have another piece in the festival to act as some sort of insurance.

Yes! The 2 pieces are a good balance. The Japanese piece is gentle, light-hearted. I was able to express a happier tone, because the Westgate piece is about a traumatic, disastrous event.

That piece also feels like a departure.

In some ways, yes. The main difference is that it grew out of research into an actual event, located in a specific place and time. How that has translated into dance is quite abstract however. I was interested in the way that large physical subject disintegrated. I read about the engineering forces that led to the collapse—compression support, tensile support, buckling and sheering—and applied these to the human body. I looked at how gravity affected the dancers’ movement. Whilst I didn’t do much research into the human stories, aside from the accounts of victims and witnesses, which are in the public domain, the emotional repercussions did naturally emerge. It also started out very specific but has become more universal and could be about any disaster now.

You have a set in this piece. Is that also new for you?

It’s new to have a set and digital projections together. I am working with Michaela French again on motion graphics and Bluebottle (Ben Cobham, Andrew Livingston) have constructed a beautiful set. I really wanted the presence of the bridge.
Byron Perry, Structure and Sadness

Byron Perry, Structure and Sadness

Byron Perry, Structure and Sadness

What else is happening with the company?

We are looking for new office and studio space, as the VCA high school is taking over our current home. We are hoping to continue our Pieces for Small Spaces program (RT70, p38), despite our lack of venue. In that project I invite people I work with in and outside the company to create work for studio presentation. I think it’s important to be inclusive and create opportunities for the younger people coming up. We do a lot of secondments for dancers from the colleges and, when we have a project on, we always hold open class. It’s important to maintain links to the local scene, so we’re hoping to do some workshops at The Meat Market as well as the Mobile States presentations of Love Me there.

And internationally you are building relationships too?

We have some great touring opportunities coming up. We’re taking an excerpt of Aether to CINARS (the international performing arts market in Montreal) at the end of the year. We’re also working with a US agent [Harold Norris of H-Art Management] on a tour of Aether in the States in 2007.

And you were in the UK recently?

Yes, in Belfast and Manchester as part of The Australia Council’s Undergrowth program.

Structurally is the company in good shape?

Yes, we received triennial funding from the Australia Council for the first time this year and are looking for more security in our funding relationship with Arts Victoria [currently the company receives project funding only]. We have a business plan, which seeks more funds, but we don’t want to grow our infrastructure too much. We’re still a small company and keen to maintain the balance of our activities. We try to keep our infrastructure in proportion to the work I want to make. Some projects are larger, but I can still go off and make a small piece if that is what the idea demands.

So you have reasons to be cheerful?

I tend to be optimistic about this side of things. Like most artists, I have doubts about my work, but I am really happy with the opportunities the company has at the moment.

Lucy Guerin, Structure and Sadness, Merlyn Theatre, Malthouse, Oct 19-21; Setting, Malthouse, Melbourne, Oct 25-28

RealTime issue #75 Oct-Nov 2006 pg. 4

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

Gina Czarnecki, Peace Offerings & Promises

Gina Czarnecki, Peace Offerings & Promises

Gina Czarnecki has written of a childhood trip to Poland with her father, a survivor of WW2 concentration camps, and the impact this has had on her art. Czarnecki’s film and installation artworks are informed by the human body in terms of disease, evolution, genetic research and by the technologies of image production. The work is often made in close collaboration with specialists in these fields. Czarnecki draws parallels between the reduction of human life to genetic units (through DNA analysis) and the technology of digital imaging with its modifiable pixel units, finding both can work as arbiters of, and smokescreens between, us and the ‘truth.’

Czarnecki has applied these ideas to her most recent work Contagion which is being funded by the prestigious Sciart Awards in the UK, Victoria’s Art and Innovation program and a Melbourne City Council Arts Project award. The Wellcome Trust’s Sciart scheme “supports imaginative and experimental arts projects that investigate biomedical science” and has its equivalent here in the Australia Council for the Arts’ Synapse program. Contagion uses mapping techniques employed to track contagious diseases such as SARS. Recently relocated to Australia from the UK, Czarnecki has collaborated with dance artists at Australian Dance Theatre (winning the 2006 Reeldance award for best dance film with Nascent), musicians, programmers and scientists working in the field of epidemiology. Her work is at the cutting edge interface between science and art and here she talks to RealTime about Sciart, Contagion, and her other interests.

Science and art

To give you a sense of the project, the scientists involved with Contagion are epidemiologists based in Australia. James Fielding is from the Victorian Government’s Infectious Diseases Unit. Steven Corbett, who I got in touch with regarding the 3D computational mapping of SARS, is now one of the leading scientists involved with developing control systems for a potential bird flu pandemic. Nick Crofts runs the Turning Point drugs and alcohol rehabilitation centre. All of these people are specialists not only in epidemiology but also specifically in observing the patterns of human interaction and behaviour under various extreme conditions.

Keith Skene is my long term collaborator and is a micro-biologist interested in the evolution of ecosystems. We mainly work together over a Guinness, having really good conversations about the migration of birds, pollen and forensics, slime moulds, or the way systems evolve when newcomers join them—which is the basis for this project. Adaptation, evolution and change: mutation. What’s essentially human? The biological in its physical and psychological forms. That’s the territory I share with these scientists. And then there are a number of other related things I am seriously interested in which come together in this project.

Mapping disease

One is the notion of purity, contagion and the spread of disease. I was sick for some time in Scotland following a trip to Kumasi, Ghana. The doctors in the isolation ward where I was being cared for suspected Ebola (making a scary front page newspaper story). Consequently I learned a lot about the virus. Ebola is transferred exactly the same way as AIDS, but it’s not as successful as the AIDS virus because it tends to wipe out entire communities, so it’s contained in that way. So then I started to look at successful diseases and their change over time, how they are transmitted and their effect on the way the world has evolved. For example, invading armies disregard local rules that are transmitted verbally through generations, unwittingly spreading disease. Europeans invading America, Australia and the islands caused so much biological havoc that a lot of [indigenous] communities were totally destroyed, which provides a theory as to why it was easy for white people to invade and dominate most of the planet.

Contagion uses the SARS outbreak in Amoy Gardens in Hong Kong 2002 as an epidemiological example. I’m interested in it because there are 3 schools of thought on how it was transmitted—rat droppings, sewerage and airborne. In the case for airborne, 3D computational graphics were used. I’m interested in the possibility that the compelling visualisations, or the ability to visualise the outbreak, provided a kind of proof authenticating one theory. When the news of the potential airborne nature of SARS became public, what followed was, as Stephen Corbett describes it, a “pandemic of fear” which can be far more dangerous than the virus itself. Humankind’s only remaining threat is either ourselves or single cell, microbiological disease which is invisible and mostly indiscriminate.

What is perceived as the disease’s incubation period, the mortality rate, the risk factors and the epidemiological laws are used as a starting point for the programming rules of the interactive installation, Contagion.

Mechanical reproduction and imaging the truth.

Contagion is also about an interest I have always had in the image and authenticity—how we have come to accept certain symbols or images as ‘visual truth.’ My most recent video installation, Spine 1.2 (union) gave rise to a lot of questions about falling bodies. Critic and curator Sally-Jane Norman made an association between this work and imagery of 9/11 on a news list. I am interested in how quickly an image is attributed to, or contaminated by, a certain event, or becomes owned by a nation’s history, as in this case.

We depend on context to recognise an image of truth. Science, law, medicine and the military present images and we take them as authentic, but so many of them are artificially constructed. Art can present fact but it’s often perceived as fiction. Medicine has been developing imaging technologies to prove the existence of something—scanning, ultra-sound, infra-red. On a train journey in the UK I sat opposite a Gulf War engineer who said “Of course we kill people, but we see them as little green dots on the screen and we just zap them.” On the one hand we have the technology to be able to see inside a womb and find foetal deformities, but we also use the same technology as a smokescreen between us and the reality of human destruction.

God, pigs and disease

This question of truth and authenticity is linked to the demise of organised religions and the rise of scientific theories. The word quarantine comes from the number 40. It was allegedly a Christian system to stop contamination; a boat had to be docked for 40 days before anything could be brought ashore. It was so successful that it is believed to be the reason Christianity succeeded so well in certain places where other religions didn’t observe quarantine rules.

Then you look at the pig, the animal genetically most similar to us and the only other animal that can catch influenza. The close proximity between humans, pigs and birds in Asia is thought to be the reason why bird flu seems to be stemming from there. The pig becomes the carrier or the host which transforms the virus between humans and birds. We seem to have detached ourselves from traditional reasons for abstaining from eating pork because we have dissociated local tradition from spiritual belief, science and medicine. So I’m interested in mapping the history of western biomedical sciences alongside societal rules and the development of control mechanisms for disease in an increasingly populated world.

The installation

I was sitting in Federation Square in Melbourne watching people watching themselves on the big screen. The quality of interaction made me reassess previous assumptions about interaction in more sanitised art gallery settings and inspired me to push interaction within my work further. I began by considering how the general public interacts with or responds to surveillance on a day to day basis.

In my work I want people to have a visceral experience, albeit digital, and so I’ve been developing an interface with Tim Kreger of a big colour palette in the installation space where people can mix colours in a liquid way. This makes up one projection on 3 circular screens in the space. The way the colour is mixed is based on action and interaction and the spread of disease across changing environmental conditions. Participants are aware that through their movements they are spreading an infectious disease, but it becomes a compelling and intoxicating game. We’re using surveillance software that’s been specifically developed to recognise people based on motion and average colour. So if you leave the room and come back again, you will be recognised. This interest in the human body on a micro and macrocosmic level, the articulation of movement, interaction and mapping, connects strongly to the many installation and dance projects I have previously done. Combining the observation of movement and time is my current exploration.

Contagion will be trialled at the Sydney Powerhouse Beta Space in October and will premiere in Melbourne in March 2007.

RealTime issue #75 Oct-Nov 2006 pg. 33

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

Dan Monceaux and Emma Sterling<BR />A shift in perception”></p>
<p class=Dan Monceaux and Emma Sterling
A shift in perception

A Shift in Perception presents an interesting contradiction; a film made by sighted people about the experience of blindness. Herein lies the desire to communicate an unknown state, an intention with the potential to fall—not short—but somewhere deliciously far from the mark.

The film is part of Living Dreams, an exhibition growing out of a community cultural development project of the same name, initiated by Michele Fairbairn and the Port Adelaide City Council. As part of the program, artists Dan Monceaux and Emma Sterling developed the film and a series of photographs in response to time spent with 3 women with impaired vision. Initially the project was intended to empower the women through involving them in the creation of touchable sculptural works. It eventuated that while the group was interested in engaging the broader community in their experiences, they were less interested in becoming sculptors. The project was adapted, and at this point the artists volunteered their time to work with the women to create a filmic translation of their memories, dreams and everyday experiences, and thus began the series of conversations that underpin the exhibition.

The film is a visual treat. The fun starts with the use of Super 8 film, which brings a unifying softness and dreamlike quality to the work. Occasionally we look into the faces of the women, but these shots are either taken close up or in silhouette, preventing the women from being objectified; instead we are more often encouraged to take their positions as their words are imagined in film.

The tactility of Super 8 also makes it an appropriate choice; much of the film’s content brings close attention to the work of hands and the sense of touch as the women undertake the daily activities of cooking, sewing and playing the piano. The film negatives are dusty, with the contrast blown out in places, reminding us that this filmmaking was also the work of busy hands. The unpredictability of the medium is embraced, while instability is a constant theme. One woman states that “a thing you have to learn when you lose your sight is not to move things around.” The camera flickers and objects quietly do the stop-frame shuffle while sounds are experienced as dangerous things that might pounce. New techniques for ordering are developed as another woman recounts her technique of singing her way along a bus route, knowing at which chorus to alight.

A Shift in Perception features a soundtrack by Alex Carpenter which is a constant element and almost distinct enough to be considered as an autonomous work. There is interplay between the stories being spoken by the women, the visuals and the soundtrack. The soundtrack is loud; often the women’s voices are drowned out. I find myself closing my eyes to focus intently on their words and smile with the discovery that more than ever I am placed in their position. In the warm darkness I crane to hear the gentle humour of the storyteller as she describes a dream in which she plays piano with Rachmaninoff. I open my eyes to see the playful animated version of the dream recede into the constant tumble of images on screen.

The photographs presented in Living Dreams are not video stills but function like postcards from the documentary. They are not captivating on their own, however when considered with the moving images they become an interesting adjunct to the viewing experience—moments plucked out and held still for our slower contemplation rather than the means of introducing new elements.

Living Dreams is being shown at the Higher Ground venue as part of the SA Living Artist’s Festival (SALA). This is an interesting choice of venue as the exhibition is one of the many shows on in the foyer. When I dropped in, it was competing with Michael Franti over the stereo, loud conversations and coffee. Disappointingly, the projector had stopped working and the full wall projection was subsequently replaced by a television monitor. However, Monceaux says the choice of venue was determined by Higher Ground having disability access, enjoying a huge traffic of interested patrons and being open long hours. This seems—quality viewing conditions pending—an appropriate choice for the outcome of a community project. Higher Ground has itself been steadily developing as an arts community venue and resource from its origins as the 2006 Adelaide Fringe club.

Living Dreams, images Dan Monceaux, Emma Sterling, sound Alex Carpenter, Higher Ground, Aug 4-20.

RealTime issue #75 Oct-Nov 2006 pg. 50

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

Peter Hennessey, My NICU

Peter Hennessey, My NICU

All the impulses of all the media were fed into the circuitry of my dreams. One thinks of echoes. One thinks of an image made in the image and likeness of images.

Don DeLillo, Americana, 1990

The art of Peter Hennessey has powerfully examined the media-saturated events and phenomena that have inscribed themselves upon his and our memories and dreams. Deploying the most commonplace of materials (plywood, galvanised steel hinge, canvas), Hennessey has produced bold, arresting and intricate sculptures based on subject matter which is familiar, even infamous, but physically inaccessible.

In exhibitions such as Repercussions (2004) in Adelaide, Proof (2004-05), My Moon Landing (2005) in Melbourne, and My Voyager (2005) in Perth, Hennessey has showcased stunning, life-size re-productions of military and aeronautic artefacts imbued with symbolic, historical and political resonance. My Ikara (2004), for example, is a 4-metre high plywood and steel rendition of an Ikara missile manufactured by the Australian military and tested at Woomera. The imposing, pistol-shaped sculpture is symbolic of both Woomera's troubled history and the broader anxieties surrounding national security. Conversely, the sprawling, satellite-dish-like structure of My Voyager is modelled on NASA's Voyager 2 space probe, which was launched in 1977 to contact extra-terrestrial life. Here, Hennessey adopts the theme of communicating with aliens in order to interrogate the treatment of foreigners in our own communities.The motivating force behind these and other works is Hennessey's ongoing fascination with what he calls “the 'physicalisation' of things that are only virtually accessible to us.” Hence his preference for objects which “have a large presence in the world: they exist as memories of televised images or via a multitude of representations like the echoes of a clear, sharp sound.” Accordingly, his structures are conceived with the purpose of enabling the viewer “to have a physical experience of the object while still being able to experience the absence of the thing.”

These concerns are realised through a rigorous, labour-intensive aesthetic: the use of computer-design software, 3-dimensional models and laser cutting technology to painstakingly design and assemble a 1:1 scale version of objects that initially exist as images sourced from the internet.

Hennessey's austere aesthetic is elegantly honed and refined in muscular, mixed-media works such as My Mission Control (the act of observation changes the object observed) (2005), a sharp, clinical re-staging of the NASA control desk that monitored the flight and lunar activity of the Apollo 11 astronauts. However, rather than broadcasting the footage of that historic mission, the bulky, blocky buttons, stationary dials, corky controls and slim screens on Hennessey's control desk transmit footage of his own, studio-based, makeshift lunar-stroll, My Moonwalk (Fourteen Kilograms) (2005).

Watching the DVD recording of the artist as a gangly, gallivanting spaceman, my mind reverberates with sound bites and ballads affiliated with the Apollo 11 mission. I recall a legendary astronaut's crackled, metallic, lunar greeting, followed by the lachrymose lyrics of a certain star-dusted Space Oddity: “Houston, Tranquillity Base here, The Eagle has landed” (Armstrong); “Take your protein pills and put your helmet on/Ground Control to Major Tom” (Bowie).

Hennessey's slick, skilful synthesis of sculpture and simulation in My Mission Control… reinforces the ghostly, televisual character of the moon landing, and its political import as a globally broadcast spectacle. If the majority of Hennessey's works to date have been concerned with furnishing physical re-enactments of virtual phenomena, then the artist's most recent offering at Greenway Art Gallery entitled My NICU (I am always amazed how something so small can be so big) (2006), marks a subtle shift in perspective.

My NICU… – the acronym stands for Neonatal Intensive Care Unit – is Hennessey's answer to an environment which, he remarks, “one could possibly access but in truth would rather not.” Indeed, from a distance, Hennessey's eerie, intimidating installation appears to have been prised from the grimy ward of some forsaken, contaminated clinic. In the centre of a confined gallery space, under a dim, dingy light, a Draeger incubator is flanked by, and affixed to, a plethora of infusion pumps, drips, ventilators and monitoring systems.

Conventionally, a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit is a considerably humid and highly controlled space, specifically calibrated to maintain the requisite skin and body temperature of prematurely-born infants, and to sustain their breathing and nutrition through the intravenous administration of oxygen, fluids and nutrients. In stark contrast, Hennessey's version of this synthetic, life-sustaining space-constructed from plywood, steel, graphite and silicone, then coated in wax is cold, ominous and unsettling. The bleak lighting, the cool, tomb-like setting, and the scumbled and scrawled surfaces of the installation evoke a formidable scene of abandonment, infirmity and trepidation: harsh, corroded and sinister. Hennessey is a new father. My NICU… is a haunting and disquieting interpretation of a profoundly emotive space which he believes “crystallises the anxiety and even fear that comes with anything precious.”

Although considerably more intimate and poignant in tone and character, Hennessey's latest work is in keeping with his previous accomplishments in its ongoing commentary on the ironic character of contemporary existence: our unfounded faith in, and apprehensive reliance upon, the media, science and technology.

All quotations from artist statements in gallery catalogues.

Peter Hennessey, My NICU (I am always amazed how something so small can be so big), 2006, Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide, June 28-July 23

RealTime issue #75 Oct-Nov 2006 pg.

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

Dumb Type, Voyage

Dumb Type, Voyage

Dumb Type, Voyage

Kota Yamazaki

We meet at the Metro Hotel, an office block I used to live in that has gained stature in an increasingly cosmopolitan Melbourne. I am meeting Kota Yamazaki, choreographer of Rise:Rose and Chamisa 4ËšC which are both being presented at the Melbourne International Arts Festival (MIAF) this year. The latter work is organised as a cultural exchange with Lucy Guerin where each choreographer works with dancers and artists chosen from the other’s country (Phoebe Robinson, Lee Serle, Nick Sommerville, Joanne White for Yamazaki) as part of Australia-Japan Dance Exchange (AJDX) and the current Year of Exchange (YOE 2006).

Yamazaki and his composer Masahiro Sugaya join me as we step into the unusually warm winter in search of a restaurant, Yamazaki trailing behind us like an oyabun (the boss of a Yakuza gang). Turning our collective noses up at the expensive Italian restaurants we head for Chinatown.

Yamazaki began as a student of Tenshi-kan founder Kasai Akira, who was a student of Hijikata Tatsumi, founder of ankoku butoh (“dance of utter darkness”). Like most butoh dancers Yamazaki paid the rent by working at a show club. He then established Rosy Co, a company of 10 dancers before moving to New York in 2001 where he set up Kota Yamazaki/Fluid hug-hug, a company to “exchange, travel and explore.” Since then he has divided his time between Senegal, where he spent 6 months with Jant-Bi choreographing Faagala (MIAF 2005), his home-town of Tokyo and New York, a perfect combination he says. Returning to Japan with the Australian dancers, Yamazaki will perform Chamisa 4ËšC in Yamaguchi, Kyoto and Tokyo before coming to Melbourne.

Aside from being a successful freelancer, composer Masahiro Sugaya has worked with Tokyo dance company Pappa Tarahumara for nearly 20 years. He describes his arhythmic original composition for piano like drops of water falling, like the calls of animals in the zoo. The piece promises to be emotional. He loves Debussy, Brahms, Mendelssohn, but never Beethoven or Wagner. Yamazaki is cooler, more reserved, but no less passionate about the piece. The title Chamisa 4ËšC is named after the small yellow New Mexican ‘chamisa’ flowers that are found floating over the desert floor of the Grand Canyon in winter. The repetitive flower motif in Yamazaki’s work is rooted in butoh sequences and recalls a 60s performance by Hijikata called Bara-iro Dansu (Rosy Dance).

Yamazaki says his work must be beautiful. He likes the writing of Mishima Yukio for this reason. Yet this is in stark contrast to the anime visual aesthetics of the otaku generation (geeks or fans preoccupied with anime and manga), now exhibited in Murakami Takashi’s emblematic toxic flowers and figurines or Yoshitomo Nara’s mischievous children. In what appears to be a generational shift, the younger dance company Mezurashii Kinoko (literally Strange Mushroom) who recently visited Melbourne as part of Australia-Japan Dance Exchange, as if in reaction to the romanticism and darkness of angura (‘underground’) theatre and butoh, seems to be heading in the otaku direction.

Despite modern dance being the dominating influence in Yamazaki’s work, butoh remains significant in his approach. Yet although he says “butoh is easy”, he later remarks how difficult it is to teach to dancers who are unaccustomed to it. The Australian dancers are uncomfortable with slowness. By contrast, the Senegalese dancers didn’t like remembering textual phrases while dancing and are scared to dance alone. Butoh must come from inside, he concludes. Is that an inherent or created ‘inside,’ I wonder.

Having rediscovered his roots during his travels, Yamazaki says he is now looking to traditional dances from South East Asia. In Japan where traditional cultures are considered by some to be concealed by a patina of western culture, he feels he is searching in the traditions of others for something he has lost.

The next time we speak Yamazaki says he has decided to scrap the butoh element and focus on bringing out the dancers’ individual personalities instead. So despite his dance being based on the darkness of the wordless body, for the first time he will introduce text.

So the question lurking beneath these intercultural collaborations is how is it possible to transplant one form of culture, particular or inherent to a context, to another?

Dumb Type

Dividing their time between Kyoto and France, Dumb Type’s production of Voyage comes to Melbourne after having premiered in France and touring the world since 2002. One of the world’s leading multimedia performance companies, Dumb Type’s work is based on the tenet of wordless expression as their name self-deprecatingly suggests. Founded in 1984 by students from the Kyoto University of Arts emerging from many disciplines including visual arts, architecture, music and computer programming, the group uses various media in their eternal search for new forms. The company also produces across a range of media such as performance, sound, video and publications. In the early 1990s Dumb Type gained notoriety in Japan and overseas for their unpopular AIDS activism prior to the death in 1995 of Teiji Furuhashi, one of the company’s core members.

To make Voyage, the group of 10 artists broke into twos and threes to make independent sequences. Rather than a pre-conceived plan, a director’s topographical vision, centralised organisation or all working to represent one opinion that has gained consensus, the only pre-condition made was for a common space. While the company members acknowledge that to find order and structure takes more time (and resources) this way, they prioritise individual feeling, action and thought, and only then consider what they can (and cannot) do as a group. Fittingly this interview was conducted via email with a polyvocal respondent.

The process has been a journey into a reverse world. Group members agree that they began from a feeling of not knowing what to do as artists in response to world events post-September 11, of being ‘lost’, a feeling which has only intensified as they have continued. The image in the festival program, and on this page, shows a female astronaut in a black space suit floating on a mirror with black smoke curling up behind her. Or is it perfect blue sky with perfect white clouds? asks one member. The group’s imaginations seem to be working in opposition, as if in a black hole. The further they travel the less is known in an ever-expanding implosion.

While they agree that the title Voyage is not about travelling towards a known destination with a specific purpose, from here on their versions diverge. Some feel it is an enforced drifting across expanses of water/land/sky/space/thought in an escape from war. Others combine the astronaut’s anxiety in venturing into the unknown with the excitement of following utopian dreams. Exploration or endeavour is the state manifestation of power, intones one, while another says the voyage is based on a northern European myth of forced exile as a form of retribution. Maybe this is what we all need, to think and look at things differently, muses one. When in space, the values cultivated on earth are turned upside down. Or are they?

The mirror, a motif in the work of both Yamazaki and Dumb Type, suggests a limitless expansion into absolute and infinite black. It reflects a place where things are immeasurable, where there is no light and no oxygen, no front and back, no conformity to codes of good and evil, a place of paradox, where common sense means nothing.

At the premiere of Voyage, one audience member, raising the technology/body dichotomy, remarked, “You are trying to end the body.” Yet Dumb Type assert they are not representing the cyborg or robot. While some members see tools as an extension of the body and others see technology as that which cuts through self-willed existence, others don’t feel the need to put subjective and objective existence at odds. Which ever way, these are always problems, yet they all agree that art is something to which they dedicate themselves.

Given that founding member Teiji Furuhashi is quoted on the group’s website criticising Japanese audiences for being apathetic and that the group “should always have a political view”, I turn to politics and ask about Japan’s recent conservatism—constitutional revisions in order to re-arm, continued visits to Yasukuni Shrine by heads of state aggravating international relations. The group say they are rarely asked about war and they have no intention of making clear statements. I persevere. One replies that religion is relatively unimportant to Japanese people while another says Prime Minister Koizumi’s visits to Yasukuni Shrine are being called a religious act in order to play to popular sentiment, conceal real questions and effectively unify religion and politics. Another says people all over the world are ceasing to think for themselves and are being swindled by the continuation of the present war, while yet another says rather than asking what they think, I should think for myself.

Those who have direct experience of war in Japan are disappearing from society, observes one. Another tells of being with 90 year-old grandmothers at the nursing home watching the war on television: “These are women who have lost their husbands and brothers in war.” She sees these women react in a way that seems to say, “Despite having gone through all of this, why is it all being repeated?” This has made her consider war more deeply, she says.

Dumb Type, Voyage, Playhouse, Arts Centre, Oct 18-20; Kota Yamazaki, Rise:Rose, Playhouse, Arts Centre, Oct 22-23; Kota Yamazaki, Chamisa 4ËšC, Beckett Theatre, Malthouse, Oct 25-28; Melbourne International Arts Festival, Oct 12-28 www.melbournefestival.com.au

RealTime issue #75 Oct-Nov 2006 pg. 6

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

Larissa Hjorth, Snapshots: Portrait of the Mobile

Larissa Hjorth, Snapshots: Portrait of the Mobile

At the opening of Larissa Hjorth’s exhibition, Portrait of the Mobile, there were the requisite gallery sounds of wine consumption and luvvie “m’waw m’waw” air kissing. There was also the whiff of incredulity: “so it’s just pictures of mobiles, then?” That sentiment is not, of course, anything new for the spectators of everyday poetics. Hjorth’s work participates in a complex and problematic tradition of art which attempts to represent both the banality and gravitas of quotidian cultural practice. As such, her show articulates key preoccupations of this tradition: presence, intimacy and display.

The exhibition is the result of a 6-month ethnographic project on mobile phone culture conducted recently in Seoul and Melbourne. Hjorth interviewed 150 people, asking 2 questions: “What does your mobile phone mean to you?” and “How have you personalised your mobile phone?”

I have used a picture of my kitten as the wallpaper, and I like to hang gifties off it. Inspired by some artwork of a friend, I want to eventually have my phone laden with hundreds of crazy dangly things. I have also filled my phone with photos of everyone I love.

I’ve made my phone mine by putting my idol and Australia’s greatest ever cricketer, export and human being 😉 as my wallpaper …

These micro narratives comprise one component of the show, which is divided conceptually and materially into 3 zones. The survey responses, for example, are displayed as spinning lines of green text via a minimalist, sexy, flat screen monitor accompanied by a music track that could best be described as “symphony of elevator kitsch.” And here is where the visual and cultural logic of Hjorth’s work becomes evident. A productive tension inflects this exhibition between, on the one hand, the austere aesthetic conventions of gallery sensibility and the exuberant declarations of personal taste. Indeed, as Zara Stanhope observes in the catalogue essay, our attitudes to domestic space and personal technologies often manifest as “an Anglo-Saxon stoic resistance to all things kitsch and decorative.” This twin logic, one need hardly add, is also animated by gender. Just think of the marketing of mobile phones: forget about how they function, girls just need to fit them in their skinny jeans. In Hjorth’s work, both as art practice and academic research, we find a sustained critique about the gendered assumptions of mobile phone customisation and consumption.
Larissa Hjorth, Snapshots: Portrait of the Mobile

Larissa Hjorth, Snapshots: Portrait of the Mobile

Occupying a second thematic and technological zone of the show are 6 photographs mounted on A3 size light boxes fixed to the wall. These large format duratran transparencies depict mobile phones in mundane detail, each set against a background of traditional Korean ‘rainbow’ fabric. Some of the images show mobile phones ‘open’ to reveal a variety of domestic, intimate and humorous screensavers: a couple in evening dress, a bug-eyed cutesy kitten and the aforementioned tribute to ‘Warnie.’ These images display mobiles singularly, in clusters and, in 2 shots framing the exhibit, in grid formation. All are personalised, some adorned with keyrings, animal charms and various articulations of everyday ephemera. Establishing notions of immediacy and presence as major preoccupations for this exhibition is the photograph of the camera phone displaying on its screen the time of 6.26. Echoing On Kawara’s famous “date paintings”, this image calls attention to the strong desire to archive the present within contemporary socio-technological communication.

As photographs of photographs and screen shots of screen shots, this exhibition functions simultaneously at the level of representation and meta-commentary. Let me hasten to add, however, this is defiantly not some po-faced, tortuous rendition of art theory 101. Hjorth has too much of a sense of humour for that. How else to explain the image of a mobile dwarfed in size and, one suspects, weight, by its attached robotic-looking bear charm. Yet there is also a luxurious quality, a luminosity to these photographs which owes its heritage to the light box.

Made famous, as Alison Nordstrom has explained, by Eastman Kodak’s Colorama installed at Grand Central Terminal in the 1950s, the light box has at its very inception, the display of domesticity. For more than 30 years, these huge advertisements (the light boxes were 5.5 metres high by 18 metres wide and required 1.5 km of cathode tube for illumination) celebrated the Norman Rockwell dream, literally and figuratively demonstrating the lightness of the American domestic being. As Nordstrom puts it “the coloramas taught us not only what to photograph but how to see the world as though it were a photograph” (Alison Nordström, Colorama, Aperture, NY, 2005). Too prosaic to be advertising, too domestic for the gallery, Hjorth’s mobile phone is re-imagined as object of spectacle. As Jeff Wall’s photographic work has shown, light boxes help stage the everyday image, infusing it with a theatrical and cinematic power.

If Hjorth’s work evokes the majesty of cinematic screen technology with its sweeping visual gestures, it also registers the intensity of the moment utilising, what Hjorth has elsewhere called, “the miniature and personal canvas of the mobile phone” (Cultural Space and Public Sphere in Asia conference, www.asiafuture.org). In the third zone of the exhibition Hjorth insists on the intimate force of presence in her 3 “mobile movies”: films shot specifically by and for the mobile screen. Titled Losing You, Lost in Connection and Snapshots of Almost Contact, these short films explore how connectivity is produced, desired and lost through technology. Drawing attention to the whimsy and nostalgia of the technological imaginary, Hjorth includes the skeuomorphic mechanical “shutter” sound effect as a character snaps a camera photo within the film.

Snapshots evidences Hjorth’s sustained fascination with the role played by domesticity and consumerism within mobile phone culture. This is her second photographic show dedicated to charting the ethnography of the familiar framed as the tension between hi tech and “domes-tich.” A deft exploration of the opposing sensibilities of measured aesthetics and flamboyant display, this exhibition is a bit like Philippe Starck and Hello Kitty duelling with mobile phones.

Larissa Hjorth, Snapshots: Portrait of the Mobile; Spacement Gallery, Melbourne, July 13-Aug 5

RealTime issue #75 Oct-Nov 2006 pg. 34

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

Brigita Ozolins, The Gorge

Brigita Ozolins, The Gorge

On one wall of installation and performance artist Brigita Ozolin’s The Gorge, water swirls and eddies, on the other figures dive through the air. On an adjacent wall one of the figures has been fixed in a series of stills. On its own is an image of a small cottage clinging to the side of a cliff. The images are grainy, they seem old fashioned, the divers look like they are wearing those woollen one-piece costumes and they are probably in bathing caps.

On a hot summer’s day in 2006 a mother’s anxiety soars as she watches from the kitchen window of her home that hangs precariously from the steep cliffs of the Cataract Gorge in Launceston. Directly below, bodies plummet 20 metres from the bridge into murky waters. Among them she sees her son. In deliberately dropping himself into the water he becomes a member of the illustrious Tadpole Club, an institution almost 150 years old. The prefabricated steel bridge which is the site of this initiation was floated into place in 1863.

This rite of passage is replayed in Ozolins’ enigmatic work. And yet it is much more than descriptive. The work is a confluence of the artist’s practice, a residency program, the bicentenary of white settlement and one of Launceston’s most significant contemporary cultural sites, and the artist’s personal story. The exhibition is included in Launceston’s bicentenary program, It’s About Us, 2006, which presents a series of events around the theme of people who have made this city over the past 200 years. The images represented are a distillation from lived experience. The small weatherboard caretaker’s cottage in the installation was built in 1890 and is located at the entrance to the gorge, only a few minutes walk from the city centre. The caretaker was responsible for the pathway that the citizens of Launceston built as a pleasure walk. Now it is offered to artists for residencies. In 2005 Ozolins lived in the cottage for a few months. One of the first things she did was reorient the furniture in order to counter the vertigo which threatened to overwhelm her.

In The Gorge half a dozen figures glide through the air, mostly one at time. The soundtrack is beautifully mesmeric, luring the viewer into the imagery. However, a hint of menace awakens us to the sensation of the body suspended in space. This dissonance, gentle as it might first appear, increases as the infinite state of diving embeds itself in the viewer’s memory. One figure does not conform. Legs seem to reach out for something unattainable. The elegance of the dive is interrupted by a body out of control. This one is not diving but falling.

This seemingly simple aesthetic becomes a distillation of disparate moments bringing a recorded historical fact in a specific location together with a primal sensation and a private story. The public becomes personal. The personal becomes public. And yet it is not clear where one ends and the other begins. As the artist describes it, this is an exhibition about living on the edge.

Brigita Ozolins, The Gorge, Design Centre Tasmania, Launceston, July 1-30

RealTime issue #75 Oct-Nov 2006 pg. 51

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

Special Mention, photo: Patrick Ronald and Shannon McDonell

Special Mention, photo: Patrick Ronald and Shannon McDonell

Staged in the round with mezzanine seating providing an aerial view of the action, Special Mention pumps its audience pre-show with a “We will rock you”-type riff, the atmosphere similar to a sporting match. Flyers on the seats read, “Keen to succeed? Afraid of failure? Call our hotline now! 1-300-SUCCESS”. The pressure is present and pulsating in this first work from Sydney youth dance group danceTank, commissioned by the Sydney Opera House with Critical Path, and directed by Luke George and Bec Reid of Launceston's Stompin Youth.

The music accelerates. A burst of intense white light blinds the audience. A mix of live and amplified clapping, whistling and cheering builds to a climax as the performers enter in single file, jogging in sync. In shades of military green and black they run a lap around the audience before descending to the stage where, with energy and precision, they execute a routine that captures the mood of a techno dance party whilst suggesting the relentless physical and mental focus involved in training. The quest for success is constantly likened to the rigours of sport.

Light magically divides the space into a grid in and around which the dancers perform until interrupted by the frustrated scream of a fellow dancer who has just made a mistake. Forced to start again and again, the performers repeat the sequence, running, jumping, helping, falling… but now the pace is relentless, the anguished dancer left behind.

Large ensemble moments are juxtaposed pleasingly with solo ones. Under an intense central spotlight, a microphone is slowly lowered from above, past the the lips of a performer forced to bend and twist lyrically, even comically, in order to be heard. The physical struggle echoes his agonising over choices and when to “seize the day.” As the microphone ascends, the performer jumps after it, words disjointedly amplified, leaving us with a powerful image of failed striving.

Now in blue and white sports outfits with coloured sashes-and one performer in gold-the dancers perform an award ceremony. But the supportive applause and praise dwindles into forced sporadic clapping. Within seconds glory is transformed into isolation. Under an intense spot, the deserted dancer resorts to sit-ups.

A series of photographic tableaux of significant life moments (catching a large fish, giving birth, proposing) confirm the pressures of social ritual but do not achieve the intensity or clarity realised in the dance sequences.

The abrupt conclusion, with a largely incomprehensible text yelled through a megaphone to a 'machine gun' soundtrack, suggested that competition is a manic state of stress, confusion and struggle.

Special Mention's energetically explosive style kept the audience grappling with the forces that drive us through life. The production was largely successful, however more effective theatricality in some scenes and conviction in text-based moments would have ensured a more consistently engaging work.

For Special Mention, Reid, George, sound designer Bernie Tan, composer Luke Smiles and apprentice choreographer Lisa Griffiths brought together 21 dancers aged 14-26, with the long term ambition of making danceTank on ongoing venture. It looks promising.

danceTank, Special Mention, The Studio, Sydney Opera House. Sept 13-16

RealTime issue #75 Oct-Nov 2006 pg.

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

Seren Pugh, Bri$crane :: Remixed

Uniquely among the current crop of emerging arts festivals, Straight Out Of Brisbane positions itself as a (self appointed) representative of local arts. From the name on down, SOOB is suffused with the concerns and talents of Queenslanders. If the festival promotion is to be believed, a visit to the festival should answer the question, “In what state are the emerging arts in Australia’s urban-growth capital?” This year the answer is relaxed, confident, inventive…and a bit hard to find.

The process of gentrification squeezes urban Brisbane as it squeezes all cities, but the onset here is acute. Public space and its nephew, the emerging art venue, are scarcer than ever. The festival is aware of the contested nature of the space it takes place in and harnesses it; this is, by design or not, a unifying theme of the festival. Where SOOB once took over Fortitude Valley, owned it and inserted a rash of oddity under the hypodermis of club’n’pub nightlife, this year the infection is symptomless. Arriving in the centre of the festival precinct I am hard put to find any of the festival venues or, for that matter, maps to them. Or just a bloody list.

A bit of persistence, however, is well rewarded. The Bri$crane :: Remixed event suspends an exhibition over the river in an ephemeral gallery occupying a pedestrian rest area in the middle of the Goodwill Bridge for the sunset rush hour. It’s the loungeroom where good Situationists will hang out in their afterlives. Perspex sheets the windows of a wall-less room, looking out over the construction site skyline of the CBD. Each pane has been overlaid with transparent or translucent artworks offering alternative visions of the skyline. The concrete and decking of the little used space are strewn with toys of various kinds and comfy seating; a chatting audience watches the fading light reveal shifting video projections against the bridge pylons; and live electronic tonescapes overlay the rush hour traffic thrum.

Di Ball’s slick digital imagery layers the scene with dystopic futures and pasts: a nuclear technopolis collides with a primeval Brisbane River; a nightmarish urban architectural model gives voice to alternative histories overwhelmed by the historyless architecture of the city’s interminable construction boom.

Seren Pugh has a more tactile process, based in a kind of graffito urban planning. Her work, a spidery paint-pen sketch directly on the plastic, responds to the prim lines of the built panorama. Here the high-rise skyline imposes itself rudely on her canvas, as if the office block developers have scrawled on public property with ill considered concrete tags.

I wouldn’t say that steel scaffolding is the most graceful medium for hanging the pieces, nor, ah, the most tactful for the subject matter. But the main letdown here is the number of works. Only a handful of artists have been involved in this element of the show that purports to critique the lack of democratic voice in urban planning. Perhaps the show is running into precisely the issue faced by the city’s planners: there simply isn’t room to fit everything.

The show best lives up to its eponymous claim in its literal remixing of the commuting pedestrian crowd, suited workers and lycra’d joggers suddenly interpenetrated with hallucinatory art and the characteristically drunken mass of SOOB aficionados. It’s the first satisfyingly naughty happening of the 2006 festival in a SOOB history of some damn good ones. And it looks gorgeous when the sun sets.
Chromophonozone, Jemima Wyman

Chromophonozone, Jemima Wyman

Chromophonozone takes the venue squeeze and runs with it, setting up off the gallery circuit in a seedy venue called Don’t Tell Mama in the strip club precinct. Upon arrival at the locked front door, a lean figure in a dark coat ushers visitors through the carpark at the back of the building to a second floor entrance. Apparently this circuitous procedure is less to do with the licitness of the activity inside than the fact the venue has been closed to the public for a liquor licensing infraction; inside it’s nothing more or less alarming than a karaoke bar. But the covertness of the entrance meshes perfectly with the show; as such, it must be the only entity to have benefited from the previous evening’s police liquor regulation sweep of the Valley, apart from possibly Law and Order itself.

If the forces of the law had arrived 24 hours later, I hazard, it would have been still more priceless watching them encounter the dance floor this evening with its frenetic vision of gold lamé and sadomasochism. On the main stage there’s a backdrop of multiple re-spliced instructional karaoke videos against which singers belt out MIDI pop classics from behind shapeless sequinned masks in the form of cloth head bags decorated with distorted leering faces. There are some performances of rare zest, occasional sheepishness, universal disregard for even vestigial melody, and overall bodyslamming undignified abandon—all wholly enacted by the audience. It’s a lurid cartoon world of saturated phosphors, overdriven speakers and unprovoked, untutored madness, totally hands off for the artists, who stand back with parental pride and discuss how the show recalls Abu Ghraib’s “interrotunes” musical torture. Certainly, the willingness of the audience evokes something fascinating about the disinhibiting power of having a bag hiding your face. As claustrophobic and badly ventilated as the venue is, the show’s captivating until eventually I’m co-opted for a spell as the lean figure in the dark coat out the front. Occasionally little herds of confused karaoke fans who weren’t told that they were in for a “new media interactive A/V exhibition” emerge, distraught, and huddle confusedly around the stairwell. And some stay in there and enjoy it. Chalk another excellent urban intervention up to SOOB.

No stranger to the world’s supply of saturated phosphors or Abu Ghraib imagery, San Francisco-based digital stills and animation designer Kenneth Tin-Kin Hung is well known in Australia, for his work if not his name. His eternal-splash-page site, 60×1.com was a viral marketing phenomenon, popular in email link-forwarding circles (I’ll bet you got one) during the last US presidential election for its high energy war and election propaganda parody. Perversely it is this online designer, of all the SOOB visual artists, who is translated into the most classically gallery-like, central city space in the festival’s stable of venues, the edgy White House, for his Global Presidential Election.

The stock characters here are the icons of global mediascape, fictional and actual. Ronald McDonald and George W Bush are, respectively, exemplars of each, Arnold Schwarzenegger weighs in in for both camps, and so on. These personalities are cut and mashed endlessly in some kind of incestuous genetic recombination in ever more concentrated concoctions of hybridised geopolitical action movie promotion. Hung’s look borrows from video game arcades, from Maoist propaganda, from martial arts movie posters, from fast food advertisements, from the choked neon signage of night-time Asian metropolises, from clichés of early web design—pretty much every lurid trend in the last century’s visual dialogue, and if there are any he’s missed it’s not from want of trying. Hung offers a kind of reductio ad absurdum of the process of global media storytelling where events and personalities themselves become items in the palette of advertorial graphic design, or bit-part characters in the endless, climaxless cartoonish geopolitical narrative—a homage to the global relevance of pasting boobs onto a picture of a major political figure in Photoshop. My reservation here is: if SOOB is trying to raise the profile of emerging arts, why isn’t this epitome of eyecatching advertising out on the street?

Bri$crane :: Remixed, curator Fiona Hogg, artists Di Ball, Seren Pugh, Priscilla Bracks, AV performance The General Will; Chromophonozone, Thea Baumann, Jemima Wyman, Don’t Tell Mama; Global Presidential Election, Kenneth Tin-Kin Hung www.tinkin.com, White House, Brisbane; Straight Out of Brisbane, Aug 15-20, www.straightoutofbrisbane.com

RealTime issue #75 Oct-Nov 2006 pg. 7

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

Catherine Fargher, BioHome

Catherine Fargher, BioHome

On entering a clinical gallery space, visitors are greeted with lab coats, infrared headsets and a sign instructing them to don both for “field safety.” Urging us into the exhibit, Catherine Fargher's smooth call-centre voice and equally plastic smile signal the commercial nature of the domestic and scientific realms under scrutiny in her performance, BioHome: the Chromosome Knitting Project. The laboratory-kitchen is equipped with blenders, skin care products, microscopes and beakers.

Two volunteers are selected from the audience to take part in a task to isolate snowpea DNA, the process enlarged by projection on the wall behind. Meanwhile, Fargher narrates, touching on matters from DNA retrieval to human cloning. Suddenly she falls to the floor, dropping a blue liquid vial that spatters across the linoleum. This strategy (where the uncooperative body interrupts the performance) is used throughout the 45-minute show to emphasise the physical tensions that aren't being addressed by Fargher's narration. Terumi Narushima's subtle, live soundtrack escalates the tension during these episodes.

After Fargher recovers, we turn to the white stage behind us where a baby basinet (the 'BioBasinet') on wheels cradles a stern, black microscope. Fargher sneaks a peak at the 'BioBaby' lifting the cover expectantly and cooing over the microscope slide of “little Thumbelina.” The performer's account of the merits of BioHome continues as she demonstrates “DNA knitting.”

“Knitting has become more than a craft”, she says, casting on the yarn and detailing how humans can be 'knit' through DNA modification and in-vitro fertilisation (IVF). As her needles click, she adds that helpful products such as the ChromoKnit Doll are available for purchase. Her sales pitch is periodically interrupted: at one point, she sings a lullaby and later, has to lie down because she feels ill from all the hormones she's been injecting in IVF treatment. This performance directly addresses the desperation that some women face to have children and their willingness to experiment on their bodies. For those who have undergone IVF, this may prove confronting.

At times the scope of the performance and exhibition seemed overly ambitious. Analysing the intersection of science and the home is an unwieldy endeavour and a few times I was left wondering at how Fargher prioritised her subject matter—how does one decide what to address and what to leave out? Importantly, however, this work demands that its audience consider the role of biotechnologies in contemporary Australia.

Even without the narration, the exhibit stands on its own. The infrared headsets offer safety instructions, a discussion on ethics and an interview with Jo Larret on IVF egg extraction. Perhaps the audience would miss the finer nuances that come with Fargher's performance (especially on the role of consumerism in this growing market). However, the juxtaposition of the scientific with the domestic—which drives the visual element of the show-is certainly evident.

BioHome: The Chromosome Knitting Project, performance & installation Catherine Fargher, live sound mix Terumi Narushima, August 16-25, FCA Gallery, Faculty of Creative Arts, University of Wollongong, www.biohomeproject.com

RealTime issue #75 Oct-Nov 2006 pg. 34

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

<img src="http://www.realtime.org.au/wp-content/uploads/art/1/197_palmerjones.jpg" alt="Jonathan Jones, Gurrajin (Elizabeth Bay), 2006
Courtesy the artist & Gallery Barry Keldoulis “>

Jonathan Jones, Gurrajin (Elizabeth Bay), 2006
Courtesy the artist & Gallery Barry Keldoulis

Jonathan Jones, Gurrajin (Elizabeth Bay), 2006, courtesy the artist & Gallery Barry Keldoulis

Sydney’s Elizabeth Bay House was recently invaded by 8 artists and a series of site-specific installations. Independent curators Sally Breen and Tania Doropoulos invited 6 Sydney-based and 2 Swiss artists to develop creative interventions as part of a strategy by the Historic Houses Trust to reach new, younger audiences. Through the artists’ inventive rethinking of the space, the story of Elizabeth Bay House was enlivened and injected with new voices and visions.

Designed for the Colonial Secretary Alexander Macleay and his family, and completed in 1839, Elizabeth Bay House is an extraordinary place. Both architecturally and in its frozen early colonial furnishing, it presents a challenging context for contemporary art. The ‘finest house in the colony’ has already been reimagined by Tracey Moffatt in her Laudanum series of photographs (1998), but no images can quite prepare you for the experience of climbing the majestic spiral staircase. Being inside the house makes you feel like you are part of the drama.

As it happened, I found myself at Ten[d]ancy by surprise, while visiting Sydney for a conference devoted to the German critic Walter Benjamin. In addition to the exhibitions, I witnessed a one-off evening performance by sound artist Gail Priest. Like the army-green canvas protecting the carpets, Priest’s sound performance established an uneasy mood from the moment of entry to the building. Her multi-channel composition—an all pervasive mélange of distorted, digitized sounds sampled from the artist’s own kitchen—provided an unusual contrast to the genteel environment. The syncretic accumulation of noise oozed out from the normally quiet spaces, as if exorcising the house’s sonic history.

In a sense, all of the interventions in Ten[d]ancy operated to unhinge the harmonious history that is conventionally offered by such buildings. This typically involved oblique and playful references to Australian history. For instance, Australian artists Claire Healy and Sean Cordeiro, working collectively with Swiss artists Martin Blum and Simone Fuchs, filled the dining room with adroitly placed, bright red crocheted woollen doilies. Despite a reference to terror in the title, the work suggested not blood but a magical craft utopia. Alluding to Australia’s fortunes on the sheep’s back, standing at the ropes to the room, the tableaux recalled Rosemary Laing’s forest carpets as much as Louise Weaver’s fabric-embalmed animals.

Shaun Gladwell, seemingly an odd selection for a show about history, revealed another side to an artist associated with moody videos of young skaters and other urban subcultures. Smoke Machines/Specimens involved the introduction of unexpected surreal still lives into a botanical display (Macleay was a ‘gentleman scientist’ with strong interests in botany and the house also contains extensive insect collections). By introducing a degree of weird science into the house for us to stumble upon, Gladwell’s work upset the tightly ordered colonial fantasy. Skulls, in particular, suggested a morbid fascination in the collector.

Jonathan Jones’ installation Gurrajin (Elizabeth Bay House) engaged with the site at a phenomenological, cultural and quasi-spiritual level. While his arranged pattern of fluorescent lights on the floor immediately evoked the minimalist artist Dan Flavin, sited in this context the industrial tube forms took on more metaphorical qualities. As the catalogue essay fleshes out, Jones’ patterns are inspired by the lines of reflecting light produced by the floating onboard fires of Aboriginal people fishing on boats across the harbour at night in the early 19th century. While the cultural reference is obscure, the insistent abstract light forms encouraged a search for meaning, and like the visitor to any historic house, we duly read the text.

Picking up on the importance of didactic wall labels in any museum experience, Gary Carsley intervened with them directly. Inspired by the coincidence that Daguerre’s official announcement of the invention of photography coincided with the completion of the house, in Le Chamber of M Draguerre Carsley invented an elaborate fiction centred around the character ‘Draguerre.’ With a bold narrative of artists’ squats, Carsley’s work was all fantasy and burlesque. Linking drag to the act of masquerade, he also produced digital photographic landscape prints made up of veneer—another creative simulation. Carsley’s work was a clever and highly amusing parody and provided for some genuine confusion by mirroring the existing wall panel information.

No such humour was to be found in the cellar of the house in Hannah Furmage’s work Pig Town. This theatrical piece invited us to listen to the voices of present day prisoners through small speakers installed in the bricks of the cell-like walls, referencing the fact that the cellar bricks were made by convicts. Inmates had been invited to telephone an answering machine set up by the artist to give their views on police, and the result was a fragmented litany of poignant complaints. Subtle it wasn’t, but this excavation of repressed voices—a form of radical oral history—was well suited to the occasion.

In the immediate context of John Howard’s ideological assault on Australian history and the way it is taught in schools (and presented in our museums), this exhibition was extremely timely. As the curators suggest, an exhibition like Ten[d]ancy “ensures the mobilisation of Australia’s colonial history into a dialogue with contemporary notions of place and belonging.” Instead of Howard’s ‘structured narratives’ of white progress, we would do better to bring history alive through our cultural practices. In the process, artists such as those at Elizabeth Bay House operate as cultural ‘mediators’ and agitators rather than simple originators of autonomous aesthetic meaning. Although much of the work was quite decorative, their careful site-specific mimicry and responses prevented comfortable access to nostalgia. The interventions provided for dialectical images of history, as Benjamin might say. And at a purely sensory level, the exhibition successfully turned the whole house into an art medium, so that even an excessively puffy bed in one of the untouched spaces began to seem even more than usually odd.

Ten[d]ancy: Artistic Interventions for Elizabeth Bay House, curators Sally Breen, Tania Doropoulos, Elizabeth Bay House, Sydney, July 8 – Oct 22

RealTime issue #75 Oct-Nov 2006 pg. 52

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

Buyback, Dayne Christian, <BR /> David Captain, Shiralee Williams Hood

Buyback, Dayne Christian, David Captain, Shiralee Williams Hood

Kathleen Mary Fallon’s Buyback: three boongs in the kitchen offers broad insights into Australian race relations, but its origins lie in a place common to us all: the kitchen.

Rhodadendron is foster mother to the physically and mentally damaged Torres Strait Islander, Jimmy. It’s a Queensland Christmas of Christianity and Anzac biscuits, and Rhoda has returned to the parental home to spend the festive season with her folks: post- traumatic Theodolite and family matriarch ‘Sparkling Shirley’.

Palm trees above a black and white tiled floor hint at a ‘paradise’ underpinned by a history of racial violence-territory similarly charted in Ross Gibson’s 2002 book, Seven Versions of an Australian Badland. Rhoda’s good intentions in fostering the manic and unpredictable Jimmy have not taken into account the consequences of adopting a disabled Torres Strait Islander, or her own subconscious motives in doing so. It soon becomes apparent that Rhoda’s rebelliousness toward her white Australian upbringing has expressed itself in the adoption. Wrestling with love, guilt and an ingrained colonialism, Rhoda is set to explode.

Jimmy’s siblings arrive: sister Dolly and the iconoclastic Dennis. When the inevitable occurs, the fallout is less melodramatic, and more paradigmatic. Fallon’s script straddles a cultural historical tripwire-from Kanak labour importation and Stolen Generations to Theodolite’s childhood fear of “the boong in the back paddock” and its sublimation in the Anzac myth. From nowhere, a mythology emerges: a curious blend of Aboriginal dreaming and left of centre cultural theory, emphasising an indeterminate imagination and its essential pluralism, personified by Dolly’s tribal dance and her performance of a birdman myth. But Buyback… is also a play about absent mothers, and when it is revealed that Jimmy’s natural mother has died, without an opportunity to see her son, a most disturbing incident occurs.

The linking of Jimmy’s mother’s spirit and her presence in the kitchen with the entrance of a black transvestite Santagram was a moment only obtainable in the theatre. Was it perhaps indicative of something unresolved in the writing or a nuance requiring a swift lighting change or a defining shift in space to underline its presence and articulate its meaning? What it did confirm was that because of our individual values, the tales we have heard and the tales we want to tell, and our resulting cultural differences, we are all guests in this house. Unlike Theodolite, who builds a bunker out of fruitcake, Buyback’s pluralist script and courageous performances dismantle the walls that divide us and show how, with its messy and violent history, Australia has become a culture partly in denial. Plays set in kitchens, absent mothers and a history of bloody colonialism: you can’t live with them, you can’t live without them.

See also Keith Gallasch’s review of Call Me Mum, the Margot Nash film of Buyback.

Buyback: three boongs in the kitchen, writer, director Kathleen Mary Fallon, performers Dayne Christian, David Captain, Shiralee Williams Hood, Barry Webster, Sky Lilly Simpson, Marie-Therese Byrne, Ronald Johnson, set & lighting Bevan Vahland, Michelle Dunn, musicians Ricardo Idagi, Henry Phianesa, producer: James Adler, Eagle’s Nest Theatre, La Mama, Melbourne, Aug 30-Sep 17

RealTime issue #75 Oct-Nov 2006 pg

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

Jodie Le Vesconte, Caroline Kennison, Emily Tomlins<BR /> Constance Drinkwater and the Final Days…”></p>
<p class=Jodie Le Vesconte, Caroline Kennison, Emily Tomlins
Constance Drinkwater and the Final Days…

In the lively, dialogic atmosphere of Lyndon Terracini’s 2006 Brisbane Festival 2006, 3 productions speak usefully to each other.

Based on an outrageous premise that is only so perfectly obvious because Mabou Mines dared to do it, Dollhouse paradoxically expands the architectural metaphor to recreate the pre-realist dimensions of the 19th century stage in miniature, presenting a brilliant pas de deux with Ibsen, infused by that rare egalitarianism of spirit that lifts an audience. This spirit is carnivalesque, theatrical not literary, mixing mutually subversive elements from deliberately fake Norwegian accents, slapstick, melodramatic posturing, music hall song and dance to grand opera to deconstruct Ibsen’s mythical paean to feminist emancipation. “Nothing here is real except the pain” (Lee Breuer).

If 19th century women were legal infants subjugated to their husbands, this production makes it physically apparent that men are infantilised and diminished by patriarchy. The dollhouse (Nora’s Christmas present to the children) is a child-size replica of an adult drawing room built to the proportions of the male cast (all played by actors of short stature). Women are literally forced to their knees in order to enter this paradigm of a man’s world, but Nora grows in stature until the house of cards collapses under the strain, and there is a magical transformation to a ‘puppet opera’ where the last anguished scene is sonorously played out. Maude Mitchell as Nora towers in the end, while Mark Povinelli as her husband Torvald runs through the audience like a frightened child.

In Lee Breuer and Maude Mitchell’s astounding and moving adaptation, role reversal and parody serve to negate an outmoded form of humanism sometimes wrongly attributed to Ibsen. Functioning as dialectical devices, they undermine the centrality of the individual ego. Simultaneously the repressive institutions in which subjectivity has no place are overwhelmed by the abundant variety and innovation poured out in this show. In Ibsen’s play, Nora declares that it would take ‘“the greatest miracle of all” to restore relations with her husband. Ibsen, that old anarchist, perceived that it is the authoritarian state of mind pervading a whole culture that is amiss. The comically subversive portrayal of the maid, Helene, the subtle relegation of the children, the ‘miraculous’ switch from dollhouse to opera house, and the tiers of puppet Noras and Torvalds all underscore this point. The final image of Nora’s daughter astride a rocking horse and brandishing a wooden sword while the son curls up in bed with his Nora doll calls for a different future. This was a big shout in BrisVegas against a world convinced there is no alternative.

Melodrama and a drawing room setting pull in opposite directions in Stephen Carleton’s Constance Drinkwater and the Final Days of Somerset. Sometimes the restraint of QTC’s production feels like a restraining hand, but the marvellous Michael Fulcher seems to get it right and bursts through the fourth wall in a performance that is, appropriately enough for Carleton’s play, ‘on the edge.’ That said, director Marion Potts sustains a claustrophobic, preternatural atmosphere, an insidious feeling of dreadful suspense building towards Carleton’s shock ending. The playwright is masterfully aware of, and in love with, the slipperiness of language yet he leaves the audience with no possibility of retreat into ambivalence. Not only are the threads neatly tied, but any white citizen of this country must feel it in the bone.

The place is a moribund, tropical settlement in Queensland’s ‘Deep North’ that clings to the notion of being “a hybrid capital of a renegade Northern State” at the time of Federation. Thunder crashes. A dissolute sceptic from the South, Professor Crabbe (Robert Coleby), and his Chinese companion, Hop Lee (Darren Yap), a businessman who pays due deference to worlds other than the mundane, have been wrecked in a storm and, with the assistance of a mad Catholic priest, Father Angelico (Michael Fulcher), take refuge in the Government Residency against the wishes of the Governor’s widow, Lady Constance Drinkwater (Caroline Kennison). Constance is the Lady in Black, in stark contrast to her wan, febrile daughters. Five children named for the cardinal virtues are already dead. The girls, Hope (Emily Tomlins) and Fortitude (Jodie Le Vescombe), are all she has left. Between passages of black drawing room comedy with their own propensity for disorder and violence, hungry ghosts prowl, the priest emits avian shrieks, a violated girl urinates, the future is foretold and Hope dies. The final revelation is unheimlich (uncanny): the familiar made dread.

Melodrama provides Carleton with stock characters to drive home points about myths of nation building, and also the means to confabulate what has been historically repressed. In the light of Freud’s analysis of secrecy and the uncanny having their roots in the home, Gothic features not only delineate a haunted landscape but bring history home to roost in a theatrical tour de force. The interlocking facets of Carleton’s ingenious, timely play work well together to recall that, in order to dream its own good, white Australia historically manifests a marked aggression to alterity. Constance’s defense of her beleaguered moral universe, her perverse attempt at “the right thing”, reflects darkly now that the vexed question of defining national values is abroad again.

In Constance, hungry ghosts are invited to an improvised feast by Hop Lee who seeks to appease them and then cathartically release them back into the spirit world. This is an allusion to the Chinese-Malay tradition of the month-long Hungry Ghosts Festival. Ritual elements of this festivity inform Elision’s Moon Spirit Feasting, an eclectic form of ‘rough and ready’ Cantonese street opera. With music composed by Liza Lim and libretto by Beth Yahp, this Australian work affirms that art is always a floating ‘renegade state’, and incidentally reminds us how much we have to be grateful for from multicultural policies now in storage.
Deborah Kayser, Elision, Moon Spirit Feasting, photo: Sharka Bosokova

Deborah Kayser, Elision, Moon Spirit Feasting, photo: Sharka Bosokova

Touching on the shamanistic origins of performance (significantly an earlier work by Lim was based on a classical piece of mythic Greek theatre, the Oresteia), Moon Spirit Feasting is a frenetic helter skelter ride of anima-driven, procreative and mystical proportions. Mezzo soprano Melissa Madden Gray (as Queen Mother of the West and Demon Goddess) and the baritone Orren Tanabe (the Archer Hou Yi and Monkey King) contest differing versions of the legend of the Moon Goddess Chang-O (soprano Deborah Kayser). The performers seem possessed: vocal and physical virtuosi. The extravagantly kitsch, super-sensible realm of these vexatious gods makes us feel richly, positively, contradictorily human. And these are not just 9 musicians being conducted by the man 3 seats along, they are monks, ghosts and humans crying out in another and necessary voice. In contemporary chamber music style, the compelling, hybrid musical score uses Eastern and Western instrumentation to transport us from the bustling street to the stillness of the stars. The final, cosmic image of the Moon Goddess Chang-O brings us full circle back via Constance to Nora embodying a similarly solitary, ambivalent freedom.

It is the play of diverse elements in all 3 pieces—the ludicrous and the regenerative, the diabolic and the sceptical, the materialist and the mystical—that challenges the ideological perspective of ‘high’ art, and indelibly stamps Lyndon Terracini’s provocative, transforming and energising festival.

Brisbane Festival: Mabou Mines, Dollhouse, adapted from A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen, conceived & directed by Lee Breuer; adaptation & dramaturgy Lee Breuer and Maude Mitchell, designer Narelle Sissons, lighting Mary Louise Geiger, costumes Meganne George, puppetry Jane Catherine Shaw, sound Edward Cosler, Gardens Theatre, July 15-22; Queensland Theatre Company, Constance Drinkwater and the Final Days of Somerset, writer Stephen Carleton, director Marion Potts, designer Bruce McKinven, lighting Matt Scott, composer/sound designer Brett Colliery, Billie Brown Studio, July 10-Aug 5; ELISION, Moon Spirit Feasting (Yue Ling Jie), composer Liza Lim, librettist Beth Yahp, director/lighting Michael Kantor, conductor Simon Hewett, designer Dorotka Sapinska, choreography Melissa Madden Gray, Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts, July 28-30

Constance Drinkwater and the Final Days of Somerset has a season at the Stables Theatre, Sydney Sept 30-Oct 28

RealTime issue #75 Oct-Nov 2006 pg. 8

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

John Tonkin, time and motion study<br /> (holding on, letting go), 2003/2006 courtesy the artist”></p>
<p class=John Tonkin, time and motion study
(holding on, letting go), 2003/2006 courtesy the artist

Motion implies movement, but is this always the case? Art movement—the deliberately ambiguous trope of this exhibition title—is a term used to delineate the discursive aspect of the making, reception and onward development of an aspect of visual arts production. But is change an essential component of such motion?

The seven-person group show at the UTS Gallery avoids hard-edged boundaries but manages to draw together a (recorded) performance (by Robert Pulie) and an architectural model (by M3Architecture group). There is a line joining the 2 exhibits and the other work—not the shortest route between 2 points but the sharply contrasted gradient between 2 fields by which an affinity is proposed.

As with many of the university located galleries, exhibition curation and design have something of a role in addressing pedagogical needs. Sited in UTS’ Faculty of Design Architecture and Building on Harris Street, the excellent run of shows in recent years have all managed exhibition design within the confines of a standard room-height office building and the limitations this imposes on the physical dynamics and scale of hosted exhibits.

Art Movement: explorations of motion and change addresses these limitations by playing with the perceptual apparatus of the human eye and the mind’s fascination with time in its representational form. M3Architecture group reproduces a scaled down version of the end wall of a Brisbane school building they designed, modeled using black stripe tape applied on 2 surfaces to create a Moiré interference pattern that vibrates as the viewer walks past the façade of the gallery.

The time-slice stripes of Daniel Crooks invoke the casual wanderings of gallery visitors with the apparently aimless criss-crossings of street life represented as (DNA-like) threads of images captured by Crooks’ custom-designed and made camera. The horizontal line forms the warp of place and the vertical line the weft of human presence—a hand here, a foot there, the midriff of anonymity emerging from interlocking ribbons of wavering movement. We are intrigued by observing the magic of a technology at work, like some digital kaleidoscope, and moved to unpick the weave thereby understanding something perhaps about contemporary convergences of subject and machine.

Sarah Ryan’s lenticular photo surfaces in contrast demand an interaction that reaffirms the agency of the observing subject, even for such subtle observations: the wavering of twigs on a deciduous tree, grey, foreboding but perfectly aligned with the observer’s memory of wintry encounters. In Sun, percolating light through treetops imaged vertically above confounds perspective and expectation by being hung on a wall. How much more confounding an affect would a ceiling mounting achieve (if the Gallery had the option of ceiling height)?

Physical interaction with John Tonkin’s Time and Motion Study (Holding On, Letting Go), progresses into the visitor authoring a time-slice series which can then be retrieved—using mouse control—as a line of self-portraits retreating into a black cosmos of screen space. (This reviewer missed a second installation, withdrawn by the artist to prepare for another show—the need for galleries to acquire their own technology remains paramount).

Tom Burless’ contemplative arrangement of projection and augmented-monitor indicated binary opposites: the image of the natural world in slow change, the urban man—his sound rumbling distinctly—flickering between opposite viewpoints, in the act of consuming food. Short video pieces by Paul Bai, somewhat to one side of the main thrust of the show, delivered the visual puns and paradoxes of earlier, though related, discourses on the observed moving image.

Motion control and the framing of time and space that propose change of viewpoint must continue to be explored not simply for the celebration of the “flux of matter” that Gabrielle Finnane reminds us of in the short catalogue essay, but more particularly through the definition of concept, the immersive state and affect.

Art Movement: explorations of motion and change, curator Ricardo Felipe; UTS Gallery, Sydney, June 27-July 28, www.utsgallery.uts.edu.au

RealTime issue #75 Oct-Nov 2006 pg. 35

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

Martin Baumgartner

Martin Baumgartner

Martin Baumgartner

The sound art roadshow, Liquid Architecture, now in its 7th year, presents national and international acts but also picks up performers in each of the 5 cities it visits. It’s an ambitious program co-directed by Melbourne founder, Nat Bates, Lawrence English in Brisbane and Sydney team Shannon O’Neil and Ben Byrne. The Sydney section included 4 nights of sound performances, an afternoon performance of audio-visual works, artist talks and workshops.

Locating the Sydney forum discussions in the convivial atmosphere of Performance Space’s courtyard worked very well, the informality perhaps enabling artists to better explain their sonic interests. Surprisingly, I thought, performance presentation and audience relations were a concern of many of those who spoke although a rough consensus emerged that “the performance is about the sound.”

This was true of the festival’s opening set on Wednesday by Sydney vocalist and sound poet Amanda Stewart and Saturday’s finale by French turntable artist ErikM. In both performances there was a profound physical interaction with the sound material that never distracted the listener’s ear. Stewart’s interplay between the recordings of her voice and the live sound produced in situ was a dance between the left and right microphone. She teased out the narrative of the day, stuttering, masticating, spitting words or their sound parts to accompany or lead herself through inscrutable semantics that made perfect sonic sense.

ErikM started by extracting a high-pitched screech from an array of effects but soon employed 2 turntables and quick change vinyl to accompany his dance around the containers of sound laid out before him. I enjoyed the way he bludgeoned silence into the service of the sonic events. Pauses and short rests served constantly to underline the percussive sound choices made from his materials. At times long decay served compositional effect only to be vibrated back into life before falling again toward oblivion. This was a breathtaking run through a layered multiplicity of samples that included violins, vibraphones, voice, vinyl pop and crackle and extracts from beat music. At one stage ErikM attached packaging tape to a turntable cartridge and unreeled it in a criss-cross motion around the space. The sound of tearing was explosive, receding when the distance from the pick-up was too great—a visualised fade-out.

Laptop artist Martin Baumgartner plays the silence too. On Friday night he moved deftly within the pulsing earthquakes and distressed overload of systems which sometimes originated in the microphone he thrust into his mouth. He leapt about and crouched under and around the table of operations, creating visual punctuations that accented what we heard. And we heard a lot: screams, dips and ascensions of voices flying into space. The connection to human vocality was at once obvious yet tenuous. Baumgartner’s frenetic physical engagement with his material mirrored his sound-processing which was intriguing, exhilarating and produced in finely detailed layers.

Baumgartner was loud. And justifiably so. In Saturday’s artist talk Darrin Verhagen (aka EPA) explained his interest in the “dynamic relationship between a sense of chaos and a sense of craft.” For him, “it’s only at high volume that you can get that relationship between chaos and control.” His performance commenced with some conventionally pitched anthems messed up occasionally by an ominous pulsing. What followed were explosive interventions using shifts of rhythm and aural time-space to disrupt the sonic places Verhagen had created, transforming them into episodes of profound density. A logic developed between the background and the foreground, places were introduced and then destroyed or overrun by layer upon layer of chaos. Hearing this musical straw-man collapse as noise overtook melody was very exciting.

Peter Blamey was pretty loud too. He kicked off Friday night’s proceedings with one strum of an electric guitar. From here on it was a manipulation of feedback, but using minor adjustments of the proximity between guitar and amplifier. This piece was richly layered once the ear became attuned—a play of higher frequency harmonics like so many phantoms bedeviling the inescapable and relentless drone of the guitar. Complexity emerged, sounding at times like a distant Jimmy Smith solo being played through the wall of the neighbours’ house or a Mongolian throat singer asserting the right to be heard through the noise. In this work overtones were the point and one well made.

The highlight of the week for me was a duet on Wednesday night. We heard a rhythmic pairing of plastic, tin, iron, wood and bow with bass from Clayton Thomas and the blowing of an uncharacteristically undismantled saxophone from Jim Denley. Denley pushed his lungs and mouth through extremes of endurance to find textures and notes by pressing the bowl of the sax into his leg or tipping back the spittle to create a tapestry of exchange between dancing harmonics and metallic emphysema. Thomas and Denley read the shifting dynamics of their instruments and the duet so well that transitions between one sound space and another were seamless. Their listening was so acute, the interplay so precise that they might have been following notation rather than their finely tuned intuition. The result was a wonderland, an evolving atmosphere that stretched the parameters of acoustic sounds to their limits.

This was a hard act to follow for the Loop Orchestra who were nevertheless a perfect foil for the visceral journey that had preceded them. This 4-man collaboration, begun by Richard Fielding over 20 years ago, uses reel to reel tape recorders and short loops of recordings to construct fields of warm analog sound. The performers looked like a panel of judges presiding over the taped evidence which on this particular night was presented as a series of human coughing sounds. There were occasional moments of humour too as loops and audience-spluttering mingled in this mesmeric blanket of staccato arias.

This night, like the rest of the season, had a satisfying thematic feel with its acoustic/analog permutations. Thursday showcased experiments in song-based hybrids, Friday’s programme worked with a sense of focus on the instruments and Saturday seemed to be about source transformation (Ross Bencina’s mix of natural and electronic sound was particularly satisfying). Difficult listening for some maybe and long nights for the dedicated but Liquid Architecture 7 set up exciting juxtapositions and provoked plenty of interesting debate.

Liquid Architecture 7, National Director Nat Bates, Sydney Directors Shannon O’Neill, Ben Byrne; Performance Space, Sydney, July 5-9, www.liquidarchitecture.org.au

RealTime issue #75 Oct-Nov 2006 pg. 53

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

Predecessor to Brecht and often uncredited founder of epic theatre, Erwin Piscator is cited as an influence on The Habib Show, about former Guantanamo Bay inmate Mamdouh Habib. Piscator's celebrated style of documentary theatre should be the ideal medium for unravelling Habib's nightmare, but is not evident in this confused and very selective work.
The Habib Show, Dana Miltins, Terry Kenwrick

The Habib Show, Dana Miltins, Terry Kenwrick

Ten minutes before the audience enters the auditorium, amplified voices are heard, belonging to participants in a Parliamentary inquiry. Representatives of the Australian Federal Police and ASIO are grilled by an unseen politician. The usual probing questions asked in a sophisticated tone of moral indignation are deflected by those wishing to conceal their unusual activities. Why was Habib a person of interest in the investigation of alleged terrorist activity? How was it that Australia's security system oversaw Habib's 6-month disappearance without knowing his whereabouts? If he was subject to the US policy euphemistically labelled 'rendition' and shipped off to Egypt, how could it be that an AFP officer observed Habib's alleged torture by electric shock and the threat of bestiality? Most importantly, if Habib was an innocent sourcing Islamic schooling for his children while in Pakistan, how did he end up among the “worst of the worst” in Guantanamo Bay? These are serious questions that suggest a serious abuse of human rights despite Australia's professed commitment to the rule of law implicit in Western democracy. Yet the tone in which these questions is addressed, interspersed by a chilling sound design of high voltage human screaming, is burlesque, highly emotive, subjective and not documentary.

Part of the problem surrounding the myth that has accumulated around Mamdouh Habib is that no-one is interested in the truth. The populist media can't be taken seriously and the Australian government is well aware that by associating Habib with Al Qaeda, his name will be forever tainted. Habib himself, for understandable reasons, is intent on playing the victim. The well-meaning makers of The Habib Show have a passionate commitment to human rights, but their judgement is blurred by the ghastly treatment it is alleged Habib received.

What is required is a documentary theatre with the capacity to articulate the complexity of the forces at play surrounding the treatment of Mamdouh Habib. Simple expressions of love and pain, although heart-wrenching, are not convincing. Neither is placing these in a framework of mockery. What of the documented statements by members of the Islamic community that Habib was suspected of working for ASIO? Was there evidence to substantiate these claims, or like the dubious statements of shockjocks, politicians and security agencies, were they tactics employed to erode the man's credibility? Audiences require conflicting evidence in order to reach unexpected conclusions about Habib, his treatment by the Australian government, the frightening policy of rendition, and the complicity of our bureaucracy. Otherwise, Mamdouh Habib appears only as a gentle man of passionate religious conviction trapped in circumstances beyond his control, or a radical Islamist the Australian government has succeeded in portraying as a threat to national security, or the enigmatic, self-seeking persona that the populist media has created for him. Ultimately, this offers nothing more than an extension of the myth. Others may disagree, but this should never be the resolve of documentary theatre.

There was gutsy work in The Habib Show from performers working in difficult terrain. Dana Miltins' coy, ironic and subversive prostitute was a standout. But design was the star of the show; always suggestive of the labyrinth that surrounds Habib, an element not so strongly present in other aspects of the show.

The Habib Show, writer, director Gorkem Acaroglu, performers Serge de Nardo, Georgina Nadiu, Terry Kenwrick, Dana Miltins, design Jacquie Lee, lighting John Ford, projections Ian de Gruchy, dramaturg Peter Eckersall, Theatreworks, Melbourne, Aug 31-Sep 17

RealTime issue #75 Oct-Nov 2006 pg.

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

Living Lens, Richard Causer, Ko-Pei Lin

Living Lens, Richard Causer, Ko-Pei Lin

Living Lens, Richard Causer, Ko-Pei Lin

Queensland University of Technology’s Creative Industries Precinct is architecturally innovative but before Cheryl Stock’s Accented Body project it had yet to reveal its human dimension. Shadowing the squared-off streets and clipped turf of the ‘Kelvin Grove Urban Village’, the precinct has been earmarked as the heart of this new inner-city planned community while it continues to build its profile as an international hub for practice-led new media arts research.

Leading up to the village’s grand opening, Stock’s ambitious event was timely. Accented Body conjured character from the precinct’s newborn architectural skin and, in the project’s exploration of “the body as site and in site”, a conversation was started between the land (which had been startingly transfigured by the village development), human bodies and the built form. The event was a logistically awe-inspiring gathering of dance, music, media and digital performance art drawn together in 6 installations creating an “animated form of urban public art.”

On 3 chilly nights during the Brisbane Festival, the promenade experience of Accented Body opened in the neatly rectangular Kulgun Park, with Prescient Terrain’s movement prologue on the transformative capacity of the organic body. Choreographed by Richard Causer and conceptualised by Maria Adriana Verdaasdonk (who played a role in conceptualising other installations), flesh and stone were brought into contested relations as bodies emerged from the earth, vigorously combating the park’s rock features and morphing with butoh-like grotesquerie between human, animal, insect and plant states.

As the audience moved with performers to the grand outdoor staircase of the main Creative Precinct building, cameras were tracking, making us aware of our role in peopling the landscape and, in turn, effecting the creation of images and sounds in other mediated sites—both locally within the precinct and beyond in live streaming to London and Seoul.

In the momentary interactions of Presences, we encountered the “global drifters”—among them women wearing spectacular tulle skirts lit by blue bulbs—who didn’t really claim space or make transaction but arrested us with their presence. As one might expect of drifters, they did not invite us to settle but their role as provocateurs was integral: in the new global order do we make space for them or do they make space for us?

In Separating Shadows, indoors and outdoors became fluid in a play of shadows, bodies and text. Devised collaboratively with direction by Vanessa Mafé and performance by Jondi Keane and Avril Huddy, a relationship between intimates was played out in a mélange of familiar phrases projected on a semi-transparent screen visible through the building’s external glass wall: “He said, she said…”, “You always want the last word.” After Keane and Huddy’s lithe bodies run across, through and around the inside/outside area—never really connecting—the paradoxes of love are signified in the contrast between the heavy clumsiness of trying to shift the ground (via Keane’s sculptural antics with the floor mat) and the ethereal presence of the words whose ‘light’ projection betrayed their weighty consequence.

Two large scale installations, Ether and Living Lens, foregrounded more strongly the use of sound and sound/body interactions. Framed by 10km of cascading red rope on the outdoor Terraces, Ether, directed and performed by Tony Yap, extended “traditional temple rituals and practices into contemporary aural-kinaesthetic realms.” Composers and musicians Madeleine Flynn and Tim Humphrey deftly reworked vocals collected via public “memory sound booth” in Brisbane and Melbourne to engage the audience in a collective ritual of sound as it resonated and reverberated with Yap’s trance-like body, swirled within the terrace auditorium and took flight into the night sky. In Living Lens, a team of Japanese, Australian and Taiwanese artists lead by technical director Tetsutoshi Tabata, had the alternate effect of vortexing the mind to an indoor fixed screen which overwhelmed the bodies of dancers whose attached motion sensors were directing the projected forms. Living Lens’ revisited Prescient Terrain’s organic body—although, this time, the body was in dialogue with electronics rather than stone.

Perhaps the most effective animation of civic space—which simultaneously problematised and celebrated the body “as site” and “in site”—was the large-scale Global Drifts projections in the outdoor Parade Ground. Although billed as an internationally live and streamed event (which in retrospect seemed amazing), for me it was engrossing to simply revel in the connective play of body, sound and light between what at first seemed an abstract projection on the feature wall and 2 real life bodies I only spotted by chance in the far corner of the ground. The 2 sites were informing and interacting with each other and, from the angle I perceived them, they seemed in concert with the building and city lights beyond. This moment of recognition and strange delight in a building that I had earlier not warmed to, is local testament to the value of the big, global, and ambitious conversation that Cheryl Stock has initiated.

Accented Body, producer-director Cheryl Stock, logistics & technical coordination Daniel Maddison; QUT Creative Industries Precinct, Brisbane Festival 2006, July 15-17

RealTime issue #75 Oct-Nov 2006 pg. 10

© Mary Ann Hunter; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

McKenzie Wark

McKenzie Wark

He was the young turk of Australian cultural studies in the 1980s and an architect of the emerging cyberscene of the 90s. He gave us a lexicon of key terms that shaped our understanding of the last 20 years. Like other notable Australian expats before him (Robert Hughes, Peter Carey), McKenzie Wark has settled in New York City, where he lives with his wife, the actor and writer Christen Clifford, and their son, Felix. Wark refers to himself as a New Yorker, but is quick to add that his roots (or should that be aerials) are still very much in Australia. His moniker has been notably absent from Australian literary pages in recent years and I caught up with him where he can always be found, on the net, to see what he has been up to.

Wark has been living in the United States for 5 years and has taught at a several East Coast universities before recently being appointed Professor of Cultural and Media Studies at Lang College, New School University in New York. He has been busy during this time, publishing 2 books, Dispositions (2002) and A Hacker Manifesto (2004). Dispositions is an experimental text, a kind of meditative travelogue that fuses sensation, memory and theoretical speculation on what it means to be somewhere, to occupy space in the early 21st century. A techno-savvy Rimbaud, Wark wanders in mind and space, mindful of the satellites and other surveillance devices that monitor everyday experience. He records his thoughts on paper, marking their time and exact geographical position using a handheld global positioning device. He refers to the work as a “conscious effort to change the way I write and also an attempt to deal with expatriation.”

A Hacker Manifesto is the culmination of an ongoing work in progress. It too has been influenced by his experience of living in the US. “Well, living in George Bush’s America for a while is enough to send you back to your Marxist roots! A Hacker Manifesto came partly out of observing the naked and intense class conflict here” (A long time columnist for The Australian, Wark was fond of referring to himself as a “lapsed Marxist in the pay of Rupert Murdoch.”). “A Hacker Manifesto is a book I’ve been trying to write for 20 years and it came out of my involvement in the new media scene. Alternative media practices and activism allowed me to map how capitalism is mutating under the influence of the kind of logistics I described in Dispositions.”

A Hacker Manifesto draws on Wark’s critique of the information economy in the light of key Marxist terms such as class and production. The hacker in Wark’s title, though, is not the data thief of cyberpunk fiction, but rather an innovator of ideas, often working in virtual and conceptual environments, but always producing outcomes for the realpolitik of the changing world around us. Terry Eagleton recognised the significance of A Hacker Manifesto as a re-thinking of classical Marxism in the epoch of video games, an age in which the “infoproles” or intellectual innovators are emerging as a new revolutionary class. Writing of it in The Nation, he asserted that the “time has now come for dispossessed innovators everywhere to form a collective class, and Wark’s manifesto is an opening salvo in this fresh form of class warfare.”

Well before he settled in New York City Wark was highly sensitive to the fluidity of terrain in the realm of the virtual, with its blurring of old colonial geometries of centre and periphery, world and antipodes. Wark’s aphorisms (“We no longer have roots we have aerials.” “We no longer have origins we have terminals”) provided the conceptual framework for exactly the kind of networked world we now inhabit—a world in which the internet, once the apotheosis of new media, is looking positively jaded in the face of the current generation of mobile media. Always looking beyond, rather than at the horizon, Wark has consistently prepared us for what we are about to become. He was one of the first writers in Australia to seriously put video games and game culture generally on the critical agenda. It is gaming culture that informs his recent and arguably most innovative project, GAM3R 7H30RY.

Wark was interested in exploring 2 central questions: can we consider games as allegories of the world we live in and is there a distinctive critical theory of games. Bypassing the global phenomenon of massively multiplayer online games, Wark engages with the more “obsolete” single-player console games, precisely because “we can now think of them critically as a classic form, like silent cinema.” However it is the manner in which the book is being written that is attracting considerable international attention. “I got a call from Ben Vershbow at the Institute for the Future of the Book. They explained their idea of the networked book and I suggested that GAM3R 7H30RY was something that could really benefit from dialogue in advance with different kinds of readers.” The Institute for the Future of the Book is an initiative of the Annenberg Centre for Communication at the New York campus of the University of Southern California. The concept of the “networked book” extends the 1990s shift in publishing from page to screen to a broader notion of a collaborative, distributed writing environment, “to see what happens when authors and readers are brought into conversation over an evolving text.” Wark wrote the initial text in a “modular structure” of 9 chapters of 25 paragraphs each. The idea of a “card-shuffle interface” was inspired by Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt’s Oblique Strategies cards, which allowed readers to be very specific and detailed about their engagement with the text.

As Wark explains, “I thought it would be interesting to share the book in its draft state to see if these questions are something other people might have ideas on or might want to pursue”. The GAM3R 7H30RY website is the hub of an experimental publishing initiative, acting out Wark’s concept of the writer as a relation, a conduit that “transcribes between readers, editors and publishers” (unlike the author who “authorises” the book as object). Anyone can read the draft chapters of the book online, post comments and critically engage with Wark as the book is being written. Readers can also subscribe to the work in progress and have chunks delivered daily via RSS feed.

As a critical engagement with the concepts of authorship, writing and intellectual property, GAM3R 7H30RY is a book written out of the social software fabric of blogs and wikis, Flickr, YouTube, Wikipedia and CiteULike. In other words, it represents a new writing practice that actively decentralizes the text as an object and disseminates it as an ongoing multi-channel conversation. “For the website version I put the title in L33T [leet or gaming speak], partly in tribute to the early MUDs, but also to have a unique search string to put in Google or Technorati to track who was talking about it and where. It’s been very interesting tracking people down on their blogs and lists where they talk about it and engaging with people there too.”

There is no prescribed outcome for what the finished book will be like, given that its incarnation as process, rather than product, is central to the project. Wark is currently in negotiations with Harvard University Press concerning a printed edition, which will include revisions based on the feedback from the website. A version is likely to remain online, but Wark is quick to advise that “we’re all making this up as we go along, so no promises!”

www.futureofthebook.org/gamertheory/
www.futureofthebook.org/
www.ludiccrew.org/wark

RealTime issue #75 Oct-Nov 2006 pg. 36

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

Jeph Jerman

Jeph Jerman

Jeph Jerman

June 30

In the low-lit, intimate setting of Brisbane Powerhouse’s VISY Theatre, laptop artist Ben Byrne’s subtle set begins. For the first 5 minutes the loudest noise is the mouse clicking and the usual shifting and rustling of the audience. Soft, rhythmic buzzing develops into an insectoid pulse that intensifies into a heavy, fuzzy, alien heartbeat and grows into a thick, crunching climax.

Greg Davis appears next and, like Byrne, his music is largely computer-generated, but instead of insistent metallic throbbing, Davis chooses a palette drawn significantly from the natural world. Opening with delicate bird and wind sounds, he complements his audio with large projected imagery of feathery treetops in familiar bright lime tones of video. Visual accompaniments to non-spectacular sound performance are largely welcomed by audiences who sometimes refer to contemporary sound art as “watching-people-check-their-email-music.” Davis’ repetitive slow dissolves between the branches are a constant presence, making for interesting comparison with audio that follows a familiar narrative arc of slow start, building to swelling climax and gentle resolution. For some, this lack of congruence between sound and image is disconcerting. Others find the disconnect between the simple, looped tree images and complex, carefully constructed soundscape invigorating.

Next up was Ross Bencina, combining static and electronic noises with some well-chosen urban field recordings to searing effect. The carefully crafted yet still freewheeling journey of Bencina’s music is realised through the “interactive musician’s environment” delivered by his creation, AudioMulch.

Maybe it’s the mythology that surrounds this reclusive ‘star’ of experimental sound, but Jeph Jerman really does seem to radiate a kind of shamanic energy when he steps onto stage. The Arizonan stands, head bowed, breathing deeply for a few moments. Then, slowly, he brings forward his fists, full of small, round seeds, which he proceeds to drip slowly to the floor. Contrasting this high pinging sound are the polished river stones to which Jerman turns his attention. Typical of his chosen ‘instruments’, natural found objects, the stones are the focus of immense concentration, of rubbing, caressing, tapping, rolling in a bowl, in a very physical performance, which includes Jerman suddenly sitting, crawling, crouching and bowing with deliberate intensity.

New Zealander Dean Roberts takes an entirely different tack to Jerman’s mystical minimalism. Playing a prepared electric guitar, he introduces harmonic pieces that plumb gloomy menacing depths but also lighter, more melodic territory. Contact microphones placed on the guitar amplify the sounds of fingers on the instrument’s body, creating a gritty, stringy texture that helps frame his husky whispers. At times reminiscent of the soundtrack to an isolationist Western, or moments of acoustic atmosphere in the collaborations of David Lynch and Angelo Badlamenti, Roberts’ guitar interventions—rolling a screwdriver against the guitar neck and over gently plucked strings—and his manipulation of warm feedback tones are performed with both refinement and impeccable timing.

The finale, a duet between Jerman and Davis, emphasises the theme of embodied sound, as the collaborators perform their take on acoustic ecology. Moving about the room in solemn circles, they clang chimes, massage rocks and rattle seedpods. The audience loves their response to the local area in the use of long, flat poinciana pods (which any Brisbanite knows make marvelous shakers). Inspiring all the adjectives commonly associated with Jerman’s work—grounded, pantheist, reverent—it is as much meditation as musical experience. DZ

July 1

The Saturday night session for LA7 kicks off with maverick Kiwi artist Dave Edwards’ improvised set for banjo, computer, percussion objects and toys, home video projections, radio interference and charmingly non compos spoken word. We might call this genre ‘farmyard intermedia’: a ramshackle, free folk-informed attitude towards new and old technologies, and a loose exploratory layering of ideas picked haphazardly from different disciplines and traditions. Confusing but good.

Zane Trow is next with a soothing, comparatively mellow set of computer-generated drone and shuffle interspersed with some sampled Socialist theorising and a vague sense of manipulated jazziness. Isn’t this what used to be called ‘illbient’? Maybe it’s time for a revival…

Taking us through to the interval is the collaborative performance of Swiss laptopper Martin Baumgartner and Australian new music ensemble Speak Percussion. It’s pretty hard to go wrong with the combination of pristine vibraphone tones and woozy electronic treatments, and these guys deliver with an immersive and elegantly dreamy sequence of backwards tinkling, ghostly dissolves, birdlike chirps and spatialised whispers. The second part of the set is audiovisual, a sparse instrumental soundscape matched up with flickering video images of brutalised Iraqi inmates at Abu Ghraib prison. Baumgartner doesn’t take part here, describing the sound/image combination as inappropriate, and I tend to agree. There is a compositional strategy at work, with various audio-visual sync points, but overall it is unclear what, if any, meaning the basically abstract sounds add to these already highly meaningful images.

Brisbane duo Faber Castell amble on stage and stand over their table of miscellaneous homemade electronic gear, gaffer taped plastic toys and 2 very battered turntables. Someone flicks the on switch and this is how it starts: a brilliantly effective, immediately engaging and joyful sonic blast of noise, grit, texture and rhythm, a performance style laced with both humour and rigour, a glorious merger of slapstick physical comedy and razor sharp structural awareness. Confrontational, entertaining, innovative and unpretentious. Bravo!

It’s a hard act to follow, but Julian Knowles and Donna Hewitt have developed their own highly elaborate aesthetic processes, and they swing the night back towards smooth sophistication and intricacy. Knowles lays the foundation with some blissful electronic drone work whilst Hewitt manipulates her patented microphone-stand-midi-controller-device, coaxing out a series of ethereal vocalisations. The piece surprisingly evolves into seriously funky electro-pop, with Knowles even unleashing some rather new-wavey electric guitar skronk.

Festivals like LA7 need to headline with a master, and while ErikM is not quite in the same historical ballpark as previous guests like Bernard Parmegiani and Tony Conrad, he is nonetheless a hugely impressive artist. This Frenchman performs somewhere in the world pretty much every night, and his skill at manipulating 2 turntables with various electronic effects, is so physically and conceptually coordinated that he seems to have more in common with some kind of freak sportsman. Just listening to the array of granular pings, thuds and bleeps, microsonic snatches of tone and extraordinary rhythmic complexity one might compare ErikM to Parmegiani and the other heroes of Musique Concrète, but I think perhaps the better comparison is Swiss tennis virtuoso Roger Federer, whose graceful economy of movement, sublime touch, and magical ability to find impossible angles, reflects the same combination of inborn talent and relentless technical refinement. JS

Liquid Architecture 7, programmers Nat Bates, Lawrence English; Brisbane Powerhouse, June 30 – July1

RealTime issue #75 Oct-Nov 2006 pg. 54

© Joel Stern & Danni Zuvela; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Twirling wires, 2001, Shadow Chamber

Twirling wires, 2001, Shadow Chamber

Twirling wires, 2001, Shadow Chamber

One of life’s stranger experiences in recent months was to be part of a large Saturday afternoon crowd guided by photographer Roger Ballen through his show at Stills. First, there’s Ballen himself—a tall, langorous, baritonal American with a South African edge to the accent. Then there’s his calculatedly gnomic manner—he peppers basic information about his life with rhetorical questions meant to deny us easy answers to the mysteries of his work. Thirdly, there are the photographs—eerily akin to images from the work of theatre director Romeo Castelluci in their juxtaposition of human and animal bodies, drawings, sculptural and everyday objects, conjuring a very strange, sometimes visionary otherness. One-time geologist Ballen progressed from documentary photography in the 1980s in South Africa (knocking on the doors of small town householders and asking to come in and shoot) to spending many months with the impoverished of Johannesburg in an underworld of damp basements where humans and animals co-exist and a curious creativity abounds which Ballen captures. The outcomes sometimes look like pure artifice, but the best have a spontaneity at once theatrical and documentary in their courage to face the abject point blank and reveal its complexities. KG

Roger Ballen, Shadow Chamber, Stills Gallery, Sydney, Aug 16-Sept 16

RealTime issue #75 Oct-Nov 2006 pg.

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

Johnno

Johnno

Johnno

In the opening moments of Johnno, the actors form a gymnastics team chorus line and pass Dante (Sean Mee) a copy of the 1949 Brisbane Grammar School magazine like a lifeline, tethering him to the smothering uniformity of his youth and his home town. A Box Brownie camera flash goes off, and we see the class of 49 in heroic salute, with Dante’s anarchic mate Johnno (Paul Denny) sneaking into the shot in disguise. This incendiary gag is a formative moment of defiance and subversion: he is laughing in the face of staid, conformist Brisbane at the turn of that most staid and conformist decade, the 1950s. As he goes on to say, the Brisbane of Johhno and Dante’s childhood is “too mediocre even to be a suburb of hell.” Malouf, and adaptor-director Stephen Edwards, are quick to point out that this postwar malaise is not Brisbane’s alone. This is the Australia of the 1950s that the novel’s heroes must escape, much as the artist Roy Child, say, must escape Sydney in Patrick White’s A Season at Sarsaparilla. Johnno is the quintessential literary Brisbane novel, but as a parable of its time, it says as much about the nation as it does about its dull subtropical capital.

In Stephen Edwards and the UK’s Derby Playhouse, La Boite Theatre Company have found theatrical soulmates. They have been liberated from the confines of their theatre-in-the-round home, and taken flight—not just literally, to the UK (like the novel’s protagonist, Dante), but figuratively too, into an imagist theatre of body, metaphor and symbol.

The physical use of the chorus of actors from both companies is compelling from the outset. Dressed in dirty working class greys and blues the ensemble enact the abstract images with which this most prosaic of novels challenges the adaptor throughout. They become the pimps and prostitutes of underworld Brisbane and Paris, the fellow drinkers in the West End Greek Club or Pig and Whistle café. They also take us on the metaphoric—and metaphysical—journey through Dante’s (Odyssean) escape from Hell and back again. They carry Dante through the cafes of Left Bank Paris, help him clamber to the top of the Victoria Bridge as the Brisbane River in flood courses beneath, ensuring he never sets foot in the rich chaotic life through which Johnno swims and splashes, and flounders.

Both actors and set are immersed in water in Dan Potra’s arresting design evoking a Brisbane of the past that used to flood regularly, but has now been technologically prevented from doing so.

Entrenched as the city presently is in seemingly permanent drought, choked of water for all but the most essential of daily needs, the excess and inundation seems especially nostalgic. Matt McKenzie’s sound design and Elena Kats-Chernin’s score are exquisite, and do much to invoke the intelligent reverence that Malouf’s novel inspires. Johnno was never a glib satiric thumbing of the nose at Old Brisbane. It was an earnest, even affectionate, exploration of suburban torpor. As Dante states upon Johnno’s return to his old home, “so much of the old Brisbane was gone, there was nothing left to hate.” The aching uniformity was at least grist for the mill. John Rayment’s lighting and Craig Walsh’s visual design especially seem to sum up this conundrum. The 3-pronged crane that swirls around the action decked with scrims that are lit by projections of the city’s icons seems to encapsulate the imposition of technology over the past and convey the supplanting of weatherboard with iron and steel.

This is a mesmerising and truly transporting piece of theatre. If not quite reaching the dizzy theatrical heights of its obvious aspirational forbear, Cloudstreet, it did at least occur to me sitting in the transfixed, well-heeled and suitably urbane audience that the days of Brisbane’s me-too complex might be nearly over. With theatre like this, telling coming-of-age Brisbane stories in a festival that is itself passing from adolescence to adulthood, it might finally be time to accept that we’ve grown up.

Johnno, adaptor-director Stephen Edwards, Derby Playhouse & La Boite Theatre Company, Powerhouse Theatre, Brisbane Festival, July 14-Aug 5

RealTime issue #75 Oct-Nov 2006 pg. 10

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

<img src="http://www.realtime.org.au/wp-content/uploads/art/1/178_lester_46_078_lrg.jpg" alt="Helaina Keeley, Joey (dummy),
Jessica Shipman, Brian Carbee,
Sarah Jayne Howard, Black Milk”>

Helaina Keeley, Joey (dummy),
Jessica Shipman, Brian Carbee,
Sarah Jayne Howard, Black Milk

Helaina Keeley, Joey (dummy),
Jessica Shipman, Brian Carbee,
Sarah Jayne Howard, Black Milk

In ghost dance, his 2004 work of “autobiographical fiction”, Douglas Wright recounts his life from the position of someone who feels he has already died. AIDS had taken many of his friends and lovers and held Wright in its thrall. A suicide attempt 2 years later almost saw that metaphoric state become a reality. The pain of loss had become unbearable and death seemed the only possibility. Terra Incognito, his second and most recent memoir takes us into this harrowing world of devastating depression and existential despair and Wright’s ultimate realisation that in embracing death he has found a way to live.

Douglas Wright has stated that Black Milk, his latest dance theatre work, “was conceived and gestated in a profound darkness”, yet for all its terrible inspiration there is much to celebrate within its performance. It is a complex work that delves into the dark underbelly of human frailty but also reveals moments of exquisite tenderness, fierce beauty and disarming humour. We enter a world in which base instinct collides with nobility of spirit: it’s a journey of revelation where paradox and contradiction are embraced in an attempt to make sense of the gamut of our human responses to the vicissitudes of living.

There is an ingenious simplicity about the design of the work—created by Michael Pearce—which belies the complexity of its structure. This structure creates a dynamic interplay between multiple modes of representation, a delicate balance between the intellectual experience of the unfolding verbal narrative, the written signs that reference Colin McCahon’s textual landscapes of the spirit, and the sensual world of the movement: “the lovely bravery of the dance”, as the New Zealand novelist Peter Wells observed.

Wright creates atmospheres of charged emotional states that are breathtaking in their ontological significance. We enter into the realm of states of being, a charged and polyvalent state, where the kinaesthetic and sensual world co-exists and resonates with the world of the mind.

Central to the structure of Black Milk is a ventriloquist act which soon reveals itself allied to the more serious ancient Greek notion of the prophetic and divinely inspired. It becomes a vehicle for meditations on the nature of existence as the conversation between the ventriloquist and his dummy traverses the terrain of nascent longing and desire. This is no simple engastrimythic act, for both the disembodied voices of our protagonists emanate from Wright himself. What begins as a conversation about the desire to be born escalates into a physical act of transgression in which the ventriloquist sexually abuses the dummy, setting off a chain of events simultaneously poignant, frightening and wickedly funny.
<img src="http://www.realtime.org.au/wp-content/uploads/art/1/179_lester_blackmilk.jpg" alt="Jessica Shipman, Alex Leonhartsberger,
Claire O’Neil, Black Milk”>

Jessica Shipman, Alex Leonhartsberger,
Claire O’Neil, Black Milk

Jessica Shipman, Alex Leonhartsberger,
Claire O’Neil, Black Milk

This unfolding narrative underscores the presence of the other performers who inhabit a landscape of the emotions in which their actions seem at times to be a consequence of the unfolding central drama, sometimes a commentary upon it and, at other times, a quiet reverie enacted in some private domain. Black Milk is ultimately a paean to life but before we get to that point we are taken on a journey of despair, into the heart of darkness, where human degradation curdles the milk of human kindness and turns it black. And yet throughout these encounters there is a glimmer of hope in fleeting acts of love in which the nobility of the human spirit reveals itself. But this is no simple tale of good triumphing over evil, for we are asked to confront the suffering in our lives and embrace the contradictions to which it gives rise. The installation which precedes the show has a sex doll slowly inflating and deflating on a bed of nails accompanied by a sign that reads “Pain examined without prejudice is metamorphosis”, as the haunting, angelic voice of Antony (and the Johnsons) sings his pain.

There are so many pungent images and passages of exquisite dancing: it is dance in which we experience the embodied presence of flesh and blood human beings rather than those machine-like presences that pervade so much contemporary dance. These characters truly inhabit this world of Wright’s fecund imaginings, where movement resonates with multivalent affect, and technique is at the service of a state of being. Each of the accomplished performers in a grand cast brings a luminous presence to the work.

The giant teat or birth canal suspended from the ceiling pervades the space and becomes a powerful metaphor for birth and death as characters arrive and depart the performance. It heralds the arrival of the fierce beauty and erotic danger of the naked (except for red shoes), scissor-wielding Fate (Sarah-Jane Howard) as she dances her demented Flamenco and the departure of the ventriloquist dummy’s still-born child. The ventriloquist (Brian Carbee) never mouths in the entire performance yet literally embodies his verbal content in a sophisticated modern dance mime.

A young man embraces the stage in a solo of such elegance and eloquence that bespeaks a state of grace. There is a male duet that evokes the tentative thrill of forbidden desire and the melding of spirits. Dancers become human projectiles, narrowly missing each other as they hurtle through the space, plummeting to earth. The lyrical rolling, now done on their knees, suggests the wind whistling through grass.

Joey—the not so dumb dummy—brings the house down when he wonders why a young woman is running. It’s the question everyone has asked at some point during a dance performance: ‘What does it all mean?’ While incredibly droll, the statement risks reverting to meaning making through intellect at the expense of other modes of apprehension. Asking that question treads a fine balance!

The Abu Ghraib scene also disturbs me, not for the blatant inhumanity it represents but the overlay of a commentary of anguish and despair that seemed to blunt its force. Perhaps the innocent questioning of our naïf-philosopher might have sharpened its impact.

Colin McCahon’s often quoted “New Zealand has too few lovers” suggests the need to connect the spirit of place and our relationship to each other. Douglas Wright has done that by confronting the dark recesses of the human psyche and reclaiming the will to live. He is a courageous lover. The whole cast and production team are to be commended on the realisation of the work of this great ‘imagineer’.

Douglas Wright Dance, Black Milk, director, choreographer, writer Douglas Wright, performers Craig Bary, Brian Carbee, Sarah-Jayne Howard, Helaina Keeley, Alex Leonhartsberger, Kelly Nash, Taiaroa Royal, Guy Ryan, Jessica Shipman, Zoe Watkins, design Michael Pearce, lighting design Robrecht Ghesquiere, composer/sound designer David Long; Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House, July 19-29

RealTime issue #75 Oct-Nov 2006 pg. 38

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

Dean Roberts

Dean Roberts

Dean Roberts

Dotmov: Old Melbourne Gaol

The opening event of the Melbourne season of Liquid Architecture 7 takes place on a wintry night in the disused and dusty former City Watch House in the forbidding Old Melbourne Gaol. On entering the high-ceilinged corridor where the performance takes place, we are greeted, through barred windows, by TV monitors showing fuzzy old black and white footage of what looks like a hanging, which certainly establishes a tone for the evening.

In this wing, there are 17 cells and a couple of larger rooms, one perhaps a refectory, where Dotmov helpers now reassuringly serve drinks. Each cell is bare but for a bench and a steel toilet pan. Some cells are now equipped with percussion instruments and some with video equipment. In a padded cell, a CCTV screen displays imagery such as an inverted view of the visitor and a rotating cross relayed from a camera in the opposite cell that, in Nam June Paik-style televisual irony, is itself monitoring a rotating screen bearing the ‘original’ image. Other cells are darkened, though in one, a skull with a light inside adds a sideshow flavour.

An array of loudspeakers through the building broadcast the first of the evening’s 3 long, untitled works. The sounds of steel platters, sticks and drumsticks, bowed metal and electronics, produced collaboratively by several players, echo grimly through the crowded space. The audience files slowly around trying different listening and viewing positions. When heard from a dark, empty cell, a desolately squealing cello is even more disturbing. The many helpers at the performance document it all, audience included, in video and photograph, in a kind of reflexive surveillance.

The second work is for electronic sounds and samples of all kinds, including something reminiscent of chanting Tibetan monks and their instruments. The sound level builds to an overwhelming crescendo that seems to shake the building. Both these works are composites of extended, complex arrangements of pre-recorded and live sound, with the performers invisible to each other in different cells, producing an intricate, evolving and densely layered whole.

The final piece, Robin Fox’s laser light projection and sound work, takes place in the refectory, a space about 10 x 15m, with wooden benches and tables. Broadcast from inside a barred cage that encloses one end of the room, the sound and vision are synchronised to create a synaesthetic experience. (Fox’s concern with synaesthesia is the subject of Mitchell Whitelaw’s review of his Backscatter DVD on RealTime’s Earbash.) Fox’s heavily textured work is alternately driving, pulsating, rhythmic and meditative, shifting between the minimal and the complex: a sonic vibrato parallels a shudderingly staccato light, tubes of light accompany booming bass, and bandwidths narrow and broaden in what seems like an extended improvisation. After the weightiness of the first 2 pieces, Fox’s work has an almost nightclubby feel.

Dotmov, an ensemble of RMIT University students, has blended sound, vision, performance and location to create an innovative and memorable piece of theatre. The presence of the music combined with the large crowd suggests a reoccupation of the gaol. Such a productive collaboration has potential for adaptation to other significant sites.

Arts House, North Melbourne, Town Hall

In contrast to the oppressive immersion of Old Melbourne Gaol, the concerts at the gracious North Melbourne Town Hall place the audience in a conventional auditorium, albeit surrounded by 4 loudspeakers that are brightly lit to emphasise their central role. The July 14 concert, the first of 3 at Arts House, comprises 3 performances (again untitled) that, as LA7’s artistic director Nat Bates suggests in his introduction, are intended to ground the music in particular instrumental forms and then to step away from them.

Donna Hewitt (voice/effects) and Julian Knowles (electric guitar/laptop) open with a crooning, jazz-influenced, darkly romantic work. Hewitt stands at a microphone engineered to produce sound through movement, swaying and swirling it to generate effects, an ironic move given the pop iconicity of the (male) performer with mike stand. Knowles also sways his guitar to create feedback, even scraping the neck across the computer in a post-Townsend gesture. As the sound whines, sings and sighs in complex layers with multiple rhythms, Hewitt’s morphed voice emerges into dreamy awareness. The aesthetic here is in the electronic orchestration of musical and non-musical fragments into a seductive song.

Dean Roberts’s solo work follows. Barely feathering the strings of his guitar, he builds a slow, introspective blues. His whispered, disjointed song becomes even sadder through its attenuated development. The amplifier and guitar sound levels are so high that merely touching the instrument generates an intense polyphonic signal, and a chord tears through the auditorium like a thunderclap. Roberts is a master orchestrator of harmonics, creating a dialogue between guitar and monitor, whose feedback loop produces a haze like that enveloping an oncoming truck in the desert, the work’s drowsy, melancholic slowness belying its erotic power. The music progresses in a series of cadences like telegraph poles in a road movie. Roberts (NZ) and Hewitt & Knowles, probe the moment when a sequence of inchoate sounds resolves into a musical genre and where feeling is triggered into consciousness to envelop the experiencing subject.

Lastly, the Swiss Australian Collectibles, an ensemble of Swiss and Australian performers and mixers—3 on stage and 3 at the desk—play a variety of percussion instruments and flute. Their lyrical, sculpted work is grounded in percussion writing of many genres, suggesting influences from Xenakis to Taiko, which is then electronically mediated and laced with recorded sound to produce a dense overlay. In one piece, a disembodied female voice dances between the loudspeakers at each corner of the room, her breathy lyrics floating teasingly above the percussion. The listener is torn between trying to recognise words, sounds and musical forms and simply experiencing them.

Evident in all 3 performances is the adroit mediation of a sound or musical form whose transformation creates an independent sonic element that is then folded back into the mix. The musicians balance the degree of mediation and mixing within frameworks of popular musical genres to produce unique montages. The aesthetic potential of such work is in the skilled orchestration of effects that appeal both musically and sonically. The listener listens through the music and becomes absorbed in the processes of listening and interpretation and in the nature of sound itself.

Liquid Architecture 7, artistic director Nat Bates; Dotmov, Old Melbourne Gaol, July 13; Arts House, July 1

RealTime issue #75 Oct-Nov 2006 pg. 54

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

Matthew Perkins (Australia), Prick, 2006

Matthew Perkins (Australia), Prick, 2006

In Anxious Bodies curator and artist Matthew Perkins sets out to establish an historical continuum between past and present performance and video practices, and to question the relation between body and self. The works reveal how anxiety can become an instrument of expression and influence conscious actions. Black and white videotapes of performances from earlier decades by Bruce Nauman, Vito Acconci and Dennis Oppenheim suggest the legitimacy of the form. Video has become part of performance itself as well as a means for recording ephemeral works.

In his own work, Prick, Perkins draws blood as he makes small holes in 2 clay moulds with needles sharpened at both ends held in his mouth. The projection of the performance is split across juxtaposed screens building the illusion that the artist is moving the pins from one to the next. Reminiscent of and as palpably disturbing as the work of Mike Parr, the work invites sadistic pleasure in the artist's masochistic determination to move all the pins.

Agony and exhaustion also figure in Annie Wilson's In Your Own Time. Against a black background a man falls and bounces with no apparent pattern. The sound, however, dramatically evokes heartbeats until the man collapses, the screen darkens and the jumping commences once again–a constant, cyclic fight with our own anxiety.

Briele Hansen's Where suggests the ambiguities of presence and absence and public and private spheres. A human figure is rear-projected on a frosted glass door. The viewer's voyeuristic curiosity increases inexorably in the attempt to discover what is happening behind the glass. The tension rises to a climax when the ghostly presence reaches for the door and the shape of its hand is beautifully outlined as it touches the glass. So skilful is the illusion that the viewer expects the presence to traverse the liminal barrier and connect, as Anne Marsh suggests in her catalogue essay.

The dynamism of Hansen's work contrasts with the stillness of Alex Martinis-Roe and Amy Miller's video installation, The Drawing Room, where the artists stare at length at the viewer from a large screen. In the second part of the installation a performance is projected into a picture frame, ironically establishing a more conventional viewer/painting relationship. Sue and Phil Dodd's video performance, Gossip Pop, tackles the theme of anxiety in a wily way. The artists' songs draw on rumours about pop idols. Rather than addressing anxiety directly, they choose to ridicule the 'consumerist' answer to it: trash pop culture.

Anxious Bodies generated curiosity, perplexity, distress and numbness as artists engaged forcefully with their bodies, pushing me to face my own anxieties against today's omnipresent tide of rationalism. Definitely not a show for control freaks!

Anxious Bodies, curator Matthew Perkins, Linden St. Kilda Centre for Contemporary Arts, Melbourne, June 3-July; Plimsoll Gallery University of Tasmania, Hobart, June 2007.

RealTime issue #75 Oct-Nov 2006 pg.

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

<img src="http://www.realtime.org.au/wp-content/uploads/art/1/160_artrage_pet.jpg" alt="Pet Photo Booth,
Jenny & William 2006″>

Pet Photo Booth,
Jenny & William 2006

Pet Photo Booth,
Jenny & William 2006

Marcus Canning, director of Perth’s Artrage, concedes that festival themes can often be “arbitrary or a little meaningless.” Nevertheless in describing the selection of events he has gathered for the coming Artrage Festival, he notes that there are “elements that act as strong connectors throughout this program”, namely a sense of “pedestrian suburban reality transformed.”

While previous Artrage Festivals have tended to be, in Canning’s words, “a bit sprawling—traditionally it has been a month-long program”, this year however it will be “a shorter, tighter package.” Events will occur over a 10-day period, closing with the Festival of Northbridge—the suburb in which Artrage’s main venues are located. The program includes return seasons of some of the best events fostered by Artrage itself over the previous 18 months, together with specially commissioned works, public events, spectaculars and interactive booths designed to appeal both to Artrage’s usual clientele as well as to the wider public. As Canning puts it, audiences will experience “not only a transformed Northbridge, but also contemporary West Australian emerging culture, across all levels and all forms.”

Situated just north of the Perth city centre, Northbridge is, in Canning’s words, “the playground of the suburbs”—a busy strip of nightclubs, bars and restaurants. A prime piece of real estate in the area has recently been cleared and transformed into a grassy public space. This site, The Block, at the corner of James and Lake Streets, just up the road from Artrage’s main venue, the Bakery, is to act as the locus of the festival. “We’re building a compound from shipping containers,” Canning explains. “Six of them form the entrance. Then on the corner there’s Feuerwasser by artist Miles Van Dorsen. It’s a bit of an entry statement and, again, an example of the innocuous or the kitsch transformed. There’s a standard, above-ground Clark’s swimming pool—with the classic veneer wood panelling on the outside—and then there’s a 5 metre fire fountain that erupts out of it. It’s also an incredibly gentle work, because gas is literally fed through the water. So on the surface, you get this combination of flame and water intermingled.” Behind these structures will be a circus tent, its interior distinguished from traditional big tops by ornate curtains and a proscenium stage for a variety of performances. Meanwhile, the Bakery will house new pieces from emerging artists Zoe Pepper (schlock-horror theatre work, Manic Pony) and Paea Leach (solos from the choreographer, recently returned from dancing with Chunky Move in Melbourne).

“Alchemical” public art works such as Feuerwasser coexist in the festival with what Canning regards as more overtly “populist” or “playful” elements, like Pet Photo Booth. The public can bring their animal companions to be creatively immortalised in this small photographic studio. As Canning explains, “this is a work which we’ve supported over a long development. It’s had an initial showing in the form of 4 prints within the exhibition which the Australian Centre of Photography put together for this year’s Melbourne Festival. Then it will have a showing here, and finally they will do a big version of it in the front gallery at ACP in Sydney during December. Here, people will be bringing in their pets and booking a spot to join this growing number of extraordinary portraits.”

Pet Photo Booth is one of a number of ‘interactive’ installations at The Block, some of which call for audiences to activate the works or otherwise participate in their creation, and others which have been generated as part of Artrage’s outreach collaborations and satellite projects across regional WA, in schools or with tertiary institutions. One is Audiosity, initially mounted earlier this year in Geraldton by local young artists mentored by WA composers. Inhabitants of the town scoured their environment for found sounds to craft into a number of percussive loops which can be activated by audiences, alone or together and in different combinations. Canning explains that the interface comprises a number of “lift-up boxes which you can then plug in to a big grid. So it’s like a big, physical, 3-dimensional game board. It was set up as a bit of a fun park in the gallery at Geraldton.”

Other festival events include an opportunity for spectators to craft a close-fitting calico model of themselves (Lifesuit), an installation of bottle-top art works created by secondary school students to accompany a hand-painted set by local children’s book illustrator Shaun Tan, as well as 3 short, intimate theatrical performances from students in contemporary performance at Edith Cowan University (The Suitcase Trilogy).

The 2006 festival will also feature Artrage’s “strongest film program yet”, including a showing of US installation artist Matthew Barney’s famous Cremaster Cycle, as well his latest screen work, Drawing Restraint (p22). Accompanying this will be the WA instalment of the national ReelDance Festival of dance film, here supplemented by a special screening of works by WA filmmakers and students (Body Cuts) as well as a public artists’ forum (Cutting Film for the Body). I have curated these 2 events to try to get beyond the notion that if dance is the rhythmic arrangement of moving objects in space and time, then all cinematic editing of moving objects should be considered dance film. If the genre is to flourish as anything other than highly specialised then an expanded and filmic definition is required. Body Cuts will also include classic approaches to dance cinema, short works from students at Edith Cowan University and the WA Academy of Performing Arts, as well as 2 films from Perth dancer and choreographer Claudia Alessi. Her intimate, close-shot films will offer a strong contrast with the festival’s live dance spectacular, Crossfire, for which Alessi is producer. This piece features over 150 dancers performing on James and Lake Streets on the last Saturday of the festival. Also on show will be dance photography from Christophe Canato, who has worked at Paris’ Théâtre de la Ville, documenting the work of luminaries such as Ushio Amagatsu of Sankai Juku, Pina Bausch and others.

Canning is pleased that “The Cremaster Cycle, which is playing at the RMAX Cinema just off James Street, will feed into the ReelDance Festival less than a block away at Cinema Paradiso. Those are 2 really interesting programs sitting alongside each other. With the addition of the seminar and the local works screening, this will be a real jab of stimulus to local dancers and filmmakers. Artrage is here acting as a primer. It supports and develops emerging artists, across all art forms, throughout the year, and the festival is a great time to add some spice. Those who engage will hopefully walk away from the experience transformed, thinking: ‘I’m going to go out and make some work that I never thought I’d make before.’ And that’s what we at Artrage should be about.”

Artrage Festival, Bakery & associated venues, Perth, Oct 26-Nov 5, www.artrage.com.au/festival

RealTime issue #75 Oct-Nov 2006 pg. 12

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

Tracks, Mr Big,

Tracks, Mr Big,

Tracks, Mr Big,

Darwin has, almost by accident, become Australia’s great multicultural experiment. By virtue of its location (desert on one side, tropical South East Asia on the other) and its population mix (young and transient with strong South East Asian, Aboriginal and Greek communities, as well as Anglo-Saxon), the Top End capital has quietly evolved into a unique place that, as one recently arrived Southerner put it, “feels like you’re not in Australia.” Enter Progress: now in the midst of a resource-fuelled property boom, and with a giant waterfront development underway, Darwin is about to change forever. Mr Big, the latest work from Tracks Dance Theatre, is both an ode to the old town and a celebration of the influences that have contributed to the character of modern Darwin.

At sunset, against a city backdrop of cranes, cleared earth and rising apartment buildings, Mr Big begins back in the ‘old’ Darwin, a frontier town of cowboys and outback pubs. A barmaid wipes her bar and surveys the horizon for signs of life. Come evening the bar is full—and friendly—with all welcome for as long as they can keep pace with the drinking. From here develops a series of vignettes about the evolution of a city where people of different cultures live cheek by jowl. A place where the locals, as Marilynne Paspaley says in the program notes, “are more comfortable in a multicultural gathering than they are in a white Anglo-Saxon one.” Joining the cowgirl/boy (Vera Tabuzo), there’s the soldier (Erwin Fenis), the hippy (Corina Nichols), the Southerner (Kelly Beneforti), Bob the Builder (Imanuel Dado) and the Asian Princess (Karajayne Handberg). Some of these characters emerge from a group (the soldier from a marching, khaki-clad regiment, the hippy from a gaggle of afro-topped tree-huggers, the builder from a group of tradesmen) while others arrive alone (the Southerner and the Princess). Either way, as they strike out on their own, each is transformed by the influence of others and the spirit of the place. As the show progresses this is, most literally, demonstrated in costume exchanges—soldiers swap their caps for Asian peasant hats, builders don hippy tie-dye t-shirts—and a melding of dance styles where hip hop meets line dancing meets traditional Asian dance.

The Southerner’s transformation from high-heeled city girl is particularly remarkable—Beneforti dances a frenzied metamorphosis that calms to a mesmerising tango à trois with the Builder and the Soldier. All the lead dancers—also credited as youth choreographers—are strong. Fenis and Dado are the show’s hip hop dynamic duo with requisite handstands, headspins and somersaults; Handberg—graceful, balletic and with a mean karate kick—is every bit the exotic princess;and Tabuzo and Nichols are engaging. The entire ensemble of 30 dancers, drawn from regional Darwin and the remote Aboriginal community of Lajamanu, is tight and energetic. They dance with relentless joy to a soundscape that ranges from a Wild West cowboy lament (Chris Isaak) to Japanese rap.

Mr Big is non-stop action, and by the 50-minute mark the lead characters are clearly pushing their physical limits. Indeed, at an hour’s duration, the show is perhaps 10 minutes too long: the otherwise clear narrative descending into a show of repetitive group dancing reminiscent of a school rock eisteddfod. The set, too—a chain-metal fence of the type used to mark off construction zones—seems a little gratuitious. At the point where it is moved and reassembled by the dancers it does not particularly further the narrative.

Mr Big is a collectively devised piece, performed by people who evidently feel as if they own it. This is everything community theatre can be: not the domain of petty tyrants, weekend drama queens and teetering sets but a collaborative effort unleashing local creativity and expression; a living story created by people with a real connection to their audience.

Tracks Dance Theatre, Mr Big, director-choreographer David McMicken, director-designer Tim Newth, choreographer Julia Quinn, guest choreographer Nick Power; Shell Terminal, Darwin Festival, Darwin, Aug 11-19

RealTime issue #75 Oct-Nov 2006 pg. 39

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

Klipp AV

Klipp AV

Klipp AV

For the electro-acoustic cross-media artists participating in the Australasian Computer Music Conference 2006, the term ‘computer music’ sits about as comfortably as most did in their conference chairs.

Conducted at the Elder Conservatorium of Music in the University of Adelaide, this ambitious and artful event housed a range of workshops, concerts and installations covering everything from experimental audiovisual club-technologies to gene splicing.

The title and theme of the conference, Medi(t)ations, refers to the capacity of computer-related technologies to act as the carrier and/or location for reflecting upon creative events. In a paper titled “Computers, Music and Intermedia: (Re)(Trans)lation”, one of the key coordinators of the conference, Christian Haines, posited that computational technology—as a translator of information from knowledge into data—has the power to liberate information from perceptual and cultural biases intrinsic to the entanglement of media/messaging. He illustrated this by describing the process of opening up an audio file in image manipulation software such as Adobe Photoshop or, vice versa, a JPEG image into audio editing software. Recognisable representations—such as a photo of a pet dog, a sample of Debussy’s Footsteps in the Snow—have been converted into data patterns that are open for interpretation, or retranslation: a means of stripping an image or sound to its essential components so that it may freely pass across perceived media boundaries and in turn, redefine them.

A similar sentiment was evident in the opening keynote address from artist and writer Mitchell Whitelaw, senior lecturer from the School of Creative Communication at the University of Canberra. He discussed an increasing trend across electro-acoustic and audiovisual artforms (VJ-ing for example) towards a synthetic version of neurological synaesthesia. Our unique form of survival is predicated upon the ability to recognise complex patterns. On a perceptual level, our brains tend to dole out little electro-chemical sherbet pops of pleasure when we can produce a recognisable pattern from what at first appears to be raw, chaotic ‘data.’ This “Aha!” or epiphany, is a part of what perceptual theorists call Gestalt Theory. As an example Whitelaw presented a well-known image that is credited to RC James of what at first glance appears to be a sea of black and white blobs. Further scrutiny flips an optical switch to reveal a Dalmatian sniffing across a floor covering of leaves, or perhaps dappled light. Once seen, the Dalmatian cannot be unseen, a perceptual process Whitelaw refers to as “perceptual binding.”

Most of the conceptual and technological approaches discussed in the course of the Medi(t)ations conference were connected in some way to those artists who have developed a range of creative technologies that mimic the neurological phenomena of “cross-modal” perceptual binding. Here the melding of 2 or more senses (such as aural and visual) generates the subjective experience of illumination. Audiovisual club and live performance technologies released over the last decade have become increasingly adept at simulating neurological synaesthesia. Several of these were played at Earpoke, a series of satellite performances presented at the Jade Monkey club and curated by Michael Yuen. Earpoke was an opportunity for local and international guests to share their wares: Adelaide performance artists such as Darren Curtis, DJ Trip, Iain Dalrymple and Supaphatass teamed up with VJ Sustenance.

Putting a number of elegant theories into practice, audiovisual laptop duo, Klipp AV (Swedish for ‘cut apart’) played an enigmatic suite of polyrhythmic grooves that charmed the senses and confused the dancers. During their keynote address, Sweden’s Fredrik Olofsson and Nick Collins discussed a variety of performance tools and techniques that enabled them to capture, remix and play fresh samples of live audio and video in any given environment. Put simply, the set-up consists of one laptop with a DV camera dedicated to live video capture and mixing, and one laptop and microphone dedicated to capturing and processing live and sampled sound. The performance is played out through in-house speakers and data projectors.

Taking a geek-peek backstage is an entirely different matter. This is the place where poetry, musicianship and computational processing arrive in a different costume each night and improvise. Using a complex combination of algorithmic splicing and ‘on-the-fly’ trans-coding, the movements of dancers (or anything really) can be filmed, edited and remixed in real time. This collage of real time imagery may also flow back to inform the nature of the audio. Nick Collins suggested that the potential for working with dancers could add a rich dimension for collaborations in the future. Of course, the level of sophistication that goes into the programming and mapping of Klipp AV’s live performances would amount to very little if it wasn’t for their consummate stagecraft, enabling the duo to make entertaining and aesthetic decisions in response to the fluctuating moods of audience and venue.

Whilst artists such as Klipp AV are emphatic that live performance is the most important element of their work (they don’t record any of their events), the archiving of much electro-acoustic work, according to composer Peter McIlwain, is problematic for several reasons. He analysed common methods for composing electronic or computer-based works, making the excellent point that, unlike traditional musical composition, there is no universal language for annotating and transposing these works. The difficulty in preserving them is heightened further by the level of technological redundancy.

A huge array of tentatively related subjects emerged in the conference and workshops. Many sessions were dedicated to A-Life, or generative programming, as a means of introducing chance elements into an artwork or musical composition. Pierre Proske’s installation, Synchronised Swamp, uses customised software to mimic the phenomena of natural synchronisation—such as pendulum swinging at different rates falling into the same tempo—or in the case of his installation, the dynamic coupling of bird chirps and frog croaks.

Gordon Monro’s Evochord is an evolutionary breeding program of colour and semitones based on a genetic algorithm. Each semitone has a colour according to low, intermediate and high pitching. The dominant colours and sounds that emerge are those that sound the same semitone and colour together in the greatest numbers, resulting in a chord. Each cycle of Evochord is different, due to the random way in which the chord mutates over a variety of pre-determined time scales.

Whilst many of the sessions were theoretically and technically dense, the applications of tools and methods discussed were at times subversively humorous. Rene Wooller’s research into live electronic and automatic music technologies lead to the eventual development of the Morpheus project. Morpheus is the musical equivalent of digital image morphing software, whereby 2 images are used as source material, with the transition from one image to another plotted and then animated into a morphing sequence. Morphing has become increasingly popular through decades of turntabling and remixing. Wooller’s masterful design is a playful experimentation with the potential affect on the ear (and in live performance) of streamlining these transitions. In a conference presentation he closed with a jocular suggestion that such morphing technology could be used to meld the national anthems of warring nations, perhaps at the Olympic games.

In a poetic reference to intermedia and trans-coding, performance artist Catherine Fargher, with composer Terumi Narushima, delivered an entertaining and intelligently subversive paper/performance called “Evolution, Mutation & Hybridity: the influence of Biotechnology Practices in the Development of Chromosome Knitting.” (See Shady Cosgrove, “Knit two together”). Advances in technology and science have often been beta-tested in terms of household consumption. Fargher explains chromosome complexities in a demonstration one might witness in a supermarket or on a home shopping channel. Whilst knitting a quaint crocheted chromosome, ostensibly from lab-acquired genetic material she keeps in her fridge, Fargher is accompanied by composer Narushima producing an ingenious score based upon musical translations from genetic coding and knitting patterns. For artists such as Fargher, the future of artistic cross-modality is perhaps in nanna-technology.

ACMC06, Australian Computer Music Conference, Elder Conservatorium, University of Adelaide, July 11-13

RealTime issue #75 Oct-Nov 2006 pg. 55

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

<img src="http://www.realtime.org.au/wp-content/uploads/art/2/208_reid_chamber2.jpg" alt="Simon Meadows, Anna Margolis, Sally Wilson,
Mathew Champion, The Hive”>

Simon Meadows, Anna Margolis, Sally Wilson,
Mathew Champion, The Hive

Simon Meadows, Anna Margolis, Sally Wilson,
Mathew Champion, The Hive

The Hive is an adaptation by Nicholas Vines of Sam Sejavka’s play The Hive about the death in 1915 and posthumous fame of the Bloomsbury Group poet Rupert Brooke. The 1990 play was much lauded when it first appeared, winning the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Drama. Judging by the libretto for this version, the play is a wordy work, full of sharp exchanges and potent commentary. The opera takes the form of a series of vignettes that capture key moments from the death of the poet during World War I through to World War II, when England was again at war and the memory of Brooke was enlisted to encourage patriotic duty. Sejavka himself declares in the program note that his real concern is with ‘media hype’, the exploitation of the memory of Brooke for political purposes; a lesson that still has much to offer.

Chambermade’s production is for an intimate space–small stage, no wings, simple, well-chosen props–hat focuses on the performers’ delivery of the text. The backdrop is a clear plastic sheet with a green (starboard?) light behind, giving the setting an unworldly feel. The 5 performers, 4 of whom take multiple roles, are elaborately costumed, providing cues to their identities and the eras in which the action is set. The opera opens with the performers as crew members observing Brooke’s body on board the ship where he died, aged 27, dirging “Rupert Brooke is dead, Rupert Brooke is dead!” and hailing him as a fallen hero. “He died for his country”, they cry, mourning not only his demise but also the manner of it: “an insect bite, what a meagre end…” The blood poisoning induced by a mosquito bite was sometimes downplayed in the publicity surrounding his death. His so-called war sonnets were championed, and Winston Churchill in particular wrote an obituary that offered Brooke as a patriotic inspiration. At regular intervals the deceased rises from his gurney to soliloquise, at one point intoning: “I am a dead man but I suspect I have more living to do in the minds of men and nations.”

We meet publishers discussing the release of Brooke’s private papers, the executors of his estate, his friends and former lovers, including Bloomsbury Group members conducting a séance to try to contact his spirit. Insects permeate the work; Brooke was fascinated by them, hence the irony of his death, hence the opera’s title. Characters entering the drama create a kind of hive of activity around his memory.

In contrast to much other opera, The Hive is cerebral, discursive and philosophical rather than romantic or dramatic. Passages of involved discussion are periodically interrupted by Brooke rising and abruptly clapping his hands (as if killing an insect), slapping a book, declaring his observations. In the séance scene, the performers chorus, “Thank you, friend, thank you, friend!” while pondering his life, deeds and misdeeds. They query his sexuality, “Does he prefer man or woman?” and “Did he take Virginia?” Woolf rejects these claims with a melancholy reply, “Spirits can lie like the rest of us.” They analyse his poetry, his former lover Noel wailing. “Rupert, you confuse love with lust.” Those exploiting and judging him reveal themselves.

Vines’ score is fresh, lyrical and suitably edgy, ably supporting the unfolding dialogue. Using just two keyboard players, on synthesisers and a piano, his music is eclectic, flavoured with Romantic and contemporary styles to characterise particular moments. Well-known musical forms—a piece for organ at Brooke’s funeral and later the piano accompanied by a synthesised/sampled sound of a cello in salon style—build atmosphere. Douglas Horton’s direction emphasises the text and its interplay with the score. The actors’ movements on stage are economical, focussing attention instead on the aural elements. Baritone Simon Meadows creates a strong, introspective Brooke who is engaged, through an ongoing dialogue with his various acolytes, in an analysis of self and the world. As an opera, The Hive is a work with great potential, though sung lyrics can be difficult to interpret making the nuances of the text, and even the narrative itself, somewhat elusive.

Chambermade, The Hive, writer Sam Sejavka, composer Nicholas Vines, director Douglas Horton, performers Ben Logan, Sally Wilson, Anna Margolis, Simon Meadows, Arts House, Meat Market, Melbourne, Aug 23-Sept 10

RealTime issue #75 Oct-Nov 2006 pg.

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

Karli Jalangu

Karli Jalangu

David Tranter has had a long career with CAAMA (Central Australia Aboriginal Media Association) in Alice Springs as a sound recordist and now as an emerging director. He has worked extensively on the award-winning language and culture documentary program series Nganampa Anwernekenhe and has directed one episode and co-directed another. Nganampa Anwernekenhe (‘Ours’ in the Pitjantjatjara and Arrernte languages) is a documentary television series spoken in local languages, subtitled in English and focused on local Indigenous cultural life. As Lisa Stefanoff wrote in her account of the 2005 Sydney Film Festival’s celebration of CAAMA’s achievements, this approach “foregrounds the film subject’s voice, in his or her original language, and allows it to shape the film.” (RT 67, p19) Stefanoff talked with Tranter about the art of sound recording and directing as both technical and cultural challenges.

 

What was it like doing video work at CAAMA in the late 1980s when you first started?

When I took up the position as Trainee Sound Recordist, it was the CAAMA TV Unit. Basically then we was just travelling ‘round out bush, seeing all the country out there, for about 2 or 3 years. Plus we used to do a lot of CSAs [community service announcements] around town, for Power and Water, and Social Security, and Telecom. We was pretty busy back in them days.

For them 3 training years, all I was doing was my job: sound. I only just had a little 3-channel FP32 mixer, a steel boom pole, and a 416 microphone. I never had radio mikes or nothing like that. It was good to learn like that. You had to do your job the best that you could, with the gear that you had. That’s where I really learned how to use the 416. I used it for about 5 years, before we even got radio mikes. I used to run leads, long leads, and do a lot of long lens stuff, walking towards camera, and booming. It helped me to understand. Boom swinging is a completely different job from sound recording. As I got older I started getting further into doing sound. [Film director] Warwick [Thornton] gave me my first opportunity to work on a drama, in Sydney, after he came out of the film school—Payback (1996).

CAAMA was a good training ground. They taught you all the stuff the hard way. You’d work out in 50 degree heat out in the desert, summertime. Sometimes that might mean old people go and get kangaroo. It’ll be 12 o’clock and they’ll be cooking it up, hottest part of the day, and you’re working round a big fire, and you’re documenting people, cooking tucker up. You’re working round a fire, and it’s twice as hot! When you’re working for the AFC or SBS and doing dramas and stuff like that, it’s just like a breeze. It’s not really physically hard, or mentally draining. Probably for the director it is, but not for the crew.

Did becoming a documentary sound recordist change how you listen to the world?

As a sound recordist, you’re always in the shadow of a cameraman. As a location sound recordist, you go out and collect the material, record a lot of interviews and footage and stuff like that. You get a lot of great things. Camera people, they can only see what’s in their viewfinder. Sound recordists are their eyes and ears. We’re the ones standing up over the person that we’re interviewing. When they’re filming and walking along and they’ve got their eye in the viewfinder, we’re behind them, or we’re watching their backs while we’re doing our job. It’s a team effort.

What’re the differences between making a Nganampa Anwernekenhe documentary and making any other kind?

Nganampas are probably the roots and foundation of Australia. There’s no other show in Australia that compares to Nganampa. Even the way that you go out and work. Like if people pass away, or if sorry business is on, they won’t let you go out. Or at a certain time of the year, it’s ceremonial time. So you’ve got restrictions too. And things can just happen. You might be halfway through a shoot doing a Nganampa story and someone might pass away, so people got to get up and go to sorry camp and go and see this family member or something, go and finish up. Those things happen. It’s nothing new.

But if you have people from Sydney come up here to work with us in CAAMA, you’ve got to teach them all the protocols, ‘cause they’re actually like little kids…You spend, 3 or 4 months teaching people about the culture: “What’s happening?…How come that old fella’s goin’ away?…What’s he back in the car for? We haven’t finished the story!”…You’ve got to turn around and explain it to them: “Oh no, someone’s passed away, and that’s the way it is. People have to go and see their families”. So the program is put on the back-burner. Probably we’ll have to come back into town and sit down for another few weeks before we can actually go back out. Or it might be 2 months, so you move on to another story.

Nganampa teaches you how to read people’s body language. Nganampa showed me, without telling me, just from me observing and being who I am, learning from Central Australia, and watching people all the time. Learning how people act and move you can sort of know what they’re thinking, or what they’re going to do: “He doesn’t want to start work today…He wants to do it tomorrow.”

When you do a documentary with English speaking people, you can understand what people are saying. But with Nganampa, it’s done in a lot of different dialects. You start learning how to read people’s expressions. I grew up in Alice Springs [and] I had to learn English. Even though my mother spoke Language, and my grandparents, I never really did. I didn’t really worry about that. I was too worried about learning about Space Invaders and riding BMX bikes, and mixing with town people.

I used to go out bush and see my family and all that. I knew about languages, and Language. I could understand little bit of my mother’s language, Alyawarr, and little bit Anmatyerr, and little bit of Arrernte. I never really heard Warlpiri language until I really went out there working and started listening to it. We grew up with all this richness with culture around and unfortunately never really learned language right through. Most old people around here, they spoke about 5 or 6 languages. That was pretty common. But we grew up in town, and went to high school and primary school and people were teaching us Indonesian language. I didn’t really want to learn that so I left school at the age of 16, didn’t get much education.

I went out, got this job at CAAMA and it just sort of opened me. We traveled around a lot out bush and seen all these languages. Basically Nganampa showed me the culture and how people live. When I was younger, I travelled out bush and saw family living out in the sticks and all that stuff—that’s natural—but Nganampa really showed me, opened my eyes. I wasn’t standing up looking in. I was a part of the program being made. I treat Nganampa as a show that you can learn from making. There’s not many shows like that around in the world today, a show that lives and breathes culture.

CAAMA is like a tool for Aboriginal people to use, and to promote the Aboriginal people in Central Australia, or Australia-wide. CAAMA was set up to really promote language and culture. That was its thing: to get the radio license and Imparja Television license to document and to preserve our language and culture and to broadcast it.

You’ve recently made two of your own Nganampas. The first one, Karli Jalangu, you co-directed with cinematographer and director Allan Collins [Dhakiyarr vs the King], and the second one, Crook Hat and Camphoo, you directed solo.

Yeah. Karli Jalangu is in Warlpiri language and in Anmatyerr. It means “Boomerang Today.” Basically it was 4 old fellas—Teddy Jangala Egan, Johnny Possum Japaltjarri, Albie Morris Janpitjimpa and old Frankie Moreton—making a ‘Number 7’ boomerang. We’ve done some stuff before about boomerangs but it was generally a man just telling a story. We decided to go and document the making of one. It took about 4 days for us to actually see the finished product. It was my first time as a director too. I’m always used to sitting down and watching either the cameraman or the director getting stressed out, watching them fiddle about. “We should be over here, we should be over there”, or “We’re crossing the line here!”. I finally jumped into their boots got to know how they feel. The pressure’s on.

I just like to document stuff I’m interested in—the culture of Aboriginal people, and making things—to preserve, to show younger generations coming up. I’m interested in what the old people have to offer young people, and what they can offer to Australia, a white audience. Or a world audience. Karli went around and screened a few places overseas.

How did you and Allan strike a balance as co-directors?

Allan was more into the television side of things, like the light, the shooting, the look about it. Allan is very passionate about what he films and how it should look. Timing. The flow. He was more the person that knew about all the laws in physics and the plan of the structure of the shots. I talked to the old fellas every night and would say, “Well, old fellas, tomorrow, you 2 old fellas, you 2 sit back here, and then these two old fellas will come, will walk…”. Those 2 old fellas they were the right people—father and son in the skin kinship—they were the ones that had to do that.

Were the old men familiar with being the subjects of a film? Did they know how to play their roles for you?

Those 4 particular guys, they’ve been acting, working with film crews for maybe 5 or 6 years. But I wanted to film them being themselves. I didn’t want them to act. When they work with feature films and things like that they get catered, they get spoiled. They get dressed up, they get make-up on. I just wanted them to be themselves, be back in the bush.

I sat down with them old fellas every night. Just myself with them and had a little yarn with them. We’d mention a few old people’s names, and they’d know them old people. And I’d tell them who I am. I try and get a connection with those old people when I mention a couple of names from my neck of the woods, or where I’m from. Everybody sort of knows everybody through either working, or marriage, or through Dreaming stories. People are all connected really.

When you give your skin name, then they put you in society, in Aboriginal society. Like, tjapaltjarri, like old Johnny Possum. He’s my uncle, so they respected me that way too. When you start talking, when you know the law system and they know that you know it, they get comfortable with you. They can talk to you properly as family: “Young fella…we don’t wanna show that one. That’s bit tickly, you know?”. “Oh yeah, I understand, no worries”.

Nganampa was my training ground. I’ve learned a lot from doing that show. Still my favourite show. I like going out bush, camping under stars and sleeping in the swag and listening. Sharing cultural things and knowledges and sitting down with old people, talking about things that happened back in the past. Or the Dreaming stories. It’s something that you can’t buy off a shelf.

And it has taken you around the world.

Karli Jalangu got invited to Canada, over in Vancouver for the ImageNation film festival. That blew me away. Gee, wouldn’t mind bein’ a director now! Get these trips overseas, and see the world! Those guys over there, people like [Jicarilla Apache actor] Alan Tafoya, they’re pretty down to earth. They’re just like us, trying to kick a goal, and get somewhere in life.

RealTime issue #75 Oct-Nov 2006 pg. 15

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

Peering over the fence at another’s discipline is apt to bring home the limits of one’s own practice and make the attractions of collaborative work irresistible. But any collaborative undertaking brings new challenges—personal, technical, and creative. Phillip Adams’ Origami explores the principles of the art of origami applied to dance, but it’s much more than a work of simple transposition. A multilayered collaboration between BalletLab, BURO Architects, 3 Deep Design and Matt Gardiner, among others, Origami engages themes of contemporary Japanese culture, the place of tradition in a hyper-modern society, and the order in chaos of urban living.

With so many creative disciplines and themes in play, the challenge of this work was always going to be incorporating each without having them clumsily competing with one another or, alternatively, falling into the trap of tokenism: including one more creative discipline simply for the sake of adding yet another layer, without adequately relating it to the whole. Origami doesn’t succumb entirely before these challenges, but neither does it entirely rise above them.

The opening sequence sees the 8 dancers in formation folding into, and sliding across, tatami mats. The choreography seems to be reaching for the kind of precision and flowing, complex order found in origami, but the execution appears stilted, the mats encumbering the fluidity of dancers’ movements.

The incorporation of architectural elements—in the form of a performance space and sets that can be continually re-configured by the dancers—provided similar constraints, the dancers seeming to struggle with them. Rather than completing the set, the performers often appeared to be confounded by it. The foldable floor surface, in particular, made for overly self-conscious performances which lacked the subtleties suggested by origami.

The transitions between sequences, in which the performers re-configure the performance space, also seemed disconnected from the work. A generous interpretation might be that this is expressive of life itself: a meditation on the infinite number of minute rituals and work that we enact in the daily performance of living, making, un-making, and re-making the spaces in which we live. If this was the intent, then it was a lost opportunity. The dancers’ movements lacked purpose, with the result that the transitions came across as brief time-out periods, unrelated to the performance.

This is not to say that Origami is a deeply flawed work. There were some beautifully choreographed sequences in which the dancers’ bodies folded one into another creating a complex symmetry: a pure synthesis of form and content. Some of the more playful elements, such as the cramped living space evoked by a tent-like structure briefly inhabited by all 8 dancers, folding their bodies so as to sleep and eat, worked nicely with the themes of the work, exhibiting a grace and order reminiscent of origami.

Similarly, David Chisholm’s music lent order and structure to the work and themes sometimes lacking in the choreography, as did Anatasia La Fey’s beautifully erotic costumes, which melded Samurai influences with Western ballet costume. Combined with Rhian Hinkley’s computer animation, that references Japanese culture—a Godzilla-like monster destroying Australian architectural icons, and the animated version of Katsushika Hokusai’s The Great Wave Off Kanagawa—the music and costumes provided textures and layers to the performance, evoking pop and kitsch culture in a lively exploration of the complex interweaving of tradition and modernity, the organic pace of traditional forms coupled with the frenetic pace of urban living. Even the more gimmicky elements, such as a radio-controlled helicopter occupying the performance space vacated by dancers, worked well within the whole, making for interesting transitions between the different parts of the work.

Origami was at its most successful when its influences and thematic treatment were less literal, conveyed through the subtleties and playfulness of gesture and movement, imagery, and music, than the more obvious references of folding sets. In some respects, Origami was uncomfortably caught between 2 worlds. It needed either to be pared right back to become a much more intimate work, drawing on the strengths of minimalist understatement or, conversely, to require a much bigger canvas (and budget) to become an all-out, sensuous feast. In this regard, Origami is an ambitious though ultimately unsatisfying work. On that front, the collaborative team behind Origami might be best understood as being at the mid point of an exciting journey, rather than having reached their final destination.

BalletLab, Origami, VCA Drama Theatre, July 10-23

RealTime issue #75 Oct-Nov 2006 pg. 39

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

Peter Blamey at impermanent.audio

Peter Blamey at impermanent.audio

Peter Blamey at impermanent.audio

Just under one year after it opened the Sydney gallery Pelt closed its doors. Instigated by Caleb K, Peter Blamey and William Noble the gallery had an agenda to “engage in the broad area of sound and sound & visual practices”, and over the last 10 months it has had back to back exhibitions (21 in total) by emerging and established artists. It was also the new home for the impermanent.audio series of sound performances. Caleb K has decided to end these as well.

In a fitting homage the final exhibition featured the photographs of Mr Snow who has dedicatedly documented impermanent.audio since its inception 6 years ago. Often taken in low light, his portraits of local and international artists in performance take ghostly forms, faces obscured by shadows or overblown by the otherworldly glow of computer screens. For an artform often disparaged for its lack of performativity and physical gesture, Mr Snow’s images capture the internal dynamism, the absolute absorption and focus of these artists. They also reflect the sense of communal concentration present in an audience on a good night.

In addition to the final exhibition, there were 4 nights of performances. I managed to catch a smattering of artists across the last 2 nights. The highlight was the audiovisual set by Robbie Avenaim. Seated behind a percussion kit armed with various vibrating devices, Avenaim starts with a surprisingly deep, resonant drone. He is accompanied by a screen divided in 4 onto which he systematically introduces live images from video cameras focused in extreme close-up on his instruments. The images are intriguing in their abstraction—the extreme concentration on one part obscuring the understanding of the whole—and also disturbingly visceral, reminiscent of medical imaging, or the strange gelatinous creatures that live deep below the sea. The relationship between image and sound is totally symbiotic. We’re seeing the rich resonances and vibrations yet the images are more than just illustrative of the process; they’re strange and beautiful creations in themselves. I hope Avenaim continues this fascinating exploration.

The final night kicked off with Will Guthrie combining junk percussion with reeling feedback and random radio tunings. While the feedback instigated by the miked percussion is occasionally unwieldy, it draws the percussive elements together into a chunky mass of sound, a kind of apocalyptic clamour.

Ivan Lysiak followed with his distinctive lo-fi, crunchy beat approach. The opening sample of a crowd with high noise to signal ratio eventually morphs into an ominous, dirty throbbing with heavy panning making it seem as though we are in the middle of a static storm. Having only seen Lysiak play short sharp sets, it was great to hear this sustained, longer composition.

Fittingly the final set of the evening and of impermanent.audio was by Julian Knowles with Donna Hewitt. As well as being an inspiring artist, Knowles is a key motivator behind much of Sydney’s sound culture. Working away at the intersection between pop and experimental audio tonight he begins ambiently, building to deep satisfying beats which teasingly slip away. He combines his sounds into multiple layers, rich and complex but never overcrowded. Part way through the set Donna Hewitt joins in on her e-mic—an intereactive microphone stand interface that allows her to process vocals live. Here the pop influence rises closer to the surface as Hewitt’s velvety voice pines and purrs, fractured, delayed and panned by strokes, caresses and sways of the stand. And just before the neighbours’ noise complaints can kick in, it’s all over.

So after a few frenzied years of activity (not only from impermanent.audio but other independent curators as well), what does the future hold? With recent council crack downs on performance events in galleries, and general apathy for the experimental from licenced bars and pubs, there is a significant absence of venues. Combined with limited sustainable funding and the difficulty of maintaining audience numbers it is not surprising that event producers are feeling less energetic. While festivals like Liquid Architecture and the Now now are growing in scope and are well attended, the major concern is about the absence of regular events like impermanent.audio that enable artists to develop a practice, rather than just turning it on once a year. In this respect Caleb K has made a significant contribution to sound culture, particularly in Sydney but also nationally. While it is disheartening to watch an era wane, we can only hope that it’s a temporary pause allowing for regeneration and re-invigoration in artists, producers and audiences.

Mr Snow, Camera Notes, impermanent.audio 2000/06, Pelt Gallery, Aug 10-20; impermanent.audio, Pelt Gallery, Aug 19-20, 24-25

RealTime issue #75 Oct-Nov 2006 pg. 56

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

Brendan McKnight, Psycho

Brendan McKnight, Psycho

According to film artist, writer and all-round agent provocateur Philip Brophy, cinema as once we knew it is dead—indeed, it has been for some time now. However, Brophy’s eulogising lacks the doom and gloom of Godard’s. Cinema’s death is exciting, liberating, opening up new possibilities for sound and image—a new beginning. Cinema may be dead, Brophy argues, but there’s still much we can do with its corpse!

Speaking at the opening of Either/Auteur, an exhibition of 10 short digital works by members of Melbourne’s Dotmov media collective, Brophy had only to turn to the screen to find evidence supporting his argument. Launched to coincide with the release of the 40th issue of the online film journal Senses of Cinema, Either/Auteur could in many respects be considered a series of little autopsies—10 cinecrophilic attempts to explore and play with cinema’s corpse, to prod and poke it and—most importantly—to use digital technology and new media aesthetics to rethink its possibilities. The results, while not uniformly wonderful, were at the very least always intriguing, providing the framework for several questions about history, homage and—that old chestnut—the relationship between content and form.

The artists approached the question “Where can cinema go from here?” by channelling the artform’s greatest practitioners—or at least the top 10 as voted by readers of Senses of Cinema. Far from approaching those filmmakers with too much reverence, the Dotmov artists employed cinema history as a launchpad for their own innovations. The manner in which they did so sharply divided their works into 2 discrete but symbiotic groups. There were those who drew inspiration from the content of their filmmaker’s work (a scene, a theme, an iconographic image) but departed from it drastically when it came to style and form, aestheticising the borrowed content in new and jarring ways. Others upheld the formal preoccupations of their chosen filmmakers, but applied them to sounds and images that were, at most, only marginally reminiscent of their muses, and certainly not direct quotations or samples from specific films.

Brendan McKnight’s reworking of the famous shower scene from Hitchcock’s Psycho characterised the former approach, recreating the sequence shot by shot using the typographic characters of ASCII. Flashing by, strobe-like, at 8 or so frames a second, these images—the dying Marion Crane a swirling morass of letters and numbers—remediated those of the master of suspense, not only in light of personal computers and code, but also, more specifically, in respect of the creative practices of fandom and niche cultures.

Other notable works in this first category included Saskia Panjii Sakti on Stanley Kubrick and Lorraine Heller-Nicholas on Orson Welles, both employing simple rotoscoping techniques to break violently with the styles of their chosen ‘texts.’ Shelly Duvall, knife in hand, screaming hysterically in The Shining; Marlene Dietrich and Welles in Touch of Evil, his future “all used up”—both ‘redrawn’, quite literally to resemble pencil sketches, childish doodles, the former in cartoonish greyscale, the latter in brightest colour (a move made all the more interesting in light of Welles’ profound dislike of colorisation: “Tell Turner to keep his goddamned crayolas away from my film!” Too late!).

The second approach—the privileging of form and style—found its closest adherents in Claire Best covering Andrei Tarkovsky, Dominic Redfern fielding Akira Kurosawa and—though perhaps to a lesser extent, her images more loudly echoing those of her chosen filmmaker—Eugenia Lim channelling the most difficult of them all, the still alive-and-kicking Jean-Luc Godard. While these works weren’t as immediately striking as those of the former group, in retrospect this may just have been because the approach they had chosen yielded subtler results. Where the former group made reference to specific images and scenes, relying on outrageous stylistic tropes to highlight the extent of their departure, the latter group found itself compelled to poke the corpse in other ways. And thus we find ourselves contemplating—not gasping at—the quietly discordant image of an oriental Anna Karina, the product of an increasingly globalised world in which the black and white Paris of 1960s Godard has become virtually indistinguishable from the black and white ‘metroville’ (the title of Lim’s work) that could today be any major city in the world.

Only one work—Ryan Hayward on Martin Scorsese—tried to honour both form and content at once, resulting in a likeable if comparatively intransigent short, mixing creative use of film stock (or at least of digital filters) and the frenetic cutting of so much Scorsese with the iconographic imagery of the church and the mob that has been endemic to his work from the beginning. But whereas the form-and content-centric works in the exhibition privileged one aspect in order to challenge another, Hayward’s homage seemed just that—homage alone. Part of what made Either/Auteur so interesting was the extent to which the artists were able to build upon and extend the work of the filmmakers in question. Hayward’s work simply failed to take things far enough.

Although no major works emerged, Either/Auteur, as both exhibition and idea, remained notable for its explicit attempt to grapple with the dead weight of cinema’s corpse. It marked a worthy attempt to use the immense potential that lingers in the cinematic body as a springboard for new endeavours—to push the body beyond post-mortem, towards post-cinema.

Either/Auteur, curators Lorraine and Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, producers Dotmov media collective, Senses of Cinema; City Library, Melbourne, Aug 2-15

RealTime issue #75 Oct-Nov 2006 pg. 16

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

Ignition is Australian Dance Theatre’s in-house season where company dancers and guest artists present short works. For its 6th season, artistic director Garry Stewart provided the choreographers with a creative constraint, a stage just 2 metres square. The 9 short works presented at Ignition 6: The World’s Smallest Stage could be taken as an indication of future directions for Australian dance. Yet like a collection of short films at a graduating show, the works are not about tomorrow. They project instead the experiences of becoming artists today.
F-Lash

F-Lash

F-Lash

Fashion, sport and popular music feature strongly; feelings, romance and memories are recurrent themes. A layered look—arising from the artists’ versatility with medium if not form—is a hallmark of the collection. Emboldened by the techniques of cut-and-paste production, these artists are skilled compositeurs; wrangling movement, moving image, spoken text, sound track and lighting effect to layer-up their work. They are also storytellers, entertainers in the arts of recognition, re-possessors of movement cultures and distillers of bodily abstraction.

Two artists took the opportunity to tell stories of heterosexual romance, that staple narrative of theatrical dance. Timothy Ohl’s Broken Departed charts a love story of loss with slacker charm. Dancers Shannon Anderson and Kristina Chan perform a duet under duress as their plane goes down. Ohl in hard hat and work boots taps out a message on wired-for-sound tiles. Exposed to the elements in underwear, Chan is washed up by the wind. Ohl scatters sand on the floor and, singing, whistling, shuffles his way through a children’s song or two.

Returning to ADT as a guest, Lina Limosani locates her love story, The Penny Drops, in the office of a crazed relationship counsellor, performed with cartoon obviousness by Paul Zivkovich. The work scores a romance of histrionic emotions to a scrolling radio dial soundtrack of love songs. Students from the dance program at Adelaide Institute of TAFE play the girl, the boy and a couch. The girl is confident and assertive; the boy is nervous and anxious—alone, at one point, he cries profusely on the couch. As in Ohl’s Broken Departed, it’s the male emotional trajectory that enjoys the choreographer’s attention. The Penny Drops closes the evening with audience favour. It is recognisably comic, technically proficient and enjoyably banal.

Only one stage work threatens to exceed the obligatory spatial constraint. Theatre director Sam Haren makes his dance debut with The Game Is Not Over. Created with dancers Shannon Anderson and Ohl (and Larissa McGowan in rehearsal), Haren finds choreographic daring in the aerial moves of Australian Rules football. Kicks, marks, handpasses and those distinctive umpire gestures that signal the scoring of a goal are ‘mashed’ together with the grand jeté and port de bras of ballet. The compression of so much energetic extension on such a small stage is—to use the sporting lingo—awesome.

Daniel Jaber’s The World’s Smallest Stage: Invaded! compresses action drawn from the catwalk of high fashion. As in other works, Jaber uses entrances and exits to readily discharge the spatial limitation. Yet without a catwalk for progression the 9 dancers in this fashion show do little more than enter, present a pose, retreat, repeat. They are, however, appreciably costumed in fashionable strangeness by Jaber himself.
Slack

Slack

Slack

Two video works are included in the program. Paul Zivkovich’s Then Remember When evokes memories of the freedom and mobility of childhood. A playground becomes a site of contemplation for the constraints of adulthood; an album and its photos, a pile of books and a chair act as metaphors of stasis and containment. Guest artist Michael Carter’s awkwardly titled Intimate/dation also focuses on the choreography of feeling. Yet, in this work of closely cropped and over-exposed shots set in slow motion and repetition, the composition seemed determined more by the sound track’s progression than the choreographic interest of the movement.

The distillation of feelings and experience into abstraction is more compelling on the stage. Xiao Xuan Yang’s lively F-Lash, danced by Anderson, Jaber and Riannon Maclean, uses the changing colours of traffic lights to articulate the transition of emotional states “that people deal with while they are traffic.” The choreography of Lamenting Equipoise by Glen McCurley and Slack by Larissa McGowan is derived from even simpler grounds. McCurley’s is a choreography of breath, danced with grieving sensitivity by McGowan, Jaber and Laura Trevor. McGowan’s is a beautiful study in suspension, danced—with loosely swinging limbs and Jaber’s striking hair extensions—by Trevor, Megan Sullivan and the choreographer herself.

ADT, Ignition 6: The World’s Smallest Stage, curator Garry Stewart, ADT studios, Adelaide, Aug 15-18

RealTime issue #75 Oct-Nov 2006 pg. 40

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

Ensemble Offspring concerts are never less than educational and often inspirational. Whirlwind of Time instructively and entertainingly follows on from the ensemble’s 2002 Portrait of Kaija Saariaho (RT 50, p 9), the Finnish composer being one of the inheritors, in part, of ‘spectralism’ from founders, French composers Tristan Murail and Gérard Grisey. Spectralism’s sensory focus is on overtones and the waves of their unfolding, inspiring the late Grisey to reflect on the nature of time and the differences between human time and that of other species. The music can sound familiarly mid-20th century modernist but also generates passages of ethereal beauty liberated from fundamentals or achieving strange transcendant harmonies. Occasionally, in its pulsing, it shares certain qualities with a parallel musical movement, minimalism.

For Christopher Tonkin’s IN (2005), Claire Edwardes created myriad resonances from a bass drum using fingers, spit, billiard ball, sticks and wire brush. Rustled against a microphone and then played on the drumskin, the brush yielded a Xenakian human-cum-insect chatter. In this appealing sonic adventure electronic sounds (Tonkin) were triggered by Edwardes and included samples from the drum’s interior as well as a fragmented reading of a Gertrude Stein text. Damien Rickertson’s Ptolemy’s Onion (1998), for string quartet and bass flute, conducted by Roland Peelman, commenced as a high whispering, vibrating reverie for flute and falsetto violin and moved into glides and shudders before taking a more formal quartet shape, then advancing into a delicate high strung keening, a melancholy cello-ing and a final cooing solo from the flautist on recorder. A commentary on classical conceptions of the relationship between music and cosmology, Rickertson’s richly textured piece is more complex than I can describe here. Gerard Grisey’s Vortex Temporum (1994-96) for a small ensemble of strings, flute, clarinet and piano is even more challenging to describe from its almost minimalist beginning (fast arpeggios, pulsing strings) to its subsequent soaring chord mutations, various wave patternings and piano dramatics played to a growling cello. A funereal piano is then joined by the ensemble in a rising gentle wave, an upward ride that is quite hypnotic. A final, sudden high ensemble pulsing leads the way to a quiet end. A magical work, but requiring more than one hearing. Grisey’s not easy to find on CD, but his large scale Les espaces acoustiques (1976-85) is on Accord CD 465 386-2. Rachel Campbell’s program notes for the concert are a valuable guide to the intricacies of these works and should be posted on the ensemble’s website.

Ensemble Offspring, Whirlwind of Time, Sydney Conservatorium of Music, June 24

RealTime issue #75 Oct-Nov 2006 pg. 56

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

Steven Anderson, Fuck

Steven Anderson, Fuck

Steven Anderson, Fuck

Moving between several venues that spanned the length of Perth’s sprawling suburbia, film-goers at the 9th Revelation Perth International Film Festival enjoyed black comedies, cutting edge documentaries, absorbing features and restored classics. Along with an impressive experimental line up Rev integrated micro-cinema with the alternative and kitsch to create Cinema Tabu, hidden in Perth’s most versatile venue, The Bakery Artrage Complex.

Cinema Tabu & SPLIF

Incorporating local bands with an impressive line up of documentaries and features, Cinema Tabu provided audiences with the opportunity to watch films in a more intimate setting. This micro-cinema venture most notably featured Fuck (Steven Anderson, 2006), a well made, funny although not always eye opening critique of censorship in the United States; Super Starlet AD (John Michael McCarthy, 2000), a sleazy, grainy, B-grade, exploitation-esque cult oddity about busty girl gangs in a post-apocalyptic world; and Amazing Grace: Jeff Buckley (Nyla Adams, Laurie Trombley, 2005), an intimate journey into the mind and life of the musician.

The kind of ‘do it yourself’ aesthetic of micro-cinema was particularly well suited to SPLIF (Screening Perth’s Local Independent Films) a showcase of local underground cinema that was perhaps the main event at Cinema Tabu. The SPLIF program began with the smoothly produced and visually impressive Some Dreams Do Come True (Christopher Kenworthy/Chantal Bourgault, 2005, 6 mins). Recently accepted into the Palm Springs International Film Festival, the film evokes the powerful effect that “the things we picture” in our minds have on our lives. After spending years visualising his perfect wife the protagonist finally meets her on his wedding day. Switching between dreams and wedding scenes, the groom gradually approaches his dream woman who reveals herself to be less perfect than expected. Her distasteful, pointed comment while they are dancing—”I thought this was meant to be a white wedding”—allows the camera to move to the only black man at the wedding, who arrives just in time to signal the flaws in the not so perfect girl, and of course the flawed fantasy of the protagonist. The film’s underdeveloped culmination left me somewhat confused, the disrupting presence of the black man seeming a little tokenistic, even for a short film. Nonetheless the appealing special effects—the dream sequence of flying angels was nicely gothic—combined with vivid lighting and deep colours, highlighted the potential for politically oriented independent films to eschew the gritty aesthetics of conventional social realism.

This approach was particularly well developed in Weewar (Glen Stasiuk, Naomi Ashcroft, 2005, 6 mins) which engages with the politics of public history. An Indigenous period piece set in 1840, it tells the story of the first Nyungar man to be tried under white law in Western Australia. Weewar moves between the Nyungar language and English, between natural landscape and colonial architecture, between land and water to parallel the impact of colonisation on Indigenous ways of life in Western Australia. In doing so it reflects the disjuncture of colonial and indigenous cultures central to its narrative.

Nightfill (2003, 23 mins) by Luke Jago is a wonderful black and white comedic take on the horror genre. In a small suburban supermarket the night fill staff begin their duties. Unbeknownst to them it has just been discovered that drinking a particular brand of milk is turning people into bloodthirsty zombies. As the night fill workers begin to turn into zombies it is up to “The New Guy” to save them. Technically astute and visually entertaining, the film highlighted the features of the genre while showcasing the skills of the actors and crew.

Ransis and Alee (Randal Lynton, 2003) was another technically accomplished piece. A painstaking 10-minute stop animation work, it’s a story about a dog and a cat searching for food in a quiet medieval village. When a gargoyle tries to overcome them the creatures join forces against him. The detail in the animation makes it captivating and almost familiar. A creaking sign, eerie shadows and the bloody knives of the tavern owner, along with rickety skeletons, slimy fish heads and scurrying mice, are exquisitely macabre details in a deadly gothic fairy tale. The curiously anaemic cat, Alee, whose strangely shaped head bobbles out of a disused barrel to meet the diseased eye of Ransis the dog, is oddly endearing. The finely composed soundtrack enhances the imaginative evocation of setting in this fascinating short animation.

For me the highlight of SPLIF was A Dollar for the Good Ones (Josh Lee, 2006, 30 mins), a thoughtfully incisive documentary about the lives of 2 marginalised young men, Luke and Jermaine. Shot in Karawarra, once a working class Perth suburb where Lee and his 2 friends grew up, the film revolves around the boys’ midnight journeys to the new golf course to find balls that they then clean and sell to help supplement their drug habit. Lee shows a rare ability to avoid a sense of voyeurism, perhaps arising from his affinity with the men and his willingness to allow them to carry the film forward. It is, after all, their story, and it’s the daily interactions of the men with each other and Lee, and their rapport with the camera, that gripped me. Watching them swim in the golf course lake, cleaning the golf balls, discussing how they sell them, emphasised the economic disparities that underscore my middle class privilege and casual optimism about life.

Somehow Lee manages to bring his audience into an uncomfortable, but never unfeeling, relationship with the protagonists that, for him, must have been unnerving and exhausting. In the final scene we are left watching Luke in a post-injecting high, his spent body slowly slumping into a chair. If micro cinema offers the potential for new ways of seeing, perhaps this film embodies it: somewhere in between public and private space, viewing becomes potentially more ‘exposing.’

Experimental Showcase

Incorporating a diverse range of aesthetic and political concerns, Rev’s experimental program was curated by Sydney based independent artist Atanas Djonov. Screening at Luna SX in Fremantle, the showcase offered audiences a useful extrapolation of the possibilities and directions that experimenting with film-based forms might create.

Djonav’s own work formed a significant component of the program, several of his works using music as a crucial pivot. Juxtaposing time, music and landscape the video works Dawn (2004-2006) and Wide Open Fields (2005) are set to traditional Eastern European folk songs about hope and community. Against a backdrop of changing urban and rural scenes, past and present merge as the subtitled songs call up memories of lost warriors, forgotten causes and dreams. As the music evokes what we cannot see and hazy light throws shadows on deserted built and open spaces, we watch history pass while reflecting on how communities form and who they rely on to survive. I enjoyed the significant role music was given, overlaying and underscoring the conceptual work of seeing. Escape (2004), a stop frame animation, deals with our need to find and display images of perfection. Using a human figure made from wire, whose quest is to capture an image he is attracted to, Djonav suggests such desire provides moments of inspiration but is a fruitless urge that propels our lives.

In Trojan Horse, Turkish Crow (Karga) David Mackenzie’s poetic merging of colour, motion and stillness is mesmeric. As darkness slowly peels away under the glow of impending dawn, we see a group of birds cascading in all directions around the statue of a horse. Their textured motion juxtaposed with the frozen statue against hazily toned colouring captured something like the sublime: a moment of poised stillness in which viewers are immersed. Ticketweavels (Caroline Huf, 2004) is a frenetic stop animation video work. Full of worm-like movements that eventually disintegrate a railway ticket, its un-weaving evoked industrial processes of construction together with the natural process of decay. Bringing something so simple to life, Huf recreates its intricacy before our eyes.

In Sumugan Sivanesan’s Anaesthesia (2004), a television screen showing asylum seeker images struggles to make itself heard against a deafening soundtrack. The tightly synched video and audio creates an unnerving sense of dislocation and alienation that reverberates eloquently with the treatment of people seeking asylum in Australia. This kind of aesthetic engagement, variously deployed by the experimental works on show transformed the cinema into a gallery-like environment, reshaping and expanding the viewing experience.

The creative scope and the space they offer filmmakers make both SPLIF and the Experimental Showcase significant elements of the cinematic makeup of Rev. Along with Cinema Tabu they offer other perspectives on seeing, realising the revelatory impact of independent, underground and experimental cinema.

9th Revelation Perth International Film Festival: Cinema Tabu, Bakery Artrage Complex, Northbridge, July 14-16, 20-23; SPLIF, Bakery July 16, Mojos, Fremantle, July 18; Experimental Showcase, Luna SX, Fremantle, July 22

Congratulations from RealTime+OnScreen to Revelation director Richard Sowada on his appointment to ACMI as Head of Film Programs. He takes up Clare Stewart’s position, who is now Artistic Director of the Sydney Film Festival.

RealTime issue #75 Oct-Nov 2006 pg. 17

© Anna Arabindan-Kesson; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Robyn Nevin

Robyn Nevin

Robyn Nevin

The 2007 STC program is a strong one on paper, in the great potential of its ensemble who will perform 4 of the year’s productions, and in the talents of an impressive assembly of directors, writers and actors.

Theatre can be both visceral and cerebral. Each dimension can thrill, at best when they meet. But one of the first things we ask of a play before we see it is, ‘What’s it about?’ The answer can determine whether we go to see (hear, feel) a play or not. The answer to ‘What is it about?’ is invariably a theme, an idea, a story (the precis of a story in a promotional brochure is in effect a theme, often a recognisable trope), but themes are of course only realised in performance and often in surprising, even aberrant ways, or new ones are thrown up. So it is with theatre programs.

The art of programming

On the issue of programming and themes, Robyn Nevin is firm: “I don’t approach programming with a need to establish any kind of theme. I never do that. I’m not interested. But things do emerge.” Whatever its provenance, the 2007 STC program is rich with fascinating connections (between artists, plays, forms, companies and cultures).

I ask what drives Nevin’s programming: chance, recommendations, plays she’s long wanted to do? She responds, “On the one hand it’s predictable and consistent but it’s always corrupted by whatever happens in the 9 months of the preparation of the program. Actually, it’s not a finite period, you don’t start on day one and have an oucome at the end. It’s ongoing, it rolls over, and 2008 and 2009 are now in their embryonic planning phase. People are pretty much what drives me.

“There is a wishlist that is never completed and that predictably includes all the great classics. It’s very interesting now because I’m being approached by young directors who are wanting to direct classics that I’d like to do for personal reasons…and one hands them over.” I ask if that includes a rare outing for Patrick White’s The Season at Sarsaparilla (1962), to be directed by Benedict Andrews.

“I wanted to direct The Season at Sarsaparilla because I’d been in the 1976 Jim Sharman production (Old Tote Theatre Company). It’s very interesting when you’ve had that experience inside something, you take a lot away with you, impressions and memories, and then over time they become questioned and you feel a need to approach the play from a different perspective, from outside. That’s been my engagement with a lot of plays I’ve known as a young actor, but I haven’t necessarily had the opportunity to do them again. It frequently happens that I give them over to other directors who coincidentally also want to direct them. Benedict Andrews studied Patrick White at Flinders University and feels a strong connection with the play. He hasn’t arrived at a way to do it, but all his ideas are very vivid, as you’d expect, and it’s great for those young eyes and that sensibility to be looking at a play from that era. And it feels to me as if he’ll take over the White baton from Neil Armfield as Neil did from Jim. I lived through that history so it’s interesting to see another generation approaching it.”

The Actors Company

Another rarely performed classic is Tales from the Vienna Woods (1931), Odon von Horvath’s acerbic anticipation of the rise of fascism in everyday Viennese life. It’s not a play Nevin has wanted to direct but she was eager for Jean Pierre Mignon to do it with the Actors Company: “He’s come in from the cold. He just disappeared. For years I’ve wanted to work with him because I loved seeing his work in Melbourne, his ‘shabby classic’ repertoire [at Anthill] and then I worked with him on Chekhov’s The Seagull at the STC in the 80s. I always remember the hydrangea flowerpots on either side of the stage in Stephen Curtis’ fantastic design of a house that is reduced and reduced …. those vivid blue hydrangeas seemed to speak of Australian suburbia. The reason I wanted Mignon to work with the Actors Company is because like all the directors I’ve chosen for the company he’ll work in a particular and appropriate way with the notion of ensemble. He’s very excited about coming back, and he’s about to do a Moliere with the company this year.”

In 2006 the STC Actors Company are working with Nevin, Barrie Kosky (The Lost Echo, see RT 76) and Mignon. In 2007 they will benefit from collaborations with leading UK ensemble directors, Annabel Arden, a founding director of Theatre Complicité, and Cheek by Jowl’s Edward Dick. Nevin says, “It’s the particular processes they bring and the background from which they’ve emerged that I find interesting, applicable and exciting. I wish I was going to be in the rehearsal room with them.” Both directors represent a generation of British theatre with strong visual and physical theatrical interests. Arden will direct husband Stephen Jeffreys’ The Art of War.

Jeffreys provides a link with the American dimension of Nevin’s program. Through a connection with actor John Malkovich (who played King Charles II in the Jeffreys’ scripted film The Libertine), his work has been programmed by Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre. Steppenwolf also premiered Don Delilo’s Love Lies Bleeding which also appears in the 2007 STC program.

The Art of War, Nevin explains, “is part of an international trilogy. Jeffreys wrote the first play in the trilogy in America. He had 2 more planned and he gave me an option to choose one of them. He wrote the plays The Libertine and The Clink, which is about a standup comic who gets caught up in the political intrigues of Elizabeth I’s court politics. He has extraordinary ideas and he can write with so many voices from so many eras. He’s linguistically sophisticated and extremely funny—an elegant, understated English wit.”

The play’s title derives from Sun Tzu’s 2,500 year-old treatise on military strategy which has recently been adapted as a business manual. Jeffreys extends the treatise’s application to life and relationships. Nevin says, “The Art of War is set in Australia and Jeffreys is keen to connect it with the region. He was fascinated with John Howard’s visit to China in recent months to discuss the provision of natural gas. Annabel is meeting the ensemble while they’re performing Lost Echo.”

Edward Dick will direct The Actors Company in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, one of Shakespeare’s plays that has many times leant itself to remarkable interpretations, especially where its darkness is allowed as much licence as its lighter side.

America

Nevin herself will appear in Delilo’s Love Lies Bleeding with Max Cullen. It’s a powerful play about the experience of dying. Emerging director Lee White, who has completed a Masters at NIDA, performed in New York, directed for the STC education program and assisted Nevin on Boy Meets Girl (2005), gets her first mainstage production with this play. Delilo is of course better known as a leading American novelist. He’s an adroit playwright and, for a novelist, has a great ear.

Another American connection comes in the form of American film actor and theatre director Philip Seymour Hoffman who is to direct Australian playwright Andrew Upton’s Riflemind, about the reunion of an ageing internationally famous rock band with Hugo Weaving in the lead role. Hoffman is co-artistic director of New York City’s LAByrinth Theater Company. Cate Blanchett, is to direct Scots playwright David Harrower’s Blackbird (RT71, p10-11), a taut hyperrealist drama about the consequences of the sexual abuse of a minor. I recall that Blanchett was acclaimed for her performance in David Mamet’s Oleanna, the playwright’s reaction to the sexual harassment issue. Nevin says that Blanchett, “sent me [Blackbird] with a very strong letter. Perhaps she made the connection with Oleanna. It’s what I was saying earlier about being inside something, something controversial and so powerfully expressed, to be inside that is a very memorable experience, the muscle memory plus the intellectual experience.”

The other American work is the musical, The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. It’s a Melbourne Theatre Company import in the absence of an Australian musical. Nevin explains, “I approached James Lapine [American director, librettist and Stephen Sondheim collaborator] and asked him to work on a new musical because I want to develop Australian musicals. I programmed Urinetown this year and Spelling Bee next because the musicals I’ve commissioned are not ready to produce. The American musicals are good models and very contemporary. Unfortunately Lapine couldn’t come. Simon Philips will bring his celebrated production of Spelling Bee to Sydney.”

The American theatre connection looks good to me. Although we are never short of American film and television product we rarely get to see what American theatre is creating. Nevin thinks this programming development “may be controversial, but I look forward to the controversy. I’ve worked to establish these relationships. It’s hard to spread your reach overseas…I’ve done the English one and now I’ve shifted to America, but it takes a while. These conversations, face to face, take place over a number of years before anything comes to fruition. And I’m building other relations in America.”

Australia

The 2007 program sweeps through Australian history from post WWI (Michael Cove’s new play, Troupers about entertainers communicating with the dead to earn a quid in 1919) to Patrick White’s mid-century Australia, the first theatrical exploration of our suburbia, to David Williamson’s Don’s Party (1971), epitomising the contradictions of the 1970s, to Stephen Jeffrey’s The Art of War, about Australia now, and, in the Wharf2Loud program, Brendan Cowell’s Self-esteem, about an Australia of the encroaching future with a fully corporatised federal government.

Themes, connections, resonances

The program reveals a loose set of themes awaiting their realisation: the serious concerns of the moment (euthanasia, sexual abuse, proto-facism, war and its incursion into everyday life) that theatre must tackle; an impressionistic but doubtless telling portrayal of a century of Australian life; and artistic collaboration itself, realised in the interplay of Australian, British and American artists, especially in the life of the Actors Company.

I ask Nevin if she’s had fun putting the 2007 program together? “I can never really apply the word ‘fun’ to the process of getting a program together. That’s not to say it isn’t exciting and satisfying. But how it’s going to go, with the Actors Company and with this audience base, it’s a complete unknown, a huge risk. It’s not an artistic risk. I don’t see that at all. But it’s the likeability factor. Will the audience like coming back to see these actors grow and playing unlikely roles and ‘married’ to particular directors. I don’t know if they’ll engage with that and take it on. But artistically it’s obvious and sensible and practical. But there’s also diversity and that’s part of our responsibility. It is one of the hard things about running a state theatre company. It’s joyous, but if you were an auteur or working in most other kinds of theatre, you’d do what you want.”

Even with its mix of freedom (Nevin’s hard won achievement in creating an ensemble, such a rarity in theatre in this country) and obligation, the 2007 STC program looks enticingly intelligent, urgent and, yes, entertaining—entertainingly urgent and intelligent.

Sydney Theatre Company, www.sydneytheatre.com.au

RealTime issue #75 Oct-Nov 2006 pg. 41

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

Hidden

Hidden

The extended run and conversation-generating impact of Michael Haneke’s film Hidden in Australia problematises the idea that audiences these days are only interested in ‘dumbed-down’ fare or middlebrow period dramas. Viewers responded deeply to this dark, challenging cinematic vision of contemporary Western life. Meanwhile, beyond our borders the film is quickly on its way to an unusually swift canonisation, though barely a year old. It may not enter the Sight & Sound Top Ten list in second place, as did L’avventura (Michelangelo Antonioni, 1960) only 2 years after release. Yet while not as formally revolutionary, Hidden shares with Antonioni’s film the uncanny ability to resonate with a particular yet also broadly relevant social, political and psychological reality. Mark Lawson’s big claim in The Guardian that this is the first masterpiece of the 21st century shows the extent of the film’s critical reception, especially in Europe and the UK. Though cautious about such a backlash-inviting call (which may also betray a ‘Eurocentric’ taste vis-à-vis recent world cinema), for me Hidden deserves its rapidly growing reputation. I’ll try and articulate why.

Inside: The ‘Post’-Colonial Story

The thematic obsessions of Haneke’s previous films—violence, guilt, complicity, the hypocrisies of postcolonial societies, voyeurism and a quasi-apocalyptic vision of Europe—return in Hidden. However, historical context is more precise this time, relating to a very particular, though relatively unknown, atrocity committed at, and by, the very heart of civilised Europe: the long-suppressed events of October 17, 1961, when French Police murdered at least 200 unarmed Algerian protesters in central Paris.

This substantial story provides the background to the tale of Georges, who while only 6 at the time has since suppressed a very personal, related crime, the abject selfishness of which effectively ruined the life of an Algerian boy, Mahjid, after his parents died in the October ’61 protest. The film builds to a notable limit point in the interiorising (hence also repression) of colonialism’s subject/other relation. Rather than the ‘problem’ and its violence occurring largely across the sea during the colonial period itself (famously told in Pontecorvo’s The Battle of Algiers 1966), or unnervingly nestled in Paris’ poverty-stricken banlieu regions (as seen in Kassovitz’s La Haine 1995), Hidden forces us to see the relationship from completely inside the western subject clearly haunted by guilt-laden fear of revenge.

As if to properly mirror their suppression in France, the events of October 1961 are only briefly mentioned once in the film, during Georges’ reluctant, partial recounting of his role in Mahjid’s fate to his wife, Anne, in the process of belatedly explaining to her his suspicions as to who is harassing them with surveillance-style videos of their home. The scant treatment of the broad historical context, in favour of Georges’ ‘smaller’ but related story, means that viewers can consider the same essential narrative played out within their own part of the world (an Australian version of this tale could be mounted with very minor historical alterations).

Bright, Cultured Surface

Considering the film’s dark thematic focus, it is notable indeed that with important exceptions (the adult Mahjid’s airless apartment building corridor and Georges’ bedroom scenes), a bright, clean and airy visual palette predominates. And compared to Haneke’s earlier films (not to mention US cinema’s treatment of social crisis), we are shown almost no violence, making the millisecond’s worth we do witness deeply shocking. Rather, Hidden presents an anthropologically precise account of the fully civilised ‘surface’, forensically charting the mask beneath which unseen historical violence and ongoing injustice underpin an advanced social reality.

The bright tonality and decorum that renders the visible markers of dark, ‘hidden’ subject matter also works on this side of the screen, in a similarly deceptive way, to quietly generate a complicitous relation between the film’s largely middle class audience and the onscreen milieu. Though many critics deny it, Georges (a public TV literature talkshow host) and Anne (an intellectual-end publisher) are far from monstrous; working within the embattled—presumably ‘liberal’—intellectual sphere of Western culture (and its most romanticised form, literature), they’re likely to be respected or even envied by an arthouse film audience. Initially lured into empathy, we are soon also implicated in this onscreen couple’s ‘problem’ because of who they are—and perhaps as we sense it is also our own.

This cultural complicity only increases in discomfort as Georges cumulatively makes up a devastating portrait of the Western subject (again, but never has it been more timely) positioning itself as the victim of the feared—and repressed—ethnic/cultural ‘other’, irrespective of his possessing all the economic, political and social power. In the remarkable scene when Mahjid’s teenage son comes to see Georges at work (the young French-Algerian obviously an impostor in this culturally powerful domain of state-run media), during their exchange in the office bathroom Georges’ apparent fear of attack sees him on the verge of violent rage as the young man requests the chance to discuss his father’s suicide to which Georges was witness. The ‘winner’ of colonial relations gets very angry indeed when faced with the reality and personification of his personal history thereof, the seemingly benign and polite nature of its young representative notwithstanding.

Here and throughout the film, such anthropological concentration on Georges’ reactions and behaviour means that we cannot resort to a familiar reductive point scoring game between opposing sides (under the guise of ‘balance’, as in frequent ‘serious’ media treatments of military and political conflicts) wherein any ethical debate is short-circuited. Rather, we are trapped with the subject who likely most resembles the viewer, irrespective of one’s ethico-political opinions and allegiances, and left face-to-face with the myriad implications of this hermetic mirroring.

Slippery Images

Though Hidden at first looks more conventionally narrative-based than previous Haneke films, there is also a mirroring at the level of form. At first innocuous enough, the opening shot turns out to be a subtly reflexive image combined with an unnerving, voyeuristic kind of observational realism, as we watch still footage of a suburban Paris street in which nothing seems to be happening—before the image is rewound as a VCR playback. This straight-up initiation into a central, incrementally spiralling ambiguity will increasingly inform our reading of the whole film. The central recurring question is whether we’re watching a ‘transparent’ filmic image or rather a video tape from Georges and Anne’s unknown harasser (through the camera in its moment of filming, or as an un-framed image being watched).

Yet there is something curious about the surveillance-style videos: the camera that must have shot them doesn’t seem ‘hidden’ at all. Besides the obvious point that we’re much more likely to be filmed in the ‘post-September 11 world’, the apparent omniscient impunity of the unseen-yet-unhidden video camera compounds the deeper perceptual, ethnical and political questions the film has asked from the start. This deepening formal-thematic nexus gains further traction and impact from the fact that there is no narrative resolution to who has been sending the tapes. (Some critics briefly ponder that, irrespective of the film’s apparent realism, the tapes business could in fact be ‘metaphysical,’ in a Kafkaesque sense). We are faced here with an explicitly mediatised virtual ‘return’ of repressed feelings and guilt—as manifest in the inherently prosaic yet also digitally hyperreal, and hence very disturbing, video images. In this way, the lines between Georges’ dream/flashback sequences (the most clearly demarcated ‘interior’ parts of the film), the ‘realist’ scenes and the videos becomes completely flattened; in terms of both filmic language and conceptual suggestion, this is a troubling epistemological breakdown indeed.

The implications of all these highly ambiguous long-take, fixed position images, culminate—as did most of the post-screening discussions—in a final image way beyond the ‘ambiguous ending’ that amounts to a very limited choice of possible narrative outcomes. Even before the question of interpretation, here are two distinct images in one, depending on the viewer’s perceptual response. Though on the lookout, upon my first experience of the film I was one of what Haneke estimates is 50% of viewers who fail to see the 2 boys enter the frame and have an unheard conversation. (The ending still ‘works’ big-time, and my essentially non-narrative experience of the shot generated thematic shards such as: the contemporary religious clothing in French schools controversy; state education’s role vis-à-vis the nation’s ongoing ‘post’-colonial politics; Western paranoia about public space and our children as innocent, vulnerable targets for terrorism; and of course, the ubiquitous lingering question as to whether we are watching another ‘video’, in production or consumption.)

But whether one sees the boys or not, this ending is genuinely open in regards to a critically—non-doctrinaire—political and philosophical vision of the precise historical moment in and from which the film emerges. Does this final image suggest a continuation of a terrible colonial heritage subject-other relation that (though with a different history and specifics of power) might be seen as the French/Algerian version of the German/Jewish bond sometimes called ‘negative symbiosis’? Or, keeping in mind not only the boys’ part-appearance at the end but also the mysterious observer and elliptical inquirer roles they play throughout Hidden, do these new generation figures instead suggest a forging of some kind of solidarity made possible by historical acknowledgement opening up the possibility of a new, reconciliatory future?

Productive pessimism

In addition to the film’s aesthetic layering, I believe the key to this spectatorial and generative openness (I’ve listed only the most discussed possibilities) is Haneke’s rigorous pessimism. Like many of Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s films, Hidden is powered by a seemingly hopeless or even nihilistic sensibility with which to chart social reality. It’s the necessary ‘cold shower’ antidote to the disempowering tendency of much cinema to suggest solutions that in real life would seem simplistic or childish fantasies. Instead, a seemingly bleak world view actually grants the audience the ultimate respect and space so that, separately and together, we might take responsibility for processing the ethical conundrums played out on screen—because in many ways they are our own, or our culture’s—and only thereby, albeit provisionally, ‘completing’ the film and creatively re-entering the world. Without the kind of negative space Haneke provides, literally and philosophically, we have no such room, opportunity or potential empowerment.

The cumulative affective and conceptual impact of Hidden is brought home in its last 3 shots: the finest image of ‘cocooning’ I’ve seen in the cinema, when the self-styled victim draws heavy bedroom curtains after taking an afternoon sleeping pill, disrobes and slips beneath the duvet; then, his flashback/memory/dream/imagined image of the young Mahjid being forcibly carted off, as a result of Georges’ jealousy, to an orphanage; and finally, the quietly eerie and very open double-image of a public school in the afternoon. For me, this sequence seals a cinematic experience that resonates so close to perceptual and conceptual home that it is impossible to escape. No wonder so many people are talking about a film the swift canonisation of which is testimony to the uncanny timeliness of its confronting thematic concerns and inextricably linked, insidious and deceptive aesthetics.

Hidden, writer-director Michael Haneke, actors Daniel Auteuil, Juliette Binoche, cinematographer Christian Berger, editors Michael Hudecek, Nadine Muse; 2005; Madman DVD, release date Oct 11

RealTime issue #75 Oct-Nov 2006 pg. 18

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

<img src="http://www.realtime.org.au/wp-content/uploads/art/1/188_kg_lyandavert2.jpg" alt="Gibson Nolte, Ben Winspear
Now that Communism is Dead My Life Feels Empty!, “>

Gibson Nolte, Ben Winspear
Now that Communism is Dead My Life Feels Empty!,

Gibson Nolte, Ben Winspear
Now that Communism is Dead My Life Feels Empty!,

Honour Bound

Thanks to a bold piece of commissioning by the Sydney Opera House (for its Adventures in the Dark program) and Melbourne’s Malthouse, director Nigel Jamieson has been able to realise a powerfully immersive account of the agonies of unlawful incarceration and its impact on others. Honour Bound is structured not around a narrative—we all know the appalling story—but a series of propositions for and against human rights, onscreen interviews with David Hicks’ family, and a grim dance of internment and torture. Garry Stewart’s choreography wisely eschews dancerliness: nothing detracts from the intensity of physical feeling and compulsory abjection which becomes the totality of the tortured body. The immersiveness is realised in a number of highly effective ways; the helicopter lights that swing out over the audience; the frightening wrap-around sound (at other times delicately Middle-Eastern); the set which is both prison and screen—the real becomes virtual; massive shifts in scale; a nightmarish prison within a prison; and in the merging of text and action as Brendan Shelper tumbles in a vertigo inducing outer space where the charter of human rights, not stars, rolls out and from which he is ever and unjustly deflected. Our point of view, visually and aurally is constantly repositioned, the performers are prisoners one moment, guards the next, the text tumbles us from war-maker rhetoric to the story of a life, to parental anxiety, to the horrendous details of psychological torture. The performers’ bodies grow increasingly discombobulated, as if they’ve lost their centre of gravity until they are weighed down, the anger that once flung them against prison wire drained away. Honour Bound is no apologia for David Hicks’ actions but a viscerally intelligent argument for justice. Post-show on the evening I saw the show, Major Michael Mori addressed a full house, eloquently turning questions about US injustice back onto Australians for their government’s complicity in accepting treatment of one of its citizens that the USA would never allow for its own.

A return season of Version 1.0’s The Wages of Spin, prior to its Mobile States tour, was a welcome and timely complement to Honour Bound. In an improved version with a more potent and inexorable logic, Spin maintains its television studio hothouse of political rhetoric and media nonsense but with a stronger and more central focus on government and, by implication, media and public refusal to take responsibility for the deaths of a massive number of Iraqi civilians in a war that was supposed to liberate them.

 

Now That Communism is Dead My Life Feels Empty!

Post Berlin Wall, the old Marxian dialectic spirals out of control as a post-Godot duo (rock muso and some kind of intellectual) seek solidity where once upon a time Western values had been sustained by political opposition and xenophobic hatred. With his third Foreman work in recent years, director-composer (and presumably designer) Max Lyandvert continues his mission to bring the master of American installation theatre to needy Australian theatregoers. Although lacking the design verve of his hero (ie the requisite budget), Lyandvert and his performers do the old man proud in this tautly crafted and superbly acted (and skilfully designed) production. As ever, Foreman’s wit and wisdom are densely and gnomically articulated and it’s therefore wise to let some of it wash over you, pick up on the recurrent riffs and chew the whole thing over later. The female role is thankless—a generous interpretation would suggest an evocation of the plight of the women of the old Soviet Block transformed into the sex toys of the West. Big ideals and their contingent propaganda crash while sex and bodily functions are writ grossly large in this new world where there are still voices in our heads, but instead of spouting spurious ideals, they intone “All dogs are dead” and “There will be no paradise on Earth, my friend.” No wonder one of the characters insists, “I don’t wan’t to know the end of the story.”

 

Mixed Double: Rosie Denis, Martin del Amo

In Access All Areas, Rosie Denis continues to develop an engrossingly unique body-as-text performance language, signalling to us furiously with hyperventilatory, cadenced stuttering and obsessive gesturing, relieved from time to time by the long hiss of inhaled air. At times she’s like a human Max Headroom and as funny (the photocopier and phone riffs), at other times she’s deeply affecting, folding deeply into herself or powerlessly looped—a kind of aetheticised Tourette’s Sydnrome. And all this about everyday losses and anxieties. On the same bill is Can’t Hardly Breathe, the third part of Martin del Amo’s trilogy (the other 2 are Unsealed [2004] and Under Attack [2005]) gravitating around the loss of a friend’s life and the doubts about one’s own, as self, as artist. As before, moments of physical intensity—urgent moves, near falls, sudden reachings—emerge, even erupt, from del Amo’s subtle presence, his gently told part-narratives and the walked mapping of the performance space. In this work it’s the dancer’s relationship with the ocean (to which he lost his friend) that dominates, a fascination with water, its power to extinguish the fire he greatly fears, yielding movement that suggests the body beautifully engaging with and shaped by the sea. Gail Priest’s accompany score builds in oceanic intensity and detail as the sea sends waves through and tosses the dancer’s body, confirming the disturbing play of voluntary and involuntary movement in all 3 works. While not as structurally satisfying as its predecessors, Can’t Hardly Breathe is nonetheless memorable. The desire to see all 3 works on the same program is unlikely to be met given the demands on the performer of just one of them—a pity, so let’s hope they’ve been seriously documented.

 

The Hanging of Jean Lee

This is chilling and exhilarating music theatre from the composer-director of Dreaming Transportation. That show was a rich and lively account of women early in the 19th century meeting the challenges of landscape and class. This one is about Jean Lee, in 1951 the last woman in Australia hanged and possibly wrongly charged for murder. Constructed as a song cycle rather than overtly through-composed music theatre, The Hanging of Jean Lee comprises wonderful songs in a distinctive Greenwell semi-pop/rock idiom that for the most part stay away from 50s period feel (that’s left to projections and costuming). Although beset with cast illness and the composer-creator’s absence (in hospital awaiting the birth of son Gabriel Joseph), director Tim Maddocks, designer Dan Potra (a huge sweep of canvas covered stairs and screen impressively evokes the courthouse steps we see Lee climbing in the well known press photo), last-minute musical director Tom O’Halloran and a fine cast of singers (Max Sharam, Jeff Duff, Josh Quong Tart, Hugo Race) with no shortage of acting skill all contributed to the production’s dramatic cohesion and intensity. Filmmaker Janet Merewether collaborated with Greenwell to create the images taken from Lee’s life and across the period, morphing and gliding across the large screen. Black and white film reconstruction of the events leading up to the killing and the subsequent image of the victim’s body provide another disturbing dimension. Lee’s life was a mess. An apparently intelligent child, she “reside[d] a lot in her head”, wrote a teacher, and later made fatal choices of male partners. Lee fascinatingly combines the roles of agent and victim. Greewell and Sharam don’t sentimentalise a tough and irresponsible life. The songs similarly range from hard edged to poignant, and Jordie Albiston’s spare imagistic poems make for fine song lyrics in Abe Pogos’ scripting. The Hanging of Jean Lee is powerful music theatre. With a little tweaking, addressing the silences between songs and making some concession to the musical model (please, let’s hear more of those tunes and motifs), The Hanging of Jean Lee deserves to be widely seen, not least for the calibre of its performers and for its multimedia realisation but especially for its powerful challenge to capital punishment at the very moment when some Australians and their government entertain it once again—if not in their own country, but happily elsewhere!

 

Box and Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung

Although atypical of Edward Albee’s output, Box… is a fascinating if demanding theatrical experiment from 1968. Like Richard Foreman, who’s made an art of the form, Box… is theatre as installation. Ropes thread through and frame a space in which hangs a large box, our perspective on it shifted by subtle changes in lighting. We hear heavy breathing, we hear a voice, seagulls, bells, words that are hard to place but which accumulate meaning through repetition: “When art begins to hurt it’s time to look around”, “All arts are now craft”, “Progress is merely a direction.” While the voice remains disembodied and constantly provocative about art, its limits and life, 4 characters occupy the stage, looking like they’re on holiday—Chairman Mao, a charming but increasingly ruthless ideologue; a middle-aged woman grappling with the death of her husband and her own psychological and physical precariousness; a folksy woman reciting a folksy poem of female victimhood; and a silent man, who appears to simply listen. The sense of fall and demise grows, for the woman, for paper tigers, for all capitalism (Mao: “If you don’t hit it, it won’t fall”). There are tendernesses and reservations—the woman says of her husband who, once he thought about death at the age of 39, became consumed by it: “His scrotum was large…his penis not surpising, but always there and ample”, “There is only life and dying … I was dying long before he did … what about me?” Director Kevin Jackson elicits superb performances from Elaine Hudson, with her measured and highly nuanced mezzo delivery, and Jane Harders who delivers the voice of the box from offstage with an eerie lyricism. More a curio than a great play, Box is nonetheless interesting as evidence of Albee’s engagement with 1968, even if nowadays one can imagine a better play with just the central woman and the voice of the box.

Honour Bound, conception, direction, design Nigel Jamieson, choreography Garry Stewart, performers DJ Garner, Alexandra Harrison, David Mueller, Marnie Palomare, Brendan Shelper, Paul White, composer, sound designer Paul Charlier, lighting Damien Cooper, video artist Scott Otto Anderson; Playhouse, Sydney Opera House, July 28-Sept 3; Version 1.0,The Wages of Spin, Performance Space, Sydney, Aug 9-19

Richard Foreman, Now That Communism Is Dead My Life Feels Empty!,director-composer Max Lyandvert, performers Ben Winspear, Gibson Nolte, Rebecca Smee, lighting Luiz Pamolha, A Kitchen Sink Production, Belvoir B Sharp, Seymour Centre Downstairs, Sydney, July 13-30

Mixed Double, Rosie Dennis, Access All Areas, Martin del Amo, Can’t Hardly Breathe, sound designer Gail Priest, lighting Clytie Smith; Performance Space, Sydney, July 20-22

The Hanging of Jean Lee, composer, artistic director, image director Andree Greenwell, director Timothy Maddock, script Jordie Albiston, Abe Pogos, designer Dan Potra, lighting Tony Youlden, musical director Tom O’Halloran, producer Anna Messariti; The Studio, Sydney Opera House, Aug 2-6

Edward Albee, Box and Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung, director Kevin Jackson, performers Elaine Hudson, Jane Harders, John Grinston, Rick Lau, Genevieve Mooy, set Hamish Peter, lighting Luiz Pampohla, sound Peter Neville, Cumulus Productions; Parade Studio, NIDA, Sydney, Aug 10-Sept 9

RealTime issue #75 Oct-Nov 2006 pg. 42

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

Andy Gregory, Astronaut, <br />National Space Centre, Leicester UK”></p>
<p class=Andy Gregory, Astronaut,
National Space Centre, Leicester UK

In July more than 300 members of the International Planetarium Society assembled in Melbourne for their 18th biennial conference, the first to be held in the Southern Hemisphere, to see the latest dome productions, listen to a wide range of papers and presentations by full-dome experts, compare alternative projection systems and put an interactive simulation of the known universe through its paces.

The crackling sound of electricity fills the void of the planetarium theatre as countless sparks of reddish light ignite, arcing and discharging across the dome. Now the whole screen lights up as the all-enveloping soundtrack grows louder and more frenetic. Electro-magnetic energy races like lightning along branching pathways forming the vast network of neurons with which we calculate each action and interpret every event. What first appeared to be a dynamic, circular, abstract work of art is actually a 3-dimensional representation of the human brain. The percussive, electronic soundtrack intensifies as we swim through the blood stream and enter the beating heart. Suddenly, everything stops. A moment later we skip dimensions and emerge outside the body of an astronaut far out in space looking down at the distant Earth.

Astronaut, the latest full-dome show from the National Space Centre in Leicester in the UK, received its world premiere in the Melbourne Planetarium as one of the highlights of IPS 2006. In less than 25 minutes, Astronaut takes you through the gruelling training program that astronauts endure and explains some of the dangers they face while conducting research on the international space station. Without a word of narration or any sign of text, the 4-minute prologue pins you to the seat, not so much because of the subject matter, story or the quality of the computer graphics, but rather the expansive continuity of the hemispherical screen, the strange fisheye perspective and the tactile sound environment all combining to transcend any conventional multiplex experience. Written and produced by Andy Gregory, Astronaut demonstrates how far the full-dome video medium has evolved in its first 10 years of technical and artistic development. The score is a series of short tracks by Pip Greasley, one of the UK’s most intriguing sonic artists. Combined with Will Penney’s highly original soundscape, just to hear Astronaut is well worth the price of admission.

In the second half of the show, Ewan MacGregor’s likable, deadpan narration becomes the foil for an hilarious animated sequence involving an evil scientist and a bunch of hapless astronauts all called Chad. Each replica of the rather blokey Chad is disposed of—to a catchy salsa beat—in a series of catastrophic experiments that serve to underline the potentially fatal nature of space exploration. Drawing inspiration from England’s theatrical and stop-motion animation traditions, Gregory and his team of designers and programmers at the NSC have taken full-dome storytelling to new heights by using cinema-in-the-round as a form of total entertainment based on solid, scientific facts.

The International Planetarium Society is the largest professional body of full-dome users in the world. IPS conferences are held every 2 years in different host cities, a movable feast of scientific visualisation technologies all focused on the dome. Digital video made its first tentative entry into the planetarium arena in Osaka at IPS 1996 when Japanese star projector manufacturers Goto demonstrated their advanced Virtuarium video projection system. At IPS 1998 in London, Sky-Skan unveiled the first full-dome video playback system heralding a new era of digital planetarium production.

Today, there are more than 200 full-dome theatres and hundreds of portable inflatable domes dotted all over the globe. Statistically, Australia has more dome theatres per capita than any other country. Creatively, it is making a contribution to full-dome’s on-going development in a number of significant ways. Brisbane was the first Australian city to acquire an immersive video system for its charming, medium-sized planetarium in March 2004. Soon after, the Scitech Discovery Centre’s Horizon Planetarium in Perth opened, equipped to produce immersive video in-house for their 6-projector video system. The Melbourne Planetarium has also successfully entered the full-dome market, producing several projects in fairly quick succession. Conveniently, all 3 Australian full-dome planetariums are equipped with similar Sky-Skan projection systems. Australian large-format film director John Weiley premiered Heart of the Sun, his latest full-dome at IPS 2006. An intimate, 20-minute portrait of the sun mostly shot on IMAX stock, it will screen for many years to come in major and minor planetariums around the globe.

Some of the leading projector manufacturers and practitioners of immersive cinema were at the conference. Ryan Wyatt, Science Visualiser at the Rose Centre for Earth and Space, headed a small team of representatives from the American Museum of Natural History. As well as chairing an entry-level, 2-part seminar called “Full-Dome 101”, he was also present as the principle producer of a stunning range of full-dome AMNH productions—Passport to the Universe, SonicVision, The Search for Life and Cosmic Collisions. Wyatt was the recipient of the Experimentation Domie award for his short hand-drawn full-dome work, Dome Sketch, at last year’s Domefest.

Domefest is the brainchild of David Beining, director of the Loadstar Astronomy Centre at the University of New Mexico, who was also at the conference. The festival attracts a wide range of entries in all full-dome genres, from interactive games and abstract animation to mind-boggling scientific visualisations and realtime simulations of complex data. The international jury’s selections in each category are showcased at Siggraph and licensed to dome theatres worldwide by Sky-Skan. Through global co-operation and the common desire to see the full-dome format reach its potential, the international planetarian community is at the forefront of immersive projection technology and a totally different way of engaging with the moving image.

www.spacecentre.co.uk/astronaut/fulldome/low.htm
www.helio.com.au/heartofthesun/
www.lochness.com/fulldome/fulldome_resources.html
www.chabotspace.org/domefest/finals.htm
http://fulldome.org/index.php?option=com_simpleboard&Itemid=28
www.ips2006.com

International Planetarium Society, 18th Biennial Conference, Carlton Crest Hotel, Melbourne, July 23-27

RealTime issue #75 Oct-Nov 2006 pg. 19

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

Vanessa Pigrum

Vanessa Pigrum

Vanessa Pigrum

For those unfamiliar with Melbourne, the city’s premier arts venue, the Victorian Arts Centre, is crowned by an Eiffel Tower-like spire that thrusts proudly skywards. The effect is just a little bit pompous, a little bit self-conscious. With that image in mind, now picture a woman, enormous crowbar in hand, slipping the pointy end under the building and pulling down hard so that spire, once perpendicular, is now slightly off kilter. Will it fall, or does it simply signify that there is movement in the belly of the building and audiences are being offered the chance to see something unexpected?

The crowbar is the VAC’s 8-month-old program, Full Tilt, and the woman is Vanessa Pigrum, the program’s artistic director. While the Arts Centre tower isn’t literally askew, Pigrum is determined that the VAC’s audience will soon be looking at the building and what it offers from a slightly different perspective.

For the last few years, Pigrum says, there had been a growing feeling within the Arts Centre that the institution was disengaged from Melbourne’s independent arts community. Furthermore, the feeling was reciprocated. As an independent artist herself, Pigrum says her colleagues felt the VAC was “not even on the radar.” For some time, the Artist’s Advocacy Group associated with the VAC had been lobbying for a program that would offer opportunities for independent artists. As flagship performance venues in other capital cities began to establish programs to encourage and support the development of new works, moves began to set up a similar program attached to the VAC.

When Pigrum was first appointed as Artistic Director, it was to the soberly named Victorian Artists’ Program. Only ever intended to be a working title, the VAP gave way to the more dynamic moniker Full Tilt. For Pigrum, the program is not about radically changing the VAC, but simply shifting the balance a little. She does, however, acknowledge the phrase “full tilt” brings to mind “a sense of energy, speed and slightly out of control, barely keeping on the right side of the road…” And it is the new works and the independent artists that the program is partnering that she hopes will embody this sense of excitement and possibility.

Full Tilt has 3 tiers: creative developments, public performance seasons, symposia and master classes. The program was launched in April this year with seasons of Moira Finucane’s Gotharama and Angus Cerini’s Saving Henry (version 5) at the Fairfax Studio; both works with a definite edginess. Full Tilt is now well into its series of 13 creative development projects, which culminate in public showings of the works-in-progress. As yet, no master classes or symposia have been announced, but the first of these are planned for early next year.

Pigrum has brought to Full Tilt a commitment to works that feature collaboration across disciplines: “When I took on the job”, she says, “I was very clear that my interest lies not in text-based theatre. Although I love text, I think that the well made play is very well serviced around town.” Cross-disciplinary work is, she believes, “the language of contemporary theatre makers.”

To assist artists applying for a place in the program, Pigrum published her ‘manifesto’ on the Full Tilt website, describing the sort of work she was looking for. Phrases that jump out include: “fleshy, sweaty, audible and unpredictable”, “unknown territory”, and with a nod to the fear-driven and anxious times we live in, “alerts and alarms.”

Most of all, Pigrum says, she’s looking for work that has a “sense of danger or walking on a knife edge.” She cites Angus Cerini’s Saving Henry (version 5), a physical theatre work with themes of paedophilia and child abuse as an example. Less confronting, but still with an ‘unquiet’ aspect, Politely Savage by Sydney’s My Darling Patricia (RT 67, p32) and performed at the Fairfax Studio in late September, has “lightness” and “whimsy” as well as a “mysterious” element. Pigrum hopes the program will be a space where performers can test, explore and walk the tightrope of their creative possibilities.
<img src="http://www.realtime.org.au/wp-content/uploads/art/1/190_cuskellu_kage.jpg" alt="Byron Perry and Michelle Heaven
Kage Physical Theatre, Appetite”>

Byron Perry and Michelle Heaven
Kage Physical Theatre, Appetite

Byron Perry and Michelle Heaven
Kage Physical Theatre, Appetite

Kage Physical Theatre has recently completed a 2-week Full Tilt creative development for their new work, Appetite, where they teamed up with playwright Ross Mueller. Pigrum sees this as an exciting development for the company, allowing them to “go in a much more focused way into the use of text and character-based writing.” For Kate Denborough, one half of the Kage partnership, the creative developments are a welcome initiative, “It’s incredibly challenging trying to secure financial support specifically for creative development…which allows and encourages the development of new performance work.” The only pressure, she says, was having to present the results of their 2-week development, but this too ended up being a plus as it allowed them to “test out material in front of an audience and we also received insightful feedback.”

Pigrum feels her career prior to taking on the role as Full Tilt’s Artistic Director prepared her well. She was the director of Melbourne Fringe from 2001 to 2003 and has produced large scale community arts events, lectured animateuring students at the VCA and practised as an independent theatre maker. Crucially, her work as a dramaturg has given her the experience and confidence to be able to “put challenging questions to artists about where the work needs to go without stepping on their toes…but just to provoke and probe and suggest other avenues of support.” All this experience she believes puts her in a good position to understand “where the independent scene has been and where it needs to go, where it could go.”

Full Tilt has a $300,000 budget this year and is funded through the VAC’s consolidated revenue. This includes Pigrum’s salary, as well as wages for the artists involved in the various tiers of the program, venues, production support and some marketing. The intention is that the program will grow so that, in time, there will be a team of people working to partner independent artists in developing new work. This is exciting for Pigrum and sometimes, just a little bit daunting. She recalls feeling nervous about the amount of anticipation that the program was eliciting and hoped she could deliver on expectations.

Now, with Full Tilt already having a ripple effect throughout the VAC, and beginning to develop its own momentum, Pigrum can relax a little. The exhibitions department is exploring possible collaborations with Full Tilt artists and the Sunday Soapbox program is recruiting artists from the program to appear on their regular panels. This web effect of the program is particularly pleasing for Pigrum as it offers artists further access to support and potential audiences.

As to how she will judge the success of the program, Pigrum is very clear. In 3 years she would like to see a cluster of new works touring Australia and to be able to say, “That work started with a creative development at Full Tilt and now it’s up, it’s been presented, it’s been re-worked, it’s touring Australia.” The touring aspect, she believes, is crucial to give works a life beyond their initial production and she hopes this will be a feature of works that the program has partnered.

Full Tilt Program for Independent Artists, The Arts Centre, Melbourne, www.theartscentre.net.au

RealTime issue #75 Oct-Nov 2006 pg. 43

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

Sniffer

Sniffer

Although MIFF’s short film agenda was certainly exhaustive, my ‘best on ground’ was the Focus on Nordic Shorts selection, uniformly excellent and sharing the blackest humour, absolute self-deprecation and a savage willingness to torch convention. Sniffer (director Bobbie Peers, Norway, 2005, 12 mins) imagined what conformity, consumerism and desire would be like in a futuristic world with no gravity, minimal dialogue and a cast of overweight men—a metaphoric wonderland with layers of meaning unpeeling like subcutaneous tissue. Bawke (Hisham Zamam, Norway, 2005, 15 mins) used a Zinedine Zidane football card and a cluey kid to pack an emotional sucker punch about illegal immigrants, while The Last Farm (Runar Runarsson, Iceland, 2004, 15 mins) was a bitter, compelling psychodrama that neatly inverted George Sluizer’s The Vanishing.

The searing Roswell Enterprises (Janic F Heen, Norway, 2005, 10 mins) gave us 2 corporate wannabes playing one-upmanship in a high-tech men’s room before a job interview, only to find their cock sparring is being monitored and assessed. Me As Usual (Martin Zandvliet, Denmark, 2006, 8 mins) featured a self-obsessed guy in a dinner suit walking across a frozen field, talking to himself. A wide shot reveals he’s actually prattling on to another bloke wearing a costume moose head, while a nerdy cop with low self-esteem watches. Film ends. Take this as a commentary on the impossibility of wrapping up narratives in 8 minutes. I did.

Kids featured in the Focus on French selection, typified by the magic-realist For Interieur (Patrick Poubel, 2005, 10 mins) where a boy discovers his grandfather literally holds the world in his hands. Hard Lines (Benoit Tételin, 2005, 17 mins) laid bare a woman’s emotional past. Shot in black and white (and blue), it interspersed the woman’s work as a counsellor for abused children with angry confrontations with her mother. A Curtain Raiser (François Ozon, 2006, 30 mins) skewered Gallic relationships with sharp wit, nuanced acting and lush cinematography. “How un-French”, a character bemoans, “to complain about a woman being late. What sort of woman isn’t late, some kind of sexless monster…”

MIFF’s Accelerator program showcased emerging Australian and New Zealand talent. The films ranged from the brave—the semi-improvised The Dance (Sian Davies, Australia, 2005, 10 mins), about teen depression—to the tasteless—Nature’s Way (Jane Shearer, New Zealand, 2006, 10 mins), in which a young girl is graphically kidnapped and murdered in the forest, all so we can witness a pointless supernatural template framed by car-ad cinematography. The Last Chip (Heng Tang, Australia, 2005, 22 mins), funny and wise, featured a trio of overmade-up Vietnamese harridans determined to score big at the casino to fund ‘more abalone and birds’ nest soup’. Checkpoint (Ben Phelps, Australia, 2006, 11 mins) inventively connected the ‘War on Terror’ and ingrained Australian racism via the power of suggestion.
William

William

Of the Focus on Australian Shorts program, William (Eron Sheehan, 2006, 20 mins) was the pick, portraying an Indigenous magician and his strange magnetism for violence of all stripes—as institutionalised thuggery, as survival tactic, as mindless indulgence. The documentary My Brother Vinnie (Steven McGregor, Australia, 2006, 20 mins) recounts the experience of the actor Aaron Pedersen virtually raising his brother Vincent, who has mild cerebral palsy. The film’s simple power derives from Vinnie’s gentle charm and Aaron’s desire to finally let off steam and tell the story of their struggle to survive in foster homes. My Brother Vinnie won the festival’s Best Documentary Short Film award.

The animated films From Gold to Grapes (Al MacInnes, 2006, 6 mins) and Yallourn Story (Dave Jones, 2006, 6 mins) were also highlights. Both tell stories of forgotten Australian communities using the same technique—bringing local adults to life via local kids’ drawings, allied to voiceovers from the grownups themselves. This unpretentious device, bridging generations and essaying history as worthy of preservation in an age of the eternal present, put the rotoscoping bollocks of MIFF’s “hotly anticipated animated work”, A Scanner Darkly, to shame.

In fact, most of the Animated Shorts films kicked Scanner’s arse, especially Rabbit (Run Wrake, UK, 2005, 5 mins), a surreal headfuck told via cutouts of primary school readers—as if Dick, Jane and Spot had been sucked into the freaky fantasies of devil children. The Wraith of Cobble Hill (Adrian Parrish, USA, 2006, 16 mins), a subtle claymation about conflicted youth, was shot in grainy black and white. Other notables included the watercoloured cannibalism fable, The True Story of Sawney Beane (Elizabeth Hobbs, UK, 2005, 11 mins) and the computer-generated Astronauts (Matthew Walker, UK, 2005, 9 mins)—like an English Dark Star. Funny Pets (Ryuji Masuda, Japan, 2005, 6 mins) delivered a tripped-out parallel universe made from queasy CGI, where a Betty Boop-like bimbo keeps 2 dumb alien pets that bend space and time completely by accident. MIFF awarded it Best Animated Short Film. Daydream (Yoo Jinee, South Korea, 2005, 13 mins) was simply beautiful, using fantasy to tell of the director’s love for his disabled daughter.

The Documentary Shorts were just as compelling. Sleep City (Enrique Rodrigues & Moncho Fernandez, Spain, 2005, 10 mins), a Ballardian meditation on urban psychopathology, artfully cropped its frames to exclude all humans—a train without passengers, a fairground starting up by itself, ghostly escalators looping for eternity—the technological landscape, a kind of AI, becomes the star attraction. Last Men Standing (Sasha Maja Djurkovic, UK, 2005, 17 mins) tells of the Tower Colliery coal mine in Wales, bought by miners with their severance pay. As the miners proudly speak of their dignity and their pride in the mine, we cut to smacked-out, teenage glue sniffers, unlikely (by their own admission) to live another few years. Will the mines save the kids from the glue? Or are these kids choosing glue over going down the mines? It doesn’t seem much of a choice and the power of this film is assured in the final shot, as a block of flats is detonated and the white smoke bleaches the screen to nothing.

The sheer range of the documentary shorts proved the creaky adage that truth is a billion times stranger, messier and more jarring than fiction, especially when too many of the Fiction Shorts relied on bog-standard melodrama, with characters learning inevitable emotional truths in inevitably empty landscapes. Still, A Supermarket Love Song (Daniel Outram, UK, 2005, 13 mins) sympathetically portrayed a horny old man’s lust for a bored, reprobate girl; Antonio’s Breakfast (Daniel Mulloy, UK, 2005, 16 mins), about a streetwise kid looking after his crippled father, was tough, edgy and full of steel-grey urban vibes (and was awarded a special prize by the MIFF judges); while Cotopaxi (Zack Copping, UK, 2005, 13 mins) was an acerbic, hilarious mockumentary about a guy who tries to rescue his sister from a hippy commune, only to succumb himself.

Unfortunately, Experimental Shorts was a real snorefest. Being a Chris Marker fan, I had hopes for the La Jetée homage, Beta Test (George Drivas, Germany, 2006, 14 mins), but it failed with its sterile fidelity to Marker’s original, including Identikit off-screen whispering. Too bad Marker’s intelligence wasn’t Xeroxed as well. However, I woke up when Brothers, Let Us Be Merry (Ulrich Seidl, Austria, 2006, 1 min) came on—hard not to when 2 naked, bored-looking men fill the screen, vigorously wanking to the thundering strains of Mozart’s Zaide.

Go to www.melbournefilmfestival. com.au/2006_festival/shorts for details of other award winners.

Melbourne International Film Festival, July 26-Aug 13

RealTime issue #75 Oct-Nov 2006 pg. 20

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

Wyatt Nixon-Lloyd, Talei Howell-Price, Woyzeck

Wyatt Nixon-Lloyd, Talei Howell-Price, Woyzeck

Wyatt Nixon-Lloyd, Talei Howell-Price, Woyzeck

Woyzeck

There is a moment in director Matthew Lutton’s production of Woyzeck where the title character kills his lover, and the fish-eye style, water-filled aperture in the set behind which they are standing slowly fills with red ink. It’s a striking spectacle—simultaneously beautiful and brutal. This crisp, cool image in many ways sums up Lutton’s production. It represents a chilly, calculated and efficient aesthetic, yet it is somehow wanting in the full affective force which one might desire or expect from such a climactic moment.

Lutton’s previous work—a version of that other classic of German Expressionism and pseudo-Brechtian dramaturgy, Durrenmatt’s The Visit (RT67, p37)—was a vast, raggedy piece of theatre, a shaggy dog of messy ideas, conflicting emotions and theatrical motifs. While not always entirely coherent, The Visit was also striking in its novelty (the use of tiny set objects was particularly notable) and in its expansive vision. By contrast, Woyzeck is a far tighter work, with design elements reflecting a highly finished state and functional efficiency. But there is not much to surprise those of us who have seen this rich loam of European dramaturgy turned over before. In the wake of multiple revivals of Büchner’s incomplete script after he was rediscovered as Brecht’s precursor last century, as well as the superb 1979 version of the story from director Werner Herzog and actor Klaus Kinski, it is not clear what Lutton adds. As ever, his deployment of the set from Claude Marcos and his near constant use of a broadly electroacoustic score by Ash Gibson Greig is impressive. Several of the performers are also notable. Alison Van Reeken plays the Doctor who pays the poverty stricken Woyzeck so that she might satisfy her scientific curiosity as to what happens to a man who eats nothing but peas. Depicting Büchner’s archetype of heartless modernity as a gaunt woman gives an interesting nuance to the character. Nick Candy as Woyzeck’s competitor in love, the Drum Major, successfully manages to appear sexy demonstrating his ceremonial march, while a scene from Woyzeck’s increasingly strained romance is simultaneously played out. Although Brendan Ewing is becoming somewhat typecast as Perth’s young, crazed actor of choice, his twitchy Woyzeck, leading through his sharply inclined head and neck, is strong.

Nevertheless, for all of the beauty of Marcos’ somewhat Constructivist set and Lutton’s adept and dynamic application of a circular stage revolve, Woyzeck never quite becomes more than the sum of its well-oiled parts. For those audiences who have not accumulated the mnemonic filofax of German literary and cultural history which I have built up since seeing Fritz Lang’s M about 20 years ago, Lutton’s production offered an arresting introduction to Büchner’s story of a victim whose abuse both by and of others eventually turns him into something else (a cursed seer perhaps). It is perhaps time Matthew Lutton turned his attention from the classics of the European avant-garde to other, less well-worked material to which he might bring his acute sense of dramaturgy.

Tough Girls

Another fine production was the musical comedy Tough Girls, from director Maude Davey of Adelaide’s Vitalstatistix and Melbourne Workers’ Theatre regulars Irene Vela (composer) and Melissa Reeves (writer). The narrative of this Vitalstatistix and Deckchair co-production follows the twisted lives and mildly ridiculous scenarios of the Melbourne underworld, where a kind of brutal ockerism, inconsistent yet commonplace police corruption, and a garish sense of suburban style and ostentatiously expensive kitsch all acted to flavour a near war between cops and crims during the late 1980s. This famously led to the Walsh Street murders and to alleged police reprisals on those involved. The tough girls of the title include the former wife of one of these cop killers, Ella, now turned prosecution witness and holed up in a caravan under the supposed protection of unflappable officer, Irene. In a nearby caravan is the queen of the crims, Vivien, biding her time before moving to gun down her rivals, while the happily amoral junkie Luce flits between the 2 parties. Cath Cantlon’s set splits each caravan into a half shell at either end of the stage, enclosing the action (as one reviewer remarked) like a pair of inverted commas. As with Vela’s work for the MWT, the score is a deliberately bastardised, easy-on-the-ear mix of the odd Kurt Weill motif and classical references, dominated by folksy rock strummed out on guitar. Vela is ably abetted by Cathie Travers on accordion and piano.

Generic mixture is the reigning principle here but I for one did not find Tough Girls an altogether satisfying cocktail. Much in the characterisations is intended ironically, with Jacqy Phillips as Vivien shining. She staggers about the stage, bow-legged, like some kind of frightening offspring of John Wayne and the Kath Day-Night of Kath and Kim. Caroline McKenzie’s evenly measured opacity in the straight role, Irene, provides a strong centre against which to measure such excess. In both the libretto and the performances as a whole however there is a constant alternation between comically exaggerated faux opera versus actual ‘pathos’ conveyed via naturalistic performance and melodramatically sustained singing à la Australian Idol. Only Phillips consistently both acts and sings and with such a strongly mannered accent that her buzzing drawl would cut sawlogs. Overall, too much of Tough Girls is played for real within a musical context of relatively simple popular song, and too little with a sense of gross caricature and clashing musical diversity. For my tastes, the work of Davey and company comes a little too close to Andrew Lloyd Webber, and does not draw strongly enough on the richer heritage of musical theatre dealing with crime and murder such as Weil’s Threepenny Opera or Steven Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd. I suspect that if Tough Girls was performed with the velocity and force of the Marx Brothers at their most manic, then the production might gather its inconsistencies into an impressively dark romp. Brecht would doubtless approve.

Woyzeck, director Matthew Lutton, assistant director Michelle Lowden, performers Brendan Ewing, Sarah Borg, Bryn Coldrick, Alison Van Reeken, Nick Candy, Adriane Daff, Talei Howell-Price, Wyatt Nixon-Lloyd, Zoe Pepper, Sandra Umbagai-Clarke, composer Ash Gibson Greig, designer Claude Marcos, lighting Lucy Birkinshaw, Be Active BSX-Theatre; PICA, Perth July 11-29; Melissa Reeves, Tough Girls, director Maude Davey, performers Eileen Darley, Rhoda Lopez, Caroline McKenzie, Jacqy Phillips, composer Irine Vela, designer Cath Cantlon, lighting Sue Grey-Gardner, musician Cathie Travers; Vitalstatistix, Deckchair Theatre, Waterside Theatre; Adelaide, Aug 4-19; Victoria Hall, Fremantle, Aug 24-Sept 2

RealTime issue #75 Oct-Nov 2006 pg. 44

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

Laura Poitras, My Country, My Country

Laura Poitras, My Country, My Country

During his 6 years as Executive Director of the Melbourne International Film Festival, James Hewison made his mark on festival programming in a number of ways. Arguably his most significant achievement was the development of a discrete festival section focusing on films from the Middle East. Given the increasingly complex nature of politics in that region, Hewison’s prescience has ensured the Homelands section of the festival has assumed an increasingly topical and urgent emphasis. As in previous years, the 2006 program provided some of the most provocative films on offer in the festival.

Evenly divided between documentary and fiction, a more modestly scaled but rigorous selection of 10 films comprised this year’s program. Unsurprisingly, the American/Iraqi conflict provided both direct and oblique inspiration for filmmakers from the US and the Middle East.

In Prisoner 345, Lebanese director Abdallah El Binni provides a now chillingly familiar account of incarceration without charge at the Guantanamo Bay detention centre. El Binni makes a forceful argument for a probable case of mistaken identity in relation to Al Jazeera cameraman Sami al-Hajj and, in the course of his investigations, highlights the arguably unjust and unnecessarily punitive treatment of ‘terrorist suspects’. El Binni’s occasional ‘Mike Moore’ moments are mitigated by comprehensively compiled footage, alarming testimony from former Guantanamo detainees, and an effectively unsettling soundtrack.

James Longley’s Iraq in Fragments explores the post-Saddam era from the perspectives of the 3 dominant Iraqi political forces. Focusing on a handful of individuals to represent Sunni, Shiite and Kurdish interests, and combining minimal narration with striking imagery, this impressionistic work owes a considerable debt to Werner Herzog’s masterful take on the first Gulf War aftermath, Lessons of Darkness (1992). Despite the swag of awards the film has garnered, Iraq in Fragments is a spectacularly beautiful but ultimately incoherent document. Its failure to meaningfully illuminate the complexities of the Iraq situation is also exacerbated by the conspicuous and inexplicable absence of female perspectives.

In contrast, My Country, My Country, directed by compatriot US filmmaker Laura Poitras, provides a salutary lesson in rigorously structured, compelling documentary filmmaking. As with Longley, Poitras narrows her focus to an individual subject in order to illustrate the wider Iraqi socio-political context. The director follows Baghdad medico and aspiring Sunni politician Dr Riyadh as he administers free medical treatment, encourages his Sunni constituents to vote in the historic 2005 Iraq election and interacts with his large and exuberant family.

A quietly charismatic personality, Dr Riyadh experiences gradual disillusionment with his party and the electoral process, a feeling compounded by the relentless violence in Baghdad and the palpable suffering of fellow Iraqis. Canvassing the opinions of a range of other electoral players including US military personnel, UN staff, Kurdish militia, and private Australian contractors, Poitras paints a dispassionate but telling picture of the grim and conflicting realities of life after Saddam.

Tackling an earlier historical period while making explicit the 21st century parallels, Kurdish writer-director Hiner Saleem delivers an equally damning indictment of Iraq’s longstanding ethnic tensions. At times a disconcerting combination of drama and black comedy, Kilometre Zero follows the exploits of young Kurdish soldier Ako (Nazmi Kirik). Drafted into Saddam Hussein’s army during the 1988 Iran-Iraq conflict and ordered to repatriate a dead soldier to his family, Ako is forced to share the long journey with a defiantly anti-Kurd Arab driver.

The absurdities of a repatriation process impeded by relentless bureaucratic obfuscation provide some light relief, but Saleem’s incisive script is ultimately more interested in interrogating the nature of his country’s internal conflicts. The acerbic dialogue, no-frills shooting style, striking framing of the scorched Kurdish countryside and impressive performances made this film a rewarding, if sobering, experience.

A trio of films from Israeli filmmakers addressed the broad thematic of marginalisation. Tomer Heymann’s Paper Dolls details the exploits of 5 transexual Filipinos living in Tel Aviv. Part of the foreign guest worker influx following the 2000 closure of the Israeli-Palestinian border, the men are dedicated aged care workers by day and flamboyant, lip-synching cabaret performers by night. Isolated from both their Filipino families and the broader Israeli community, and entirely dependent on their employers for visa status, these people occupy an increasingly tenuous position. As with his 2002 documentary, It Kinda Scares Me, Heymann’s film is a rambling and occasionally self-indulgent affair, but is ultimately redeemed by the poignant plight and honesty of the 5 subjects profiled.

Filipino aged care workers also provide one of the central storylines in prominent Israeli director Eyal Halfon’s ironically titled, multi-strand narrative What A Wonderful Day. This complexly plotted, Altmanesque, multi-character drama foregrounds the economic and socio-cultural difficulties facing illegal immigrants working in Israel. Anchored by the figure of Franco (Uri Gavriel), a tough, gambling addicted ex-cop facilitating the illegal sex worker trade, the travails of the keenly observed ensemble of characters make clear the unsavoury living conditions, discriminatory attitudes and emotional vicissitudes of illegal work. Managing the tonal shifts from grim realism to occasional humour with aplomb, Halfon’s film was one of the most impressive of the Middle Eastern entries.

Where Halfon tackles the marginalisation of foreign workers in Israel, writer-director Yoav Shamir’s Five Days details the predicament of Israeli ‘foreigners’ of another kind. Documenting the 2005 forcible ‘disengagement’ of Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip, Shamir gets up close and personal to the key figures involved. Led by Noam Shapira, the settlers dig in for a long fight, elaborate military strategies unravel and ordinary Israeli citizens mobilize in support of the settlers. With virtually unlimited access to the man overseeing the disengagement, the genial and charismatic Major General Dan Harel, this fascinating documentary lays bare the ongoing tensions in Israeli society while revealing an unexpected side of armed forces operations.

Perhaps the most moving and inadvertently poignant film in the Homelands program was the French-Lebanese co-production A Perfect Day. Co-directed by Joana Hadjithomas and Khalil Joreige (the team also responsible for The Pink House and Amad), this beautifully restrained, Antonioniesque mother and son drama is above all a paean to contemporary Beirut. As the narcoleptic Malek (Ziad Saad) roams the streets avoiding his melancholic mother and searching for his estranged girlfriend, static images of the same intimate streetscape are contrasted with the frenetic energy of the downtown metropolis and spectacular aerial panoramas. Oblique conversations, long silences, expressive lighting and crucially, the signature image of a driver scanning the Beirut streets make A Perfect Day in equal parts family melodrama, ‘city symphony’ and urban road movie. This finely calibrated film, with its overt references to Lebanon’s traumatic civil war past, was made even more resonant in the knowledge that during the course of the festival, Beirut suffered devastating damage in the latest eruption of Middle Eastern hostilities.

In the two Iranian contributions to the Homelands program, trenchant socio-political commentaries are embedded in the dilemmas of individual characters. It’s Winter is a forceful depiction of a young mother’s struggles when abandoned by her husband in a remote rural setting. Rafi Pitt’s third feature addresses the specific difficulties of rural unemployment and the grim working conditions in Iran’s urban manufacturing sector. Minimal dialogue, moody cinematography and sympathetic characterization make Pitt’s film a modest but effective parable reflecting the social and economic challenges facing contemporary Iran.

The central protagonist in prominent Iranian director Majid Majidi’s The Willow Tree is a blind, middle-aged academic. Rather than mining the conventional trope of the blind seer, Majidi restores vision to his main character, transforming him into an increasingly conflicted individual who cannot adjust to his rehabilitated status. Acclaimed for his award-winning works including Children of Heaven and The Colour of Paradise, Majidi’s most recent film is something of a disappointment. Despite his trademark meditative pacing and visual lyricism, the overwrought tenor of the work and elliptical editing style make this a less satisfying film. Unlike the symbolic appeal of the blind and mute young protagonists in earlier works, there is a histrionic, self-indulgent quality to this older character’s predicament that ultimately distances rather than engages the viewer.

In her recently published Cinemas of the Other: A Personal Journey with Film-Makers from the Middle East and Central Asia, Gönül Dönmez-Colin notes that The Willow Tree is a departure for Majidi in featuring a mature protagonist and a professional cast. Majidi is one of several directors featured in this comprehensive collection of interviews with both leading and less well-known filmmakers from the region. In addition to an incisive general introduction, Dönmez-Colin prefaces each interview with a short but informative overview of the director’s work.

While the interview with Majidi deals predominantly with her Baran (2001), Dönmez-Colin’s questions canvass a wide range of issues including the symbolic significance of child characters in the work of prominent Iranian directors, multiculturalism, the political climate and censorship issues in Iran. Iranian directors dominate the Middle-Eastern section of the book, which includes equally revealing interviews with pre-eminent filmmakers Abbas Kiarostami, Moshen Makhmalbaf and Jafar Panahi (the subject of a retrospective at this year’s MIFF alongside the Homelands program).
Emphasising the importance of understanding filmmaking in relation to the socio-political context of individual countries, Dönmez-Colin’s questions often investigate broader issues around cultural production, in addition to aspects of individual directorial style and content.

Despite some minor translation errors, a somewhat reader-unfriendly layout and the absence of an index, the extensive filmography and expansive series of interviews make Dönmez-Colin’s book a valuable contribution to understanding the increasing influence of filmmakers from this region.

2006 Melbourne International Film Festival, July 26-Aug 13

Gönül Dönmez-Colin, Cinemas of the Other: A Personal Journey with Film-Makers from the Middle East and Central Asia, Intellect Books, Bristol, 2006.

RealTime issue #75 Oct-Nov 2006 pg. 21

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