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Eugene Ughetti, Matthias Shack-Arnott, Speak Percussion, Singapore 2015

Eugene Ughetti, Matthias Shack-Arnott, Speak Percussion, Singapore 2015

First principles

I’ve written quite a bit on audiovision over the years. If there is a determining principle that guides my angle on aural perception, my choice in media subjects, my thrust in critical discourse, it would be that audiovisuality is a given state. No sight exists without physical, psychoacoustic, imaginary or cultural simultaneity in sound. The inverse is equally so: no matter how pure or essentialist one’s desire for ‘sound alone,’ the colour of your shirt will always betray an ulterior motive to your sound-making. The beauty of audiovision, then, is how inevitable its eventfulness becomes, and how overwhelming the sensation of sound and image merging can be in the present moment of experience.

Furthermore, this invisible inevitability has yet to be excluded from critical writing on visual things presumed to be silent, sonic things presumed to be beyond image, and all the chaotic attempts to either neutralise or radicalise the relationships between opto-cine-theatrical languages and sono-musical languages. My task in writing on audiovisuality is to discern and navigate those moments where things happen in ways more maximising and problematising than perceived wisdoms would like and avant-garde gestures would claim.

Within avant-garde practices, audiovision has been consistently pursued as if it can unlock the divisive channels of linguistic discourses and/or medium-based protocols. This collective dream is reiterated as a type of mystical synaesthesia, wherein all sono-musical events exist only because of their visual prompting, and all optical-visual occurrences exist only because of their aural triggering. Maybe, this would be okay if interesting and unexpected things happened in the rigging of systems (faux-mystical, performative, pseudo-scientific, technological, theatrical etc) so that the aural and ocular planes could generate an X-factor beyond one’s conceptions of how the two could co-exist. But this never happens. And the more artists attempt to authorially engineer this through the above-mentioned systems, the more they over-determine their outcomes to contradict the push to expansiveness to which their composition is logically aligned.

 

Fluorophone Concert, Speak Percussion, The Substation

Fluorophone Concert, Speak Percussion, The Substation

Fluorophone Concert, Speak Percussion, The Substation

A paradigmatic shift to the percussive plane

Speak Percussion’s recent Fluorophone concert exemplifies this dilemma. In many respects, Speak Percussion synchronises to the contemporary state of avant-garde musical mechanics, where the act of ‘sounding’ is derived ostensibly from the audible gesture actuated by ‘touching.’ Percussion instruments have long been relegated to the roles of chronometry, accentuation and enhancement within the orchestral machine’s academic hierarchy. Thankfully, the 20th century witnessed an amazing destabilisation of this vertical stigmatisation, as numerous notable composers foregrounded percussionists as logical explorers and sonic cartographers of how ‘sounding’ in post-melodic, atonal or meta-harmonic realms could best be navigated.

This legacy is heard today in the works of just about every exploratory musician interested in prepared instrumentation and frequency interpolation, who must consider their attack, sustain, decay and release as singular self-contained events—just how a percussionist strikes their instrument of choice. Indeed, the state of music now in so many ways can be interpreted as a paradigmatic shift into or onto the percussive plane, as if we are now inhabiting an expanded temporal realm where a single strike of a timpani becomes a symphonic movement, time-stretched to reveal the complex minutiae of what previously was presumed to be a transitory blip on the score. Speak Percussion have carved pathways upon this plateau, forwarding a range of highly professional and often engaging compositional and performative considerations of how percussiveness generates these maximalising sonic events.

 

Performative staging vs sound-making

The Fluorophone concert arguably exists on another plane. In its intention to embrace a technologically mediated incorporation of visual contraptions into the musical performance, Speak Percussion have dislodged the maximising centrality of sonic eventfulness that their less visually/theatrically preoccupied performances have generated. Two key pieces by members Damien Ricketson and Eugene Ughetti demonstrate this. Ricketson’s Rendition (2016) is performed by two percussionists punching strobe flashes whose actioning is further modified by a third performer. The result is a changing grid of literal clicks, synchronised pulsations and triggered envelopes of tone. The piece deftly moves through a series of micro-movements as the two performers on a raised stage face each other or turn away, sometimes operating the light switches, at other times performing handheld or hand-swung percussion instruments. Watching its staging, one can enjoy the stroboscopic effect of the performers’ bodies suddenly appearing in tight synch to their ‘sounding,’ or generating a Muybridge-like stop-motion effect with their swinging arms as they sustain their ‘sounding’. But is this truly interesting? Or is this the type of window-dressing that theatre and lighting directors now routinely impose on musical performers?

Ughetti’s Pyrite Gland attempts a playful experiment in converting three tom-tom drums into light-emitting screens which respond to sensors registering a range of vibrations brought to bear on their skins via direct attack and various mediated pressures (from foot pumps, ribbed tubes etc). Again, the performative staging overwhelms the sound-making, transforming the performers into whimsical faux-nerd game-players with absurdist contraptions. Their skills are foregrounded in the circus-like arena of their synaesthetic operation. Both works paled when audited with closed eyes: they sounded over-composed and over-read. Their visuals equally smacked of the cursed ‘droll wit’ which classical performances often extol as a sign of their refusal of concert hall propriety. And finally, their synchronism cancelled out audiovisual complexity, transducing the works’ eventfulness into mimetic charades of their ontological base.

 

Louise Devenish, Speak Percussion

Louise Devenish, Speak Percussion

Louise Devenish, Speak Percussion

Theatre/performance-centric criteria dominance

‘Sounding’ has been promoted in a variety of performance events in the last five years. Sometimes it has been well-considered and fruitful: the integrated audiovision of Zoe Scoglio; the unsettling inter-scoring of the Bolt Ensemble with the Amplified Elephants; the anarchic art-music partying of Slave Pianos. More often, it has been theatrically laboured and sonically withering (Kate McIntosh’s All Ears (see a Vimeo trailer); Matthew Sleeth’s A Drone Opera (read Andrew Fuhrmann’s review); Ashley Dyer’s Tremors).

In times bereft of consciousness in the act of listening, staging overcomes sounding. What would you prefer: a boring presentation of an amazing sonic event or a tantalising, distracting, spectacularised presentation of rote avant-garde gestures toward the legacy of exploratory sound-making? The latter tends to dominate now, maybe because it services musical ensembles strategically ensnared by the theatre/performance-centric criteria which most funding organisations favour above all else. A boring drone piece: 30 people in attendance. A boring drone piece played by 50 blindfolded players suspended by straps festooned with LED lights changing colour via a MAX-patch as their motion sensors twist and turn: 300 people. (Set it to Cate Blanchett reading tweets from teenage girls in refugee detention centres: 3000 people.)

Contrary to how this might sound, I’m not the cynical one here. The current climate which mandates that all arts should somehow be interconnected and/or relate to ‘the world’ legislates these types of intermedial events and happenings. Hyper-synchronism and authored-synaesthesia might be historically grounded in mixed/multi-media experiments from Cage to Stockhausen, but their contemporaneity betrays their being bound to the dream of making relative/relational art. Fluorophone symptomatically reflected how contemporary theatre has subsumed those intermedial experiments into a utopian multi-sensory façade. For many people—indeed, maybe everyone but me—this is a welcome transition. I don’t hear it that way at all.

See Madeline Roycroft’s review of Fluorophone.

Speak Percussion, Fluorophone, The Substation, Newport, Melbourne, 23-25 Nov

RealTime issue #136 Dec-Jan 2016

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

Tom Herman, Witkacy & Malinowski

Tom Herman, Witkacy & Malinowski

Artist John Gillies, whose choices of form range across and critically integrate performance, moving image, installation, sound and music with a particular focus on the history of film, has recently completed Witkacy & Malinowski: a cinematic séance in 23 scenes. His screen works have included Techno/Dumb/Show (with The Sydney Front; 1991), Armada (video installation; 1998), The Mary Stuart Tapes (1999), My Sister’s Room (2000), The De Quincey Tapes (2001), Divide (2006) and Road Movie (2008). These didn’t prepare me for Witkacy & Malinowski’s historical characterisations, narrative, formal shooting and heightened naturalism, but, as anticipated when coming to a new work by Gillies, not everything is what it seems. It’s an intriguing film, at once accessible and formally disconcerting, invoking the radical spirit of the great Polish playwright Stanislaw Ignacy Witkiewicz, nicknamed Witkacy (1885-1939), an artist who has long fascinated me.

 

SNO127—John Gillies

Around the time I first saw Witkacy & Malinowski…, I visited SNO Contemporary Art Projects in Sydney’s inner west to see SNO127—John Gillies, curated by fellow artist Ruark Lewis. The selected abstract, non-objective works 1982-present made for engrossing viewing and listening. Dense, scratchy verticals in Scalpel/Wood/Table (1982-2004) soon turn horizontal, white blobs form and mutate behind, and sounds become increasingly train-like in what turns out to be a wonderfully abstracted “view from a fast train” video. In a darkened room six elderly cathode ray tubes noiselessly collaborate to form a barely stable starry night of varying intensities with odd hints of red and blue. In Homage to Gerald Lewers and Margel Hinder (2015), impressive fountains designed by these two Australian modernists are filmed with mesmeric visual and aural musicality, the world beyond banished as the movement of water and light make sense of the artistry of stone and metal. At apparent odds with these works, two large abstract, richly coloured photographs occupy the first room (I’ve left them to last). Golden Horde and Duchess of the Fields (both 2016) continue Gillies’ preoccupation with light, but here, after seeing works that pulse, is light as still life, compelling thoughts of sunset, storm, volcano and the sublime. In terms of scale and colour this feels like quite a departure. As does Witkacy & Malinowski.

 

Homage to Gerard Lewers & Margel Hinder (2015) SNO 127—John Gillies

Homage to Gerard Lewers & Margel Hinder (2015) SNO 127—John Gillies

Witkacy and Malinowski

Witkacy and Malinowski (1884-1942), friends since childhood, are on a train heading to Toowoomba. After the suicide of Witkacy’s lover, Jadwiga Janczewska (a ghostly presence in the film), Malinowski persuaded the distraught writer to come with him to Australia and on to Papua New Guinea. In later years, Witkacy conducted séances in an attempt to reach Jadwiga—a clue to the significance of the film’s title.

On the trip, news of Russia’s invasion of the Polish part of the Austro-Hungarian empire causes tensions over whether or not return home. It’s impossible for Malinowski, whose response infuriates Witkacy. In fine performances, Tom Herman plays Witkacy with a neurotic intensity against the guarded restraint of Matej Busic’s Malinowski. At the same time, the train’s driver (Craig Meneaud) and his fireman (Richard Hilliar) —both in love with the same woman—conduct a funny, highflown discussion about time and relativity (taken from a 1923 Witkacy play, Crazy Locomotive) while pushing the machine to excessive speeds. At the beginning of the film we see the aftermath of a train accident, towards the end the crash, or do we? In an email exchange I asked Gillies about the film’s sources and his stylistic choices.

What inspired you to take up the Witkacy-Malinowski story?

Witkacy and Malinowski were close friends whose relationship ended tumultuously in Toowoomba, Queensland. They represent two archetypal potentialities, antagonistic but complementary. Malinowski put it rather grandly in his diary, that their split in Australia at the beginning of WW1 was, “like Wagner splitting with Nietzsche.” Their time in Australia was seminal for them personally, but also for their disciplines: the proto-performance artist and painter Witkacy as an inventor of contemporary theatre and Malinowski as a ‘father’ of contemporary anthropology. The two modernists rubbed up against indigenous cultures and colonial society in this new modern world at the edge of empire, altering their work in profound ways.

The story is also the end of the love story between two men and a conflict between materialist and metaphysical thinking, science and art. Everything in this work is based upon or developed from something that was reported or recorded. When I do change and invent, I do so to retain an underlying meaning or image or to extend the metaphor or idea. Also the possibility of linking Toowoomba and St Petersburg in the same sentence could not be ignored, it had to be done!

Australian landscape, Witkacy & Malinowski

Australian landscape, Witkacy & Malinowski

How did you come across the story?

I first heard about it from a short documentary about 1914 that Stan Corey made for ABC Radio National many years ago. Corey had produced the radio version of the first Witkacy production in Australia in the 1970s, directed by Algis Butavicius from a translation by Roger Pulvers.

Do you have a particular connection with Witkacy or Polish art and culture more broadly?

My only connections are links with friends and colleagues from the Australian Polish diaspora from the two main migrations, post WWII and the 1980s Solidarity generation and their children, each significant to the arts in Australia. The direct influence of theatre artists like Jerzy Grotowski and Tadeusz Kantor in the development of contemporary performance in Australia from the mid-1970s is also important. I guess as a teenager I was touched by the legacy of Grotowski’s visits in his laboratory phase. I am also impressed by the ability of an artist to work across visual art and theatre, a recent example being visual artist Paulina Olowska’s production of Witkacy’s Mother at Tate Modern (2015), and the use by some in the Polish avant-garde of emotion, which is so often missing from contemporary, experimental and avant-garde art. In Australia visual artists were trained to steer well clear of any association with the ‘falseness’ of theatre. This comes from essentialist ideologies historically around painting.

Eastern European music and cinema in general, and particularly pre-1989, have also been inspiring, especially the sometimes expressive performance style that is at odds with much contemporary screen performance, but also its deep naturalistic strains. I am very interested in how some cultural ideas, developed from the 19th century, played out in Eastern Europe in the 20th century.

I am interested in stories that can affect the future, as the future is in the act of being made from fragments of the past.

Matej Busic, Witkacy & Malinowski

Matej Busic, Witkacy & Malinowski

Why the particular structure: the oscillation between an imagined dialogue between Witkacy and Malinowski and exchanges between the driver and his fireman in the engine cabin just prior to a crash. Obviously it’s metaphorical—a train disaster paralleling a relationship split—but what more’s going on about Witkacy’s psyche and his apparent anti-modernist hostility to, say, mechanisation? What does he have to say to us today?

Witkacy hated metaphor but my work is built of metaphor piled on metaphor, perhaps a bad case of metaphoritis!

Witkacy’s psyche was profoundly modern, multi-faceted, humorous, destructive and restless, fragmented like a montaged cinematic structure. My imagined dialogue between Malinowski and Witkacy is based on their diaries, letters and Witkacy’s plays over a 25-year period. For example my Witkacy, while attacking Malinowski, says “Totems are true, no matter what you scientists write about them,” a line that the ‘bohemian’ Papuan chief says in Witkacy’s Metaphysics of the Two Headed Calf: a Tropical Australian Play (1921).

I knew I had a work when I saw the chemistry between Tom Herman as Witkacy and Matej Busic as Malinowski. Witkacy wrote, “people are ghosts pretending to be people.” My performers are ‘representations’ speaking across time and space, but I also tried to imagine what they might actually have said on 1 September, 1914. Other lines come straight out of the Brisbane newspapers they would have read on that day or just before, for example a story about the developing Great War being great for Australian farmers; as you see parochialism lives on!

As in scenes from Crazy Locomotive, the engine drivers, Mr Tengier and Nicolas (Craig Meneaud and Richard Hilliar), act like a chorus, or the ‘clowns’ in a Shakespeare play. But there’s also a sense that the whole action could be coming out of their heads, from their black and white world into the colour world of Witkacy and Malinowski. The ‘factual’ colour world is not more naturalistic. Its look is closer to a 1950s Hollywood film or even an expressionist painting, whereas the black and white world of the engine drivers is more like a documentary film and shot as such.

If modernism is equated simply with modernity or the naïve idea of progress then Witkacy is anti-modernist, but he was a quintessential modernist artist and thinker, associated with the Formalists in Poland in the 1920s as theorist and artist. Long after his death he became a Polish counter-culture hero. His theatrical works and writings are read as anti-fascist and anti-communist; he knew communism intimately from his first-hand experience of the Russian revolution. They parody and critique bureaucratic society, and predict art brought to an end by a mindless, uniform future society. He said he was writing for the future. He could almost have been writing about Trump’s America in some of his later works.

Pollyanna Nowicki, Witkacy & Malinowski

Pollyanna Nowicki, Witkacy & Malinowski

He was wary of ideology, for example Constructivism and its technological positivism. Crazy Locomotive is often read as critique of Futurism’s fascistic death drive, as the inverse of Marinetti’s foundational story. Marinetti’s Futurist Manifesto begins with a non-fatal car accident whereas Witkacy’s play ends with a catastrophic train crash that kills everyone, like the last scene in Hamlet. There is speculation that the play was also the genesis of Andrei Konchalovsky’s American film Runaway Train (1985). Witkacy is not anti-modernist but profoundly critical of it, a precursor in some ways to Adorno and Horkheimer’s Dialectic of Enlightenment. We could argue that the Futurist death drive is even more dominant in 2016 than it was in 1909. But there is also a counter metaphysical narrative in Crazy Locomotive that sees catastrophe as a portal to a new understanding of reality: “We’ve got to break through all day-to-day relationships, and then everything will become clear and explain itself.”

A refugee in a forest in eastern Poland trapped between Nazi and Soviet armies, Witkacy committed suicide on 18 September, 1939. Perhaps the decision was justified given what was happening around him; after all he had grown up not that far from Auschwitz.

Your filming in Witkacy & Malinowski… appears unusually straightforward and theatrical—reverse field dialogue, cutaways to the engine, rails, landscape and with a reinforcing score. But there are very tight close-ups, some straight-to-camera gazes, bluntly cut newspaper advertisements, the extended and escalating carriage buffer close-ups and Jadwiga, the ghost of Witkacy’s lover, speaking all the final dialogue. There is also the early and unexplained aftermath of the train crash and the switching between colour and black and white. The viewer is prepared for the unexpected even if the film’s rhythms are secure. Is it an attempt to play off the unexpected against the conventional?

A friend viewing said the work was like a 1960s film, which for me is a great compliment. It is open and sometimes ambiguous, at times self-reflexive, like the Crazy Locomotive text. For example Nicolas says, “I’ve always dreamt of something extraordinary happening, like in a film!” It’s a complex work. I want to create a space for reflection and thought; to find a constantly shifting emotional and intellectual space. So while there are moments of naturalism and naturalistic acting it will suddenly switch and become the opposite. I use switching devices in many of my works from Techno/Dumb/Show (1991) with The Sydney Front onward. I play off the expected or conventional against the unexpected and un-conventional in much of my work.

My structures are deliberately dialectical. Yes, they are actors and they are acting, but I hope that there is a sense that they are inside and outside of the dialogue at the same time. The Jadwiga Janczewska presence (Pollyanna Nowicki) functions like one of Witkacy’s casually resurrected corpses. She is even more of a meta-character, speaking lines uttered by other characters in the film, direct to camera. It is as though she has been observing everything that has come before. Perhaps we see everything through her eyes? I also call on iconic performers from the Sydney contemporary performance scene (Clare Grant, Katia Molino, Christopher Ryan). I am attempting to produce an amalgam of performance styles.

Film editing can symbolically expose the new spatial and temporal speculations that the engine drivers discuss in Crazy Locomotive. Film editing expresses the contradiction of a seemingly unstable system that can be perceived as stable and ‘real.’ It is not unsurprising that film montage appeared around the time Witkacy was writing, in Einstein’s new theories. We accept it as a continuous reality even though it is made of discontinuities similar to how our experience of reality is created.

Richard Hillier, Witkacy & Malinowski

Richard Hillier, Witkacy & Malinowski

What role have Poland and Polish artists played in the film’s development?

The Polish-Australian actor and theatre director Lech Mackiewicz was consulting producer and one of the translators of my text and Witkacy’s texts from Polish and French, including a new translation of Crazy Locomotive. Lech’s contribution was absolutely essential to the development of this project.

In Warsaw I met Witkacy’s great-niece Agnieszka Zawadowska who, in a sense, gave me the ‘permission’ I needed to create this work. This experience is so different from what happens with the Beckett estate. In Zakopane I shot part of the snow scene close to where Witkacy and Malinowski would have played as children, and the rest in the Kosciusko National Park much closer to home, as this is also a work about absurd spatial dislocation.

The film was invited to screen at the Grotowski Institute in Wroclaw and also via the Museum of Middle Pomerania in Slupsk, which has the largest collection of Witkacy’s portrait paintings in Poland as well as examples of his Australian landscape pastels.

What are your plans for the work as film and as installation?

In the installation version of the work for the gallery, audience members become train passengers. The film is displayed at one end of a white-walled construction that mimics the space and dimensions of a train carriage complete with cut-out ‘windows.’ They will be seated like a cinema audience in the ‘carriage’ while other people in the gallery can see them as ‘passengers.’ In a sense we are all passengers, though sometimes we might rebel and attempt to make contact with the front of the train and confront the engine drivers. We can see the runaway train through the prism of technological ‘progress,’ the First World War and the breakdown of a relationship, but we don’t necessarily see that we are also on a real runaway train. That is one reason aspects of Witkacy’s texts seem so relevant today. Perhaps Witkacy is one of the first writers of the Anthropocene?

I am continuing to show the work overseas but we are also looking for the right museum or gallery in Australia to present the installation version as well as screenings of the film. I would love to borrow Fright by Witkacy from the Art Gallery of NSW to show alongside my work.

SNO127—John Gillies, curator Ruark Lewis, SNO Contemporary Art Projects, Marrickville, Sydney, 15 Oct-13 Nov

Witkacy & Malinowski: a cinematic séance in 23 scenes, script, adaptation, mise en scène, direction, John Gillies, music GhanTracks, composer, conductor Jon Rose; 40 mins, 5.1 sound; 2016

RealTime issue #136 Dec-Jan 2016

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

Betroffenheit

Betroffenheit

Betroffenheit

Given the nature of Wendy Martin’s programming of PIAF 2017, it’s tempting to envisage the festival not as a series of events so much as a place to inhabit—an inclusive space, joyfully drawing in all kinds of abilities, communities, ecosystems and sport through the commonality of art.

Like Wesley Enoch, Artistic Director of the Sydney Festival, Wendy Martin has programmed a festival with a passionate sense of social and moral purpose, celebrating the land shared with the Noongar peoples of Western Australia, addressing environmental and asylum concerns and nurturing artists with disability. These are ongoing themes which constellated around empathy in Martin’s 2016 festival. In 2017 place ranks highly: the need to acknowledge and sustain biodiversity, collaboratively with Indigenous communities, and to explore West Australians’ relationship with water in, says Martin emphatically, “the driest state on the driest continent.” Her focus on opening events that celebrate place with local performance, media art and writing—rather than with imported European spectacle—reveals an aesthetic, cultural and ecological commitment to her new home. Here’s a selection of the works Martin and I discussed.

 

Boorna Waanginy (The Trees Speak)

Boorna Waanginy (The Trees Speak)

Boorna Waanginy (The Trees Speak)

PLACE & DISPLACEMENT

Boorna Waanginy (The Trees Speak)

In a large-scale three-night public event, Boorna Waanginy (The Trees Speak) directed by Nigel Jamieson in Perth’s Kings Park, sound, music, light and animated projections will fill trees with the birds and animals of the Western Australian ecosystem. Participating school students are committing to helping preserve particular species.

 

Museum of Water, Amy Sharrocks

Museum of Water, Amy Sharrocks

Museum of Water, Amy Sharrocks

Amy Sharrocks, Museum of Water

UK artist Amy Sharrocks will heighten water awareness—emotionally, intellectually and aesthetically—by collecting citizens’ water stories (and donated water and bottles) at “gathering points” in Perth and Albany.

Martin tells me that Sharrocks has already spoken with farmers, surfers and also a refugee who had been pregnant on a leaking boat when her waters broke prior to rescue. For the 2018 festival, says Martin, Sharrocks will create an Australian version of her award-winning Museum of Water in which visitors meet performers who tell donors’ stories and see related exhibits. When the Rem Koolhaas-Hassell-designed WA Museum is finished in 2020, the Museum of Water will become part of its permanent collection.

 

A O Lang Pho

A O Lang Pho

A O Lang Pho

Nouveau Cirque du Vietnam, A O Lang Pho

Place plays a key role in works from Vietnam and America, says Martin. In Nouveau Cirque du Vietnam’s A O Lang Pho, 15 performers use large bamboo baskets to conjure a Vietnamese village encroached on by a city, its sounds and music—traditional form giving way to hip hop. You can glimpse the choreographic and unusual design virtuosity here.

 

The Gabriels

The Gabriels

The Gabriels

Richard Nelson, The Gabriels

Another village, Rhinebeck, in upstate New York, is the home of leading American playwright Richard Nelson and the setting for The Gabriels, Election Year in the Life of One Family. This eight and a quarter hour trilogy observes a family (including a piano teacher, playwright, costume designer and producer) whose small town is being taken over by wealthy New Yorkers. They prepare actual food and dine, successively, through the confusion of the primaries, mid-campaign and election day. The audience is offered similar food in the intervals. Although in interviews Nelson doesn’t see his plays as political (he thinks Tony Kushner “makes the cut”), they are important barometers of values under pressure in small l liberal America in what he regards as chaotic and confusing times. Martin describes the trilogy as Chekhovian.

 

The Encounter, Complicite

The Encounter, Complicite

The Encounter, Complicite

Complicite, The Encounter

A different sense of place is played out, largely aurally, to a headphoned audience in Complicite’s The Encounter. With an onstage performer-narrator and sound manipulator, the UK company presents an intensely aural experience that recreates a journey up the Amazon via binaural recording (in which the microphones were ear-positioned), acutely reproducing the spatial experience of human hearing. “In 1969, National Geographic photographer Loren McIntyre became lost in a remote part of the Brazilian rainforest while searching for the Mayoruna people. His encounter was to test his perception of the world…” [press release]. The Encounter has been described as sensorily and culturally disorienting. Martin recalls audience members turning, looking for the sources of sound apparently behind them.

 

Flit, Martin Green

Flit, Martin Green

Flit, Martin Green

Martin Green, Flit

Flit is a multimedia song cycle on migration created by English experimental accordionist and composer Martin Green, performed with large-scale paper sculptures and whiterobot’s stop animation and played by Green and a formidable trio: Becky Unthank, Mogwai’s Dominic Aitchison and Adam Holmes. Martin tells me that Flit was inspired by both bird migration and the story of Green’s Austrian-Jewish grandmother.

 

Inua Ellams, poet-performer, artist-in-residence

Martin is excited to have Nigerian performance poet, graphic artist and playwright Inua Ellams as a PIAF artist-in-residence. His Christian father and Muslim mother fled with him to Ireland and then to England. He was 12 when he arrived in London but still does not have a British passport, despite his creative output. Ellams will perform his biographical work An Evening with an Immigrant and Martin has partnered him with Perth’s The Last Great Hunt to conduct audiences on a six-hour journey, The Midnight Run, through “a city you never knew existed.”

 

Vertigo Sea, John Akomfrah

Vertigo Sea, John Akomfrah

John Akomfrah, Vertigo Sea and Auto Da Fé

I saw John Akomfrah’s powerfully immersive, three-screen film installation Vertigo Sea (43 mins) in UNSW Galleries’ Troubled Water exhibition earlier this year. It engenders a kind of contemporary sublime with its visual sweep (from many sources including his own), historical evocation (lone costumed figures on coastal landscapes), dramatic scoring and documentary components, including images of slavery and voiceovers about migration and the flight of refugees. A new work, Auto Da Fé (40 mins), “a fictional narrative that looks at migration over four centuries,” makes its Australian premiere at PIAF.

 

Jacobus Capone, Forgiving Night for Day

Perth artist Jacobus Capone synthesises place and song in Forgiving Night for Day. On seven locations seen on seven screens, seven Fado singers each greets the dawn in a work that “contemplates the poetic Portuguese word ‘saudade,’ an expression of deep nostalgia and longing for people, places and times irrevocably lost” (program). See images from the work here and hear a little of the beautiful singing here.

 

PLACE & SPORT

Last year Wendy Martin’s PIAF program featured a British work, No Guts, No Heart, No Glory about empowering young Muslim women through boxing. This year, Martin has two projects. She’s commissioned from Inua Ellams, a basketball addict, a suite of poems about sport and “embedded him in schools that focus on basketball and a youth centre with the highest percentage of Indigenous and African students in Perth.” And she’s programmed a work about women and sport.

 

Lara Thoms & Snapcat, Before the Siren

In the festival’s visual arts program, curated by Anne Loxley and Felicity Fenner, Melbourne’s Lara Thoms and Perth duo Snapcat are creating a large-scale public artwork about communality achieved by women through sport. It’s timely given the Freo Dockers will be one of the eight teams in the inaugural AFL National Women’s League in 2017. Martin says that the finale will be a party at Fremantle oval, “a cross between halftime entertainment and a political rally.” With works like Before the Siren, Inua Ellams’ poetry and basketball workshops and, in the Sydney Festival, Champions, about women’s soccer (interview) and La Boite’s Prizefighter (review), the relationship between art and sport appears to be flowering (a phenomenon doubtless inspired by Ahilan Ratnamohan’s pioneering football dance).

Opus No. 7, Dmitry Krymov

Opus No. 7, Dmitry Krymov

Opus No. 7, Dmitry Krymov

 

ART & POWER

Dmitry Krymov Laboratory, Opus 7

A highlight of PIAF 2014 was master designer-director Dmitry Krymov’s fabulously playful A Midsummer Night’s Dream (As You Like It) with its giant puppets and players watched by Russia’s new indolent nouveau riche, all fiddling with mobile phones and behaving like aristocrats in the theatre’s box seats. Opus 7 is a more serious work. “A succession of terrible but riveting images,” as one critic put it, the work first evokes the maltreatment by Stalin of Russia’s Jewish population and then, in its second part, portrays the composer Shostakovitch’s oscillation between critique of the state and surrender to its will as his peers were imprisoned or murdered. Recordings of the composer’s propaganda speeches are played but he is realised onstage by an agile actress as a survivor, a Chaplin-esque figure, precisely Krymov’s view of the artist.

The work’s images are persistently surreal—disembodied limbs, a 12-foot Mother Russia (fond but murderous), large photographs of the dead, Jewish figures (like ghosts) painted on a wall by the performers and then cut out, unleashing an enormous storm of torn newsprint; “is this what happens to the truth?” asks Martin. Shostakovitch grapples with three outsize pianos. Such is the challenge to his craft under dictatorship. This is a work I’d travel to Perth to see. You can glimpse some of it in this trailer and, spoiler alert, if you intend seeing Opus 7, avoid longer excerpts from Opus 7 on YouTube.

The work’s title refers to the Scherzo in E flat Major, Opus 7, written by the student composer in 1923-24; it’s already indicative of his characteristic manipulations of mood, playfulness and irony, but just as Stalin was assuming power after Lenin’s death.

 

Lola Arias, The Year I Was Born

Lola Arias, The Year I Was Born

Lola Arias, The Year I Was Born

Lola Arias, The Year I was Born

Another work about political oppression is Chilean artist Lola Arias’ The Year I was Born. Martin tells me, “She works in documentary theatre, between fact and fiction. Some years ago in Argentina, where she grew up, she’d created a work with young people whose parents had been murdered by the military government. She was then asked to do the same for young Chileans who appear in the production, their parents victims of the Pinochet regime, and one young man whose uncle was Pinochet’s lawyer.”

 

DANCE

Crystal Pite & Jonathan Young, Betroffenheit

Leading international choreographer Canadian Crystal Pite has collaborated with actor Jonathan Young to make Betroffenheit, a dance theatre work, says Martin, “about bewilderment in the face of disaster,” in this case the deaths of children. Alex Ferguson, reviewing in Vancouver for RealTime, wrote that, although clearly about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and addiction, “there’s no particular trauma specified but many of us in the audience know that performer Jonathan Young of the Electric Company has sourced his own story… With effort I’m able to pull out of the emotional morass and take Betroffenheit in as a work of art.” It’s a demanding work in which Young speaks the words that run through his mind and a dancer doppelganger gives physical expression to his attempts at survival, climaxing, says Wendy Martin, in one of the most remarkable solos she’s seen.

 

Anthony Hamilton, Alisdair Macindoe, Meeting

Anthony Hamilton, Alisdair Macindoe, Meeting

Anthony Hamilton, Alisdair Macindoe, Meeting

Antony Hamilton Dance Projects, Meeting

The meeting of the title of Antony Hamilton and Alisdair Macindoe’s dance work is an increasingly complex and fateful one between the dancers and 64 small percussive robots (created by Mcindoe). Jana Perkovic wrote in her review for RealTime, “the movement itself is so precise, irregularly paced and randomly organised, that watching it is never less than mesmerising.” Because Meeting had only been seen in Melbourne in 2015 before garnering overseas acclaim, Martin thought it vital to include it in her program. Hamilton and Macindoe are remarkable dancers, masters of fast intricate articulation and states of temporal suspension.

 

Meeting Place

With Arts Access Australia, PIAF is hosting a national forum on arts and disability featuring special guest Jenny Sealey, Artistic Director of leading UK disability theatre company Graeae, who co-directed the London 2012 Paralympic Opening Ceremony. Martin says that Sealey’s work ranges across installation, theatre and opera and talks such as “dissecting Sarah Kane’s play Psychosis 4.48 in terms of how access can be made central to artistic decisions.” For PIAF she’ll conduct workshops and deliver talks. For Martin, the forum is part of a four-year commitment, which commenced in 2016 with among other things, revelatory performances by Claire Cunningham.

Wendy Martin’s positioning of Perth and Western Australia as central to her festival, while drawing in international works which connect thematically and excite with new forms, is at once celebratory and exploratory.

Wendy Martin

Wendy Martin

Wendy Martin

PIAF 2017: Perth International Arts Festival

RealTime issue #136 Dec-Jan 2016

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


Bangarra Artistic Director Stephen Page's striking debut feature film centres on tensions felt by a young man caught between an ancient, still vibrant Indigenous culture and a competing, feverish modernity played out across Sydney streets and landscapes.

The strong core cast features Hunter Page-Lochard as the teenage boy, Aaron Pedersen as Suicide Man, a raging alcoholic, and Yolngu elder Djakapurra Munyarryun in what is essentially a full-length dance movie—a true rarity in Australian filmmaking.

Greeted with praise in The Guardian and Variety, Spear was less enthusiastically received elsewhere. Perhaps set dance passages, little dialogue and minimal plot were inevitably limiting, but Dan Edwards, in his review for RealTime, “Men’s Business in another world,” points to fragmentation and a curiously static filming of the dance. Nonetheless, he sees Spear as “a probing experiment, a first step into a new realm by one of our leading dance makers. Experiments are becoming increasingly rare in our constricted screen environment, so let’s hope this is a beginning, and not an intriguing one-off for Australian Indigenous dance on screen.”

Spear, director Stephen Page, screenplay Justin Monjo, adapted from Bangarra Dance Theatre's Spear/Skin

5 copies courtesy of Madman Entertainment.

Email us at giveaways [at] realtimearts.net with your name, postal address and phone number to go in the running.

Include 'Giveaway' and the name of the item in the subject line.

Offer closes 21 December.

Giveaways are open to RealTime subscribers only. By entering this giveaway you consent to receiving our free weekly E-dition. You can unsubscribe at any time.

RealTime issue #136 Dec-Jan 2016 pg.


Much more than an entertainment about a compulsive sexter, Weiner, directed by Josh Kriegman and Elyse Steinberg, examines the the 2013 New York City mayoral campaign of disgraced congressman Anthony Weiner, two years after his resignation from the House of Representatives. The candidate is fascinating: as one reviewer wrote, the film “captures him in the fullness of his ambition, passion, intelligence, serial contrition and bizarre self-delusion.” It also tracks the media response—horrified, fascinated, gleeful—and Weiner’s staff as they try to bottle escalating revelations and their own shock. It’s amazing that Weiner gave himself, family and friends so willingly to his documenters, but the film reveals a personality whose courage and egotism lent him perfectly to the venture.

5 copies courtesy of Madman Entertainment

Email us at giveaways [at] realtimearts.net with your name, postal address and phone number to go in the running.

Include ‘Giveaway’ and the name of the item in the subject line.

Offer closes 21 December.

Giveaways are open to RealTime subscribers only. By entering this giveaway you consent to receiving our free weekly E-dition. You can unsubscribe at any time.

RealTime issue #136 Dec-Jan 2016

Cast of Champions, FORM Dance Projects

Cast of Champions, FORM Dance Projects

Cast of Champions, FORM Dance Projects

An opening confession: this writer knows nothing about sport and often finds the very sound of sports commentary mildly repellant. However, like many sports-obsessed art lovers, Champions choreographer Martin del Amo is betwixt and between. He tells me, “When I open the newspaper, I am torn between the sports pages and the arts entertainment section. Then of course there is the gossip column that probes the ins and outs of both worlds.”

Celebrity gossip—titillating hearsay and tall tales—is an important facet of the public’s attraction to sport, according to del Amo. He notes that a professional sporting match begins with the ‘before hype,’ involving scrutiny of the players and coaches, their recent form, performance record and in some cases their personal lives. By spinning conjecture and multiple predictions, the spectator’s interest is snared long before they even book their tickets to the match. The speculative dissection of a player’s reputation, and of course the heightened physical stakes of the game itself, an almost ‘life and death’ aspect, as del Amo emphasises, are integral to making sport accessible to a diverse public.

Bolstered by increased arts funding in Western Sydney and aware of arts/sport disparity, Champions’ producer, FORM Dance Projects, is keen to participate in an outreach type program to cross-fertilise between different groups, such as a highly visible football club and a burgeoning dance community. FORM approached del Amo in 2015 with the hybrid concept for Champions already in the incubation stage. What followed was the assembling of an unbeatable crack squad of fellow artists, designers and consultants.

 

The team

For the creation of Champions for the 2017 Sydney Festival del Amo has gathered an impressive line-up of 11 dancers, an all-female cast who are in their prime and at the top of their game (excuse the football analogy). The size of the cast alone is a rare feat for a local dance work and these dancers bring with them a diverse and complementary range of experience and expertise. The ace team will be graced with a mystery mascot, and they have received advice and coaching from some of Sydney’s top sporting players—the women from Western Wanderers W-League. Even some members of the Matildas dropped in to deliver a pre-match pep talk. (For those who, like me, are less than sporty, the Matildas are our national women’s football squad).

Del Amo particularly picked up on their professional sports psychology advice on the concept of ‘winning the moment’ and he sees this approach can be usefully applied to a dancer’s focus on being ‘in the now.’ Onstage, as on the field, each play, each move, requires full attention and it is important to see that each and every moment is as strategically important as any other.

 

Moves & strategies

The building of a new gestural or choreographic vocabulary can be a choreographer’s holy grail, and there are a few unique ingredients in the formulation of the Champions’ lexicon. Apart from del Amo’s evident interest in the sporting world, this sport/dance crossover undoubtedly had its origins in his exchange with soccer playing performer Ahilan Ratnamohan, who is the project’s training consultant. (His 2009 groundbreaking work Football Diaries, made with Lee Wilson and UTP, brought Ratnamohan’s story and deft dance-like moves to the attention of the contemporary performance scene.) In 2011 in the lead-up to their collaboration, Mountains Never Meet, del Amo and Ratnamohan traded moves and training methodologies. While Ratnamohan offered the agile footwork and swift direction-changes of soccer, del Amo countered with Body Weather’s MB (muscle and bone/mind and body) practice. Coincidentally, many MB moves are derived from Body Weather founder Tanaka Min’s basketball training.

Cast of Champions, FORM Dance Projects

Cast of Champions, FORM Dance Projects

Cast of Champions, FORM Dance Projects

Woven into the mix, influenced by European conceptual dance artists such as Xavier le Roy and Jerome Bel, is del Amo’s ongoing exploration of ‘reduced’ movement, where choreographies are often created by simply walking at different speeds combined with a grammar of spare repeated gestures which reconfigure—in the space and the audience’s imagination—through patterns built over time into a kinetic composition of accumulation and palimpsest. Like his other choreographic heroes Pina Bausch and Alain Platel, del Amo is interested in exits and entrances, overlapping actions and multifocal points of action and attention. “Now at last I have a group large enough to play with these strategies,” he says. Bringing his usual cool cerebral approach together with the blood-pumping character of the sports arena promises a potent confluence. With the luxury of 11 high-powered dancers and the gathering force of some excellent collaborators there is the potential for composition that slides between minimalism, populism and post-postmodern complexity. I just hope the in-game sports commentator, Seven Network sports presenter Mel McLaughlin, can keep up!

 

Extremes and agonies

Del Amo and I ruminate further on where the edges blur between ‘elite’ athletes and ‘elite’ dancers, particularly in their cultivation of essential modes of preparation for the body and for the mind. Both groups train their bodies intensively, both take direction from outside experts (coach, director, health professionals), both are likely to suffer performance anxiety or pre-match nerves, both engage in physical and psychological warm-ups, both require intense dedication to their chosen pursuit. Dancers, like athletes often push their bodies to extremes and are liable to sustain injuries. Notably though, as del Amo points out, “the visibility of difficulty and success is entirely different in dance.” Dancers are much less likely to be rewarded for showing pain or incapacity and will often dance on stoically after a stage injury, hiding their agony. On the other hand, sporting matches are sometimes closer to gladiatorial contests; spectators love a bit of biffo and will valorise a player who fights on despite a dislocated joint, tendon strain or a spray of blood and mud.

 

Imagine this…

As the lights go down on Champions in Carriageworks’ enormous Bay 17, exhausted sweat-soaked dancers limp from the stage, a few visibly in pain, blood seeping from open wounds, the odd bone fractured and ligament torn. The audience are on their feet. Some of the volatile crowd are booing, some cheering wildly, chanting their favourite’s name amid whistles and catcalls. There is a media scrum backstage. “How did that go for you?” Flash of cameras. “Did you do enough preparation?” “Was it tougher than you expected?” There is sweat and there are tears. Reporters question the breathless dancers and the overwrought director before speaking directly to camera with their analysis of the performance. The forensic examination of dramaturgical fault and/or conceptual victory, alongside commentary on the dancers’ presence and their gestural virtuosity, continues for days if not weeks in the press and on social media. This is the usual scenario after a contemporary dance work. Isn’t it?

Martin del Amo

Martin del Amo

Martin del Amo

Sydney Festival, Champions, Carriageworks, Sydney, 17-21 Jan

Champions, director Martin del Amo; Associate Artist Miranda Wheen; performers Sara Black, Kristina Chan, Cloé Fournier, Carlee Mellow, Sophia Ndaba, Rhiannon Newton, Katina Olsen, Marnie Palomares, Melanie Palomares, Kathryn Puie, Miranda Wheen, commentator Mel McLaughlin,dramaturg Julie-Anne Long, composer Gail Priest, video design Samuel James, lighting Karen Norris, design Clare Britton, training consultant Ahilan Ratnamohan, executive producer Annette McLernon, producer FORM Dance Projects

RealTime issue #136 Dec-Jan 2016

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

Hannah Reardon-Smith, Jodi Rottle, Kupka’s Piano

Hannah Reardon-Smith, Jodi Rottle, Kupka’s Piano

Hannah Reardon-Smith, Jodi Rottle, Kupka’s Piano

Kupka’s Piano perform four works in an all Chris Dench show: two solo works from when London-born Dench was in Europe in the 1980s and two recent ensemble pieces written since his move to Australia in the mid-90s.

The performing space has been reworked for the night, the usual sound-deadening curtains drawn back to reveal an old roller door and hipster brick. Gives the room a bit more bounce and reverb. Dench and the other “complexists” (Ferneyhough, Finnissy, Barrett, etc) often layer highly complex individual parts into dense textures. One can listen for the individual lines but also listen to all that activity as a sonic mass. By setting up a livelier space Kupka’s Piano let the room acoustic subtly impose itself on each instrument in support of the “sound mass” interpretation of Dench’s work.

The first work is Flux (2016), specifically written for Kupka’s Piano and premiering tonight with composer attending. Flux beautifully illustrates the tension between individual line and ensemble coherence. It is as though the instruments each express their own agency yet somehow coalesce their individuality into periods of profound cooperation. Throughout there is a sense of anticipation, instruments waiting for a cue or maybe their own need for expression, and then bursting into action when the time is right. I think of summer, bobbing in the water with dozens of others, singular in our thoughts as we wait for that perfect wave. And when the perfect wave comes, we ride the wave together, each in our own way.

The other large piece, eigenmomenta (2001), makes more use of massive, warm and embracing bass sonorities and, rather than the individual agency of Flux, I hear lots of follow-the-leader as parts begin on one instrument to be picked up and elaborated by the others.

Chris Dench

Chris Dench

Chris Dench

For many, eigenmomenta and Flux (and the “new complexity” works generally) are the definition of rhythmically fiendish, yet I’m bouncing in time with the conductor so the musical pulse is clear. The performers are also nodding their bodies so maybe the difficulty of the work—see the scores on Dench’s website for examples—leads the performers to signal a strong pulse for themselves and each other as a deliberate performance strategy. There is no doubt that any underlying complexity is in complete service to a musical purpose deep with feeling.

Vier Sarmstädter Aphorismen (1989), four short and very lovely pieces for flute, was written when Dench was living in Europe. Shared between two performers, the works stretch and repeat fragments into longer lines. The mood shifts from pastoral lyricism to melancholic interiority, the tone of the performers rich and subtle. Masterful writing and a showcase for Dench’s fondness for flute. A perfect contrast to the works for full ensemble.

Sometimes reviewing a concert can be a drag—maybe the work is just not that interesting, or the performances not that good and it is hard to think of anything to say. But sometimes reviewing is difficult because the concert is such a pleasure that I really don’t want to be listening-to-write, I just want to sit back and enjoy the unfolding moment. This was that sort of concert.

Kupka’s Piano: Singular Vectors: A Chris Dench portrait concert, performers: flutes Hannah Reardon-Smith, Jodie Rottle, clarinets Macarthur Clough, violin Lachlan O’Donnell, cello Katherine Philp, percussion Angus Wilson, piano Alex Raineri; Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts, Brisbane, 2 Dec

RealTime issue #136 Dec-Jan 2016

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

Motorgenic, Robbie Avenaim, Substation

Motorgenic, Robbie Avenaim, Substation

Motorgenic, Robbie Avenaim, Substation

I’m chatting with Robbie Avenaim amid the rattle, clash and clatter of his Motorgenic exhibition at Melbourne’s Substation when he explains that this is a retrospective not of his work, but of his instrument, the Electronic Motorised Stick (EMS). He says this with a real affection and respect that stops just shy of anthropomorphic. This sentiment is affirmed as he goes on to describe his robotic creations not simply as instruments but as collaborators that he uses to push his own skills as an improvising musician.

Given Avenaim developed his Semi-Automated Robotic Percussion System (SARPS) as a performance tool, it’s fascinating to see the methodology very successfully deployed as a series of kinetic sound sculptures. If you approach the three-room installation in a roughly clockwise direction, you experience the evolution of Avenaim’s collaborative partner from shop-purchased vibrator (cheekily presented on a plinth, under glass, like a precious archaeological artefact) to the first model Electronic Motorised Stick whose sideways action is limited to playing a single drum, to the 360 degree multi-instrumental version. Then on to his latest work which sees the stick robot let loose on both vertical and horizontal planes. The learning process for both artist-maker and robotic instrument is clear, each new variation refining the “musculature” and increasing the range to include even more interaction with chance.

The first Electronic Motorised Stick was the EMS180°. Inspired by the mechanics of the vibrator that he had been using in his expanded percussion performances (a short sample of which is included on a small monitor in the room), Avenaim attached a small DC motor with a counterbalance to a drumstick and then strung it up so that it could hit things. In this first iteration the stick is constrained to a 180° range by two metal rods attached to the frame of a tom tom. The drum is covered in felt and on it is placed a small gong. Consequently, rather than an arrhythmic drum roll, the sonic results are soft thuds, metallic thunks and an occasional higher ring as the stick makes contact with the gong that wobbles around the surface trying to escape the beating. The modification of the drum and its surface indicates that Avenaim’s interest is in creating unexpected sonic outcomes, not simply in the perceived novelty of autonomous playing.

Motorgenic, Robbie Avenaim, Substation

Motorgenic, Robbie Avenaim, Substation

Motorgenic, Robbie Avenaim, Substation

Releasing the EMS from its metallic bondage, the second installation, EMS 360° sees the vibrating stick suspended in a long drop from the ceiling and mechanised so that it continuously rotates in clockwise direction. As it does so it makes contact with a circle of carefully placed objects on the floor—metal pipes, gongs, porcelain bowls, woodblocks. Set to a fast frequency, the hyperactive stick skips across the objects that are all differently textured, yet have a similar bright hollow timbre— a ‘tick tocki-ness.’ This is a music of relentless action—sonic markers of seconds irregularly tripping away much faster than Greenwich Mean Time.

The final installation EMS 360° Mobile, allows the motorised stick access to movement not only across the horizontal but also the vertical plane. While this introduces more chaos, curiously the result is less hyperactive and more mesmeric than the previous installation. This has to do with the speed of the stick’s frequency and its length but also with the hovering grace of the large-scale mobile that Avenaim has constructed from long metal tubes to counterbalance the vibrating stick. Subtitled “a work-in-progress,” this exploratory feel is built into the work as the stick tests the territory, tapping its way across the floor, on which are placed large cymbals, bass drums and snares that produce a weightier breed of percussive sounds.

Like an obstacle course or training ground there is also a range of wooden blocks among the instruments that encourage the EMS to ascend to different heights and to bounce to different areas of the playing field. Here you can really see the machine negotiating its environment as the stick gets caught in little micro-rhythms between objects before ricocheting off into other new zones and patterns. Nothing is repeatable and almost anything is possible, yet there are clearly rules at work—mechanical, mathematical, physical and aesthetic. While I’m in the gallery Avenaim adjusts some of the objects and the instrument recalibrates itself to a new world order. “In-progress” is the very nature of this piece: it can never, and should never be resolved.

During our conversation, Avenaim is keen to emphasise that for him, this exploration has always been about how to be a better musician by learning from these mechanised minds. It is this humble yet deeply conceptual engagement that makes these works so elegant and convincing as kinetic installations. The form is very much defined by the function, opening up the awe of physics-in-action. This is best illustrated by the small study-type work in the first room that comprises a metal ring suspended 30cms off the floor. As the DC motor in the ceiling turns the metal object spins in a beautiful undulating arc—like rings orbiting a planet. I asked Avenaim about this curiously silent work and he said that when he installed it, it was touching the floor so that the circling produced a metallic sound, but that the continuous action has caused it to wind around itself, gradually lifting the ring further and further off the ground. He prefers to leave it this way, seeing the work now as a visual study of oscillating frequencies. It’s this sense of curiosity and wonder that makes Robbie Avenaim’s Motorgenic a very satisfying and cohesive exhibition, visually, sonically and conceptually.

See videos of works in Motorgenic here and here.

Robbie Avenaim, Motorgenic, The Substation, Newport, Melbourne, 17 Nov-17 Dec

RealTime issue #136 Dec-Jan 2016 pg.

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

Cat Jones

Cat Jones

Cat Jones

When I was in my early 20s I became obsessed with making my own perfume. In particular I wanted to capture the scent of my favourite flower, the freesia. Weekly I trekked to Rookwood Cemetery to gather baskets full of flowers that grew wild there, then layered them between oiled muslin cloths in an attempt to extract their fresh, sweet smell. After a month’s steeping and changing, steeping and changing, I wrung out my oily rags to reveal what could only be described as a sweaty, meaty scent, with undertones of rot. I named it “Essence de Burger Ring.”

From this I learned that perfumery is alchemical and from sweet things horrendous smells can emerge and vice versa. (For example, sweet musk was originally derived from unpleasant substances in the gland of a range of animals including the musk deer, the musk rat, the musk duck and even the crocodile, where you’ll find it nestled away in the cloaca.) Artist turned conceptual perfumer Cat Jones has been dabbling in this mysterious art for a while now and, at the invitation of the Sydney Festival, will be exploring the scents, both sweet and rank, that might be distilled from this big, bad, beautiful, mixed blessing of a city called Sydney.

 

Leading with the nose

Olfactory elements have been present in Jones’ previous works Somatic Drifts and Anatomy’s Confection, but it was not until Port Adelaide’s Vitalstatistix commissioned her to create a work in 2015 for their Climate Century project that scent became the central element, materially and thematically.

Jones’ Century’s Breath responds to the site of the LeFevre Peninsula in South Australia which is called, in the language of the Kaurna people, Mudlhannga, and translates as “the nose place.” Through conversations with locals, peers and passersby the artist gathered visions of the future, more specifically “olfactory portraits” of it. She explains the process: “Each person has their story documented and describes the smell of the idea or the place or the habitat and gives it a title…I act as a verbatim scribe with a few tweaks. So it comes in forms that are either prose or poetry or block words—the writing form changes because everyone expresses themselves in a different way.” The resulting installation took place at the South Australian Maritime Museum and contained a series of smellable “olfactory landscapes” and “commemorative perfumes,” along with brief text evocations that include the scent concept, the aroma description and the materials used to create the smell. The work won the Sadakichi Award for Experimental Work With Scent in the Art and Olfaction Awards 2016 presented at the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles.

 

Essence de Sydney

Subsequently Jones was approached by Sydney Festival to create a work along the lines of Century’s Breath for the 2017 festival. For this manifestation, Jones says, “[Visitors] will come into a room that is kind of like a social space. I will have two artists who are there to talk to them—engage them in conversation. There will be five tables, one for each of the themes— Competition, Extravagance, Resistance, Democracy, Landscape—the key identifiers of Sydney’s personality or Sydney’s foundations. In each of the tables will be embedded audio excerpts from interviews I’ve had with selected participants over the last month or so—two for each theme. Visitors will listen with headphones and then on each side of the table will be the smell that has emerged from the [interview]…The scents are on the inside of a ceramic cloche which will sit upside down on a ceramic plate. People can lift it and sniff—almost like a wine tasting in some ways.”

The 10 interviews were conducted with “people from all different walks of life who have a unique relationship to Sydney and the theme”: feminist author and publisher Anne Summers, Indigenous elder and environmentalist Aunty Fran Bodkin; creative entrepreneur, performer and accessibility advocate Sarah Houbolt; academic and social housing expert Michael Darcy; Kamilaroi political activist Lyall Munro Jnr; journalist and TV presenter Patrick Abboud; documentary maker and activist Pat Fiske; photographer/performer William Yang; and author and architecture critic Elizabeth Farrelly. Jones says, “I wanted to capture a diversity and nuance. To build an olfactory portrait of Sydney you need a lot of input, it’s not something that one person can decide. [The interviews are] installed in a group, as if they are in conversation with each other [and] the two scents on each table are in conversation as well.”

To create the scents, Jones has undertaken extensive research, including a residency in 2015 at the Institute of Art and Olfaction in Los Angeles. In preparation for Scent of Sydney she has a residency at the University of Technology’s Science Super Lab, where she is generating the 10 signature fragrances, an exciting process for her. “I have found a methodology that I love—[in particular] the scale; the macro and micro. This tiny, tiny scale that has a huge emotional and [temporal] impact inside you. [Scent] has a materiality and an ephemerality that is immediate, or in the case of base notes, can last for days. Each of the choices in the making has an impact on the concept you’re trying to communicate so I find it is rich in conceptual materiality.”

 

Cat Jones

Cat Jones

Cat Jones

To tell a smell

With our sense of smell being so subjective I was curious as to what kind of language Jones is finding people use to describe these olfactory imaginings. “Every person is incredibly different and that’s reliant on their scent history, their sense memory and their relationship to scent itself. I don’t know about other languages but particularly in English we don’t necessarily have words that describe smells. We have words that describe things that are like smells or things that might emanate smells, so we describe the thing rather than the smell. Descriptions are of the literal object; or metaphors [are used]; or sometimes people will describe emotions around a particular smell, rather than the smell itself; or make a moral judgement whether it’s good or bad. There’s always a moral judgement. But some people are able to describe texture and smell’s dynamic. Does it emit? Does it linger? There’s a movement, a choreography essentially in the sense of smell.”

 

Scent-carried conversation

While scent is the carrier, conversation is definitely the key to this work and Cat Jones’ relational art practice. During our interview, she deftly manages to turn the tables and I find myself a participant in the kind of discussion in which a visitor to the space might find themselves. Through gentle interrogation I am encouraged to concoct a conceptual fragrance called “Grinding through to Green,” that smells of grinding metal and human sweat with an after-tang of dusty city greenery, that describes my feelings about Democracy in this currently Baird-bullied city. My conversation joins those of other audience members to be compiled into an online archive for wider access.

But don’t expect to come home with your own sample swatch of Sydney’s Democracy or Competition or Landscape. Resisting the demand for takeaways is partly an environmental consideration, but Jones is also hoping to slow participants down so they can “immerse themselves in each scent and the conversation it came from…They will verbalise the experience, describing it rather than just saying, ‘Here, smell this’.” This, in addition to a comprehensive public talks program confirms that for Cat Jones, Scent of Sydney really is all about dialogue and communication, which is timely because in this corporate capital-driven city, where culture fights for every waft of sweet air, there’s a lot we need to talk about.

Sydney Festival: Cat Jones, Scent of Sydney; Carriageworks, Bay 19, 7–29 Jan, 10am-6pm; public conversations, 10, 11, 17, 18, 24, 25 Jan, 6pm–7pm; FREE

You can buy the limited edition scent Radical Ecologies from the work Somatic Drifts here and samples and the boxed book set from Century’s Breath here.

RealTime issue #136 Dec-Jan 2016

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

Walyja Ngurra, 2016, Ngamaru Bidu and Sohan Ariel Hayes, Light Geist

Walyja Ngurra, 2016, Ngamaru Bidu and Sohan Ariel Hayes, Light Geist

Walyja Ngurra, 2016, Ngamaru Bidu and Sohan Ariel Hayes, Light Geist

Like moths drawn to light, humans have been magnetised by this ephemeral force, whether the light of the skies, fire or electric light. In ancient Greek philosophy and the book of Genesis darkness was banished to all that was considered wrong, pushed into the depths of the psyche, whereas light was seen to represent good. This has troubling social, cultural and racial ramifications, as is argued by writers such as Richard Dyer, who problematises the ‘culture of light’ in White, Essays on Race and Culture (Routledge, 1997).

More literally, electric light has utterly transformed our being in the world. It has impacted upon natural circadian rhythms, hidden the stars of the night sky with light-pollution, changed work and leisure habits and radically defined our consumption of culture through media.

The exhibition Light Geist curated by Erin Coates at the Fremantle Arts Centre aesthetically deconstructs the opposition of light and dark. New works by Ella Barclay, Ngamaru Bidu and Sohan Ariel Hayes and Sam Price, present the phenomenon of light as a powerful, ambiguous and seductive medium, where darkness and light, both literal and symbolic, are woven into each other. The artists wield light in a way that is counter to the habitual passive consumption of screen content. You can step inside the light, blow it away and witness an intense field of projection-mapped hexagonal forms. Darkness is not banished by these artists but rather it has informed the creation and exhibiting of their works.

A clue to this lies in the tripartite English translation of the German term ‘Geist,’ as mind, spirit and ghost. Each of the works links to one of these categories, defining the way they tackle light, while also conjuring darkness.

Hive Mind, Sam Price, Light Geist

Hive Mind, Sam Price, Light Geist

Hive Mind, Sam Price, Light Geist

The dark recesses of the mind become the source of inspiration for Sam Price. In Hive Mind he has CNC-ed (computer numerical controlled. Eds) a model of a brain that protrudes from the wall as a cluster of white hexagonal forms, split into two as indicative of left and right brain. This becomes the screen for a tight, icy white projection coupled with a pumping electronic soundtrack. The rhythm of the light is controlled by data taken from a scan of Price’s own brain. The light dilates, then disappears only to reappear and shimmer across the surface. The effect is hypnotic, appearing almost holographic while reminiscent of the eclectic visual spectacles accompanying electronic music acts.

Ella Barclay gives us ghostly figures emerging from mist in This Comes to You From the Past. Three rectangular pools are suspended with wires that weave through clouds of mist, the blend with technology recalling science fiction movie scenes. As with the Cylon birthing pools in Battlestar Galactica, it suggests some ghostly or alien life form will appear from within. Instead, the vision is fairly quotidian, with a projection of bodies of swimmers filmed at night from above. There is nonetheless something transcendental and otherworldly about them and the way they float. This is emphasised all the more by their disappearance when the mist is blown or brushed aside to reveal the floor through the glass bottom of the tanks.

This Comes To You From the Past, 2016, Ella Barclay, Light Geist

This Comes To You From the Past, 2016, Ella Barclay, Light Geist

This Comes To You From the Past, 2016, Ella Barclay, Light Geist

The idea of spirit courses through Walyja Ngurra, the work of Ngamaru Bidu and Sohan Ariel Hayes. Ngamaru is a senior member of Parnngurr in the Western desert. She paints ancestral connection to land with close attention to fire cycles. The burning of the land leaves the blackest black out of which springs new growth. Her use of colours is irrepressibly vibrant and the canvas comes to life, dynamically animated by an intense spectrum of warm tones. Hayes has collaborated with Ngamaru to translate her paintings into the digital realm. These are animated in a 180-degree floor to wall projection coupled with sounds of the outback and Ngamaru singing and are quite unlike more familiar encounters with abstract projection of Indigenous painting.

Although technology has exacerbated a denial of darkness, Light Geist, as with many of the dark spaces of media arts, challenges the bifurcation of dark and light by seeing the darkness within the light, celebrating ambiguity and complexity. Forms are half glimpsed, ancient stories are brought to life and activity of the mind is made manifest. Darkness feeds into each of these works as part of a series of ghostly, spiritual and cognitive encounters with light.

Light Geist, curator Erin Coates; Fremantle Arts, Centre, 19 Nov 2016-22 Jan 2017

Perth-based freelance writer and lecturer Laetitia Wilson is the partner of Sohan Ariel Hayes.

RealTime issue #136 Dec-Jan 2016

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

Tree of Codes

Tree of Codes

Tree of Codes

The word “COSMOS” is faintly visible against a curved white backdrop. The word is split, “CO” on the left-hand wall and “SMOS” on the right. You can’t read the whole word at once; from one half to the other your eyes traverse scaffolding holding a pile of green fabric like a mossy hillside, a cluster of rubber faces, double-belled brass instruments and a magnificent bird’s head mask. It is as though Tree of Codes’ composer Liza Lim and the artist Massimo Furlan have cut out the middle of the cosmos, leaving this stage of apparently unrelated images. It is the audience’s job to reassemble it.

Tree of Codes is based on Jonathan Safran Foer’s sculptural book of the same name, which was created by cutting words out of Bruno Schulz’s collection of short stories, Street of Crocodiles. Just as you can see words from multiple pages through the holes in Foer’s Tree of Codes, the overlapping images of Lim’s opera can be assembled in different orders. Faced with so much ambiguity the audience (or at least those with whom I spoke) brought to it the glue of their own personal experience. For me this was evident from the opera’s first sounds: the chirping and warbling of bellbirds and magpies. While these calls are immediately recognisable to anyone who has taken a walk in Australia’s temperate rainforests, I wondered whether the audience in Dresden’s Hellerau Festival Theatre heard the almost-electronic sounds as birds at all.

The musicians of Ensemble Musikfabrik dribble into this laboratory of the mind and don white lab coats and biohazard suits. They exchange greetings and congregate around the tables, picking up their modified instruments. Carl Rosman playing the Mutant Bird lets out uncannily avian calls on the nose-flute. Among the musicians move the principal singers Adela (Emily Hindrichs), the Son (Christian Miedl), two actors playing their doubles (Anne Delahaye and Stéphane Vecchione), the Father (Yael Rion) and an Octopus constructed from inflated black plastic bags (Diane Decker).

Tree of Codes

Tree of Codes

Tree of Codes

A primary constellation can be identified among the images: that of a son coming to terms with his father’s death. This story furnishes the opera with its denser musical textures, such as a death march played on the twisted, augmented brass instruments. But the music is in large part sparse and charged with a meditative concentration. The magnetic voices of Hindrichs and Miedl carry the exposed attention.

Despite the interest of the opera’s cut-up/assemblage form, some of its most powerful moments are those of singular focus, including when the Father dons the bird-head mask. On his shoulders the mask takes on a beady-eyed and intelligent stare. He stands downstage with his arms outstretched like skinny wings, looking decidedly like a plucked bird. At the end of the opera the Son sings a frantic solo while rattling and tooting toy instruments spread around him. “I accepted the experiment of life/ I submitted to the frenzy/ the scraping danger./ I endured the urge to joy.” I can’t think of a better description of Tree of Codes.

See Liza Lim speak about the inspiration she drew from Jonathan Safran Foer and Bruno Schulz and watch the performers in rehearsal.

Read an interview with Lim on the Australian Music Centre website.

Cologne Opera, Tree of Codes: Cut-outs in time, composer Liza Lim, Ensemble Musikfabrik, Hellerau Festival Theatre, Germany, 26 Oct

RealTime issue #136 Dec-Jan 2016

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

Speak Percussion, Fluorophone Concert, The Substation

Speak Percussion, Fluorophone Concert, The Substation

Speak Percussion, Fluorophone Concert, The Substation

While the relationship between music and light is usually metaphorical, Speak Percussion has no time for such conjecture. With its purpose-built instruments used as lights and lights as instruments, the Melbourne-based ensemble’s latest program Fluorophone steps beyond simple choreography. Presenting works by Damien Ricketson, Eugene Ughetti, Juliana Hodkinson and Simon Løffler, Speak fills the iconic industrial space of Newport’s The Substation with sound and light.

Opening the program is Rendition Clinic, Damien Ricketson’s unsmiling exploration of the role music and light have played in ‘soft’ torture practices. Combining live percussion with bright flashing lights and samples of recorded music, the work is unsettling and disorienting right from the onset. Percussionists Louise Devenish and Matthias Shack-Arnott are sporadically illuminated by custom-built strobe lights that emit loud clicking noises upon discharge. Precise metallic tapping in the percussion mimics the distinctive sound of these contraptions, incorporating the lights both visually and sonically into the piece.

Pyrite Gland, a recent composition by Speak’s Artistic Director Eugene Ughetti, features two tom-toms with custom-built LED lights fitted inside. Radiating an odd yellow-green light, these drums offer an impeccable synaesthetic reflection of the eerie cooing sound created by foot pumps on the floor. The ensemble generates a palette of unsettling sounds with balloons, sticks and the ribbed plastic piping which carries air to inner cavities of the drums and doubles as a kind of plastic guiro.

Speak Percussion perform Pyrite Gland, Singapore 2015

Speak Percussion perform Pyrite Gland, Singapore 2015

Speak Percussion perform Pyrite Gland, Singapore 2015

Scored for amplified matches, Juliana Hodkinson’s Lightness explores an equally inventive sound world. Speak Percussion finds the rhythm in striking, igniting and extinguishing matches, sacrificing an immeasurable number of Redheads in the process. In the final sequence, the audience watches with bated breath as outstretched arms slowly pass a dwindling flame.

Most prominent in the program are two works by Danish composer Simon Løffler. The first is a new commission by Speak Percussion simply titled e. Performed on what could be an art installation—panel lights arranged in the shape of a subdivided triangle with an actual triangle suspended in the centre—e lacks nothing in visual stimulation. Seated behind the instrument, the four players use pedals and clickers to operate a geometric lightshow accompanied by exhilarating electronic noise. After extensive crackling and buzzing it is almost ironic to hear the unexpected timbre of the triangle, which plays in sync with a satisfying pattern of lights.

Løffler’s earlier work b (2002) sees three Speak members seated shoulder-to-shoulder at a small table. Three neon lights flicker ominously as two players stamp out complex rhythms on effects pedals and a third exploits the crackling of a loose jack cable. By touching the lights and clutching each other’s arms the performers pass static electricity from body to body, creating distorted sounds and jolting rhythms. Truly a pleasure to watch, the musician’s ecstatic interaction alone fills the room; an especially remarkable feat considering the openness of the venue.

Fluorophone is an electrifying experience that truly lives up to its name. Speak Percussion is to be commended not only for an exhilarating performance but also for curating a program that maintains diversity in instrumentation and style while successfully synthesising music and light.

Speak Percussion, Fluorophone, The Substation, Newport, Melbourne, 23 Nov

See Zoe Barker’s review of Speak Percussion’s Annica and Matthew Lorenzon’s interview with member-composers Eugene Ughetti and Matthias Schack-Arnott.

RealTime issue #136 Dec-Jan 2016

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

Katrina Sedgewick

Katrina Sedgewick

Katrina Sedgewick

I’m waiting in the reception area of ACMI X, the new “shared co-worker” space behind Melbourne’s Art Centre, created by the Director of the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI), Katrina Sedgwick. The decor is all post-industrial chic, with concrete floors, exposed air conditioning ducts and corrugated plastic sheets on the wall.

Later, I’m taken through a series of open-planned desks, a large kitchen and event space, editing suites, meeting rooms and a cute library nook. ACMI staff—previously scattered across several offices in Melbourne’s CBD—have been brought under one roof here, and the local branch of the National Film and Sound Archive (NFSA) occupies one corner. Desks are let to a diverse range of tenants, from contemporary art group Aphids to digital studios working on virtual reality technology such as Sandpit, to a screenwriter sponsored by the Copyright Agency.

This is Sedgwick’s vision for ACMI in physical form—an outward-looking institution engaged with industry and the broader creative sector, overseeing a conceptual space in which people, forms and ideas intermix. In her office at the centre of it all, I spoke with Sedgwick about her far reaching plans for ACMI as she approaches her second anniversary at the organisation’s helm.

 

Tell me about the space we are currently in, ACMI X.

The co-working space is 60 desks, and it houses a really diverse range of practitioners, companies and businesses who work across our remit—the moving image. It’s all about cross-disciplinary opportunity and collaboration, to have practitioners and makers from all sorts of different industries in our space every day—to be standing next to them making coffee, having conversations and allowing that sort of spontaneous interaction to feed into how we work, and hopefully leverage our resources back out to the sector. We moved in in March, and the co-workers have been here since May.

Do people and groups apply for a desk, or are they invited?

They apply and then we decide. It’s all about diversity.

 

Seb Chan

Seb Chan

Seb Chan

EXTENDING THE MUSEUM EXPERIENCE

Last year, you were quoted in Fairfax media saying that “a really significant shift” is planned around the way “ACMI audiences experience our content.” Can you elaborate on what that shift will comprise, and the role your new “Chief eXperience Officer” Seb Chan will be playing in that change?

I can’t get into specifics, as we’re working on a whole lot of those programs now. But in broad strokes, look at Seb’s background and the work he has done previously at the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian Design Museum in New York which has series of three-dimensional display objects, in a very traditional museum sense. These have been digitised, and there is a device—a digital ‘pen’ that was developed by Seb and his team—that allows a way of collecting that experience and continuing it when you get home, and sharing that with your friends and family really easily. It’s that idea of extending the conversation with the museum’s visitor before, during and after the visit, rather than it being a passive, come-and-consume experience. That’s where we’re heading, and Seb is central to our being able to develop a vision for that.

So digital technologies are central to the changes you envision for the visitor experience at ACMI?

There is a creative opportunity to change the way we work and connect with audiences using new digital tools—beyond marketing. Everyone’s got their heads around social media, but actually we have the opportunity to tell stories in completely different ways.

 

Audience experience Collisions, VR film by Lynette Wallworth

Audience experience Collisions, VR film by Lynette Wallworth

Audience experience Collisions, VR film by Lynette Wallworth

MINING DIGITAL POTENTIAL

In the very first Adelaide Film Festival I did back in 2003 [Segdwick headed the festival 2002–12], we did a crossover digital lab encouraging filmmakers to consider digital tools and different ways they could create work. By the time I left the festival a decade later, the conversation hadn’t changed one bit. Then I went to the ABC, which was all about digital, and it was still the same conversation with the film and television industry that was going on 14 years earlier. People have not got their heads around all of the creative potential that is there.

Why do you think there is that resistance?

I think it’s really generational. And the way funding is set up, the way the broadcasters and agencies work…

All those structures have been in place for a long time, and they were really built for a different era.

It’s about old school approaches for a certain group of people—mainly older white men—working in a particular way. And it has not changed in my time in the film industry, which is now 16 years. So it was very clear to me when I got the ACMI job that I needed to get someone who was a really incredible progressive thinker, who was able to look three years ahead of anybody else. So that title and position of Chief eXperience Officer was created because I knew I could get Seb Chan. For me he was precisely the person I needed.

So can we expect to see the level of change that Seb delivered at the Cooper Hewitt in New York here at ACMI?

Absolutely.

That’s quite a dramatic change.

It is. For Cooper Hewitt they were doing a massive renovation and previously their principle demographic was women over 50 who lived within a two-kilometre radius of the museum on the Upper East Side of New York. We’re in an utterly different position. We had nearly 1.5 million people come through the building last year. Clearly we have a series of stories the audience wants. What we’re interested in is how we make that better. How do we make ourselves a truly innovative institution that is at the forefront of 21st century museum practice?

Will that mean physical changes to the main cinema and exhibition space on Federation Square?

There will be some physical changes and shifts in content. The permanent exhibition is coming up to 10 years old and needs a significant reimagining. But we’re certainly not knocking down the building and starting again. It’s about reconfiguring and better connecting what we have. If someone comes in to see a David Bowie exhibition downstairs, how do they connect with the fact that four floors above them are two fantastic cinemas? We find that audiences in fact don’t currently connect. So there’s a series of tools to bring in, some of which are as simple as a visitor guide with a map [laughs]. People will see changes as we go, but I think the big bang will be around 2019–20 which will lift the curtain on ACMI mark II.

 

BEING A MUSEUM AND PROUD OF IT

Apart from appointing Seb, what changes have you already made since your arrival in early 2015?

Firstly to our overall strategy. We’re now describing ourselves as a museum. That’s been an interesting move. When I came for my interview I was talking about being a 21st century museum, and I was asked, “Why are you calling it a museum? We’re not a museum.” And I said, “I think we are.” We have a 160,000-object collection that we preserve and provide access to. We have a permanent exhibition that our audience interacts with, we have temporary shows and we have a team of curators and a dynamic exhibition team. We also have cinemas that show cultural and art objects. And we have a connecting social space. I think those things make us a museum rather than a gallery or centre.

 

Nyarri Nyarri Morgan, Collisions VR film by Lynette Wallworth

Nyarri Nyarri Morgan, Collisions VR film by Lynette Wallworth

Nyarri Nyarri Morgan, Collisions VR film by Lynette Wallworth

OPENING DOORS

The next big shift was opening the doors on Flinders Street. We had one entrance when I arrived, on Federation Square. Now we have two. That had the immediate impact of increasing our visitations by 200,000 people per year. It also started a rich conversation about how we engage with our audiences and their journey through the institution. You see that reflected in our corporate strategy, thinking very holistically as an institution, to connect all the different parts of what we do.

 

ARCHIVE ACTION + NEW COMMISSIONING

We’ve created a collection strategy, which I think is really robust and really the first one we’ve done. It has triggered a whole lot of conversations around our collection and how we make our archive—as well as the NFSA archive—more accessible and as easy, playful and fun as it could possibly be. We’ve signed a new memorandum of understanding with the NFSA and begun a series of projects with them over the next three years. Ultimately our philosophy will deliver a very participatory archive; one where the content is as sharable, playable and re-mashable as it can possibly be.

We’ve commissioned three virtual reality pieces over the past 12 months, and we currently have Lynette Wallworth’s Collisions—the first time we’ve exhibited a single virtual reality work as a major exhibition piece.

So, more commissioning, more responsiveness and spontaneity. We’re very audience focused, we’re leveraging our collection and the ACMI X co-working space represents a shift to a more visible and ongoing connection with the breadth of industries that we showcase.

Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Federation Square, Melbourne

More information about the ACMI X co-working space, including application forms, can be found at www.acmi.net.au/acmi-x

Now at ACMI: Philippe Parreno is a leading French synthesiser of visual art and film, creating installations that play disorientingly with time and space. Parreno’s large-scale, partly bio-reactor-driven Anywhen with its mobile screens and fish inflatables) has been a hit at Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall in London. Watch an interview with the artist.

Philippe Parreno, Thenabouts, ACMI, Melbourne, 6 Dec-13 March, 2017

RealTime issue #136 Dec-Jan 2016

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

Matthew Day, Assemblage #1

Matthew Day, Assemblage #1

Matthew Day, Assemblage #1

The entire floor of the upstairs studio at Dancehouse is lined with a silvery padding. The audience sits in a single row of seats against three of the walls. It’s a bright, aseptic environment, full of reflected light and slender, transparent shadows, with something like the atmosphere of a laboratory or test facility.

But instead of quietly humming computers and bubbling alembics, this lab contains an occasional carpenter’s odds and ends. Distributed throughout the space, without apparent system, are three large wooden panels, long and short lengths of two-by-four, a partially constructed wooden frame, a cordless drill and a handful of five-inch nails. There are also five squares of different coloured fabric, a tube of Berocca tablets, five drink bottles, a bunch of bananas and a single coin.

In this largely improvised hour-long presentation, Matthew Day—current artist-in-residence at Dancehouse—probes and modifies, discomposes and recomposes this odd medley of everyday materials. There is no formal beginning and no formal conclusion: the work simply breaks off when Day calls time. Indeed, the final two stagings in this season are billed as “durational performances,” lasting three hours, with audiences invited to come and go as they please. There’s also a library attached to the performance where audience members can consult various theoretical texts which have informed the work.

But what does Day do? He snatches up a piece of wood, drags it across the floor and uses it to prop up a large wooden panel. He adds the Berocca to one of the bottles, turning the water red. He drinks it. Then he drinks from a bottle of blue liquid. He eats a banana and throws the skin at a pair of shorts hanging from a rafter. He puts the nails in his pocket and prances across the room, tinkling. A few concrete—and even somewhat gratuitous—images emerge: Matthew Day wrapped in colourful fabrics, like a harem attendant; Matthew Day in his underwear standing on one leg, leaning on a spear, reminiscent of David Gulpilil’s famous pose in Walkabout.

Matthew Day, Assemblage #1

Matthew Day, Assemblage #1

Matthew Day, Assemblage #1

As he navigates the room, mapping its irregular features to his instincts and inclinations, Day seems to waver between two distinct planes of movement. On the one hand, there are pulsing bodily contortions reminiscent of the concentrated physicality of his acclaimed TRILOGY series. And on the other, there are the more subdued and undancerly passages where it appears Day is merely performing a task, such as changing costume or manoeuvring lengths of wood. Indeed, in terms of this latter dynamic, this work bears an outward similarity to the contribution Day made to BalletLab’s Kingdom in 2015, which involved performers wandering around a large open space constructing a landscape from mats and long poles.

And then there are also traces—like colourful fragments of old posters glimpsed beneath torn remnants of the new—of what looks like a much earlier dance training: a jaunty skipping step, a partial twirl, a loose flourish of the arm.

Assemblage #1 is a laboratory piece: an attempt to translate a complex tangle of ideas about the composition and relation of social objects and things into a new form of choreographic expression. There are several long passages where, as if waiting on the results of some obscure examination, Day simply stops, sitting quietly in a corner and observing his apparatus.

Matthew Day, Assemblage #1

Matthew Day, Assemblage #1

Matthew Day, Assemblage #1

It’s interesting enough as an insight into the artist’s creative processes and his attempt to open new territories beyond those he has already explored, but it isn’t a particularly engaging spectacle. It has little that stirs the senses, fires the imagination or perplexes the mind. The most exciting moment on opening night was when a decayed wood knot caused a long piece of lumber to snap unexpectedly under pressure. This was at least a genuinely spontaneous event. And it was the only time that the doubtful assemblage seemed really functional, with an identity greater than, but still encompassing, the artist himself.

But perhaps one hour isn’t enough. Perhaps this is a work that needs to be experienced as a durational event, to allow time for contingent and accidental events to accumulate and flow, and for a more intimate connection with the audience to develop.

Assemblage #1, concept, choreography, dance Matthew Day, choreographic assistant Tim Darbyshire, dramaturgy Martin del Amo, sound design James Brown, lighting design Katinka Marac; Dancehouse, North Carlton, 23-27 November 2016

RealTime issue #136 Dec-Jan 2016

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

Permission to Speak, Chamber Made Opera

Permission to Speak, Chamber Made Opera

Permission to Speak, Chamber Made Opera

The desire to tell our parents what family life was really like and to bear witness to the conditions of childhood is shared by many, so it’s no wonder that this inventive new documentary concert piece by composer Kate Neal and director-librettist Tamara Saulwick has been such a hit with Melbourne audiences.

Based on recorded interviews with more than 20 volunteers, Permission to Speak reflects on the difficulty of establishing meaningful communication across the generations, providing a ceremonial space for the public confession of feelings. It’s performed in the round by singers Georgie Darvidis, Edward Fairlie, Josh Kyle and Gian Slater, with a bold but simple set and lighting design by Bosco Shaw.

There are about a dozen scenes or movements, each one arranged around a different theme or mood or story. In one, Darvidis gives voice to the thoughts of an interviewee whose mother was a holy-roller-writhing-on-the-floor-style Pentecostal Christian. We hear memories of a childhood spent in dread of the coming Rapture. In another scene we hear a woman reflecting on the reasons why her mother was so rough when disciplining the kids. And in one collage-like section, we hear a barrage of brief descriptions of different fathers: the nuggetty one, the wiry one, the tall one, the peacock, the introvert and the one who is “a bit fucked.”

Edited excerpts from the actual interviews are played through speakers positioned at various points around the room. Some of these excerpts are quite long and some are only fragments. The performers, meanwhile, wear earpieces and deliver live audio-cued recitations of the same interviews. It’s a complicated combination, full of rapid cuts and transitions and overlaps. Sometimes it even sounds like the voices of the interviewees are coming directly from the audience, cutting off the performers, reasserting ownership of their stories.

Permission to Speak, Chamber Made Opera

Permission to Speak, Chamber Made Opera

Permission to Speak, Chamber Made Opera

And then we have Kate Neal’s composition for four voices, which is sometimes an accompaniment to the interview material and sometimes the main focus of our attention. Mostly performed a cappella, the work is rhythmically intricate, but also somehow naïve-sounding. (Is there a connection here between the complicated inner lives of children and their limited means of expression?) The score’s minimalist gestures, with short notes and a regular but insistent tempo, provide a necessary contrast to the hectic cut-and-paste clutter of the sound design, and its chant-like style suits the austerity of the staging.

The lyrics are selected by Tamara Saulwick from the interviews, and there’s something important about the fact that what is being said is also being sung. The permission which is granted in this show is also a kind of celebration; and, while there’s much that is sad or poignant in the remembered stories, the overall feeling is of airiness and giddy relief.

And there is something about the energy of the music and the urgency of the sound design which encourages more introspection than usual. The silence before the applause after the lights went down for the final time was one of the longest I’ve experienced. It was almost as if the audience had instinctively agreed to remain there in the dark for a minute, to think about parenthood and childhood and the ambiguous gift which lies between them.

Permission to Speak, composition, instrument design Kate Neal, concept, direction, libretto Tamara Saulwick, performers Georgie Darvidis, Edward Fairlie, Josh Kyle, Gian Slater, sound design Jethro Woodward, lighting design Bosco Shaw, costume design Marg Horwell; Arts House, North Melbourne, 23-27 Nov

RealTime issue #136 Dec-Jan 2016

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

Still Life, Dimitris Papaioannou

Still Life, Dimitris Papaioannou

Still Life, Dimitris Papaioannou

The 2017 Sydney Festival is overflowing with art. What to see? How much time and money to spend? Artistic Director Wesley Enoch wants you to be adventurous, to break out of the internet-driven niches our culture is generating. But he’s provided initial guidance, creating mini-programs around the senses, circus, Canadian performance and Indigenous culture. Beyond that, off you go into the maze of theatre, dance, music and Spiegeltent fare.

I’ve made a list of some 25 shows I’m eager to to see (will I even get to 10?) and think you might too, but not in every case—some niches are admittedly forbidding. I’ve seen previous work by some of the festival artists but, like you I’ll be going mostly on what I’ve heard, read and seen on YouTube and Vimeo (valuable but can mislead). I promise nothing beyond what my art-tuned intuition tells me. And I’ve cited clues from Wesley Enoch and RealTime reviewers and supplied video links which grabbed my attention. Good choosing.

 

The Encounter, Complicite

The Encounter, Complicite

The Encounter, Complicite

SENSES

In the festival’s Senses program, Scent of Sydney (identify the city via memory and smell), Imagined Touch (enter the world of the deafblind), House of Mirrors (not the reflection you know) and The Encounter (get lost in a sonic Amazon rainforest) will appeal to those eager to experience the physical, emotional and aesthetic effects of sensory deprivation and amplification.

 

Complicite, The Encounter

Guided by an onstage performer-narrator and sound manipulator, UK performance company Complicite presents an intensely aural experience that recreates a journey up the Amazon via binaural recording (in which the microphones are ear-positioned), acutely reproducing the spatial experience of human hearing. “In 1969, National Geographic photographer Loren McIntyre became lost in a remote part of the Brazilian rainforest while searching for the Mayoruna people. His encounter was to test his perception of the world…” [press release]. It’s a work that has been described as sensorily and culturally disorienting. And it appears to be an ideal companion piece for Anthropologies Imaginaires.

 

Gabriel Dharmoo, Anthropologies Imaginaires

Canadian composer, scholar of song cultures and a physically vigorous vocal performer, Gabriel Dharmoo, has created Anthropologies Imaginaires, a live mockumentary in which the artist, with sound, video and audience vocal participation, conjures imaginary cultures—their folklore and vocal techniques—compelling us to reflect on how we impose Western culture on others. It’s not part of Senses but makes a good lateral fit. I’m intrigued.

 

Balabala

Balabala

Balabala

DANCE

Ekosdance Company, Cry Jalailo and Balalala

I first saw Eko Supriyanto’s work in Jakarta, in the Indonesian Dance Festival of 2010 and was excited by the propulsive minimalism of a choreography rooted in local dance and other traditions. Cry Jailolo won praise at this year’s Darwin and OzAsia Festivals, with its focus on young men and their Climate Change-endangered remote Javanese coastal town. Alongside Cry Jailolo, Supriyanto is premiering Balabala, a work for five women from the same town about role and gender and expressed through martial art-driven dance.

 

Spectra, Dancenorth

Spectra, Dancenorth

Spectra, Dancenorth

Dancenorth, Spectra

Contrary to Enoch’s intent, the Ekosdance double bill looks like a lone Asian presence in the festival, but the alert festival-goer will grab a ticket to Spectra, a dance work from that inventive powerhouse from Townsville, Dancenorth in their believe-it-or-not first appearance in Sydney. Read about Spectra, a collaboration with a Japanese designer, composer and Butoh performers, in Ben Brooker’s interview with Artistic Director and choreographer Kyle Page.

 

Champions, FORM Dance Projects

Champions, FORM Dance Projects

Champions, FORM Dance Projects

FORM Dance Projects, Champions

Created in consultation with Western Sydney Wanderers W-league, this work features 11 female performers enacting the drills, tactics and rituals of the game and expressing the joys of playing along with the frustrations of imposed gender limitations. Read Nikki Heywood’s interview with choreographer Martin del Amo in next week’s RealTime.

 

Trevor Jamieson, The Season, Sydney Festival 2017

Trevor Jamieson, The Season, Sydney Festival 2017

Trevor Jamieson, The Season, Sydney Festival 2017

INDIGENOUS PERFORMANCE
Nathan Maynard, The Season

Among the most striking photographs by Tasmanian photographer Ricky Maynard are those in his The Moonbird People (1985) series—images of mutton-birding, the capture and butchering of muttonbirds for food, oil and feathers, an ancient practice on the island. Now Nathan Maynard (a descendant of the chief of the Trawlwoolway Clan and of the North East Tasmanian Indigenous peoples), who has experienced this harvesting, has written a play around it, featuring powerful performers Trevor Jamieson and Tammy Anderson.

 

Jacob Boehme, Blood on the Dance Floor

Jacob Boehme, Blood on the Dance Floor

Jacob Boehme, Blood on the Dance Floor

Jacob Boehme, Blood on the Dance Floor

Wesley Enoch regards Boehme’s fusion of autobiography and dance as “aesthetically a real step on for Indigenous storytelling.” The premiere performance, jointly presented with Melbourne’s Ilbijerri Theatre impressed Andrew Fuhrmann (read the review “To live, dance and love with HIV“).

 

Cliff Cardinal, Huff

See Wesley Enoch’s account of this First Nations Canadian performance about traditional culture and the depredations of substance abuse in my interview with him in this E-dition.

 

MUSIC
1967 Music in the Key of Yes

A grand musical celebration of the 1967 Referendum at the Sydney Opera House—with superb singers Leah Flannagan, Yirrmal, Dan Sultan, Adalita, Stephen Pigram, Radical Son and Thelma Plum.

 

THREE NORTH AMERICAN FEMALE COMPOSERS
Nicole Lizée, Sex, Lynch and Video Games

One of North America’s most inventive composers, Montreal musician Nicole Lizée draws on an armoury of instruments and forms with which to produce contemporary classical works, with the likes of the Kronos Quartet and music video creations, like her Hitchcock Etudes (sounds, scores and images wittily reconfigured against solo piano) and the recent (David) Lynch Etudes, which will be heard in Sydney. Also in the concert is 8-Bit Urbex, a “homage to 80s video games with retro video footage…employing traditional and electronic instruments along with old tape machines” (press release). Karappo Okesutura is “a messed-up karaoke performance of pop hits including The Bangles’ “Eternal Flame,” Diana Ross and Lionel Ritchie’s “Endless Love,” and Devo’s “Whip It.” Lizée’s taken with the wealth of creative possibilities to be found in the malfunctioning of antique electronic equipment.

Described as “an exploration of 90s screen culture,” Sex, Lynch and Video Games, features Canadian pianist Eve Egoyan (playing to video projections) and the Australian Art Orchestra, renowned for their cross-cultural exchanges with Indian and Australian Indigenous performers, here moving into new territory under the direction of trumpeter Peter Knight.

 

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith

Another North American in the program is Los Angeles-based Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith, player, programmer and composer specialising in the rare analogue Buchla 100 Synthesiser, a generator of remarkably idiosyncratic sounds. She was mentored by synthesiser pioneer and Buchla composer Suzanne Ciani. You can watch a short, lovingly made video of Smith operating this beautiful instrument with its colourful knobs and plate keys and listen to a variety of her works on YouTube, ranging from contemplative to the pop-ish “Sundry“. Her albums include Euclid (2015) and Ears (2016). Smith has toured the US and Europe and appeared this year in David Lynch’s Festival of Disruption.

 

Ellen Fullman, Long String Instrument

Ellen Fullman, Long String Instrument

Ellen Fullman, Long String Instrument

Ellen Fullman, Long String Instrument

Unlike Lizée and Smith, Ellen Fullman, another experimental American artist, operates entirely in the acoustic domain, playing the 25-metre instrument she’s developed over some 30 years. Large spaces, like Sydney’s Town Hall for this festival, become larger resonators for an already complexly resonating device such that audiences apparently feel like they’re inside the instrument. Fullman walks between the strings, stroking them with rosin-covered hands. A YouTube sample of a performance reveals sitar-like sounds, drones and, as Fullman says, a chamber orchestra at a touch. Hear her talk about the evolution of the instrument. Definitely a concert for those ready to have their ears fine-tuned within a contemplative musical aura. Harbors is performed with cellist Theresa Wong.

 

THEATRE/CONTEMPORARY PERFORMANCE
Dimitris Papaioannou, Still Life

Greek experimental performance director Dimitris Papaioannou’s creations are remarkable, whether as theatre works, performative installations or the Opening Ceremony of the 2004 Athens Olympic Games. He’s made excerpts of these available on Vimeo. You can watch a 17-minute version of Primal Matter (2012) in which Papaioannou directs, choreographs and performs—with eerie physical dexterity and more than a nod to surrealism. A 30-minute sampler, 2001-12 reveals the sheer range of his vision and talents. One European reviewer has called Still Life, a work inspired by the myth of Sisyphus, “philosophical dance” in which “life is both a lusty dance and a perpetual struggle….the whole work feels like a magic show, but with frightening existential tricks and nightmare images.”

 

Institute

Institute

Institute

Gecko, Institute

Wesley Enoch tells me that Institute, by UK’s Gecko, is “Kafka-ish physical theatre,” not least because it comprises a world of filing cabinets “in which are memories; triggers for what might be mental health episodes. The performers play out a failed date and what it means for one of them, and there’s a re-playing of what I read as the death of a father figure—I’m reading into it all the things I want to read into it. It’s a beautiful work, ending with an almost euphoric sense of what I would call healing.”

 

Prize Fighter

Prize Fighter

Prize Fighter

Le Boite, Prize Fighter

Prize Fighter from Brisbane’s La Bôite plays out as a convincing real time boxing match in its telling of the life of a Congolese child soldier relocated to Brisbane. It was written by Future D Fidel, himself a Congolese refugee. Reviewer Kathryn Kelly wrote that it “showcas[ed] the breadth of African-Australian talent in this country...”

 

Patricia Cornelius, SHIT

Leading Australian playwright Patricia Cornelius’ creations are too rarely seen in Sydney. In his review for RealTime of the Melbourne premiere, John Bailey wrote, “SHIT opens with a monologue that elevates profanity to Beckett-like wordplay (I’ve never heard ‘fuck’ used as noun, verb and adjective in the same sentence). It’s an immediate reminder of Patricia Cornelius’ versatility as a writer, able to produce poetry from vulgar argots without sterilising their power along the way. It’s also a potent introduction to the three protagonists, a trio of women who are the subjects and agents of violence, who inhabit a cruel and complex social sphere but who will not be written off as either victim or monster.”

 

post, Ich Nibber Dibber

Ich Nibber Dibber by those proud Westies and true artistic disrupters, post, features the astonishing trio reproducing excerpts of frank conversations about life and art conducted across their 10-year performance history. This will be a special treat for those familiar with the post repertoire and hopefully a revelation to those who haven’t had the pleasure.

 

Urban Theatre Projects & Blacktown Arts Centre, Home Country

UTP and BAC come together to present Home Country, a work about intra- and cross-cultural tensions—Indigenous, Algerian and Greek—played out in a Blacktown car park. Guided from scene to scene, the audience will encounter performances scripted by Andrea James, Peter Polites and Gaele Sobott. Design is by Clare Britton, direction Rosie Dennis.

 

King Roger, Royal Opera House, London

King Roger, Royal Opera House, London

King Roger, Royal Opera House, London

OPERA
Opera Australia, King Roger; Sydney Chamber opera, Biographica

One festival, two operas. That’s impressive, especially when one is a new Australian work and the other, a rarity from the early 20th century—the Polish composer Karol Szymanowski’s King Roger (1926). It’s a co-production by London’s Royal Opera House and Opera Australia, looks great on DVD in Kasper Holten’s production and should be even better live. Szymanowski’s distinctive late Romanticism, infused with orientalisms, is deeply engaging as is its strange tale of a mystical shepherd who releases the king from religion and jealousy in a Dionysian ritual.

Sydney Chamber Opera will premiere leading Australian composer Mary Finsterer’s Biographica, an account of Gerolamo Cardano (1501-76), a Renaissance wunderkind who excelled as mathematician (inventing algebra), physician, biologist, physicist, chemist, astrologer, astronomer, philosopher, writer and gambler. Add “flawed father, solitary, aggressive, peculiar [and one who] would listen to a guardian angel, swear by science, and dream of defeating time” (Sydney Chamber Opera website) and you have a fine specimen for an opera. Tom Wright, who has collaborated successfully with Michael Kantor and Barrie Kosky, is the librettist, Ensemble Offspring the musicians and Janice Muller the director. Jack Symonds conducts and Mitchell Butel plays Cardano.

 

Rautavaara

The great Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara (1928-2016) died in July this year. Once he’d abandoned serialism in the 1970s his style moved towards an immersive neo-romanticism, richly melodic without sounding archaic and often exuding a mystical aura. This festival concert focuses on Canticus Arcticus, a glorious snowscape poem that incorporates beautiful birdsong, Isle of Bliss (which has been described as “a grandchild of the Sibelius tone-poems”) and the 7th Symphony, Angel of Light, one of his most acclaimed major works and one of several inspired by an angel he thought he saw as a child. Not a concert for hard-nosed modernists and their diverse heirs, but for those open to music of great generosity and emotional power, this tribute event is more than welcome.

 

VISUAL & MEDIA ART
Myuran Sukumaran: Another Day in Paradise

While in Bali’s Kerobokan gaol, awaiting execution for drug trafficking, Myuran Sukumaran realised his talent for painting under the tutelage of friend Ben Quilty. On show at Campbelltown Arts Centre will be many of his works alongside others, commissioned for the exhibition, by Abdul Rahman Abdullah, Safdar Ahmed, Megan Cope, Jagath Dheerasekara, Taloi Havini, Khaled Sabsabi and Matthew Sleeth. Curated by Quilty and CAC’s Michael Dagostino, the exhibition will reflect on the rehabilitative power of art, the nature of compassion and the limits of capital punishment. The multiple ironies of the show’s title already say so much.

 

Vernon Ah Kee, Not An Animal Or A Plant

Leading Australian visual artist Vernon Ah Kee, showing extant and new works in drawing and installation, will address the Referendum of 1967 which recognised Indigenous peoples as Australians; an event, says Wesley Enoch, too little acknowledged. His exhibition, aptly titled Not An Animal Or A Plant, will show at the National Art School.

 

EXIT installation

EXIT installation

EXIT installation

Diller Scofidio + Renfro, Exit

Based on an idea by philosopher-urbanist Paul Virilio, Exit is a 360-degree animated overview of “a planet in trouble,” mapped using extensive disaster, climate, wealth, population and migration data. Philip Brophy, who saw it in Paris, praised its formidable production values but criticised it for “ultimately smack[ing] of grandstanding, intimidation and the type of passive-aggressive address to which so much politically committed art succumbs despite its often laudable concerns.” A RealTime reader begged to differ, citing the immersivity of the work, created by artists/architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro, architect-artist Laura Kurgan and statistician-artist Mark Hansen, and, too rare these days, the totality of its vision. Judge for yourself.

 

AND…

Retro Futurismus

I almost missed this one at the back of a crowded festival program, Retro Futurismus which John Bailey had praised back in July. He describes it as “a new kind of variety show based around the future as it was imagined by people in the past. Think Grace Jones, 2001: A Space Odyssey, 50s SF movies and 80s fashion.” He also notes a level of seriousness: “There’s great glee and energy in the romance of science fictions gone by, but also a painful realisation that this hope was let down by the reality in which we now find ourselves.” Retro Futurismus features stellar performers Anni and Maude Davey, Gabi Barton, Anna Lumb and Teresa Blake.

Sydney Festival 2017, 7-29 Jan

RealTime issue #136 Dec-Jan 2016

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

Esther Tuddenham, Sarah Ellis, The Amplified Elephants, Shhh, The Book of Daughters, JOLT Arts

Esther Tuddenham, Sarah Ellis, The Amplified Elephants, Shhh, The Book of Daughters, JOLT Arts

Esther Tuddenham, Sarah Ellis, The Amplified Elephants, Shhh, The Book of Daughters, JOLT Arts

The Book of Daughters, an event presented by JOLT Arts, reminded audiences of the diversity within Melbourne’s sonic art community. Rounding out three nights at the Meat Market in North Melbourne, the third concert featured the Amplified Elephants with Nat Grant, the resident BOLT ensemble with text artist berni m janssen, and Japanese drummer and sound artist Yoshimio. Their three works showcased the female voice in very contrasting settings.

 

Amplified Elephants

To begin the evening, the women of The Amplified Elephants played a compelling set directed by Nat Grant and poet Esther Tuddenham. Established by the Footscray Community Arts Centre and JOLT, the group consists of sound artists with an intellectual disability. In its decade-long existence, The Amplified Elephants have performed extensively throughout Australia and in London, Edinburgh and Tokyo, showcasing their unique brand of democratic music-making.

As the ensemble worked through different families of instruments—hand bells, cymbals, shakers, guiros and toy music boxes—Grant’s processing and direction was sensitive, resisting the temptation to over-process the recognisable sounds to the point of obscurity. She looped and added resonance to create an echo chamber-like soundscape from the original sources. Subtle references were discernible: the underwater quality of the metallic instruments, the insect-like sounds from the wooden and the gritty yet sparkling white noise of the shakers. Guest text artist and ex-Elephant, Esther Tuddenham, confidently recited two sections of text, with Grant’s processing transforming these into a crowd of voices. The first explored Tuddenham’s relationship with music, while the second was an almost stream-of-consciousness list of affirmations. The text conveyed the power of music-making and served to remind how music and sound art can give voice to those who may not have a platform in other settings.

 

berni m janssen (centre) and members of BOLT ensemble, Windspoken, The Book of Daughters, JOLT Arts

berni m janssen (centre) and members of BOLT ensemble, Windspoken, The Book of Daughters, JOLT Arts

Slow Riven Whirl

James Hullick’s Slow Riven Whirl, written with dramaturg berni m janssen, was created for the composer’s two young daughters as a reflection on women’s place in society. The text draws from the experiences of four individuals—Sappho, Rosa Parkes, Karen Silkwood and Sylvia Plath—tied together as “women felled by misguided communities.” Performed by the women of the BOLT ensemble with janssen, this was a work full of theatre and politics.

Musically, the work was innovatively composed and performed with vitality. To open, the instrumentalists joined janssen in a series of vocalisations. The soft exhales and hisses of the ensemble contrasted with the abrupt gasps of the speaker. Haunting hummed chorales provided points of stillness and reflection, the singing female voices supporting the spoken word. The first entrance of the full instrumental ensemble almost felt disjointed, after the incredibly effective use of voice and sparse bass-heavy scoring. But, with growing intensity and the introduction of each of the four characters, the audience was treated to some fiery and precise playing. The piece followed a trajectory in which the ensemble broke free of its hushed beginnings, mirroring second-wave feminist anger in the time of Plath, Silkwood and Parkes, an anger that had been bubbling under society’s surface since Sappho.

With its theatricality, the work was able to reinforce its musical themes and content. The double bass was borne through the the audience on the shoulders of four performers as janssen recited text exploring Plath’s domestic oppression; a macabre reminder of the fates of countless women who still suffer in that sphere. In the section addressing the experiences of Parkes, janssen spoke with a small loudhailer, alluding to civil rights movement protests and expressing the anger and defiance which defined feminism of that time.

Janssen’s oration was full of passion and sensitivity. Using her voice to explore female identity politics, she flitted between subversive, acting submissive and indignant, all the while unafraid to use her voice to convey deep frustration and anger. Hullick’s familial voice was never far from the surface of the work and, while obviously a deeply personal work for the composer, there were occasions when the imploring “listen to your father” detracted from the celebration of women—as narrators, subjects, artists and performers.

 

Yoshimio, Drum Drum, The Book of Daughters, JOLT Arts

Yoshimio, Drum Drum, The Book of Daughters, JOLT Arts

Yoshimio, Drum Drum, The Book of Daughters, JOLT Arts

Yoshimio

Yoshimio is an intriguing artist, spanning alternative, art, noise and ambient music worlds. Best known as a drummer, keyboardist and vocalist with bands OOIOO, Boredoms and Free Kitten, her explosive solo set melded her many influences, showcasing Yoshimio as a dynamic and virtuosic performer.

With the drum kit close miked, feedback was a constant feature. Sometimes contributing to the overall soundscape, and sometimes taking centrestage, this kind of noise can become physical rather than auditory, unrelenting in the discomfort it has the potential to cause. Adding to the physicality of her electronic sound was Yoshimio’s unbridled use of voice, often distorting to match the pitch and grating quality of the feedback. Where janssen primarily expressed a sort of rational, controlled feminist anger, Yoshimio yelled and screamed in a primal way which, despite the increasing participation of women in noise music, is still fairly shocking and unexpected.

A small synthesiser keyboard sat in place of the second tom and was used throughout for either simple minimalist vamps, which were then overlaid with more complex rhythmic ideas from the rest of the kit, or child-like melodies with which Yoshimio sang. These were playful and sarcastic moments, with Yoshimio’s vocals parodying the sickly sweet innocence of the songs before enveloping them within her aggressive rhythmic soundscape.

Electronics, vocals and keyboard aside, Yoshimio’s incredible kit playing formed the basis of an exhilarating set which energised the audience. Despite not expressing the overt political and social themes of the previous performance, her work more broadly challenged notions about women in music, providing a fitting end to the festival which had for three nights featured women in both the Australian and international sonic art community. James Hullick and JOLT Arts must be applauded for creating the engaging and diverse program that was The Book of Daughters.

JOLT, The Book of Daughters, Arts House Meat Market, Melbourne, 12 Nov

RealTime issue #136 Dec-Jan 2016

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

Dobromila Jaskot, The Calm Before, TURA New Music

Dobromila Jaskot, The Calm Before, TURA New Music

Dobromila Jaskot, The Calm Before, TURA New Music

Composer-performer collaborations can yield unique results from the synergy both parties bring, becoming testing grounds for the exploration of instrumental techniques, novel notation approaches and virtuosity in performance. In Tura New Music’s 2016 Scale Variable series, Soundstorm’s The Calm Before focused on this type of collaboration, presenting solo works by Perth-based composers Dominik Karski, Dobromila Jaskot and Pedro Alvarez. The title of the concert alludes to the cast of musicians (Soundstorm) but also evokes a mutable character in the music. A rendition of Okanagon by Italian composer Giacinto Scelsi (1905-88) brought together the many strands of the concert with a focus on timbre and reference to non-Western traditions.

Jim Coyle in his overview of Australian music for the double bass, describes Dominik Karski’s Along the edge of darkness (1999) as “the most advanced contrabass piece by an Australian composer in the twentieth century.” Performed by its dedicatee Joan Wright, the work employs scordatura, circular bowing, harmonics and glissandi, while the amplification colours the sound of the instrument to bring out its most minute details. The double bass is stripped of any tradition and becomes instead a sound object for physical expression. Wright raps on its body and rattles the strings, all the while maintaining multiple layers of dynamics and articulations. The piece never quite settles into a single direction but presents sounds in a state of flux, with their transitions demarcated by the performer’s movements.

Pedro Alvarez’ De mares imaginados (2009) approaches instrumental exploration more lyrically, using pitch to construct sinuous and volatile lines separated by long pauses that accrue in tension as the piece progresses. Flautist Kirsten Smith gives unity of mood to seemingly broken motifs, and the way she holds the work’s silences serves to amplify their inwardness. The tightly constructed themes assert their own context and are unbound by what comes before or after. Alvarez’ treatment of the material is akin to sculpting, with shifts in perspective that offer new insights into the composition’s elusive core.

Contrasting with the preceding works, Dobromila Jaskot’s hanna (2009) extended the cello with live processing, a backing track and four speakers. The title is the scientific name for the King Cobra snake whose growling hiss is referenced throughout. Tristen Parr negotiates the hectic counterpoint between the electronics and his instrument, sometimes dodging and sometimes falling prey to the aggressive interjections of the backing track. The work seems to enact a viper’s sallies and recoils with deftly spatialised sounds moving across the venue.

Tristen Parr, The Calm Before, TURA New Music

Tristen Parr, The Calm Before, TURA New Music

Tristen Parr, The Calm Before, TURA New Music

The second half of the concert begins with Jaskot’s Atnongara (2002), an extended solo piano piece performed by the composer herself. The title refers to crystalline stones used in Aboriginal shamanism, their possession giving virtue and mystic power to the one who carries them. The work features relentless figuration, conjuring up eddies and ripples within a revolving stream of high notes. Jaskot proves to be an arresting performer, swaying with eyes closed and instilling the pianistic gesture with flair. There was something of the Romantic tradition in the broadly orchestrated passages, yet the harmony remained static, as if exploring a single idea through a wide scope.

Dominik Karski’s Streamworks (2003) belongs to a series of works that focus on the physicality of producing sounds, the material stemming from close collaboration with the player who explores the ergonomic properties of the instrument. Performed by Kirsten Smith on bass flute, the piece starts with a restless flow of keys clicking and sinewy lines from which breaths, pitch inflexions and different attacks emerge. Smith’s embrace of sounds normally avoided in traditional performance has a keen compositional sense, serving to emphasise the corporeal character of Karski’s music.

Since the renaissance of his work in the 1980s, Italian composer Giacinto Scelsi has become a father figure for musicians working with texture. His focus on timbre, or what Tristan Murail describes as “the exploration of the interior of sounds,” is well manifested in Okanagon, the concert’s closing work, featuring Catherine Ashley on harp, Joan Wright on double bass and Louise Devenish on tam tam and with Pedro Alvarez conducting.

Okanagon begins with an incantatory pulse representing the “heartbeat” of the earth. The musicians play in unison to create a fused tone, its microtonal progression later interrupted by percussive, tabla-like patterns. Wright assumed an intermediary role between the harp and the tam-tam parts, adding fluid microtonal lines that turned sound into a pliable material.

The Calm Before was successful in presenting adventurous music that not only showcased the uniqueness of each composer but also the identity of the musicians. The introductory speech by concert curator Dominik Karski conveyed enthusiasm for works exploring formal concerns but also an intuitive and unselfconscious approach to music-making.

Kirsten Smith, The Calm Before, TURA New Music

Kirsten Smith, The Calm Before, TURA New Music

Kirsten Smith, The Calm Before, TURA New Music

Tura New Music, Scale Variable series: Soundstorm, The Calm Before, Studio Underground, State Theatre Centre, Perth, 2 Nov

RealTime issue #136 Dec-Jan 2016

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

Angela Conquet

Angela Conquet

Angela Conquet

Melbourne’s Dancehouse, nestled between Victorian-era terrace homes on Princes Street in North Carlton, has long been an important centre for independent contemporary dance in Australia. Established in 1994, it is one of the few organisations in the country dedicated to the exploration of experimental choreography. But in recent years there’s been an extra buzz of enthusiasm and excitement: the feeling that something has finally clicked and that a niche has been filled.

The company has impressed many with its crucial involvement in large-scale events such as the Keir Choreographic Award and Dance Massive. At the same time, it has maintained a solid program of public performances, significantly increasing the number of international guests it presents while also providing a home for established and emerging local choreographers.

 

Generating urgency and dialogue

Artistic Director Angela Conquet, appointed in 2012 and formerly the dance director at the artist studio Mains d’Œuvres in Paris, has worked hard to provide context for these events and performances, and to create an atmosphere of urgency and anticipation.

“I think it’s my responsibility as Artistic Director to connect the present corporeal moment with other areas of life, with philosophy and sociology and politics,” she explains. “I think it’s my duty to create conversations and dialogues, to stir as much constructive debate as possible, connecting ideas with embodied gestures.”

An example of this work is the two-week program of events organised around French choreographer Xavier le Roy’s visit to Melbourne in December 2015. His performance of Self Unfinished (1998) was accompanied by two exhibitions, several public talks and a week-long workshop with local artists.

“What do you know about Xavier le Roy in Australia?” says Conquet, shrugging. “For me, it was really important to contextualise the work, and I could only do that, for example, by putting him in conversation with philosophers, urbanists, architects; people who think on a micro- and macro-economic level about how one produces work today.”

The immediate future looks bright for Dancehouse. Audience numbers are up, and this year the company was one of three Melbourne-based dance organisations to receive four-year funding from the Australia Council. But despite her success, Angela Conquet isn’t tooting her own horn. An artistic director ought to work in the shadows, she says, and she is suspicious of any attempt to glorify the role.

 

Nacera Belaza, The Shout

Nacera Belaza, The Shout

Nacera Belaza, The Shout

International pairings

One program, however, that she does talk of with evident pride is Dance Territories, presented biennially with the Melbourne Festival. Dance Territories is a double bill which pairs an Australian artist with an international artist. It’s the only Dancehouse initiative where she feels she has a genuine curatorial role, and it’s the one in which she feels most invested as artistic director.

“I came up with the concept when I realised how much the work of artists here resonated with the work of artists I was seeing in Europe and in the US,” says Conquet. “Without realising it, they are exploring the same themes and topics but from different political or aesthetical angles.”

This year’s edition, Borderlines, which was the third, paired French-Algerian choreographer Nacera Belaza with local cross-disciplinary artist Sarah-Jane Norman.

“As an artistic director, I see so many shows. I see work in all four corners of the world. And sometimes I sit there and think, for example, oh, Nacera, she has a completely different body of work from Sarah-Jane’s and yet they are exploring the same thing. Different politics, different meaning, visually a very different thing, but the driving force feels the same.” [Read the RealTime review of Dance Territories, “The ambiguous cry of blood.”]

Sharing this moment of recognition with Australian audiences is, she claims, the great privilege of being an artistic director, and one that she takes very seriously. “We frame the connection, and then the journey is for you,” she says. “We’re just pointing you in the right direction.”

Is it surprising that the idea of connection should be so central to Conquet’s philosophy? Born in Romania, she grew up in a country which at that time was still relatively isolated from the West. She migrated to Paris as a teenager and, after a brief stint as an interpreter, dived into arts management. Her first role was with the Avignon Festival, where she worked for a group called Theorem, helping to build links between artists in Eastern Europe and the West. Now in Melbourne she is doing something similar, building links and making connections. And perhaps this explains why Dancehouse is so fascinating. In a country where we’re apt to fall into the trap of hoping for things elsewhere, this small company is pointing to similitudes and affinities that were always dreamed of but never noticed. Of course, Conquet insists that any work first needs to connect with an audience at a physical and emotional level. “It has to reach somebody,” she says. “If the work touches someone’s heart, and that feeling stays with them, then we’ve nailed it.”

A good indicator of this is if a show provokes a lot of debate or strong reactions. “At the first Dance Territories I had someone who stormed out of the room and told me I could go back home if this was the sort of work I was bringing,” she says. “They’d seen something in the work that really bothered them. And I thought: good.”

But audiences here are rarely so demonstrative, even if they have been moved. “In Melbourne I think that sometimes people are too well behaved,” admits Conquet. “They tend to applaud immediately. I love it when it’s not immediate. I love those five seconds of silence where you can feel that something has hit them. The longer the silence the more I feel I’ve achieved my goal.”

 

Matthew Day, Assemblage #1

Matthew Day, Assemblage #1

Matthew Day, Assemblage #1

International reach

Dancehouse has also been busy promoting links between the local, the national and the international dance community. One local artist who has benefited from this is Matthew Day, described by Conquet as part of a “new wave” of Australian choreographers with a minimalist, almost conceptual aesthetic.

In 2013, Day and fellow choreographer Sandra Parker presented separate works at the Faits d’Hiver Festival in Paris. In 2014, Day and Natalie Abbott presented at the Avignon Festival. And then last year, in 2015, he participated with James Batchelor in a workshop and presentation at the B.MOTION Festival in Bassano del Grappa, Italy.

These European peregrinations were all facilitated—at least in part—by the Dancehouse International program, a network of partnerships and alliances with likeminded companies in Australia and Europe. The program is an expression of Conquet’s belief that travel is the best way to encourage the development of emerging artists.

“The whole idea behind this was to get the artists circulating,” says Conquet. “It was really about exposing artists to a different context and a different territory and a different kind of audience.” Conquet’s biggest concern is that there aren’t more opportunities for this kind of circulation at a national level, and that there isn’t the infrastructure to tour dance works.

“I think it’s a shame to have so much effort, so much money and so much commitment from the artists and the presenters, and here they have a five-night season and then they’re gone,” she says. “When I arrived here I was outraged that the artists were not outraged. There is a sort of acceptance of this.”

She cites the example of Natalie Abbott’s Maximum, which not only toured to the OFF section of the Avignon Festival, but also to five Australian cities. “That should be the normal life of a work,” says Conquet. “The more you tour a work the better it gets. You can see how it has lived in the body through all the many different performances.”

Natalie Abbott, Donny Henderson-Smith, Maximum

Natalie Abbott, Donny Henderson-Smith, Maximum

Natalie Abbott, Donny Henderson-Smith, Maximum

Dancehouse, Melbourne

RealTime issue #136 Dec-Jan 2016

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

Installation view, Patrick Pound, Thinking Through Things, Flinders University City Gallery, 2016

Installation view, Patrick Pound, Thinking Through Things, Flinders University City Gallery, 2016

Installation view, Patrick Pound, Thinking Through Things, Flinders University City Gallery, 2016

Thinking Through Things is a curatorial collaboration between artist Patrick Pound and the Flinders University Art Museum, drawing on FUAM’s holdings in Australian conceptual or ‘post-object’ art—documentation and ephemera from the 1970s when artists staged events, actions, interventions and performance art works which may have faded from memory but for their documentary traces. The poetic idea or provocation which inspired the original act, and not the material object, was what typically mattered in conceptual art.

Pound’s practice is as a hoarder and arranger. His own contributions—subtitled Circles Spheres Mirrors and Holes, after characteristics which define exclusion or inclusion—were sourced online. Nevertheless, they are resolutely analogue: faded photographs and snapshots, newspaper reports, mundane monochromatic objects (plastic balls, rolls of tape).

The exhibition is laid out horizontally in three bands: two discontinuous rows along a waist-high shelf set against a long wall, then above a row of framed displays featuring one or two scrappy photographs mounted on a square of brown cardboard resting within an unpainted wooden frame. The top of the frames produces a continuous line slightly above eye level, which binds the collection. These horizontals rest between wings produced by walls at either side, on which an additional four mounted images are placed.

Installation view, Patrick Pound, Thinking Through Things, Flinders University City Gallery, 2016

Installation view, Patrick Pound, Thinking Through Things, Flinders University City Gallery, 2016

Installation view, Patrick Pound, Thinking Through Things, Flinders University City Gallery, 2016

There has been a trend in the last 30 years regarding the exhibition of conceptualist ephemera towards what one might almost describe as a deliberately overstated rustic formalism: planed wooden benches, carefully arranged photobooks and magazines in vitrines designed to look inexpensive but elegant. Pound ironically provides a formal and plastic unity to the objects, suggesting an altogether more material and tangible effect than the original artists intended. Pound notes his interest in how these ineffable events left material traces: “It’s called Post-Object art but they are all objects, so no matter what we do, we end up with things”.

Considered in this light, the exhibition is redolent with pathos. I felt a melancholy twinge in seeing these enigmatic residues reduced to simple matter. Like the photographs which accompany them, the contents of FUAM’s collection have a rich contextual backstory. This history has however been almost wilfully stripped away and aestheticised. Instead, one approaches the objects as Surrealist readymades or sources of chance encounters. I pored over Bob Ramsay’s fascinatingly opaque bound collection of photographs of banal domestic corners (Sites and Situations, 1974), for example.

But largely, these documents appear lost and abused—much as when Marcel Duchamp proposed a “reciprocal ready-made,” using a Rembrandt painting as an ironing board. Notable here is the inclusion of a recording of a 1980 National Gallery of Victoria survey of video art, as well as reel-to-reel tape of Peter Kennedy’s But the Fierce Blackman (1971). Conforming to Pound’s wilfully abstract rule, tapes are here aligned with plastic balls resting alongside Jãnis Nedêla’s sculptural Bolter No. 5 (2005; a found hard cover book drilled through with holes) and John Baldessari’s Brutus Killed Caesar (1976; its pages display a pair of flanking politicians gazing at a roll of tape floating between them), for the sole reason that the central spools about which the tapes are wound are circular. Visitors will not—cannot—hear what is recorded. As an archivist, I can only be mournful standing before tape rendered mute, its voices and secrets imprisoned within dumb matter.

Installation view, Patrick Pound, Thinking Through Things, Flinders University City Gallery, 2016

Installation view, Patrick Pound, Thinking Through Things, Flinders University City Gallery, 2016

Installation view, Patrick Pound, Thinking Through Things, Flinders University City Gallery, 2016

This is not to say Pound is not generously playful, offering moments of joyous revelation. Three axes to the display are provided by cardboard squares from Bob Ramsay’s An Archery Piece (a conditions and distribution activity in collaboration with the Adelaide Archery Club Inc) (1974), in which the glowing coloured rings of a target, and the shaped distribution of holes across it, make up three art works. In the centre of the main wall, at the line of Pound’s photographs, is the front of the target, while each of the wings shows the cardboard backing. Names and scores have been neatly laid out across the latter: evidence of a previous existence as scorecards. Throughout and among these handmade markings emerges a ghostly, spherical collection of pricks. This revelation of past use later violently reinvigorated is a metaphor for Pound’s own intervention. It recalls a signature telekinetically stabbed out by occult forces. That which we could not see before has been magically revealed.

Elsewhere, newspaper reports and photographic documents offer wryly compressed narratives: an image of a hole in the road into which a man fell, or a black and white photograph of a helmeted inspector beneath a perforated, concrete dome looking like a modernist visionary bathed in light. These items are hopeful, suggesting possible recuperation. Patrick Pound’s appropriation is affectionate, but it is tinted with sadness at these once brimming documents falling into an abject state of pure thingness.

Installation view, Patrick Pound, Thinking Through Things, Flinders University City Gallery, 2016

Installation view, Patrick Pound, Thinking Through Things, Flinders University City Gallery, 2016

Installation view, Patrick Pound, Thinking Through Things, Flinders University City Gallery, 2016

Thinking Through Things, Patrick Pound and the Flinders University Art Museum Collections, City Gallery, Adelaide, 24 Sept-27 Nov

RealTime issue #136 Dec-Jan 2016

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

Arrivals, Zephyr Quartet

Arrivals, Zephyr Quartet

Arrivals, Zephyr Quartet

History and politics are generally subjects of written discourse, sometimes of cinema and theatre. Adelaide’s Zephyr Quartet has taken the extraordinary step of analysing Australia’s immigrant history though music, presenting their concert Arrivals—subtitled “Music exploring notions of migration to Australia by boat”—in the South Australian Maritime Museum in Port Adelaide. The museum is housed in a 19th century warehouse in the historical port, a precinct that celebrates and tells much about the colonisation of South Australia and the aspirations of the colonists.

Dominating the museum’s main hall is the 18-metre ketch Active II, a full-scale replica of the original, which was built in 1873 and in use until 1959, a boat typical of the kind used extensively for carrying cargo and passengers around South Australian waters in that era. For the concert, the audience is seated in narrow rows along the walkway between the ketch and museum display cabinets. Some are seated on the deck, observing the concert through the rigging. Surrounded by maritime history, South Australia is at the front of our minds as we listen.

The concert opens with Zephyr Artistic Director Hilary Kleinig’s Great White Bird (2016), in which her gentle cello introduction gives way to a seagull-like sound voiced in the violins. Kleinig based the simple, repetitive tune on an anthropologist’s 1928 Edison cylinder recording of a song sung by a Wirangu woman from the Eyre Peninsula, acknowledging the Indigenous people who witnessed the arrival of the colonists by sailing ship and who thought the ship was a giant white bird. Next is Kate Moore’s Broken Rosary, a short work inspired by a story concerning her grandmother’s rosary which she links to her family’s immigration from the Netherlands. Here the cello is the primary voice work, its swaying sound suggesting a child’s swing. These two works introduce us to people on both sides of the story of colonisation and immigration—those displaced by it and those whose lives are improved by it.

Paul Stanhope’s String Quartet No 2 (2009) is a magnificent piece of writing that makes the utmost technical demands of the quartet, Zephyr responding admirably. The ensemble playing is excellent, bringing out all the dramatic and emotional power in a work which is a tribute to Czech composer Pavel Haas who died in Auschwitz in 1944. In the program note, Stanhope indicates that the work references old Europe, the origin of the string quartet and much else in Australian culture. Zephyr’s inclusion of Stanhope’s work gives the concert great musical depth as well as another significant political dimension.

The program then takes a leap in a different musical direction with second violinist Emily Tulloch’s transcription for string quartet and tape of Vola Colomba (Fly, Dove) by Carlo Concina. This romantic song was the winning entry in the 1952 San Remo Festival and was evidently much loved by Italian immigrants to Australia longing for the old country. Tulloch blends into this transcription the voice-over from an Australian Government film about Australia that was shown on ships bearing immigrants (sometimes known then as “new arrivals”). In her program note, Tulloch invites us to compare Australian government immigration policies then and now. Both musically enchanting and deeply thought-provoking, Tulloch’s work recalls a significant piece of Australian history and highlights contemporary attitudes towards immigrants and refugees.

Another conceptual leap takes us to psychologist Jason Thomas’ Mulysa (2016), a response by the composer to his time working with staff in the Regional Processing Centres on Manus Island and Nauru. This is powerfully emotive music, evoking the monotony and despair of camp life. Carefully positioned to follow Thomas’ work is Kleinig’s For those who’ve come across the seas (2014), for smart-phone choir and quartet, first premiered in 2014 as part of Zephyr’s Music for Strings and iThings concert. That concert foregrounded the use of new technologies and engaged the audience directly as participants through the use of their phones as instruments. Kleinig’s For those… invites the audience to participate in the performance by using their smart-phones to play into the hall pre-recorded elements of the music. No longer passive observers, they are actively enjoined in the work’s critique of the refugee crisis as a humanitarian issue. Recontextualised in this concert, Kleinig’s approach also raises the question of why a country that was built on immigration now refuses asylum seekers.

For the final work, the composer Motez, whose father arrived by boat from Iran in 2000, joins Zephyr for Beginnings, an upbeat joint composition that blends his electronics with the quartet’s strings, leaving the audience with a feeling of optimism.

Zephyr’s program note for Arrivals opens with the statement, “Australia is very much a nation of ‘boat people’, past and present,” and the concert is intended to celebrate the contribution migrants have made as well as draw our attention to the difficulties experienced both by Indigenous peoples and those attempting to travel here. Once again Zephyr has taken musical performance in new directions, creating a musical exposition on the politics of colonisation and migration and the crucial issue of asylum. Zephyr has shown how a concert can be developed around a significant and complex political theme, selecting music that relates to that theme and demonstrating how central it is to the conduct of debates on matters of national and international significance.

Arrivals has also been staged at the Western Australian Maritime Museum with the support of Tura New Music.

Zephyr Quartet and Motez, Arrivals, South Australian Maritime Museum, Port Adelaide, 17-20 Nov

RealTime issue #136 Dec-Jan 2016

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

Kirk Page (singer) and cast, Dreamland, NORPA

Kirk Page (singer) and cast, Dreamland, NORPA

Kirk Page (singer) and cast, Dreamland, NORPA

As its name suggests, Arts Northern Rivers’ ambitious If These Halls Could Talk program aims to use airy, character-filled old community halls as a departure point to explore the wider history of the Northern Rivers region. In telling the stories of these buildings, they may offer some insight into the general character of regional Australia through an exploration of settlement, environment, politics and changing demographics.

Dreamland, staged in the Eureka Hall (in Eureka, 23km north-east of Lismore), managed this and more with its mixture of rough-and-tumble farce, eclectic musical numbers, uncomplicated dialogue and, most spectacularly, the contortions of acrobat Darcy Grant. Produced by Lismore-based NORPA, Dreamland is the fifth of seven site-specific, multidisciplinary If These Halls Could Talk productions.

Not exactly a play, it’s a hybrid performance work written by Janis Balodis and directed by NORPA’s Artistic Director Julian Louis. The show opens on a three-person Eureka Hall committee meeting when flippant gasbagging between members is interrupted by a passerby enquiring about using the hall for his soccer team’s gala ball. This exchange precipitates the high-octane, often surreal telling of each of the four characters’ backstories, in which actors switch roles amid flashbacks and ghostly recollections. One committee member, for example, is a farm owner (Toni Scanlan) wondering how to manage her property as old age approaches, while the soccer player (Darcy Grant) is a ‘tree-changer’ struggling to find fulfilment (and employment) on the back of a naïve move from the city to this so-called Rainbow Region of northern New South Wales.

Phil Blackman, Toni Scanlan, Katia Molino, Dreamland, NORPA

Phil Blackman, Toni Scanlan, Katia Molino, Dreamland, NORPA

Phil Blackman, Toni Scanlan, Katia Molino, Dreamland, NORPA

These sequences are compelling, thanks in part to some rudimentary but charming dance routines and the exceptional backing music provided by a trio headed up by Fourplay’s Shenzo Gregory, their eerie drones and chirpy cabaret melodies only occasionally pulling attention—particularly when a theremin is introduced.

The strongest of these mini-biographies comes courtesy of Katia Molino, whose monologue is delivered as she offers a tray of lamingtons around the audience. Her passionate reflections on the socio-economic hardships that many experience, in an area generally marketed as a breezy promised land, is a genuinely moving highpoint. The fourth character, another ageing farmer (Phil Blackman) has a penchant for partner dancing and is bewildered by the New Age residents in the area.

With employment scarce and the cost of living sharply rising, a sense of existential ennui can afflict many in such places, as explored through the plight of Grant’s soccer player. While his cartwheeling and hand-standing make for absorbing spectacle, the character’s ultimate listlessness and frustration make a stark point about social isolation.

The prevalence of musical numbers and dancing put one in mind of Britain’s great TV dramatist Dennis Potter, while the sharp comedic back and forth between the committee members, in its best moments, has Stoppard-esque echoes as well as occasionally profane local vernacular. At times unsubtle jokes look for laughs and historical exposition seems a touch educational in an otherwise rambunctious, colourful, life-affirming extravaganza.

With an affectionate but not uncritical commitment to locality, Julian Louis and collaborators have brought much-needed life and a modicum of cultural depth to not only a hall, but also an entire region.

Read an interview with Craig Walsh and Grayson Cook, artists involved in other If These Halls Could Talk productions.

Dreamland, NORPA

Dreamland, NORPA

Dreamland, NORPA

Arts Northern Rivers: NORPA, Dreamland, director, devisor Julian Louis, writer, devisor Janis Balodis, musical director, lead musician Shenzo Gregory, performers, devisors Phil Blackman, Darcy Grant, Katia Molino, Kirk Page, Toni Scanlan, lighting designer Karl Johnson, costume designer William Kutana, movement director Kirk Page; Eureka Hall, Eureka, 23-26 Nov, 28 Nov-3 Dec, 5-10 Dec

Forthcoming productions in the If These Halls Could Talk season:
Arts Northern Rivers, If These Halls Could Talk: Grayson Cooke, SCU, Bonnywood Rising, Bonalbo Hall, 10 Dec; Opera Queensland, Tumbulgum and the Countdown to Midnight at the First Supper Between Now and Forever, Tumbulgum Hall, Northern New South Wales, 16-17 Dec

RealTime issue #136 Dec-Jan 2016

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

Dean Walsh, Matt Shilcock and Mel Tyquin, Underbelly Arts 2015

Dean Walsh, Matt Shilcock and Mel Tyquin, Underbelly Arts 2015

Dean Walsh, Matt Shilcock and Mel Tyquin, Underbelly Arts 2015

In Part I of For All We Know (or thought we knew), dancer, choreographer and marine environmentalist Dean Walsh wrote of the experience of discovering that he was living with a disability. In Part II, he describes how working with Restless Dance Company, Murmuration, Catalyst Dance and RUCKUS has inspired him, developed self-awareness and helped him build an inclusive methodology for shared performance-making.

Fierce adaptability

Back in early 2010 Philip Channells, then newly appointed Artistic Director of Adelaide-based inclusive company Restless Dance Theatre (RDT), invited me to make a work for the new touring company. I facilitated a workshop for about 30 people who orbited RDT activities at the time to try out some physical ideas and gain a sense of what working inclusively might entail. It was a bit of a baptism by fire but I absolutely loved it. At the end of the two days I told Philip that what seemed to stand out to me was a phenomenon of fierce adaptability. These people all seemed to constantly adapt to so much in life, not just artistic ideas and tasks. This was no more evident than when I went to lunch with some of them on day two.

 

Elizabeth Ryan, Dana Nance, Bundanon residency, Dean Walsh with Restless Dance Theatre, 2012, Stage 1 development of True to Nature

Elizabeth Ryan, Dana Nance, Bundanon residency, Dean Walsh with Restless Dance Theatre, 2012, Stage 1 development of True to Nature

Elizabeth Ryan, Dana Nance, Bundanon residency, Dean Walsh with Restless Dance Theatre, 2012, Stage 1 development of True to Nature

True to Nature

So I was interested to look at this idea of adaptation as an overriding theme for the work I’d devise with these people and with the working title True to Nature, because it was about their physical and neurological reality. I started to talk to a young and emerging artist, Matt Shilcock, whom I have since mentored over the last five or so years. Matt is a highly intelligent and gifted artist who identifies as living with a congenital physical disability. He is the very epitome of adaptation. He overcomes his physical hurdles time and again to produce conceptually dangerous works that, without necessarily aiming to, sit within a new type of avant garde.

Matt became a member of RDT and our cast. He and I talked about his history and he revealed that he loved Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, X-Men and Martial Arts history as a kid and their acceptance of ‘mutants’ into their troops. We discussed the recent resurgence of ‘mutants’ as powerful and empowering heroes and heroines and this brought us to a subtext we’d look to explore for him within True to Nature. We are all mutations of the primate gene pool. Mutation is a part of evolution, some successful some not—but genetic mutation defines evolution. I also came to discover that mutation offers a very useful movement composition method that I have since employed in all my practice.

Next I had to consider how I’d work with all members of the cast inclusively on such a subject. Apart from Matt the diverse cast was made up of independent dance artists Elizabeth Ryan and Miranda Wheen and RDT dancers Dana Nance, Jianna Georgiou and Andrew Pandos, so I had my work cut out in terms of making the process entirely inclusive and in no way imposing ideas. A challenge most definitely, but I was up for it.

In our three-week Bundanon residency in 2011, I orchestrated various immersions in nature in order to gather sensory information that we could all relate to through embodied experience. We called the big she-oak down by the river our “family tree” and spent an entire day around her dreaming creativity into her branches and back out to our group discussion. Blind-folded tasks allowed us to meet our various intellectual differences within a common physical application, opening us up to the themes and how each of us might comprehend them.

We’d go back into the dance studio and see what we each had distilled and from there talk about how we might adapt our material to suit one another. In other words, we were in constant states of mutating our individual findings and ideas to work out ways to include one another. I adopted a ‘leave no one out’ approach. I needed to constantly shift and challenge my preconceptions if I was to direct a work that would reflect upon genetic mutation to help demonstrate the redundancy of prejudice based on physical and/or neurological difference.

I was very new to this then but I loved the challenge. Having to think on my feet and constantly review if I was practising an authentic inclusion or just imposing my creative dictatorship on others. It didn’t always work but when it did we found we’d made some stunning passages. The material is all on video and I look forward to perhaps one day revisiting it and finally finishing the work for an audience to experience.

 

Dana Nance, Miranda Wheen, Bundanon residency, Dean Walsh with Restless Dance Theatre, 2012, Stage 1 development of True to Nature

Dana Nance, Miranda Wheen, Bundanon residency, Dean Walsh with Restless Dance Theatre, 2012, Stage 1 development of True to Nature

Dana Nance, Miranda Wheen, Bundanon residency, Dean Walsh with Restless Dance Theatre, 2012, Stage 1 development of True to Nature

Evolving inclusion

Post my experience with RDT I attended the Accessible Arts Catalyst Dance Program symposium at Carriageworks in 2011. This was another turning point for me. I met some great people who were all very experienced in inclusive practice, in particular, Alison Richardson who was director of Beyond the Square, the disability inclusive program at Riverside Theatres, Parramatta. Under this umbrella she had formed a performance group known as Ruckus Ensemble, now just RUCKUS. At the symposium she asked me if I’d like to come in and teach some classes for the group. Five years later and with three major works under our belt RUCKUS are still together with some incredible stories to tell (another time). Alison and I position ourselves as co-collaborators alongside the members of the group. Our last work Speed of Life was presented at PACT centre for emerging artists, receiving a lot of praise as a significant contemporary performance work, let alone one that was led by six people living with intellectual disability who are professional artists in their own right.

In tandem with these two company engagements I’ve also worked as workshop facilitator and artistic advisor for Sydney-based inclusive dance company Murmuration and as facilitator and mentor for the Catalyst Dance Program through Accessible Arts in Sydney. Catalyst afforded me the chance to work with many different bodies and minds and learn how to develop my own PrimeOrderly methodology into an entirely inclusive movement research practice. If I am to reflect on the state of our marine environments but exclude certain people then I’m not being at all environmentally sensitive and my inclusive practice would be unsound. So I continue to develop its properties and get feedback from participants and adapt it accordingly.

 

The art of constant renegotiation

How do I engage with people with disabilities? When I say “inclusive,” by definition I do mean some major adapting has to happen on my part as much as on the part of the workshop participant or cast member living with disability. When the group I’m working with has a very diverse range of abilities I am in a position of constant renegotiation with my ideas and how to implement them fairly and encourage ideas from each person to be heard and at least tried out and given a run. Often these spark alternate routes to finding more specific meaning in a scene.

This can be an extremely tiring process at times, a bit like a head chef also playing waiter, maitre d’ and dishwasher, but it is a process that also suits the speed at which my mind often works. It gives me a chance to try out so many ideas and reiterations of these that might otherwise be missed opportunities in an able-bodied or neurotypical setting. But to go into more depth about the process of facilitating workshops or productions is for another article.

 

Matt Shilcock, Mel Tyquin (white mask), The Likes of Me, Underbelly Arts, 2015

Matt Shilcock, Mel Tyquin (white mask), The Likes of Me, Underbelly Arts, 2015

Matt Shilcock, Mel Tyquin (white mask), The Likes of Me, Underbelly Arts, 2015

To truly listen

What I will say is that, if you’re open to learning, working outside your comfort zones and usual directorial timeframes and are ready to slow a process right down and to truly listen, then your artistic leadership skills will develop ten-fold. It also awakens you to a whole new work ethic and more democratic creative authority. It isn’t good enough to have people with diverse abilities in your class or rehearsal room sitting in a corner because you don’t know what to do with them, and then call it inclusive. This is not inclusion and it most definitely is not integration. In the inclusive arts sector we call this “tick-the-box practice” and it irks us senseless.

 

Community and self-awareness

Working in the inclusive sector has awoken me to so many new and positive attributes of my practice but also myself. It has awoken me to my own identity as someone living with disability, one you cannot always see and is not always evidently ‘disabling.’ Finding the disability arts community and becoming a part of its growth from strength to strength has been totally serendipitous for me. I knew I’d found my clan but it wasn’t until 2015, when I was finally diagnosed with Complex Trauma Disorder (considered an acquired disability) as well as Autism Spectrum Disorder/Condition that I suddenly realised why I had found such a brotherhood and sisterhood in the inclusive arts community.

Here I can be my differently wired self. Congenitally, I am not normal, after all, thank God! Here I can be accepted for my sometimes overwhelming picture brain and sensory-emotional overloading and fall in and out of clarity without judgment. Here I can ask for the extra support I sometimes need in order to function without feeling categorised, shunned or dismissed. I understand the power of being acknowledged for who you are in all that you are. I have for so long so often felt like I’m viewing situations through an impenetrable membrane – I’m there but not there with far too many thoughts, full of extraordinary detail, functioning all at once that I can even feel physically ill. This is a fairly common trait of the Aspergian/Autistic mind and far too often misunderstood by neurotypical people. At the risk of sounding a little daggy, not only have I found my clan within the disability inclusive community, I’ve finally started to find my authentic self and the systems of practice I need to better function as a leading artist with an ‘invisible’ (well, sometimes) disability.

Matt Shilcock, The Likes of Me, Underbelly Arts 2015

Matt Shilcock, The Likes of Me, Underbelly Arts 2015

Matt Shilcock, The Likes of Me, Underbelly Arts 2015

Dean Walsh and Matt Shilcock are looking to develop The Likes of Me—premiered in the 2015 Underbelly Arts Festival—“exploring eugenics and the idea of ‘perfect’ birth narratives.”

Dean Walsh has worked in Australia and overseas as a performer, director/choreographer and teacher, including as a dancer with companies such as DV8 Physical Theatre, Stalker Theatre, Japan Contemporary Dance Network, Australian Dance Theatre, Opera Australia, The opera Project, Sydney Dance Company and One Extra Dance. He has a long and deeply held personal interest in marine ecology, biology and interactive disciplines (surfing, snorkelling, scuba and breath-held diving), which forms the basis for his most recent choreographic explorations. Since 1991 he has devised more than 35 dance/performance works from solo through to small groups. He recently presented two 30-minute group movement lecture demonstrations as part of World Parks Congress, a multi-national event held every decade and attended by more than 4,000 delegates from 166 countries.

Read articles about Dean Walsh in our RealTimeDance dance archive.

RealTime issue #136 Dec-Jan 2016

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


Ben Wheatley, maker of the much admired thriller-horror hybrid, Kill List (2011), went on to make another success in 2015, an adaptation of JG Ballard’s 1975 novel High-Rise. The 40-storey high-rise of the title has the wealthiest occupants living on the upper levels with sufficient facilities to warrant them not going into the outside world. Below them live the less well-off middleclass. With a declining sense of mutual responsibility, social relations and services go to pieces with appalling consequences: pet-eating, possibly cannibalism and certainly murder.

Wheatley sets the film amid 70s economic and social decline and Margaret Thatcher’s soon to hold sway “there is no such thing as society” ideology. But we can do the updating ourselves thanks to Neoliberalism’s inexorable push into the 21st century for endless deregulation, tax cuts and consequent rapid infrastructure decline and decreasing social justice. Wheatley puts it thus, “The idea of a book looking to a future that has already happened and making a film looking back to the past to show a possible future was interesting.”

High-Rise has been praised for its “future-retro vision,” “coolly immaculate” design, a fine central performance by Tom Hiddleston, its strongly realised sense of escalating decadence and Chris Mansell’s score which includes “an inspired slow-jam cover of ABBA’s S.O.S., by Portishead. It’s a party track for a party at the end of the world.

5 copies courtesy of Transmission Films.

Email us at giveaways [at] realtimearts.net with your name, postal address and phone number to be in the running.

Include ‘Giveaway’ and the title of the item in the subject line.

Offer closes 30 November.

Giveaways are open to RealTime subscribers only. By entering this giveaway you consent to receiving our free weekly E-dition. You can unsubscribe at any time.

RealTime issue #135 Oct-Nov 2016

Zsuzsi Soboslay, Anthems and Angels

Zsuzsi Soboslay, Anthems and Angels

Zsuzsi Soboslay, Anthems and Angels

As twilight deepens, a figure in top hat and skeleton suit sneaks in among the small crowd in the courtyard, then shakes a tambourine to command attention. A beady eye scans the assembly, and the reckoning begins. We’re kind to our animals, says Death, but what of others? “The world pushes against our shores, like an angry tide,” and what do we do to help those who are set adrift?

The opening of Zsuzsi Soboslay’s Anthems and Angels in the beautiful courtyard of Gorman Arts Centre in Canberra evokes the mediaeval play Everyman, in which Death is sent to fetch someone at random. Anyone will do, because Death is the great leveller. In the face of it, we are all Everyman, and whatever sense we have of ourselves and our lives melts away. There is nothing to come. We are only what we have been. “The summoning of Everyman” in the original morality play triggers a desperate appeal for companionship on the way. After he is deserted by friends, family and all the material goods he has called his own, Everyman reaches out to Good Deeds and a succession of personified moral virtues, who declare themselves too weak for the journey. All this is compressed into a brief prelude in Anthems and Angels, as Death fixes upon the chosen victim and ushers him, together with the audience, into the darkened theatre.

Anthems and Angels

Anthems and Angels

Anthems and Angels

Video screens display black and white images of ruins in a war zone, and a line of refugees progressing down a narrow path on a hillside. Where is this? When? Probably somewhere in Eastern Europe during the Second World War, but in Death’s endgame, time and place are sliding in all directions. As Everyman takes his place on a small vessel, steered across the high seas by a lone boatman, this is Anytime and Everywhere. The Angels of Earth, Air, Fire and Water speak over the sound of the waves.

But in a well-judged transition, Soboslay’s drama then has Everyman stepping off the boat and into the life of a new immigrant in a fully realised scene from 1950s Australia. He doesn’t speak the language and the figure of the boatman transforms into an established settler, who tries to teach him… but Death won’t leave him—or any of us—here for long. Everyman sleeps, and we re-enter the existential register as the exquisite melody of the 16th century Coventry Carol is sung, a capella.

The tides are rising again. There will be no control over what happens next in the blizzard of the world. Paper fortune cookies are distributed through the audience, containing messages that tell of a shared future in which we are all refugees. “I wish you a roof over your head.” “I wish that your family stays together.” “I wish you could come back.”

Anthems and Angels

Anthems and Angels

Anthems and Angels

As an audience, we belong to a culture that has lost touch with the language of metaphysics and mythology. When it comes to ‘the refugee problem’ our talk is politicised. It’s a battle of vested interests: those of politicians, ‘people smugglers,’ voters, the media. Dialogue on Twitter and comment lines in the 21st century do less to create meaningful communication than a shouting match across the garden fence did way back in the 20th. Theatre offers different languages. It connects with other zones in the human psyche, the atavistic parts of the brain that do not deal in categories, and where the mystery of being alive on this planet may be experienced in larger terms.

Anthems and Angels is an experimental work, the first of three in a series titled The Compassion Plays. It is, perhaps predominantly, an experiment in poetics. What kinds of tones and images speak to us across the deepening rift between cultures and nations? Soboslay herself has a natural gravitas, and holds the stage with consistent strength as the figure of Death. Co-performers Robin Davidson and C S Carroll have the versatility to work through a range of subtle tone changes. Video artist Sam James provides visual poetry and there is haunting live music from Benjamin Drury, Jess Green, Richard Johnson and Michael Misa.

Anthems and Angels: The Compassion Plays, direction, script Zsuzsi Soboslay, performers Robin Davidson, C S Carroll, Zsuzsi Soboslay, video artist Sam James, musicians Benjamin Drury, Jess Green, Richard Johnson, Michael Misa; Gorman Arts Centre, Canberra 2-4 Nov

RealTime issue #135 Oct-Nov 2016

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

Leah Shelton, Terror Australis

Leah Shelton, Terror Australis

Leah Shelton, Terror Australis

Leah Shelton struts across the stage of her new “grindhouse cabaret,” Terror Australis, in hotpants, flourishing a bag of goon, while lipsynching to a mash-up of Ozploitation films. Her ripped Australian flag T-shirt flutters as she slides up and down the pole of a wonky Hills Hoist that spins slowly, its attached sheets providing a projection surface for an eerie Australian landscape of serial killers and car crashes, of dead animals and screaming women, of paranoia, sweat and stale alcohol. Welcome to what Shelton describes as the “fucked up outback Contiki Tour that hacks Australia to pieces…”

Shelton has had a stellar career in a sweet spot between cabaret, burlesque and performance art. Trained as a contemporary dancer, her most enduring collaboration is with the Samoan-Australian company Polytoxic and many of that company’s trademarks are in Terror Australis—supreme costuming, cheeky humour and pop culture-inspired choreography. But the show also holds Shelton’s obsession with film noir and schlock tropes and showcases a form she has made her own—where she performs to a screen—lipsynching, dancing, mincing and wringing every possible ironic and juxtapositional reference from the relationship between the mediatised image and her body.

Leah Shelton, Terror Australis

Leah Shelton, Terror Australis

Leah Shelton, Terror Australis

In Terror Australis the beautiful, polished noir body is replaced by the body politic of mainstream Australian culture and it gives the work a raw and guttural energy—a ripping political commentary about the brutality of masculine Australian popular culture. But this is no distant deconstruction. Shelton gives us permission to go with her into that violent heartland and to relish its performativity while witnessing its misogyny and excesses. The work comprises a string of short routines that morph with quick costume changes and are interspersed with short films that play with urban myth horror tropes (hitch-hiking, late night road accidents and road kill). As eerie as these films are at times they do feel a bit like placeholders for costume changes rather than intrinsic elements. Similarly, some of the routines, while enjoyable, do not quite feel like they are in the same world as Terror Australis. These include the burlesque legs-in-a-suitcase routine that took Shelton to Las Vegas and the dreamy pastiche re-enactment of Picnic at Hanging Rock that never steps from reconstruction into satire.

But the routines that feed directly into the central theme of Terror Australis are an extraordinary testament to the wit, intellect and performance energy of Shelton. These include the quivering kangaroo head in an evening gown sequence where we linger to watch her shot down and die on the road; the iconic 80s black togs of Linda Koslowski in Crocodile Dundee cleverly staged with a blow-up inflatable crocodile; and finally the goon-girl who clads herself in Australian paraphernalia. She leads us to the show-stopping finale, wielding a cock-strap that unfolds a string of Australian flag bunting and highlights the horror of a popular culture that mires itself in mediocrity and brutal nationalism.

Leah Shelton, Terror Australis

Leah Shelton, Terror Australis

Leah Shelton, Terror Australis

Terror Australis was the winner of the John Chataway Innovation Award, Adelaide Fringe 2016, and was a nominee for Performance Award, Melbourne Fringe 2016.

Terror Australis, creator, performer, designer Leah Shelton, conceptual collaborator Daniel Evans, sound design Kenneth Lyons, video design optikal bloc, original lighting design Jason Glenwright; Brisbane Powerhouse, 3-5 Nov

RealTime issue #135 Oct-Nov 2016

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

Aki Onda, Radio Revolten

Aki Onda, Radio Revolten

Aki Onda, Radio Revolten

“…radioart cannot remain in the field of ‘aesthetics’ any more. It has to be involved in ecology, micro-politics and philosophy of technology, too.” Tetsuo Kogawa, Radio Revolten Pre-Manifest

Medium wave radio in Germany has been vacant for a while. However, in October this abandoned bandwidth was taken up by a temporary station broadcasting from the regional city of Halle. This pop-up station—also on FM—housed in the spiral tower of the vacated Physics Institute invited a question: What if we turn these abandoned analogue frequencies over to artists?

This is a festival that very much happened on the radio, with the installations and performances activated by, and made for, radio and transmission. A once in a decade event, Radio Revolten sidestepped the question of what radio art is to showcase what artists are doing with radio right now, creating a space where artists could experiment together.

Blindfold Babies, Radio Revolten

Blindfold Babies, Radio Revolten

Blindfold Babies, Radio Revolten

Headquartered in a previously unoccupied building in the city centre, alongside performance and installation spaces, the broadcast studio set up by local community station Radio Corax was kept available for spontaneous collaboration and as a canvas for experimentation. Curator Sarah Washington explained to me, “We’ve been working for years to try to have radio without a schedule, and we’ve sort of managed it this time.” To achieve a mostly open schedule, she says they had to throw artists in the deep end, but that they appreciated the freedom. Each day’s broadcast is anchored in a program of live performances made for, and sometimes about, radio. Live sound effects with all manner of objects, sophisticated microphony, electromagnetic explorations, blindfolded turntablism, virtuoso vocalities… these performances are as diverse as they are breathtaking.

 

Aki Onda

Aki Onda walks in slow circles holding a radio. Subtle fluctuations ensue. He plays the space and the spectra within it, fragments of radio voices and the whines and buzzes between, building to a flickering synchronised interference between a strobe light and the radio.

 

Tetsuo Kogawa, Radio Revolten

Tetsuo Kogawa, Radio Revolten

Tetsuo Kogawa, Radio Revolten

Tetsuo Kogawa

Tetsuo Kogawa, pioneer of mini FM, cannot be here in person but sends a single take video of his performance. Four circular coiled antennae dance carefully around each other spinning and intersecting as we listen to the subtle interferences in-between. The crowd knows he’s listening.

 

Getting physical

After the performances people talk long into the night, converse in shapes on the dance floor, play ping pong in the garden and get to work on shared imaginaries for possible radio futures. Bringing people together is critical to the festival’s mission. Washington explains, “We wanted to make the network physical instead of having [it virtual]. It’s important in this day and age, in times of real turbulence in the world, to bring people together.” Artistic director Knut Aufermann adds, “The important thing was to try and get as many people here as possible, to show what they do and to meet and form new alliances, new bonds, new meetings, new ideas.”

 

Talking community radio

Alongside the artworks, performances and workshops, Revolten hosted two community radio conferences. The overlap of participants in all these events created a fruitful mash-up of politics and aesthetics. A day of presentations of various community radio projects by and with diverse groups of refugees showed innovation and diversity in radio form. Creative re-purposing of digital material alongside terrestrial broadcasting is happening in these multilingual cross-cultural and borderless contexts. This is a deliberate juxtaposition: “Everything we do, every radio project, is about giving people access and that is such a political thing, being in control of your own media, dealing with whatever political regulations there are in the country you are in. The art and the politics for me are completely blended,” says Sarah Washington.

Community radio as a generative context for creative approaches to transmission is also articulated by Anna Friz. On a curatorial tour of the exhibition Das Große Rauschen – The Metamorphosis of Radio, Friz observes that many of the artists involved in this “open experiment about a transmission ecology” have their roots in community broadcasting.

I speak with some artists who don’t see their work as intrinsically political and some community broadcasters who question aesthetics as a priority. The middle ground is a shared recognition that the freedom to experiment aesthetically is itself political, and can open up new understandings that existing forms and formats might leave closed. Telling diverse stories requires a proliferation of ways of telling.

 

Rodrigo Rios Zunino performing with installation 360 for Radio Relay Circus, Radio Revolten

Rodrigo Rios Zunino performing with installation 360 for Radio Relay Circus, Radio Revolten

Rodrigo Rios Zunino performing with installation 360 for Radio Relay Circus, Radio Revolten

Fernando Godoy and Rodrigo Rios Zunino, 360°

In a darkened room four small radios hang from the ceiling, dimly lit from above. They spin. Faster and faster. Slower. Almost stopping. Going back the other way. Spinning and spinning. Each receiving as it spins. A crackle, a between signal that is modulated as the antenna rotates, flickers, spins, slows. 360° by Fernando Godoy M and Rodrigo Ríos Zunino rewards sitting for a long time to simply listen, partly because within what appears to be very simple is an endless subtle complexity. It goes around and around but changes all the time. Many small revolutions.

 

Radio Space is the Place

At the Radio Space is the Place conference organisers keep a couple of seats on the panel open for members of the audience to join in parts of the discussion which explores future radiophonic collectives, alternative spacialisations, politics and poetics of wireless space radio as an experimental laboratory and issues of archiving.

Sally McIntyre and Meredith Kooi both make important contributions related to localised listening and critical spaces of micro-transmission. Sometimes place is the space.

At one point the predictable debate surfaces about whether actual radio waves need to be involved for something to be radio. At this point even analogue radio is highly digitised in its core infrastructure, and the histories of radio and the Internet are closely intertwined. But some are critical of trends towards allowing our listening to be enclosed by podcast subscriptions and curated by playlist algorithms that choose things they expect us to already like.

Amid the collective reflection on filter bubbles following surprises from Trump and Brexit in polls of recent months, the value of listening to things we are not expecting to hear, as a way of better understanding our world, would seem to take on a fresh urgency. Whether digital or analogue, an aesthetics of openness and inclusion is something we need. Throughout the conference Anna Friz keeps bringing us back to this question of listening, and to thinking about listeners.

 

Sweet Tribology, Julia Drouhin, Radio Revolten

Sweet Tribology, Julia Drouhin, Radio Revolten

Sweet Tribology, Julia Drouhin, Radio Revolten

Julia Drouhin

Julia Drouhin (AU/FR), dramatically veiled in black lace among the mossy
tombstones of Halle’s Renaissance cemetery, performs something ephemeral and edible. This French-Tasmanian artist, who has featured on ABC Radio’s Soundproof, is known for making records out of chocolate. A delicate process of casting confectionery in state of the art silicone reproduces the grooves with surprising fidelity. The sounds are as good as they taste and can be played for a little while before disintegrating. Some of the records break coming out of the moulds and are distributed to the crowd for consumption without ever being heard. I am surprised by how this brings the crowd together, like a strange sweet communion. Small radios across the cemetery play a broadcast backdrop composed of works by 40 women who collaborated on the project, their creations printed to vinyl disks from which Drouhin’s confections were also cast.

 

Australia’s Soundproof: achievement and erasure

With her usual skill in inviting us to follow our ears, Miyuki Jokiranta, producer and presenter of Soundproof, Australia’s internationally acclaimed creative radio and sound art program, presented a showcase of Australian creative radio delivered on Radio Revolten Radio.

The very recent news that Soundproof will be decommissioned by the ABC leaves us with fewer surprises ahead and less chance of turning the dial to that unanticipated sound that catches our ear and stretches our imagination in new directions. Radio Revolten gathered many international artists who have graced Soundproof’s airwaves, so this news comes as a particular shock on the back of such an extraordinarily inspiring and affirming event.

Radio Revolten’s Artistic Director Knut Auferman said, “At a time where the international art world’s curiosity about radio as artistic material is constantly rising […] this decision smacks of shortsightedness and parochialism. It takes years to build up the expertise to produce program strands like Soundproof, and seconds to axe them” And Gregory Whitehead, who has worked closely with different iterations of the ABC’s creative programming over several decades, commented, “In a very short period of time, Soundproof has become internationally respected for encouraging a beautifully polyphonous diversity of storytelling, in every dimension. To pull the plug now, reveals a massively self-defeating narrowness of mind and spirit. Soundproof is a program that speaks for the infinite possibilities of the human imagination in the world of words, music and sound. Killing such a program in its infancy reveals a toxic corporate mindset that rips out the garden for yet another parking lot.”

The national broadcaster has systematically gutted the local ecosystem for creative radio with the decommissioning of more than six programs in the last two years that used to support Australian artists. Now it has laid out its plans to wind Radio National down completely over the next few years as it abandons audiences who listen, to chase audiences who can be counted. The ABC touts the move to more talk as a way to lead the national conversation. Talk is not conversation. If we want new listening experiences, we must make them ourselves and find new forms and platforms for sharing them.

When RN is done with medium wave, then maybe it will be time to give the frequency back to artists…we are not short of ideas for what do with it.

 

Go to Radio Revolten

Missed the revolution? Head over to the Radio Revolten archives for extensive audio, photos and the daily reflections of Revolten’s official diarist Gabi Schaffner throughout the month.

Radio Revolten International Radio Art Festival, Halle, Germany, 1-30 Oct

RealTime issue #135 Oct-Nov 2016

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

DADS, Dance Makers Collective

DADS, Dance Makers Collective

DADS, Dance Makers Collective

The excited chat and noise from a mostly teenaged matinee audience fades to silence as the lights go to black. DADS has begun and will sustain these young people’s interest for the next hour. This achievement is perhaps indicative of Dance Makers Collective’s currency as a young group of independent dance-makers pooling resources to create new work.

From the gloom of the Lennox Theatre, the doo wop classic “Only You” is heard as diminutive, besuited Miranda Wheen begins a prone journey across the stage. She ends her sliding against the upstage “Dad” home bar (a set built by one of the subjects of the piece) and we hear the first voice of a father. “I feel really good when I’m dancing to a song I enjoy listening to.” And so a soundtrack convention is established and a vehicle provided for an episodic dancework which is much more than a satire on daggy dad-dancing. Soon the company joins Wheen one by one, each rising and falling through supple spines, following distractions low to the ground, squatting, rolling up trouser legs: a preparation perhaps for the coming dance. The moving is not parodic; perhaps we are witnessing a reenactment of a male ritual observed while recording the Dustyesky Russian Men’s choir in Mullumbimby, whose voices now ring out from the PA.

DADS, Dance Makers Collective

DADS, Dance Makers Collective

DADS, Dance Makers Collective

This beginning transforms into three trios that range across the stage and culminate in a crescendo of frenetic rolling and choreographic patterns. Then as the Everley Brothers urge us to “Dream,” we also hear Melanie and Marnie Palomares interrogate their father’s attitudes to dancing. “[Dance] anyway you feel like it,” he urges and the women comply in real time. A sequence follows with dancers and Del Shannon’s “Runaway” all slowed down at first, giving us time to appreciate trained bodies moving through an accelerating exposition of Dad dance aesthetics.

This aestheticising of untrained movement is a recurring motif in DADS, and it displays an underlying sensitivity and respect towards the men heard on the recordings. The work hits many poignant notes such as a father overcome with emotion in his connections to dancing and daughter. Another dad talking about loneliness provides a soundtrack to an accumulating walking formation as the company creates a pedestrian dance. A contact duo occurs briefly before Wheen emerges, shadow boxing light as a feather. The group disperses, leaving her to leap and skip through an imaginary combat that shifts between sparring, twisting and shaking moves. All through this section Matt Cornell supports the onstage physicality with a pulsing sound collage that contains remnants of distant, wistful songs. A solo from Anya McKee starts as a duet with a comfy chair. She rolls and folds through a physical prologue that brings her into full-bodied travelling as we hear a dad confessing that his involvement in the project has nurtured a new interest in dancing which now includes private moments of “air guitar”!

DADS, Dance Makers Collective

DADS, Dance Makers Collective

DADS, Dance Makers Collective

But DADS’ most humorous moment arrives in the form of a trio by Sophia Ndaba, Miranda Wheen and Marnie Palomares. In a bar scene with Carl Sciberras, the trio stand in for his (heard) father as they physically lampoon the imaginings of Mr Sciberras’ own “old school dad …Cranky Frankie cutting a rug.” The women create caricature extensions of blokey poses, corny knee-slapping bobs and ducks that swing them into hilarious responses to Sciberras’ interrogation of his dad.

Rather than being a light-hearted surface-skate across embarrassing dad anecdotes, DADS ventures a subtle enquiry into male frailties. It challenges stereotypes of paternity and masculinity and exposes a charming vulnerability in older men. It also uncovers seams of Sydney’s social history and multicultural character, audible in the many accents and historical expositions evident in the soundtrack texts. These fragments of interviews with dads, grandfathers and even a great grandfather, interspersed throughout, focus our attention on dads’ stories about dancing and in the curtain-call boogie, we see three of them onstage. This family reunion shows clearly that DADS, as Dance Makers Collective’s tribute to their fathers, manages to link contemporary and social dance via a touching exploration of the parent-offspring relationship.

FORM Dance: Dance Makers Collective, DADS, director Miranda Wheen, choreographers, dancers Miranda Wheen, Carl Sciberras, Anya McKee, Matt Cornell, Sophia Ndaba, Katina Olsen, Marnie Palomares, Melanie Palomares, Rosslyn Wythes, designer Anya McKee, composer Matt Cornell, lighting designer Guy Harding, producer Carl Sciberras; Riverside Theatres, Parramatta, 2-5 Nov

RealTime issue #135 Oct-Nov 2016

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

Eugene Ughetti, Matthias Schack-Arnett, Anicca

Eugene Ughetti, Matthias Schack-Arnett, Anicca

In recent years Melbourne-based Speak Percussion have continually explored experimental repertoire, showcasing their depth of talent both as performers and creators. The brainchild of Matthias Schack-Arnott, Anicca is an ambitious project with a new rotating instrument taking centrestage. Pairing this with a light installation and multi-channel audio, the event promised a multi-sensory experience inspired by Hindu and Buddhist thought.

The body of the instrument stands as a large musical tabletop a few metres in diameter. Adorning its surface are concentric circles of different materials. Natural materials—stones, shells and sticks—are positioned alongside wires, sandpaper and finely tuned chimes. With the speed of the table’s rotation controlled by a foot pedal, the intricacy of both the creative and industrial design is evident from the outset.

With the instrument already whirring in motion, Schack-Arnott and his musical partner, Speak’s Artistic Director Eugene Ughetti, approach it, placing cymbals on a carpeted surface. This initial eerie resonant sound continues as a thread throughout the performance, whether achieved by the friction of cymbals or through sound design. Gradually, new sound sources are introduced. First, small prayer bowls are placed with great deliberation atop the instrument, moved around and struck with mallets. Seeing the players work with the rotation is like watching gamers in intense concentration, careful not to miss a step in this deceptively tricky choreography. Like chain reactions, the other surfaces are set off with mallets; the chattering and rattling of the objects cut and pasted into a rich palette of sound, reminiscent of early tape music. The gradually changing textures and rhythmic patterns become even more hypnotic.

Matthias Schack-Arnett, Eugene Ughetti, Anicca

Matthias Schack-Arnett, Eugene Ughetti, Anicca

Layering atmospheric resonances with active sounds hides changes in speed, increasing the impact of the work’s three key passages, executed with a drastic deceleration in the rotation speed and a near-complete blackout. During the first passage, a set of chimes tuned to the same pitch is spotlit by the rotating light system and struck by the players. This paring back of the busy patterns is introspective, a moment of stillness and meditation. The second round deploys chimes tuned to two different pitches, and in the final section all the chimes are illuminated and played.

Reaching for large cymbals towards the end of the performance, the players draw muted chuckles from the audience. These instruments create a grand resonance; when applied with pressure to the rotating surface, the friction produces an uncomfortably high pitched grating, increasing the sense of tension before the work’s abrupt end.

Making a new instrument from scratch allows for notions of music and interaction to be challenged. This work’s disruption of typical relationships between instrument and performer was one of its most striking aspects. In highly controlled sections, Ughetti and Schack-Arnott played decisively and with precise movements, striking individual chimes and prayer bowls. But the cyclic motion of the instrument played an equal part in the performance, seemingly playing itself when the musicians held their tools to its surface and let it speak.

To construct a new instrument on this scale is not just a feat of engineering, but an exercise in creative musical thinking unlike any other. In their consideration for every aspect of materials, mechanics, scoring and performance, Schack-Arnott and the team behind Anicca have demonstrated their intriguing practice, producing a captivating work which felt far shorter than its 45 minutes.

Anicca

Anicca

Read Matthew Lorenzon’s interview with Matthias Schack-Arnott and Eugene Ughetti.

Speak Percussion, Annica, composer, instrument-maker, performer Matthias Schack-Arnott, performer Eugene Ughetti, creative engineer Richard Allen, video system Pete Brundle, James Sandri (PDA), lighting Richard Dinnen (Megafun), producer Michaela Coventry; Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall, 2-6 Nov

RealTime issue #135 Oct-Nov 2016

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

Eurovision 2015 includes Australia as official contender for the first time

Eurovision 2015 includes Australia as official contender for the first time

You’re a presenter for SBS television. How proud you must be to work for a renowned multicultural broadcaster, delivering content for the multitudinous diasporas who have washed up on Australia’s fatal shores since WWII. And you’re a commentator on the SBS broadcast of Eurovision. I can’t tell you how hilarious it is to have a wog like you nudge-and-wink at the broadcast audience as you make fun of all those awful woggy pop singers. Lithuania, Albania, Macedonia, Slovenia—unlike cool Australia, they’re all so embarrassing they make for an easy target.

Who am I? I’m just a sarcastic intellectual, trying out the same septic spittle that you pour onto the contestants of Eurovision. I figured that you like hateful remarks: you’re so good at them. And like all the intelligentsia of Australia, I revel in mocking pop music, degrading its artists, dismissing its cultural worth, lampooning its gaudy theatrics and dishing smarmy drag-bitch snipes at televisual images which will never turn around and bite me.

 

Why trash Eurovision?

Why is the concept of Eurovision such an embarrassment to so many people? Why do they feel so empowered and elated by being so insulting toward every aspect of its production—while shedding tears of wrought empathy when their own national anthem is played at the Olympics? Why is there any sense that Eurovision is different from the Olympics? Both are politically deluded, economically cynical, emotionally manipulative and aggressively disingenuous. But am I alone in seeing their similarities while feeling equally involved in the theatrical drama of each of them? I’m no sports fan of any measure, but the Pavlovian response to the adrenaline moments of Olympic conquest are undeniable. For me, the sentimentality and pizzaz of Eurovision are equally engaging and affective. And this is despite not liking the music.

Eurovision—like the Olympics—is capable of generating a schizophrenic identification with the show’s pyrotechnical staging and self-absorbed performance. Institutionally, Eurovision is plainly the Olympics with songs. It’s nationalistic, competitive, international and reflective of how individuals can be willingly employed as nodes in a showy fabrication of diplomatic exchange and assessment. This year’s Eurovision returned to Stockholm, Sweden, following last year’s winner Mans Zelmerlow and his song “Heroes.” Eurovision originated in Switzerland, largely as a white-paper proposal for promoting Swiss cultural identity within the global arena of diplomatic exchange following the establishment of the European Broadcast Union, an organising and inter-sharing body for many post-war public broadcasters across Europe. The crowning glory of Eurovision’s impact was its levering of Sweden’s ABBA into the international pop industrial chain with their 1974 win “Waterloo” (in England, the host country that year). Of course, smarmy pop-haters wouldn’t notice what’s in a name: ABBA competed against Britain’s stranglehold on disposable pop which in the early 1970s had reached the point of critical meltdown through the most outrageously facile concoction of songs and artists. ABBA effectively distilled this acidic Dickensian musical bile and played it back to the UK, copying the saggy baggy para-Glam pub-boogie of the time and referencing Napoleon’s defeat at the hands of the British. How perversely ironic: the Waterloo here was not ABBA’s, but Britain’s inability to keep Eurotrash from infiltrating its closely guarded WWII-era radio waves.

 

Origins of the assault

The Eurovision 2016 Semi-Finals went so far as to include a tediously smarmy fake-documentary about the origins of Eurovision. Replete with fake digital scratched film and ‘dag’ iconography (making it look like the 70s, despite Eurovision being formed in 1951), it was as funny as every ad which lampoons cardigan-wearing nerdy office-workers today (as if late-20-something advertising ‘creatives’ these days are style icons). The sad thing was how Eurovision itself had succumbed to the international subversion of its purpose and programming: to ridicule its production and disparage all those who treat it seriously. It was the British who pioneered the smarmy para-racist attitudes towards Eurovision’s contestants via the infamously droll commentary of Terry Wogan (over 30 times intermittently until the mid 2000s). Contrary to the country’s pride in being well-mannered, the sound of British broadcasting has always borne the sound of something in its mouth, be it plums, tongues, silver spoons or plain bile. It’s a remarkable sono-oral effect, born of vowelling and tonguing words so that a counter-tone modulates the meaning (hence America’s infinite misreading of British comedy). But with the Eurovision broadcasts, this gained global momentum in English-speaking territories where the show’s broadcast was franchised.

By the 1980s, the broadcast commentary had become the ulterior motive for many audiences to watch Eurovision. It was like travelling into the hellish chaos of woggy Europe while sipping bitter tea in a mouldy bedsit armchair. Nudge-nudge, wink-wink, laugh at the woggy pantomime of awful pop music while Cool Britannia intones snide remarks like Oscar Wilde sitting in the peanut gallery during a House of Lords session, close-miked and broadcast without the downstairs auditorium in hearing distance. Before long, numerous countries employed their own presenters to provide sportscaster-style commentary in their native tongue atop the lowered volume of both the host nation’s presenters and the BBC-sanctioned commentary. Some kept things straight; many couldn’t resist poking fun. After all, it’s not like it’s the Olympics, right?

 

Eurovision 2015 includes Australia as official contender for the first time

Eurovision 2015 includes Australia as official contender for the first time

SBS joins the club

SBS started showing Eurovision in 1983, following the slimy smarm trail left by Wogan. By the late 1990s, it had approached the broadcast as a multi-layered revoicing of the event: part-hacking, part-cackling, like all smarmy media interventions it believes it invented the word ‘subversion.’ Its format now includes a ‘team’ of wanna-be comedians falling over each other’s words as they struggle to get in their pithy snarks betwixt the cacophonic voicing of the original broadcast. The show also adds snippy behind-the-scenes interviews by some guy who ranks himself with Norman Gunston and Chris Morris. Dude, you so ain’t: taking pot shots at foreign singers—most of whom can speak at least three languages plus English—and implicating us in your double-entendre Anglo mocking is a massive fail.

It gets harder each year to filter out the ‘de-broadcast’ voiced-over noise of racist-not-racist tap-dancing and lip-synching of SBS’s broadcast of Eurovision. One can almost miss the actual songs. And in case you were wondering, Eurovision 2016 Semi-Finals televisual staging was far more advanced in terms of screenic projection, calibrated lighting, choreographed camerawork and post-Broadway spectacularism than most 90s-lagging media artists. Sure, their ‘content’ might be dismissible—but believe me, so is the ‘content’ of most international arts festivals, in case you were wondering. Additionally, there were some well-crafted pop songs. Crack harmonic modulation, on-a-dime emotional shifts, melodic multiplicity and generic atomisation ruled. When I could actually hear and see the acts, I found little to hate.

SBS TV, Eurovision Semi Finals 2016 10, 12 May

RealTime issue #135 Oct-Nov 2016

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

Xan Fraser, Daisy Coyle, Project Xan

Xan Fraser, Daisy Coyle, Project Xan

Taking to the stage as herself, Xan Fraser revisits traumatic childhood experiences to shine a light on how our society continues to accept a rape culture. Fraser, a firm central presence in Project Xan, tells an unfolding story of her rape when aged 12, in 1981, and the horrors of medical and legal examinations in its aftermath. Verbatim courtroom transcript excerpts reveal that, in a system unable to consider a rape victim as innocent, Xan was blamed for the circumstances of the gang rape and that when sentencing was being determined, judicial sympathy was expressed for the rapists.

Xan’s memories and her reflections on them play out between vignettes that address today’s rape culture in terms of dictionary definitions and problematic beliefs and behaviours evident in pop song lyrics and contemporary cases that continue to feature victim-blaming.

Siobhan Dow-Hall, Marco Jovanovic, Project Xan

Siobhan Dow-Hall, Marco Jovanovic, Project Xan

Addressing both the audience and her younger self, played by Daisy Coyle, Fraser guides us through the events and the impacts that lie behind dry legal jargon. Physically convincing as a 12-year-old, the 19-year-old Coyle expresses bewilderment and naivety in responding to unjust questions posed by doctors and lawyers at a time when Xan lacked a supportive adult. Fraser’s presence as a sympathetic observer allows her to explain events to the traumatised child.

The limited stage space is strongly defined by the miniature skating rink which skirts it, recalling Xan’s original plan for the evening, to go rollerskating with a friend. Coyle deftly skates by as watching adults discuss Xan’s sexual appetite. Her freedom of physical expression contrasts vividly with Fraser’s account of the rape and its ramifications for her adolescent life.

Project Xan

Project Xan

Fraser and Coyle are supported onstage by Siobhan Dow-Hall, Marko Jovanovic and Nick Maclaine who, in basic black T-shirts— printed with slogans which sometimes appear on casual wear, relating to issues of consent, rape humour and the denigration of female sexuality—appear in the issue-based vignettes and play roles in hospital and courtroom scenes. The vignettes resonate at many levels with Xan’s own story when she turns from considering the devastation of her young dreams to recalling walking onstage at a stand-up gig where she was abused by the comedian for not appreciating his jokes about sexual attacks.

The central story of Project Xan carries additional weight in having Fraser herself onstage. Acknowledging what she suffered was horrible, she refuses to let herself be defined by the crime, the trial, the blaming, shaming and ostracism; instead, Fraser celebrates the triumphs of her life since. Addressing a difficult subject, writer-director Hellie Turner’s Project Xan delivers a powerful message about the need for cultural change.

Xan Fraser, Project Xan

Xan Fraser, Project Xan

Xan Fraser, Project Xan

jedda Productions and The Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts, Project Xan, writer, director Hellie Turner, consultant, dramaturg David Williams, performers Xan Fraser, Daisy Coyle, Siobhan Dow-Hall, Marko Jovanovic, Nick Maclaine, design consultant Lawrie Cullen-Tait, lighting Chris Donnelly, composer, sound Ash Gibson Greig; PICA Performance Space, Perth, 8-19 Nov

RealTime issue #135 Oct-Nov 2016

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

Ella Barclay, I Had To Do It, Greeting Programs (best left unsaid), installation view, UTS Gallery

Ella Barclay, I Had To Do It, Greeting Programs (best left unsaid), installation view, UTS Gallery

In my path as I turn at the end of a dark corridor are four squat, crumpled, art paper (white, blue and pink pastels) sculptures in my path. They look a little like flowers, loosely hand-inscribed (not easy to decipher) and threaded here and there with twisted aluminium wire. Greetings Program (best left unsaid) offers an enigmatic welcome to Ella Barclay’s solo exhibition at UTS Gallery, titled I Had To Do It. These objects conjure an image of the artist hard at work and compulsively scrunching up and, as suggested by the curious presence of the wire, discarding unacceptable prototypes.

Turning into a darker space, reveals a low, human-length container of furiously bubbling liquid, colour-shifting through intense pink, blue and green and issuing swathes of mist. Dark wires twist over the surface which seemingly breaks as a hand appears, legs, a face, a smile, someone climbing out and another body rising up (video projected from above onto the water) in this spa-like device. It’s the wires that disturb and the rather hallucinatory bathing humans in what appears to be an emerging sci-fi-ish scenario about being taken by data capture. But the work’s title, Summoning the Nereid Nerdz, is playful (the Nereids are sea nymphs in Classical Greek mythology)—as are the titles of the show’s other works, contrary to its overall mood.

Ella Barclay, I Had To Do It, Summoning the Nereid Nerdz, UTS Gallery

Ella Barclay, I Had To Do It, Summoning the Nereid Nerdz, UTS Gallery

Ella Barclay, I Had To Do It, Summoning the Nereid Nerdz, UTS Gallery

About the pool are sleek, black plastic shapes—each metre-length or more; two on the floor, one on a wall, two suspended. Hard-edged and sharp-ended, they are roughly triangular. Where open to be peered into, they reveal the kind of wiring already seen, sometimes running to an outer edge and aglow in sections with a soft blue luminescence evoking data transmission. From several of these ‘devices’ comes the sound of women’s voices, layered, distant and accompanied by a soft, haunting wordless melody, again female. The impression is of a cluster of advanced computers, having long ago left boxy designs behind and functioning in quiet harmony.

Barclay says the “singing tones” in Mystic Heuristics IV, V, VI, VII + VIII (Periodic Boundary Conditions) “are potentially homage to the 300 years of women who contributed to computational history, whose stories are not well known” (interview in Artist Profile, by Lucy Stranger).

Ella Barclay, I Had To Do It, Mystic Heuristics (foreground), installation view, UTS Gallery

Ella Barclay, I Had To Do It, Mystic Heuristics (foreground), installation view, UTS Gallery

Ella Barclay, I Had To Do It, Mystic Heuristics (foreground), installation view, UTS Gallery

On the wall, three large, circular photographic ‘portraits’ frame the black devices and the burbling pool, inexorably foregrounding the centrality of the wiring in I Had To Do It. In each a coloured wire is overlayed or entangled with thicker, more vigorous, almost brush-stroked black ones. For all their stillness, these images suggest some kind of drama, of colour or technology contested. But there are no clues to be found immediately in the works’ enigmatic titles: The nerds have got to stop working for the thugs; Plastic environments imaginatively inhabited (Dopamine long morning bed head); and Love is a metaphysical gravity.

The compulsiveness declared in Barclay’s title for her show, I Had To Do It, is evident in the intensifying focus on wiring, from the detritus of creative frustration to the black lines twisting ominously over the Nereid Nerdz, from the workings of fictional machines to a set of ambiguous portraits that altogether supplant the human. Yet Barclay’s titles are jokey, the ‘spa’ work is kitschy, the song in Mystic Heuristics celebrates women’s role in the making of the computer and there’s historical to and fro-ing: nerds as nereids, retro framing of the wiring ‘portraits’ and the play between art paper, hand writing and a wordless song emitted by futuristic computers. I Had To Do It conjures a dark vision, but assuredly captures the ambivalences of our relationship with contemporary technology. (Kailana Sommers’ catalogue essay, “Minimum requirements for a feeling of schizophrenia,” which accompanies rather than directly contextualises the show, prompts grimmer thoughts.)

As Barclay says of her work, in the interview with Lucy Strange, “It’s a kind of techno-romanticism or dealing with the idea of techno-sublime. I’m not particularly interested in ideas of new technology or innovation; it’s more about our experience as we navigate this kind of landscape.” With its spooky ambience, curious creations and restless ambiguities, I Had To Do It is an engagingly disorienting experience.

Ella Barclay, I Had To Do It, Mystic Heuristics, UTS Gallery

Ella Barclay, I Had To Do It, Mystic Heuristics, UTS Gallery

Ella Barclay, I Had To Do It, Mystic Heuristics, UTS Gallery

I Had To Do It, artist Ella Barclay, UTS Gallery, Sydney, 4 Oct-25 Nov

Ella Barclay has exhibited extensively in Sydney, as well as in project and group exhibitions in Tokyo, Taipei, Edinburgh, Brisbane, Kassel, Bathurst and New York. She has been a finalist in the Helen Lempriere Travelling Arts Scholarship, the New South Wales Visual Arts Fellowship (Emerging) and the John Fries Award. She is a current PhD candidate at the University of Technology, Sydney. This year she is a resident artist at both the Australia Council Studio, London and Casula Powerhouse, Western Sydney.

RealTime issue #135 Oct-Nov 2016

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

Kristina Chan, A Faint Existence, Liveworks 2016

Kristina Chan, A Faint Existence, Liveworks 2016

We are inducted into another time-space, pulled into synch with the close-by body of a tightly spotlit dancer, Kristina Chan, rising and coming down on her heels with a corresponding thump that grows denser, roaring like WWII fighter planes. Darkness. In the distance, high, horizontal, a wide rippling wave of soft material evokes wind, colour shading revealing complex patterning out of Chaos Theory. The dancer lies below, still. The thunderous thumping not so much fades as travels away, soft wind its residue. Wind and dancer co-exist.

The dancer is in a different space, poised, almost hovering but off-centre, leaning back and almost over-balancing forward, a less than voluntary cycle, hand hanging from wrist, body swathed in intensifying, ghostly blue light. The movement is repeated in another space, a touch sinuously, a little faster, but still as if subject to some unrevealed force. There is little sign of agency, save for self-correction.

Centrestage, a wide circular platform, raised mere centimetres above the floor, becomes a bed for the foetally curled dancer. She unfurls into other shapes, her mouth locking on a hand, an arm, a knee, a leg, like thumb-sucking of another order, or a slow devouring of the self before she contorts into a headless crab-like creature. Her stillness is protracted, rendering her/it a specimen seen through an electron microscope. Release comes with a jolt, an intense crackling lifting the dancer to her feet, as if she’s escaped regression to some earlier life form from which we evolved.

Kristina Chan, A Faint Existence, Liveworks 2016

Kristina Chan, A Faint Existence, Liveworks 2016

The pervasive feeling of vulnerability in alien space is fully felt when the low platform mutates into a sheer black hole, white light flaring from beneath like an eclipse. It preludes the return of the beautiful wind, this time its imagined force propelling the dancer in wild, wide circles, over and over, to the point of palpable exhaustion. Thunder, sounding like the real thing, brings stillness and reprieve, the very real catching of breath. Chan steps carefully backwards on the edge of the platform, circling into darkness as deep organ-like and choral tones imbue these final moments with a quasi-spiritual, funereal solemnity. It looks like tip-toeing backwards around an environmental black hole of our own making.

Everything about A Faint Existence suggests the fatal fragility of our life on an Earth subject to the vicissitudes of human-generated Climate Change. The dancer is relentlessly buffeted, turned in on herself, regressive, ultimately passive (doubtless there’ll be other readings, perhaps of resistance; but fighting the wind is not taking on Climate Change unless there was symbolism I missed). These states are convincingly conveyed by dancer-choreographer Kristina Chan, putting aside her acclaimed fluency in works by others for long-held, subtly modulated states of ‘possession’ and passages of violent movement that together border on durational performance; the influence of dramaturg Victoria Hunt is evident here as well as in the work’s image-making.

Although always receptive to powerful images, at the time I was irritated by the length of some, by awkward segueing from one to another, and the aforementioned passivity of the dancer. But the work’s images, intricately fusing movement, sound and design, have proved memorable. Claire Britton’s design is eminently sculptural; with Benjamin Cisterne’s haunting lighting and James Brown’s highly responsive score it could almost function as a standalone installation, shifting from state to state. For her first major work, Kristina Chan has embodied our shared plight with a welcome physical and emotional intensity; it’s a work that warrants further evolution, countering the current political threat to undo the best that we have made of ourselves.

Kristina Chan, A Faint Existence, Liveworks 2016

Kristina Chan, A Faint Existence, Liveworks 2016

Performance Space, Liveworks Festival of Experimental Art: Kristina Chan & Force Majeure, A Faint Existence, creator, choreographer, performer Kristina Chan, composer James Brown, designer Clare Britton, lighting Benjamin Cisterne, dramaturg Victoria Hunt; Carriageworks, Sydney, 27-30 Oct

RealTime issue #135 Oct-Nov 2016

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

Nicola Gunn, Jo Lloyd, Mermermer, Liveworks 2016

Nicola Gunn, Jo Lloyd, Mermermer, Liveworks 2016

It’s as if, out walking, you’re passing two joggers who have slowed to do stretches, their muttered, barely audible utterances riding on breathy exhalations, overlapping as if each speaker knows the other so well that talking in disjunctive tandem is a given. When this foggy sussuration clears a little, you hear mention of innocuous specifics—sex, giraffes. The conversation is funny, everyday, as silly as the awkward, lurching moves the pair make, the work’s harp-like minimalist score meanwhile anchoring us with its sane, sweet pulse.

The sense of intimate, exercised entwinement will return, but for now playfulness takes over: arms and legs disappear beneath large grey blanket-like outfits, rendering the pair variously swaying objects and crawling critters, garlanded with glittering strands fallen from above (costuming by Shio Otani). As they play, one rattles on about addiction—nicely matching the pair’s obsessive drive and monstrous fantasy-making.

What ensues makes this vision seem a mere diversion. In an astonishingly sustained scene of furious entanglement, frightening in its risk-taking, artful in its remarkable synchronisation, the pair engage in countless holds that evoke all-in-wrestling, extreme sports workouts, chiropractic, cramp treatment and the excesses of Eurotrash dance. Heads fly past each other with apparent millimetres to spare, arms swirl and swipe and the talk—youth, beauty—goes relentlessly and unbelievably on.

The pair’s oneness, expressing mutual dependency, perhaps dangerous co-dependency, is at once profound, in its care and artistry, but equally banal in its profusion of pointless exercising and rabbiting on. It’s seriously parodic.

One of the pair adorns herself with a mass of glitter, again fallen inexplicably from above, and circles the stage, breathlessly pondering what she wants to be and why “Tilda Swinton pops up in funny places.” It’s mildly parodic.

Jo Lloyd, Nicola Gunn, Mermermer, Liveworks 2016

Jo Lloyd, Nicola Gunn, Mermermer, Liveworks 2016

A gentle rattling, first train-like, is underscored with a heavy shuffling and thumping beat which sets the pulse for the compulsive little three-step dance that the pair, now wordless, execute, moving in parallel, drifting apart in wide circular trajectories and, as ever, drawn together. But this final union is unusual. Side by side, facing into the same corner from which they had entered, each balances on one leg, heads, torso, extended arms tilting down, as if rendered statues, fading into black. The scene is a baroque conclusion to an otherwise wild scenario. But how wild? The fantasies are trivial, the exercise-saturated activity banal, however viscerally engaging and funny. It’s ultimately a dark vision.

The artists’ program, describing the work as a “phantasmagoria,” details the etymology of their invented title, Mermermer, its association with MERMER (forensic “brain fingerprinting”), memory and memoir (from the Latin and Greek) and “Indo-European mer-mer: ‘to vividly wonder,’ ‘to be anxious,’ ‘to exhaustingly ponder.’” These states Mermermer successfully induces.

The work has clear kinship with Nicola Gunn’s Piece for Person and Ghettoblaster, which also follows physical and verbal (and moral) exhaustion with a dark reverie. In Mermermer, performance-maker Gunn, typically droll, delivers the solo spoken passages and dancer Jo Lloyd’s distinctive choreographic precision is evident most of all in the challenging entanglement duet. This charismatic team has produced an engrossing work—surprising, visceral, satirical, simply funny and, worryingly altogether something else.

Performance Space, Liveworks Festival of Experimental Art: Mermermer, concept, direction, choreography, performers Nicola Gunn, Jo Lloyd, lighting design Matthew Adey (House of Vunholy), composer, sound designer Duane Morrison, costume design Shio Otani; Carriageworks, Sydney, 2-5 Nov

RealTime issue #135 Oct-Nov 2016

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

Omer Backley-Astrachan, Tohu

Omer Backley-Astrachan, Tohu

A key component of the program of Newcastle’s Catapult Dance (read the RealTime interview with director Cadi McCarthy) is its Propel Professional Residency scheme which grants invaluable time and space for dance artists to develop works over one to three weeks, the latter period including opportunities to collaborate with local artists (read our review of PROPELLED at the Lock Up gallery). RealTime spoke with Omer Backley-Astrachan who, with partner Sharon Backley-Astrachan, has a one-week residency this month, and Craig Bary, whose residency with Newcastle composer Dale Collier takes place in January 2017.

 

Omer Backley-Astrachan

Omer, who is Israeli, and his Australian partner, Sharon, worked in Israel from 2008 with Kamea Dance Company, The Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company and the Israeli Ballet and then in Tel Aviv as independent artists before moving to Australia in 2014. He explains the move: “We stayed in Israel as long as we could but life there was was tough and we always knew we had the option of moving to Australia. Sharon missed her family and thought it was time to move closer to home.”

Omer and Sharon have two works in development that they’ll be focusing on at Catapult, TOHU and Valley. TOHU, says Omer, “started in Israel as a very political statement. We went through several wars and we could really see how disparity grows, how racism grows and it made me try to understand if it’s a human thing to be racist, for human beings to be afraid of each other. Or is it natural for human beings to love each other and then learn to hate?” He researched history, Eastern philosophies, including Tao and then tried to allow these philosophies to inform the movement, very literally at first. I think it’s important to visit literal places before making the work completely abstract. The essence of dance is abstract; its language is far broader than spoken language and with a huge range of emotions.”

The character of much Israeli dance seen in Australia is vigorous and sinuous; Omer concurs, “it’s definitely embedded in me, but having said that there are moments in our work that are more minimal, more about the visual aspect—almost like an art installation rather than a dance.” In TOHU, the pair “use marbles to represent constellations, galaxies and the movement of stars and to look at how as human beings we’re influenced by gravity not only as a physical force but as a mental one; gravity’s a dramatic universal force.”

As to how the marbles are deployed, Omer laughs. “Well, I don’t want to reveal too many secrets. We pour the marbles onto floor and, using light, we want the audience to feel as if they’re looking at micro-versions of a universe. There’s continuous movement on the stage not actually motivated by our bodies. There’s an echo, a certain relationship. If there’s a message we want to deliver it’s that we’re all connected. We’re all a bit like marbles bouncing off each other. The problem is that we forget those connections. In a political example, a lot of Israelis coming from Arab countries themselves don’t define themselves as Arab and are today increasingly right wing or feel angry with or scared of the Palestinian people. If they were able to remember their connection to the language, the culture of the place they came from, perhaps they wouldn’t feel so scared of the other. Of course, the audience doesn’t always get what we want them to get.”

Dancer Ali Graham will perform the second work, Valley, a 15-minute piece that might grow longer during the residency, says Omer. It’s described in a press release as “captur[ing] the submergence of a young woman into the deep abstract amorphous space of love and loneliness” [press release]. Omer elaborates: “Ali’s solo is about love and loneliness but the general idea of Valley speaks about a certain looseness of meaning that we’re experiencing in our society. A hundred years ago, death was super-meaningful. If a storm wiped out an entire village, it was regarded as an omen or that the gods wanted something. People could grasp and rely on that meaning. Religious people still have that today but most secular people are losing it because nothing is meaningful except growth and jobs and money. Land is not important unless it makes money for the government. Dance is not important unless it gives back to the economy.”

Once fully developed, Omer and Sharon want to tour the works, including overseas. But as for many artists, life is complex. Sharon is undertaking a veterinarian degree at Sydney University and Omer teaches dance, including at NAISDA (National Aboriginal and Islander Skills Development Association). Omer’s ambition is “to start a dance company, something a bit more stable; working with people who have a certain commitment. I feel there are a lot of really beautiful dancers in Sydney who are looking for this kind of opportunity.”

TOHU and Valley will be performed at Catapult Dance Studios on 26 November.

 

Craig Bary in Joshua Thomson’s Sum of Parts, Lockup 2016

Craig Bary in Joshua Thomson’s Sum of Parts, Lockup 2016

Craig Bary

New Zealand-born dancer Craig Bary’s career is remarkable, performing consistently since the late 1990’s with a long list of NZ and Australia’s leading choreographers, documented on his website—but only up to 2012. Craig explains, “the site’s in hibernation. I’ve been busy. Most recently I’ve been working on my own choreography and also teaching at NAISDA Dance College up on the NSW Central Coast. I’m the manager for the Contemporary Dance Unit. It’s casual employment, so when I’m not doing that I keep dancing with other companies. At the moment I’m working with Lisa Wilson in Brisbane who has a show coming up next year. I’ve also been choreographing on a group of friends and have a show coming up next year at Parramatta Riverside.”

Asked if he’d like choreographing to become the centrepiece his career, Craig replies, “I’m very passionate about creating work and exploring new ideas and new movement styles and also working with different collaborators. But right now I’m really enjoying a balance of dancing for people, creating my own work and teaching tertiary and pre-professional level dancers. I’ve found quite a nice little balance that’s sustaining me at the moment—which is pretty fortunate.”

For his Propel residency he’ll collaborate with “trans-disciplinary” artist Dale Collier whom he met when in PROPELLED at Newcastle’s Lock-Up gallery. “Cadi McCarthy suggested maybe the two of us could do a residency, with me as choreographer and Dale as lighting designer to see what we could come up with. We’ve never worked together. I think we’ll come in with a few basic ideas. It’s about getting into the space, having the conversation and starting to discover what kind of potential topics we might be interested in exploring and developing; whether it’s going to be abstract or have some kind of narrative or whether we’re going to just play with technology and movement.”

Craig’s attitude to light, he says, “is really a matter of what the work is about. But I’m very passionate about theatrical elements to enhance the work I create. I really love working with designers and technicians, exploring what will complement the material we’re working on. Also, Dale has some new technology he’d like to explore and I’m excited to see what that may do as well.”

Asked to describe his choreography, given the huge range of his dance experiences from Douglas Wright to Garry Stewart’s ADT, Craig says, “As time has progressed, as a choreographer and collaborator, I really enjoy what each individual brings to the table, what their skills are. I think one of my great strengths as a choreographer is partnering and Contact work. I’m also very interested in seamless movement interrupted by dynamic shifts and variations. For me it’s really about playing with physicality all the time, always exploring different pathways, new ways, but always going back to what you know and then exploring inside of that.”

Catapult Dance, Propel Professional Residencies: Omer and Sharon Backley-Astrachan, 21-27 Nov; TOHU and Valley, 7pm 26 Nov; Craig Bary, Jan 2017; Catapult Dance Studios, Newcastle

RealTime issue #135 Oct-Nov 2016

XiaoKe x ZiHan, SoftMachine, Choy Ka Fai, Liveworks 2016

XiaoKe x ZiHan, SoftMachine, Choy Ka Fai, Liveworks 2016

Softmachine, a four-year project, 2012-16, by Berlin-based Singaporean artist and performance maker Choy Ka Fai, has generated four widely travelled dance performances and 88 video interviews with choreographers in 13 cities in five countries across Asia. The work offers unprecedented visibility to enormous varieties of regional dance forms and choreographic thinking. With two performance works and the video interviews (unfortunately only accessible in the first week of the festival), Softmachine featured as the best of the Liveworks’ program.

 

XiaoKe x ZiHan

Performers and partners, the choreographer XiaoKe and sound artist ZiHan open their performance with video of the couple arriving home in Shanghai to find they’ve had ‘visitors,’ that computer data is missing and passwords blocked; “In 2015, we thought we were being watched.”

Although described as “documentary performance” (catalogue)—an apt term for the other Softmachine performance in Liveworks by Indonesian dancer Rianto—XiaoKe x ZiHan is more dramatically organic, focusing consistently on the emotional impact of intensifying political repression of art in China.

ZiHan, in silhouette from behind a large red curtain that dominates the stage, plays an interrogator. XiaoKe, his subject, clutches a ball of white material which, leaning into, she pushes abjectly about the floor; sliding, crawling, rocking. She is asked her age. “37.” “Contemporary dance?” “Physical theatre.” Where? “Not in official venues. No licence needed.” Nor, she says, do they need a licence to performance overseas. She is asked about Choy Ka Fai. “Fat, like a businessman.” “Why the crawling?” “To express struggle” is her provocative, mock ideological retort.

The curtain falls to the floor, the interrogator appears to collapse and our attention is drawn to the screen where XiaoKe x ZiHan are seen in their apartment, with a glimpse of one of his six cats. Chopping vegetables, she muses about their being together: “Love? Artistic collaboration and a defence against loneliness?” The couple go walking. We see couples dancing in daylight in city squares. She reveals to us she’s a Communist Party member; she had to be if she wanted to a journalist, the role she trained for at university. It was the only way to legally access parliamentary business. Back home, ZiHan cuts her hair. She explains that it’s not the “system” they oppose; they just want to know the truth. We then see them with friends in a bar; moving clothes racks down a street in a performance; and, on a train in another performance, applauding with friends station names as they’re announced. The film conveys the everydayness of their life and art, a kind of innocence. We momentarily forget the threat embodied in the opening scenes, the dominating red curtain, the voice of the interrogator.

Now the floor is fully covered with the curtain, as if taken over by the artists. ZiHan, to one side at his computer, plays his score, its buzzing and tinkling asymmetrical to XiaoKe’s abstracted traditional folk dance (the form she’d been trained in as a youngster), her centre of gravity low, arms wide, elegant, fluent. Staccato piano and a larger, ominous sound inflected, I think, with traditional music, lends the movement additional drama as XiaoKe slips between folk, martial art and contemporary dance moves, her prancing widening around and diagonalling across the red floor. The building freedom of her expression is halted. “Stop,” says the interrogator. “What are you doing?” “Dancing,” she replies.

XiaoKe x ZiHan, SoftMachine, Choy Ka Fai, Liveworks 2016

XiaoKe x ZiHan, SoftMachine, Choy Ka Fai, Liveworks 2016

The interrogation this time is palpably threatening, with XiaoKe frozen, ZiHan again playing inquisitor but now onstage touching an arm, a cheek, a breast (XiaoKe pulls away). “Everything has to be absolute in China,” he says. Onscreen, the pair gently mock absolutes, performing the propaganda Laundry Song as a pop video, with XiaoKe as a young woman singer (digitally multiplied) in traditional dress on a river bed, declaring her desire to help the Peoples Liberation Army (represented by ZiHan) do its laundry. At a time when President Xi Xinping’s campaign against “nihilism” (criticism in any form of Communist Chinese history) is escalating (“Nihil sine Xi,” The Economist, 29 Oct), the makers of even light-hearted works like this video can be punished.

Taking scissors to the red cloth (which XiaoKe has shrunk into a bundle with her gliding feet) and then tearing it into lengths, the artists swap irony for symbolic statement. The inquiring voiceover persists. “How do you feel?” “It’s too complicated. I feel tired. I feel ridiculous.” “Do you want tea?” “I want coffee.” (An invitation to tea at the Cultural Bureau is an order to present oneself for interrogation, which happened to friends of the artists during the making of the work. See my interview with Choy Ka Fai.)

ZiHan binds the utterly still XiaoKe with the cloth pieces—around her waist, crisscrossing her chest, around her brow. He lays out a white cloth on the floor, the music throbs, she binds him too in red. They look oddly like ancient warriors. Sharing a bottle of water, they wash down tablets and lie down side by side on the cloth—a stark double suicide image we’re familiar with from Japanese Bunraku and Kabuki, here love and art defeated by ideology. The red cloth, symbol of absolute power, despite their taking control of it and subsuming it to their art, defeats them regardless. Alternatively, XiaoKe x ZiHan have taken it with them into oblivion.

Choy Ka Fai’s conception and direction, Tang Fu Kuen’s dramaturgy and the craft and, for all the work’s intensity, the gentle, sad presence of XiaoKe x Zihan have produced a deeply affecting personal and political work of art.

 

SoftMachine: Rianto, Choy Ka Fai, Liveworks 2016

SoftMachine: Rianto, Choy Ka Fai, Liveworks 2016

Rianto

Indonesian dance artist Rianto addresses us directly, from stage and screen, about his life and art. He illustrates the art with excerpts from classical Indonesian Topeng dance, Lengger folk dance and contemporary dance. In Topeng’s Javanese Ramayana dance drama he performs, masked (Topeng means mask) as the princess Sekaritij awaiting her beloved prince, Panji. Rianto describes it as “a dance of love, pain and hope,” adding, “Love always comes with pain. I know this.” Elaborately and glitteringly costumed, Rianto’s elegant movement is highly articulated, almost puppet-like at times (referencing the form’s origins), when, with back extremely arched, the masked head moves sharply side to side, or hands dance from wrists.

Commencing a striptease sustained to the show’s end, Rianto slips off his mask and unwinds and untucks the swathes of material wrapped around him without pins, buttons or Velcro. Beneath is his costume for Lengger, dance performed by men dressed as women. The music is lively, the dancing faster, with rapid turns, exaggerated shoulder rolling, an emphatic bounce in the step and a coquettish eye on the audience. Again the dancing is exquisitely realised, supple and sinuous. Another layer of costume is peeled away. The ensuing movement—an extremely wide-legged stance with which Rianto pushes down into near splits and rocks from the waist—preludes his declaration, “I can dance as a man.” With the mask of the villain Krone of the Ramayana drama, he glides, strides and threatens: a warrior, his muscles rippling. However, after demonstrating classical and modern movements, with clear signs of overlap, and male and female, Rianto declares his goal: “No gender!”

In documentary film which takes us to Rianto’s village in Java, he and his mother reveal that, when a child, a blue birthmark between his brows foretold that he would be a Lengger dancer. He tells of marrying one of his traditional dance students, a Japanese woman, moving to Tokyo, teaching (we see him preparing wigs and costumes for his students who dance with him on an outdoor stage to a large audience) and, after the performance, heading to Shinjuku to wind down with “sauna and DVDs…with gays and bisexuals.” Choy, off camera, stops Rianto, asking, “So I can’t use any of this material?” Rianto answers with a grin, “Depends.” The oscillation between gender roles, the “no gender” declaration and this moment take us to the work’s conclusion, Rianto’s idealised, fantastical vision of a transcendent self.

SoftMachine: Rianto, Choy Ka Fai, Liveworks 2016

SoftMachine: Rianto, Choy Ka Fai, Liveworks 2016

Rianto, a distant figure, his back to us, emerges from utter darkness into a narrow corridor of low light, purple and pink, his skin glittering. As a deep accompanying score is layered with high bell notes, he glides nearer, the soft angular moulding of shoulders and elbows subtly evoking ancient dance. He stops and turns to us, naked, a man, of “no gender” in art…and life?

Rianto’s “performance documentary” is an engaging, neatly constructed illustrated lecture, its brief passages of dance (I yearned for more in each case) constellated around the artist’s attempts to both maintain and merge old and new, and, in parallel, position himself in respect of gender, let alone sexuality. Despite the apparent joy of the work’s final image, it engendered a certain existential melancholy reaching back to “Love always comes with pain. I know this,” to video of Rianto laidback with his wife in his Tokyo home, to that moment of ambivalence: “Depends.”

Performance Space, Liveworks Festival of Experimental Art: Softmachine, XiaoKe x ZiHan; Rianto, concept, direction, Choy Ka Fai, dramaturgy Tang Fu Kuen; Carriageworks, Sydney, 28-30 Oct

RealTime issue #135 Oct-Nov 2016

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

Kaleena Briggs, Nardi Simpson (Stiff Gins), The Spirit of Things: The Sound of Objects

Kaleena Briggs, Nardi Simpson (Stiff Gins), The Spirit of Things: The Sound of Objects

Non-indigenous knowledge of Aboriginal culture is notoriously poor in Australia, worsened in recent years by the former Abbott Government attempts to cut back Indigenous curriculum content for schools. Aboriginal artists carry much of the weight of responsibility for conveying to other Australians the spirit and complexities of their cultures. In August, Sydney-siders saw Winyanboga Yurringa; written and directed by Andrea James, it focused on a group of women brought together by an elder around ritual and cultural artefacts. Now, another fine production, of a very different kind, also tells of the significance of objects so often locked in museums.

Popular Indigenous band Stiff Gins, Nardi Simpson and Kaleena Briggs, have celebrated their 17th anniversary with the premiere of an ambitious theatrical production, The Spirit of Things: The Sound of Objects. The singers open with “a happy song” in language, but interrupt it midway, declaring “this is a show,” not a concert, proceeding to take us with them into some very dark places, albeit with passion and humour and, at times, apparently perverse delight.

On a visit to a museum archive the pair had seen objects taken from Aboriginal people and sites that hey felt should have been “rotting or burning” or, better, “at home.” These artefacts “spoke to them,” so the singers decided to choose eight and “sing them into being,” accompanying each song with a story and projection.

A large transparent curtain hangs the width of the stage, a screen for ghostly images of feathers, leaves, water and stars, spilling wide across the floor. Through the scrim we see a guitarist, bassist and two drummers who play evocative arrangements with clarity and subtlety, if conversely, and unnervingly, amplified stadium-force, reducing the intelligibility of the singers’ lyrics.

A crackling old wax cylinder recording prompts the artists to make their own version of the song they hear. It’s about a good woman who dies, decays into bones and sludge, then sprouts feathers (as abstracted ones float across the screen) and becomes a bird, singing to her loved ones. The singers tell her, “You are never dead.” Less hopeful is a story about a girl who becomes a victim of relentless racial abuse until she adopts “a mask” to defend herself from the world.

Even more painful is a tale full of dark ironies. A good relationship with a local white farmer secures goat’s milk for a mother whose children she fears are the targets of child-stealing government officers. She expertly trains her offspring to watch for such men and in ways of escape. However, made drowsy by their loving mother’s honey sandwiches, the boys, high in a redgum, fail to see the arrival of the officers. The mother takes fright, surrenders the girls to the river, where they drown, and witnesses her sons trapped in the tree. The singer completes her song with deeply affecting, sustained soprano sobbing, a lament for a good mother seen as bad through white eyes. Wave lines ripple across the space, a ghostly representation of a river since lost to drought.

Kaleena Briggs, Nardi Simpson (Stiff Gins), The Spirit of Things: The Sound of Objects

Kaleena Briggs, Nardi Simpson (Stiff Gins), The Spirit of Things: The Sound of Objects

Sitting beneath the night sky, the singers describe the stars in the Milky Way as the “fires of the dead” and speak of their desire to join those who have passed, one conjuring an image of her throat cut, the blood comfortingly warm; “flowing like juice out of a mussel,” says the other. These are disturbing images, though clearly cosmologically satisfying for the artists. A subsequent monologue about a woman who is abandoned by her husband only for him to return to bond with his son–to her exclusion—seems grimly existential rather than cultural; she concludes, “I don’t want them.”

The final scene, the work’s most alarming, serenely tells of an Aboriginal serial killer who strangles and cuts the throats of his people. He is pursued by the hated police who inadvertently take another man in his stead; but then find the killer when they hear his dog barking. Killed, his spirit passes into the dog, to the delight of the tellers who admit that, although he betrayed his people, he was a great man, born with the knowledge of a hunter. The singers sit, affectionately stroking the imagined dog as light fades.

The Spirit of Things: The Sound of Objects is a fascinating concert-theatre hybrid, performed with great ease by Nardi Simpson and Kaleena Briggs and, in monologues, with controlled emotional intensity (director Felix Cross). Design (Lucy Simpson), lighting (Fausto Brusamolino) and projections (Mic Gruchy) effectively transform the performance space, making it intimate and local and opening it out to a cosmological vision of the mutability of life, acquainting us with ghosts and the ever-present dead. For the work to entirely succeed we need to hear the songs clearly and be certain which object triggers which story. Hungry for understanding, I long to hear the Stiff Gins speak about what this bracing work’s dark tales mean to them.

Performance Space, Liveworks Festival of Experimental Art: Stiff Gins, The Spirit of Things: The Sound of Objects, creators, performers, Nardi Simpson, Kaleena Briggs, director Felix Cross, design Lucy Simpson, lighting Fausto Brusamolino, video media designer Mic Gruchy; Carriageworks, Sydney, 27-30 Oct

RealTime issue #135 Oct-Nov 2016 pg.

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

Mish Grigor and audience participant, The Talk, Liveworks 2016

Mish Grigor and audience participant, The Talk, Liveworks 2016

Mish Grigor’s The Talk focuses on the frank conversations about sex most of us have likely not had with our families. She successfully persuaded her family (mother and father—divorced— and three brothers) to contribute their memories and feelings about sex as material for a performance, adding to it her own vivid recollections of moments when sex disrupted family life—for instance, one of her three brothers announcing he’s gay and, at a later gathering, that he’s HIV positive. Later again, the family turn on Grigor: the project’s “gone too far,” “you’re passive-aggressive.” But, aggressively, she pushes the family to explosive, cathartic release using a device which she then turns on the audience (and best not revealed here).

These conversations, which provide essential structure, are interpolated with recollections—the ludicrous ‘sex talk’ her father gives her and a brother in the most uncomfortable of circumstances and the hilarious, wince-inducing saga of a lost condom—and one-on-one conversations with her mother and her gay brother. In one of these Grigor becomes her mother listening to her daughter tell her that as a child she could hear her parents having sex and the kind of sex it revealed her mother liked. In the ensuing silences, Grigor’s lips purse, cheeks are sucked in and eyes downcast; it’s painfully funny. The conversation also reveals the sadness of an attractive woman who thinks her “ugly” friends have much happier lives; who, in a conversation with her son, who wants to take her to a gay bar to meet his friends, and where “you’ll be treated like royalty,” is repelled, for now, by thoughts of the aroma of “sex, drugs, farts and Red Bull.”

The Talk is more than fun; it’s a moral quest, with Grigor attempting to understand her own sexuality, one complicated by the lack of talk about it when she was a youngster, the nature of her mother’s sexual enjoyment and her father’s constant nakedness—his large penis setting up unrealistic expectations of the men in her life (“It fucked me up!”). Above all it’s a call for openness, franker than her family expected and perhaps more than some of Grigor’s audience might accept in their own lives beyond being amused by and tolerating others’ honesty, outside the home.

Up until now, you might be thinking I’m writing about a monologue or a fully cast play. Not so. Mish Grigor is determined to implicate this audience in her personal investigation. She has masterfully scripted her recollections and recordings, dextrously sketching family members, subsequently adding telling details (like the revelation that her father identified with a TV soap opera character) and progressing towards honestly facing her attitude towards her gay brother and his illness and staging the work’s aforementioned climax. With the audience seated in a semi-circle facing a few chairs and a table, Grigor gently cajoles individual audience members to sight read, directing them (“speak up”) to play herself and family members, sometimes standing from their seats or more often on stage at the table with her. They do so with varying degrees of confidence, the natural awkwardness amplifying the tentativeness of the recreated conversations.

Grigor’s hosting is relaxed, personable, firm and quick-witted. By the work’s end its many voices become one, deeply felt and touching, before Grigor wickedly turns the tables. The Talk worked for me, prompting some surprising recollections of conversations—awkward, evasive, interrupted, pointless, a few that hit home—and reflections on the evolution of the sexual self. The Talk’s light, inclusive touch packs a punch.

Mish Grigor, The Talk, Liveworks 2016

Mish Grigor, The Talk, Liveworks 2016

Performance Space, Liveworks Festival of Experimental Art: The Talk, writer, performer Mish Grigor, collaborating artists Anne Thompson, Jess Olivieri; Carriageworks, Sydney, 2-5 Nov

RealTime issue #135 Oct-Nov 2016

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

Tina Havelock Stevens, Thunderhead video still, Liveworks 2016

Tina Havelock Stevens, Thunderhead video still, Liveworks 2016

You’re driving on an open highway, with plains extending either side of you. There are sheets of rainfall a way off and mist coalescing into a central vortex of vertical, upward-moving rain. This is a video, displayed on a huge screen. The storm is contained and centred, we move around it rather than it moving around the frame or through the space, with dark green mountains at the furthest point of our sight.

The environmental phenomenon captured is a supercell—an extreme thunderstorm. Thunderhead shows us a violent rupture from the environmental norm. The artist, Tina Havelock Stevens, performed an iteration of the work at Performance Space’s Liveworks, accompanying the looped thunderstorm video on drums, with Liberty Kerr on guitar. The music is improvised, mostly minor key, mostly slow, with occasional moments of upswing when Kerr chords forcefully and Havelock Stevens rolls, drops and throws a big soft mallet across the large toms, with big intermittent blustery bass kicks. There are great pillows to lie on and watch the storm roll by, which is pretty nice and allows you to space out for as long as you wish rather than analyse the work.

Many will describe Thunderhead as cinematic, because it is a moving image work of a wide vista accompanied by an airy, atmospheric soundscape, but I think it is more painterly in the sensibilities of its framing and treatment of light and colour. The Texan setting is a little reminiscent of some south-eastern parts of Australia, in that it shares a high yet soft light, and the droplets of rain in the air create a dispersed screen through which the light trickles. A friend with whom I attended one night of the performances said she found the loop, and the fact that we never went into the storm’s eye maddening (unlike Francis Alÿs’ Tornado, Milpa Alta, 2000–2010), but I didn’t have a problem with that ‘on the cusp/on the outside’ feeling.

Tina Havelock Stevens, Liberty Kerr, Thunderhead Performance, Liveworks 2016

Tina Havelock Stevens, Liberty Kerr, Thunderhead Performance, Liveworks 2016

Havelock Stevens has said that her encounters with land art on the same trip on which the footage was taken have informed the work’s sense of scale and repetition in how she cut and looped the video. Land art aside, Thunderhead also naturally draws on audiences’ familiarity with art history’s depictions of the sublime: that Romantic notion that overwhelming art encounters with nature—tall mountains, stormy waves, towering clouds, deep fogs—connect us to larger faiths. There’s no doubt that Thunderhead follows that continuum, albeit without the religious heaviness of church ceiling frescoes or Friedrich or Turner paintings.

Rather than deliberately drawing a thematic link to the sublime, the artist has gone for something more enigmatic and porous, and I think Thunderhead is stronger for that breathing space. The airiness around it is deeply attractive to me as a viewer, because it means the artist is letting the work wrap itself around me in a unique way that makes sense only to me and will be different for you. The emotional makeup of this work is strong but in a very open-ended way, and for that reason, I’m loath to give you a sentence along the lines of “the work is about [blank],” and would much rather talk about how the work felt and the associations it triggered.

Without art terms like “the sublime,” Thunderhead reminded me that two-dimensional images of light and landscape, of storms and other natural and environmental phenomena, form something of a universal visual language that can communicate both directly and obliquely to an individual. I think because the work comes from an actual encounter of being in the world rather than an academic or studio practice, it speaks to pre-intellectual forms of knowledge beyond verbal language.

Tina Havelock Stevens, Liberty Kerr, Thunderhead Performance, Liveworks 2016

Tina Havelock Stevens, Liberty Kerr, Thunderhead Performance, Liveworks 2016

That wordless, feeling element of Thunderhead made me wonder about the extinction of affect in contemporary art. I have become increasingly surprised that more artists and curators do not make an effort at human connection, do not aim for inherently emotional and immersive works that move toward the viewer and offer the chance of a moving experience. Not that these are the only valid types of art, but there is such a dearth of them.

So much contemporary art is made from theory, a self-examining approach which, to paraphrase New York Magazine critic Jerry Saltz, “is far too tight to let real art breathe.” Thunderhead is made from instinct, while staying grounded in art history and Western formal approaches to depicting landscapes in one-point perspective. It has that sense of pure intentionality, lending weight to the idea that creativity probably comes from a place we don’t know. It recalls road-trips, the erotics of open space, pure colour as shown by Abstract Expressionists, the bigness of everything, Impressionist interpretations of light, the smell of rain and holidays where you finally have time to think. But those are just what it made me think of: Tina Havelock Stevens has ‘merely’ established a constellation of audiovisual forces that viewers can do something with themselves, and though art’s job has changed a lot since those peak sublime times, that remains a really lovely thing to do.

Performance Space, Liveworks Festival of Experimental Art: Thunderhead, concept, videography Tina Havelock Stevens, music Tina Havelock Stevens, Liberty Kerr; Carriageworks, Sydney, 2-6 Nov

RealTime issue #135 Oct-Nov 2016

© Lauren Carroll Harris; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

When We Talk About Food, We Talk About It From The Heart, We The People, Liveworks 2016

When We Talk About Food, We Talk About It From The Heart, We The People, Liveworks 2016

Where does art belong today? Outside the void of the white cube in museums and galleries, contemporary art is more present in everyday life than ever before. In shopping centres, squares, train stations and on street corners, everyone from developers to local council officers is in the business of exhibiting art in its many forms. As arts organisations continue to move outside traditional spaces, We The People placed contemporary art installations and performances in the lodgings of community organisations that surround Performance Space’s Carriageworks home. Part of Liveworks and curated by Tulleah Pearce, the project was a kind of festival of goodwill and an effort to find new ways of doing site-specific work, with artists working with small community organisations for a number of months to develop works that reflect those groups’ aims.

The rapid changes in Redfern seemed to form We The People’s unspoken undercurrent of architectural and spatial politics. Though the process of gentrification began in 2000 with Indigenous people being moved on for the benefit of Olympics tourists, the process has visibly sped up over the last five or so years. In the new Redfern, creativity is conflated with entrepreneurialism and the “creative class,” with customers for $5 matcha lattes supplanting the residents who shaped and created the value of the area’s culture and history. Along with developers, small businesses and the public sector, artists and art organisations have also played a role in gentrification, an uneasy reality that is rarely discussed within the contemporary art world.

I interpreted We the People as a sideways correction of art’s activity inside processes of gentrification. Rather than the project’s self-professed aim of examining the social fabric of the Redfern-Darlington area, the works were more celebratory in nature: a way to praise the handful of non-profit groups remaining in the area and for Performance Space to relate to its local community (a bit like its Microparks projects in 2013-14). Or maybe just to create pleasant spaces for people to spend time in for half an hour on a weekend arvo. It was a reminder that even when they’re not highly visible, small community spaces persist in this war of urban attrition, and perhaps that gentrification can never be entirely successful.

When We Talk About Food, We Talk About It From The Heart, We The People, Liveworks 2016

When We Talk About Food, We Talk About It From The Heart, We The People, Liveworks 2016

It’s not just the presentation of work in public spaces but cultural production that is changing. Interesting in its aim if not always its manifestation, We The People’s faults are reflective of a broader trend I’ve noticed in festival-like engagements by small to medium arts organisations in which the works have a strong core concept not fully realised: resulting in a certain flatness and unripeness. This is not a criticism of Liveworks per se but more a worrying tendency in the arts ecology: I fear there’s not the time and space and funding available for curators to develop work—to mentor artists from a project’s conception to presentation.

To me, the most engaging of the four We The People projects were the ones that engaged members of community organisations in the process of making the work. Anna McMahon’s project used Indigenous foods as the sensory trigger for a whole range of community bonding activities. The work titled When we talk about food, we do it from the heart, took place at Yaama Dhiyaan, a hospitality training centre right next to Carriageworks, specialising in Indigenous food and culture. McMahon laid the length of the room—a standard office-y space—with a large blue carpet, laced with a perimeter of rock salt. We took our shoes off to approach the rug, along which were laid small piles of delicious food made at Yaama Dhiyaan. Damper baked fresh that morning could be dipped into a bowl of honey and sunflower seeds, and shortbread biscuits and chocolate lavender truffles were laid on large leaves. People sat and walked around and chatted and chewed as they pleased; McMahon created a nice space for people to hang around and meet other art-goers.

The project clearly involved members of the host group in a meaningful way, this time, Aunty Beryl van Oploo, and other community members who were visible and active during the exhibition, replenishing the food and just generally being around. Writer Rebekah Raymond from Humpty Doo, NT, provided text which was projected as a backdrop to the long exhibition space. Much installation art functions on a very intellectual level, but it was satisfying to engage in a tactile manner beyond visuals: big crystals of rock salt between the toes, tasting sticky honey, crumbling shortbread and still-warm damper.

Audience participants, Exercise Your Rights, We The People

Audience participants, Exercise Your Rights, We The People

Likewise, Deborah Kelly’s By George! Exercise Your Rights at the Association of Good Government, had a spirit of earnest light-heartedness. The Association is an idealistic group dedicated to reforming the current political system, its home an unassuming red-brick structure I had walked past hundreds of times before, facing Redfern Station. On a modest square of astroturf, we audience members took part in some gentle exercises led by softly-spoken Association member and fitness instructor Timothy Lum, who just seemed like a really nice guy. We rolled our wrists and walked gently on the spot while Kelly intoned some of the Association’s core ideas: “against privatisation, a philosophy of equality.” Dance academic Julie-Anne Long then guided us through movement-based mindfulness exercises, drawing our focus to small sensory aspects of the site—the feel of the turf underfoot, the sound of trains alongside us, a banner by Kelly and Leigh Rigozzi depicting Association members—and inviting us to make eye contact with each other as we walked. A wide basket of apples sat at the exit, so we could replenish ourselves with the fruits of society’s labour.

The set-up was spare but suffused with Kelly and Long’s ‘come on board’ energy. The simple, neat, unifying metaphor of exercise really worked: there was a feel-good atmosphere, everyone could participate and it generated that vibe of ‘being up for it,’ which good participatory art projects tend to do. A humble, neighbourhood project, it reminded me that art can be a gesture of kindness and generosity, an invitation to participate.

………..

For the other two works in We The People, Benjamin Forster’s Kelkaj Fragmentoj at Esperanto House, and David Capra and Emma Saunders’ See you at the Top, on a Redfern street corner, see our Liveworks overview.

Performance Space, Liveworks Festival of Experimental Art, We the People, curator Tulleah Pearce; various locations, Redfern, 20-30 Oct

RealTime issue #135 Oct-Nov 2016

© Lauren Carroll Harris; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

River Lin, River Walk, Liveworks 2016

River Lin, River Walk, Liveworks 2016

Opening night of Liveworks, I descend the stairs from the street and approach the large glass windows of Carriageworks. The first sight, framed behind the glass and greeting all comers, is a pair of bare buttocks. They seem a fitting start for a festival of experimental arts. They are the shapely haunches of Taiwanese performance artist River Lin.

Inside the building, I see Lin is bent double over a rectangular expanse of white sand, his dry river bed, his trailing fingers delicate, leaving incremental tracks as he moves. In a noisy foyer filled with people who drink and talk, I observe his quiet progress over the coming hour. Lin’s River Walk is circuitous; rarely upright, the artist navigates a slow, repeated shift from bending down onto haunches, then on all fours, finally prone and pressed into the fine granular surface. With each of these repetitions another portion of his skin changes colour with the imprint of sand. The naked figure gathering pale markings puts me in mind of a Sadhu in the market place and this process could be read as a kind of supplication. Alone in the crowd on his sacred patch, River Lin carries out his concentrated procedure. It’s a tough gig this, to be the ascetic sideshow attraction amid a profane wash of free drinks, but his focus never leaves the river.

A few days later I arrive for a private performance. Again in the foyer, but this time in a square of shelving lined with clear plastic water bottles, River Lin conducts his other work, Cleansing Service. He greets me warmly and invites me to choose a bottle from the shelves. Each one has a label with a single word, including names of cities, feelings, colours, objects; some words are innocuous, some have more weight. I wonder at their inclusion; where have they come from? I forget to ask. I think about research into the information-carrying ability of water and the vibrational qualities of words. Swimming in choice, I take the word that draws my attention more than once.

River Lin, Cleansing Service, Liveworks 2016

River Lin, Cleansing Service, Liveworks 2016

“You have chosen MOTHER. You wish to be cleansed of mother?” I mutter something in reply about recent death and grief and he nods slightly. We sit together on the floor in the centre of the square, eyes level. Lin has a basin and a cloth. The room becomes a contemplative space. While he carefully washes each of my hands with the chosen ‘mater water,’ I have time to consider my own skin and its condition, the scars and their history. After the gentle water treatment and hands-on cleansing and drying, there is a remnant bowl of water. I get an inkling something is about to happen to that water. What I least expect is that Lin will drink it. Suddenly his name—River—takes on an entirely new meaning. The baptism is sealed with his taking the residual water into his own body. I am quietly astounded by this brazen yet tender act. River Lin hands me the remaining unused water and I carry the bottle home and sit it on the kitchen bench.

I am left to ponder in what way this act constitutes a ritual. Is it a shared agreement in a context where two or more people concur as to the special nature of an action or transaction? A series of actions where something is exchanged or elevated, where what is produced is greater than the sum of its parts and that changes/ heals/transforms a pre-existing condition? I am not sure about the healing, transforming efficacy of this experience, but I appreciate that Lin’s works are deceptively simple, and in Cleansing Service he does what he sets out to do. The artist’s act of care, of purification, for me evoked stray memory and my body’s history and provided a rare moment of intimacy between strangers.

Later that week my son unwittingly drank the rest of the water in the bottle. It seemed a fitting end for MOTHER.

Performance Space, Liveworks Festival of Experimental Art: River Walk and Cleansing Service, artist River Lin; Carriageworks, Sydney, 28-30 Oct

RealTime issue #135 Oct-Nov 2016

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

Tess de Quincey, Jon Rose, The Museum Goes Live, Liveworks 2016

Tess de Quincey, Jon Rose, The Museum Goes Live, Liveworks 2016

An ominous thumping emerges from a coffin standing upright in a corner. The black box emits a roar, the door crashes open and the room reverberates with amplified thunder, the wooden casing employed as a full-bodied resonating chamber. The coffin-turned-instrument is just one of the many exhibits on display in The Rosenberg Museum, the private collection of experimental violinist Jon Rose—a bizarre stockpile of violins, violin-like instruments and violin-related paraphernalia collected, invented or built over the course of the artist’s career.

Violin-shaped liquor bottles cover shelves, coloured violins with inset clocks hang in a row on the wall. A 1970s issue of Life magazine with a young, violin-wielding Richard Nixon on the cover, is on display next to the “Sex & Music Issue” of Playboy from 1998 featuring Linda Brava posing seductively with a white violin. A pedal powered violin is displayed next to a kind of musical surveyor’s wheel.

It is among these exhibits—the first time the collection has been displayed in Australia—that the second instalment of Music for a Time of Dysfunction takes place. On one side of the room is a player piano delivering a transcription of the sound of the busy gaming floor at the Sahara Casino in Las Vegas—“The sound of extremely poor people losing the rest of their money,” quips Rose. He introduces us to the seemingly random notes dribbling out of the piano. The pokies, Rose explains, are tuned to C major and while the notes sound haphazard, over the course of the performance the key area provides a point of stability.

In the centre of the room is the robotic Data Violin, which turns trading activity on Wall Street into music. Mechanical hooks line the side of the instrument, each ‘finger’ representing a company; the longer the tones are sustained, the more money is changing hands. The performance begins with these two instruments: music generated by the sound of money. Sparkling flourishes from the piano—poker machine payouts—adorn the huskier, drilling sounds of the Data Violin, “billions of dollars going down the plughole.” As Rose points out, “They talk to each other.”

The lights dim and the performance shifts gears, Rose shoots out a single violin note, illuminated by a standing lamp that clicks on and off in synch. Robotic instruments—the SARPS (Semi Automated Robotic Percussion System) string quartet controlled by Robbie Avenaim—add a rattling voice to the mix. A junkyard organ warbles softly. Rose spins bright flourishes from his violin while Clayton Thomas imitates the hammering robot string quartet on his bass. The Data Violin seems, impossibly, to respond—as if the players are influencing the trade on Wall Street with their music.

The piano and Data Violin are switched off and the players ride their own momentum, Rose’s frenzied fiddling a sinister hoe-down while static hisses through speakers and the robot quartet jackhammers away. Thomas produces soft harmonics while Rose’s violin emits a far-off screaming that becomes a guttural roar.

Jon Rose in the Rosenberg Museum, 2015

Jon Rose in the Rosenberg Museum, 2015

The lid of the coffin [Jon Rose tells the editors that violin cases were commonly called coffins in the 19th century] bangs open and shut, an onslaught of percussion while the amplified string inside growls. With a shout, the lid swings open to reveal an ashen white figure. Dancer and choreographer Tess de Quincey, ghostly white, completely naked, wails and screams, slamming the lid and convulsing as if electrocuted. She fills the room with wild ululations—Rose’s violin screaming in sympathy—as an arm and a leg emerge, cabaret style, from the coffin, lights strobing. A number plate wedged into the double bass’s strings sends splintering white-noise through the speakers and De Quincey screams at the audience before she leaves the coffin to walk out through a green-lit Exit, the coffin generating a residual hum of feedback that bathes the audience before Rose cuts it off.

Music for a Time of Dysfunction—Part 2 emerges from and recedes back into the Rosenberg Museum exhibition as if the strange, experimental instruments have all come to life on their own. The result is a chaotic experience of a performance that embraces experimental sounds infused with a critique of contemporary life and capitalism, alongside kitsch, Halloween playfulness.

Rose has indicated that this may be the last time the collection is displayed and the exhibition definitely has the feel of a retrospective. A room off the main space displays footage from Rose’s bicycle and fence projects and the museum’s guide-book is full of reminiscences. An anecdote about being stopped by the border guards between East and West Berlin and made to explain his 19-string cello—the unusual number of strings disqualifying the instrument as a cello in the eyes of the suspicious guards—is a kind of comic microcosm of Rose’s practice as a whole. But while The Museum Goes Live might draw a line under one part of Rose’s career it is by no means an ending. With the violinist having recently been awarded the Peggy Glanville-Hicks Residency for 2017 there is no doubt we will be hearing more of Jon Rose.

Performance Space, Liveworks Festival of Experimental Art: Jon Rose, The Museum Goes Live, Music for a Time of Dysfunction, Part 2; Carriageworks, Sydney, 2-5 Nov

RealTime issue #135 Oct-Nov 2016

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

River Lin, River Walk, Liveworks 2016

River Lin, River Walk, Liveworks 2016

Over two art-intensive weeks, Performance Space’s Liveworks in 2016 provided the excitement of discovery we yearn to have all-year round in Sydney, even knowing that these days such a program would likely be economically impossible. With this Liveworks, Artistic Director Jeff Khan and his team have taken the festival up a notch; it felt more integrated and, welcomely, more challenging, with works that took us into Asia, got very personal, conjured some very strange but telling visions and took us to meet Performance Space’s Redfern neighbours. It’s the personal dimension of Liveworks, thematically and communally, that powers it. All strength to intimate, focused festivals!

From the serene performance by River Lin in the Carriageworks’ foyer on a bed of sand for his River Walk, amid the festival’s opening night hubbub, to the quietly strenuous solo and group performances from Liesel Zink’s The Stance, also in the foyer, to Jon Rose’s free concerts, a corridor-installed Softmachine video archive and the works performed in Carriagework’s theatre spaces, this often crowded Liveworks exuded a sense of adventure, its varied moods reflected in the shifting colours of Ross Manning’s inverted ‘conveyer-belt’ foyer installation, Melody Lines.

 

Ross Manning, Melody Lines, 2016, Carriageworks, Sydney

Ross Manning, Melody Lines, 2016, Carriageworks, Sydney

Into Asia

This year Liveworks took us further into the world of Asian performance with the programming of Taiwanese performance artist River Lin and Choy Ka Fai’s masterful Softmachine with its brave performances by Rianto, from Indonesia, and China’s ZiaoKe x ZiHan alongside Ka Fai’s video interviews with 88 choreographers from across Asia. We’re hoping this invaluable video archive will be made widely available, to open us up to the range and depth of thinking in cultures so near us, yet still so far. Liveworks, alongside Adelaide’s annual OzAsia Festival and Melbourne’s forthcoming triennial Asia TOPA, diminishes that distance with continuing commitment and strategies around dialogue, exchange and collaboration. (We’ll tell you about a fascinating Liveworks-Critical Path forum about the Asia-Australia relationship in a coming E-dition.)

 

Getting personal

XiaoKe and ZiHan’s performance was the festival’s most memorable work, transcending its performance documentary format with quiet intensity as political repression invaded the lives of the artists and the options for resistance became fatally narrow. The Softmachine performances revealed the complex intricacies of lives in which art-making is variously shaped by tradition, politics and notions of gender. Mish Grigor structured her performance The Talk—about her sexuality and the way families talk about sex, or not—such that its constant humour and the fun of audience participation gradually gave way to deeper reflection.

The Stiff Gins’ The Spirit of Things: The Sound of Objects was another personal quest, this one built around the singers’ encounter with Aboriginal cultural artefacts locked in museum archives. They sing these back into life with great passion in a powerful work that needs further shaping but which, with its sometimes very strange tales of loss, murder and ghosts, takes us into unfamiliar cultural landscapes.

River Lin provided a very different approach to the personal in his one-on-one work, Cleansing Service, generating for Nikki Heywood some curious synchronicities and queries about the nature of ritual. At its induction gathering, Ecosexual Bathhouse appeared to promise personal engagement but languorously offered little beyond various kinds of voyeurism and underdeveloped metaphors for the relationship between sex and ecology; although the enveloping Moth Man, breathing softly on one’s neck, hinted at the work’s performative potential.

There was something immensely personal about Jon Rose’s splendid The Museum Goes Live. His idiosyncratic collection of violins with its astonishing range of associated paraphenalia is a work of art in itself, deeply informative and endlessly witty. Packed out free concerts included Tess de Quincey’s remarkable performance as a corpse erupting from a coffin, evoking Butoh ghost dances, even perhaps celebrating Halloween with Rose and collaborators’ fierce playing.

 

Strange visions

Alongside Stiff Gins’ The Spirit of Things and Tess de Quincey’s corpse-dance, Kristina Chan’s disturbing A Faint Existence and Nicola Gunn and Jo Lloyd’s remarkable Mermermer conjured alien worlds, rooted in our own. Tina Havelock Stevens’ Thunderhead transformed humble video of a massive Texan cell-storm into a transcendent visual and musical experience, if like Chan’s creation, reminding us of the power of Nature disturbed by CO2 emissions beyond our comprehension.

Chan’s vision, framed by Clare Britton’s striking design, appeared unremittingly dark, a warning without the offer of consolation about the effects of Climate Change, but expressed with fraught precision and buffeted vigour. In Mermermer, the performers—surreally outfitted by Shio Otani—move and chatter compulsively, their entwined exercising increasingly perilous until a little dance brings apparent solace (or does it?) in this funny, sardonic account of obsessive contemporary life. Mermermer, alongside Xiaoake x ZiHan was one of the festival’s best.

 

Timothy Lum, Deborah Kelly, Exercise Your Rights, We The People

Timothy Lum, Deborah Kelly, Exercise Your Rights, We The People

Visiting the Neighbours

Liveworks’ We The People, curated by Tulleah Pearce, took us on a pleasant Sunday afternoon walk around Redfern, dropping into Esperanto House, The Association for Good Government and Yaama Dhiyann, buildings we knew well by sight, but nothing of their insides or the people we would likely encounter there.

Upstairs in The Association for Good Government, beneath a portrait of the man who inspired its founding in 1901, Henry George (1839-1897), an American who visited Sydney in 1890, we browsed a table-full of documents about the organisation’s social justice goals, mysterious economic flow charts and sketches of the people from all walks of life who live in or come to Redfern and regularly meet in the building. We were invited to attend meetings, took in a video with graphics and speakers addressing stark inequalities and headed downstairs to a street-side yard where we participated in the group exercise described by Lauren Carroll Harris in her report on We The People and admired a banner by Leigh Rigozzi and Deborah Kelly featuring the finished portraits in colour of association members.

Next stop, Esperanto House. On the ground floor was a video by Benjamin Forster in which short sentences in English and Esperanto, spoken by the artist, alternated so that we’d see the English and hear the Esperanto and vice versa, such that gradually the novice could begin to make connections—about the vocabularies and syntaxes the makers of Esperanto drew on. The sentences came from Esperanto stories and the artist’s observations about language more broadly, for example the ‘tense-less’ language of an Amazonian tribe reported by Daniel Everett in Don’t Sleep, There are Snakes (2008). It’s a very spare video work, but for for those with an interest in language, a clever introduction to Esperanto from an artist who spent four months learning it while visiting the building. Upstairs, in the extensive library and archive, a Russian immigrant and member of the organisation conversed with visitors about its activities, the remarkable spread of the language and how it was made.

At Anna McMahon’s installation, When we talk about food, we talk about it with our heart (see Lauren Carroll Harris’ report), at Yaama Dhiyaan, a hospitality training centre, we enjoyed lemon myrtle shortbreads, damper and chocolate lavender truffles and a long conversation with Beryl van Oploo about both her connection with food and land and her career in catering and teaching.

Having conducted workshops for locals at the Top Work-shop (a resource centre for alternative art-making, unfortunately not on the agenda for a visit), dancer-choreographer Emma Saunders and performance artist David Capra demonstrated DIY performance-making on a small patch of open ground alongside a busy Cleveland Street. The pair, swathed in plastic wrap, cajoled audience members into a wildly funny, somewhat indeterminate improvisation as drivers honked horns and bemused pedestrians lingered. We The People might not have taken us deep into the local community or revealed the ravages of gentrification Lauren Carroll writes of, but we savoured its character, more diverse than previously imagined, and enjoyed its generosity.

We’re looking forward to another great Liveworks in 2017, in the meantime living off memories of 2016, of incredibly diverse works that shared a common adventurousness and an exploratory sense of self and culture.

Emma Saunders and David Capra, We The People, Liveworks 2016

Emma Saunders and David Capra, We The People, Liveworks 2016

Performance Space, Liveworks Festival of Experimental Art; Carriageworks, Sydney, 27 Oct-6 Nov

RealTime issue #135 Oct-Nov 2016

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

Assyrian wedding procession, performance documentation, Women of Fairfield

Assyrian wedding procession, performance documentation, Women of Fairfield

It’s six o’clock on Saturday night and almost 200 people are gathered outside Fairfield train station. Ordinarily such a gathering might attract the attention of law enforcement but we are a mild mannered lot, standing patiently, consulting our foldout maps and expertly corralled by people in fluorescent orange caps that have the word “women” printed in black across the crown. Daylight saving started last week, so it is twilight: the birds are loud, the trains are soft and the cars roll slowly by. We stand opposite two butcher shops, a grocery and a tobacco store.

The performance begins with a Welcome to Country from Aunty Wendy, reminding us that the suburb of Fairfield stands on the land of the Cabrogal people of the Darug nation. From here, the performance follows Powerhouse Youth Theatre Artistic Director Karen Therese’s now trademark structure, which combines the processional and the installational as we wind our way through the neighbourhood, occasionally pausing for a performance or artwork and then carrying on.

We are invited to cross the road and follow an Assyrian wedding procession led by a band of men in navy pants and tan vests. They also sport black caps with red, white and blue feathers and one is wielding a silver sword. The women are in deep purple and black velvet dresses, with beautiful silver belts and headpieces. Three streets have been blocked off for the occasion, which is lucky because we are walking on the road headed for a roundabout.

We turn left and head down Harris Street, past cafes and hairdressers on the right and Powerhouse Youth Theatre on the left. We turn right into a narrow passageway that opens out onto a concrete courtyard wedged between a set of flats and a car park. From the flats, an intrigued father brings his baby down for a look while from the second floor of the car park a man in a fluorescent vest films with his phone. Indeed, phones are absolutely everywhere: even participants often film and photograph as they perform. The dancing continues and the procession becomes a circle, incorporating several audience members, who are held by the hand and encouraged to join in the gentle bounce.

Atra Gewargis in Kate Blackmore’s All Wedding Wishes (2016), dual-channel HD video installation for Women of Fairfield

Atra Gewargis in Kate Blackmore’s All Wedding Wishes (2016), dual-channel HD video installation for Women of Fairfield

When the dancing comes to an end, most audience members head into an adjacent garage. Inside, Kate Blackmore’s two-screen video work, All Wedding Wishes, illuminates the dark space. Also focusing on an Assyrian wedding, it has three strands: interviews with the bride and her parents; footage of the wedding preparations; and then scenes of the wedding itself. It’s a highly performative affair, with the bride and groom posing patiently for the photographers. Later, at the Grand Paradiso Reception Centre, footage seemingly from earlier in the day—of the bride getting ready for instance—is projected onto the wall. Finally, a smoke machine bursts into action as the couple take to the floor for their first dance.

It’s so colourful and theatrical that Blackmore needs hardly add anything, but it’s clear from the interviews that she’s not just another wedding photographer and that bride Nahren Georges and her family place great trust in her. They speak with a mixture of pride, joy, relief and sorrow about the wedding and explain in detail how it functions as both a welcome distraction (from worrying about family far away) and an important affirmation (signifying personal and cultural survival against the odds). These gentle interviews bring an emotional weight to a work that might otherwise have become a meta-document of an already highly documented event. On the night that I attend, I happen to stand near one of the participants, who explains to the women next to him that his house is in the video. “And now I’m here!” he exclaims.

Once I’ve seen most of the video, I head back out onto Harris Street to Powerhouse Youth Theatre to see a series of zines, animations and self-portraits as superheroes created by the students of Fairfield High School in collaboration with MCA art educators. I’m admiring the superheroes when a group of women come out of a rehearsal room and head outside. They’re costumed so I follow them back to the roundabout for Zoe Scoglio’s In the Round.

Indigenous Women of Fairfield, In the Round, Zoe Scoglio for Women of Fairfield

Indigenous Women of Fairfield, In the Round, Zoe Scoglio for Women of Fairfield

Three cars arrive, one from each direction, announcing their arrival with honking. The first belongs to a group of Aboriginal women, who have adorned their white car with red, yellow and black tulle, green leaves and a grey toy koala riding on the rooftop like a tiny Pope. The second belongs to Khmer women, whose red hatchback is festooned with flowers and blue and white gingham bows. The last car belongs to Iraqi women and it too has ribbons and tulle, though in green. The women exit their cars, circle the roundabout and invite the audience to join them. I do a few laps with a friend before we peel off to talk.

We watch as another friend takes a picture for one of the participants. He insists on reciprocating by taking a picture of her, but not with her camera, with his—a record of the visitors who came to town one night in October. It’s a neat inversion of the typically masculine ritual of hooning around the block in your car; instead we are promenading around the roundabout, admiring the newly feminised cars and taking selfies. I’ve always read these young men as claiming sonic space in a society that grants them little cultural or political space, but this is an important reminder that women might not be permitted—or do not permit themselves—to do the same.

Pero no cambia mi amor, 2016, Claudia Nicholson, performance documentation, Women of Fairfield

Pero no cambia mi amor, 2016, Claudia Nicholson, performance documentation, Women of Fairfield

Next, we head up Ware Street to Fairfield Chase. The shops are closed and the fruit is covered but the fluorescent lights are on and the food court makes for a surprisingly good theatre in the round. In the middle of the space is what I can only describe as a sawdust mandala, but, rather than tracing sacred patterns, it depicts flowers, brand logos and the words “Pero no cambia mi amor” (Google translate helps me to decipher it as “But it does not change my love”). The work is a modern version of the traditional alfromba de asserin from Central and South America, created by Claudia Nicholson and the local South American community. The Spanish Speaking Community Choir sings two songs with flute and guitar accompaniment. Then there is dancing with four older women in blue and white ruffles, their feet messing the mandala. Behind me, two young women are itching to join in and are delighted when an inviting wave finally comes.

Once the mandala has been destroyed, we head to the car park for the final performance of the night, Hissy Fit and Maria Tran’s Supreme Ultimate. On the top storey is a platform stage and three large screens on which three women, one on each, perform martial arts drills. On the left, a woman beats a punching bag; in the middle, another does a high kick, resets, rotates and then eventually does a flip. On the right is Maria Tran, martial arts movie actor and artist from Fairfield. She is an elegant mover; even moreso in slow motion, all three screens eventually focusing solely on her, showing footage of her striding through the car park preparing for a fight.

Supreme Ultimate, 2016, Hissy Fit & Maria Tran, performance documentation, Women of Fairfield

Supreme Ultimate, 2016, Hissy Fit & Maria Tran, performance documentation, Women of Fairfield

After this surprisingly long introductory screening, the live bodies finally arrive. There is the beginning of a dragon dance, but a fight breaks out between the two operators. One woman sends the man packing. Two others strike poses and execute kicks and punches. Tran joins them and they perform another brief series of moves. The movement is fluid but the dramaturgy is awkward. There are some bows and thank-yous, including to the audience for attending, and with that the evening is over, unless of course you’re headed to the Green Peppercorn for the after party.

I find it increasingly difficult to review this genre of performance, as my experience as an audience member seems less important than that of the local participants. It is clear from their enthusiastic documentation of the event as well as their conversations with the audience that they are enjoying themselves. Taken together, the evening’s many parts become a performance of identity, community and hospitality. As an outsider, I feel slightly ambivalent about the encounter and its ethnographic structure.

I’m thinking of Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett’s famous 1991 essay “Objects of Ethnography,” collected in her book Destination Culture: Tourism, Museums and Heritage (1998). She writes about various genres of ethnographic performance, including museum exhibitions, neighbourhood excursions (often advertised as “discover the food of …”) and multicultural festivals. The overall effect of such performances, she argues, is to cast recently arrived migrants as the ethnographic other. This serves to create a social distance to counter the experience of physical proximity when we pass each other on the street.

While Kirshenblatt-Gimblett was writing about London and New York of the 19th and 20th centuries, the situation in contemporary Sydney is slightly different. With its walking, dancing, drawings—and yes, eating—Women of Fairfield combines these genres into a single evening, but its overall effect is almost the reverse of what Kirschenblatt-Gimblett describes. For this performance seeks to counter Sydney’s social distance by creating physical proximity, if only briefly, by inviting audiences to spend time in a suburb they might otherwise not visit. Of course, the distancing effect of ethnography works for the participants too, who now return to their daily lives and locales with memories of the time they sang in the food court, danced on the roundabout and met strangers at the station.

Ethnographic performance is not a problem per se, but it can involve problematic power relations. Occasionally projects like Women of Fairfield seem haunted by what Joseph Pugliese has called, in a different context, “infrastructural whiteness”—staging projects that are performed by migrant communities but are conceived, developed and credited to organisations and artists that are predominantly white. It seems to me that while these projects often invite inner-city audiences west, the invitation isn’t always returned. Perhaps the next step for C3 West and its collaborators is to contemplate how to reverse the ethnographic gaze: commissioning an Assyrian-Australian video artist to document an Anglican wedding; and encouraging the good people of Potts Point to close their streets for an evening and perform their identity, hospitality and gratitude. And RealTime will send a non-Caucasian reviewer.

In Conversation: Women of Fairfield will be held at the MCA, 1-4pm, 3 December “to reflect on the successes and complexities” of Women of Fairfield.

Women of Fairfield, co-curators PYT Artistic Director Karen Therese, MCA Senior Curator Anne Loxley; a C3 West collaboration between Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), Powerhouse Youth Theatre, Fairfield (PYT) and NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors (STARTTS), presented with the support of Fairfield City Council, Fairfield, Sydney, 7, 8 Oct

RealTime issue #135 Oct-Nov 2016

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

Mark Shorter, 6 metres of Plinth, Artspace

Mark Shorter, 6 metres of Plinth, Artspace

The smell of Dencorub is in the air. Ceramic formations pointing to the celling are laid out atop a six-metre horizontal plinth. A man wearing jeans and a blue singlet enters and proceeds to wrap his legs around the plinth. Mark Shorter’s performance, as part of Artspace’s exhibition The Public Body, concerns the plinth, the body and moreover, the objects that lie between.

Shorter’s performance work is usually in the guise of Renny Kodgers, an often obscene and boorish Kenny Rogers impersonator. Renny can’t be found here. In 6 metres of Plinth, Shorter doesn’t seem to be doing it for the laughs. The artist at this moment is very focused on the task at hand.

A collection of short ceramic towers covers the plinth. They could easily have been crafted from a cast, maybe taken from inside of a rectal cavity. Discussing the work with the artist post-performance, I wondered, “what if you froze your own shit?” and, “once frozen, what would you do with it?” But these objects, according to Shorter, are less than faecal or phallic. “Non-objects,” he says, is a more fitting description, oblivious to themselves.

Shorter mounts the plinth and proceeds to squirm forward, groin first. The sculptures fly about, tumbling over, thumping onto the gallery floor. Assisted by hydraulic air compression jacks, the plinth is systematically raised higher and higher. The artist once again mounts the plinth in dog-like fashion, thrusting across from start to finish. The action is repeated, each time getting closer to impossible. The plinth, now more rodeo bull than gallery art pedestal, seems to have found a new calling. Shorter, who lectures at the Victorian College of Arts’ Sculpture and Spatial Practice department, says, “its plinthness is under negotiation.”

Trace Collective, TRACE (Post-Colonial-Cluster-Fuck) live work/installation view, Artspace, Sydney (2009)

Trace Collective, TRACE (Post-Colonial-Cluster-Fuck) live work/installation view, Artspace, Sydney (2009)

The performer is dressed, not unlike fellow artist Tony Schwensen, in blue collar worker attire. Schwensen’s TRACE: Displaced (Post-Colonial-Cluster-Fuck) had taken place at Artspace in 2009. (It’s uncanny: look closely at the documentation and you can see Shorter working behind Artspace’s information counter, sporting a handlebar moustache). Both performances seem fixated on an act of labour, unclear in their reasoning: absurd. TRACE saw Schwensen taking a steel cutter to a car and 6 metres of Plinth featured a man who felt audacious enough to move objects through the gallery with his groin.

As the performance develops, it’s hard to not be drawn to Shorter’s buttocks as he dodges countless awkward looking relics. It appears that through strategic employment of the plinth, the artist has produced a dance he must endure, a choreography perhaps inspired by the famed Simone Forti (for example, Huddle, 2012) or devised by the creators of Freddy Got Fingered (a 2001 worst picture award winner).

Mark Shorter, 6 metres of Plinth, Artspace, Sydney

Mark Shorter, 6 metres of Plinth, Artspace, Sydney

In equal measure, Shorter has produced a walk, far less John Wayne or Texan in swagger, but more in tune with the likes of Bruce Nauman. Particularly Nauman’s Walk with Contrapposto (1968) where the artist used a narrow corridor to shape and affect his gait. Shorter’s walk too reveals the mechanics of its action, parading an enduring Olympian strain. The broad movement of the hips and the tumbling tip-toeing of the feet is created not by way of mimicry, but by negotiation.

Here Mark Shorter removes his screwball cover and finds a way of holding a position with the plinth. In doing so, he fashions a posture between endurance and farce, an unlikely meeting between two forces. Endurance breaks through the farce, until it’s no longer funny, becoming something universally tragic.

Mark Shorter, 6 metres of Plinth, 27 Aug; The Public Body, Artspace, Sydney, 25 Aug-23 Oct

RealTime issue #135 Oct-Nov 2016

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

Rainer Werner Fassbinder on the set of Berlin Alexanderplatz, 1980

Rainer Werner Fassbinder on the set of Berlin Alexanderplatz, 1980

“I had to lead the life I led to be able to make my films.” Fassbinder in The Wizard of Babylon (dir Dieter Schidor, 1982)

The day after the filming of Schidor’s documentary was completed, Rainer Werner Fassbinder died, aged 37. A compulsive creator, with inordinate talent he had made 42 feature films, Berlin Alexanderplatz as a television series and written 26 plays.

The number of works is astonishing but more important is their scope. Has there ever been another film director who has so closely probed a national psyche and its history, from the late 19th century to the challenges of the 70s—the confluence of Baader-Meinhof and state terrorism, homosexuality and, in Ali: Fear Eats the Soul (1974), anti-immigrant racism. Fear Eats the Soul will show on the same night as Annekatrin Hendel’s documentary, Fassbinder, in Melbourne and Sydney, amid a strong festival line-up.

“Does it tell you more about the work—which is his legacy—or the man?” These words appear early in Hendel’s feature-length biography. They’re in white subtitles against a white background; I don’t know whose words they are, if quoted or the filmmaker’s. Even so, they invite judgment. Fassbinder is about the man, his relationships and their role in his compulsive output. The film assumes his genius; it’s not an appreciation of his craft. What it tells you about his work is that it was inextricably tied to his life, not how he made the translation of life into film or what shaped his filmmaking virtuosity. These are for other documentaries.

Hendel’s film draws principally on the personal reflections of those who worked closely with Fassbinder. Degrees of proximity—and sometimes brutal separation—in Fassbinder’s relationships with his collaborators are key to his creativity and the film’s power. Actor Harry Baer recalls joining the Action Theater (which became the Anti-Theater) and gradually realising that Fassbinder was the emergent leader, not the director Peer Raben (later, composer for most of Fassbinder’s films). Actor Hanna Schygulla recalls, “I noticed this boy, both touching and intimidating, both vulnerable and predatory, rapacious.” In due course she was seduced by “the ecstasy of acting.” Another key Fassbinder performer, Irm Herrmann, says that drugs and alcohol were not part of the younger artist’s life, just the compulsion to make; “I was totally under his spell.” She lived with him and then others, forming a collective, from which some actors kept a safe distance: “We would have killed each other.”

Hendel initially focuses on the making of Fassbinder’s first film, the noirish/Godardian Love is Colder than Death (1969) which despite being booed at its premiere won a German Film Festival Award in 1970. Volker Schlondorf, who was making Baal (1970; not distributed) cast Fassbinder as the poet. Fassbinder insisted not only that the director find roles for his ensemble and crew but that they all see the daily rushes and cuts. Shocked to find that his pay had been taxed, he demanded gross payments, “which is how he funded his next three to four films.” A TV producer describes Fassbinder presenting “as a sullen, temperamental rock star with a certain tangible aggression.” But in a long meeting, in which he smoked 20 cigarettes and consumed half a bottle of whisky, he negotiated the support he needed, resulting in “a frenzy of production, more and more focused on him.” Film titles flicker by in confirmation. At this stage Fassbinder, uncomfortable with large crews, was working with performers who took on, says Baer, two to three production roles each, resulting in “quick and efficient” filmmaking.

Fear Eats the Soul

Fear Eats the Soul

Other aspects of working closely together were less agreeable. A principle Fassbinder performer, Margit Carstensen, says waiting to see who would be cast in the next film “was like a competition. Actors were afraid of him.” Stories of the director’s cruelties are chilling, including his casting aside male actors he had been in love with (and with appalling consequences), propelling Baer into his first gay sexual encounter (Fassbinder laughing as he watched), and his pushing Schygulla into on-screen nakedness beyond her comfort zone (she quit at one point).

The one film that gets extended attention is The Bitter Tears of Petra von Kant (1972), Carstensen revealing that, at the time, she hadn’t realised that the film “was an analysis of Rainer’s love life. He was Petra.” Hendel brings it home, rather cutely, in one of her film’s recurrent animations of imagined storyboard drawings, by having the two actresses in a key scene transform into Fassbinder and his married lover.

The challenges of acting for Fassbinder were clearly considerable. Herrmann was constantly belittled with the director “divulging intimate details” of her life before cast and crew. On the other hand, Fassbinder relied heavily on his ensemble (even as it lessened when he “brought in outside actors and stars,” like Dirk Bogarde in Despair; 1977). In one of a number of filmed interviews, Fassbinder says that he was “trying to develop a form of acting together with the actor, and it involves a development from one film to the next as long as [the director] is inspired by them and they by him.” This “development” was crucial to his output. As one actor puts it, “It was like a machine, road construction advancing slowly but surely.” As one film was being shot, the next was in pre-production under actor Kurt Raab.

A few other films receive close attention; The Marriage of Maria von Braun, for its trenchant account of post-World War II transformation of Germany—“as if nothing had happened,” says Schygulla. Another is Germany in Autumn (1977), an omnibus film with Fassbinder’s contribution widely regarded as the best. Thirteen directors try to make sense of the kidnapping and murder of a German industrialist, kidnapped and murdered by terrorists and the alleged suicides in prison of three members of Baader-Meinhof. Fassbinder sits naked on the floor, speaking on the phone, snorts coke and then argues over a meal with his (actual) mother, Lilo Tempeit, who appeared in a number of his films. Volker Schlondorf says that his fellow directors were mostly shocked by Fassbinder’s approach. As Vincent Canby wrote in the New York Times, “It’s typically, intentionally disorienting in the Fassbinder way, photographed and acted with such intense self-absorption that it has the effect of transforming narcissism into a higher form of political commitment.” That narrowing of the apparent gap between the personal and the political was not only a marker of the 60s and 70s but especially of Fassbinder’s potent form of filmmaking,

Fassbinder’s decline, his friends report, was evident; “it was too late,” says Schygulla, who had presented him a farewell bunch of roses at their last meeting. His girlfriend, an editor on his late films, recalls his love for her, his desire for a child, his enduring love of men and a desire to escape the production machine.

Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Hanna Schygulla

Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Hanna Schygulla

Fassbinder is an engrossing biography. The director’s many collaborators are given ample time to be eloquently critical yet grateful and loyal. Schygulla is a strong presence, working at her painting as she speaks wisely with her characteristic, measured lilt. Fassbinder himself appears on TV monitors in the studio that frames the film, quietly authoritative save for one moment of distress after his play Garbage, The City and Death, had been refused production in Frankfurt (where he had become artistic director of a major theatre company, a short-lived venture) because of the play’s alleged anti-semitism. In the interview excerpt, Fassbinder expresses concern that someone with his record could be so accused. A 1985 production, three years after his death, was stopped after Jewish citizens occupied the stage and later attempts to mount it were challenged.

Annekatrin Hendel’s film gives us the life that led to the films: the rapid turnover of favourites, relationships and productions, complicated sexual relations and, regardless of the completion of so many works of art, profoundly unresolved desires. It left me a little depressed, if buoyed by those collaborators who survived Fassbinder’s clearly monstrous regime, but grateful for the information and rare footage of an artist I’ve long admired. But I’ll soon have to put some distance between the documentary and the Fassbinder films—in order to engage with the art, not the life, however inextricably they are entwined.

See a trailer for Fassbinder here:

Visit the German Film Fest website for screening sessions.

In Melbourne, an exhibition of film posters and homages, Fassbinder 1945-82, runs until 15 December.

RealTime issue #135 Oct-Nov 2016

Carolyn Connors, The Book of Daughters

Carolyn Connors, The Book of Daughters

The Book of Daughters, three nights of richly varied and purposeful sonic art at Melbourne’s Meat Market, focuses largely on women as subjects and makers. Australian talent—vocalist Carolyn Connors, performance poet Berni M Janssen, harpist Mary Doumany, percussionist Louise Devenish, the BOLT and Hullick-Duckworth Ensembles and Amplified Elephants—will play alongside guest artists from Japan: vocalist Noriko Tadano, Yoshimio (aka Yoshimi P-We of the Boredoms and OOIOO and xxx) on drum kit, electronics and vocals, and shamisen virtuoso Yumiko Tanaka. It’s an impressive and characterful lineup.

I spoke by phone with JOLT Arts Artistic Director James Hullick, musician, composer, nurturer of the Amplified Elephants ensemble of artists with disability, and father of two young daughters—a likely key to the title of this ambitiously conceived event. Hullick is at pains to point out that the event is not solely his vision: “It’s been curated collectively with JOLT and a lot of the artists who have worked with us in the past. It’s a collection of performances presented in 25-30 minute blocks, three different shows per night. It’s a bit like seeing bands but the context is sound art. It’s a model we’ve been using for JOLT events in Japan and it works there and in quite a few Asian countries. The Book of Daughters has come out of our experiences in Asia and that’s reflected in the program with our Japanese guests.”

James Hullick, Rotation Post-Sapien performance, Hong Kong (2015)

James Hullick, Rotation Post-Sapien performance, Hong Kong (2015)

The connection with Japan is ongoing, Hullick explains: “JOLT first presented a sort of mini-festival in 2012 in partnership with Test Tone, the Japanese sound art organisation, and we’ve been doing them annually in some form since. They’re significant events in their own way with major acts like Merzbow, Phew and Haino Keiji.”

I ask Hullick what the Asian connection does for JOLT and Australian music and sound art. “Australia needs to wake up to the fact that, at least in the sound art world, it’s part of an international movement. I would argue that sound art is one of the few art movements that has grown up as an international baby rather than necessarily being located in one city or region or country. It’s emerged as international with artists from different countries improvising together and immediately understanding the language they’re working with and doing quite amazing things without heaps of preparation. That’s evidence of an international language.”

I’m curious about the title, The Book of Daughters. Hullick tells me, “We were originally looking at responding to gender balance within sound art, which has been traditionally male-dominated. But, collectively, we didn’t want to call it a ‘women’s event’ or somesuch, because it’s about celebrating great artists, full stop. What audiences will be seeing are different chapters of people’s perspectives on sound art and many of the authors happen to be women. Some of the contents are quite feminist; others are just straight ahead sound art and might happen to be made by a woman, or not.”

Who are the “daughters” in the title? “In my life, I have two daughters, aged five and eight and certainly there are other people within JOLT who have daughters or are daughters. A conversation had been growing about what the future is looking like in terms of gender balance.”

Noriko Tadano, The Book of Daughters

Noriko Tadano, The Book of Daughters

I ask where Hullick’s own contribution to the program, Slow Riven Whirl, fits the theme. “It’s one half of a kind of ‘mirror’ project. Slow Riven Whirl (played on 12 November) is mirrored by Windspoken (10 November). Both works are performed by Berni M Janssen and the BOLT Ensemble. For Windspoken Berni Janssen, a great Australian poet, has written the text and it’s the women of the BOLT Ensemble performing, not the men. Belinda Woods, the ensemble leader, has co-directed Windspoken with Berni. I have directed and written the text for Slow Riven Whirl from the perspective of a father talking to his daughters, but with words delivered by Berni. You’ll hear sentences like “I am your father” uttered in a woman’s voice. The notion of mixed-gender is a big part of the event. I’m talking to my daughters, saying, ‘Look, I’m trying to understand your perspective, what you’re going to grow into, the issues you’re going to face and I really want to help but I really don’t know how to do that…’

“Slow Riven Whirl rolls straight into a performance by Yoshimio, this amazing Japanese drummer and leading sound artist from Japan, an amazing and heroic woman in my eyes. She’s an incredible performer. So, I’m hoping there will be an arc across that night in the way the team has programmed it.” Windspoken, says Hullick, includes some elements of Berni Janssen’s life as a poet and a woman in the context of the Australian landscape, “but not literally; her work is very metaphorical.”

As for instrumentation, Hulllick tells me, “in Windspoken it’s flute, viola, cello and double bass. It’s a smaller ensemble but this means the individual has more room to speak. In Slow Riven Whirl, it’s an ensemble of eight musicians. It’s an interesting dynamic because the text has been written by a man for an ensemble of women plus the orator, the leader, who’s also female, taking on that text and music and translating it into a new context. I think it would be very different if it were performed by men.”

Yoshimio, The Book of Daughters

Yoshimio, The Book of Daughters

One of the distinctive nightly features of The Book of Daughters is Sonic Flock, originally presented in the 2013 Melbourne Festival and staged prior to each night’s three works. “There are seven black tepees and, inside each, one performer and an audience member. Overall it’s set up like an installation in a gallery through which people can wander and have intimate experiences for two to three minutes with The Book of Daughters’ artists. Depending which night you attend you’ll encounter Carolyn Connors with her extended technique vocals or Kathryn Sutherland, who’s from the Amplified Elephants, playing found percussion or Yumiko Tanaka on shamisen or Cal Lyle, a Canadian-Japanese musician, playing prepared banjo. You can also hear all the improvisations from outside the tepees—a kind of collective abstract texture. It’s a gentle welcoming to The Book of Daughters.”

Hullick tells me, “It’s quite a big network that’s been involved in this project and next year it’s going to tour to Asia; not all but about half of it. The artists will be collaborating with predominantly female artists in the cities they visit.”

Making it clear that JOLT is not alone in promoting the work of women artists. Hullick says, “We acknowledge Liquid Architecture’s focus on feminist programming and all the work that has gone into other music events that celebrate women.” What is admirable is the carefully fostered interplay between Australian and Japanese sound cultures: “The key is maintaining long-term relationships with particular ensembles, people and organisations within Asia, rather than just show up, do your thing and go home. It just doesn’t work that way in Asia. That’s what I think JOLT has been really good at, these collective relationships.”

With the The Book of Daughters, JOLT and its co-programmers looks to the future, creatively addressing gender balance in sound art, extending cross-cultural relations with Asia, embracing artists with disability and, above all, has programmed with festive intensity great performers, idiosyncratic compositions, collaborations and doubtless remarkable improvisations.

Robert Duckworth at his Resonance Table, The Book of Daughters

Robert Duckworth at his Resonance Table, The Book of Daughters

JOLT, The Book of Daughters, Arts House Meat Market, Melbourne, 10-12 Nov

RealTime issue #135 Oct-Nov 2016

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

Foreground: Louise Weaver, no small wonder, courtesy the artist and Darren Knight Gallery, Sydney; background: Mikaela Dwyer, Empty Sculptures (2008-12), courtesy the artist, Anna Schwartz Gallery, Melbourne and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney

Foreground: Louise Weaver, no small wonder, courtesy the artist and Darren Knight Gallery, Sydney; background: Mikaela Dwyer, Empty Sculptures (2008-12), courtesy the artist, Anna Schwartz Gallery, Melbourne and Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney

Soft Core is immediately surprising. Hanging high in the Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre’s large foyer/exhibition space, Brook Andrew’s two huge balloons (The Weight of History, The Mark of Time, 2015) slowly inflate, deflate and change colours—unusual yellows, pinks, greens and blues. The intense black patterning on the balloons is “inspired by the wood carving of [the artist’s] mother’s Wiradjuri people” (wall note). These creations delicately and patiently project a sense of constant cultural renewal, their size underlining its importance.

Floor: Jim McMurtry (2004), Michael Parekowhai; above: Brook Andrew’s The Weight of History, The Mark of Time, 2015, Soft Core, image courtesy Casula Powerhouse

Floor: Jim McMurtry (2004), Michael Parekowhai; above: Brook Andrew’s The Weight of History, The Mark of Time, 2015, Soft Core, image courtesy Casula Powerhouse

On the floor, immediately below and taking up much of the foyer space is an inflatable cartoonish rabbit, 12 x 4.5m, lying on its back, one eye closed, tongue hanging out—New Zealander Michael Parekowhai’s Jim McMurtry (2004). Although cute, the sheer size of this bunny is chilling, the artist’s reflection on the sheer scale of the impact of the rabbit on New Zealand’s ecology, a grim inheritance of colonialisation.

Balloons make another appearance in an adjoining gallery, if much smaller, suspended from the ceiling or draped over girders with unexpected weightiness, intense colouring and a sense of indolence. Their unlikely anthropomorphic presence suggests potential movement as well as recalling the distorting objects in Salvador Dali paintings. These witty creations, the Oooh Aaah series (2016), are by Todd Robinson (read an interview here). His balloons, out of our reach, appear to be at once soft and firm, light but heavy, sagging, as if not quite able to support themselves.

Mezzanine: Todd Robinson, Oooh Aaah, 2016, photo courtesy the artist and Galerie Pompom, Sydney. Soft Core, Casula Powerhouse

Mezzanine: Todd Robinson, Oooh Aaah, 2016, photo courtesy the artist and Galerie Pompom, Sydney. Soft Core, Casula Powerhouse

A cluster of works by Patricia Piccinini also evokes a sense of things near-alive: past life caught in bronze in A Deeply Held Breath (2009), life prematurely aged—a very realistic oversized baby in a carrier—in Foundling (2008), and mutant life in Ghost (2012), a disturbing suspended sculpture in which an amorphous torso with a long-haired groin hangs from a twisted car tyre. The desire to touch, to test the softness and the ambiguous reality of these objects, is dampened by their spookiness.

Mikala Dwyer’s Empty Sculptures (2008-12; she’s been making these since 2003 from transparent, hand-mouldable plastic) suggest roughly formed giant crystals, but air-filled, kin to the show’s balloons and inflatables. These appear, like Robinson’s balloons, intriguingly solid and ethereal at once.

Louise Weaver, Moonlight becomes you (two squirrels) 2002-3, Collection Lisa Paulsen; Soft Core, Casula Powerhouse

Louise Weaver, Moonlight becomes you (two squirrels) 2002-3, Collection Lisa Paulsen; Soft Core, Casula Powerhouse

With her fantastical animals and a surreal landscape (no small wonder; 2005), Louise Weaver introduces to Soft Core different kinds of softness—the distinctive tactilities suggested by lambswool, cotton, silk and synthetic fur and the traditional crafts associated with women, including knitting, embroidery and crochet. Weaver’s view of the world playfully integrates nature and culture. My favourite work has a very touchable pair of intensely black squirrels—Moonlight becomes you (two squirrels), (2002-3)—poised half-way up a wall, each adorned with a silver brooch and their very long, very furry tails joined by a hanging silver chain, rendering them, if problematically, a desirable decorative acquisition. Another soft/hard dichotomy.

American artist Tony Oursler’s video sculpture, Spectar (2006), in the show’s third space is the only work to engage directly with media technology and with sexuality (Piccinini’s Ghost aside)—something of a surprise given the exhibition’s title. With images of mouths and eyes, small and large, projected onto it, the human-scale, bulbous fibreglass sculpture assumes the three-dimensional softness of a surreal limbless body, awash with rich colours sliding over its rounded protuberances. Behind it turns a starry cosmos as breathy voices urge each other on, ramping up the work’s strange eroticism. Softness here is entirely illusory.

Koji Ryui, Have a Nice Day, Soft Core

Koji Ryui, Have a Nice Day, Soft Core

Infinitely more down to earth is Japanese artist Koji Ryui’s installation of detritus found in Casula Powerhouse. As with Robinson’s balloons and Weaver’s creatures, little scenarios spring to mind as one takes in the random spread of apparent incident laid out across the gallery floor: a broken wine glass, a dragged flower trailing dirt, an object fallen from its plinth. Personalities emerge in the form of “Have a nice day” plastic bags filled with perhaps sand and moulded into rotund little creatures of various sizes scattered about the installation or left waiting in a cardboard box. Some hang limply on the edges of plinths, wittily honouring Robinson’s balloons. Others gather around half-eaten food, as if stilled by my presence. This is sculpture softened up and wittily responsive to the everyday.

On the mezzanine above the foyer, Kathy Temin’s wonderfully furry orange monuments and pet tombs and a delightfully formal Purple Tree (2105) comprise a contemplative world of their own, of past or alien cultures, or something closer to home—a range of monster cat clawing stands. Brook Andrew’s balloons loom just above me and a downwards glance brings me eye to eye with Michael Parekowhai’s Jim McMurtry—is that rabbit dead or just down for the anti-colonial count?

Kathy Temin, Pet Tomb, 2014, courtesy the artist, Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney and Anna Schwartz Gallery, Melbourne. Soft Core, Casula Powerhouse

Kathy Temin, Pet Tomb, 2014, courtesy the artist, Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney and Anna Schwartz Gallery, Melbourne. Soft Core, Casula Powerhouse

For an exhibition in which I had to constantly suppress the desire to touch, Soft Core proved to be a thoroughly engaging visual experience (there are more fine works than I could mention here), revealing an impressive range of contemporary sculptural practices and detailing multiple degrees of softness, real and imagined, sensual and contemplative, and fun.

……….

Soft Core is within relatively easy reach of people living in Western Sydney and, by train, not too far for Sydney-siders. The train from Central takes an hour (if you select the right one), depositing you at Casula Station for a five-minute walk to Casula Powerhouse (open all week), and the trains are frequent (check for track work).

Soft Core will tour to eight regional venues in NSW and Victoria. The catalogue, which will include tactile elements and critical writing about each artist, will be available shortly.

Soft Core, Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre in partnership with Museums & Galleries NSW, curator Micheal Do, commissioned works Tully Arnot, Tully Moore, Todd Robinson, Koji Ryui, Simon Yates, Paul Yore; extant works Brook Andrew, Mikala Dwyer, Tony Oursler, Michael Parekowhai, Patricia Piccinini, Kathy Temin, Louise Weaver; Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre, 1 Powerhouse Road, Casula, 15 Oct-4 Dec

RealTime issue #135 Oct-Nov 2016

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

Mustang

Mustang

Turkish-French film director Deniz Gamze Ergüven’s Mustang, her first film, compassionately portrays the plight of five young orphaned sisters living in a small conservative village. When seen riding the shoulders of boys from their school amid the waves on a local beach, their grandmother, shocked by the physical contact, betrays them to their uncle who takes increasingly stern measures to constrain the girls, whose energy and humour, and escape tactics, keep them momentarily buoyant. Worse is to come in this indictment of gender inequality, sexual abuse and rising fundamentalism in Turkey. As the older girls fall prey to depression and arranged marriages, the younger ones maintain resistance. Beautifully filmed and finely directed and acted, Mustang balances its increasing tension and claustrophobia with the youngest girl’s spirited sense of possibility.

5 copies courtesy of Madman Enertainment

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RealTime issue #135 Oct-Nov 2016

Katrina Gill, Dark Water, Unconformity Festival

Katrina Gill, Dark Water, Unconformity Festival

Queenstown is a place of contradictions and mythologies. On one hand, the small town on Tasmania’s rainy and remote west coast seems like an unlikely place for an interesting and challenging festival, with director Travis Tiddy acknowledging the “absurdity of having an arts festival in ‘a regional backwater’ on the fringes of cultural activity in the state.” Yet at the same time, its unique landscape, history of mining and changing fortunes makes it a natural location for site-specific art and performance. This year, the name changed from the didactic Queenstown Heritage and Arts Festival to The Unconformity, which refers to a local rock form, the Haulage Unconformity (a touching point of three geological agents). But it’s equally indicative of the festival’s mission to represent an isolated community that doesn’t conform. It’s a festival that embraces the unexpected.

Driving from Hobart to Queenstown is a lesson in the extremes of the Tasmanian landscape. For visitors like myself, travelling there is an integral part of the festival experience. From the Derwent Bridge it’s a winding and hilly crossing through the largely impenetrable South West Wilderness. Emerging in Queenstown, I’m greeted by near naked hills—the result of widespread deforestation due to bushfires, mining and its consequential sulphur fumes, acid rain and erosion. This landscape is still mythologised as a ‘moonscape,’ despite the gradual regrowth.

 

Participants in We Are Mountain, Mish Grigor, Zoe Scoglio, Unconformity Festival

Participants in We Are Mountain, Mish Grigor, Zoe Scoglio, Unconformity Festival

We are mountain

It’s on this rocky peak that Mish Grigor and Zoe Scoglio’s participatory performance, We Are Mountain, is based. The respectively Sydney and Melbourne-based artists became obsessed with the mountain during a recent visit, declaring, “Let’s be the mountain.” We are loaded onto a bus and driven up via hairpin bends to the Iron Blow lookout while an audio guide-like voiceover provides facts about the history and geology of the site. I learn that Iron Blow was the original open-cut mine established by the Mount Lyell Mining Company in 1884. Audience members from Queenstown laughingly add their own impromptu facts, including a story about one local who was seen throwing whitegoods off the lookout into the now water-filled hole. We are dropped at the turnoff to the lookout and instructed to walk single file slowly up the road. “Feel the ground beneath your feet. Really feel it,” the artists instruct us. We take turns yelling “cooee” off the lookout, listening to the echoes until the wind and horizontal rain force us away from the edge.

My initial admiration for the artists’ bravery and untempered enthusiasm, hosting a dusk performance outdoors in a town where clear days average only 29 a year, turns a little sour as my beanie is whisked away by the wind. At this point, the performers’ spirit of play and celebration seems to far outstrip that of the audience. Their improvisational style and humorous commentary match the absurdity of the situation. One of the pair climbs up a short slope in an attempt to “be legendary.” Exaggerating her struggle up the rocks, she breaths into the microphone, “I feel like one of those white guys who discovered something.”

Replica of The Iron Blow in cake, We Are Mountain, Mish Grigor, Zoe Scoglio, Unconformity Festival

Replica of The Iron Blow in cake, We Are Mountain, Mish Grigor, Zoe Scoglio, Unconformity Festival

We soon return to town to feast on a replica Mount Lyell fashioned from cake. As we descend into Queenstown to the sounds of ambient music and the occasional recorded cooee, we’re provided with stunning views of Jason James’ light installation, part of the Flux program, in the far-off quarry—a representation of the festival’s thematic and aesthetic coherence.

 

Flux, Unconformity Festival

Flux, Unconformity Festival

Flux

The former limestone quarry-turned-garden with its deep cliffs, natural waterfall and pond proves to be a dramatic and magical music bowl and performance space. With no specific Flux program published, the series of free rolling performances by artists and musicians like Pip Stafford, Omahara, Rob Thorne and Jacqui Shelton encourages visitors to embrace the unexpected and return again and again throughout the festival, despite the lack of shelter from the weather.

 

Katrina Gill, Dark Water, Unconformity Festival

Katrina Gill, Dark Water, Unconformity Festival

Dark Water

Like Flux and We Are Mountain, Dark Water (writer Halcyon McLeod) also uses a former mining site as a performance space. Boarding a train at Queenstown’s station, we end up in one of the former Mount Jukes mines around midnight. Over the journey, the initially well-dressed female train attendant (Katrina Gill) becomes increasingly distressed as she descends into grief. The soundtrack, provided via wireless headphones, is a steady monologue of her progressively disconnected thoughts.

The performance is initially sited in a largely empty carriage. Holding onto the walls against the train’s jolting, we form a natural arena around the attendant. For a show about grief, Dark Water has some oddly humorous moments, such as when the attendant stuffs a pudding into a stocking and shoe, creating an object that half-resembles a rock, or a surreal decapitated leg. As we alight at Lynchford station and walk into the train’s blinding headlights, we’re calmly told “she pushes a crystal as big as a bus” as the now dishevelled attendant, pulling her skirt off, runs angrily at the train. The humour is dark—and perhaps represents a therapeutic strategy in the context of sadness and mourning.

The train, the historical stations and the cold, dark mine are fascinating. However, the wireless headphones distract from the performance and surroundings. While the journeying admittedly makes it difficult to provide a constant source of sound, the headphones seem like a poor solution. Aside from the technical problems (mine kept dropping out), the headphones blocked the all-important sounds of the moving train, the river alongside Lynchford station and the drips in the mineshaft. In a steady beat, the water drops into the pools around our feet, echoing in the deep, narrow tunnel, representing the passing of time and an emotional hollowness. Wireless technology works well when isolating and noise blocking effects are integral to the performance, but not here.

 

Fault Traces, Matthias Schack-Arnott, Unconformity Festival

Fault Traces, Matthias Schack-Arnott, Unconformity Festival

Fault Traces

Away from the mountain but still geology-themed, Matthias Schack-Arnott’s Fault Traces in the Boy Scout Hall evokes the deep rumble of industry using subsonic frequencies and a variety of resonant objects, including metal, bamboo, rocks, bowls and nets of seashells. Bending over the carefully arranged groups, positioned on a “panel activated by tactile transducers which are fed low-frequency information,” the composer appears half-performer, half-conductor as he orders and reorders objects. Schack-Arnott maintains a swift but light touch despite the increasingly violent frequency vibrations, allowing us to concurrently hear, feel and ‘see’ the various soundwaves.

 

Geologies

A performance installation, Geologies, explores the body as “inherited geology.” This collaboration between composer and visual artist Leigh Hobba and dancer Wendy Morrow is performed within Queenstown’s Masonic Hall on a crystal-shaped raised stage. The surrounding lights glow through textured woodblock prints that resemble rock faults. Performed by the Southernwood String Quartet led by Thibaud Pavlovic-Hobba, the music is lively and exciting. Hobba at one stage crosses into the audience, playing harmonics to produce a soft, chimelike accompaniment to Morrow’s fluid movements.

Leigh Hobba introduces each movement with a series of words and ideas (“dissonant, river, composure…”) that acts as an interpretative tool, invoking visual images or emotions to overcome the fragmentation and atonality of his score. Although the performance is anything but predictable, Hobba finishes with an announcement: “and then to anticipate…. this!” before leaping at the adjacent piano and striking out a dissonant chord.

Again, art comes back to the unexpected—a theme that describes Queenstown’s serial changes in fortune as much as the festival’s critical edge. The 2014 festival followed multiple mine fatalities and subsequent closure of the Mount Lyell mine, resulting in a significant economic downturn. During the 2014 opening address, the five-metre-tall Angel of the West sculpture (intended to symbolise hope and resilience) accidentally caught fire, an unintentional yet tragically fitting metaphor for a once booming mining town now suffering depression and decay. The Unconformity does not run away from these gritty truths, nor does it romanticise the past. With a criticality that’s rare in arts festivals, The Unconformity is a celebration of community, geology and history in all their contradictions and ‘unconformities.’

Unconformity festival-goers, Orr Street, Queenstown

Unconformity festival-goers, Orr Street, Queenstown

For more Unconformity, read about British artist Lindsay Seers’ video installation, Suffering, about the late Leo Albert Kelly, a Queenstown painter and collector of found objects and an interview with festival director Travis Tiddy.

The Unconformity, Queenstown, Tasmania, 14-16 Oct

RealTime issue #135 Oct-Nov 2016

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

Thank You For Coming, Faye Driscoll, Arts House

Thank You For Coming, Faye Driscoll, Arts House

American choreographer Faye Driscoll’s Thank You For Coming: Attendance is all about connection. Beginning with a series of relational activities among the six performers, it increasingly pleats and folds its audience, culminating in an all-encompassing maypole dance. This is quite an achievement, offering a utopian glimpse of people enjoying a sense of connection—a form of community through performance.

As they enter, audience members are asked to take off coats, bags and shoes, prior to settling around a large, raised square. The dancers line up and then enter the square. They form a living tableau, an unruly string of bodies that slowly moves through a series of assemblages. Their shapes are fairly ordinary, a wonky arabesque here, a precarious lean there. They shove, grab, pull and push each other, all the while holding on or touching.

The chain created by these linked bodies slowly rolls off one side of the square dais and through the audience. We watch spectators rise up to manage the oncoming mass. The dancers pause then return, rolling up the top layer of the raised dais before moving onto the other side of the square. These flows disrupt the stability of the audience, its sense of place made temporary.

Thank You For Coming, Faye Driscoll, Arts House

Thank You For Coming, Faye Driscoll, Arts House

The dais is disassembled to reveal a series of underlying benches that are used to form seating banks around a now empty square. This is filled with a pastiche of interactions, accompanied by a musician singing names which are repeated by the performers who rhythmically jerk from pose to pose in a sequence of exaggerated greetings and responses. This is a pantomime of interaction, characterised by hyperbole and parody. As the musician moves through the long list of names, we perhaps recognise our own.

The effect of this and other successive actions is to slowly bring the audience towards a sense of participation. The finale introduces a maypole around which most (but not all) of the audience circulate, skipping and following the performers. This active form of participation brings joy, reflected in bodies and faces, as individuals are absorbed into the group.

Thank You For Coming is an ontological piece aiming to create a mode of social being through performance. The intention to enact its vision shows a commitment to making a kind of political reality, one which is able to leave a trace in the bodies of the audience beyond participation through mere spectatorship. This is admirable.

Thank You For Coming, Faye Driscoll, Arts House

Thank You For Coming, Faye Driscoll, Arts House

My reservations are ethical and aesthetic. From an ethical point of view, there was too much of the spectacular for my liking, including a strong dependence upon the fourth wall which the work as a whole purports to deconstruct. For example, in the first half, performers lurched into individual audience members, landing on their laps and peering into their faces, producing nervous smiles at best. People were given props to obediently wave. Some of us were also given ‘jobs.’ Mine was to hold a rope so as to make the maypole shape. Since the performers’ own interactions were marked by hyperbole, it was not surprising that these one-on-one interactions were not greatly nuanced. I was given my orders in a very bossy and urgent manner. Such momentary encounters nonetheless formed the basis of the work’s becoming-community.

I had the feeling that the performers were throwing themselves fully into their task, but not taking a great deal of care how they did so, as if the process of making the work required less attention towards how they moved than to what they wanted to achieve. As a result, I felt that the work’s component sections were instrumentally devised towards result rather than process.

The subtitle of this work is “attendance.” Can we attend to the body in new ways as we attend to each other, so that our work is not merely an instrumental good but transformative of the social corpus?

Watch an excerpt from a 2014 performance of Thank You For Coming: Attendance.

Melbourne International Arts Festival: Thank You For Coming: Attendance, concept, direction Faye Driscoll, choreography Faye Driscoll in collaboration with performers: Giulia Carotenuto, Sean Donovan, Alicia Ohs, Toni Melaas, Brandon Washington, sound design, composition Michael Kiley; Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall, Melbourne, 7-10 Oct

RealTime issue #135 Oct-Nov 2016

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

Emma Beech, Life is Short and Long

Emma Beech, Life is Short and Long

We live in a time of crisis: economic, environmental, humanitarian, political. As the conflict in Syria and the European migrant emergency remind us daily, the victims are more often than not ordinary folk—the children and politically disenfranchised women and men who have to live with the consequences of policy decisions over which they have little or no control. It’s these people who are the focus of Life is Short and Long, the latest and most sophisticated of performance-maker Emma Beech’s long-running series of works built around her theatricalised retelling of conversations with strangers in disparate parts of the world.

Beech’s practice is a sort of performative ethnography, although its signature is not the presentation of systematic data. Rather, it savours the randomness of everyday life, revealing the humanity of its subjects with a lightness of touch.

In her previous I Met… series, made in collaboration with the Adelaide-based Australian Bureau of Worthiness (see RealTime 115 and 119), Beech turned her attention to cities as distinct as Adelaide, Geelong and Viborg (Denmark), asking strangers, “What makes your day worth it?” In this new iteration, it’s the theme of crisis that informed Beech’s conversations with the residents of Barcelona, Port Adelaide and the precariously small mid-north South Australian town of Wirrabara. Though far apart and culturally dissimilar, each of these communities is facing some kind of upheaval. In Barcelona, the effects of 2008’s catastrophic market collapse are still being felt; in Wirrabara, the effects of major bushfires in the Bangor Forest in 2014 remain disfiguring and traumatising; and in Port Adelaide, where the work’s premiere showing took place, the struggle for rejuvenation after the collapse of once-thriving local industry goes on.

Each of these crises is seen through the eyes of various interview subjects whom Beech gently mimics in tone and gesture but never completely disappears into. There’s Jim, rendered with blokey insouciance, a Port Adelaide hairdresser whose descent from well-to-do salon-owner in the 1960s to destitute alcoholic a decade or so later mirrors the depressed fate of the suburb itself. And then there’s Marga, a Catalan performance-maker, whom Beech brings to vivid, acutely observed life with pitch-perfect accent and an almost balletic grace that—despite Marga’s financial hardship and her agonising over the prospect of bringing a child into the world—seems to seep into everything, even her chain-smoking. According to Beech, it was her friendship with Marga that, more than anything else, inspired the work’s creation. Her quiet dignity—as well as her barely contained rage at the forces responsible for the GFC, and the tourists who now flock to her country to exploit its low cost of living—sits at the core of the work.

Tim Overton, Emma Beech, Life is Short and Long

Tim Overton, Emma Beech, Life is Short and Long

Beech herself features in the narrative, as does her partner, comedian and performance-maker Steve Sheehan, especially in the Wirrabara segments. For example, they come third in the pumpkin competition held on the town’s market day by raiding their holiday accommodation’s vegetable garden. Another thread involves Beech’s pregnancy with triplets, which in itself develops into a crisis as her body is placed under enormous strain—at one point during her long hospital stay she is told by medical staff that her cervix is ‘melting’—and the babies are born prematurely and underweight.

The installation-like design, conceived by Meg Wilson and realised by Michelle Maddog Delaney, consists of a forest of variously sized PVC pipes, each rising to a different height out of a floor of blackened bark chips that evoke the Wirrabara bushfires. The audience is required to walk through this in groups of four to reach the performance space, an intimate, wood-floored rectangle with seating on three sides and overhung with long strings of multicoloured party lights. The eerily lit forest forms a slightly surreal backdrop and becomes both a sanctuary and a place of frightening isolation at different points in the performance.

Beech uses little in the way of props or set dressing to differentiate between places and people. A bench is occasionally brought on by co-performer and assistant stage manager Tim Overton (who also, somewhat unnecessarily, reels off various facts and figures about each of the work’s geographic locations) and a red flower Beech wears in her hair identifies Marga, but clarity is ensured by Beech’s virtuosic shifts of character. All of these elements cohere elegantly, with the exception of a puzzling series of short scenes in which Beech seems to be in a nightclub, drinking and dancing alone—a relic, perhaps, from the development process.

The work is humane and generous, rooted in stories of everyday resilience—in the face of crises of recession and change, of both the body and the world—which Beech dramatises with beguiling understatement. If it testifies to the devastating effects of failure on the part of of our political and economic institutions, it also offers hope in its many small but powerful displays of resistance.

Vitalstatistix with Country Arts SA: Life is Short and Long, concept, text, direction, performance Emma Beech, co-direction Tessa Leong, design (concept) Meg Wilson, design (realisation) Michelle Maddog Delaney, sound design Tristan Louth-Robins, co-performer, assistant stage manager Tim Overton; Waterside Workers Hall, Port Adeiaide,11-21 Oct; Wirrabara Town Hall, 28-29 Oct

RealTime issue #135 Oct-Nov 2016

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

Kleine Dada Soirée, Theo Van Doesburg + Kurt Schwitters, 1922, lithograph, MoMA, New York

Kleine Dada Soirée, Theo Van Doesburg + Kurt Schwitters, 1922, lithograph, MoMA, New York

RealTime’s Found Reading feature provides you with links to insightful articles about the performing and media arts and arts politics.

In The New York Review of Books, the great (now retired) classical pianist, Alfred Brendel reports seeing six recent exhibitions, including performances, in Europe that celebrate the centenary of Dada. His incisive personal response sketches the history of the movement and the lives of its protagonists, paying tribute to artists, male and female, who challenged every kind of authority, above all, he argues, with laughter of a kind much needed now, in a period with a similarly pervasive sense of crisis.

Alfred Brendel’s “The Growing Charm of Dada,” The New York Review of Books, 27 Oct, 2016, is freely available on the NYRB website.

RealTime issue #135 Oct-Nov 2016

Nacera Belaza, Dalila Belaza, The Shout, Dance Territories

Nacera Belaza, Dalila Belaza, The Shout, Dance Territories

Presented as part of the Melbourne Festival and now in its third year, Dance Territories aims to emphasise the existence of an international contemporary dance neighbourhood. Curated by Dancehouse Artistic Director Angela Conquet, the double bill pairs an Australian artist with an international artist, and invites audiences to explore the possible correspondences and connections between them—whether aesthetic, ethical, philosophical or political.

This year the two artists are French-Algerian choreographer Nacera Belaza, currently based in Paris, and Berlin-based Indigenous Australian and British cross-disciplinary artist Sarah-Jane Norman. And the connection between them is a political one.

On the one hand we have Belaza’s The Shout (Le Cri), an enchanting piece of abstract minimalism that binds the audience in a series of gestural incantations. This is in many ways comparable to the work of other Francophone guests at Dancehouse in recent years: Eleonore Didier, Cindy Van Acker, Myriam Gourfink and Perrine Valli. All share a similar commitment to ritualistic repetition and the slow, often imperceptible development of a movement theme.

The River’s Children, Unsettling Suite, Sarah Jane Norman, Dance Territories

The River’s Children, Unsettling Suite, Sarah Jane Norman, Dance Territories

On the other hand, the work of Norman is slightly unusual programming for Dancehouse. Here we have three durational performance and installation pieces excerpted from a larger work, Unsettling Suite (2013), originally commissioned by Performance Space.

In The River’s Children (2013), Norman hand washes white items of clothing contributed by audience members in water sourced from the Murray River while a projector flashes fragmentary details of various documented massacres of Aboriginal people. In Take This, For It Is My Body (2010), audience members are offered a batch of scones containing a small amount of Norman’s blood. And in Heirloom (2013) a number of oriental Wedgwood Willow Pattern plates are appropriated for a new porcelain collection, again using Norman’s blood as a medium.

The blood scones are particularly effective. I came to the event thinking that the work might be over-determined. Isn’t this, I asked myself, one of those conceptual live art pieces where the actual performance is redundant? Won’t everyone’s response be more or less the same?

I was therefore surprised to discover, sitting at a table with a small group of other participants, how open the work is to multiple interpretations. A scenario, which had at first seemed like blunt symbolism, proved, in the presence of the scones, to be a radically ambivalent invitation.

Take This, For It Is My Body, Unsettling Suite, Sarah Jane Norman, Dance Territories

Take This, For It Is My Body, Unsettling Suite, Sarah Jane Norman, Dance Territories

Two audience members straightaway jumped on the scones, liberally applying jam and cream and eating with enthusiasm. Another explained that she thought the ensanguined bread was like a kind of Uluru: something to be respectfully observed from a distance. A fourth pleaded vegetarianism, and a fifth, perhaps taking the work’s messianic title literally, treated the proffered scone as if it were a communal wafer, placing only a small fragment on his tongue and declining the condiments. It was fascinating theatre.

Both artists offer strategies by which a history of resistance to colonialism can be evoked and extended through the body. Belaza says in her program notes that the shout represents the moment when the anchor does not let go. Her work is grounded in the rhythms of Gnawa, a kind of ancient African spiritual music based on the chant-like repetition of refrains and phrases. This is the tradition which disciplines—or anchors—her experience of an increasingly fragmented postmodern world.

In this sense, Norman’s work, too, is a kind of shout or scream: an attachment to specific places and specific rituals, and the ambiguous cry of the blood.

See the realtime tv video interview in which Sarah-Jane Norman guides Gail Priest through the Unsettling Suite installations and read Norman’s essay “Blood is such clever stuff,” in RealTime 111, the RealBlak edition.

Melbourne International Arts Festival & Dancehouse, Dance Territories: Border Lines: The River’s Children, Take This For It Is My Body and Heirloom, artist, performer Sarah-Jane Norman, performed with Carly Sheppard; The Shout, Nacera Belaza, performed with Dalila Belaza; Dancehouse, Melbourne, 14-16 Oct

RealTime issue #135 Oct-Nov 2016

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

Daisy Coyle, Project Xan

Daisy Coyle, Project Xan

“1981, Australia. A young girl goes to a party. She drinks enough alcohol to render herself unconscious. Throughout the night she is sexually violated by three young men. A year later at the subsequent trial, the judge accentuates her culpability, essentially laying the blame for the assault on her. The perpetrators receive little more than a ‘slap on the wrist’” (press release). Thirty-five years later, the adult Xan Fraser is to appear in Project Xan, a documentary performance which tells her story of trauma, “rape culture and victim blaming.” RealTime spoke with the production’s writer-director Hellie Turner about the outcome of her five-year collaboration with Xan.

 

Why did you initiate the project?

Purely as an exercise to try to investigate what would allow such a thing to occur in our society. I never wanted us to re-enact it. We treat Xan’s story through her own testimony, court transcripts, reportage on similar incidents at the time and very much embedded in current pop culture in articles and on social media. There’s a plethora [of material], a mosaic, I guess, to do with rape culture versus safe culture, ‘entitlement,’ lack of consent, victim blaming and ‘slut shaming.’ The list goes on. We touch on a lot but we’re not hammering the issue. We didn’t want it to come across as educational so much as getting people to be more mindful of their own contribution to this culture.

It was Xan’s treatment by the court that was additionally traumatic?

Hugely traumatic. She still cries. We’re tackling the way at the age of 12 she was treated by the judicial system and then by her community—well, by everyone in her world really. The court system really let her down very, very badly. We use the device of having her 12-year-old self appear as well. The testimony oscillates between the two—‘little Xan,’ as we call her, and Xan herself. She talks to herself, basically. Together they unpick what was going on in the courtroom.

How young is the actress who plays the 12-year-old Xan?

A 19-year-old, Daisy Coyle, who looks 12. We decided we’d use someone who was over 15 because there’s a lot of difficulty around working with younger performers, especially with this material, which is heavy.

Will the emotional weight of Xan’s suffering be felt?

I would think very heavily. I try not to call the rape an ‘incident’ by the way. We try to name it for what it is. Xan’s testimony describes strongly what she knows and feels about what happened that night. Then we’ve totally unpicked all the reasons this happened, how it was enabled.

How have you gone about the writing?

Xan has written her testimony. She’s an incredible woman who’s had a very successful life once she got across the detritus of the rape and the treatment [she received]. She’s very articulate and also very stage savvy. I’ve nipped-and-tucked her testimony just for stage-ease. I’ve touched very little and none of the facts except where it’s repetitive. It’s the same with the court transcripts. We’ve had to pick through those.

You’ve been working with David Williams. How would you describe your roles?

David is obviously the documentary theatre expert. I linked up with him back in 2012 when I did a residency with version 1.0. which is where this whole project was ignited. I asked David if he would be the consultant and he agreed. Then I wrote a script based on what we discovered in workshops—David and Xan would fly in to WA from Sydney. Then I took it all away to Varuna [The National Writers’ House, Blue Mountains, NSW] where I sat in a very dark room for two weeks and put the first draft together. We’re now at the 12th draft and, after being in rehearsal for the last two weeks, the script has become much more malleable and really enhanced by the work of the actors.

Why have you adopted a skating rink setting?

The night Xan was sexually assaulted, she should have gone skating. That decision changed her life. So we have the 12-year-old on roller skates for the entire play and we make use of the circular skating rink format.

I guess there’s a sense of freedom and fun in the skating?

Yes, it works well. It’s not a fun play by any means but we’re trying not to be heavy-handed, except where we absolutely need to be. Xan’s own testimony is very simply told. There’s no drama to it. She just tells her story. It still upsets her, you know, when she spends a whole day working towards delivering it.

Are there other performers?

Yes, two males [Marko Jovanovic and Nick Maclaine] and one other female actor [Siobhan Dow-Hall]. We needed a male perspective. I think if we did it with an all-female cast, people wouldn’t look at what we’re talking about—“Oh, it’s just new wave feminism.” We really got the men to come at it from a male perspective. There’s been a lot of discussion which has been really helpful.

Are they playing the villains in the narrative?

Neither gets to play a baddie all the time. In fact, we try not to be too black and white about good and bad. We’re just saying, this is what it was.

Let’s talk about the design.

We’re doing a minimalist documentary theatre thing using linoleum for the rink. It looks like granite so the whole effect is quite grey, like a courtroom, and with lovely old wooden chairs and a couple of boxes, and that’s it. We do have a jury comprising wig heads. Xan’s profession now is hairdressing, so, in probably one of the lighter moments of the play, the jury members have their hair done by a bunch of hairdressers.

Will you discuss the play and the issues it raises with the audience? People who see Project Xan might make disturbing connections between what’s portrayed in it and their own lives.

We are providing warnings about the content and contacts for people who need help. Within our group, working on Project Xan, everyone has been touched by it in some way.

……

The Royal Commission into institutional sexual abuse has prompted many victims to bravely testify against those who broke the trust of care. The justice system is also an institution—a complex one comprising police, lawyers, magistrates, judges and juries—which exercises its powers unevenly, sometimes abetting and perpetuating abuse and is even harder to challenge. As Hellie Turner says, arguing against public inertia, “Like war, assault has become wallpaper in our lives. It’s just there, it just happens, it’s inevitable. We become immune and that’s part of the problem” (press release).

PICA & jedda Productions: Project Xan, scriptwriter, director Hellie Turner; consultant, dramaturg: David Williams, performers Daisy Coyle, Siobhan Dow-Hall, Xan Fraser, Marko Jovanovic, Nick Maclaine, composer, sound design Ash Gibson Greig, lighting design Chris Donnelly, AV design, construction Nancy Jones; PICA, Perth, 8-19 Nov

RealTime issue #135 Oct-Nov 2016

Joe Cinque’s Consolation

Joe Cinque’s Consolation

The only pulse in Sotiris Dounoukos’ feature film debut, Joe Cinque’s Consolation, is the blue vein of freeway that courses through Canberra’s suburbs. Cinque was killed by his girlfriend, Anu Singh, in October 1997. Based around events brought to dramatic life in Helen Garner’s brilliant true-crime-memoir of the same title, the film depicts Canberra as a cultural and moral wasteland, a monstrosity of suburban ordinariness, where the streets are empty, heroin deals are done over the front fence with a neighbour and the best way to suicide is popular dinner party conversation for the law students at ANU.

Writer-director Dounoukos was a law student at the same time as Singh and he has chosen to fictionalise not the court case or the dramatic aftermath of the killing, but the lead-up to Cinque’s death. In the book, Garner wrestles with this period too, the seeming disinterest of all involved, the ambivalence of engagement: with a girl who would make a suicide pact, talk incessantly about bringing her boyfriend with her and buy heroin and Rohypnol to kill him. Others look on, trapped by—what exactly? Inertia? Disbelief? An inability to take an ethical position?

Joe Cinque’s Consolation

Joe Cinque’s Consolation

Much has been written about the bystander effect described by social psychologists Bibb Latané and John Darley who observed the reluctance of onlookers to become involved in a serious crime, with “the perceived diffusion of responsibility (onlookers are more likely to intervene if there are few or no other witnesses) and social influence (individuals in a group monitor the behaviour of those around them to determine how to act).” Although, in this case, the young people aren’t at the scene of Cinque’s death, there is still a sense of them as witnessing the immediate lead-up to it, while at the same time absolving themselves. Dounoukos brings us in to question our own ethical role as observers by framing things at a distance. The filmmaking is austere and removed with little access to the characters (a space Helen Garner had to fill) and the conversations are dull, everyday; there is no emotional depth or connection.

Garner is brutally honest in her analysis of Anu Singh. She reacts to her as a ‘type’: one many women know at a glance. Aggressive, sexual, predatory, impulsive, narcissistic, needy. Garner never really changes her initial view, despite the years of evidence she encounters in court. But she also sees that women fall in and out of that role, depending on their state of mind, their other relationships, especially friendships. And, then again, she hopes desperately for a conversation, some insight, that never comes— Singh won’t speak to her. Given this, Dounoukos has taken some risks with Singh’s characterisation. I kept waiting for that initial reaction to ‘type,’ that turning-away, but it didn’t happen.

Joe Cinque’s Consolation

Joe Cinque’s Consolation

Maggie Naouri’s portrayal of Anu Singh is surprising in its subtlety. She depicts a woman whose self-image is disintegrating as she fails at the things around her (study, lovers, friendship) in a blurry blend of drug use, body-loathing and mental illness, a woman desperately clinging to a notion of being ill in order to garner support; a woman whose loneliness is exemplified in a farewell party to people she barely knows. Above all, this is a woman who injects her boyfriend and watches him die slowly, over a weekend. Her friend, Madhavi Rao (also charged with murder and acquitted) is conspicuous only in her passivity, and actor Sacha Joseph and the writers seem to work around her to the point where she disappears (Garner says that even in the court room she seemed barely there). The film at no point tries to elicit sympathy for any of its characters. While Joe Cinque is portrayed by Jerome Meyer as guileless, the centre of a spinning compass, there is little tension in the build-up, perhaps because we all know the ending before the film begins.

The book was groundbreaking in Australian literature because, like Truman Capote and Janet Malcolm before her in the US, Garner dared challenge the negatives around writing nonfiction while exploring the symbiotic relationship between the writer and her subjects. The book’s release started a spate of exciting literary-true-crime by Chloe Hooper, Anna Krien, John Safran and Martin McKenzie-Murray, among others. Helen Garner had questions that couldn’t be answered. She wrote of the enormous gaps between the law and ethical decision-making, and the challenging spaces between the book she wanted to write and the one she had to accept. She wanted to be friends with Joe Cinque’s family. She had emotional needs that overrode her ability to make conclusions. And, in the end, all of that made the book a better one: all she could do was give Joe Cinque’s mother a voice, one denied in the courts.

Joe Cinque’s Consolation

Joe Cinque’s Consolation

It seems wrongheaded to call the film by the same title as the book. While Garner’s narrative has an immediacy and intimacy that makes it hard to forget, its stated aim to keep Joe Cinque’s memory alive, the film’s effect is the opposite: to push the characters away to somewhere out of reach, where lives are wasted and no-one seems to notice, or really care. Singh only got four years for killing her boyfriend (manslaughter, due to diminished responsibility), hardly a consolation. She is out and about, armed with a PhD —Offending Women: Towards a Greater Understanding of Female Criminality in Australia. Out of a perverse curiosity and need for closure of some sort, any sort, I searched for her on Facebook, imagining she’d like to be there. Her name came straight up with a poorly scanned profile pic, and her most recent post an image of a figure in fog at the far end of a bridge, with the lines, “Never be defined by your past. It was just a lesson, not a life sentence.” Something tells me this profile is too neat a fit, a fiction.

Like Garner, I’d like to pin Singh down, come to a greater understanding. The film seems content to sit with the lack of resolution, to settle for enervation and, perhaps, this is the only option left open. In recent interviews with Anu Singh, it appears clear, that despite it all, she—along with the friends who surrounded her at the time and the writers who’ve examined her in forensic detail since—can ultimately provide no answers.

Joe Cinque’s Consolation, director Sotiris Dounoukos, writers Sotiris Dounoukos, Matt Rubinstein, director of photography Simon Chapman, producers Sotiris Dounoukos, Matt Reader, Consolation Productions, 2016, 110mins

RealTime issue #135 Oct-Nov 2016

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

Gosia Wlodarczak, A Room Without A View (Extended)

Gosia Wlodarczak, A Room Without A View (Extended)

Standing amid the aftermath of Gosia Wlodarczak’s A Room Without A View (Extended), a three-week marathon of drawing that utterly transformed Fremantle Arts Centre’s Kathleen O’Connor Gallery, I couldn’t help but be reminded of a passage from Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus in which they linger on the figure of a child lost in the dark. They write:

“…a child in the dark, gripped with fear, comforts himself by singing under his breath. He walks and halts to his song. Lost, he takes shelter, or orients himself with his little song as best he can. The song is like a rough sketch of a calming and stabilising, calm and stable, center in the heart of chaos.”

Printed on the reverse side of this very page is a reproduction of Paul Klee’s Twittering Machine (1922), another sketchy composition, perhaps not unlike the one sung by the boy lost in the dark, taking place in a similarly lugubrious void and depicting a disconcerting bird-machine hybrid that sings some unknown alien song to a sky that both welcomes and threatens the viewer.

Gosia Wlodarczak, A Room Without A View (Extended)

The reason I was struck by a memory of Deleuze, Guattari and Klee when walking around Wlodarczak’s transformed space of manifold lines, fragments and partial figures was perhaps because her work reminded me of art’s capacity to function as a refrain—and, in a twofold sense, as a refusal and as a repeated line (as with a song). Against the void of sensory deprivation in which Wlodarczak has entombed herself—a space that was once synonymous with the isolation and deprivation of the mentally ill—a refrain has emerged, a repetition of lines that orient the viewer through a nexus of association and partial meaning, and that acts as a complaint against the stark impositions of institutions and their often bleak formality.

Wlodarczak’s work is a timely reminder of the sheer power of the most simple mark-making, as a means of situating oneself while traversing unfathomable silence or depth. Indeed, A Room Without A View (Extended) functions as a form of refusal opposing the injunction to be silent or to make sense in a manner policed and codified in advance. To draw out such a refrain might help one refrain from going mad—a strategy commodified today in the form of colouring books for the understandably anxious and disconcerted. Gosia Wlodarczak reminds us that, just as one can draw forth a song to mutate space, so too can mark-making serve to simply, and humbly, open up a calm centre in the midst of chaos.

See videos of the artist creating and discussing her work here.

Gosia Wlodarczak, A Room Without A View (Extended), in Many Happy Landings, a survey exhibition of the artist’s works; Fremantle Arts Centre, 23 Sept-12 Nov; endurance performance, 23 Sept-16 Oct

RealTime issue #135 Oct-Nov 2016

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

Goldstone

Goldstone

In Goldstone, a tense sequel to writer-director Ivan Sen’s widely admired thriller Mystery Road, Indigenous detective Jay Swan is sent to the mining town of Goldstone when a Chinese tourist is reported missing. For a surreally small town of scattered buildings it’s bursting with local government and corporate corruption, Chinese workers forced into prostitution and tense Aboriginal clan politics over land ownership. Though weary and reticent, Swan doggedly investigates, traverses vast landscapes, finds himself in a beautiful sacred waterway and, eventually, unravels the web that connects the town’s plentiful evils. Aaron Pedersen as Swan gives a powerful, largely wordless and richly expressive performance that conveys the weight of personal problems and the limits faced by an Aboriginal detective dealing with police bureaucracy and a young local white cop who could turn bad. RT

5 DVDs courtesy of Transmission Films.

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RealTime issue #135 Oct-Nov 2016

The things that pass, Ivo van Hove, Toneelgroep, Ruhrtrienniale 2016

The things that pass, Ivo van Hove, Toneelgroep, Ruhrtrienniale 2016

In an era of art festivals as vehicles of economy and gentrification, there is something irresistibly likable about Ruhrtriennale. Though the festival was seemingly conceived in that Richard Florida spirit, it is as far removed from the thin-veneered bling of art-for-tourism as the Ruhr is removed from, say, Singapore. Located in the west of Germany, Ruhr is one of the oldest industrial regions in all of Europe, once synonymous with coal, steel and heavy industry. The impetus for the triennial, which commenced 2002-2004, was in part to repurpose Ruhr’s industrial architectural heritage.

It is impossible to talk about the art without talking about the region, because it is rare that the festival location frames the art as thoroughly as it does here. Ruhr today is simultaneously rural and urban, industrial and post-industrial, post-future and pre-present. Despite the de-industrialisation that started in the 1960s, it still has a significant manufacturing base. A conurbation of small cities linked by Deutsche Bahn, interspersed with villages, factories, shipping terminals, open fields and workers’ suburbs, it is a hard-hatted landscape, more function than form. To quote Gerard Mortier, the Triennale’s first Artistic Director, it was clear that the visitors would not come for the Vienna Philharmonic. Instead, the festival endeavours to establish a dialogue between its complex architectural and social heritage and art, and in doing so, shed light on our time. The art is everywhere: in nature parks built atop former factories, in still-operating loading docks and in abandoned factories sitting in a field, as imposing as temples of an ancient civilisation. It is as if the entire European civilisation, its heritage and its future possibilities, refracts through a contemplative lens. The result is almost impossibly grounded. It is strange that we no longer expect that from art.

 

Urban Prayers, Björn Bicker, Ruhrtriennale 2016

Urban Prayers, Björn Bicker, Ruhrtriennale 2016

Björn Bicker, Urban Prayers Ruhr

Take Urban Prayers Ruhr, an earnest meditation on religion and multiculturalism. Each of the six performances took place in a different place of worship across the region, from the Lutheran church in Dinslaken-Lohberg to the Sri Kamadchi Ampal Temple in Hamm, the largest Hindu temple in Europe. Between musical pieces ranging from Palestrina’s Missa Papae Marcelli via The Battle of Jericho to traditional Jewish, Islamic and Serbian Orthodox liturgical songs, five diverse performers speak fragments of a post-dramatic text by German author Björn Bicker.

Bicker’s speakers form a chorus of concerned citizens, undifferentiated by dramatis personae, religious and moral positions, their voices washing indiscriminately over the singers’ bodies: a Babel situation. Topics covered: Praying, Helping, Paying, Marrying, but also Building, Dreaming, and that most faith-related everyday activity, Driving. “I dream of another world./ I don’t./ I don’t either./ We are not naïve. / We are political./ We’re not.” They list how they pray, how often, on a mat or sitting, what they wear, how big the shrine needs to be and whether someone will sell them the land for it. This cacophony of difference ranges from profound to trivial: “We’re thankful for satellite dishes.” Misunderstandings, conflict, hostility, acceptance, ignorance, fear, resistance, pacifism and evangelism, exist side by side without resolution, and yet the setting, the liturgical form of the delivery and its considerable length, have a cathartic effect of keeping diverse elements together until all tension collapses. Re-written by Bicker specifically for contemporary Ruhr, it is an ecumenical work of enormous sensitivity.

 

The things that pass, Ivo van Hove, Toneelgroep, Ruhrtrienniale 2016

The things that pass, Ivo van Hove, Toneelgroep, Ruhrtrienniale 2016

Toneelgroep Amsterdam, The things that pass

Ivo van Hove’s The things that pass is the second in the planned trilogy of dramatisations of novels by Dutch author Louis Couperus, a chronicler of the Hague middle class at the turn of the 20th century. A co-production between Toneelgroep Amsterdam and Toneelhuis, it premiered in the Maschinenhalle Zweckel, a castle-like edifice built in 1909 that used to supply the nearby mine with electricity and air. The imposing-cum-crumbling building serves to effectively highlight the themes of Couperus’ text: the weight of Protestant ethics, the weight of unexamined emotions, the weight of what we inherit.

The set is an enormous, dreamlike waiting room in which numerous members of two well-to-do Hague families sit and wait for older generations to die. A few things happen: the youngest two get married, visitors reveal past intrigues, there’s a honeymoon in Italy, money changes hands. But these are mere blips in the wait. Though the laws of inheritance divide them artificially into generations, apart from the newly-weds, everyone is already old, old and unhappy, lost in the kind of malaise that grows in insular families in which happiness is a skill forgotten many generations ago. The characters hold onto fantasies of salvation: inheritance to prop up their lives, Italian sunshine to restore their joie de vivre, revelations that will explain the subterranean tensions within the family, death as a release from guilt. Beneath the restraint of the Dutch middle class is a cauldron of inchoate, infantile, sexually charged emotion that can only find release by going berserk in the exotic South. There is, indeed, a murder in the family history, a crime of passion committed in the Dutch East Indies that has poisoned the bind between the two families. But neither its revelation, nor the eventual death of the cursed couple, offers escape.

 

Manifesto, Julian Rosefeldt

Manifesto, Julian Rosefeldt

Julian Rosefeldt, Manifesto

The stand-out work in Ruhrtriennale was Manifesto, a 13-channel video installation by Julian Rosefeldt, in which Cate Blanchett’s 13 personae deliver the most salient art manifestos of the 20th century. A news anchor explains conceptual art. An irritable punk musician voices The Strident Manifesto and calls for an electric chair for Chopin. A drunken hobo in the ruins of Berlin’s former US Cold War listening station rants against capitalism, as per the Situationist Manifesto. And a Wall Street broker, in a mellifluous voice, extols Futurism (“Our hearts know no tiredness!”).

Sometimes the setting reveals the historical urges beneath an art movement, such as with the Midwestern mid-century family that prays for pop art, a “political-erotic-mystical art.” Sometimes the tension is ironic: the worker in an industrial incinerator delivers praise to the functional aesthetic of Modernism. Sometimes, as when a primary school teacher delivers the Dogme Manifesto to her students (“Nothing is original.”) the effect is merely sardonic. Yet there is a larger purpose to the work: once every 10-minute cycle, 13 videos sync up in climactic, liturgically intoned unison, like a mass for all the hopes of art. As these quieten before the cycle restarts, a calm takes over: the news studio is cleaned, the homeless man walks away, the children play in the school playground without a worry in the world.

In its understated willingness to ask important questions, Ruhrtriennale is remarkable.

Urban Prayers Ruhr, concept, direction Björn Bicker, Malte Jelden, script Björn Bicker, direction Johan Simons, performers ChorWerk Ruhr, Bochum Synagoge, 14 Aug-18 Sept; The Things That Pass, direction Ivo van Hove, script Koen Tachelet after Louis Couperus, set design Jan Versweyveld, Maschinenhalle Zweckel, Gladbeck, 16 – 24 Sept; Manifesto, performer Cate Blanchett, director, production, author Julian Rosefeldt, Kraftzentrale, Landschaftspark Duisburg-Nord, Germany 13 Aug–24 Sept

Ruhrtriennale 2015-2017, Ruhr, Germany, 1 Jan-24 Sept

RealTime issue #135 Oct-Nov 2016

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

Ménage

Ménage

I’m wandering through a North Melbourne dusk with an envelope of cash, a phone number and a stranger. We’re off to meet a sex worker, and that’s about all we know. My companion is as clueless as I am and seems a little more trepidatious, but I can’t know that for sure. It’s an unusual experience to share with someone you’ve just met.

 

ménage

Ménage is a live art experience devised by the industrious UK/US performance maker Ryan Good, developed from interviews with sex workers in various countries. The work itself is startlingly brief—around 25 minutes in total—and site-specific. While the aura of secrecy that surrounds the actual content of the encounter should be preserved, it’s enough to say that the audience of two spend those minutes in conversation with a performer playing a female sex worker who is a composite of a number of women. The work doesn’t cohere to a single or continuous time-frame and the performance style is just as likely to leap into an unexpected place.

What surprised me most about this work wasn’t how much character and story manage to be packed into such a short time—an impressive volume, as it turns out. It wasn’t the particulars revealed about sex work as a career or the way they intersect with a worker’s private life, which are as mundane as most professions when examined without a moral posture. What left me most curious was how ineluctably gendered the encounter felt, in ways both provocative and troubling.

The early moments of the work present such an affable and empowered vision of sex work that I worried this was a romantic gloss about as textured as Pretty Woman. It immediately struck me that the fact that this work has been created by a man can’t be easily dismissed. Even though I came through the 90s era of education that laid waste to biological essentialism and deterministic models of gender, I can’t help but feel there is a necessary reading of ménage that takes sex into account.

Thankfully, the work does introduce greater nuance and variety of experience, also begging its witnesses to consider their own implication in the work. My positioning as one of two men, not known to each other, sharing this encounter will likely have provided a different unspooling of meaning than had we been mixed sex, or friends or related along any other set of axioms. The work’s grounding in real interviews might have afforded its maker more permission, too. But why then should I remain so unresolved about the fact that it is finally a man telling these stories?

 

Hyperspirit, Marcus McKenzie, Melbourne Fringe Festival

Hyperspirit, Marcus McKenzie, Melbourne Fringe Festival

Hyperspirit

Just as unexpected was the peculiar gendering of Marcus McKenzie’s masterful Hyperspirit, a work that a sizeable number of people I spoke to described as ‘masculine.’ It’s not that the work deals with masculinity per se, but that in so many ways it seems aligned with a range of particular aesthetic traditions that have been dominated by masculine voices. McKenzie plays the Hyperspiritualist, a riff on the familiar televisual spirit medium whose channelling of the afterlife is via a stream of constant talk. McKenzie doesn’t adhere to the performative style of John Edwards, however, instead adopting a delivery much closer to slam poetry and beat performance, spitting his unbroken rant and never missing an opportunity to rhyme or alliterate. The work is also firmly camped in the allusive maximalism of the postmodern author, sewing together genres including noir, the Gothic, Greek myth (Aristophanes’ The Frogs appears as a significant intertext) and fable. As much as his role communicates with the spirits of the dead, McKenzie here seems possessed by Ginsberg and Kerouac, the TV mentalists who cold-read https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cold_reading mourners and a pantheon of dark and declarative authors running from William Blake to Cormac McCarthy.

The work is a serious achievement and its performance is at times virtuosic. It’s the kind of technical wonderment that often left me cold, but in a way that’s inarguably about my taste rather than its maker’s ability. McKenzie demands attention, here and in the future.

 

Between Two Lines, Anna Naipantidis, Melbourne Fringe Festival

Between Two Lines, Anna Naipantidis, Melbourne Fringe Festival

Between Two Lines

There’s no shortage of authors behind Anna Nalpantidis’ Between Two Lines. This live art experiment in ‘bibliotherapy’ deploys the words of great writers to attempt to soothe the soul of its sole audience member. Situated in the window of an operating bookshop, the attendee is dressed in a white bathrobe, settled into a tub full of soft materials and guided through a series of intimate moments appealing to each of the senses. Passages from enduring written works are whispered, but are also part of the materials from which the installation is constructed.

The work is clearly in ASMR territory, aiming for the tingling ‘auto-sensory meridian response’ some say they experience when given particular sense triggers. ASMR videos are all over YouTube, where softly-spoken women (there are almost no male ASMR-tists) guide viewers through gentle, nurturing sequences of hair-brushing or paper rustling or other unassuming actions. There’s often something parental about the level of close attention and calming behaviour featured in these videos, and it’s something Nalpantidis reproduces well through the rich environment she has created.

It all unfolds in public, too, which adds an extra frisson. I was hearing the words of Carl Sagan murmured to me while passersby dropped their jaws or began giggling at the man in the bath sipping tea in a bookshop window. Some people came back for a second look.

While I still don’t subscribe to any biological essentialism, these three works did suggest that the conceit of an unsexed perspective is often one dependent on a certain privilege. Hyperspirit may not deliberately make a statement about gender but it exists within a space conventionally defined by a masculine voice that denies its own genderedness; ménage, conversely, offers an uneasy slippage between the sexed bodies of its subjects, performers and audience and the absent body of its maker. The relationships conjured by Between Two Lines seem more evocative of those between parent and child, and are just as dense with the audience member’s own history and corporeality. All are generous reminders that there’s no performance without at least one meatbag to watch it.

Melbourne Fringe: Lucy Tafler Presents, ménage, devisor Ryan Good, performers Claire Maria Fox, Jessica Stanley, secret location, North Melbourne, 16 Sept-1 Oct; Hyperspirit, creator, producer Marcus McKenzie, performers Marcus McKenzie, Maria Moles, Ryan Forbes, Arts House, 24 Sept-1 Oct; Between Two Lines, by Anna Nalpantidis, performer Elizabeth Brennan, Embiggen Books, Melbourne, 17 Sept-1 Oct

RealTime issue #135 Oct-Nov 2016

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

Thunderhead, Tina Havelock Stevens

Thunderhead, Tina Havelock Stevens

“I was on a road trip. We’d gone the wrong way, and we righted our passage and got onto Highway 54 in Texas,” says Tina Havelock Stevens, telling the story behind the creation of her latest work, Thunderhead, soon to show at Performance Space’s Liveworks Festival of Experimental Art at Sydney’s Carriageworks. The work comprises large-scale video projections of a supercell storm moving across a wide plain, backdropped by low rolling mountains.

The storm—characterised by a mesocyclone: a deep, rotating updraft—is viewed from the safety of a moving car and accompanied by a spacious guitar and drum soundscape. The work concerns one of the most fundamental relationships: that between humans and natural spaces of awe and wonder.

“I’d been with some friends looking at land art [in the US]. I saw James Turrell’s Road and Crater and Charles Ross’ Star Axis, which are all about space and sky. They’re all about scale, so I was probably in that state of scale. It was pretty emotional. We went to Marfa as well and saw works by Donald Judd. The way Thunderhead is cut—the way the [spatial] planes are flying in and out of the frame—has those aspects of scale and repetition.”

There are a number of loops within the video work, cut to the soundtrack, which Havelock Stevens created with her friend and collaborator Liberty Kerr. All up, the video will play to a 17-minute sound recording, on a 13 x 7 metre screen. A number of live performances of the soundtrack with Kerr are scheduled, in addition to the daily exhibiting of Thunderhead.

Rural Texas is one of the best places to really see the night sky, but Thunderhead is also visited by the presence of the Australian countryside. “I grew up on a farm and spent a lot of time wandering around on my own at twilight, one of the spookiest times of the day,” says Havelock Stevens. “Something about the death of the day used to make me a bit anxious as a child.”

Having seen and heard the components of Thunderhead in the artist’s kitchen, I can say that the effect of the work is the feeling of being picked up and dropped off somewhere remote and strange. At the work’s presentation for Dark Mofo at Hobart’s Museum of Old and New Art earlier this year, “one woman said it made her feel really safe.” Some stayed two hours, others stayed 45 minutes. “People responded to my reflection in the [car door] mirror. It’s my presence in the work, I’m in it, because I’m a self-shooter,” says Havelock Stevens, referring to her solo method of shooting video, as well as her other profession of documentary-making for SBS, ABC and commercial television. All of her work and process—from experimental documentaries to television work and immersive art experiences—are backgrounded by her studies in film and philosophy.

Thunderhead at Dark MOFO 2016

Thunderhead at Dark MOFO 2016

“The self-shooting is how I make all my docos. I love that intimacy. It’s about being inside of something, of making a spontaneous composition where you don’t know what the outcome will be. I landed on [the storm]. I stumbled on it. It’s not set-up at all.” This approach diverges from the land art Havelock Stevens encountered on her Texas trip. “I’m not digging into the landscape at all; I’m not fucking with it.” But she describes her work’s convergence with land art as slow art, something to spend a lot of time with, as a viewer.

The slow-unfolding experiential aspects of her work are as important to Havelock Stevens’ practice as the work’s final presentation and the audience’s encounters. “I never expect anything” from the artistic process, she says. “It’s about responding to your bodily and intellectual nous. The work is capturing a natural wonder. A particular time of day in a particular place that I just chanced upon.”

Rather than linking her work overtly to classic art-history themes like the sublime or contemporary issues of ecological preservation, what is on Havelock Stevens’ mind now is how to keep working between experimental documentary and a form of contemporary art that produces emotional responses: to keep opening up an affective space where an audience member can think and feel on their own terms.

“The longer you look at it, where your mind might go is to the destruction of nature. But my work is open to whatever people want to project onto it. It’s just creating a space that’s different from what you’ve just stepped out of. There’s an emotional space and an environmental space; the anthropocene is here—there’s no doubt you might wonder what type of storm you’re seeing.

“The storm is beautiful, it’s calm. It’s meditative isn’t it? I didn’t film this thinking of chaos and disturbance. I didn’t look at it and think ‘the end of the world is nigh,’ even though my work often, if you scratch it, has a very dark aspect. I just always shroud things in beauty.”

Tina Havelock Stevens

Tina Havelock Stevens

Performance Space, Liveworks Festival of Experimental Arts, Thunderhead, artist Tina Havelock Stevens, with musician Liberty Kerr, Carriageworks, Sydney, 2-5 Nov: see exhibition and performance times here.

RealTime issue #135 Oct-Nov 2016

© Lauren Carroll Harris; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Luke Campbell, Rite of Spring, Second Echo Ensemble

Luke Campbell, Rite of Spring, Second Echo Ensemble

Hobart’s inaugural Salamanca Moves dance festival demonstrates the ever-broadening definition of contemporary dance—a discipline that festival curator Kelly Drummond Cawthon describes as “suitable for any BODY and every BODY”. True to this philosophy, the ambitious and diverse 11-day program emphasises accessibility without sacrificing criticality, challenging traditional models through site-specific and participatory performances. Of the seven events I attended, only two took place wholly within a theatre; the rest shunned traditional performance spaces for the public realm, blurring the distinction between performer and audience.

 

Rite of Spring

Rite of Spring borrows the title of Igor Stravinsky’s famous 1913 ballet. While there are similar elements of ritual and pagan mysticism, this interpretation takes liberties with the narrative, score and performance style. The four-part performance—each part representing a season—starts off in the Peacock Theatre where we’re welcomed to our seats with requests to dance later. Although provided with a glass of wine on entry, none of us is quite ready to drop our inhibitions just yet. They then drop to the floor and weep when we say “no.” It’s a testament to the artists’ infectious enthusiasm that by the end of the performance (at 10pm on a cold Hobart night no less!), on instruction, the entire audience is jumping and spinning around St David’s Park.

Rite of Spring is a production by Second Echo Ensemble, an integrated performance group that includes people both with and without disability. Cawthon notes, “it’s not a service provider or a community project. It’s its own thing.” The performance itself is definitely “its own thing,” defying genres with its mix of seated, roaming and participatory moments for the audience. It includes a debaucherous feast of wine, fruit and chocolate in a fire-filled garden, giant insect-spotting through cardboard binoculars from a rotunda in St David’s Park, a procession up Salamanca Place with the company of giant insect-like performers on stilts, and a final celebratory shot of vodka (“nostrovia!”). Although we start in a theatre, the performance soon graduates to a nearby underground carpark where a winter wedding is celebrated with the firework-like popping of a bubblewrap wedding dress train echoing throughout. Now holding ceremonial sticks, we’re corralled into Salamanca Square on our journey to ‘Spring,’ tapping a steady beat to the sounds of the roaming double bass (much to the amusement of nearby restaurant patrons).

The music is largely provided by the group’s “musical provocateur,” Michael Fortescue on double bass with additional electronic tracks. It’s strongly rhythmic, capturing the energy and emotion of ritual celebrations and blind abandon. The Sage, played by Luke Campbell, brilliantly matches this energy, mesmerising in the way he almost convulses to the beat, recalling Alexei Sayle’s manic and infectious dance in his 1991 show ‘Itch.

 

The Stance, Liesel Zink and MADE

The Stance, Liesel Zink and MADE

The Stance

The Mature Artists Dance Experience (MADE) production of Brisbane artist Liesel Zink’s The Stance, also takes place in Salamanca Square, this time at its busiest, thanks to the Saturday market. The Stance is based on a poem about protest and politics by one of the group’s members, noting that protest is so often associated with young people (“being pushed and shoved is for the young”). It’s a subtle performance. The dancers are in everyday clothes and consequently blend into the crowds when not in formation. The ambient soundtrack is delivered through wireless headphones, and it’s the absence of surrounding sound—the cacophony of screaming children, squawking seagulls and coffee machines—that really narrows my focus on the dancers. That said, as with Rite of Spring, I’m hyperaware that the audience is as much the subject of the public’s gaze as the dancers.

Salamanca Square is an odd choice for a performance about possession, protest and justice when Parliament Lawns is only minutes away, particularly as the program claims The Stance is site-specific. The restaurant and bar-lined Salamanca Square is associated with tourists, consumption and drunken visits to the 24-hour bakery. It’s a largely uncontested space, a safe space. Parliament Lawns, on the other hand, is Hobart’s traditional location for protests. It represents democracy and power, and would surely better complement the struggle described in The Stance.

 

Liz Aggis, The English Channel

Liz Aggis, The English Channel

Liz Aggiss

Liz Aggiss’ two performances, Slap and Tickle and The English Channel, feature a frenetic melange of music hall, dance, performance art, film and stand up, delivered with a heavy dose of dark humour and absurdity. Each is a celebration of women, the female body and the ageing body, and the 63-year-old Aggiss (the headline act for Tasmania Performs’ Mature Moves program in the festival) is not afraid to flaunt hers. Of the two, Slap and Tickle is the more engaging show, and doesn’t seem forced. It’s unapologetically ‘dirty’ with a constant reel of gags about all things sexual and taboo. Aggiss produces coins and ping-pong balls from her undies and snakes from her bra, which sounds crass (and it is) but is delivered in such a way that the audience doesn’t even question why they’re laughing. Nor can her jokes be retold. At one point she exclaims, “I have things in my pants to be grateful for” before producing bunting printed with stylised penises. “Cocks plus bunting…I think that makes cunting! Lets party!” It’s a gag that made me writhe with laughter at the time, but cringe when recounting it. It’s all in the delivery. And that’s how Liz Aggiss manages to slip seamlessly from “Let’s party!” to dark observations about domestic abuse, cancer, ageism and gender inequality, and still have us laughing. The thematic whiplash is made deliberately uncomfortable.

In The English Channel, Aggiss plays medium to a number of figures from Kurt Joos (“and his Dance of Death”) to the first woman to swim the English Channel, Gertrude Ederle. The standout is Aggiss’ hammed-up evocation of Florence Foster Jenkins, the American socialite and notoriously bad amateur soprano. As with Slap and Tickle, her variety of cloaks and dresses are beautifully sculptural and constantly changing thanks to the various props hidden beneath the fabric (at one point a tall headdress is removed to reveal a human skull armature, at another a single antler is produced from beneath a cloak). Verbalising a common internal monologue, she repeatedly asks the audience, “Do I please you? Or do I please myself?” before stripping down to a pair of glittering bathers and gold heels, thereby defying the social conventions of modesty we expect of mature-aged women.

 

Deepspace, James Batchelor, Salamanca Moves

Deepspace, James Batchelor, Salamanca Moves

Deepspace

Deepspace is the result of a research project in the sub-Antarctic undertaken earlier this year. Choreographer and dancer James Batchelor and his artist collaborator Annalise Rees were part of an interdisciplinary team on the CSIRO Investigator, an Australian marine research boat. Deepspace takes place in one of Macquarie Point’s now empty industrial sheds. It’s a cavernous space that dwarfs the two performers. As if to make the point that everything’s relative, it’s divided by a line of tiny, model-like hanging sculptures. Batchelor and his fellow dancer, Amber McCartney, use this architecture strategically, deploying rope and other marine-related props as spatial mapping tools, ‘drawing’ with their bodies.

There are gestural allusions to Batchelor’s time on the ship: a flattened crawling along the ground to the sound of wind, the winding of rope and the manipulation of ball bearings over his back—as on a ship in rough water, the cargo shifts back and forth along his spine, threatening to spill over the edge. There’s an underlying theme of harmony to the entire performance, from the trust and balance demonstrated by the two dancers, to the hypnotic soundtrack designed by Morgan Hickinbotham.

 

Aeon

Aeon

Aeon

A couple of hours before Aeon commences, I’m texted the starting location of my “flock”—the play equipment situated on the Queen’s Domain. We’re handed a small portable speaker and a card, each with an image and phrase relating to birds, flight, evolution, dinosaurs, behaviour and/or breeding. My card has a picture of caged pigeons and a crooked sign reading “pigeons $2.00,” which is not as dismal as my neighbour’s picture of a used condom. “Everything is natural. Nothing is normal,” another participant reads out loud. We’re told that in a flock “everyone is a leader, everyone is a follower, so let’s stick together.” Cue collective awkwardness. Not moving, I look at the overhead birds for advice. They land on a nearby powerline before gracefully lifting off as a flock only seconds later. They’ve probably never heard the phrase ‘natural born leader.’ A few of our (human) flock edge towards overgrown railway lines. We follow. Someone starts balancing along one of the tracks, prompting five others to follow suit. Our flock already has leaders and followers.

There’s a distorted cooing from the speakers with a beat that’s gradually increasing in speed—a pace closer to a bird’s heartbeat than any human’s. We instinctively walk faster. As we near two other flocks near the Cenotaph, our group starts running in circles. One man takes his shirt off and a woman soon follows. Humans may demonstrate collective behaviour in many aspects of our lives, but we don’t flock like birds. In this instance, it’s evident that the awareness of social norms overrides any instinctual flocking, although it makes for an interesting social experiment. As we wander down to Macquarie Point to ‘roost’ in a shed, I can pick members of the Aeon performance. They’re the ones jumping around, hitting resonant objects, stepping off the footpaths and taking off their shirts. We almost need to be trained how to flock.

 

Salamanca Moves at 30,000 feet

The dance party finale reflects the festival’s dual focus. Salamanca Moves involves a number of international performers, but it is also very much rooted in the local community, as demonstrated by the small and low-key performances in this final event. It has a slightly twee airline theme with the male DJ dressed as a pilot and the female front of house staff designated as “air hostesses.” However, as one runs through pseudo-safety briefing, her movements robotic and familiar, it dawns on me how much dancing we inadvertently experience in everyday life. Everybody dances.

Read a RealTime interview with Salamanca Moves’ curator Kelly Drummond Cawthon.

Salamanca Art Centre, Salamanca Moves, Hobart, 20 Sept-1 Oct

RealTime issue #135 Oct-Nov 2016

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

Xiao Ke & Zi Han, SoftMachine

Xiao Ke & Zi Han, SoftMachine

Artist, documenter, provocateur and trickster Choy Ka Fai is fun to talk with. The Singaporean performance-maker, video artist and scientific experimenter tells me there’s plenty of humour in SoftMachine, his very serious four-part project about dance in Asia of which we, and many Asians too, may be unaware. Two of its performances are in this year’s Liveworks, one of them, SoftMachine: Rianto, appeared in the recent OzAsia Festival; the other is by Chinese artists XioaKe x ZiHan.

You can witness Choy’s enthusiasm in a TEDx demonstration of Prospectus for a Future Body in which he transfers movements from one body to another by means of electrical mapping of muscles, using himself to learn (or be conditioned) to reproduce a fragment of movement seen in a 1973 film of a performance by Butoh founder Tatsumi Hijikata. From such experimentation he’d like to produce a library of dance movement data. And there are wilder ambitions. He calls this work “pseudo-scientific” but there’s some real science in it and, above all, it’s playful. It pays to attend to the trickster (see Lewis Hyde’s wonderful Trickster Makes His World, 1995).

SoftMachine is also about the transmission of cultural knowledge, but without the shocks. It too shifts between formal investigation, a survey of Asian dance in this case, and an intuitive, artistic response. I spoke by Skype with Choy who was in London with SoftMachine at Sadlers Wells just before coming to Liveworks, asking him about the motivation for and the scope of the work and with a focus on XioaKe x ZiHan.

 

SoftMachine: dance spy

On a search to find out more about dance in Asia, Choy says he “inserted” himself into cities, seeking out work he hadn’t previously seen, not “underground”—he doesn’t like the word—but “a little underground.” He interviewed 88 artists in four countries: India, Japan, Indonesia and China. “Now, I call myself a contemporary dance spy of Asia.” The idea was to find in each an artist with whom he could establish a deep relationship in order to work together and possibly collaborate in performance. The initial medium was the interview.

“Through conversation you understand how open or generous our communication might be. I might like someone a lot and think their work is fantastic but we can’t really communicate. So in that sense there’s a lot of coincidence. [Finding an artist] is like the Butterfly Effect. When you know someone, they’ll recommend someone else.”

The result is a set of four discrete performances that entail the interplay of dance and documentary film and do honour to the familial, social and cultural contexts in which each of these idiosyncratic artists make their work.

“In each place it began with me trying to understand the ecology of what’s happening in the city through talking with some 20 people. Of course, it’s actually quite intuitive. When I saw Rianto, I could immediately could see it was very possible we could work together. For the Chinese piece, I actually had another artist in mind, much more established and of an older generation. But Xioa Ke and Zihan (who perform as XioaKe x ZiHan) are my age; so is the Japanese choreographer in SoftMachine, Yuya Tsukahara. I thought, this time maybe the work is about my peers. I had met them through an interview in Shanghai in, I think, 2013 and then half a year later after completing all the interviews I decided Xiao Ke would be the best choreographer to work with.”

Shanghai-based Xaio Ke trained in traditional Chinese dance as a child. In 2005 she was co-founder of the Niao ZuHe Physical Theater Company, winner of the 2006 Zurich Theater Spectacle. In 2007 she founded the UGLY Performing Art Center in Beijing. In 2011, with Zhou Zihan and Zhang Yuan, she co-founded the Can not Help Artists’ Collective, focusing on transboundary artforms and social issues. Her collaborator Zhou ZiHan is a sound artist and performer who began his career as a photographer and founded, in 2008, the independent art centre Canart for which he curated contemporary art exhibitions and performances. He and Xiao Ke, as XiaoKe x ZiHan, combine dance, photography, video, live art and installation.

Catch XiaoKe x ZiHan in conversation and in rehearsal here and performing the Tibetan folk song-cum-propaganda The Laundry Song.

Choy tells me, “The Chinese work in SoftMachine is one of the most ‘insecure’ pieces I’ve made. We became very good friends quite fast whereas with Yuya Tsukahara we’d been working together since 2009 in a different capacity. With Surjit Nongmeikapam and Rianto, the Indian and Indonesian artists, we’d had a two-month residency in Bangalore. So we had already established our friendship before we started to become colleagues. Rianto had an interesting story to tell and he has a very clear dance form. But these Chinese artists are multi-disciplinary, they do a lot of different things: live art, multimedia, social theatre, site-specific and durational performance… When I first saw their work, I thought they were doing what [was being done in live art] five to 10 years ago in London, but in a different context.”

Another reason for insecurity occurred when one of the artist’s close friends, says Choy, “was invited to ‘have tea’ at the Cultural Bureau of China, meaning the cultural police were watching him.” Others received similar invitations. There was a growing suspicion that there was a spy in Xioa Ke and Zhou Zihan’s network of friends. It was, Choy Ka Fai says, an unsettling month for the collaboration. It became an issue about the “the boundary of freedom which I’ve experienced a little as a Singaporean artist as a sense of self-censorship. So we turned this whole Shanghai experience into a performance.”

“On another level I was insecure,” he adds, “because I think in the Chinese work I gave away a lot of control as a director because we trust each other a lot and there’s a lot of not-misunderstanding, a lot of give and take. With these artists if I say, ‘please do this,’ they might not agree. If you’re a very good friend, you can do that and it’s not personal. It’s a really true collaboration in that sense. Conceptually, they are very clear what they want to do and can be quite eccentric as well. They travel a lot to Europe now. They brought with them two 60-year-old Chinese grandmothers who did a public dance—because after dinner people in China dance in public squares. They taught German grannies to do it in a little bit of participatory work. So I think XiaoKe x ZiHan really are, you could say ‘not focused’ because they’re trying to do so much.” (LAUGHS).

 

SoftMachine: Xiaoke x Zihan, Choy Ka Fai

SoftMachine: Xiaoke x Zihan, Choy Ka Fai

The artist as performer

I ask Choy about how he arrived at his fascination with dance, such that he would create a work on the scale of SoftMachine with its blend of conversation, process, performance and documentation.

“I started as a physical theatre practitioner when I was 18 and then I saw the performance group Dumbtype from Japan and decided I wanted to make art. In a way I’m always looking at the different extensions of the body in performance. What Dumbtype did in the 80s and 90s was amazing; in a way it was like total theatre. Everything comes together. Then I went on to study video art but continued making performance [he was an Associate Artistic Director of Singapore’s Theatreworks 2007-09 and had worked with Ong Keng Sen since 2004] and performed myself a little bit. In SoftMachine I appear in two of the pieces, but sadly these are not showing in Sydney. In the Indian piece I’m the investigator and also a pseudo-academic (shown here) who’s trying to teach an Indian how to perform Indian dance for a European audience.

“The Japanese piece, because Yuya Tsukahara and I knew each other for a long time, is the most physically demanding piece I’ve made in the last decade. It [involves] a form of contact improvisation. The premise for the piece was that I wanted to put myself in the shoes of someone who wants to become a member of his group Gonzo from Osaka. I ask Yuya to teach me and I interview him at the same time. But with Rianto it’s very clear that it’s possible for me to do anything on stage, even take away attention from him (LAUGHS). So that’s why I’m not onstage.”

Nor is he onstage with ZioaKe x Zihan, “We had a part where the three of us dance together—but then the dramaturg said, ‘it’s quite messy.’”

 

SoftMachine exhibition, Choy Ka Fai

SoftMachine exhibition, Choy Ka Fai

At the point of origin

I ask if, as in the other works in SoftMachine, there is a focus with XioaKe x ZiHan on the places they’ve grown up in and the audiences they perform to. “With all of the pieces I try to have it performed in the place of origin, the city or country the artists live in, before touring, to get a response because the work is so closely related to the environment and the society. With the Chinese piece there’s a lot of material about their everyday life in Shanghai and a little bit from their personal history. For instance, I didn’t know that Xiao Ke was a member of the Chinese Communist Party when she was at university. She studied journalism and so she had to be a member to be a journalist. Things like that surprised me. We didn’t get a license to perform publicly so we had a closed door event at the Shanghai Dramatic Centre during a festival.

“Through the interviews, one of the surprising findings came when I asked Chinese artists, ‘Who do you think is the artist that best represents Chinese contemporary dance?’ And they would say it’s Cloudgate from Taiwan. Because they think the Taiwanese took all of China’s museum artefacts to Taiwan, they always look to Cloudgate because it has evolved from Chinese dance and martial art forms. That too was quite surprising for me.”

Having toured SoftMachine performances in Asia and to Europe and Australia and staged an accompanying exhibition (showing in Liveworks), Choy Ka Fai hopes to make all the material available online. He has no immediate plans to add to SoftMachine but is tempted by Central Asia. A significant challenge, he says, is language. “In Indonesia I had to rely on the translator, who is a close friend, to find information [about choreographers]. It’s a problem but also the beauty of Asia. You see, there are things that you can’t really understand. In Indonesia in the interviews everyone was talking about ‘Rasa’ in contemporary dance and I asked so many people, ‘How do you define it? Is it a spirit or a presence?’ That’s one of the things I thought SoftMachine can do, to share knowledge.”

 

The Dance Doctor

I ask Choy Ka Fai about his work on dance in the neuroscience domain. He tells me, “There’s a lot about technology that interests me. I’ve been working on and off on it for almost two years now. Next year I’ll finally be pushing out Dance Clinic. The idea is very simple. There’s often a gap between what a choreographer writes about their dance work and what an audience sees. I wonder if this can be understood by analyzing choreographers’ brainwaves. I’m trying to be a dance doctor, using neuroscience and a pseudo-scientific device to tell you what your brain is really thinking. I call it ‘a life consultation.’ My Dance Clinic will tour the world collecting data and building an algorithm with which to create an AI choreographer.” A two-year residency at Tanzhaus NRW, Dusseldorf will further the project.

“In analyzing brainwaves I’m also interested in looking at whether the performer or dancer is present or absent (read an interview about this)—I’m very much inspired by Marina Abramovic’s performance The Artist is Present.”

I comment that the project appears to be half-serious. Choy thinks it’s more serious than that, but says, “I think it’s the position I want to take because, in terms of an art/science collaborations, when a scientist takes the lead it becomes an academic paper—like, 400 pages that I don’t understand. But when an artist takes the lead, a lot of the interesting science is lost because, at the end of the day, they want to put something beautiful on stage. So I’m trying to be in-between; it’s common sense to me, in the sense of public science.

I ask if Choy will be in Sydney for Liveworks. “Yes, I’ll be here throughout and I’ll be working at Critical Path on a documentary project for 2017 in Japan about Butoh called Unbearable Darkness. Next year I’ll be at Campbelltown Arts Centre as well.” An ongoing exchange of ideas with Choy Ka Fai could be invaluable for futhering the hitherto slow growth of a relationship between Australian and Asian dance that is both culturally informative and experimentally minded.

Choy Ka Fai at SoftMachine exhibition InPulsTanz 2015

Choy Ka Fai at SoftMachine exhibition InPulsTanz 2015

Read Ben Brooker’s review of SoftMachine: Rianto.

Performance Space, Liveworks Festival of Experimental Art: Choy Ka Fai, SoftMachine: Rianto; SoftMachine: XioaKe x ZiHan; Carriageworks, Sydney, both works 27-30 Oct

RealTime issue #135 Oct-Nov 2016

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

Pond Battery, Fluctuations of Microworlds, 2016, Rasa Smite & Raitis Smits

Pond Battery, Fluctuations of Microworlds, 2016, Rasa Smite & Raitis Smits

Stepping into the dimmed room it takes a while for your eyes to adjust to the details. At first there doessn’t seem to be much here: a simple stage set at the harbour’s edge of a small city by the sea. Turnton, an imaginary town from a possible future, is brought to life by Austria-based Time’s Up over a two-year process of futuring and scenario building. Only a fraction of that work is manifest here at the RIXC Gallery for the Open Fields festival, but lingering on this fictional harbourside slowly reveals incredibly detailed fragments of this extrapolated world, drawing you into the constraints and possibilities the work projects. The world outside the gallery is repositioned as an historical exhibit in the Turnton Museum, titled Europe 2006-2026.

The ‘energy descent’ future portrayed is one where we didn’t act in time. Current damage to the oceans is taken to some of its worst conclusions. But we also see resilience and new social formations that have sprung up in response. Outside the harbourmaster’s office, jobs are displayed offering opportunities to travel, by sail boat or overland. The bees are gone. Equipment belonging to a professional pollinator lies nearby, in the basket of a research balloon. Signposts point us towards the Radical Recycling Headquarters and the New Neighbours Integration Bureau which is celebrating 20 years of welcoming displaced people to the community.

Posters, signage and a local paper quietly weave together a back story of social formations and institutions that have emerged to support the changes that have been necessary. The algal toxicity of the water is registered on a sign reminiscent of a fire warning indicator. But there is remediation work afoot, just out of sight at a kelp farm, and the local bar (what harbourside would be complete without a shady watering hole?) serves snacks based mostly on seaweed and jellyfish. I was tempted by a plate of crispy seaweed on the menu but the gallery closed and I had to step back into the museum of the present where the decisions leading to that possible future were still being made.

Back in Riga in 2016 I head over to the Open Fields exhibition and conference in the Latvian National Library, where I find several more works that mix speculative fictions with scientific data and practices to reflect on the present and the possible.

Artifacts from Open Care, 2016, Erich Berger, Mari Keto

Artifacts from Open Care, 2016, Erich Berger, Mari Keto

In Open Care by Erich Berger (FI/AT) and Mari Keto (DK/FI), a display case of artifacts proposes a social thought experiment: what if nuclear waste were a very personal responsibility? It’s an imaginary system for distributed nuclear waste storage which implicates us intimately in a much longer swathe of the future than most of us can imagine easily. The waste is encapsulated in steel pellets mounted in a bronze disk. An electroscope, gold leaf, an electrostatic rod and fur to charge it are provided along with instructions for a ritual to be conducted periodically, generation to generation, to ascertain whether the waste of which you are custodian has become safe “or if you and your descendants need to continue to care about it.” Rendering the huge timescale of radioactive decay into more meaningful units of lifetimes opens the question of collective care from a fresh
perspective.

Shifting from these vast timescales to the fluctuations of the very tiny, Pond Battery by RIXC’s Directors, Latvians Rasa Smite and Raitis Smits, builds on a long period of working with bioelectricity and microbial fuel cells to bring the murky depths of electrogenic microbial pond life into our perceptual range using a mix of timelapse video, sonified electrical signal and an object that physically traces fluctuations in the microbes’ electrical output over seven months as a series of peaks and troughs. Through this indexing of the activity of these tiny organisms into a relief reminiscent of the varied rings of a tree, the microscopic is projected into a much more expansive timescale and the normally imperceptible activity in the pond seems to be both sped up and slowed down for us to see.

In a more conventional division of labour, scientists tend to produce data and artists are often involved in making meaning. One of the directions taken in this festival seems to be to stir up those delineations and explore overlaps, differences and collaborations in how art and science practitioners conduct research, produce knowledge and frame the stories data can tell.

Bio-scientist turned artist, Raphael Kim (UK) distinguishes the goals of artist biohackers from those of corporate bioscientists in several ways including a focus on implications versus applications, with an interest in better questions over answers and a process of enquiry driven by a hands-on approach. In his project Microbial Money, four classically composed and meticulously staged photographic scenarios draw us into a fiction combining the accoutrements of corporate finance with the apparatus of biotech to pose questions about a future of money in which microbes execute rapid decisions on the trading floor and cycles of boom and bust are tied to genetic markers in fluctuating microbial populations.

For his ultra low-voltage survival kit, Mindaugas Gapševi?ius (LT/DE) directly names bacteria as his collaborators in making paper out of dried Kombucha scoby (a mix of cultures of bacteria and yeast) in the kits laid out in his Introduction to Post-human Aesthetics.

If money and paper seem to be quite human-centred byproducts of microbial activity, Laura Beloff and Malena Klaus’s Fly Printer-Extended [Laura Beloff (FI/DK) in collaboration with Malena Klaus (DE/DK)] explores a grey area between living systems and informatic processes not controlled by, or purposed to, human agency. A community of fruit flies dining on a diet laced with printer ink gradually ‘print’ images around their enclosure and onto a square of paper under the gaze of a trained machine vision device. The flies can’t be controlled to print anything in particular and the vision machine’s algorithm can’t stop over-interpreting the ‘noise’ of their distributed dots as meaningful visual data. As I peer into the disarray of fine grainy speckling produced by a small colony of fruitfly over several hours, the AI is literally joining the dots to seek out an interpretation of these cross-hatched constellations. Unlike in the perception of human stargazers, images here are not formed in integers, but probabilities. At that moment what the machine sees is something that is “3.5% Space Shuttle” and I wonder if it is looking at a fruitfly.

PSX Consultancy, Cyclamen Pollinator, 2014, Pei-Yin Lin (TW), Špela Petri? (SI)

PSX Consultancy, Cyclamen Pollinator, 2014, Pei-Yin Lin (TW), Špela Petri? (SI)

With a more tongue in cheek approach, PSX Consultancy [Pei-Ying Lin (TW), Špela Petri? (SI), Dimitrios Stamatis (GR), Jasmina Weiss (SI] takes a playful look at genuine reproductive challenges faced by several species of plants for various reasons (eg specialised breeding of them by humans or the extinction of pollinator species). PSX works with a user-centred design methodology to understand the needs of their vegetal clients. The aquired data is reworked as delicate printed objects, specialised sex toys for plants.

In Hue Dichotomies: Two Meadows, Ellie Irons (US), on the other hand, chooses to work with plants that are less domesticated and proposes that the urban weeds with which she makes paint pigments are a form of “vegetative resistance.” These contribute valuable greenery to marginal urban spaces through a process of rapid adaptation.

Like our personal microbial landscapes, many weeds have continually co-evolved with us. Perhaps it is these intimate relationships with the microbes, insects and plants near us that can bring some of the daunting data of our contemporary environmental challenges within our grasp through narratives that place human involvement in complex systems at a scale we can perceive.

Visit the festival site for artist biographies and information about other works exhibited.

Open Fields RIXC Art and Science Festival, RIXC, Riga, Latvia, 28-1 Oct

RealTime issue #135 Oct-Nov 2016

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

SoftMachine: Rianto, OzAsia 2016

SoftMachine: Rianto, OzAsia 2016

Through varied processes of deconstructing and ‘queering’ traditional forms of performance and recreation, two multidisciplinary works in this year’s OzAsia Festival, Bunny and SoftMachine: Rianto, challenged audiences, opening up questions of participation, spectatorship and authenticity. In doing so, they reflected well on Artistic Director Joseph Mitchell’s desire to reshape the Festival, now in its 10th year, as a showcase of the formal variety and conceptual daring of contemporary performance throughout the Asian region. A third work, the double bill Split Flow and Holistic Strata, confronted in a different way, intense displays of light and sound unsettlingly dissolving their lone human subjects and threatening audience members with sensory overload.

 

Luke George, Daniel Kok, Bunny, OzAsia 2016

Luke George, Daniel Kok, Bunny, OzAsia 2016

Bunny

In rope bondage, “rigger” is a name given to the person who does the tying; “bunny” refers to the one being tied. Conventionally, a submissive woman assumes the bunny role, a dominant heterosexual man that of the rigger. The conceit of Bunny, a collaboration between Melbourne-based choreographer and performer Luke George and Singaporean dancer and researcher Daniel Kok, hinges on the question of what happens when performers and audience members alike are all cast as potential bunnies.

The gendered nature of bondage’s traditional power relations has already been subverted by the time the audience enters the space, which has been configured in the round, like a luridly coloured boxing ring, with cushions and bar stools for us to sit on. A near-naked Kok, in rope harness and head cage, is horizontally suspended from the ceiling, several feet above the floor, while George, sporting long, rainbow-coloured braids and dressed in an open pink robe, ties a few supplementary knots and sets his partner slowly spinning. In his gentle way, George instructs us to keep Kok turning and, one by one, we dutifully comply, making us complicit from the outset, with no stated consent, in his domination.

The ropes have an aestheticising effect on Kok’s muscular body, but they also turn it into an object, uncannily recalling the sight of a hogtied animal awaiting transport or slaughter. Conversely, the rope-bound objects that litter the stage—a vacuum cleaner, a fire extinguisher, a pot plant—seem imbued with a kind of subjectivity that defies their inanimateness, emphasised when Kok, after his release with the assistance of a member of the audience, activates the fire extinguisher and, hilariously, slow wrestles the switched-on vacuum cleaner.

There are many changes of pace throughout the performance, moments when the work’s default meditativeness is violently interrupted by a loud burst of pop music or thrash metal. A tension is created between these two states and intensified by George regularly selecting random audience members who are prompted to tie him up with the futomomo leg binding tie common in Japanese rope bondage. It forces him to crawl around the floor for much of the time. Alternatively, participants are directed to hit Kok on the buttocks with a strap or submit themselves to an increasingly arduous regime of rope binding.

An elderly man has his legs and arms tied where he sits and is left like that for the remainder of the performance. To ripples of uncomfortable, thank-god-it’s-not-me laughter, a woman is made to lie down, her head propped up on a pillow, as she is bound at the wrists and ankles and has her purse riffled through, its contents carefully set out on the floor by Kok as though for forensic examination. In the work’s erotically charged climax, a blindfolded young man is tightly bound and strung up as Kok scales the lighting rig, sweat dripping onto the stage from head and body, an electrifying live recording of Jimi Hendrix’s Voodoo Chile reverberating around the space.

Bracingly transgressive, Bunny poses many questions around consent, privacy, trust, power and collective responsibility and moral agency. Nevertheless, its atmosphere is predominately a safe one that, even as the work slowly breaks down conventional social and theatrical boundaries, momentarily binds together everybody present—performer, participant, observer—in ways that can’t be seen.

 

SoftMachine: Rianto, OzAsia 2016

SoftMachine: Rianto, OzAsia 2016

SoftMachine: Rianto

Since 2012, Singaporean artist and performance maker Choy Ka Fai has travelled extensively throughout Asia to research and interview nearly 100 dancers and choreographers. The project, named after William Burroughs’ novel The Soft Machine (1961) which so christens the human body, is intended to convey the richness of contemporary dance practice in Asia through a series of documentary performance works. To date, the series has taken in India’s Surjit Nongmeikapam, China’s Xiao Ke x Zi Han (soon to appear in Performance Space’s Liveworks in Sydney), Japan’s Yuya Tsukahara, and Indonesia’s Rianto (also in Liveworks), whose practice spans folk and classical Javanese dance, the Lengger tradition of Banyumas, Central Java, in which men dance as women, and the contemporary styles of Rianto’s current home city, Tokyo. Each work provides an intimate portrait of its subject, deepening our understanding of their divergent lives and choreographic processes through the interspersing of live dance sequences with film excerpts featuring interviews and footage of places where the artists live or grew up.

In mask and traditional dress—hair bun, torso wrap, elaborate jewellery and makeup—Rianto begins his iteration of SoftMachine with a seductive Lengger dance, wrists and ankles astonishingly supple, neck loose and elongated. This, in East Javanese mythology, is Sekartaji, separated lover of the prince Panji. The dance is accompanied by recorded gamelan with its evocative palette of chiming metallophones and low, insistent hand drums.

Since this is a documentary work, however, the spell is promptly broken by Rianto stepping out of character to speak directly to the audience. He outlines the Lengger tradition and Panji story—though with a disarming irreverence that, I learn as the night progresses, typifies his personality—before completing the other half of the dance in which, having swapped masks, Rianto embodies the warlike prince.

The transformation is remarkable, and will happen again before the night is out as Rianto shifts from traditional to contemporary forms of dance, blurring feminine and masculine choreographic modes with hard-won ease. The work more broadly de-emphasises such dichotomies too, even suggesting that Rianto’s interpretation of Lengger is ‘impure,’ that folk dance, while it continues centuries-old performance traditions, is not fixed in time.

 

Hiroaki Umeda, Split Flow Holistic Strata

Hiroaki Umeda, Split Flow Holistic Strata

Split Flow and Holistic Strata

Like Japanese composer and visual artist Ryoji Ikeda’s Superposition, which featured in last year’s OzAsia Festival, Hiroaki Umeda’s Split Flow and Holistic Strata are rooted in installation practice and make the transition from art space to stage via a maximalised aural and visual design. Umeda’s two short works, which run together as a double bill with a brief intermission, are accompanied by Sequential Movement, an exhibition in the Adelaide Festival Centre’s Artspace Gallery. The exhibition, which also features three video works by Japanese director and choreographer Mikuni Yanaihara, includes two pieces that complement Umeda’s work in the main program: the multi-monitor video panel kinesis #1, and the room-sized installation which shares the name Holistic Strata and reproduces its dizzying choreography of free-moving high-speed pixels as an immersive experience for the audience.

Split Flow, derived from a 2011 light installation of the same name, deploys bursts of strobing and high luminescence lasers—in red, blue and green, shading the work in the manner of a movie seen through 3D glasses—to deconstruct the dancer’s body (Umeda confined to a small square of white light centre stage) into a rapidly shifting series of lines and abstract shapes. Each burst is accompanied by mixed-frequency digital sounds, some vexingly high, others locating themselves in our chests in big, bassy rumbles. Umeda’s choreographic vocabulary, meanwhile, is twitchy and violent, an accumulation of small, pointed gestures that hold our focus even as the work’s design elements assault his body, and ours.

In contrast, Holistic Strata frames the dancer’s presence as a still point. Here, Umeda’s body moves less frenziedly, almost sinuously, refracting the vast constellations of pixels—scrolling star fields and heaving galaxies, transient shapes like geysers and tornadoes—that ebb and flow around it. Eruptions of pink noise, precisely synchronised to the moving pixels, prove unsettling, as do the big data-like visualisations, impossibly dense with millions of individual points of light, that periodically fill the cyclorama. Even allowing for the distance lent by the size and shape of the Playhouse stage, Holistic Strata is a memorable sensory event both revealed and felt through the body.

2016 OzAsia Festival: Bunny, creation, performance Luke George, Daniel Kok, Nexus Arts, 23-24 Sept; SoftMachine: Rianto, concept, direction Choy Ka Fai, performance, choreography Rianto, Space Theatre, 24-25 Sept; Split Flow and Holistic Strata, choreographer, dancer Hiroaki Umeda, sound, lighting design S20, Dunstan Playhouse, 27-28 Sep; Sequential Movement, Hiroaki Umeda, Mikini Yanaihara, Artspace Gallery, Adelaide Festival Centre, 9 Sept-2 Oct.

RealTime issue #135 Oct-Nov 2016

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

Ever Blossoming Life—A whole year per hour, Gold (2016), teamLab

Ever Blossoming Life—A whole year per hour, Gold (2016), teamLab

Two radically different works exemplified the spirit and high calibre of OzAsia 2016: Two Dogs from China and Ever Blossoming Life II by Japan’s teamLab, witnessed alongside other works in the festival’s weather-turbulent final days. Two Dogs’ exuberant Chinese crosstalk-cum-Le Coq-style clowning, replete with raw vaudevillian vigour, is scripted but frequently improvised. Ever Blossoming Life II—A whole year per hour, Gold (2016) and its companion digital screen work, Cold Life (2014), are sublimely contemplative creations in which worlds silently grow, flourish and pass in intricate seasonal detail.

 

teamLab, Ever Blossoming Life II and Cold Life

As Chris Reid writes in his response to teamLab at the Art Gallery of South Australia, Ever Blossoming Life II and Cold Life simultaneously evoke nature and its idiosyncratic representation in Japanese art, the latter generously represented in the AGSA’s contextual staging with its glorious folding screen and numerous exquisite prints, paintings and ceramics. As in ‘classical’ Chinese or Japanese painting or floral art, a tree [a gnarled root in Ever Blossoming Life II and pine branches in Cold Life] is both the artist’s subject and the foundation for growth.

Installation view, Ever Blossoming Life, teamLab

Installation view, Ever Blossoming Life, teamLab

In Cold Life the branch first appears as a floating tubular digital grid, waiting to be filled in. As it assumes texture, it multiplies in liquidy calligraphic swipes, forming a rotating three-dimensional shape that suggests the Japanese character for ‘life’ (a calligrapher, Sisyu, collaborated on the project]. A Moon materialises, small branches reach out, light snow falls, pink buds appear, butterflies and blossoms—white, pink, yellow, blue—pine needles and dense, furry fronds, the whole thick with teeming life. But this silent work is entirely ghostly, every branch and flower transparent and devoid of the buzz of Spring and Summer; it’s beautiful, but emphatically digital; it is “cold life,” but wonderful nonetheless; in its reductiveness, art intensifies our focus. [The room notes cite an ancient Chinese credo that inspired Japanese artists: “Painting is silent poetry.”]

The vertical screen, the hovering Moon, the calligraphic form, the acute observation of nature, link the work explicitly to several strands of Japanese art, to which are added contemporary graphic and comic book art and animation, which allow Cold Life a visual intensity that delightfully borders on kitsch without surrendering to it.

You can watch all seven minutes of Cold Life on teamLab’s Vimeo channel which alternates between showing full vertical images and welcome close-ups of the work’s detail.

The close-up is an issue when it comes to viewing Ever Blossoming Life II. Its four vertical columns make one, wide horizontal screen, evoking an actual room screen with its background of softly burnished, sometimes highlighted, gold leaf squares. A gnarled, bared root rests diagonally across it. Unlike its Cold Life counterpart, the root is already formed, but, similarly, it’s what springs from this still life which is transformative—from woody nooks tiny clusters of fungi tendril out into twigs, leaves and blossoms, their petals scattering oceanically. This and green growth altogether mask the root and then bare it as the seasons pass in an hour, and never in the same way—as in nature—thanks to a generative computer algorithm developed by teamLab. Surprisingly for a digital artwork, I found myself moving, as if before a painting, to and fro from the screen, eager to tell all too casual bypassers, “you should see this!” before slipping back into contemplation. Despite the busyness of its concentrated portrayal of emergent life (and, implicitly, digital intelligence), Ever Blossoming Life II yields a sense of the essence of nature which it shares with the works from past centuries that surround it.

You can see excerpts from Blossoming Life II full-screen and in close-up here and here. Better still, if you’re in Adelaide you can see Blossoming Life II and Cold Life and the kinds of classical works that inspired these digital creations until 15 January, 2017. The room notes, for the cost of a donation, are well worth purchasing.

 

Two Dogs, OzAsia 2016

Two Dogs, OzAsia 2016

Two Dogs

On a sparsely set stage—two musicians on our left. Upstage are two manipulable cloth drops (one expressionistically splattered with paint, the other depicting two large, abstracted, non-gendered dancing figures]. To our right are cardboard model houses and oil drums. Two chairs sit forestage. Heralded by heavy metal chord-slashing, Wang Cai (Liu Xiaoye) and Lai Fu (Yin Yang) erupt onto the stage, declaring themselves “two peas in a pod,” “two rising stars” and “both test tube babies.” These “dogs” of the play’s title are rural innocents, men with occasional, very funny canine-like characteristics, no skills, but with big egos and eager to work in the big smoke, just two of the millions moving to China’s proliferating big cities.

When they arrive, they’re improbably employed as security guards, part of the play’s satirical swipe at the building industry, specifically targeting the gap between the luxurious promise of advertised plans and the absence of actual product. Wang Cai ends up in prison where he is frequently beaten but works his way up to the status of “top dog.” The recurrent beatings reported in the play are re-enacted solo, virtuosically and at great length by the victim, much to audience’s unlimited delight.

In the play’s funniest scene, Wang Cai contracts appendicitis. Together with Lai Fu playing the surgeon, they hilariously re-enact the negotiations over fees which persist right through the mimed operation. There’s the $880 fee model and the $8,800 alternative. The former only works with frequent additions (anaesthetic etc) until the total is pretty much $8,800—which includes removal of a forgotten clamp and, finally, the appendix. “But what did you take out?” “The small intestine.” “Appendix and small intestine! What a bargain!” Clearly Chinese state capitalism is little different from our own when it comes to health.

There is little else indicative of political satire. Other targets are TV talent quests (the pair lose in one), popular singers (funny without ever having actually heard them) and possibly much else that non-Mandarin-speaking audiences cannot grasp. Although Two Dogs is scripted and surtitled (not always convincingly), a great deal of the play is improvised. Sometimes meaning is clear, often not, but you know the narrative will resume as Wang Cai and Lai Fu increasingly care for and recognise their need for each other (the play’s ‘brother’ theme is neatly woven throughout). This mutuality is strongly expressed through the Chinese “crosstalk” form, the improvisations which have the pair working at competitive white heat and sometimes undone by each other’s brilliance, stand-up passages and a mutual facility for mime and slapstick humour.

Playwright and director Meng Jinghui has created a hybrid work which at once displays the talents of his wonderful performers—often in excess of his script—and works as a standalone social document. Sharing it with a largely Chinese-Australian audience in Adelaide’s elderly Her Majesty’s, where I sat as a child in the gods in the 1950s giddily gazing down at the heads of the Tintookies’ puppets and wondering what on Earth I was seeing, a different kind of vertigo grabbed me, the not unpleasurable one of being swept up in an experience at once culturally familiar and yet quite alien, requiring patience and openness for which I felt deeply rewarded.

OzAsia Festival 2016: Ever Blossoming Life, Art Gallery of SA, 17 Sept 2016-15 Jan 2017; Two Dogs, writer, director Meng Jinghui, Her Majesty’s, 29 Sept-1 Oct

RealTime issue #135 Oct-Nov 2016

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

God Bless Baseball, OzAsia 2016

God Bless Baseball, OzAsia 2016

“Ozasia is on fire!,” we announced enthusiastically in our 28 September E-dition, unaware that within several hours South Australia would be hit by the massive storm that took out the state’s power and flooded suburbs and towns north of the city. Shows were postponed, the festival’s food fair closed, attendees of the AAPPC conference were turned out of their hotel rooms into safe places and given blankets. We flew smoothly into a fierce headwind the next day to find that State Premier Jay Weatherill, anticipating a repeat storm that evening, had effectively shut down the city. We settled for SA garfish and oysters at Paul’s (the last of Gouger Street’s once thriving fish café scene] and an early night, sustained by a robust McLaren Vale tempranillo as the weather raged. Against the odds, OzAsia did not disappoint over the next two days as skies cleared, nor on the third, when rain forced The King of Ghosts out of the park into the far more comfortable surrounds of the Festival Theatre.

 

Rehearsal, King of Ghosts, OzAsia 2016

Rehearsal, King of Ghosts, OzAsia 2016

King of Ghosts

It proved an ideal venue for this shortened version of Satyajit Ray’s 1969 black and white fantasy comedy Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne (winner of the Adelaide Film Festival Silver Cross in the same year], screened to the lustrous live accompaniment provided by its composers—British sarod virtuoso Soumik Datta, Irish percussionist Cormac Byrne and Austrian conductor Johannes Berauer—and string and wind players from the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra. The score replaces Ray’s original instrumentation (he wrote, directed and composed] but remains true to its spirit. It also supplants the soundtrack, rendering the film and its characters silent, giving them instead new voices alongside the film’s subtitles. In the opening forest scene where Goopy (Tapen Chatterjee) and Bagha (Rabi Ghosh) encounter a tiger, the rustling of strings and winds conjures breezes, leaves and a cricket. When Goopy sings (voiced by Anup Kumar Ghoshal in the original], we hear the sarod soar with sweet passion. Percussion provides not only propulsion but many of the effects—in synch with onscreen drumming, water dripping onto a drum skin, a spear repeatedly plunged into a dummy king.

Leaving aside the source film’s first 20 minutes (in which Goopy and Bagha are revealed to be very bad musicians), The King of Ghosts takes us almost immediately to the famed ghost dance sequence, an astonishing five minutes of swirling figures (warriors, 18th century Europeans, upper caste power brokers and commoners, all of whom turn on and kill each other) shot in intense black and white, negatives and calculated blurring. Sarod, drums and orchestra match the fury and the precision of the accelerating
dance. The King of Ghosts appears and grants the duo’s wishes for boundless food and clothing and slippers that will fly them wherever they want. The are also granted the ability to please with their music, which takes them to a music competition (in a superbly designed music room and with hilariously juxtaposed musical styles), which, with their unsophisticated fare, the pair win, becoming court musicians for a king and his brother—a king in another realm, whom they will eventually rescue from the designs of an evil courtier and (in a Technicolor burst) marry their respective daughters.

There can be no substitute for Goopy Gyne Bagha Byne, here reduced to less than half its original length. At times, the volume and density of the score seemed too grand for an innocent comedy (Ray’s target audience was children, then all of India embraced it). But with the musicians foregrounded, The King of Ghosts proved to be fascinating, self-contained, virtuosic concert, a musically compelling and witty dialogue with a special film.

 

Phare Circus, OzAsia 2016

Phare Circus, OzAsia 2016

Phare Circus

Following some low key, playful routines built around a street painter, two musicians and two young men showing off with a little juggling to two girls who are warned by a policeman on monocycle to cover their arms and shoulders, Phare Circus swings into riveting action with the whole company dancing and tumbling over long poles pulled rapidly together and apart at floor level. There’s a tremendous sense of joyous communality as the performers negotiate the poles with increasingly difficult moves—on all fours, on hands (legs kicking back), in groups and carrying one another. A rush of lifting ensues, bodies stacked high into OzAsia’s tiny Ukiyo tent, including head to head balances. Next, even more bracing, mass rope skipping involves all kinds of groupings, lifts and somersaults, executed faultlessly within inches of the audience.

The sense of intimacy and community was bolstered by characterful performers. Tussling competitively with martial holds and lifts, two of the men stylishly flirt with a woman in the audience. One is offended when his gelled coiffure is repeatedly flattened by his partner’s handstanding on his head. The pair encounter a young child in the audience with whom they execute a rope trick, realise they have a talent on their hands and integrate her into the action as, among other things, she excitedly seeks out three hiding clowns.

Other routines involve tightrope walking, monocycling the wire and ambitious pin juggling. The two women appear in traditional dress, sculpting themselves into classical Khmer statuary, hands and feet sharply angled at wrists and ankles, and balancing on each other with contortionist dexterity. The clowns take standing on a board balanced on a pipe to the extreme with moments of mock accident, real suspense and bodies stacked three high. With another pipe, a box and plank added to the wobbling pile, one of the performers heroically mounts and victoriously dismounts, keeping the whole apparatus intact.

In the course of the show, largely to the side, but sometimes centre-stage, the artist paints a Buddha, a rural landscape with Angkor Watt in the background and, finally, a goddess (commenced when the two female performers invoke her). Curiously, as the whole company and audience focus on this final work, he gently blurs the image with handfuls of paint, rendering his goddess a mere impression. The performers applaud and toss the artist high in the air, a prelude to a mass dance into which are built numerous rapid lifts, a spectacular near-miss leap from one set of shoulders to another and countless drops from high into the safe hands of this impressive ensemble.

 

God Bless Baseball, OzAsia 2016

God Bless Baseball, OzAsia 2016

God Bless Baseball

Toshiki Okada’s God Bless Baseball was one of OzAsia’s stranger offerings, a laidback meditation on baseball in which a youngish man and two young women langorously discuss the workings of the sport. The women, one Korean, the other Japanese, don’t ‘get it.’ His rather abstract explanations are unconvincing and dispassionate. At the same time, true to the work’s gentle choreographic impulse, he sways and constantly repositions himself as if limbering up for a game, revealing an easy familiarity, if not expertise, with the bat. When frustrated, he stands it vertically on the floor, leaning into it and rocking. Holding mits and stretching legs, the girls, if not taken with his account of the curious history of fixed innings, like him move about the baseball diamond which is the ground-map for the production.

As an introduction to baseball, it’s basic. It feels like a Beckettian waiting game. Just as the young man has begun to open up about his complex relationship with his wife and his father (a coach for junior players], and his dislike of the game, enter Ichiro Suzuki, a famous Japanese baseballer who once played for an American team, the Miami Marlins—or is he an actor impersonating the YouTube Ichiro impersonator, Nichiro?

Suddenly the play opens out as Ichiro runs through a series of practice poses and mock hits complete with characterful hand to ear and finger to mouth gestures. He’s a philosopher: “Do you see that? Do you see how the bat has become one with my body?” In Butoh-trained Pijin Neji as Ichiro you indeed see it. While moving in a slow dance about the diamond, he describes baseball as an allegory for life, saying that once you’ve reached first base, the game becomes “a journey away from home so you can come back home.” But he soon becomes perhaps more dictator than guru, pushing the others into an exercise, which he first strikingly demonstrates, putting aside his bat, his anchor, and successively disempowering each part of his body. Once the other characters collapse into a spastic state, Ichiro cruelly declares, “You never belonged to your bodies.” Another dictatorial voice enters the frame. Suspended above the performers is a giant indeterminate shape—part inverted ball, part loudspeaker. From it issues a seemingly indifferent American voice reciting the history of the game in Asia and declarations of its significance: “The Major Leagues are a field of dreams. It’s a platform that brings hope into the world.”

The play itself becomes an allegory, for the complex relationship between America on the one hand and Japan and Korea on the other, baseball rivalry between the latter two, the corporatisation of the game and the influence of international finance. The three young people appear to be oppressed by both America and what the game has become in Asia. There are curious ambiguities, for example the American voice compels the young man to admit that he unfairly despised his baseball-loving father. But two climactic, heavily symbolic, segued scenes underline growing resistance. First, Ichiro lobs chalk bombs into the trio who shelter beneath an umbrella, until one of the women steps defiantly forward, despite the baseballer’s warning, “It’s dangerous here. Use your imagination. Go back.” He threatens them with a powerful water hose which they take over and aim at the oppressive object that hangs over them. It is already decomposing, their hosing speeding up the process. Great gobs of sodden chalk fall to the floor, revealing plain timber. The final line is, tellingly, “This is not reality, but maybe one day.”

God Bless Baseball is an often difficult work, slow moving and sometimes confusing—for example, the Japanese female character suddenly becomes the Korean daughter of a baseball fan. At times, the play requires little knowledge of the game and its Asian context, at others there’s a superfluity of information, at others it assumes too much. Of course, though internationally toured, it was written principally for audiences in Japan and Korea, countries that have shared cultural incorporation (of baseball and much else) and consequent subordination. The three young performers move convincingly from passivity to resistance; Pijin Neji’s presence lifts the production to another plane with his poetic movement and ambiguous characterisation of Ichiro. Tadasu Takamine’s symbolic object is a fascinating installation in itself. God Bless Baseball is a work that requires patience and surrender for it to do its work. Like its extrovert opposite, Two Dogs, it is both familiar and alien, not at all the kind of work that Australians are making, and we are all the better for experiencing the difference.

 

Image from Beastly by Tutti, Stepping Stone, Andres Busrianto; Adelaide Festival Centre Riverdeck

Image from Beastly by Tutti, Stepping Stone, Andres Busrianto; Adelaide Festival Centre Riverdeck

Tutti, Stepping Stone, Andres Busrianto, Beastly

Bad weather and a consequently heavily concentrated timetable meant that I caught Beastly in its final minutes, when a generous artist agreed to one more performance. On the Festival Centre’s Riverdeck, the walls of a gathering point installation were illustrated with wonderfully lively creatures, hybrid human-animals—platypus, kangaroo and an emu-man pulled by an umbrella. From their backs spring glorious, flowered wings, suggesting transcendence and a cross-cultural merging of our fauna with Indonesian iconography.

Downstairs is a series of dwellings. I enter one to find a hooded figure facing away from me, his fingers hovering over a glowing red pentagram. He turns, directs me to sit, stares, suspends his hands over a glowing table top, reaches low and draws up a series of jars. He’s The Collector, a convincingly spooky character who catches in the light animal and human [doll] parts preserved before finally passing me a slip of paper on which I read, “Will this be all that is left of nature? Beastly.”

Beastly, a collaboration between Indonesian artist Andres Busrianto, Adelaide’s Tutti and Malaysia’s Stepping Stone, engagingly realises the aspirations of mixed ability artists within a cross-cultural environmentally focused framework. You can read more about it here.

OzAsia Festival 2016: King of Ghosts, composer-performers Soumik Datta, Johannes Berauer, Cormac Byrne, Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, Festival Theatre, 2 Oct; Phare Circus, script, direction Sim Sophal, musicians Kheav Sothan, Touch Srey, Ukiyo Tent, 27 Sept-2 Oct; God Bless Baseball, writer, director, Toshiki Okada http://chelfitsch.net/en, performers Yoon Jae Lee, Pijin Neji, Sung Hee Wi, Aoi Nozu, designer Tadasu Takamine, Space Theatre, 30 Sept, 1 Oct; Tutti, Stepping Stone, Andres Busrianto, Beastly, Adelaide Festival Centre Riverdeck, 22 Sept-1 Oct

RealTime issue #135 Oct-Nov 2016

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

First Life Residency Project

First Life Residency Project

Unworldly Encounters “evidences four artists’ journeys of personal and artistic transformation that bridge cultures and generate a common spirituality.” Chris Reid (read his review of the exhibition)

One of OzAsia’s most powerful exhibitions was Unworldy Encounters at AEAF, featuring works by four Australian and Chinese artists who travelled through southern China, Tibet, Arnhem Land and the Kimberley and were in-residence in the Oratunga, north of the Flinders Ranges. Their journey and their art are documented in this magnificent large format book.

In “Dark Beauty,” the catalogue essay for the exhibition, Ashley Crawford writes:

“Over the last decade, Steve Eland, the Director of Australian Experimental Art Foundation, has investigated the potentials of physical interaction between artists from different cultures. Unworldly Encounters has emerged as the third chapter in a now epic project that was initiated in 2006 with First Life Residency Project in Landscape—a jab at ‘Second Life’ virtual or web-based, as opposed to ‘real’ life, experiences in art—that began with an artists’ journey to Arnhem Land. It has since involved artists from around Australia, Japan, Indonesia, the Philippines and China.

“In 2011 the First Life Residency Project in Landscape brought together contemporary visual artists from Australia and China—Sam Leach, Tony Lloyd, Ben Armstrong, Cang Xin, Shi Jinsong and Wu Daxin—to experience the landscapes and cultures of Northern Australia and regional China. Eland as organiser and myself as writer joined them. Designed to be an intensive ‘real life’ cultural and creative exchange, the project involved travelling by road through the landscapes of Northern Australia and visiting remote regions and Indigenous communities in Arnhem Land and the Kimberley and undertaking a hazardous road trip through the south-western provinces of China, from Lanzhou to Lhasa.”

You can read the rest of the essay by downloading the exhibition catalogue.

We have one copy to give away, courtesy of the Australian Experimental Art Foundation.

Email us at giveaways [at] realtimearts.net with your name, postal address and phone number.

Include ‘Giveaway’ and the name of the item in the subject line.
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First Life Residency Project

First Life Residency Project

RealTime issue #135 Oct-Nov 2016

Cold Life, teamLab, OzAsia 2016

Cold Life, teamLab, OzAsia 2016

“Art is born of the observation and investigation of nature,” wrote Cicero. Japanese interdisciplinary collective teamLab has engineered a high-tech approach to the observation of the natural world, asking us to reconsider our modern way of seeing nature and ourselves within it, thus renewing the aesthetics of nature.

 

teamLab, Ever Blossoming Life II; Cold Life

The Art Gallery of SA’s exquisite exhibition Ever Blossoming Life locates teamLab’s Ever Blossoming Life II – A whole year per hour, Gold (2016) and Cold Life (2014) amid a selection from its extensive holdings of traditional Japanese art. TeamLab’s computer-based works, shown on large monitors, are surrounded by exquisite Japanese multi-panel screens from the 17th and 18th centuries, Ukiyo-e prints by Hiroshige, Hokusai and others, ceramics, fans and other pieces that exemplify the traditional Japanese concern with nature, particularly flowers. Ever Blossoming Life establishes an evolutionary relationship between the AGSA’s collection and current artistic developments, refreshing our appreciation of works which no longer appear as static artefacts from past eras but actively relevant to our lives.

Ever Blossoming Life II is a constantly evolving computer-generated image of paintings of blossoming plants. The time-lapse effect condenses a year of growth and flowering into an hour, the imagery never repeating, instead continually evolving to suggest that evolution is eternal. By collapsing the seasons into comprehensible moments, the work shows how regeneration follows decay. The imagery references traditional Japanese panels of the kind shown in the exhibition, including their gold background, so that the work resembles a Japanese screen bursting into life.

By contrast, Cold Life is a 7’15” loop that shows a rotating 3D graphic sequence of images depicting trees growing and metamorphosing, as birds fly about and snow falls, against a background of night-time darkness. This hypnotic work recalls an MRI scan rather than traditional art, as if the plants are being X-rayed and analysed as they grow. But Cold Life is also based on calligraphic imagery (its shape suggests the Japanese character for ‘life’). Both teamLab works are digitally generated, drawing on classical Japanese imagery.

Dissolving the boundary between art and technology, teamLab’s approach highlights our inability to control evolutionary change by shifting our perception of the passage of time. Describing themselves as ultra-technologists, they have generated a unique art form, referencing photography, video, engineering, computer-based 3D modelling as well as drawing, painting and animation. Their work reinterprets and thus pays homage to traditional Japanese high art. We’re even provoked to wonder whether such new art will come to replace nature in our consciousness. It certainly alters our awareness of it.

You can watch all 7’14” minutes of Cold Life on teamLab’s Vimeo channel and see excerpts from Blossoming Life II here and here.

 

100 years sea (2009), teamLab

100 years sea (2009), teamLab

teamLab, 100 Years Sea

Another teamLab work, 100 Years Sea (2009), part of the Experimenta Recharge exhibition touring to Australian galleries, is a 5-channel digital HD animation depicting the sea swirling around rocky outcrops. Programmed to run for 100 years, it will show sea levels gradually rising over that time, creating a confronting illustration of the problem of global warming and again employing imagery typical of traditional painting. Adjacent to 100 Years Sea is a counter showing the elapse of time in years, hours, minutes and seconds since it was activated nearly seven years ago. But, as if to emphasise our inability to control rising sea levels, the timescale in 100 Years Sea is not condensed. Our children may live long enough to see the rocks disappear beneath the waves.

100 Years Sea also demonstrates teamLab’s research into perception and the cultural origins of perceptual styles. The imagery in traditional Japanese screens is not based on one-point perspective but creates a linear effect that must be read from left to right. TeamLab postulates this as an alternative way of viewing the world, suggesting that the traditional Western way, based on a fixed viewing position, places the viewer outside the imagery and thus detached from it. This work explores the kind of spatial awareness triggered by traditional Japanese art to show how ways of seeing are culturally determined, inviting us to reconsider the way we understand visual imagery and relate to its subject matter.

While Japanese screens draw the viewer into the linear space, what is crucial with teamLab’s time-based imagery is that viewers sit with it for extended periods and allow their awareness of time as well as space to change. The narrative then becomes evolutionary and thus experiential. Ever Blossoming Life II’s accelerated pace makes us aware of processes that might otherwise not register in our consciousness. It also changes our understanding of painting as a form and a discipline.

In refreshing our way of looking at the world, teamLab facilitates our comprehension and appreciation of it. Seeing digital art raised to this highly accomplished level, we also realise that we cannot comprehend, let alone manage our world adequately without the aid of the kind of technological devices the collective employs.

 

Riel Hilario, They came from the sea, 2016, installation of carved wood, found objects, single channel video and sound, dimensions variable, Roundabout, OzAsia 2016,

Riel Hilario, They came from the sea, 2016, installation of carved wood, found objects, single channel video and sound, dimensions variable, Roundabout, OzAsia 2016,

Filipino art: Roundabout

The dialogue between old and new is also evident in the exhibition Roundabout at Adelaide Central School of Art Gallery, showing work by three Filipino artists, Riel Hilario, Wawi Navarroza and Mark Valenzeula. Riel Hilario is a fourth generation rebulto carver who continues the Catholic tradition of creating wooden statues of religious figures. His work They came from the sea (2016) comprises carvings of two saints, one of whom appears to be sprouting leaves and the other with a bird sitting on his head, who kneel before a 17th century map of the Philippines. Behind them is a video of the Straits of Malacca—the explorer Magellan’s intended destination, which is far from where he landed and established a Spanish colony—and the saints are positioned so that their shadows mask part of the projected image. We hear a recording of a song praising Christ but infused with local meanings. Hilario’s work shows how Spanish civilisation took root in the region and, despite being imbued with local culture, still casts a shadow over it.

The observation of nature is evident in Wawi Navarroza’s exquisitely produced photographs of glass display vessels containing plants, soil and debris taken from various locations in Manila. The images are selected from her project Hunt & Gather (Terraria) (2013), a collaboration that has resulted in an artist’s book which catalogues the locations of the specimens and the names of those who collected them. The book is an ecological map of Manila created by members of its community who explore their relationship to their city by collecting materials and plants from it. The photos are displayed with lists of each terrarium’s contents and their sources, transforming the weeds and detritus of the street into beautiful art works that also double as botanical illustrations.

Valenzuela’s installation, New Folk Heroes, establishes a surreal tableau that transforms a large area of the floor into a kind of micro-theatre. With ceramic figures embellished with drawings satirising gun culture and a set of coat-hangers woven into nooses, Valenzuela’s work responds to the disturbing reality of contemporary Filipino society, and perhaps society more broadly. Conceived at the request of ACSA by the artist, who is now an Adelaide resident, the Roundabout exhibition provides a small but highly illuminating window onto Filipino art and the culture it critiques.

The visual art program for this OzAsia Festival has been outstanding, with several art spaces making significant contributions and stimulating great interest in the art of the Asian region.

Ever Blossoming Life, Art Gallery of SA, 17 Sept 2016-15 Jan 2017; Experimenta Recharge, Samstag Museum of Art 19 Aug-23 Sept; Roundabout, Adelaide Central School of Art Gallery, Adelaide, 27 Sept–21 Oct

RealTime issue #135 Oct-Nov 2016

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

The Channon Hall, If These Halls Could Talk

The Channon Hall, If These Halls Could Talk

If it is empty and quiet, a visit to one of the many community halls that dot the landscape in the Northern Rivers region of NSW can be an eerie, lonely experience. The silence, the echo of your footsteps, the feeling that the place is vaguely haunted, the freezing temperatures in the cooler months—these buildings, totems of white settlement in the area on the back of the logging and farming industries, are nothing if not atmospheric.

Today many of these halls suffer a kind of identity crisis. No longer the essential hubs of community they once were, they host all kinds of events, including concerts, film nights, lectures, yoga classes, exhibitions, pop-up restaurants and the real earner, weddings.

They remain, however, fascinating spaces rich with creative possibility, something Arts Northern Rivers has recognised with its If These Halls Could Talk program. A selection of local and international artists is transforming seven of these halls with site-specific events responding to their unique individual histories and architectural character. Among these are elaborate theatrical productions from major institutions, such as Dreamland at Eureka Hall from Northern Rivers Performing Arts (NORPA) and a musical produced by Opera Queensland at Tumbulgum Hall.

Craig Walsh, With The Grain, If These Halls Could Talk

Craig Walsh, With The Grain, If These Halls Could Talk

For other events, the halls are under the directorship of individual artists, and it is with these that a true sense of fellowship, of intimacy, is conjured in these buildings. Tweed Heads-based artist Craig Walsh, who has a background in working with regional communities to develop site-responsive pieces, was allocated The Channon Hall for his piece, With The Grain. On a moonlit Saturday night in September, a throng of delighted, dressed-up locals paraded through the village clutching lanterns on their way to the hall in which Walsh had installed a large video projection celebrating the town’s history accompanied by live music, acrobatics and dance. Walsh was inspired by The Channon’s history of collectivism, and specifically, how a town initially defined by the timber industry could develop a strong environmental conscience as the decades went by.

“My intention was to embrace what is a very significant history of collective action in response to environmental issues,” said Walsh. “My work explored the community’s relationship with timber over the course of the town’s history—what was once logged became treasured and protected. This defines the evolution of the town, as original settlers shared the space with the original environmentalists—these are the themes that emerged strongly from discussions with the community.”

Reflecting the philosophy of collectivism, Walsh invited the whole town to contribute, thus creating an occasion (or cause) towards which the entire populace could focus—a rare thing as communities become increasingly fragmented due to technology, economic change, gentrification and other factors.

“My role was to redefine this outpouring of creativity and knowledge into a live event which would express both the pride and core values guiding the town of The Channon. The work is not about an artist’s impression of the place but the artist reformatting what already exists into a new experience for all.”

Community participants, Bonnywood Rising, Grayson Cooke, Bonalbo District Hall

Community participants, Bonnywood Rising, Grayson Cooke, Bonalbo District Hall

The idea of re-creating a hall’s golden days through a live event is also explored by multimedia artist Grayson Cooke with the more isolated (and very large) Bonalbo Hall. His piece, Bonnywood Rising, which takes place on 10 December, is a live cinema performance that, Cooke says, “harks back to silent cinema, where films were presented with live music, live narrators and sound effects.”

Cooke will present film footage shot months previously and augment it with an array of performed accompaniments designed to create a “dream machine to tease out the stories of the hall and community.”

Such an event could come across as an exercise in nostalgia. But Cooke, like Walsh, is invested in reinvigorating the space as a social focal point for the town’s current residents. Aside from its artistic merit, Bonnywood Rising is an opportunity for communion; in its creation alone, the project has engaged 100 participants.

“From talking to community members about their experiences in the hall,” says Cooke, “I found there was a real sense that a lot of the ‘life’ of the hall was in the past, that it had had its heyday and wasn’t used today anywhere near as much as it once was. I wanted to use this project as a corrective to that, to propose collective art-making as a way of refusing to be bound by history.” In fact, the entire If These Halls Could Talk concept can be seen as drawing these unique spaces into a contemporary context, albeit in decidedly old-fashioned ways.

If These Halls Could Talk runs until 17 December, details below.

Arts Northern Rivers, If These Halls Could Talk: NORPA, Dreamland, Eureka Hall, 23-26 Nov, 28 Nov-3 Dec, 5-10 Dec; Grayson Cooke, SCU, Bonnywood Rising, Bonalbo Hall, 10 Dec; Opera Queensland, Tumbulgum and the Countdown to Midnight at the First Supper Between Now and Forever, Tumbulgum Hall, Northern New South Wales, 16-17 Dec

RealTime issue #135 Oct-Nov 2016

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

Shanghai Bolero, LINK Dance Company, 2015

Shanghai Bolero, LINK Dance Company, 2015

Our phone discussion opens with mention of Perth’s MoveMe dance festival. Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA) Lecturer Michael Whaites has seen the three principal works, one of them by choreographer Laura Boynes, Dark Matter. He tells me Boynes was a member of LINK Dance, the graduate dance company Whaites runs for Honours level students and whose performances are choreographed by Australian and international artists and toured interstate and overseas. Although now triggering competition, LINK is a unique venture for dance artists looking for joint academic and professional-level experience.

Whaites tells me that Boynes’ Honours thesis was on dance film, “so she’s been weaving her way as a maker of choreography with an interest in film and dance on film.” Dark Matter features a metric ton of rice moved about the stage, digital projections by her artist brother Alexander and a live score by her partner and Decibel ensemble member Tristen Parr. Whaites says, “the work has been in development for three years and finally realised, which is great.”

I ask if he thinks LINK played a role in Boynes’ development as an artist. “Definitely. It’s an opportunity for students to finally to start to think about what they’re really interested in, to have the time to understand that they’re not just trying to replicate what their teachers and others are telling them to do. They’ve got to have an opinion as well. And I think it was that moment when Laura decided she was going to do Honours that she realised she could start to put her own ideas into the work, become a maker herself.”

Tipping Point, LINK Dance Company, 2015

Tipping Point, LINK Dance Company, 2015

What’s the relationship between LINK Dance and the Honours degree?
LINK is Honours. The students write a thesis along the journey while I’m throwing choreographers in front of them or taking them interstate or off on overseas trips. So, it’s a huge year. It’s a bit of a horse race, doing Honours. They’ve got to get on the horse and ride as fast as they can. Unlike a Masters or a PhD where they’ve got a bit of time to think, they don’t have much time at all. You’ve got to grab your idea, get ethics approval and then write the damned thing up and get it in.

Most Honours are 50-50 in terms of course and theoretical work and how it’s assessed. We used to have a 70-30 balance with more weight on the physical dimension. Now it’s a 60-40 balance and the thesis component is becoming more important. But most of the students need to have 70% grade point averages from their BA years. They have to be smart kids; they can’t just be fabulous dancers and not have a brain on their shoulders. Most of the people coming to LINK, this group-organised Honours course, are wanting to do it because of all the fabulous choreographers and the international tour I organise.

Does LINK attract graduates from other universities as well as WAAPA BA graduates?
From all over. I’ve been here for 11 years now and I’ve had dancers from VCA, QUT, Adelaide College of the Arts, Deakin University, New Zealand School of Dance, Amsterdam High School for the Arts, Laban Trinity in London…The fact that the course is organised like a professional dance company and the dancers get to tour and to work with a lot of different choreographers, I think that’s the difference.

Other Australian universities have started up similar courses in recent years where the students get to work with choreographers on a group work but essentially it’s about training them to be independent artists, nothing like how LINK is organised. But the emergence of these courses has pushed us to think about how we can keep ahead of the game.

That’s why, in some ways, we’ve established a Masters course that’s going to run alongside LINK. It’s not a new Masters course. That already exists here at WAAPA as a Performing Arts MA, but we’ve realigned it to fit with LINK.

In the first semester of the Masters journey, students have the option of working with LINK as a dancer and to perform in the first season and then to do the international tour with us, which happens in the middle of the year. We’re trying to bring these people with more experience into the program so they’ll have an opportunity to work in a full-time environment with choreographers for the first six months. And they’ll be able to share their experience with Honours students, which will hopefully bring their level up as well.

You’ll be drawing these Masters students from all over as well?
“From all over. I have four people interested already who have come through the LINK program and have been out in the field for three or four years. Talitha Maslin who’s worked with Lucy Guerin for the last couple of years, she’s now back working with Co3, Perth’s newest dance company. The course is a bit bespoke. It will depend on who applies as to how we precisely engage with them.

We’re thinking it will be people who wish to extend their dance careers or who are interested in being makers. They will design a project—whatever they want to do in their second semester and their second year—and then they go about implementing it. The facilities are available here—all the resources they’ll need. If they’re interested in choreography, I’d propose that in their second year in the Masters program they make a work on the Honours group for LINK.

Some might want to take on a three-month residency in Toronto or San Francisco or somewhere in Australia, like Bundanon, as part of their program. Absolutely, as long as they can keep on track with their project.

Dr Reneé Newman has replaced the late Maggi Phillips as postgraduate supervisor. She’s a theatre maker with an avid interest in dance and is really doing a fabulous job exposing the dancers to new cross-artform and interdisciplinary ways of working. We’re really trying to expand their knowledge in that way as well.

Motion State, LINK Dance Company, 2013

Motion State, LINK Dance Company, 2013

Returning to LINK, how often does the company perform?
We normally have two seasons, but this year we had one program in May with three choreographers and took it to Mouvements sur la Ville, the off-festival of Montpelier Danse, at the invitation of Didier Theron with whom we’ve had quite a strong relationship. He’s been here working with STRUT Dance (National Choreographic Centre of Western Australia). Didier has been a strong supporter of LINK and that’s the reason we’ve been going to Montpelier each year. He invites people from all over the world and we go there in June-July to present works that we make in the early part of the year. Then in Semester Two we have a new partnership with Co 3 in which LINK get to work with Artistic Director Raewyn Hill and the Co 3 dancers on an extended secondment that lasts through an entire creation and performance process. How exciting is that? Later in the semester this year will be a studio showing and our annual East Coast Tour to both Sydney and Melbourne.

Who are some of the artists LINK has worked with recently?
This year we had two choreographers—Lee Brummer and Israel Aloni—who have a company in Sweden called ilDance. They’d been in Australia working with Melbourne’s Yellow Wheel youth dance company, which is housed in Lucy Guerin’s Studio—and then with Adelaide College of the Arts. They did a workshop here at WAAPA and I commissioned them to come back and make a dance-theatre work on the company.

The other choreographers were Scott Ewen and Isabella Stone. Scott graduated from WAAPA some years ago and has been working with ADT for the last five years. He left ADT at the beginning of this year and came over and made a work on LINK, his second one. He’s an emerging choreographer whose work has a particular ADT flavor, as you might imagine. Isabella’s also an emerging choreographer here in Perth and an ex-LINK dancer. I like to do that occasionally, to bring people back into the fold. Isabella made her first full-length work last year at the State Theatre Centre.

Last year I invited Didier to come out and remount a work called Shanghai Bolero on LINK along with five professional female dancers including Claudia Alessi, Sue Peacock and former LINK dancers. We staged it at Fremantle Arts Centre and it was a huge hit. We took the men’s section to Sydney to perform at the end of last year.

It’s clear you keep track of graduates and bring people back into the fold and some of these people will come into the Masters degree.
That’s right. We have people all over the world and around Australia. In fact the new Artistic Director of Launceston’s Stompin, Caitlin Comerford, is a graduate of LINK.

You’re still enjoying the work after all these years?
Yes. Who would have believed it? I came over for three years and, blink, it’s 11 years. I was at the 2016 Dance Awards in Perth the other night and so many of those dancers on the stage, I’ve trained. It’s such a joy and a privilege to see those people. I’ve said, I don’t think it’s my end journey here, but for now, it’s going well.

And you continue to train dancers at WAAPA?
Yes, I’m working in the undergraduate program as well. I teach composition to first years and improvisation to second years and technique to third years. That’s half my job and the other half is running the LINK program and now this new Masters component. It’s keeping me busy, that’s for sure.

L-R: LINK Dance Company, 2016: April Vardy, Cheyenne Davis, Anthony Rinaldi, Tanya Brown and Michael Whaites

L-R: LINK Dance Company, 2016: April Vardy, Cheyenne Davis, Anthony Rinaldi, Tanya Brown and Michael Whaites

Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA), Edith Cowan University, Perth. Read about the one-year Bachelor of Arts (Dance) Honours degree incorporating LINK Dance Company here and the two-year fulltime Master of Arts (Performing Arts) degree here.

RealTime issue #134 Aug-Sept 2016

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

L-R: Maria Tran, Nat Randall, Emily O’Connor, Jade Muratore (Hissy Fit), Supreme Ultimate, Women of Fairfield

L-R: Maria Tran, Nat Randall, Emily O’Connor, Jade Muratore (Hissy Fit), Supreme Ultimate, Women of Fairfield

When I met Karen Therese, Artistic Director of Powerhouse Youth Theatre, for this interview she’d recently completed a season of Tribunal (read our review) at The Stables for Griffin (where she’d been a Studio Artist), Jump First, Ask Later (a new season of the 2015 Force Majeure-PYT co-production of a parkour-based work created by choreographer Byron Perry) is playing at the Sydney Opera House and a major PYT-MCA two-day event, Women of Fairfield, is only two weeks away. But, says an exhilarated Karen Therese, life is more than manageable and her company, Powerhouse Youth Theatre is well-resourced, in contrast with early ambitious works of scale that threatened to derail her career.

Western Sydney is alive with cultural activity driven by Powerhouse Youth Theatre, Urban Theatre Projects, FORM, Casula Powerhouse, ICE, Parramatta Riverside, The National Theatre of Parramatta and Campbelltown Arts Centre, plus the outreach programs of Carriageworks and MCA and much more. Significant local pressure has swung more state funding towards the west, and there’s the bonus of James Packer’s $30m gift (an attempt to assuage public discontent over his and the government’s mishandling of the Barangaroo development in Sydney Harbour; another $30m went to city arts). Much cultural activity in the west is socially oriented, dealing with disadvantaged suburbs, the needs of young people, refugees and new citizens, and drug and health issues. Other state and federal agencies provide funds for these ventures, allowing richer development and reach: “A three-year grant from the Department of Social Services was a complete game-changer for our company,” Karen Therese tells me.

Above all, the works produced by Powerhouse Youth Theatre and others transcend these particularities by making our fellow citizens visible, not as content or issue-bearers but as active participants and art-makers: “The work we create and the processes we engage are really supportive of individuals whether they become artists or not.”

Nothing could be more important as Pauline Hanson and her ilk not only aim to narrow our understanding of the complexity and richness of contemporary Australian culture but, by arguing for cessation of Muslim immigration, to prevent its civilising evolution. Powerhouse Youth Theatre’s Little Baghdad was revelatory: three nights (I experienced one) of performance and discussion over a meal shared with Iraqis of different regions, religions and cultural traditions, so far beyond the stereotypical image promulgated by mass media and politicians. I recalled that one of the Little Baghdad dinners focused on Iraqi women and wondered if that played a role in triggering the forthcoming event, Women of Fairfield.

Co-curated by Karen Therese and MCA Senior Curator Anne Loxley, Women of Fairfield is a collaboration between the MCA, Powerhouse Youth Theatre and NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors (STARTTS). Facilitated by Jiva Parthipan, STARTTS Community Cultural Development Officer, each artist is working with the communities of Fairfield to create artworks which celebrate and reflect on the experiences of women. Karen Therese tells me about the inspiration for the event and the artists and communities involved.

 

Women of Fairfield

The Women of Iraq night, which I curated with Victoria Spence, is one of my favourite events. It became a little research event for how to deal with the enormous cultural sensitivity around working with women in Fairfield and an opportunity for women to talk openly about issues affecting them. Theirs is a very patriarchal culture. The stories were extraordinary. We traversed 80 years of Iraqi history—where women were part of a rebellion, were activists in the 1950s and 1960s, artists and actresses—all the way to contemporary Iraq where some are enslaved. In Fairfield, women don’t necessarily feel safe within the civic space. And there are homeless women. I was thinking about how our company would handle something like this, it’s huge, and had been discussing it with the Council. When the MCA came in, I pitched the idea: Women of Fairfield, Concepts of Home. Now it’s just Women of Fairfield. The focus is on the kind of performative site-based work I’ve done before.

I’m co-curating with Anne Loxley, the Senior Curator at the MCA for the C3West program. It’s been really great. I work with people, I do people and I do performative spectacle—big vision—but I’ve always worked with very limited resources. Anne gets the opportunity to make spectacle art-work. Together we can give Fairfield something it’s never had before.

 

Kate Blackmore & the Assyrian Community: All Wedding Wishes

Kate Blackmore, who worked on Little Baghdad, is creating a work with the Assyrian community called All Wedding Wishes about an Assyrian wedding. It’s a two-channel video installation that’s going to be introduced via an actual Assyrian wedding procession that will lead the audience through the site, an abandoned shop.

 

Claudia Nicholson & the South American Community

Claudia Nicholson is doing probably her largest sawdust carpet (an alfrombas, made of flowers, plants and dyed sawdust in Central and South America) to date, making it over five days in Fairfield Chase, a 1980s food hall. That will have a number of video artworks surrounding it and include the South American Women’s Choir. It will be hugely celebratory.

 

Hissy Fit & Maria Tran: Supreme Ultimate

We also have Hissy Fit (Jade Muratore, Emily O’Connor and Nat Randall) working with Maria Tran on a hugely ambitious project. Maria is potentially Australia’s foremost martial arts action woman. She’s in the new Jackie Chan movie and has just won Martial Artist of the Year. The work will play on two floors of a car park with interactive video by Toby K. And there’s going to be a martial arts mass action so we’re looking to get up to 50 people from the region to be involved.

 

Zoe Scoglio & Aboriginal, Assyrian and Khmer Communities: In The Round

Melbourne artist Zoe Scoglio is doing an extraordinary work bringing together Assyrian women, the Khmer women’s community and the Indigenous women’s community of Fairfield for In The Round. She’s run individual workshops with the women and recorded their singing. She’s placing those recordings inside three cars which will each be dressed by the women. With this amazing soundtrack, the cars will be driven around Fairfield to literally place women’s voices into the civic space. On the second night we’ll close down two roads and create a ‘revolution’ of circling cars in a cul-de-sac at dusk. Zoe’s work is about the cosmic— about revolution that can happen when three communities come together at a particular time of day. It’s a really exciting project that also gives the opportunity for our First Nations women to meet newly-arrived women and that’s the first time they’ve done that. I’m really interested in the Indigenous community meeting particularly the Assyrian community because they’re an indigenous Iraqi community. Both use language when they speak about their cultures, which are so ancient.

 

Unique gathering, unique expression

Seeing so many women come together from different cultures is something that actually doesn’t happen. Cultures tend to stay tightly together because everyone feels really vulnerable and protective. So Women of Fairfield will be extraordinary—all these women from so many cultures in the one space.

 

Johnny Do, Jump First, Ask Later, Powerhouse Youth Theatre & Sydney Opera House

Johnny Do, Jump First, Ask Later, Powerhouse Youth Theatre & Sydney Opera House

INTERVIEW: FROM PERFORMANCE MAKER TO CULTURAL LEADER

I’ve seen a lot of your career, first when you were a contemporary performance maker and interdisciplinary artist. Since then you’ve become a creative producer and a cultural leader. It’s clear that some of your interest in this area came from growing up in Mt Druitt in Western Sydney. What was your impulse when you went to the VCA? Were you planning to become an actor or an animateur?
When I first got involved with PACT (Centre for Emerging Artists, Sydney), I realised I wasn’t going to be an actor. I was always interested in making work from my own ideas. I didn’t know about contemporary performance or devising but I’d put on my own shows from when I was really young. I didn’t apply to the VCA; I was invited into the animateuring course by Tanya Gerstle in 1999. I had also done The Journey [a year-long acting intensive with Gerstle at the Actors Centre in Sydney]. At the end of the Journey, we did a devised work and I got to write and perform things that I’d written and I really enjoyed that process. Eventually I found out about PACT and then very quickly was at The Performance Space and I saw Heterosoced Youth directed by Chris Ryan and I’ve pretty much made my own versions of that work ever since [LAUGHS].

This was a PACT production?
Yes, at the height of Mardi Gras. It was really big for PACT in 1997: a documentary work about young people coming out from different regional areas and telling their stories. I thought it was really exciting and a kind of cool contemporary work as well. Back then, it was pretty radical.

When I was at PACT they used to have ‘Zings’ and I created a work called whitegirlblackdreams, which was really a seed for so many things. I didn’t know a lot about Australian culture. I didn’t know anything about my own culture or my own family. So I performed it as a five-minute piece and Chris Ryan said it had “legs,” and I was, like, “What does that mean?” Not so long after that I went into the VCA and my sister and my mother unearthed family documents from which I started to create the ideas for Sleeplessness (background; review) which, in one form, became my graduate work. That began a whole exploration of Australian identity and realising that my mother was one of the “Forgotten Australians.” She grew up in a home in the care of the State. Now we have the Royal Commission, which my Mum is part of. She was also at the protests in Canberra demanding that George Pell come to Australia. So I’m pretty proud of her.

Sleeplessness was a fascinating combination of the intensely personal and a broader social political issue. And the work was also very exploratory in terms of form.
Yes, I look back at Sleeplessness now and think it was quite amazing how I was piecing together all the fragments in the making of it, and the experience. I couldn’t judge it when I was in it because it was bigger than an artwork. I feel like Tribunal is in the same kind of line but that I’ve found a way to create, maybe, a clearer narrative for audience about the complexity of Australian identity.

 

GATHERING GROUND

You’ve moved a long way from a very private work through large scale works and research to a cultural leadership role. Obviously, early on, there was something about works of scale that attracted you. You did Gathering Ground, a work for PACT with the Sydney’s inner city Indigenous community?
I did Gathering Ground twice. They were my largest works before Fun Park for Powerhouse Youth Theatre in 2014. I didn’t set out to make a huge spectacle; I wanted to make a walking tour. Do you remember Urban Theatre Project’s Speed Street (1999)? As a young artist, it changed my life because I grew up in a street like Speed Street and I first thought, you can’t bring people to a show in a street like this.

Gathering Ground was a collaboration between PACT and Redfern Community Centre and involved myself and Tracey Duncan who was running the centre. The idea was to bring non-indigenous people to The Block in Redfern. These were ‘reconciliation’ works, I suppose—a lot of Indigenous people I know don’t like that word. It brought non-indigenous people to an Indigenous space, often for the first time. The relationship I set up with Tracey was really strong. We talked for about three months. We were women of similar age. We cemented the idea of a history/ceremony/protest and telling the story of The Block and of each building, touring the audience and putting different artists in charge of developing works. This was 2006 and pre-Apology. The idea really took off. By the third night, thousands of people had come. It was an extraordinary experience. Then we did it again and Lily Shearer came on board.

 

RACE & CROSSING THE THRESHOLD

We thought, maybe 100 people might come. The whole idea emerged when Regina Heilmann was PACT Artistic Director and I got the job as Community Cultural Development Artist. She said, “Well, I’ve got to take you to all the youth centres around Redfern and to The Block.” We walked there and I got scared when I stepped over that threshold. I kind of checked myself and went, “What am I afraid of? I’m from Mt Druitt!” That was my innate racism coming out and I thought, “I want other people to have this experience of stepping over.” On opening night we thought, “No-one’s here. We were right—no-one’s gonna come.” And we looked over and there was this big crowd outside Redfern station and we had to say, “It’s over here. You can come over.” The last night along the whole of Eveleigh Street was crowded, you couldn’t move.

Where did that take you next?
I needed a break. That was really intense. The first one was really exciting to do. With the second one in 2008 the politics really got on top of it. It became really complicated. I think also at that time there wasn’t a lot of knowledge around how these relationships work.

At the same time, I was still interested in making works. I’d done Sleeplessness and I did a little piece at UTP called Misspent Youth and that led me to the idea for The Riot Act (2009) with Campbelltown Art Centre. I worked on that for a few years. I also did Constellations at PACT, which was my homage to Heterosoced Youth. After a family tragedy which impacted me hugely, I was ‘out’ for a couple of years. I wanted to make works of scale but the issue wasn’t so much the scale as the complexity. I was exhausted after Gathering Ground. I was exhausted after The Riot Act.

 

TURNING TOWARDS HOME

I woke up one day in 2010 and realised that I wanted to base my practice in Western Sydney. As an artist I always felt a little bit different from my peers. I never quite felt like I fitted in, feeling like I should be making work like The Fondue Set or Martin del Amo did. I was a bit too serious and everything was hard as well. Small pieces aside—The Walk, Waterloo Girls and Comfort Zone—I stopped making large works. I needed to make a really small work with Indigenous people—Waterloo Girls—after Gathering Ground, just a simple work that helped me realign my politics. Then I performed in my own show, The Comfort Zone, which was a good thing to do. I thought, I’m just going to step to the side for a few years. So I went and did my Masters with Professor Sarah Miller at the University of Wollongong. Former Performance Space Director Fiona Winning was also a mentor. I was about to stop working because life was a little bit hard at that point. She was really frank with me as a young artist and gave me some tools with which to work sustainably in the community.

 

CULTURAL LEADERSHIP GRANT

I got the inaugural Cultural Leadership Grant in 2010 from the Theatre Board of the Australia Council. My focus was not on outcomes; it was to get feedback from all the people who’d supported me and knew my practice and then go to New York with a vision to explore and research innovative practice across disciplines and across cultures. So I was at PS122 for a period of three years in and out. That was really fantastic. It was at the end of the building redevelopment so they had a 30_year festival and had alumni short works nights. So I’d be producing The Wooster Group and Phillip Glass and Thurston Moore. I got a lot of inspiration from managing and curation—I really wanted to work in Western Sydney but to come in with a dynamic approach. Conflict management has become a really big part of what I do. Then there’s business. And you have to be creative.

 

FUN PARK

So it all started coming together for you?
Yes. In New York I was looking at a new picture and with my Masters I was reflecting on the past and untying a lot of it to create a sustainable practice to enable me to move forward in Western Sydney. And then, around that time, I had the idea for Fun Park and applied a number of times for the $80K Australia Council Creative Producer Fellowship. I didn’t want it to be a project thing; it would pay me a wage for a year to develop and commence Fun Park. After a lot of hard work and making connections it got up with Sydney Festival.

I was able to put in place everything I learned through my Masters about sustainability. It was also about me going home, making a work in my place. That was really big. In Sleeplessness I remember I uttered the words “Mt Druitt.” You don’t tell people you’re from there. For me to invite 2,000 people to Mt Druitt was huge. (see Virginia Baxter’s review of Fun Park)

In my Masters I was studying ideas of comfort and failure in performance companies like Forced Entertainment (UK) and Goat Island (USA). Those guys have generated a lot of writing about failure in their work. Failure is just a radical opportunity to change. And I think coming from Mt Druitt I wasn’t as confident maybe as everyone thought I was and I was always worried about failing. Every time I performed. I’d work really hard and try my very best and then afterwards give myself a hard time. [LAUGHS]

You’re over that, I hope?
I am. Absolutely. With Fun Park everything was kind of constantly collapsing because it was really complicated. But every time something else collapsed, I’d think, well, that’s interesting; now, what haven’t I thought of? And that’s completely how I think now. Working in Western Sydney I feel more aligned as an artist and as a person that I’m kind of with ‘my people.’

And you’ve reached out to a lot of new people too, like the Iraqi community in Little Baghdad.
I share parts of their history and I suppose through my research in my art and my personal experience, I understand to a degree some of their experience and I’m able to work with them in ways that perhaps other artists aren’t.

The scope of your approach is considerable, embracing multiple forms, communities, issues.
Yes, I can do whatever I want in all my capacities because I have worked across a lot of artforms and I can speak all of those languages to some degree. So it wasn’t just luck—I was really on a five-year plan to base my practice in the west—and I ended up with my own company. It couldn’t be better.

Karen Therese

Karen Therese

Women of Fairfield, co-curators PYT Artistic Director Karen Therese, MCA Senior Curator Anne Loxley; a collaboration between Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), Powerhouse Youth Theatre, Fairfield (PYT), and NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors (STARTTS), presented with the support of Fairfield City Council, Fairfield, 7, 8 October, Free, 6.30-9.00pm

RealTime issue #134 Aug-Sept 2016

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


Filmmaker Richard Kelly was only 25 when he directed his standout debut feature in 2001. Donnie Darko might have confounded box office audiences but has become a cult classic in the ensuing years, and deservedly so. It’s a remarkable film that effortlessly traverses the genres of high school comedy, psychological horror, science fiction and romance as it moves through 28 days in the life of its troubled teenaged protagonist. Intelligent, cynical Donnie (Jake Gyllenhaal) is tormented by visions of a nightmarish rabbit-figure, “Frank,” who makes cryptic utterances and incites Donnie to acts of criminal destruction.

By turns humorous and melancholy, the film is notable for its sharp characterisation (Drew Barrymore’s presence as producer and cast member attracted a number of celebrated actors) coupled with the dreamlike quality of Steven Poster’s cinematography. To enter its world is to witness the warping of reality as we know it. With all it encompasses, Donnie Darko bears watching—and puzzling over—time and again. Katerina Sakkas

5 copies courtesy Madman Entertainment

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RealTime issue #134 Aug-Sept 2016

Benjamin Hancock, MULTIMODAL, Lee Serle, The Substation

Benjamin Hancock, MULTIMODAL, Lee Serle, The Substation

The inductees lie on the floor, their bare feet pressed against massive subwoofers throbbing with a deep, resonant pulse. Atop the subs, trays of water vibrate, casting ripples of light across a vast ceiling: an outward representation of the powerful vibration permeating their bodies. Melbourne contemporary dance audiences have found themselves in similar ritualistic territory before in works such as Rebecca Jensen and Sarah Aiken’s Overworld (2015) or Phillip Adams’ All Things Return to Nature Tomorrow (2013), but Lee Serle’s newest work, MULTIMODAL, largely eschews cult or irony, addressing an audience’s thirst for connection with greatness directly.

“Multimodal” is apt. It’s an amalgam of contemporary choreography, visual art, sound installation and audience participation. Serle’s 20-strong team includes visual artist Liz Henderson, sound designer Byron Scullin, costume designer Shio Otani and 16 dancers. All the elements are significant, but the immediate, human interaction lies between the audience and the performers. The dancers are divided in two: a chorus-like group who guide audience members, and a core of four principals—Deanne Butterworth, Benjamin Hancock, Rebecca Jensen and Geoffrey Watson.

In the foyer before the performance, the principals select eight audience members who are ushered across a fragrant floor of crushed star anise to a suite of galleries (later viewable by the public). These rooms contain scented sculptures, videos, a microphone for collecting voice samples, and a naked man.

Meanwhile, the remainder of the audience enters the performance space: the double-height main hall of Newport Substation. We sit in traverse arrangement, with eight empty chairs and eight dancers dressed in black on the floor before us. The dancers languidly recline, lunge and stand, turning their heads slowly from side to side. The effect of their calm, gradual movements is subtly hypnotic. Offered headphones augment the soundscape with echoes of the inductees’ sampled statements.

Entering the main space, the inductees bring an assortment of mundane objects—a paper bag, a soft drink can— to a microphone, contributing to the soundscape before taking their seats within the performance. When they do, there’s a clear sense we have all been inducted into the work.

MULTIMODAL, Lee Serle, The Substation

MULTIMODAL, Lee Serle, The Substation

A structured improvisation then heightens our relationship with the principals as they casually pace the floor, occasionally gesturing half-heartedly—a hopping shunt across the floor, an arm extension that dissolves into apathy—building to a full-blown, accelerated mash of proficient bodies hurling themselves through space. If the improv format is familiar, Butterworth, Hancock, Jensen and Watson make for an intelligent, cohesive, investigative team. All choreographers in their own right, they share an embrace of abandon: a desire to push into and fracture space.

Watching, I’m struck by how, in an age of fame and social media, we look to performers of all sorts to provide a sense of personal greatness we’re reluctant to find in ourselves. Gently involving and empowering his audience, Lee Serle doesn’t allow this separation. Our proximity to the dancers is a distinct reminder of our own corporeal potential.

As the improv winds down, it is replaced by intimate interactions between the four main dancers and their subjects. The dancers hover unusually close. Ben Hancock’s grounded nearness has a kind yet disquieting ambiguity. The inductees are moved and interviewed by the secondary group of dancers. In the performance I witness, simple questions about the inductees’ experience in the galleries below yield intimate reflections on grief and loss. Their shoes removed, they lie on the floor in contact with the speakers. Transitions are handled smoothly and it feels natural to arrive at this final sequence.

Byron Scullin’s throbbing soundscape takes over, and the whole audience seems to have entered an altered state, mesmerised by the vibration generating ripples of light across the ceiling.

Lee Serle & The Substation: MULTIMODAL, The Substation, Newport, Melbourne, 30 Aug–4 Sept; read the program here.

RealTime issue #134 Aug-Sept 2016

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

Andrew Mujunen, Daniel Monks, Second Skin, 2013, choreographer Dean Walsh, Catalyst Dance Masterclass Series

Andrew Mujunen, Daniel Monks, Second Skin, 2013, choreographer Dean Walsh, Catalyst Dance Masterclass Series

At the age of 17 I started working as a roofing plumber in an uncle’s raging heterosexual “no sheilas” business. Deeply confused, having survived a highly violent and homophobic upbringing, this job seemed like a way out. After two years of macho theatrics, I left. I moved into the city and got a job in a 24-hour newsagency in Kings Cross. One day in 1987, while stacking newspapers, I saw an advertisement for UK-based dance company, Michael Clark & Company. At the time I was attending a group for young survivors of abuse and our facilitator, Faye, organised an excursion to see their show. This was a massive game changer for me. Afterwards Faye found the Bodenwieser Dance Centre and the following year, aged 20, I began full-time training, graduating in 1990.

I mention this early personal account to outline the importance of outreaching to marginalised groups and individuals, if for no other reason than to include a more diverse range of human experiences in dance practice within Australia. Faye also sparked a seismic change in my life by helping to guide me. I have never forgotten this and have maintained an inclusive practice for much of my 26-year career.

Having facilitated many workshops since the early 1990s for community centres in Western Sydney (and for a week in NYC in 1998) for traumatised and suicidal youth, I can vouch for the fact that many kids with complex trauma disorder (CTD) symptoms are too traumatised to attend a tertiary arts course without considerable guidance. There is currently no dance course catering for people living with disability (PLWD) in Australia. Inclusion starts with education so why isn’t there a course that is inclusive?

Further disclosure: my name is Dean Walsh and I live within the arts. I also live with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) that has lain hidden beneath the largely misunderstood CTD. I’m not one to say that, if I’d known earlier, “I wouldn’t change a thing,” because if I could, I most definitely would have. However, we cannot change the past nor our genetic make-up so we must learn to survive, in other words, adapt. I have carved out a career where I’ve sought to communicate, through dance and performance, diverse experiences—lower socio-economic life, domestic violation and LGBTQI stories—without apology and without pity-pulling. I know now (I was diagnosed in 2015) that my autism has driven most of these works with a need to tell-it-like-it-is and in great detail.

I largely devised my works in solitude because other people often confuse me. Their input more often than not tips me into overdrive that can lead to complete physiological and emotional meltdowns, sometimes for days on end. Coming out of these is like being liberated after days stuck in a room of white noise and conflicting thoughts (pictures) played at the highest frequency. When I think of the days I’ve lost to these meltdowns, I would say they’d equate to a couple of years. There have been months on end when I’ve been unable to be around many people because of the exhaustion of trying to pretend they make sense. Solitude is bliss but also a curse.

Then in 2007 I found scuba diving. I am happiest underwater, in deep pressurised space where people don’t talk or confuse me with myriad conflicting expressions and ideas. All I need to focus on is my technical equipment, a quieter and more sensitive social interaction and the series of stunning pictures around me that are relayed within the sensory medium that immerses me—environmental integration.

I’m very adept at adapting, like so many other people I now know. When we adapt we learn new skills for life and when we learn we have something more we can pass on, keeping the wheel of progressive social change revolving. This is a good thing. However, we need more platforms from which to share our findings. The Accessible Arts Catalyst Masterclass and Residency series in Sydney (2012-2016) is one such platform I’m very pleased to say I’ve taken part in. This program has the capacity to spark seismic shifts nationally when it comes to the inclusion of difference within dance.

Dean Walsh and artist participants, Catalyst Dance Masterclass Series, 2012

Dean Walsh and artist participants, Catalyst Dance Masterclass Series, 2012

The arts are good for many reasons, not least for sharing, questioning and showcasing the diversity of our existence as it evolves, contemporaneously. When we do this authentically, from a core need to understand and express ourselves better, I believe we are being truly innovative rather than superficially trying to tick a box. As artists we are not just innovating when we choreograph or direct new works but also in the methods we employ while researching, teaching and facilitating our arts practice beyond conventional theatre stages.

Some artists choose to focus on quite limited choreographic aesthetics, some with very narrow definitions of beauty and ability. Others, myself included, look to challenge this constantly, not only through artistic choice but as a lived necessity. Adaptation (and one could call this innovation) is, for some of us, an intrinsic part of daily life, not just a work ethic or funding prerequisite.

I have recently started to ‘come out’ as autistic and this has sometimes been met with incredulous scoffs, dismissive shrug-offs, rolling eyes and even outright laughter. For me, this is no laughing matter. And there’s that awful, dismissive, “Oh, but we’re all on the spectrum; we’re artists.” The Autism Spectrum has been analysed for decades and defined by the World Health Organisation and many other global and national agencies and experts, for very important reasons. It articulates a level of severity of a whole range of autistic experiences, not just your average, creative, single-focused drives. People who live on the spectrum are nine times more likely to suicide than neurotypical people, due, often, to a lack of understanding, including not being believed.

Our artistic expressions have the potential to reflect upon and challenge prejudices and satiate the ceaseless human desire for exploration and knowledge. The inclusive arts community has begun to grow exponentially in Australia, adopting a sense of unorthodox practice like no other arts sector I’ve ever worked within. Through its Catalyst series, Accessible Arts has promoted this and embraced my developing movement research with openness and encouragement. A further prerequisite for innovation is to allow artists to try things out: ‘failure’ is part of that process.

In 2010 I received a two-year Australia Council Fellowship to further my methods of research into marine environmental understandings, in order to formulate means with which to express these through movement and develop a practice intrinsically focused on reconnecting us to environmental realms—the oceans. I call this practice PrimeOrderly—embodied environmental awareness research [see an interview here. Eds).

I think there is huge potential in the arts for us to be more inclusive of people of greater physical, intellectual and neurological diversity. In fact, I feel this could be the next major evolutionary arts movement. But it must be steered by people living with disability or those who are authentically invested in the sector. This movement would have its basis in ethical practice. It could also teach us to be less elitist and egotistical and more versatile in our approaches to performance making. This is not to say we cannot continue to be methodologically rigorous.

In dance terms, inclusive practice could lead to the acknowledgement of a need to develop entirely new inclusive methodologies enabling people with disability to develop systems that best support and express their inquiries as artists and communicators; from this we could all learn so much more about the human condition. For all we know (or thought we knew), a social revolution could ensue.

Dean Walsh

Dean Walsh

In collaboration with Ausdance NSW and Accessible Arts, the Catalyst Dance Program engaged dancer and choreographer Dean Walsh, a long-time supporter of the program, to write this article around his work in integrated dance.

Read Part II, where Dean Walsh describes how he has worked with and been inspired by Restless Dance Company, Catalyst Dance and RUCKUS.

Accessible Arts’ Catalyst Dance is an intensive integrated dance skills and career development program that includes working with key national and international dance leaders and artist mentors. The Catalyst Dance Residency is a national artist development program across two years initiated by Accessible Arts; the most recent was held at Critical Path, Sydney, 21-27 August this year.

Dean Walsh has worked in Australia and overseas as a performer, director/choreographer and teacher, including as a dancer with companies such as DV8 Physical Theatre, Stalker Theatre, Japan Contemporary Dance Network, Australian Dance Theatre, Opera Australia, The opera Project, Sydney Dance Company and One Extra Dance. He has a long and deeply held personal interest in marine ecology, biology and interactive disciplines (surfing, snorkelling, scuba and breath-held diving), which forms the basis for his most recent choreographic explorations. Since 1991 he has devised more than 35 dance/performance works from solo through to small groups. He recently presented two 30-minute group movement lecture demonstrations as part of World Parks Congress, a multi-national event held every decade and attended by more than 4,000 delegates from 166 countries.

Read articles about Dean Walsh in our RealTimeDance dance archive.

Walsh was co-director and choreographer for Speed of Life, produced and performed by RUCKUS, a Sydney-based disability-led ensemble. Read the RealTime review.

Read an interview conducted by integrated dance choreographer Philip Channels with Dean Walsh.

RealTime issue #134 Aug-Sept 2016

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

Leah Scholes, Simulcast, BIFEM 2016

Leah Scholes, Simulcast, BIFEM 2016

Amid a concentrated festival program, Leah Scholes’ Simulcast concert was scheduled simultaneously with a Xenakis keyboard marathon by Peter de Jager, the afternoon a kind of meta-simulcast of scheduling by BIFEM director David Chisholm. Thankfully these performances were repeated for those wanting to experience both; though the Xenakis program might have looked on paper the more intensive of the two, Simulcast was its true equal in quality and presentation, no less of a physical feat and with its own singular aesthetic. All five percussion pieces shared a concern with the uncomfortable interaction, the friction, between sound and meaning, and the slippage and failure of language.

Mark Applebaum’s Aphasia enlists his percussionist not as a maker of sounds, or even as a striker of objects, but as a practitioner of a kind of fake sign language. There’s something absurd and yet sublime about the juxtaposition of mundane domestic signs—manipulating a Rubik’s Cube, swimming breaststroke, turning a vehicle’s ignition—with totally unfamiliar, otherworldly sounds, distortions of a human voice in the pre-recorded tape part. The voice is both synchronised with the signs and semantically alien to them: this is a form of puppetry more than any kind of meaningful sign language.

Scholes combines the substantial repertoire of hand gestures with an entirely deadpan expression. There’s impressive counterpoint not only in passages of simultaneous and rapidly alternating gestures (all memorised in sync with the complex and rhythmically irregular tape part) but also between this highly animated, angular physical virtuosity and the deliberate blankness of the performer’s face and body. Furthermore, despite heavy processing, the taped voice is clearly recognisable as a deep male one. In this version of the piece, the disjunction between the sound of that voice (Nicholas Isherwood’s) and the physical appearance of the female performer heightens the sense of ventriloquism, an operatic alien puppeteer loading the performer’s semantic capacity with unfamiliar sounds, to be translated and performed as familiar but contextually meaningless gestures. What begins as a stream of audio-visual objects that could form meaningful language is revealed as a kind of expressive paralysis.

All the pieces on the program shared Applebaum’s interest in spoken language, and perhaps in questioning its communicative function. However some works took a less cynical viewpoint.

Far from deadpan, the emotional tone of Vinko Globokar’s Toucher was highly energetic, switching quickly between characters and conversations in an imaginary series of dialogues with the mathematician and astronomer Galileo Galilei. Toucher presented a kind of formalised musical lesson. After a short solfege-style key to the sounds we were about to hear (each specific syllable associated with a unique pop or swish of a percussion gesture), Scholes launched full speed ahead into these aphoristic encounters. Each section was clearly numbered and announced, including the pauses, much to the amusement of the audience. From what I could make out of the French, these sections were arranged in a non-linear order, and the spoken language came in and out of the texture while the percussive simulacra remained a constant, such that our focus (particularly for non-francophones) was not on deciphering direct semantic meaning, but on observing the inner logic of inflection and phrasing.

Leah Scholes, Simulcast, BIFEM 2016

Leah Scholes, Simulcast, BIFEM 2016

Such was her familiarity with the material, so well ingrained was the cadence in her voice and hands, that Scholes was a perfect foil for the potentially didactic structure: nonchalant, incisive and theatrically convincing in embodying a whole cast of characters.

Francois Sarhan’s Homework #1 (part of a series of music-theatre works by the composer) has neither historical figures nor universal signs to tie it to the concrete. Instead Sarhan employs the jargonistic language of instructional manuals to imagine a seemingly innocuous mechanical object which the performer is involved in building or fixing (“take the lip of the pipe” etc). What begins as a cheerfully optimistic charade (think daytime children’s television) soon dissolves into concern and then panic, as the exterior pragmatic world of systems and details comes into conflict with an interior emotional world—“no, not like that!”—and gets altogether out of control.

At its climax Homework recalls Georges Aperghis’s Le corps à corps, in a complex groove of hitting, twisting and ragged breathing. Although some of the tiniest sounds—the facial percussion, for example—may have benefited from amplification, the increasingly urgent trajectory carried the listener’s attention right through to a silent, hollow coda.

The longest and most texturally complex work on the program was Rick Burkhardt’s Simulcast, a riot of translation, miscommunication and fragmentation. Scholes was joined by fellow percussionist Louise Devenish, seated at a sort of radio announcers’ table and armed with microphones, suspended cymbals and a range of unusual percussion instruments, including harmonica and clickers. The pair were precise and in sync, down to the matching pitch and inflection of their voices in a dreamlike unison episode. Scholes and Devenish began as a kind of bilingual sports commentary team, but as the empty language of management-speak intruded and complex interference patterns emerged, the narrative sense started to unravel. By the end of the work language was being described not in communicative terms but as a kind of interrogation or torture. “Most of what is happening now is shouting.”

Rounding off a sleek and satisfying concert came Australian composer Kate Neal’s declamatory Self Accusation. Like the Globokar, Neal’s work conflated language and percussion gestures, but in a more insistent pulsation, a list of self-reflections that ranged from neutral observations to descriptions of restriction and conflict. Peter Handke’s 1966 text, Self-Accusation, had an appealing Beatnik quality, reveling in repetitive grammatical structures: it might invite comparison with Ginsberg’s seminal anti-establishment poem America.

The whispered control and formality of the opening, with its delicate metallic sounds and tentative self-discovery, opened out into a joyful looseness, proclaiming a rebellion against all the arbitrary constraints of society: “I did not husband my sexual powers! […] I CROSSED ON THE RED!”

In the course of these five works (mirroring the structure of the Xenakis concert), Scholes revealed not only an attention to the finest details of complex percussion music (with the exception of the Rick Burkhardt duo that gave the concert its title, Scholes’ program was memorised, to an extreme degree of precision), but also a theatrical flair in spades, a special combination required to pull off such ambitious works. In this regard the expert contribution of director Penelope Bartlau should be specially acknowledged. Scholes used her own body and voice as a site of crisis and discovery, a site for a fascinating interplay of emotional and intellectual currents, interior and exterior worlds. It must be mentioned too that both the works and their interpretation were serious fun, the concert an unashamedly flamboyant and engaging vision of what music can be.

Bendigo International Festival of Exploratory Music 2016: Leah Scholes, Simulcast; Old Fire Station, Bendigo, 3 Sept

RealTime issue #134 Aug-Sept 2016

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

Carl Rosman conducts ELISION Ensemble & students from ANAM, Machine for Contacting the Dead

Carl Rosman conducts ELISION Ensemble & students from ANAM, Machine for Contacting the Dead

Speaking before the performance of Liza Lim’s Machine for Contacting the Dead (2000), conductor Carl Rosman drew parallels between the ELISION ensemble in its early days and the young musicians from the Australian National Academy of Music (ANAM) joining them for this concert. Celebrating its 30th anniversary this year and recalling how ELISION’s initial approach was to “bite off more than they could chew, and then chew like hell,” Rosman praised the young players for their similarly committed attitude towards such a daunting project.

Lim composed Machine for Contacting the Dead for France’s Ensemble Intercontemporain. Premiered in 2000, it sprang from the discovery of Chinese archaeological treasures recently excavated from a 433BCE tomb, and coincided with a Parisian exhibition of the artefacts. Among the bodies of the noblemen and concubines were several well-preserved musical instruments, some of which were unidentified. As she so often does, Lim became interested in the link between history and memory, and created this work to imagine female musicians and dancers of the distant past.

Machine for Contacting the Dead received its Australian premiere in Brisbane in 2002, performed by ELISION together with members of The Queensland Orchestra; but that’s the last we’d heard of it. A work of many challenges, perhaps its demands —or the lack of a permanent contemporary music ensemble large enough to tackle such works—had prevented it being programmed elsewhere in the composer’s home country. ELISION have found a natural match in musicians from ANAM who also joined the ensemble to perform Enno Poppe’s Speicher. Hopefully, the two will recreate this fruitful collaboration to perform similarly ambitious contemporary works in the future.

From the outset of the piece, Lim’s nimble orchestration is on show. With her highly developed ability to craft layers of sounds without overwhelming the piece’s texture, each flutter of high wind and muted brass, wail of string harmonics and punctuation points from the three percussionists helps weave a rich tapestry. While the overall effect is quite visibly and musically raucous, the volume remains understated; recalling a distant memory of imagined music.

Emerging from these memories at various points throughout, the solo cello and bass clarinet assert their presence. Cellist Séverine Ballon’s playing is exceptional. She throws herself into the highly technical and physical part, using extended techniques to make the instrument sound in unfamiliar ways. A brief duet between Ballon and ELISION veteran Peter Veale in the first movement produces some delightful interplay, with Veale’s overblown oboe a perfect match for Ballon’s suitably violent playing.

ELISION Ensemble and ANAM, Machine for Contacting the Dead, BIFEM 2016

ELISION Ensemble and ANAM, Machine for Contacting the Dead, BIFEM 2016

Equally impressive is Richard Haynes, who doubled on the bass clarinet and contrabass clarinet. Seamlessly carrying on Ballon’s opening solo in the second movement, the bass clarinet at first matches the tone of the cello before diverting into an energetic and almost jazz-influenced line, punctuated by aggressive tongue slaps and jumps in register. Playing the contrabass clarinet, Haynes brings out a deep and resonant tone, with some frightening low grumbles to underscore the rest of the ensemble.

Each movement contains opportunities for individual musicians to shine. In an interview some years ago Lim hinted that, despite its commission by another ensemble, Machine for Contacting the Dead was written with ELISION musicians in mind. Marshall McGuire’s harp, with its pitch bends and sustained notes, is a great match for the piano, which switches between conventional playing and contemporary techniques including plucking the strings and bowing them with nylon wires. Trumpet flourishes are perfectly suited to Tristram Williams, who precisely executes each one, and Paula Rae’s performance shows her mastery of each of her instruments—in the shrill announcements of the piccolo and the lusty tone of the bass flute.

According to Lim’s specific instructions, the solo bass clarinet, solo cello and contrabassoon are seated front and centre. The remaining musicians surround them, meaning that instrumental families are split up. With the composer’s rich orchestration, this provides some great moments of dialogue and spatial play. A particularly effective moment is shared by the two violinists. Staring down his ANAM counterpart on the other side of the stage, Graeme Jennings’ power is evenly matched by the student in a fiery duet, with a stereo sound effect. The unique arrangement causes some problems with communication and entries, but on the whole the choice enhances the sense of space and drama in the work.

Towards the end of the final movement, attention is drawn to the back of the stage as the three percussionists, harpist and trombonist gather around the piano. With nylon wires, the five bow the grand piano strings, while the remaining percussionist ominously beats on a low bass string with her mallets. Changing the speed and intensity of the bowing wires at different rates, the effect of the pitches emerging and ringing out through the auditorium is magical. The removal of the piano lid is Lim’s own unearthing of centuries-old sonic treasures from the tomb, and a fitting end to a work which demonstrates Liza Lim’s phenomenal ability to push the boundaries of what audiences can expect to hear in a concert hall.

For another response to Machine for Contacting the Dead read Bec Scully’s review.

Bendigo International Festival of Exploratory Music, 2016: ELISION/ANAM, Machine for Contacting the Dead, composer Liza Lim; Capital Theatre, Bendigo, 4 Sept

RealTime issue #134 Aug-Sept 2016

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

Peter & Molly, The Superior Animal III (video still), 2015, Radical Ecologies

Peter & Molly, The Superior Animal III (video still), 2015, Radical Ecologies

A name can work against you. This seems to be the case with PICA’s most recent group exhibition, Radical Ecologies, an audacious title that invites the show to be judged on unforgiving terms. Rather than present the most extreme or challenging ecologically-minded work being produced today, the curatorial team of Nadia Johnson, Andrew Varano and outgoing head curator Leigh Robb has gathered a diverse assortment of art that resists a simple unifying label. If this makes for an occasionally puzzling viewing experience, it also reveals compelling confluences among superficially disparate art practices.

Radical Ecologies spans PICA’s ground floor and greets you with a rich array of materials: floor-to-ceiling fabric, branches, ceramics, video monitors, prints, ant-chewed book pages, wooden constructions and robotic displays. Its mixed aesthetic suggests the multivalence of ‘ecology’ in an unstable world, and (happily) avoids clichés endemic to the ‘eco art’ genre.

Pony Express, Ecosexual Bathhouse, 2015, Radical Ecologies

Pony Express, Ecosexual Bathhouse, 2015, Radical Ecologies

The most striking works lie along PICA’s south wall. Here, Peter and Molly’s The Superior Animal and an excerpt from fellow duo Pony Express’ Ecosexual Bathhouse [see RT’s Next Wave review] explore sensual interactions with flora and fauna. For Peter and Molly, this entails a triptych of videos with glossy production values, dramatic music and erotic horror overtones as they get messy with leeches, octopuses and clams. Pony Express’ tone is more playful, reworking porn magazines, graffitiing a sauna cabin with eco-sexual puns, photographing vegetal orgies and contriving sext-message conversations between Gaia and Gaia. Both collaborations portray the (human) ecstasy and agony of interspecies encounters: Deleuzian excursions into the double-edged bliss of transgression. None of this promises to transcend the safe sandbox of art performance and become a way of life—that is to say, truly radical. But both offer well-wrought speculative worlds, even if Pony Express acknowledge their own absurdity, while Peter and Molly’s quest for aberrant closeness is undercut by the whiff of animal exploitation.

Mike Bianco, Bee Bed, 2016, Radical Ecologies

Mike Bianco, Bee Bed, 2016, Radical Ecologies

A gentler kind of exploitation—promising more mutual benefit—is offered by artist and beekeeper Mike Bianco. He has constructed a steel-and-plywood “bee bed” that allows visitors to lie atop a hive, experiencing its sounds and smells without fear of stings. From overhead, one can inspect the bees at close range through a clear tube, affording a rare intimacy with these all-important and imperilled insects. Bianco’s nearby drone painting attempts a two-colour composition designed to appeal to humans and bees alike, while his woodblock print situates this interspecies relationship in a mythological and art-historical context. Bianco’s works evince both a thorough ecological understanding and a resolved aesthetic approach, making them undeniable highlights of the show.

Stelarc’s Re-Wired / Re-Mixed: Event for Dismembered Body comprises a five-day performance in which the artist cedes control of his robotically-enhanced arm to an internet audience, while also receiving audio and visual input from different bodies (in New York and London respectively). It’s a worthwhile inclusion, if only in kindling important questions about technological augmentation of biology, but it hardly feels cutting edge, drawing heavily on the veteran’s decades-old projects such as Fractal Flesh: Split Body: Voltage In/Voltage Out—performed (in Perth, no less) in 1996.

Stelarc

Stelarc

Certain works seem more preoccupied with the impression of radicalism than with radical practice itself. Tim Burns’ mini-retrospective installation, incorporating the punky aesthetics of spray paint and exploded TVs, fails to say anything you couldn’t read on a Fremantle bumper sticker. Backlit photograph-cum-sculpture, The Dyeing Ones, documents a fabric-staining ritual by local “end times” art cult The ‘Cene. Thus it emerges from an intriguing premise, but the work’s content fails to provide any meaningful elaboration. Nathan Beard’s Oriental Antiquities sculptures comprise versions of porcelain Buddha heads appropriated by the British Museum. These are beautiful, but don’t seem to belong in the exhibition at all; to shoehorn them with references to a global-political ‘ecology’ feels tenuous.

The ‘Cene, Compact Spirit Rituals, 2016, Radical Ecologies

The ‘Cene, Compact Spirit Rituals, 2016, Radical Ecologies

Other works reveal an intriguing subversive undercurrent. These forego spectacle in favour of quietude and patience. Katie West’s narrated video Decolonist channels nature to foster a meditative space in which to “slowly unlearn what we have been taught” and release the mind from toxic, ingrained discourse. Fellow Noongar practitioner Noel Nannup shares his deep ecological knowledge and wisdom with Matt Aitken in a series of conversations set to local footage, lending a fascinating counterpoint of learning to West’s unlearning. Rebecca Orchard’s sculptures and drawings subject unremarkable stones to a time-consuming, laborious process of replication, thereby eschewing Capitalist notions of value and embracing an intensive intimacy with natural forms. There’s a telling irony at play, whereby art that ignores the aesthetics of ‘radicality’ suggests some of the most radical results. Perhaps it’s unsurprising, though, that an ethos of patience and openness should foster the most promising remedy to a contemporary moment so bereft of both.

PICA, Radical Ecologies, curators Nadia Johnson, Andrew Varano, Leigh Robb, artists Matt Aitken, Nathan Beard, Mike Bianco, Tim Burns, Andrew Christie, Pony Express, Steven Finch, Cat Jones, Rose Megirian, Peter and Molly, Rebecca Orchard, Perdita Phillips, Mei Saraswati, Stelarc, Katie West; PICA, Perth, 31 July-4 Sept

RealTime issue #134 Aug-Sept 2016 pg.

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


As we live through this moment of anticipating a glorious technological future, the promise of the Asian Century and the catastrophe of climate change, we are increasingly reliant on our screens to inform, connect and disconnect us from our world. In a new book, Screen Ecologies: Art, Media, and the Environment in the Asia-Pacific Region, authors Larissa Hjorth, Sarah Pink, Kristen Sharp and Linda Williams examine these overlapping paradoxes: of art, media and global warming as screened in the Asia Pacific region.

Explained in as few words as possible, this book explores how information and technologies both engage us with and disengage us from the environments we inhabit. But at ground level, a tremendous deal more is going on. The entanglements of creativity, ecology, geography and technology are investigated through sociological, media-archeological and remediation approaches. The methodological skeleton key unlocking these varied research trajectories is the interdisciplinary approach that forms productive connections across the diverse fields of study. It is at times an intricate maze of ideas and a challenging thread to follow, but the scope and urgency of this book makes it well worth the read.

Manabu Ikeda, Meltdown, 2012

Manabu Ikeda, Meltdown, 2012

In the opening chapters, art, media and climate change are grouped as an interconnected ecosystem, a complex circular network in which all three are produced, experienced and discarded. This media-arts ecology is then situated within the Asia-Pacific Region, home to the vast bulk of device factories, technology consumers and e-refuse destinations. Further tightening the Asia-Pacific focus is the UN’s 2013 report suggesting that the coastal megacities of Asia—Manila, Hong Kong, Tokyo—will be hardest hit by the worst effects of global warming. The problems are proximate and the stakes are high.

Asia’s increasing vulnerability to natural disaster and the way information about it is mediated is taken up in the fourth chapter. Explored here is how mobile screens and camera technologies can instantly transmit disasters such as Japan’s Tohoku earthquake and the Philippines’ typhoon Haiyan, but also how our consumption of these devices makes us complicit in the gradual but larger catastrophe of climate change. Just as the sublime devastation of disaster footage makes for compelling screen viewing, likewise the mass dumping of rapidly obsolete screen technologies makes for tremendous environmental disasters. It’s a close symbiotic relationship.

Moving beyond the apocalyptic, the discussion enters the calmer waters of contemporary arts as a ‘platform’ to productively engage with climate change. Here, the authors trace the rise of trans-regional art spaces such as biennials, triennials, community arts projects and micro-sites as locations for exploring ecological concerns. This examination includes an essential critique of the arts, both as a means for disseminating and investigating cultural zeitgeists, as well as an industry through which Capitalism reproduces itself in new and creative guises, often at the same time.

In the book’s central chapters, eco-critical arts practices from across the Asia Pacific are introduced with vital analysis of the strengths and limitations of both art and social media as effective means for rethinking climate change. In an exceptionally useful conclusion, the authors look beyond present models of engagement and collaborative art projects to offer new possibilities for participation in which media technologies might be usefully mobilised: new ways of connecting with each other and our natural surroundings to which our screen technologies somehow make us blind.

This book is unmistakably an academic text, and as such it often favours factual rigour over arresting prose. It can, at times, be clinically scholarly in its delivery. What breathes precious life into the study is the extensive discussion and analysis of the works of art that populate the volume, works that through a different vernacular, illustrate the pressing concerns taken up by the authors.

Yao Lu, The beauty of Kunming, 2010

Yao Lu, The beauty of Kunming, 2010

Noteworthy is Chinese Photographer Yao Lu, whose composite images masquerade as beautiful instances of traditional Shan Shui landscape painting, replete with calligraphy and signature stamps. Yet on closer examination, the scenery reveals layers of industrial pollution and construction refuse, offering a critical assessment of China’s exploding metropolitan growth. Parallel concerns, but in a Japanese context, are expressed in the work of artist Ikeda Manabu whose hyper-dense ink illustrations envisage the lush intricacy of the city jungle, evoking the brutal yet beautiful insect-like industry of human urban construction.

From an Australian perspective, Adelaide sound investigator Jason Sweeney draws attention to audio pollution, offering a radical approach to the noise of the city by inviting participants to record its silences via mobile, thereby acting as “earwitnesses” to the nuanced urban soundscape. A comparable potency of amplifying silence is shown in the work of Natalie Jeremijenko who equips water-cleaning mussels with sensors, so that the opening and closing of their shells lends each creature a voice. The work enables audiences to observe and celebrate the tremendous environmental services these molluscs provide.

Natalie Jeremijenko, The Melbourne Mussel Choir, 2014

Natalie Jeremijenko, The Melbourne Mussel Choir, 2014

The spectrum of problems this book unearths and the creative tactics used to address them is perhaps best manifested in the work of photographer/activist Ravi Agarwal whose practice exceeds traditional boundaries of art to remind us that environmental policy, grassroots activism and the preservation of the planet are not simply social, environmental and political activities, but are also deeply creative and aesthetic endeavours.

Yet for all the ground this book covers, there is much it does not. Subjects from the Pacific trash vortex to the toxicity in e-waste city Guiyu receive little to no treatment, while numerous potentially worthy artists are not included. Given this area of investigation is so immense, evolving and urgent, it’s curious not to find more examination of these interwoven topics in other publications and media.

Inspired by the book’s thrust, I was left wondering how its content could be expanded and its messages made more explicit. Could the relationship between creativity, technology and sustainability and the quickening cycles of consumption they produce somehow be explained through more popular means? Would people re-engage with these burning issues if they transcended academic pages and gallery spaces to be made into mobile apps, web documentaries or games? But again in trying to screen the problem, it reproduces itself.

Leonardo Book Series: Screen Ecologies: Art, Media, and the Environment in the Asia-Pacific Region, authors Larissa Hjorth, Sarah Pink, Kristen Sharp, Linda Williams, The MIT Press, 2016. Hardcover $US37, eBook $AUS26

Larissa Hjorth and Sarah Pink are Professors in the RMIT School of Media and Communication; Kristen Sharp is Senior Lecturer and Linda Williams Associate Professor in the RMIT School of Art.

RealTime issue #134 Aug-Sept 2016

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

Jo Lloyd, Nicola Gunn, Mermermer, Next Move

Jo Lloyd, Nicola Gunn, Mermermer, Next Move

Making live performance, as Robert Lepage once said, is all about meeting people. Things only begin to happen in the moment of creative encounter, where there’s a connection or a collision of different artistic, intellectual or corporeal energies.

 

De Quincey Co, Metadata

Collaboration has always been a prominent feature of choreographer Tess de Quincey’s work. Think of the ambitious sprawl of DeQuincey/Lynch’s Compression 100 (1996), a collaboration with a host of Sydney-based musicians, writers and visual artists, or her work with visual artist Debra Petrovitch, poet/performer Amanda Stewart and media artist Francesca da Rimini in Nerve 9 (2001). More recently there was Moondance (2015) in which she worked with both a photographer and a video artist.

In her latest project, a double bill titled MetaData, collaboration is again at the fore as she works with a team of video, sound and animation artists, deploying techniques of data visualisation in a shadowy meditation on the relationship between science and art.

The first piece, Pure Light, is described as an homage to American artist Dan Flavin, best known for his minimalist installations of the 1960s and 1970s. Images of large fluorescent tubes are projected onto a screen at the back of the stage to create a series of shrine-like frames for an enigmatic solo figure dressed all in white.

Later, the space is suffused with colour: gradated orange through to peach, garish apricot and hot pink. The figure seems to diminish, but her shadow looms large on the screen and draws focus, cutting through the colour.

It’s a short work which shuttles easily between the playful and the sinister. Using the images of fluorescent tubes as a way of lighting the stage is a fun irony, but it also creates some spooky effects on the creeping figure.

As the figure, de Quincey is a compelling dramatic presence. Her movements are slow, forced and slightly tremulous, as though she were subject to unwilling possession. The moment when she turns to face the audience for the first time is a breathtaking reveal. Against a dark background, with her pale skin, spiky white hair, white eyebrows and large white hood, she seems a profoundly mournful vision.

The second piece, Moths & Mathematics, which de Quincey dances with Peter Fraser, is more challenging. Again, the dancers perform before a screen. Flickering points of projected light slide across their bodies as they pace back and forth, tracing a grid pattern on the stage floor. Gradually the animation develops in complexity with long curving lines and small star bursts. Shapes and patterns emerge that move with the sound design, as if responding to frequency data. There are long twisting particle streams and thickets of saw-toothed waveforms; three-dimensional bar charts rise up like brutalist apartment blocks, each with hundreds of pulsing cells.

All the animation is beautifully detailed, but by the end we lose sight of the dancers. In discussing Nerve 9, which also used frontal projection, de Quincey once suggested that it was the fact that the body kept getting in the way and fragmenting the projected images which—paradoxically—held the work together. In Moths & Mathematics, Fraser and de Quincey seem too small to influence our perception of the animation, which towers over them and is in any case already fragmented and abstract. Often it’s like they’re huddling, limbs folded together, disappearing into one another beneath a squall of data.

 

Tess de Quincy, Peter Fraser, MetaData, Dancehouse

Tess de Quincy, Peter Fraser, MetaData, Dancehouse

Chunky Move: Next Move, Re-make

Over at Chunky Move, as part of the 2016 Next Move program, contemporary dance maker and performer Melanie Lane and former Australian Ballet soloist Juliet Burnett engage in what looks like a more traditional collaborative relationship: the choreographer and her star dancer.

At its core, Lane’s piece, called Re-make, places us at an intersection between one dancer’s embodied knowledge of ballet traditions and another’s contemporary desire to pull apart classical forms and refashion them after a futuristic contemporary dance aesthetic.

It begins with five variations on a short but beautiful balletic study en pointe danced by Burnett—in gold-brown body suit and gold lipstick. Lane, all in black, watches from the sidelines. At first the mood is one of cool reserve with an emphasis on poise and control; but with each successive repetition Burnett becomes more and more expressive. At the same time, the lighting becomes more atmospheric and the musical accompaniment more affecting.

This progress toward expressivity culminates in a whirlwind tour through the various bits of mime and prop work in the ballet Giselle. We get Giselle and her mirror, Albrecht and his sword, Bathilde and her goblet, and plenty more. We also get their deaths. Soon after this, Lane joins Burnett on the floor and attempts to wrestle her in a new direction, away from romantic storytelling toward a sort of arty expressionism with gothic overtones. And so it is that Re-make eventually finishes with a heaving half-lit pas de trois between Lane, Burnett and a hefty black Kubrick-esque monolith.

In one memorable passage on the journey toward that point, Lane pulls a long black tutu over Burnett’s head. With Burnett doubled over, all we see are her long legs surrounded by a mass of tulle. It’s an image reminiscent of Xavier Le Roi’s Self Unfinished (1998), performed in Australia in 2015), but more theatrical. She begins to move laterally, again en pointe, fluttering around the stage on swift little steps. It’s like the remnants of a torso-less statue come to life. Is this the long pas de bourrée of The Dying Swan, seen from below?

This is ballet as radical subtraction: Fokine’s sentimental mime without the expressive arm movements on which so much of the sentiment depends. The question then shifts to one of substitution.

Not all sections are so original. A kind of intermission where Burnett, with a few glam rock accessories, strums awkwardly on an electric guitar is superfluous, and I wonder if the wrestling isn’t a little too obvious, even though it does generate some interesting hybrid shapes.

They’re a well-matched pair, Burnett and Lane, despite their different dance backgrounds, with both artists seemingly at home in uncanny nightscapes. Burnett may have danced La Sylphide while at Australian Ballet, but she also thrilled to the alien lines of Wayne McGregor’s Chroma (2006). In Re-make she displays almost entomic sangfroid, relishing the metamorphosis of ballerina into praying mantis.

 

Melanie Lane & Juliet Burnett, Re-make, Next Move

Melanie Lane & Juliet Burnett, Re-make, Next Move

Chunky Move: Next Move, Mermermer

In Mermermer, the second work on the program, collaboration centres on a meeting of artistic philosophies. Jo Lloyd and Nicola Gunn have been collaborating on and off for several years now, with Lloyd providing choreography for Gunn and Gunn dramaturging for Lloyd. Here they are sharing creative responsibilities in what feels like a real vanguard piece, extending the old maps and testing the ground for new ways forward.

Mermermer is billed as a conversation between the last two surviving humans about the process of making art. This set-up, however, is not referred to in the performance itself; instead, choreography becomes a way of cataloguing or structuring past affective experiences. Remembered bodily reactions become brief dance phrases which, when strung together, draw the two dancers round and round the stage.

While performing, they describe or label each memory, speaking to no-one in particular, murmuring softly. “Oh,” says Lloyd, “that’s hard to digest,” as she pulls a face and rubs her tummy. “Really good sex,” sighs Gunn as her head lolls back, eyes closed, “just a distant memory now.”

It’s all held together with a bouncing, vigorous back-and-forth rhythm, an energy characteristic of Lloyd’s work. After some 15 minutes, Gunn abruptly leaves the stage to fetch something which she calls “the view.” This turns out to be two large grey ponchos and piles of shiny streamers. There is an extended moment of stillness as the two performers pose beneath their props, and then the murmured talk resumes, but less concentratedly, with meandering anecdotes and more conversational interaction.

Both artists have in the past made plenty of art that reflects on the process of making art, but here the composition is more random or fragmented, like a collage of memories. In their program note, they force an imaginative link—via a quote from American author David Shields’ book Reality Hunger: A Manifesto (2010)—between the word memoir the French la mer, “the sea.” And Mermermer, particularly in its last section where the conversation falls away completely, does have a soothing effect reminiscent of the mimic motion and medleyed sound of a calm ocean.

If it isn’t dance enough for dance or theatre enough for theatre, perhaps it is, after all, no more than a meeting. In one of her many digressions, Nicola Gunn describes an idea for a new performance piece in which a group of bald men with straggly beards arranges chairs and tables on a stage as if in preparation for a meeting. When the room is finally ready, a woman draws the stage curtain and explains to the audience, in French, that the meeting is a private one.

Ah, well, sometimes art is like that: not everyone is invited and not everyone speaks the language. Chunky Move’s Next Move commission seems like an appropriate platform for work that is—at least in part—a conversation in petto about the future of performance, one which may later develop into something more engaged and engaging.

De Quincey Co: MetaData, dance Tess de Quincey, Peter Fraser, sound Pimmon, Warren Burt, animation Boris Morris Bagattini, light Sian James-Holland, Liam O’Keefe, costume Claire Westwood; Dancehouse, 9-10 Sept; Chunky Move: Next Move, Re-make, concept, direction Melanie Lane, choreography, performance Melanie Lane, Juliet Burnett, light Matthew Adey, sound Chris Clark, costume Paula Levis, dramaturg Adena Jacobs; Chunky Move, Southbank, Mermermer, choreography, performance Jo Lloyd, Nicola Gunn, light Matthew Adey, sound Duane Morrison, costume Shio Otani; Chunky Move, Southbank, Melbourne, 9-17 Sept

RealTime issue #134 Aug-Sept 2016

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

Barnaby Oliver, Gemma Horbury, Improv Idol

Barnaby Oliver, Gemma Horbury, Improv Idol

Described as “one part talent show, one part improvisation laboratory,” Clinton Green’s Improv Idol premiered in 2015 with powerful performances, a spirited audience and a team of incisive, wickedly witty judges: Carolyn Connors, Ian Parsons and Sean Baxter. You’ll find video excerpts from the 2015 event on the Improv Idol website.

2015 Improv Idol winner Gemma Horbury joins Connors and Baxter on the 2016 judging panel.

The 2016 cache of contestants—Roger Alsop, Aviva Endean, Rod Gregory, Carey Knight, Derek McCormack, Michael McNab, Roni Shewan and Adam Simmons—represents a diversity of formal and improvisatory talent ranging across sound design, classical contemporary, sound art, song and jazz and on a rich variety of instruments.

For all Improv Idol’s inherent sense of fun, this lineup of artists should make for some serious competition. Read about the artists, the judges and contest rules here.

Improv Idol 2016, Wesley Anne Bar & Restaurant, 250 High St, Northcote, Melbourne, 8-11pm, 29 Sept

RealTime issue #134 Aug-Sept 2016

James Wannan (viola d’amore), Argonaut Ensemble, Decadent Purity, BIFEM 2016

James Wannan (viola d’amore), Argonaut Ensemble, Decadent Purity, BIFEM 2016

The 2016 Bendigo International Festival of Exploratory Music explored extremes of scale, from experiments in the macro-organisation of orchestras to the barely audible micro-sounds of violins. This fourth and largest instalment of the festival included works of unprecedented scale and vision thanks to the involvement of globetrotting new music heroes ELISION, an augmented Argonaut Ensemble, the Bendigo Symphony Orchestra and students from the Australian National Academy of Music (ANAM). Despite the rare and valuable opportunities to hear new works for large ensembles, the festival’s coveted solo showcase recitals and string quartet program were once again the talk of the festival club.

This year BIFEM’s house band the Argonaut Ensemble reached chamber orchestra proportions, a size the festival’s artistic director David Chisholm hopes to sustain independently of the festival when he leaves the directorship in a few years. Argonaut launched the festival with two double concertos by Chisholm himself and the director of Sydney Chamber Opera, Jack Symonds. Though beautiful examples of chamber orchestration, both pieces demonstrated conspicuous imbalances between their solo instruments, with Symonds’ Decadent Purity foregrounding the glorious resonance and string-crossings of James Wannan’s viola d’amore over Kaylie Melville’s percussion part. Chisholm’s Harp Guitar Double Concerto included a brilliant cadenza for harpist Jessica Fotinos that could easily be a standalone piece, while Mauricio Carrasco’s guitar part, already struggling to be heard above the harp, was given a more concise solo statement.

Rehearsal, ELISION Ensemble and Wu Wei, How Forests Think

Rehearsal, ELISION Ensemble and Wu Wei, How Forests Think

ELISION are celebrating their 30th anniversary in Australia after the better part of a decade working intensively with leading composers in Europe and the US. They are a natural fit for Australia’s most ambitious contemporary art music festival and delivered on their reputation with a world premiere of Liza Lim’s How Forests Think featuring sheng master Wu Wei. Informed by Eduardo Kohn’s book of the same title about the subterranean communications systems of trees, and completed by the composer in the presence of the Amazon rainforest, the piece evokes all the wonder and quiet terror of the natural world. The world premiere of Aaron Cassidy’s The Wreck of Former Boundaries provided a suitably unrestrained counterpoint to Lim’s musical poise. Two concerts presented in collaboration with students from ANAM and conducted by Carl Rosman brought to Victoria much appreciated performances of Lim’s Machine for Contacting the Dead—featuring some truly hair-raising writing for bowed piano—and Enno Poppe’s musical meditation on memory, Speicher.

Solo showcase concerts have become such an important fixture at BIFEM that this year Peter de Jager’s program of Xenakis keyboard works and Leah Scholes’ performance of choreographic percussion pieces were both performed twice with minimal intervals. Both programs gave the impression of high-wire tightrope acts, with Scholes’ masterful coordination with tape parts and second percussionist Louise Devenish leaving the audience awestruck. As well as courting musical danger, Scholes walked a fine dramatic line between humour and profound fear and anger. In text-based works by François Sarhan and Kate Neal, Scholes not only commanded the audience as a musician, but also as an actor.

If the complexity of Xenakis’ scores prohibited most of the audience from fully appreciating the tightrope of de Jager’s performance (though greater musical minds assured me it was technically almost faultless), they could be in no doubt as to its physical and mental demands. That de Jager was able to perform three hours of Xenakis without breaking a sweat was almost unsettling. Two of the pieces, Khoaï and Naama, were performed on a 20th century harpsichord, an instrument so rare that one had to be imported from Tasmania. The instrument has pedals to change registers and is larger and more robust than the baroque harpsichord, with a rich, almost electronic tone.

Argonaut Quartet, Glossolalia, BIFEM 2016

Argonaut Quartet, Glossolalia, BIFEM 2016

This year the Argonaut String Quartet (Erkki Veltheim, Elizabeth Welsh, Graeme Jennings and Judith Hamman) spent most of their time in the realm of whispering bowings and harmonics. In the case of Chisholm’s Bound South the restriction to use only the lowest strings of the instruments and the quietest dynamic markings produced a piece of superb focus and discipline. Pedro Alvarez’s Étude Oblique I and Sergio Luque’s Through Empty Space were by turns brooding and metallic meanderings in the meditative spectrum of string quartet writing. Erkki Veltheim’s explosive Glossolalia provided a welcome contrast.

XXXX Live Nude Girls!!, Argonaut Ensemble, BIFEM 2016

XXXX Live Nude Girls!!, Argonaut Ensemble, BIFEM 2016

BIFEM continued its commitment to contemporary musical theatre and opera with Irish composer Jennifer Walshe’s junk-opera XXX_LIVE_NUDE_GIRLS!!! Promising nudity but delivering a deconstruction of intimate partner violence, XXX_LIVE_NUDE_GIRLS!!! dares the audience to laugh at the deadly serious. Using a Barbie mansion as a puppet theatre, a Barbie doll with a beard sends another doll flying from a second-storey window. Rose petals are dropped on her, pooling like blood. A toy ambulance comes to pick up the body. This moment entails a fit of nervous laughter from the audience. When a puppeteer’s booted heel crushes the doll even this laughter dissipates, the line between the toys and human figures all but disappearing. Similarly, an excruciatingly extended rape scene only serves to highlight the reality of intimate partner rape. The dolls are an important conceit in getting the audience to this point. Would an opera marketed without such levity be as enthusiastically attended? But with its snippets of mainstream radio and sitcom accents, it is too easy for a contemporary music audience to dismiss domestic violence as a mainstream issue. It does not hold up a mirror to the contemporary arts world, which is not untouched by intimate partner violence.

Myriam Gourfink, Kaspar Toeplitz, Data_Noise, BIFEM 2016

Myriam Gourfink, Kaspar Toeplitz, Data_Noise, BIFEM 2016

Two programs combining noise and dance by Myriam Gourfink and Kasper T Toeplitz pushed the limits of the very slow and the very loud. In Data_Noise and Ascension in Noise, the shifting textures of Toeplitz’s synthesised noise met their choreographic match in Gourfink’s micro-movements. In Data_Noise sensors on Gourfink’s arms and legs controlled sand-blasting granular-synthesis sounds, while in Ascension in Noise hundreds of oscillators made their way from very low to very high pitches over several hours, while Gourfink moved ever so slowly in the space. Toeplitz and Gourfink’s focused simplicity provided moments of respite from the complexity of BIFEM’s program of notated music. The noise duo Sister (Marco Cher-Gibard and Ben Speth) provided a very different experience, blasting the audience with feedback and processed guitar while Matthew Adey improvised lighting design by deploying fluorescent lights and gels around the space. Adey’s creative lighting designs were so affecting that this duo properly deserves to be a trio.

After a weekend of performances by dedicated new music ensembles, it was refreshing to close the festival with the Bendigo Symphony Orchestra performing Michel and André Décosterd’s PHO:TON for orchestra and solo keyboard. The keyboardist (Peter Dumsday) triggers lights above the orchestral performers, with each key lighting up a single instrumentalist. The light is a cue for the performer to play a musical module. Single figures appear and disappear out of the darkness, revealing not the preened homogeneity of a contemporary music ensemble, but the whole range of demographics that make up a community orchestra. The rhythmic patterns of the lights and music are hypnotic, with criss-crossing, diagonal and meandering lines moving across the ensemble. For a festival that receives and gives back so much to its local community I cannot imagine a more fitting ending.

Bendigo Symphony Orchestra & Peter Dumsday (piano), pho:ton, BIFEM 2016

Bendigo Symphony Orchestra & Peter Dumsday (piano), pho:ton, BIFEM 2016

Bendigo International Festival of Exploratory Music 2016, Bendigo, 2-4 Sept

RealTime issue #134 Aug-Sept 2016

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

Joshua Webb, Midnight, Inanition

Joshua Webb, Midnight, Inanition

Inanition: A Speculation On The End of Times, curated by Laetitia Wilson at Success Gallery in Fremantle, is an exhibition caught between the now conventional moralism of eco-crisis and a desire for the speculative possibilities afforded by jettisoning our all too human perspective by reaching for something beyond terrestrial morality.

Certainly, the show is refreshing in substituting for ecology the more progressive tropes of science fiction. Unlike recent shows in Perth such as PICA’s Radical Ecologies, which felt conservative in its emphasis on a static conception of nature—animals, insects, humans, organic entropy etc.—Inanition looks beyond such familiar tropes to recast the debate about the crisis of the anthropocene in a speculative guise. Instead of moralising about a nature lost, the works in Inanition seem geared towards the possibility of nature as the unforeseen, manifesting in works that challenge precisely the conservative reception of ecology—ie that organisms have homes.

In particular, Kelly Richardson’s The Last Frontier, which depicts an enormous atmospheric dome pulsating in a barren landscape, and Claire Evans and K.M. Merrill’s OK TO GO, a super-cut of “hyperspace” travel sequences from science fiction films, speak to the radical uncertainty of nature at an ontological level without simply reproducing the visual language of the romantic sublime. Embodying science fiction’s capacity to charm, both works cast aside the natural world of nature documentaries, public service announcements and pastoral imagery in order to invoke the possibility of zones and phenomena that are radically incommensurable with humanist notions of nature.

Kelly Richardson, The Last Frontier, 2013, Inanition

Kelly Richardson, The Last Frontier, 2013, Inanition

Joshua Webb’s inhuman geometry, structured in glowing LEDs and polycarbonate, shimmers beautifully in the darkly-lit basement space of Success. At the base of Webb’s polygonal sculpture, viewers can see themselves partially reflected, albeit in muted form, and obscured by the glossy obsidian support. What is gestured towards in Richardson, Evans and Merrill’s works is made literal by Webb, insofar as its stark vibrancy suggests natural forms that function to absorb, rather than reflect, the human gaze.

Despite the refreshing speculative character of the individual works presented, the framing of the exhibition by Wilson lingers perhaps too long on the more conventional preoccupations of art that grapples with the anthropocene. Meditations on the “end times,” and the influence of Christian eschatology on such meditations are common in the broader genres of science fiction that Inanition draws on. Classic works such as Arthur C Clarke’s Childhood’s End and the popular anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion are obvious examples of the power of sci-fi re-readings of the end of days. Placed outside a conventional Christian notion of apocalypse, such re-readings are able to avoid a moralistic stranglehold and to approach the question of what it means for beings to exist on a finite planet and in a potentially finite universe. In many ways Inanition’s project feels similar, and the show’s willingness to take seriously the fanciful and imaginative aesthetics of science fiction is refreshing. However, the privileging of the apocalypse as a single event, as something that will actually be encountered at a specific end point of history, is one of the more conservative tropes that Inanition struggles to throw off.

One of the reasons the conventional approach to the notion of the apocalypse is conceptually and aesthetically inhibitive is the manner by which such a notion of the “end of days” fails to deal with the personal apocalypses that are continuing all around us. Our own mortality, and the mortality of those we love, can make the sense of a broader extinction too abstract to really have any powerful impact. I could be wrong, but perhaps the fragility of one’s own life, and the lives of those we care for, hinders our ability to worry about a future apocalypse that will be worse than what many already endure. There is, however, an alternative tradition of approaching the end of days, one that can be found in re-readings of the Christian tradition (see Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben’s later work) and in Inanition’s stand out work: Erin Coates’s Driving to the Ends of the Earth. In this video work, Coates takes on the role of a Donna Haraway-esque figure, situated in a station wagon replete with a host of non-human kin, like dogs and plants, driving through crumbling landscapes and hellish infernos. In such a work one finds not one traumatic ‘end,’ but rather a host of different ending times, each of which poses different challenges. Such is perhaps the only way to truly affirm the challenges ahead.

Erin Coates, Driving to the Ends of the Earth (HD video still), Inanition

Erin Coates, Driving to the Ends of the Earth (HD video still), Inanition

Inanation: A Speculation On The End of Times, curator Laetitia Wilson, artists Thea Constantino, Joshua Webb, Erin Coates, Kelly Richardson, Patrick Bernatchez, Claire Evans, KM Merrell; Success, Fremantle, 4 Sept-2 Oct

RealTime issue #134 Aug-Sept 2016

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

Peter de Jager

Peter de Jager

The Greek mathematical genius is no stranger to history: Euclid of the distance and Pythagoras of the triangle, to start with. Using his own 20th century mathematical genius to create musical structures of a completely other aesthetic dimension, Iannis Xenakis expanded the rhythmic and musical conceptual capacities of countless musicians. He consolidated hitherto untethered art processes of music and architecture, allowing composers to see that they may follow the same conceptual paths as mathematicians.

But Xenakis was famously fell out with his teacher, Honegger, who claimed his creations “weren’t music.” A prodigious architect for Le Corbusier, Xenakis entered the post-WWII Paris music scene with the power to realise majestic physical structures of beauty, and sheer will to apply these musically foreign processes to sound structures. The great Messiaen saw something quite different in Xenakis’ untrained potential, and in what has to be the most hilarious doctoral thesis defence ever given, instead of grilling Xenakis on the canon, Messiaen began by insisting Xenakis himself was a giant figure in music for creating a new system while Xenakis sincerely attempted to defend a position of modesty.

Xenakis saw beauty in line and not just in the simplistic pitch/time functions of the original Cartesian planes we call staves. He took our parameters of slow-fast, soft-loud, short-long and high-pitch-low-pitch and brought to our equal attention those we tend not to think of in such explicit terms: disorder-order, resonance-decay, density (musical events per second)-emptiness until musical events become complex multi-dimensional systems normally only comfortably contemplated by physicists. But today Xenakis’ multidimensional musical algorithms are the mental test for contemporary musicians.

The parameter of disorder-to-order is the most pertinent in this music as it reflects Xenakis’ deep sense of cultural and social responsibility in his art. He believed that artistic forms created environments for political structures, and that without allowances for random events and aggregations, if the standard deviation is too low in music, this could amount to an expression of totalitarianism. Therefore the keyboard works build upon scaffolds of unpredictability, in places literally unplayable in all prescribed dimensions, meaning that the performer’s choice of how best to realise the ideal is integral to the works. In 2008 Daniel Grossman realised these same works that de Jager explores but used computer MIDI programming and so missed Xenakis’ concept entirely in terms of both political ideals and closing off the potential for the composer’s intended transformation of the performer.

Peter de Jager’s choice to perform these five works shows artistic integrity, mental might and chops, chops, chops. He played two marathon concerts of the same program and I, like others in the audience, attended the first and returned for the second. In Evryali, de Jager’s lines were fluid and sweeping, a complete other world to the chopping, rhythmic play of the opening, leading to the most beautiful execution of the sparse, pointillistic seven bars, each note created with unique astral intensity and placement. De Jager creates uncannily clear contrapuntal journeys via the expansive block chords, remaining true to close, lower-register voicing, eliciting the most captivatingly secure and organically transfigured syncopations.

Instruments awaiting Peter de Jager, Marathon, BIFEM 2016

Instruments awaiting Peter de Jager, Marathon, BIFEM 2016

De Jager’s Khoaï is high drama for the left hand, with digital beep codes in the upper register for the right, both conveyed without tainting and impressively unreactive to each other. The thumping of the harpsichord’s pedals lends the piece the quality of a censored organ’s foot manual, determined to be heard regardless. The expansions of register with increasingly drastic changes of tone were spine-tingling. Wild polyrhythms with both dynamic and timbral short leashes made de Jager a musical lion tamer. After the landmark bar’s silence, the sextuplets, quintuplet and nested triplets and duplets are hair-raisingly energised. An expectation-thwarting ending of an exponential reduction of musical density and energy drops seemingly towards silence only to be interrupted by a final shattering resonance. Returning to the piano timbre for Mists brings us back to the expansive resonances that evoke the title of the piece. A juicy B-flat bass line repeated only twice, allows de Jager to convey a moment of jazz idiom with weight and placement for our ears to sink into. The first phrase ends with a tense resonant cluster, and in the second the resonance-structure seemingly hovers over the piano, vividly realised with angelic tone colour.

Naama, far from the nebula of Mists, hits out with clear lines of time-marking and a gradual increase in intensity, tempered by skipping rhythms. The insistent metallic power chords lead from a controlled robotic waltz, to ironic anthem and then return. De Jager pounds the low register to the limit and gives serious anchorage to frenetic rhythms. This motif then leads to cascading right-hand passages.

For the final work, the epic Herma, de Jager uses a sensitive touch and a tempo that allows the space to breathe. He employs formal rigour and thematic pitch sets, with weighted meaningful legato contrasting with the stamping resonances of the final grandly integrated super-pitch-set. Choking the final chord, he springs away from the keyboard so abruptly that these musical models keep pounding away in the listener’s mind long after the rounds and rounds of standing ovations and cheers and whoops subside.

Alternating between piano and harpsichord was perhaps a kindness to the marathon-related risk of audience timbral saturation, and testament to Peter de Jager’s physical dexterity and adaptability. The symmetrical programming of the works seemed a little classically formed but I guess a stochastic method could still result in this same form. But this wouldn’t bother Messiaen…I happily promulgate the event of the local bird-life resonantly chirping accompaniment to de Jager’s performance of Mists as a cheeky, symbolic nod of approval from Messiaen.

Bendigo International Festival of Exploratory Music 2016: Peter de Jager, Marathon, Bendigo Trades Hall, 3 Sept

RealTime issue #134 Aug-Sept 2016

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

Chun Yin Rainbow Chan, Broken Vessel of 1996, Autotune, Liquid Architecture

Chun Yin Rainbow Chan, Broken Vessel of 1996, Autotune, Liquid Architecture

Over the last three years Liquid Architecture has become an integral part of a rapidly expanding conversation around sound-based practices in Australia. Through a diverse program of events including this year’s Autotune Everything, 2015’s Capitalist Surrealism, and the ongoing What Would a Feminist Methodology Sound Like?, Liquid Architecture is providing a crucial context for a particular set of practices rapidly exceeding ‘sound’ as an appropriate descriptor.

Over three nights at Melbourne’s Greek Centre for Contemporary Culture, Autotune Everything provided a long and varied program of critical and conceptual performances, evoking the Antares pitch correction software as a metaphor for cultural standardisation (sadly, none of the artists actually used it). Autotune limits an incoming vocal signal to a predetermined range of notes, typically those within a given key, scale or mode in order to guarantee conventional musicality. When a singer sings through Autotune, the software will automatically ‘correct’ the pitch by shifting it to the nearest note—one cannot sing a ‘wrong’ note through Autotune. If we apply this restrictive logic to culture, politics, listening and seeing, we arrive at the central problem addressed here: everything appears to be Autotuned in some way.

Thus the Liquid Architecture team focuses on Autotune’s subtractive qualities. The implication is that in our time as in all others, only certain modes of political and social organisation are thinkable; only certain sounds are hearable, certain images seeable and only certain statements sayable—all human activity is constrained by some physical, social, psychological, or anatomical limit. The works in Autotune Everything all speak to this basic truth in some way. How can we think the unthought, hear the unheard and see the unseen? Is hearing possible outside the frameworks we rely on to make sound intelligible? What would these expanded practices sound like?

 

Andrew McLellan, Unilateral Directories, Autotune, Liquid Architecture

Andrew McLellan, Unilateral Directories, Autotune, Liquid Architecture

Andrew McLellan, Unilateral Directories

Andrew McLellan’s performance Unilateral Directories is concerned with the increasingly polarised nature of political discourse and the overwhelming volume of information we often consume (or perhaps, more accurately, are exposed to) on a daily basis. As Facebook filters the news to reflect our views, our opinions are funnelled back to us through an algorithmic echo chamber. McLellan feeds diametrically opposed journalism (articles from The Australian vs New Matilda—though it is not apparent which articles) through a patch that renders a single word at a time on a screen. Words taken from the headline, the article and the comments section scroll endlessly while McLellan desperately tries to keep up, reading the words aloud as they fly by. As the speed and volume begin to exceed his capacity to read and speak, the data jam is rendered physical via the performer’s body. As comprehension becomes impossible, McLellan begins to choke on the words and his facial expression freezes, suggesting saturation point has been reached. The performance climaxes in an explosion of vocal pyrotechnics that bursts through the echo chamber, revealing the embodied entity lurking behind the echo.

 

Chun Yin Rainbow Chan, Broken Vessel

Chun Yin Rainbow Chan’s work, titled Broken Vessel of 1996, operates in more personal territory. The reference to Walter Benjamin’s 1923 essay “The Task of the Translator” in the title hints at the theme. Via Google Translate, Chan gives a potted account of her family’s migration to Australia in the year 1996. As Google Translate has no setting for her native Cantonese, Chan is forced to speak into her phone in Mandarin. What comes out in English is a humorously garbled yet poignant description of the process of adapting to life in Australia. Chan describes losing the ability to communicate in precise Cantonese with her parents and becoming what they mockingly refer to as a ‘Banana’ (yellow on the outside, white on the inside). Following this Chan launches into karaoke versions of “Killing Me Softly,” “Wannabe” and “Unbreak My Heart.” The songs refer to a box of VHS tapes that accompanied the family on their journey—a time capsule of a popular culture left behind in Hong Kong, but which bleeds into this new and different context. The songs are sung in Cantonese, in a literal phonetic translation that violates the tonal specificity demanded by the language. As such the songs exist in both and neither worlds; they are in Cantonese but are bastardised by English phonetic structure. The performance reimagines the process of translation and the experience of the first generation migrant.

 

Johannes Kreidler, Product Placement; Fremdarbeit

German composer Johannes Kreidler took the audience through two of his works—Product Placement (2008), and Fremdarbeit (2009)—explaining the works verbally and demonstrating them with the aid of documentation. The first is a 30-second composition made of 77,200 samples. On completing the work, Kreidler attempted to register it with GEMA, the German equivalent of APRA. He arrived at their office with all 77,200 printed forms required for registration. So emerges the social and political territory of the work—a critique of copyright law and the ways in which its attendant bureaucracy structures and controls creativity. The presentation was interesting, and the crowd laughed audibly throughout, although it is unclear why the work is being discussed in this context given its age and the obviousness of the critique in 2016. An interesting tangent might be to note that since (and before) this work was published in 2008, music and other forms of cultural production have in practice been forced to sidestep copyright restrictions rather than continue to confront them in the explicit manner of artists like Negativland or John Oswald (both of whom made similar critiques a central theme in their work dating as far back as the late 70s). Hip Hop production’s move away from sampling practices since the early 2000s seems relevant here as an instance in which the kinds of cultural constraints the Liquid Architecture team is trying to critique might actually be thought of as generative.

Johannes Kreidler, Product Placement; Fremdarbeit, Autotune, Liquid Architecture

Johannes Kreidler, Product Placement; Fremdarbeit, Autotune, Liquid Architecture

The second work Kreidler presented, Fremdarbait (German for ‘outsourcing’), focuses on the inequity inherent in trade relations between wealthy countries and their partners. He brings attention to the devaluation of labour in non-Western countries by outsourcing his composition to an Indian programmer and a Chinese composer. Kreidler describes in very matter of fact terms how he paid them $15 and $30 respectively for the privilege. There were four pieces in total, all performed at Autotune Everything by an ensemble of white classical musicians, presumably being paid for their time. In the first piece, the Chinese composer, named by Kreidler as “X Xiang,” was asked to write a piece in the same style as Kreidler’s other works. In the second, a programmer from India named “Ramesh Murabai” was paid to write software that would automate the composition of similar works. In the third Xiang was asked to write a piece using Murabai’s software. In the fourth Xiang was asked to write a piece which incorporated 20% “plagiarised” material, in the form of a Maria Callas sample.

What emerges from all this composition, primarily, is a critique of neo-liberal logic and the economic brutality of globalisation. Kreidler states in an interview on his website that refers to the work, “Tonight’s goal is that no one here tonight will vote for the EDP [German neo-liberal party] ever again.” As with the first piece, the temporal lag between the creation of the work and its presentation here is instructive. Given the pervasive nature of neo-liberal critiques, events such as the Seattle WTO protests and recent movements such as Occupy—it is unclear who exactly will be surprised to learn that globalisation extends to musical composition. Fremdarbait is certainly an interesting work, with many possible interpretations, but I think what it ultimately provides is a demonstration of Kreidler’s rhetorical, formal and aesthetic virtuosity, rather than a new perspective on the global economy and labour practices. A broader question as to whether representation equates to critique is also relevant to Kreidler’s work: does simply re-enacting a set of injustices do anything to ameliorate them?

 

Eric Demetriou, Makiko Yamamoto presents…, Autotune, Liquid Architecture

Eric Demetriou, Makiko Yamamoto presents…, Autotune, Liquid Architecture

Eric Demetriou, Makiko Yamamoto presents…

Melbourne artist Eric Demetriou’s work—titled Makiko Yamamoto presents Eric Demetriou who presents Camila Galaz, Sam George presents Travis John, Joel Stern presents Kalinda Vary—was an hilarious exploration of the absurdity of the rituals of cultural production. The work roughly mimics a chat show format, where Demetriou obsesses over the social and political details of organising his band. Makiko Yamamoto interviews Demetriou throughout the performance, but they consistently fail to reach meaningful dialogue. Demetriou derails the lines of questioning, always bringing the conversation back to his own genius and his neurotic mode of inflicting it on others. There are live and not-so-live crosses to former and present band mates, who are in various states of disinterest with respect to the project. The performance climaxes when the band—made up of various collaborators and audience members—manages to play a shambolic cover version of “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” Demetriou’s orchestration of this moment is a humorous allegory for the difficulty and complexity of organising a group of people to do just about anything.

 

Seth Kim-Cohen, Against Ambience

Chicago-based academic Seth Kim-Cohen delivered a performative version of his 2013 polemic, Against Ambience. He read out an edited and condensed version of the book while playing guitar through a series of pedals. There was an accompanying Powerpoint presentation with his academic credentials in the footer, various quotes from art critics and images pertaining to his examples. Each time he said “see,” he would pull out a digital camera and take a picture of the crowd. At a certain point his voice became inaudible, drowned out by the guitar drone.

To provide some context, Kim-Cohen’s book frames certain art practices as ‘ambient’ (James Turrell and Brian Eno are two notable bugbears) and argues they are insufficiently social, discursive, political and relational. Citing a rush of seven shows in New York in 2013, Kim-Cohen argues that the recent popularity of ‘ambience’ has ushered in an event no less momentous than “the symbolic death of conceptual art.” For Kim-Cohen, the conceptual traditions inaugurated by the “linguistic turn” of the early 60s are in danger, threatened by a rash of vapid, crudely sensual art. By his account, ambient practices promote a singular, passive, subsumed mode of interaction that is not representative of the kind of relational, political, critical and conceptual sound-based practices Kim-Cohen would like to see and hear.

Transposing this argument back on to Kim-Cohen’s performance is a perplexing exercise. Perhaps he’s trying to problematise the ‘ambience’ of his own guitar work by highlighting its tendency to drown out the efficacy of his words. Perhaps he is trying to demonstrate the way in which sound is always pregnant with meaning—as if his arguments are somehow contained in the guitar drone. Is he beckoning us to extract the discourse embedded in sound? Or is he performing an immanent critique of his own performance by generating a vacuous apolitical experience? There is no neat conclusion to draw, perhaps necessarily so, and I think the work is most usefully construed as constructing a murky interpretive zone in which competing ideologies, (ambience vs conceptualism, if you like) jostle for ethical and intellectual high ground.

 

Seth Kim-Cohen, Against Ambience, Autotune, Liquid Architecture

Seth Kim-Cohen, Against Ambience, Autotune, Liquid Architecture

A new version of an old binary?

Aside from forcing me to engage with his book, (there is no choice for someone wishing to understand the work), Kim-Cohen’s awkward superimposition of a pre-existing argument onto a performance raises another set of questions. If conceptuality and discourse are to be taken as not only a background of interpretive possibilities but as the work itself, what remains of live performance as an aesthetic form? And what sort of ideological conflicts are at work in this apparently benign desire for the primacy of discourse? What seems to emerge in Kim-Cohen’s writing is a general assertion that critical discourse and conceptual practices are more sophisticated than other ways of doing things. A binary is constructed whereby the realm of the popular/explicitly aesthetic and the more rarefied, prestigious and self-consciously intellectual realm of critical thought and its attendant practices are put in opposition. This strikes me as a new version of a very old, Eurocentric, high vs low binary. In this conception of culture, discourse is the self-appointed arbiter. It comments on, analyses, critiques and appropriates the culture beneath it, producing a rarefied reflection that has come to constitute its own culture of detachment and reflection.

There is certainly a place for this thinking, and Liquid Architecture’s curatorial ventures pose an interesting and relevant problem: can discourse, interpretation and critique ever be primary mediums? Can criticism ever exceed that to which it refers? What happens when these principles are mobilised as entertainment in the form of sound-based performance? This conversation between ‘content,’ ie the world of popular aesthetic production (taken to include art) and the possibilities contained in its critical appraisal via performance, is to my mind the axis around which the Autotune Everything program ends up revolving. Questions of cultural standardisation recede into the background.

 

When is criticality its own form of ‘ambience’?

Rather than championing criticality and conceptual intent as some sort of end in itself, a more interesting gesture might be to ask: when is criticism its own form of virtuosity? At what point, particularly in the mildly corrupt world of academic publishing, is criticality its own form of ‘ambience’? A central problem in Kim-Cohen’s argument emerges with the consideration that ‘ambience’ is no more or less imbricated with capital than criticism and conceptuality. These immaterial, or de-material commodities (Kim-Cohen thinks there is a difference), are arguably functions of the art market. Interesting critiques and ideas drive the relentless production of the new. Conceptual frameworks, elaborated in so many paid-for catalogue essays and artist statements, differentiate cultural products that are aesthetically equivalent. Seen in this light, ‘ambience’ is a straw person that implies the commodification of certain practices while mysteriously excusing others. If we take critiques of neo-liberalism seriously, it is clear that in a contemporary context subsumption is complete and automatic—re-enacting critical discourse as live performance does no more to address this than Turrell’s grandiose light shows.

 

Sound domestication

Additionally, I think there are some unacknowledged interests bound up in the value system established in Against Ambience. Chiefly, a barely concealed desire for ‘sound’ (whatever that might be and however we might designate its limits) to operate in the same rarefied realm of prestige and distinction as the visual arts and academia. Why can’t sound works have weighty catalogue essays? I can’t avoid the suspicion that this elevation of sound to critical discourse is in no way emancipatory, rather, it merely domesticates sound within the same stable of discursive art practices on rotation in the academy. While I agree that sound-based art works can operate in this field, I do not believe Kim-Cohen presents a coherent argument for why they should.

Perhaps it is unfair to single Kim-Cohen out here. His stated goal of encouraging practices that engage with “institutional critique, gender politics, economics, the AIDS crisis, foreign policy/cultural imperialism, globalism, philosophy, interpersonal and societal power relations and the distribution of knowledge” is laudable. But by critiquing Against Ambience, what I would like to do here (and what I think Kim-Cohen and Liquid Architecture have effectively done with Autotune Everything, intentionally or not) is to hold a mirror up to the practices that purport to hold the mirror—in order to clarify what these critical practices do. This is of course an open question, and Liquid Architecture is attempting to generate these discussions at a timely point in the trajectory of sound as a medium.

Liquid Architecure, Autotune Everything: Art and the Sonic—Cosmic—Politic; The Greek Centre for Contemporary Culture, Melbourne, 18-20 Aug

RealTime issue #134 Aug-Sept 2016

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

Myriam Gourfink, Kasper Toeplitz, Data_Noise, BIFEM 2016

Myriam Gourfink, Kasper Toeplitz, Data_Noise, BIFEM 2016

After a day of complex musical experiences, sound artist Kasper T Toeplitz and dancer Myriam Gourfink proposed a concert of radical simplicity. Noise art can be irreverent, challenging and confrontational, but Toeplitz and Gourfink’s hour-long arc of noise left me feeling cleansed.

Noise audiences are no strangers to slow changes in texture, but Gourfink’s movements bring a new level of embodied appreciation to these prototypical forms. Myriam Gourfink is a master of micro gesture, performing slow and small movements over long durations. In Data_Noise she turns slowly on the spot, arms held out wide as she pivots on and off a table. She is an inveterate planker, spending most of her time half-on and half-off the table. Her extreme physical control extends right to her eyes and face, which are fixed in an eerie half-smile for the entire performance. Her movements are translated into data by sensors on her arms and legs, as well as a pad of buttons that she stands on for the brief earthbound moments of her performance. This data controls parameters in Toeplitz’s sound design, making the dancer and sound artist true collaborators in the total experience.

Toeplitz’s noise does not attack you with eardrum-shattering bursts of sound—it is bread-and-butter noise. Layers of hums and static build to a crescendo and fade, rumbling through your body like a wholesome deep-tissue massage. The introduction of a heartbeat at the loudest part of the performance (was it Gourfink’s?) enhanced the already deeply embodied sonic experience.

With the performers dressed in black inside a black box performance space, the immensity of Toeplitz’s sound design took on fantastical proportions. To me the performance evoked a natural setting. The granular-synthesised atmospheres sounded like the leaves of a great forest rustling and dissolving in the depths of a deep, black lake. Projections introduced over the entire performance space added clusters of long, curving lines like reeds swaying in the wind. When projected over Gourfink’s body the moving lines became a dazzling, rapidly flashing pixellated texture.

Dance is a great aesthetic leveller. Audiences who cannot stand contemporary music may enjoy it during a contemporary dance production. Similarly, Toeplitz’s layers of white noise have found their choreographic match in Gourfink’s micro movements. After an hour of tracing the mutating envelopes of Toeplitz’s sonic layers through Myriam Gourfink’s rotating limbs (or was it the other way around?) I left the black box of the Old Fire Station ready for another day of—sadly static—orchestras and chamber music.

Myriam Gourfink, Kasper Toeplitz, Data_Noise, BIFEM 2016

Myriam Gourfink, Kasper Toeplitz, Data_Noise, BIFEM 2016

Bendigo International Festival of Exploratory Music 2016: Data_Noise, composer Kasper T Toeplitz, choreographer Myriam Gourfink; Old Fire Station, Bendigo, 3 Sept

RealTime issue #134 Aug-Sept 2016

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

Work, Sister, BIFEM 2016

Work, Sister, BIFEM 2016

Promising the audience an “exceptional, immersive and transcendental experience” with not much else said about the elusively titled Work, collaborators Marco Cher-Gibard and Ben Speth, playing as SISTER, created a piece that displayed not only the connection between performer and medium (laptop processing and guitar) but between the network of performers themselves. I would go so far as to say that with the inclusion of artist Matthew Adey on lighting design and smoke machine, this work represented the synergy of a collaborative trio. The improvisatory nature of their performance, the lighting design, the use of the space—and some free whiskey—made for an absorbing and at times deliciously antagonistic sonic experience for both audience and performers.

The work opens with an unapologetic cacophony of audio feedback as Cher-Gibard swings a microphone back and forth in front of his bass amp. The feedback sits on a layered sound of electric guitar (pitched up) which sounds like distant bells and carillon looped and processed. These harmonics become a feature, emerging in various parts of the work. In quieter sections they evoke an ethereal mood when juxtaposed with the droning bass. The lighting design in the beginning burns red, engulfing the space. Once the audience settles into this meditative sound bed, the improvisation begins with Speth alternating between single tones, chord shapes, noise and scraping strings. These licks/riffs are picked up by Cher-Gibard on his mixer, processed on his amp emulator and fed back into a loop that undulates ceaselessly followed by scraping of guitar strings and the hiss of the smoke machine processed as white noise on the laptop. The lighting design reflects this as coloured gel is removed to expose white light. White noise escalates into thunderous amp feedback and unexpected explosive crackles. Using a drumming algorithm to trigger the drum rack, Cher-Gibard sets off a series of drum patterns that add to the animalistic frenzy of the loop.

Adey scurries around the space, swapping coloured gels, unplugging and re-positioning lights, taking part in the sonic conversation through the medium of light. In a transcendental moment the illumination of yellow light on purple gel evokes a sunset. In the second section, the light turns green, signifying a renewal of energy. The guitar drone emerges again from Cher-Gibard but this time more like a cascading glockenspiel, which Adey then deploys as a rhythmic device for introducing a flickering light pattern. This gradually becomes red alternating with darkness and juxtaposed with a thumping techno-like bass (pitched down guitar) and the sigh of Speth’s guitar as he moves closer to his amp for acoustic feedback. This felt like the climax of Work. The three artists had worked till that point to create this energy around the space by swinging microphones to amps, creating feedback and a loop current. It felt like a culmination of the deep synthesis between the three of them within the context and outcome of the sound and light dialogue they had created through their improvisation.

Work, Sister, BIFEM 2016

Work, Sister, BIFEM 2016

Towards the end, things got more eardrum-shattering. At one point Cher-Gibard seemed to turn down the level but I suspect that was only so he could highlight the introduction of a new sound idea (a sample of guitar harmonic) to the mix. The end was abrupt but effective, almost like a pull of the plug or a minor explosion, audience leaving with trails of smoke still in the air.

Work, being improvisational, was hard to predict and, safe to say, the feeling was mutual among the performers. At some points, Speth appeared visibly surprised at the direction of their discourse, as was Cher-Gibard when selecting his guitar noise motifs to process.

The alchemical energy generated by the three performers was built from the pulse Cher-Gibard created through his foundational soundscape. He moved to the meditative drone, reiterating the idea of looping sound energy in the space. It became a reference to the Larsen effect, or acoustic feedback, which is a sound loop in itself: a sound loop between audio input and output. This relationship between the loop of listening, feedback, reaction and reflection demonstrated an effective sonic partnership, the chemistry developing a piece that was resonant, electric and loud.

Bendigo International Festival of Exploratory Music 2016: SISTER, WORK, laptop Marco Cher-Gibard, electric guitar Ben Speth, lighting, installation Matthew Adey; Old Fire Station, Bendigo, 2 Sept

RealTime issue #134 Aug-Sept 2016

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

BIFEM 2016 Workshop L-R: Madeline Roycroft, Zoe Barker, Virginia Baxter, Bec Scully, Keith Gallasch, Claudine Michael, Matthew Lorenzon, Alex Taylor

The Bendigo International Festival of Exploratory Music’s Writers’ Workshop participants and their Partial Duration and RealTime mentors pose for the camera before once again facing the music. You can read all the reviews on Partial Durations.

The Music Writers’ Workshop for five emerging reviewers was conducted by Matthew Lorenzon, whose blog Partial Durations is a joint project with RealTime, and Keith Gallasch and Virginia Baxter, Managing Editors of RealTime.

RealTime issue #134 Aug-Sept 2016

How Forests Think, ELISION Ensemble & Wu Wei, BIFEM 2016

How Forests Think, ELISION Ensemble & Wu Wei, BIFEM 2016

What do free jazz and South American rainforests have in common? Very little, other than being respective inspirations for Aaron Cassidy and Liza Lim’s latest world premieres. Joined by international guests Peter Evans and Wu Wei, ELISION ensemble takes to the stage once again at BIFEM to present an extraordinary concert of two radically different works.

 

Aaron Cassidy, The Wreck of Former Boundaries

In The Wreck of Former Boundaries, Aaron Cassidy is heavily influenced by American multi-instrumentalist, composer and innovator of the free jazz movement, Ornette Coleman. As the composer generously shared in a post-concert chat, his piece is analogous to a work for large jazz combo. Some of the seven segments that make up the work existed prior to its completion, entwining here to deliver an array of innovative, contrasting and often discordant subsections. These modular units are delivered, said Cassidy, much in the vein of Coleman’s inventive 1971 album Science Fiction.

One of the pre-existing works provides material for an opening solo performed by double bassist Joan Wright. The unassuming ELISION veteran is powerful and hypnotic in her realisation of hyper-masculine extended techniques such as striking and grinding the bow on the strings. Trumpeter Tristram Williams joins the incidental bass with soft, squeaky interjections that play out like a musical dialogue between a clumsy elephant and an anxious mouse.

L-R: Daryl Buckley, Peter Evans, The Wreck of Former Boundaries, BIFEM 2016

L-R: Daryl Buckley, Peter Evans, The Wreck of Former Boundaries, BIFEM 2016

It doesn’t take long for the ensemble to begin pushing ‘former boundaries’ of accepted volume. Enter sound engineer James Atkins, accompanied by a cacophony of extended techniques from the acoustic instruments. Spacey electronics reverberate powerfully around the auditorium while screaming and wailing from the clarinet and alto saxophone becomes almost intolerable for audience members and instrumentalists alike (you know it’s loud when the trumpet players cover their ears).

A sudden spell of conducting from the trumpet section leads in to the work’s next exciting instalment: improvisatory passages from BIFEM guest artist and international trumpet royalty, Peter Evans, taking the piccolo trumpet to virtuosic extremes. Appointed with the difficult task of relaying live performance cues to the sound engineer, the composer uses a microphone to apply gradual distortion to the timbre. Following an exhilarating moment of solo electronics–which felt like being inside a crashing spaceship—members of ELISION physically stand back to give way to Evans in an extended experimental passage. Solid foundations in jazz and improvisation are self-evident in his expert navigation around the microphone. Initially standing tall to enjoy the instrument’s natural resonance, Evans repeatedly leans in and away from the microphone, exploring the evolving distortions Cassidy and Atkins place upon his sound. A structurally climactic point of the work sees him place the bell of the piccolo trumpet against the microphone, surrendering the instrument’s acoustic capacity. Warped sounds of churning air and clunking valves now become part of a disconcerting atmospheric sound, like being trapped in the belly of a monster.

ELISION Ensemble, The Wreck of Former Boundaries, ELISION Ensemble, BIFEM 2016

ELISION Ensemble, The Wreck of Former Boundaries, ELISION Ensemble, BIFEM 2016

Daryl Buckley’s electric lap-steel guitar solo is another exciting feature of The Wreck of Former Boundaries. In a real rockstar moment, Buckley relishes the thrill of the sound, once more challenging audiences tolerance for high volume with visceral pitch bends and ringing chords. A concluding solo in the multichannel electronics has a similar impact; several performers can be seen smiling at the audience’s shock and uncertainty as to whether this electrifying, action-packed work has truly come to a close.

While The Wreck of Former Boundaries is an extremely effective collaboration of performers and styles, Aaron Cassidy’s only concern about its future is that it relies heavily on certain performers. At the very front of the stage and in the foundation of the work is an inimitable creative partnership between Peter Evans and Tristram Williams. Such an adrenaline-charged premiere makes it almost impossible to imagine the work played by anyone else.

 

How Forests Think, ELISION Ensemble & Wu Wei, BIFEM 2016

How Forests Think, ELISION Ensemble & Wu Wei, BIFEM 2016

Liza Lim, How Forests Think

In the second half of the program, ELISION ensemble expands to its full membership for the world premiere of Liza Lim’s How Forests Think. Completed in Brazil and inspired by anthropologist Eduardo Kohn’s book of the same title (University of California Press, 2013), the work explores the relationship between trees within a forest by extending the breath and sound identity of the instruments. In the opening bars, pensive saxophone and rainmaker lay the foundations for a dense, interplaying and evocative sound world.

Lim has fashioned a highly distinctive instrumental texture in How Forests Think with the addition of a sheng to the ensemble. In an intermission interview with Matthew Lorenzon, the composer explains how the traditional Chinese instrument comprises 37 vertical pipes and can be played by both blowing and inhaling. With such a wide range of pitches and tone qualities at his disposal, sheng virtuoso Wu Wei is able to match and bring out nuances in timbre of various instruments in the ensemble. There are countless moments where he effortlessly blends both chords and single notes with low notes from the bass flute, the top register of the oboe and even, at times, with percussion. These criss-crossing timbral interactions peak towards the end of the piece when Wei beautifully mimics a poignant duet between cor anglais and cello.

Wei also theatrically delivers a brief, untranslated text which is followed by percussive grunts and unpredictable rushes of breath from the wind instrumentalists. In these mesmerising passages, the audience senses the heightened awareness and responsiveness to ensemble breathing that Lim’s writing demands from the musicians. Saxophonist Joshua Hyde is exquisite in his control of sound, which consistently balances with the assemblage of high wind instruments. Similarly breathtaking is Paula Rae’s almost inaudible delivery of a tender flute melody, played eerily behind powerful throat singing by the multitalented Wu Wei.

Rehearsal, How Forests Think, ELISION Ensemble & Wu Wei, BIFEM 2016

Rehearsal, How Forests Think, ELISION Ensemble & Wu Wei, BIFEM 2016

After a sudden, slightly confusing conclusion to the penultimate section where unified quavers are repeated à l’ostinato, we settle back in for an ending full of charm. Percussionist Peter Neville is entrusted with the unusual job of scooping beads out of a bowl with his hands, then slowly pouring them inside a violin and various percussion instruments. A more puzzling moment occurs when conductor Carl Rosman—nothing short of outstanding throughout—relinquishes his duties as leader, walks leisurely to the back row of the ensemble and sits down. With the addition of Richard Haynes and Joshua Hyde (to this point clarinettist and saxophonist) the percussion section is suddenly augmented to four. Gentle shakers and soft whistling from the brass players bring this stimulating work to a close.

For BIFEM’s second double bill of world premieres (the first, Seeing Double featured concerti by David Chisholm and Jack Symonds), Aaron Cassidy and Liza Lim certainly delivered the goods. Reaching an astronomical standard of musical innovation and performance this ELISION concert evoked emotion, pushed boundaries, educated and inspired.

Bendigo International Festival of Exploratory Music, 2016: How Forests Think, ELISION ensemble, composer Aaron Cassidy, The Wreck of Former Boundaries; composer Liza Lim, How Forests Think; Capital Theatre, Bendigo, 3 Sept

RealTime issue #134 Aug-Sept 2016

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

Bendigo Symphony Orchestra & Peter Dumsday (piano), pho:ton, BIFEM 2016

Bendigo Symphony Orchestra & Peter Dumsday (piano), pho:ton, BIFEM 2016

“Shrouded in darkness, a piano soloist brings a 40-piece orchestra to life by triggering lights and musical patterns.” This appropriately tantalising description in the festival program draws a hungry audience to BIFEM’s blockbuster finale. Concluding a weekend of exemplary community engagement, local gem the Bendigo Symphony Orchestra rises to the challenge of delivering the Australian premiere of pho:ton, a multi-sensory work composed and designed by COD.ACT, the Swiss brothers André and Michel Décosterd. With pianist Peter Dumsday, the orchestra enraptures its audience.

A chatty audience is abruptly silenced when the lights fade, leaving hundreds of eyes darting across a pitch-black stage, searching for something to focus on. Out of the darkness emerges a steady snare drum line, interjected by sparse yet measured, long tones from a bass trombone. As each note is played, a spotlight illuminates the player. I assume Dumsday will be a soloist. Instead, his instrument has forfeited its natural resonance and morphed into an electronic device, where each key is a button that activates a designated light above each performer. Solo players in the upper strings join in a gradually building pattern, spectators eagerly following the lights as they flicker across the orchestra. Something of a melody forms as disjunct tones increase in pace, resulting in the odd overlap of lighting patterns.

As more and more players are illuminated, we begin to fully appreciate the practical nature of the orchestra’s unusual distribution on the stage. By placing the musicians in elevated rows and columns in a rectilinear grid, the brothers Décosterd are able to maintain the spontaneous nature of each illumination.

We see only the musicians who play in a particular moment and barely a silhouette of their neighbours. There is also a degree of symmetry in the layout, which is seen most clearly when first and second players of each woodwind instrument light up from opposite sides of the orchestra, passing notes back and forth.

An incessantly catchy tune evolves into a more challenging sextuplet pattern in the strings followed by simple long tones in the woodwinds. As well as toughing out dissonant notes, various brass sections execute overlapping, syncopated phrases that pass from middle to lower voices. A small army of French horns brings courage to individual moments in the spotlight (quite literally), but it is an intrepid piccolo trumpeter who truly steals the show with a high, attention-commanding solo. The players tackle these musical challenges fearlessly, with several ‘deer in the headlights’ moments only adding to the overall charm of the performance.

Rehearsal, Bendigo Symphony Orchestra & Peter Dumsday (piano) pho:ton, BIFEM 2016

Rehearsal, Bendigo Symphony Orchestra & Peter Dumsday (piano) pho:ton, BIFEM 2016

A brief flash of red illuminates the stage allowing us to see the entire ensemble for the first time. Engulfed in darkness once again, we soon realise that red was the warning signal for an upcoming passage of sheer visual insanity. In sync with downbeats of the music, vertical lines of light move across the orchestra, illuminating different groups of players as they go. Next, horizontal lines move up and down, until these two patterns criss-cross to create a strobing effect, which builds in intensity and culminates in an erratic pattern of diagonally travelling lights.

Music and lights have taken turns as the sensory foci until this point, so it makes sense that the final section should explore their intersection. Returning to the opening structure with an even more complex rhythm, the introduction of steady triplet patterns is mirrored in the lights, which blink three times on the players in these passages. A hemiola pattern [two groups of three beats are replaced by three groups of two beats. Eds] soon emerges with some players lit up twice and others three times, creating a degree of visual stimulation completely unexpected in an orchestral concert.

Musically speaking, pho:ton is quite a simple piece. Yet there are inherent difficulties when every player has solo passages, since section players are prevented from relying on their principals (often a helpful practice in non-professional orchestras). Indeed, some rhythmic patterns placed rank and file players outside their comfort zone. Nonetheless Peter Dumsday and the Bendigo Symphony Orchestra performed admirably and the many thrilling visuals added a whole new dimension to an already colourful symphonic sound. In piecing together this truly egalitarian work, the orchestra demonstrated just how much regional communities are capable of achieving when given equal opportunity to embrace serious artistic challenges.

Bendigo International Festival of Exploratory Music, 2016: COD.ACT, pho:ton, composers André and Michel Décosterd, piano Peter Dumsday, musical and technical design and direction COD.ACT (André and Michel Décosterd), Bendigo Symphony Orchestra; Ulumbarra Theatre, Bendigo, 4 Sept

RealTime issue #134 Aug-Sept 2016

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

ELISION Ensemble and students from ANAM, Speicher, BIFEM 2016

ELISION Ensemble and students from ANAM, Speicher, BIFEM 2016

Enno Poppe’s Speicher is a play on memory, a greatly expanding field of knowledge for our generation. We know our memories are malleable, largely illusory, constantly mutating, decaying or enriching. In German, the term ‘speicher,’ meaning ‘storage,’ refers both to psychological memory storage, and also more specifically to a store of pitch class sets used in a compositional process.

At the opening of the piece there is no memory, only attention. Poppe’s atom of musical thought is the salty sul pont viola paired with bleak sonar-radio emissions from the accordion. These bare elements return recognisable, yet in eloquent settings and manipulated through unexpected readings. Vibrato is Poppe’s justification for challenging our traditional concept of a note as belonging to a fixed pitch. With intervals-wide, pitch-traversing vibrato we learn to reconsider our idea of a musical atom. We’re reminded of the pitch continuum at play in vibrato and reassess our assumption in our perception of the discrete tone.

By contrast, after these hypervibrato and ‘hyperchromatic’ divisions of less than a semitone, late Romantic string vibrato is introduced only for a moment and suddenly we can hear this normally ubiquitous left-hand string technique as a chaotic, over-stimulating, maelstrom of thousands of incomprehensible musical events. And in these small moments we might experience an appreciation of sound units on a small order of magnitude and perhaps experience the reverse operation of Schenkerian analysis which looks for the skeleton of a work, not for its biochemistry.

Conducted by Carl Rosman and performed by the champion forces of ELISION ensemble joined by the fresh blood of Australian National Academy of Music, the combined ensemble convincingly evoked cohesive textural moments and colouristic effects. The students clearly delighted in their full citizenship in any register of their instruments.

Speicher, BIFEM 2016

Speicher, BIFEM 2016

Shout-out to a grand-effort Parker-esque solo on alto sax by clarinettist Luke Carbon. Kyla Matsuura-Miller tag-teamed the second violin part at the 4th movement and knocked it out of the park with rhythmic finesse and delicious tonal ferocity. Props to Eli Vincent in valiantly helming the nucleus of the work as first viola. Applause to the professionals: concertmaster Graeme Jennings who was a consistent and efficient leader, cellist Séverine Ballon, whose early attack on the cello was the first and true expression of musical violence in the work; her solo in section one explores the highest pitches of the deepest strings, creating an innocent, swallowed sob in melody that was reminiscent of the frailty of a child’s voice. Tristram Williams, a strong advocate of this work, played with precision and expression. There were seriously stunningly executed harp treats in the texture from Marshall McGuire. Best and Fairest goes to James Crabb on accordion. The evolution from harmonics to accordion hums was sublime. Crabb, master of camouflage, introduced a foreign species of instrument to the full palette of orchestral instruments. It returned to the fore of the work’s texture, evoking a unique voice: an imperceptible transformation before our ears, as if Escher himself could draw sound. Like Escher, Poppe is a numerologist and does not believe the 12-tone technique would have been so successful were it not for the cultural significance of the number 12. This piece appears to be based around the number six on multiple levels. Six movements, each containing six parts, the hyper chromatic use of 6th tones.

Stylistically, most of this work is in Poppe’s own compositional language of clear texture and microtonal organic development. However, in a potential nod to John Adams’ The Chairman Dances, Poppe enters the stylistic world of the foxtrot challenging some students struggled to find their groove. Some bebop stomps were finely executed on the drum kit and one wished for similar conviction in the strings. From the ironic use of grotesquely pretty Hollywood strings to tone-dense Mondrian-esque geometric forces in the winds and Debussy’s harmonic gravity-defying language, textural transitions were the most spectacular feature of the ensemble’s interpretation.

A humble woodblock knock, emerging meekly from an apocalyptic orchestral force, elicited a chuckle from the audience, and true, a musical ugly-duckling it was. Our duckling returns as a pluck in the harp and we delight in its glorious transformation into a swan-tone adorned in overtones. Outside of this piece I would have serious doubts as to whether a single harp note held sufficient aesthetic power.

All these micro-details are essentially developmental links in an 80-minute epic, expansive enough to puff its chest at Beethoven’s 9th. In fact, at the close of Speicher it’s possible to hear the initial notes of that work’s recitative, a melody symbolic of refusal of new material. One can’t help but feel Poppe reached the precipice of a musical mind verging on new material, only to reiterate and reaffirm the work’s fidelity to singular ideas and their possibilities. Thus the piece exits before new material can be spoken, suspended on the trumpeter’s tongue.

Bendigo International Festival of Exploratory Music 2016: ELISION/ANAM, Speicher composer Enno Poppe, conductor Carl Rosman; Capital Theatre, Bendigo, 2 Sept

RealTime issue #134 Aug-Sept 2016

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

James Wannan (viola d’amore), Argonaut Ensemble, Decadent Purity, BIFEM 2016

James Wannan (viola d’amore), Argonaut Ensemble, Decadent Purity, BIFEM 2016

Bendigo’s Ulumbarra Theatre, a converted jail, may soon be home to BIFEM’s resident Argonaut ensemble on a more permanent basis. At Friday night’s opening concert Seeing Double, Bendigo festival founder and featured composer David Chisholm waxed lyrical about the “criminal” lack of this kind of permanent new music infrastructure. “All criminals need to be brought to justice, and this is the jail where that can happen.” BIFEM’s opening double bill of double concerti showed us both the possibilities and temptations of that infrastructure, embodied here by large, skilful instrumental forces and consummate soloists and conductors; a veritable toybox for two precocious postmodernists.

 

Jack Symonds, Decadent Purity

Jack Symonds’ Decadent Purity is a work that attempts to blend quite disparate elements. At the outset a cloud of high harmonics hovers over a stop-start grumble of double bass and contrabass clarinet, opening up a chasm of registral space and spectral colour. The two solo instruments, too, carve opposing roles; the viola d’amore draws out its long line against percussive exclamation marks: elaborated argument against decisive punctuation. The first of seven movements also sets out another more uncomfortable dichotomy: two harmonic worlds in combat. A sturdy neo-Baroque tonality, reminiscent of Arvo Pärt’s Fratres, is pitted against the subtle slippage and inflection of microtones and textural nuance. It’s a promising collision.

Both soloists hold the drama of the work in their phrasing and movements. James Wannan sways on tiptoe, his viola d’amore an ornate, many-stringed creature of clear resonance and line, making the most of the acoustic at the front of the Ulumbarra Theatre stage. Wannan’s approach embodies the decadent purity of the title, imbuing Baroque details with a rich, almost Romantic sensibility. Percussionist Kaylie Melville moves with a pixie swagger, each entry dashed off with a cutting, almost sardonic precision. But her role for the most part remains one of commentary and fleeting gesture, unable to enter the harmonic and melodic realms that form the bulkhead of the work.

As captivating as the soloists were to watch and listen to, the dramaturgy and flow of the work itself at times seemed forced, imposed from above rather than extrapolated from the rich materials already at play. You couldn’t help but be seduced by sighing herds of ascending or descending microtones, but these remained as fixed objects rather than catalysts for generating gesture. The restraint and sensitivity of more spacious sections (for example the penultimate movement with its slow-moving scales) was several times undercut by overtly dramatic tropes. High-energy toccatas recurred throughout the work, most forcefully in the final movement where the marimba propelled us, no, forced us, towards cadential release.

The attractiveness of Symonds’ work is undeniable, but the promise of that initial collision of soloists, ensemble and the stylistic strains of both Baroque and modernist Avant-Garde is ultimately unfulfilled.

 

Argonaut Ensemble, Harp Guitar Double Concerto, BIFEM 2016

Argonaut Ensemble, Harp Guitar Double Concerto, BIFEM 2016

David Chisholm, Harp Guitar Double Concerto

David Chisholm’s Harp Guitar Double Concerto seemed a more natural and less masochistic pairing than viola d’amore and percussion: here were two forces of equal dynamism and resonance. A striking, hard-edged opening hints at the diverse gestural possibilities of those two soloists. Rapid pinball glissandi in the brittle high reaches of the harp answer a deep upward sweep in the guitar.

Like a flickbook, the opening cuts rapidly from gesture to gesture, often blurring in the orchestral maelstrom of an expanded Argonaut Ensemble. You get the sense that this is a kind of pastiche, but not of direct quotation, or even of particularly strong stylistic allusion. Occasionally more distinctive slivers poke through: swaggering muted brass recall Miles Davis, and later a frantic viola solo has echoes of Elliott Carter, a haywire cog spinning in the wrong machine. These are relatively rare moments, and you sense there might be a wealth of such detail hidden amid some ambitiously thick, even clumpy textures. These aren’t helped by an acoustic that throw the soloists into relief at the front of the stage, while damping the intricacies beyond the proscenium arch.

For much of the work, the action continues in postmodern pile-up fashion, impulsive, rather than linear, time hammered out ecstatically. For a time, this was immersive, like those pools of plastic balls you used to get at some adventurous fast food chain playgrounds, a liquid made of solid objects. But as the piece progressed there was a more and more present feeling that these gestures, constrained as they were in a four-square metric scheme, rarely got beyond fragments. You have to say too that the obvious talents of conductor Maxime Pascal were utilised sparingly with so much martial time-keeping. However within the relatively square metric scheme, Pascal was able to draw out a range of bold shapes and colours from the ensemble.

It wasn’t until the fluid, effortless harp cadenza, a dazzling display of delicacy both from Chisholm and from harp soloist Jessica Fotinos, that we glimpsed an interior alternative to the glitzy, pluralistic mass offered by the front half of the work. Even though, like the rest of the piece, it might have benefited from more space and breath, the finely crafted but rather lengthy cadenza allowed us to pivot towards lyricism and fragility. Out of the cadenza came a positively decadent cor anglais duo from Jasper Ly and Benjamin Opie, foreshadowing their oboe heroics at the exquisite, abrupt ending. In turn the cor anglais led us tag-team into a nostalgic, washed-out kind of texture, strings fluttering between solid pitches and combinations of ethereal partials.

The guitar soloist, Mauricio Carrasco, also had a chance to show off his solo chops, delivering both sheer brutality and lyrical nuance in a much shorter but no less impactful cadenza. In fact, it contained to my mind the evening’s most sensitive, fantastical moment. Out of the resonance of guitar harmonics came a delicate veil of sound, initially difficult to place but revealed as a falsetto vocal hum from Fotinos across the stage. The harmonics and falsetto continued, a true interior world, almost haunting in a fragile continuity against the flamboyance of what had come before. After a brief and brutal swansong in the guitar, we returned to that interior, but more confidently, as if a fresh discovery had been made. Over a breathy mass of sustained string harmonics, the oboes asserted this new, insistent lyricism: at the very end, a way forward.

Bendigo International Festival of Exploratory Music 2016: Seeing Double: Decadent Purity, composer Jack Symonds; Harp Guitar Double Concerto, composer David Chisholm. The Argonaut Ensemble; Ulumbarra Theatre, Bendigo, 2 Sept

RealTime issue #134 Aug-Sept 2016

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

Argonaut Quartet, Glossolalia, BIFEM 2016

Argonaut Quartet, Glossolalia, BIFEM 2016

The back-to-back presentation of four string quartets which rely near exclusively on extended string techniques is perhaps a risk, lest audiences tire of the continuous glissandi and harmonics which have become almost clichés in modern works of the medium. However, the finely crafted compositions presented by the Argonaut Quartet each worked on a level beyond using these techniques arbitrarily, demonstrating different approaches to writing in this idiom.

David Chisholm’s Bound South opened tentatively with a delicate sequence of extended techniques shared across the quartet. A soft tapping of strings with the wood of the bow provided the percussive backdrop to the harmonic glissandi and soft tremolo gestures which each player executed in turn. This sequence formed the basis of the work’s material, gradually extending and developing as the instruments overlapped. The overall effect was icy and fragile, reflecting the work’s title and positioning itself in complete opposition to Chisholm’s flashy double concerto, premiered the previous evening.

A point of sudden agitation burst from the viola, seemingly unable to continue with the glacial pace of development. Joined by the second violin for the shortest moment, both quickly retreated and continued with the work’s established slow trajectory. This fleeting release of built-up tension seemed to foreshadow a coming section in a more agitated style, yet this was never reached. Instead, Chisholm continued to taunt and whet the appetite with intensity only built within a narrow schema. A dynamic peak was reached towards the end with three tremolo chords played in unison, before a return to the short fragments of the opening material, this time presented with more cohesion.

Argonaut Quartet, Glossolalia, BIFEM 2016

Argonaut Quartet, Glossolalia, BIFEM 2016

Through Empty Space continued the delicate sound world established by Chisholm, opening with all four parts playing glassy pure harmonics. Mexican composer Sergio Luque scored much of the work in a close range, blending the sounds of the four string instruments to make the quartet act as one entity. Pitch material played with semitone dissonances spread over an octave, sliding in and out of consonance. The work embarked on a smooth descent through the empty spaces left in the scoring, with Luque demonstrating immense restraint in seeing through his musical idea.

The smooth veneer of the work’s surface was only momentarily broken in a fragment which called for bouncing the bow across the strings. It was almost unexpected to hear the conventionally bowed long tones, but their presentation without vibrato ensured that they worked within the established context. Ending the work the viola and cello traded these long gliding strokes, emerging and disappearing from the violins’ atmospheric bowing over the bridge.

The muted bouncing opening of Chilean composer Pedro Alvarez’s Etude Oblique I immediately announced a shift in gear, moving away from the highly austere first half of the program while still presenting similar sounds and techniques. The pace of development in Etude Oblique was the fastest of any of the works presented so far in the concert, and the dialogue between the instruments was the most contested. Agitation and flashes of urgency were hinted at in the wailing high pitched glissandi and the ricochet bowing gesture which formed the basis of the work’s rhythmic fragments, but yet again these remained contained within a small dynamic structure.

Bendigo Town Hall, venue for Glossolalia concert, Argonaut Quartet, BIFEM 2016

Bendigo Town Hall, venue for Glossolalia concert, Argonaut Quartet, BIFEM 2016

Erkki Veltheim’s Glossolalia was a natural conclusion to the concert. Establishing some violent string playing from the outset, here was the opportunity to fully release the tension so finely built up throughout the program. Reflecting the work’s title, the score was often frenzied, jumping from one idea to the next in rapid succession, with techniques used to create sounds far removed from the traditional capabilities of a string quartet. Aggressive bowing south of the bridge created great noise tones, and the tapping of the bridge with the base of the bow produced a satisfyingly resonant percussive sound. Veltheim fully explored the bass range of the cello, requiring some grungy playing from Judith Hamman who skillfully tuned down during the performance.

The physicality of playing a string instrument suddenly burst to the fore in Glossolalia. Shedding the high control required for the light bowing and isolated gestures in the other works, Hamman’s acrobatic glissandi and Veltheim’s dynamic leading providing a welcome visual change. In this final work the arrangement of the quartet, all four player facing inwards from the corners of a square platform, made sense artistically; it was a delight to watch chains of reactions set off by fragments and move around the players.

In a different context, Glossolalia could have come across as a little too uncontrolled and wild, given its length and jerky movement between ideas. But within this program, it seemed to be a continuation along a smooth path, Veltheim’s composition ultimately fulfilling the hints of outburst promised by Chisholm, Luque and Alvarez. The Argonaut Quartet is lucky to have three such versatile and experienced upper string players in Veltheim, Graeme Jennings and Elizabeth Welsh, who rotated roles throughout the performance to play to individual strengths. Together with Hamman’s cello playing, the Quartet is a fine interpreter of new music.

Instruments awaiting Argonaut Quartet, Glossolalia, BIFEM 2016

Instruments awaiting Argonaut Quartet, Glossolalia, BIFEM 2016

Bendigo International Festival of Exploratory Music 2016: Glossolalia, Argonaut Quartet; Bendigo Town Hall, 3 Sept

RealTime issue #134 Aug-Sept 2016

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

SCA students protest the merging of Sydney’s two university art schools outside the Art Gallery of NSW

SCA students protest the merging of Sydney’s two university art schools outside the Art Gallery of NSW

Sydney College of the Arts is fighting for its future. Dedicated, articulate and formidable students currently occupying the Dean’s Office in the Callan Park campus have faith in their education and in the history and significance of this institution; and they are supported by alumni, artists and communities who recognise the value of both SCA and visual art education to our culture.

It is a much bigger issue than the future of a single art school. This is an important fight, and potentially a turning point for culture in Australia. The protest is a defense of the integrity not only of SCA, but all other Australian art and design institutions, including increasingly beleaguered TAFE college departments.

 

Undermining culture

The NSW Government’s land grab for Callan Park, the SCA site, and the old Darlinghurst Gaol, home to the National Art School—shifting the classification of both from education to property—and the devaluing of art education are not isolated events, but symptoms of a concerted undermining of art and culture more generally. This insidious push towards privatisation comes at the same time as arts sector funding cuts have devastated small to medium arts organisations and those funds diverted to pork barrelling by Arts Minister Senator Mitch Fifield—arts spending without transparency, consistency or expertise. At the same time we see, more broadly, a profound erosion of civil liberties, including our rights to protest and to privacy.

 

Slow death by asphyxiation

Thus far, the proposed closure of SCA by merger with UNSW Art and Design has been effectively prevented, but under the University of Sydney’s strategic plan, released last year, SCA is slated to be absorbed into the massive Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, ostensibly to reduce bottom line costs, including devastating cuts to staff numbers.

Moving SCA to the main campus of the University of Sydney could easily result in slow death by asphyxiation: in other words a continuation of the current management strategy that has overseen, rather than countered, falling enrolments at SCA. The numbers of those enrolling in creative tertiary education had slowed markedly 2008-2013 (The Arts Nation: an overview of Australian arts, 2015 Edition Australia Council, p16). This legitimises as much as creates the short-term economic arguments for closing art schools.

To lose a proposed 60% of SCA staff, whole departments and important equipment and space is an attempt to fit art education into a philosophical and economic model that smacks of the dumbing down and anti-intellectualism that has pervaded commercialised and privatised education internationally for at least a decade, particularly in the US and UK. Forcing art schools into conventional learning environments cannot but reduce the efficacy of teaching and learning. If you lack the resources of space, time and equipment you cannot effectively and expansively engage in the creative process, the limitations of the environment curtailing what you imagine as possible in your practice.

In the last five to 10 years, the UK has implemented a particular kind of austerity politics that has had profound effects: funding cuts, fee deregulation and short-term economic models of governance have placed even the most renowned art schools under duress. The push to sell off grounds and incorporate art schools into other campuses has also been underway for some time. The Sir John Cass Faculty of Art, Architecture and Design at London Metropolitan University effectively resisted this process until February this year, when the property was sold for £50 million and leased back to the university until the faculty moves to the university in 2017.

 

Students occupy Sydney College of the Arts

Students occupy Sydney College of the Arts

UK austerity

Part of this cultural shift has meant that art and design universities in the UK have increased their fees to £9,000 a year (and are looking at deregulating further), directly pricing out students from poorer backgrounds, but also likely deterring women, mature age, CALD and LGBT students, and those with disabilities, for whom the financial burdens seem a significant risk. Enrolments are reduced, in effect reducing the vibrancy and diversity of creative voices, debate and, in the long term, cultural breadth and depth. Education becomes the privilege of those with significant funds. My former students are now graduates with fee debts of around £60,000 and loans. The threat of $100,000 degrees in Australia is already both a cultural and economic reality elsewhere. The real deception here is the notion that knowledge and learning have definable monetary value, and that such value is predictable and tied to current ideas of employability.

Similarly, in UK further education colleges and schools, the availability of art and design study is now up for debate, as new models of assessment and evaluation of learning exclude creative subjects from essential study by prioritising instead so-called STEM subjects: science, technology, engineering and mathematics. This year’s art and design enrolments at GCSE level (General Certificate of Secondary Education, year 10) have declined 6%. This is not because young people don’t want to pursue creative subjects, but because access to them is being restricted by political and economic agendas [See the NAVA letter to Education Minister Senator Simon Birmingham. Eds].

Of course this is not the only model of education on offer. If Sydney University had included art and design education expertise in developing a strategy for the future of SCA, we might even have seen a University of the Arts emerge comparable to the University of the Arts, London, which has preserved the rich, independent cultures of its constituent art and design schools while streamlining administrative functions.

Beyond UAL, London has many significant art schools, further testament that no international city should have only one art and design centre of excellence. It is, rather, an essential characteristic of creative education—and an outward-looking international city—that the range of institutions and cultures should be diverse.

 

Save SCA rally, Camperdown campus

Save SCA rally, Camperdown campus

Political consequences

Perhaps politicians think artists are an easy target—powerless, politically naïve, unlikely or unable to fight back. Perhaps that’s what University of Sydney Deputy Vice Chancellor Stephen Garton anticipated when he agreed to meet with very determined SCA students on 29 July.

Universities should take note of the possible consequences of the hasty and ill-conceived implementation of their short-term economic agendas. UK Labour leadership has placed arts education at the centre of debate, proposing the reversal of funding cuts to the arts and the reduction of university fees, pledging to introduce a pupil premium for creative education [as established for sport in 2013] as central to its arts policy and political platform. We should learn from this reversal of the current approach to cultural education before we lose the expertise and resources that will prove so hard to replace: we must go straight to championing creative education in Australia.

Keep up to date with the activities of the SCA students and alumni at letscastay.com

RealTime issue #134 Aug-Sept 2016

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

ACA students Lachlan Scown, Evie Leonard in Dreamers, 3D’15

ACA students Lachlan Scown, Evie Leonard in Dreamers, 3D’15

Established in 2001 and centrally located in Light Square, just west of the city centre, TAFE SA’s Adelaide College of the Arts is unique in being Australia’s only tertiary institution where performance, visual arts and design are taught in a single, purpose-built facility (sadly, the Advanced Diploma of Professional Writing—which this writer completed in 2011—has been discontinued as of this year). While there is an increasing focus on online courses, a State Government-funded $3.82 million expansion announced in August will see the relocation to the city campus of the music and sound production programs from TAFE SA’s Salisbury campus. Students studying graphic design, digital media and game art development at the Tea Tree Gully campus will also transfer to Light Square as part of the expansion.

The College’s Advanced Diploma of Arts (Acting) is a three-year, full-time actor-training program that covers four broad disciplines: acting, movement and voice, performance/production and contextual studies. Originally introduced at the Centre for the Performing Arts (CPA) in Grote Street—one of two institutions, along with the visual arts-focused North Adelaide School of Arts (NASA), folded into the new college in 2001—the acting course was established by David Kendall in 1986. It is now overseen by Head of Acting Terence Crawford, one of three core members of staff alongside voice specialist Simon Stollery and movement lecturer Jenn Havelberg. Graduates of the course include Nathan O’Keefe (who has worked with Slingsby, Windmill, SA State Theatre Company and Bell Shakespeare), Renato Musolino (Windmill, STCSA, The Other Ones). Kate Cheel (Windmill, STCSA, Kneehigh), Nathan Page (theatre, film and television, including Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries) and Rory Walker (STCSA, Brink, Slingsby, Windmill and more). During my conversation with Crawford, he nominated three further graduates as exemplars of the course: Josie Were (multidisciplinary performer Crack Theatre Festival, Vitalstatistix, STCSA; trained with SITI in NYC and Philippe Gaulier in Paris), Matilda Bailey (STCSA) and Charles Sanders (STCSA; Artistic Director Early Worx; trained with SITI). All, while still young, have since returned to the college in various teaching and leadership roles.

 

In the cultural centre

I begin by asking Crawford to contextualise his approach to teaching at the College within a career that saw him graduate as an actor from NIDA in 1984 and subsequently take on Head of Acting roles at Western Sydney’s now-defunct Theatre Nepean and, in Singapore, TTRP (since renamed Intercultural Theatre Institute) and LASALLE College of the Arts. “The thing I recognised immediately about Adelaide—and I’ve been in this job for eight and a half years now—is that we’re in a little city square in a little city, where the cultural industry happens around us, so my determination from the beginning was to make sure that this place was thought of as part of that broad industry.”

 

ACA students Lucy Sutherland, Jack Sumner, Patrick Klavins in Mouth Machine, 3D’14

ACA students Lucy Sutherland, Jack Sumner, Patrick Klavins in Mouth Machine, 3D’14

The advantages of distance

Crawford compares the relative isolation of Adelaide and its lack of proximity to the cultural centres of the eastern states with that of Theatre Nepean—“50 kilometres into the bush away from Sydney and NIDA”—but believes this can also work to the city’s advantage. For a start, he says, “If you make mistakes, you’re not making them in the glare”—a sentiment echoed by 2010 graduate Charles Sanders, who is in mid-rehearsal for a production of Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children by the College’s acting, design and technical production students. “One of the really nice things about working in Adelaide, and especially inside this building,” Sanders tells me over coffee, “is that you’re removed to some extent from the east coast industry, which is very competitive and not particularly good at allowing people to fail or take big risks.”

Crawford expands on this theme: “The great benefit of studying the arts in Adelaide, reflective of the great benefit of being an artist in Adelaide, is a sense of community. Our students don’t feel they have to cower at the thought that Geordie Brookman [Artistic Director of State Theatre Company of South Australia] is going to come and see their grad show; they’ve already met and worked with him because he’s part of the program.”

 

The teaching-directing mix

Sanders, fresh from completing a Masters of Directing at NIDA, has been added to what Crawford calls his “Lazy Susan” of directors—a rotating roster of industry professionals employed on a casual or part-time basis to undertake a mix of teaching and directing commitments—that also includes Brookman, Jon Halpin, David Mealor, Chris Drummond, Elena Carapetis and Corey McMahon among others. Under their tuition, second- and third-year students keep to an intense schedule of rehearsing four shows a year, and a final year that culminates in a self-devised project, 3D, and an industry showcase that incorporates a graduate show. Sanders describes these guest directing gigs as “three-quarters directing and one-quarter teaching or two-thirds directing and one-third teaching,” contrasting this division of time and energy with that of fellow graduates Josephine Were and Matilda Bailey. “Matilda’s focus is on voice,” Sanders tells me, “so she comes in at more of a pure teaching level, whereas Josie probably has something like a 50/50 split between directing and teaching duties.”

Bailey will be taking up a casual teaching post as of October, after having completed a course of study in voice at London’s Central School of Speech and Drama. Although still in her 20s, the role will be a homecoming for Bailey in more ways than one: in addition to being a guest lecturer in voice at first- and second-year levels, she will also be teaching an evening course that will have as its initial focus the preparation of aspiring actors for drama school auditions. “It was at a short course similar to this,” Bailey tells me by email, “that I first discovered AC Arts and began my journey to being an actor. The idea of being a mentor makes me feel somewhat embarrassed as I still feel I have much to learn. However, Adelaide’s isolation makes it even more integral for practitioners who have pursued further studies overseas to bring that learning back with them.”

Josephine Were, who graduated in 2009, has also spent a significant amount of time away from Adelaide, undertaking training in Suzuki and Viewpoints with New York’s SITI Company and Le Jeu and Clown with Ecole Philippe Gaulier in Paris. “I view mentoring as a two-way relationship,” Were writes in an email. “I have had and continue to have some brilliant mentors in my life. These are people who have given me the energy and time to play, talk, share and dream without fear of failure. I try to carry this philosophy too. It’s always exciting how the process of trying to mentor others causes you to further distill ideas and questions for yourself too. So it’s very much an exchange.” As to her specific role at AC Arts, Were states, “I often mentor the 3D project, which is a relaxed, provocateur-like relationship over one term. I also teach the first years for a unit of performance skills in which I lead them through games and tasks based around play, listening and ‘being together,’ which draws heavily on my Gaulier training.”

Were also directed a devised show, HOME, by 2014’s second-year class, a production that Crawford recalls with typically generous praise: “This kind of gig is one I’ve been programming for about six or seven years, a moment when students are led by a theatre-maker in the devising of something as a stepping stone to the genuinely group-devised piece that they do in third year. And Josephine did an extraordinary piece that was thoroughly owned by the actors, and very humanely and directly shared with its audience. All three of these people are very special talents.”

 

HOME, devised theatre performance with 2nd and 3rd year theatre ACA students lead and directed by Josie Were

HOME, devised theatre performance with 2nd and 3rd year theatre ACA students lead and directed by Josie Were

The actor: dramaturgical & Stanislavskian

As Crawford reflects on nearly 30 years of being an actor-teacher, he nominates two pedagogical interests that have been key to what he calls the “last chapter” of his teaching career: the development of, in his phrase, the “dramaturgical actor—an actor for whom writing and acting are symbiotic”—and furthering a conversation around the aesthetics of performance that doesn’t reject the Stanislavskian acting tradition. It remains to be seen whether Crawford’s successors will pick up and run with these particular balls, but planning for the future is clearly on his mind.

 

Legacy, succession, change

Crawford tells me, “I think important institutions have fallen into major holes because there have been long periods of neglect in relation to succession planning and I’m determined that that doesn’t happen—not just for this institution but for the whole sector. Because there are so few of these jobs, and while it’s an incredible privilege to have one, I think you owe it to the world not to cling to it but to share all the knowledge you can and to make sure there’s a whole load of people who are the next generation of teachers.”

And can he see that next generation starting to take shape? “Put it this way,” he says, jabbing a finger towards the College’s third floor, “there are three offices up there that are occupied by me and two other outstanding performance teachers, Simon Stollery and Jenn Havelberg. If in five or 10 years those three offices are occupied by the three graduates we’ve been talking about today, it will be an amazing course; very different, but I would be excited for the future of South Australian theatre training. That would be a dream. They might even employ me occasionally!”

Terence Crawford

Terence Crawford

TAFE SA Adelaide College of the Arts

RealTime issue #134 Aug-Sept 2016

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

artwork by Andres Busrianto, Malaysian premiere of Beastly, Tutti Arts & Stepping Stone, 2015

artwork by Andres Busrianto, Malaysian premiere of Beastly, Tutti Arts & Stepping Stone, 2015

Founded in 1997 by playwright and composer Pat Rix as a choir for people with intellectual disabilities, Tutti has developed into a multi-art form organisation with performance, visual art, digital design and music programs accessible to artists of mixed abilities. In the 2015 OzAsia Festival the company presented Shedding Light, the result of a two-year cultural exchange with two Yogyakarta-based artists, writer-activist Khairani Barokka and visual artist Moelyono. Drawing on the traditional kaki lima food carts and neon-lit sepeda lampu (pedal-powered cars) that are a common sight in Indonesia’s big cities, Shedding Light aimed to expose OzAsia’s international audience to the art practice and lived experiences of performers with disabilities through a series of one-on-one exchanges across Adelaide’s Dunstan Playhouse and Riverdeck precinct.

 

An Indonesian-Malaysian-Australian collaboration

The site, currently the subject of a major redevelopment, will accommodate a similarly diverse and multicultural group of Tutti members and guest artists at this year’s OzAsia Festival, when the fruits of another two-year collaboration with Indonesian artists, titled Beastly, are revealed. Led by Andres Busrianto, renowned street artist and currently Director of the annual Geneng Street Art Festival in Java, the work is an exploration of humanity’s relationship with animals across cultures. As with Shedding Light, Beastly will be both large-scale and intimate, situating a series of one-on-one encounters with artists with disabilities within an “alternative experimental zone” featuring Busrianto’s stencil-based street art and interactive installations by artists from Tutti and Stepping Stone, a work and arts training centre for people with disabilities based in Penang (Beastly premiered there in July, at this year’s George Town Festival).

 

Identifying with animals

I met Pat Rix, Tutti Artistic Director, and Julian Jaensch, Beastly’s performance director, at the Tutti hub, the cottage-style Lady Galway building located amid the sprawling Minda Disability Care Services site in the coastal suburb of Brighton, south of Adelaide. My first question was about the work’s conceptual origins. “If you look inside yourself,” Rix told me, “what animals do you identify with? What is your strongest sense? Are you nocturnal or diurnal? What is your diet? We began by asking these questions of our performers and creative team. That led us into explorations which took a long time really, of things like Aboriginal and Native American totems and the mythologies of Java. And from there we looked at how hard it is for animals to survive in a world that is being overdeveloped.”

 

artwork Andres Busrianto, Malaysian premiere of Beastly, Tutti Arts & Stepping Stone, 2015

artwork Andres Busrianto, Malaysian premiere of Beastly, Tutti Arts & Stepping Stone, 2015

Encounter beasts in pods

These conversations led Rix and Patricia Wozniak, Tutti’s visual arts coordinator, to conceive of three “pods,” intimate, tent-like spaces that would each house a different, three-minute performance by a member of Tutti’s performing arts ensemble. To arrive at a pod, audience members will first be escorted by Tutti and Stepping Stone guides through the “village” where they’ll be able to have their photographs taken with interactive artworks and alongside Busrianto’s half-human, half-animal street art figures. They’ll then engage with one of three performances: the beast, the bowerbird or the collector. Each one, according to Rix, offers a distinctive aesthetic and experience: “There is a cardboard beast pod which contains a performance drawn from actor Lorcan Hopper’s interest in wolves; the bowerbird pod, made of bamboo, is about both the lengths bowerbirds have to go to in order to attract a suitable mate and the destruction of habitat; and finally the collector pod, which is made of clip-lock, a kind of lightweight metal that can be fitted together. Whereas the beast is quite intense and the bowerbird somewhat light-hearted, the collector is creepy. We use preserved animal body parts in jars—similar to our habit of pinning butterfly species onto corkboards—to project a future in which there is nobody left to collect anything.”

Rix explained that the pods will have substantially altered since their first appearance at the George Town Festival. “In Penang, the bowerbird pod was like this amazing chandelier that floated from the ceiling of the performance space, but it will be much more like a shrine in Adelaide, partly because we will be outdoors, and partly because we have involved different people with the design. Adelaide artist Nina Rupena, who is now based in Melbourne, was central to the work as it appeared in Penang, but now we also have Laura Wills and Indonesian visual artist Mawarini collaborating on different aspects of the pods.” Rix added that there would be a fifth installation, in addition to Busrianto’s street art and the three pods, led by visual artist Henry Jock Walker, whose work has traditionally been rooted in Australian surf culture. It’s just one more indication of the project’s ambitious scale and rich interchange of diverse cultural and artistic practices.

 

Shared art, shared concerns

“For our part,” Rix told me, “there’s a genuine dialogue starting between Tutti and these individuals and organisations in Malaysia and Indonesia. It’s easy both here and over there for artists to become overwhelmed by theory and policy discussions, but nothing compares to when you get a group of likeminded people working together on a project and everybody realises that, in among all the different bits of each other’s languages they’re picking up, there’s a commonality to the work we’re all doing. In this case, it’s our shared concern with the kind of environmental legacy that we are creating and how that will impact on the animal species we profess to care about. That we can communicate this through what will be, for many audience members, their most intimate encounter with a person who has a disability, is a really special thing, I think”.

OzAsia Festival 2016, Tutti, Stepping Stone and Andres Busrianto, Beastly; Adelaide Festival Centre Riverdeck, free event; 22-24 Sept; 28 Sept-1 Oct, from 6pm nightly

RealTime issue #134 Aug-Sept 2016

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

God Bless Baseball

God Bless Baseball

Since the formation in 1997 of the Chelfitsch (“selfish”) Theatre Company, a collaboration with dancer Natsuko Tezuka, Japanese writer and director Toshiki Okada has developed an international reputation. Informed equally by Japan’s “quiet theatre” movement of the 1980s and 90s, and his early interest in American alternative cinema, Okada’s theatre is distinguished by a heightened style that marries colloquial language with Brechtian distancing techniques. Strongly political, his work has often been read as sympathetic to Japan’s so-called “lost generation,” which came of age during the crippling recession of the 1990s.

His most recent work, God Bless Baseball, had its world premiere in South Korea last year and has since been performed in Tokyo, New York and at Braunschweig’s Festival Theaterformen. The play uses a mixed ensemble of Japanese and South Korean performers to explore those countries’ relationships to the United States through that icon of cultural imperialism, baseball. It’s a sport that, since its introduction to East Asia by American educators and missionaries around the turn of the 19th century, has become thoroughly nativised in Japan and neighbouring South Korea.

I spoke to Okada via Skype ahead of the work’s Australian premiere at this year’s OzAsia Festival in Adelaide. If he is able to make it to Adelaide for the festival—he’s still not sure if his schedule will allow it—it will be only the second time he has been to Australia, following a short season of perhaps his best known work, Five Days in March, at Melbourne’s Arts Centre in 2010.

In the play you set up Japan and South Korea as siblings, with the United States as a kind of father figure. Did that idea come first, and then you decided to use baseball as a way of expressing it, or was the initial spark to do with wanting to write a play about baseball itself?

The biggest trigger was that I was invited to create a new production for South Korea’s art complex in Gwangju [The Asian Arts Theatre, a part of the government-funded Asia Culture Centre in Gwangju City]. I started to think about an international collaboration, specifically with South Korean artists. It was an idea that they really liked. And then the topic of baseball came to me because that sport was something both countries had in common. And of course, the reason Japan and Korea are so familiar with baseball is because of the great cultural influence of the United States in this part of the world.

Australia’s relationship with the United States is in important respects similar to Japan’s and Korea’s. How do you personally view the relationship between Japan and the United States at the moment? I’m thinking of the current tensions around the United States’ military presence in Japan.

Big question! I have to say that Japan is still a kind of colony of the United States so we have to start thinking about how we can move beyond that. For example, there are many United States military bases still in Japan, which doesn’t make sense from my point of view. And Japan is paying for them! So there are many things about this relationship that remain to be solved. I think it’s almost time for Eastern Asian countries such as China, Korea and Japan—and probably Australia too—to set their own programs without any interference from the United States.

Pijin Neji in foreground, God Bless Baseball

Pijin Neji in foreground, God Bless Baseball

I wanted to ask you about how the translations work in the show because, as I understand it, parts are in Japanese and others in Korean. So how do those translations into English work across the performance?

When it comes to the English language, I am very happy to have an excellent translator [Hongyie Lee] who has been working with me for a long time. In the case of God Bless Baseball it’s a bit unusual because normally in my work there is only Japanese, but this piece contains Korean as well [two screens provide Japanese to English and Korean to English subtitles, and a voice-over provides additional commentary in English].

There’s a character in the play inspired by the legendary Japanese baseball player Ichiro Suzuki who acts as a mentor to two novice players. The character is portrayed by Pijin Neji, a Butoh-trained dancer. How did his involvement influence the development of the production?

When we started to think about how the United States relates to Japan and Korea we found three different aspects that we thought were important. One is that the United States is above us. The second one is that the United States is behind us. And the third one is that the United States is inside us. So if we tried to be independent from the United States we would have to do it through these three ways. And I realised that if we were to do this, the most difficult one would be the third because the United States is already inside us.

Because its cultural influence is so pervasive?

Yes. We had to find a way of realising that in the performance so that’s the reason I wanted to work with a Butoh dancer. They are good at working with their bodies and I knew this aspect of the show needed a choreographic solution. One very important sequence in God Bless Baseball that Pijin Neji had a lot to do with is when all of the characters try to get the United States out from inside them—it’s weird and serious at the same time, which I like.

Can you talk a little about how important the show’s design aspects are, especially given designer Tadasu Takamine’s reputation as quite a provocative visual artist?

I asked him for basically one thing: to create an object to represent the United States that could collapse or melt or disappear, something like that. I explained to him that I wanted to be able to use the object to show a future in which we are not as dependent on the United States. This appealed to him because in his work in the visual arts world he is always interested in political and social issues. And so he came up with a design that the production team thought looked like an umbrella or an antenna, and it melts away at the end of the play. For me, it represents an alternative future for us. It’s quite direct really but American audiences couldn’t get it, which is really interesting.

Maybe Australian audiences will get it?

I hope so!

Toshiki Okada

Toshiki Okada

God Bless Baseball, 2016 OzAsia Festival, Space Theatre, Adelaide Festival Centre, Adelaide, 30 Sept-1 Oct

RealTime issue #134 Aug-Sept 2016

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

Vera Tabuzo, Landed, Tracks Dance, Darwin Festival, 2016

Vera Tabuzo, Landed, Tracks Dance, Darwin Festival, 2016

Tracks’ Landed integrates dance, site and community to express a sense of sacred belonging. From a spiritual base, Rianto’s Medium melds ancient cross-gendered dance with contemporary form. Finucane and Smith’s The Birds blends traditional cabaret with New Burlesque. These three Darwin Festival works exemplify more than diversity; they represent respect for and a capacity to build on the past and, for Landed and Medium, to acknowledge the power, currency and survival of traditional spiritual life.

 

Tracks Dance Company, Landed

Landed is the kind of work Tracks has done so well for several decades now, drawing together diverse communities and providing an opportunity for the young and not so young to develop and extend their practices with the support of professional practitioners. In this production it’s the school children of Millner, the dance students of Casuarina Senior College (CSC), the local Breakdance company and an ensemble of young dancers who get to work with three lead dancers, guest choreographer Gary Lang and Tracks creatives David McMicken and Tim Newth.

Well known for its site-specific work, Tracks often performs in beautiful sites around Darwin and occasionally in concrete bunkers and car parks. This time the site is especially integral to the meaning and theme of the show. Landed is set on the Gurambai Walking Trail which runs by Darwin International Airport. The production investigates what it is to return to Darwin; how we re-integrate with a place where we are “constantly affected by the vastness of our landscape, the extremes of our weather, the fullness of the cultural diversity and our links to Indigenous people and knowledge” (program notes).

Landed begins with the break dancers driving a baggage trolley stacked with suitcases onto an open-air stage. Cases are thrown between dancers in a comic evocation of the baggage carousel. We are introduced to three characters landing in Darwin, each dancing their initial response to the heat, the remoteness and, of course, the mozzies—danced by Millner primary school children. The soundtrack of airport announcements is supported by the noise of real planes arriving and leaving from the nearby airport.

Landed, Tracks Dance, Darwin Festival, 2016

Landed, Tracks Dance, Darwin Festival, 2016

The audience is then divided into two groups to walk in different directions along the trail to the next performance areas where the main characters are individually nurtured into wisdom and linked to land and community. Each section is choreographed by Larrakia choreographer, Gary Lang, working with local Indigenous dancer Darren Edwards and the young ensemble who gently propel, lift and lead Darren through leaf-strewn bushland until he finds his strength and connection with the environment.

Tracks dancer and animateur Kelly Beneforti excels on many levels as she dances on rough ground among the trees and leads the primary children in a piece that begins her character’s re-integration. Beneforti’s VCA dance training is evident and her strong connection to the young dancers keeps them focused as they scatter in the bush around her to dance their books into butterflies. Using lead dancer Vera Tabuzo’s stack of pink suitcases and bowls of water, Beneforti also choreographs the CSC dancers and Tabuzo in their characters’ growing wisdom.

Lang also choreographs the three leads in the finale to a soundscore composed by Matt Cunliffe with Steve Wanta Jampijinpa Patrick’s vocals urging the dancers to “speak to the land and the land will speak back.” The dancers move fluidly as they come together to settle into home and place, taking each other’s weight then extending into solo moments danced concurrently. The rest of the company watches in stillness, the work of showing the returnees the way to connect now done.

 

Rianto, Medium, Darwin Festival, 2016

Rianto, Medium, Darwin Festival, 2016

Rianto, Medium

Growing up in the small central Javanese village of Banyumas, Rianto mastered the traditional cross-gender dance Lengger Banyumasan at a very young age and began learning and performing classical Javanese dance in 1997. Since 2001 he has developed a contemporary form that fuses with traditional and ritualistic practices. Medium is a compelling and extraordinary work that explodes boundaries and takes the audience on a journey through complex and multi-layered experiences.

Rianto dances alone in the space but is watched by his childhood friend and collaborator, the Kendang musician and singer Cahwati. Wearing a traditional Indonesian costume, she sits at the edge of the performing space with an array of classical instruments in front of her, but for a long time plays nothing. The only sound is the breath of the dancer as he slowly explores his body, first with delicate caresses then with slaps, then frenzied shaking before running on the spot for an incredibly long time, his breathing building. It’s hypnotic.

Rianto is a master of rhythm, playing with space and time and managing to surprise the audience with sudden changes of form. He moves fluidly between wild contorted angst and a state of childlike innocence, from graceful and contained movements where he barely flutters a finger to explosive body spasms. At all times Rianto appears connected to something deeper, some sense of ritual and culture, something profoundly spiritual that is the base from which he journeys out.

When Cahwati finally breaks her silence, playing intermittent percussion and vocalising, the connection between the two is powerful. In traditional Lengger the role of musician is one of lover but here it moves through lover, mother and playful, childlike friend. The two work together with such connection it becomes impossible to tell whether Rianto is being puppeteered by her or she by him.

Medium premiered in Darwin and is now set for an extended European tour. Rianto will doubtless mesmerise audiences when he appears in Choy Ka Fai’s Softmachine: Rianto in Adelaide’s OzAsia Festival in September.

 

Moira Finucane, The Birds, Darwin Festival, 2016

Moira Finucane, The Birds, Darwin Festival, 2016

Finucane and Smith, The Birds

Well-known for their provocative burlesque shows, Moira Finucane and Jackie Smith have been crafting thought-provoking and hugely entertaining work for decades. The Birds is their most recent production and brings together another eclectic mix of performers who work across genres from cabaret to circus to what seems like screaming mad punk performance art and back again. The individual acts are loosely based around wild and wonderful feathered creatures and songs, music and dance that inhabit a fluid time zone stretching from 1880s Paris to modern day clubbing.

The Birds opens with Clare St Clare, a traditional cabaret artist in a glittering gold evening dress, singing a torch song. Unusually for a Finucane and Smith production, this opening is entirely conventional without the subversive and quirky elements we have come to expect from them. The production then moves through a series of solo acts including hoops, trapeze, a walk across champagne bottles in glamorous high heels, a dynamic booty-shaking African dance number and torch songs from around the globe, most accompanied by the superb Miss Chief on piano.

Within a production that otherwise has yet to find its flow, what makes the evening memorable are moments when, between the more traditional acts, Finucane lets loose with her blend of poetic anarchy, appearing with black cape and long talons that are at once razor deadly and strangely delicate. She dwells in the gothic horror realm, decrying love and weaving in astute comments about contemporary life and politics.

The highlight for me was the duet between the extraordinary Mama Alto and Finucane’s slightly deranged wild raven. Mama Alto has a crystalline voice that totally bewitches. Transcending gender, she is sublime as a powerful, ethereal being who sits front-stage dressed in sparkling silver, singing about love. When she opens her mouth to sing I feel that I am a believer. Then, in violent contrast, Finucane, clad only in her talons and see-through black cape, emerges from behind. They are striking as they sing in opposition about love and death. This is a moment of genius.

Tracks Dance Company, Landed, concept, direction David McMicken, Tim Newth, design Tim Newth, choreographers Gary Lang, Kelly Beneforti, Aaron Lim, David McMicken, Tim Newth and dancers, original music David McMicken, sound mastering Matt Cunliffe; Gurambai Walking Trail, Darwin Airport, 5-7, 12-14 Aug; Medium, choreographer, performer Rianto, dramaturg, collaborator Garin Nugroho, scenography, lighting Iskander K Loedin, vocals, percussion Cahwati; Brown’s Mart, 5-7 Aug; Finucane and Smith, The Birds, creator-directors Moira Finucane, Jackie Smith, performers Moira Finucane, Clare St Clare, Rockie Stone, Mama Alto, Holly Durant, Beni Lola, Yeshe Meherate, Miss Chief; The Lighthouse, Darwin, 10-13 Aug

RealTime issue #134 Aug-Sept 2016

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

Moths & Mathematics, MetaData, De Quincey Co

Moths & Mathematics, MetaData, De Quincey Co

Where to turn to for the latest in physics and cosmology? To De Quincey Co’s team of dancers, video, sound and animation artists—and guest scientists—whose two new works, Pure Light and Moths & Mathematics, comprise Metadata. In her own works and those with her company, Tess De Quincey always seems to incline to the metaphysical, even a secular transcendentalism, partly because of the way she undoes our time-space coordinates and our relationships with objects and other bodies. In Metadata, she and Peter Fraser, address science, intuitively and directly.

Artists are increasingly doing fascinating science, not simply as explainers or illustrators, but as explorers, like Brisbane’s Keith Armstrong (see this e-dition) and Perth’s SymbioticA, making science-art and responding critically to the cultural and scientific status quo. Other artists can convey something of the sense of a finding or a theory, its strangeness or even sublimity while maintaining a footing in the science, as Fraser, performer and choreographer, states in the Metadata press release:

“We are already being danced by nature in our heartbeat, our breath and the pattern of our walking. Our molecules move us according to physics we don’t necessarily understand but feel in harmony with. Tess [De Quincey] and I wanted to make performances that are informed by the underlying physical and mathematical patterns that already determine and shape our lives and possibilities.”

Metadata offers audiences a discussion with a scientist at the end of each performance. In our ‘information culture,’ this simultaneous juxtaposing and partnering of art and the explanatory is an important cultural development.

Thanks to the Snowden revelations and the hesitancy of governments to face up to the demands of privacy, “metadata” has accrued negative connotations, but in this De Quincey Co production the title suggests we might gain sight of a bigger picture, whether biological or cosmological—possibly of the same make— in which data is at once meaningful and magical.

Pure Light, MetaData, De Quincey Co

Pure Light, MetaData, De Quincey Co

De Quincey Co, Metadata, choreographers and performers, Tess de Quincey, Peter Fraser, sound Pimmon & Warren Burt, animation Boris Morris Bagattini, video Martin Fox, lighting design Sian James-Holland, costumes Claire Westwood; Dancehouse, Melbourne, 9, 10 Sept, 7pm; FORM & Riverside Theatres, Parramatta, Sydney, 15, 17 Sept 8pm, 16 Sept, 12.30pm

RealTime issue #134 Aug-Sept 2016

Liz Aggiss, The English Channel

Liz Aggiss, The English Channel

Any festival that boasts the UK’s Liz Aggiss as a headliner is a must, especially when she’s in the company of Portugal’s Ana Beatriz Degues, Townsville’s Dancenorth, Melbourne’s Stephanie Lake and James Batchelor, Brisbane’s Liesel Zink and Tasmanian groups Tasdance, Second Echo Ensemble, MADE, Stompin and Drill. Salamanca Moves’ monumental program is to be staged in the last two weeks of September. The festival is a welcome, highly distinctive and richly inclusive addition to Australia’s contemporary dance festivals and events—Melbourne’s Dance Massive, Perth’s MoveMe and the Keir Choreographic Award.

Appearing in the festival’s Mature Moves program, Aggiss, a UK dancer in her 60s, will present two works, The English Channel—in which, with spoken word, dance and film, “she becomes an unwitting channel for wilful women and forgotten archives”—and Slap and Tickle, an hilarious performance “that embodies feminist dance practices [and] is framed by the politics that challenge and resist the ‘authority’ of formal conventions, revising attitudes towards mature female visibility” (program). Aggiss will appeal not only to dance audiences but lovers of contemporary performance and live art. You’ll find excerpts from her works online.

The Salamanca Moves program suggests that the festival is very much about diversity but, above all, making diversity visible—as I discovered when I spoke by phone with the festival’s curator Kelly Drummond Cawthon.

Tasmanian dance fanciers, artists, the public and interstate visitors are to be treated not only to a variety of performances but also intensive workshops, forums, guidance for young artists, the revival and reworking of could-be classics and a number of public events. The festival’s range of talent is considerable, from secondary school performers to artists in their later years, with practical programs encompassing how to make dance magic with new media and address health and ageing through dance.

Drummond Cawthon, who is Salamanca Arts Centre’s Live Art + Education Coordinator, was raised in Tasmania and after starting out in acrobatics and musical theatre moved into dance. She travelled to the United States to pursue an MFA degree in dance choreography and performance at Florida State University and an MA in Performance Studies at NYU. Working in the US for 20 years, she danced with numerous companies, made widely travelled works, taught in the University of Florida School of Theater and Dance faculty and developed curricula in, among other fields, transdisciplinary collaborations and new media and was involved in the founding of the Digital Worlds Institute, participating in its online collaborative performances. The festival’s range of performances, workshops and discussions reflect the range of Drummond Cawthon’s interests and passions. I asked about the key artists and features of the festival.

Ana Beatriz Degues

Ana Beatriz Degues

Salamanca Moves includes a Creative Intensives program of two to five-day workshops with Australian and international artists such as Sannamaria Kuula from Finland and Neta Pulvermacher from Israel. Another is Ana Beatriz Degues who sings as well as dances with highly focused slowness and has created some intriguing site works. Tell me about her.

She’s from Portugal. A couple of years ago she did some dancing with us here at Salamanca Arts Centre. She’ll perform her site-specific dance, El árbol in the Salamanca courtyard and also run a workshop she’s been wanting to do for quite a while, titled From Horizontal to Vertical, looking at the health benefits of dancing—at the spine and how you can keep it flexible and working.

You have a Youth Dance Program. How does that work, through workshops or performances?

In the last week of school term, which is the beginning of the festival, we’ll be taking the festival into schools and the Moonah Arts Centre. High schools will participate on one day and colleges—those where students are studying dance as an academic subject—on the other. We’re looking at dance pathways into the academy or into higher learning. Each school will present a work created by the students. We’ll have Movers-in-Residence who’ll get together with students and talk to them about their work and also about opportunities.

We have fantastic youth companies here on the island that exist outside the competitive dance world: Stompin in Launceston and Drill in Hobart. So, for the other part of this program, I’ve brought them together for the first time, to share an evening program at the Moonah Arts Centre.

At the other end of the age spectrum is Mature Moves, described in the program as “an event celebrating mature dance, and challenging the conventions of aging through dance.”

We’re calling it an “un-convention.” It’s a two and a half-day celebration presented by Tasmania Performs of older movers and move-makers. We have keynote addresses from Jill Sonke, Director of Dance Arts and Medicine at the University of Florida, and the extraordinary Liz Aggiss, who is in her 60s, as a featured performer. There’ll be performances by Tasmania’s astounding Mature Artist Dance Experience (MADE), panels, presentations—including the ground-breaking Glen Murray of [in]visible practice—and workshops. Then, on the last day, we’ll have Mature Moves in Concert with any or all of the participants having an opportunity to get up on the stage. Dancers grow old but they can still dance. We just change which body parts are moving, depending on which bits are hurting on the day.

Aeon

Aeon

BYO-V(enue) is a gnomic title for a program.

We’re looking at completely breaking dance out of the concert stream. Sometimes you can’t get to an audience because they can’t get to you. So, I’ve tagged and encouraged movers to create a work and to figure out how to activate it outside a theatre; asking, how do you make it come alive in a new way?

Lz Dunn is one of the artists leading this project with a work called Aeon, A Listening Movement, which is about listening, birds flocking and group navigation. Alice Taylor, a local artist and the producer of Aeon, is working with members of local dance schools, dance studios and community groups. Participants, each carrying a little sound speaker [sound by Brisbane’s Lawrence English], move about with the dancers in the performance.

Dance in public space figures strongly in your program.

We have Liesel Zink coming from Brisbane with her work, The Stance, about the body in public protest which will be performed in Salamanca Square. It’s an awesome work. The participants have already done a workshop, Calling All Dance Agents For Change! with Liesel and Bec Jones from Tasdance to inspire them. They’ll be popping up on both Saturdays of the festival all around the Salamanca Market.

In the Making is about works already in-progress?

It’s about thoughts in progress, not yet complete. I’m encouraging the artists who’ve put themselves forward to be brave and show us things, even if they’re not really working. Something’s there, but maybe it’s failing and you need feedback. So often when we do a showing we only show the good bits—kind of like the trailer of a movie. We don’t really need to see that. This is an opportunity for artists to show the kernel of an idea which will be mediated by different Movers-in-Residence. We’ve got two programs. There’s been a lot of interest.

Second Echo, Rite of Spring

Second Echo, Rite of Spring

Of dance works you’ve mentioned Aeon and The Stance. I see, among others, there’s also a Rite of Spring.

Of course! If you’re doing a dance festival, you must have a Rite of Spring. This is a re-imagining, of course, performed by Second Echo Ensemble and co-presented by the Tasmanian Theatre Company. It’s a processional work in four acts. It’s about two hours long and it travels around four venues in the Salamanca Precinct. I’m really excited about it. Second Echo was founded by playwright Finegan Kruckemeyer and is an integrated ensemble involving people with and without disabilities. Most of them have been working together for 10 years.

I’m the Creative Producer on this ensemble-devised work. We worked all of last year and presented a preview of each act independently. We were at Raw Space for Ten Days on the Island and we went to Brisbane to perform another act. Now we’re bringing all four together. It’s mammoth!

Tell me about the MOV-ies program and your American guest curator.

Cari Ann Shim Sham teaches Dance and New Media at New York University Tisch School of the Arts and has curated an international program of shorts and several features. The rule was each film had to be made by a mover, someone who identifies as such. It could be about anything.

Cari Ann will be here as one of our Movers-in-Residence at the Festival Hub each day with technology and cameras. In her Creative Intensive you learn how to dance with or for your iPhone, to make avatars dance, how to work with software, and screens, to work solo or in a group. Three hundred and sixty degree dancing I think she calls it. We’ll upload the short films onto our website on the last day of the festival.

In Re-works you’re reviving works by Wendy Morrow, Glen Murray, Julie-Anne Long, Neil Cameron, Ina Sladic, Rob Flehr and the Wagana Aboriginal Dancers. These have been performed for one season and then never seen again.

It’s difficult, in contemporary practice especially, to generate new classics. We’ll see works, for example, that were performed in Launceston but never made it to Hobart, and pieces that were performed in the 1980s and 1990s making a come-back. And we’re looking not just at re-presentation, but re-working, seeing what a work turns into now.

I see you’ve programmed a large-scale interactive public performance called Relax the Chimp—a strange title. It’s subtitled “An Experimental DJ Dance Party.”

This is from Felicity Bott, the new Artistic Director of Tasdance. From what I understand, ‘relaxing the chimp’ is about when you’re trying to relax your mind to find what triggers the dance in you. There’ll be workshops where you can learn parts of a dance, create an avatar, use choreographic software to animate it and have it projected by VJ Nick onto a large screen in the Salamanca Courtyard. The public can submit favourite songs which DJ Chimp is turning into a soundtrack.

We’re throwing the ‘relax the chimp’ idea in at high speed on that last day of the festival when all the Creative Intensives participants and local cultural groups will perform. We’re calling it Salamanca Moves at 30,000 Feet, from an idea of VJ-DJ Darren Hunnerup about travelling around the world and visiting different musical ideas. I’ve bent the idea a little to travelling to places both real and imagined at different times—past present and future—and dropping into everything which has moved us or that we want to move. Instead of a big gala we’re ending the festival with little bits and pieces made by the festival’s participants, saying, yes, go out and finish them!

I see that Stephanie Lake, who is presenting her Dancenorth commission If Never Was Now was a Stompin performer when she was young and is Salamanca Moves’ patron.

Yes, she’s a Tassie girl. We shouldn’t celebrate only completely established, long-living artists. Here we have a young artist really making a name for herself and we thought, this reflects our festival. She’s fantastic. She’s been back and forth. Her work is being performed on the 16th, before the festival, but we’re opening up the theatre to everyone here working on or participating in the festival—a bit of a kick-off party.

The vision for the festival is of dance for everybody. It’s a very embracing approach.

I’m really passionate about the diversity of the dancing body and that everybody can dance. We all move and this festival is really looking at what triggers that movement in us, that makes us either want to shake our head or tap our toes, join in or actually create a movement for change in any way you like. We’re out to have some fun, to definitely get some moves on and to see what happens.

Kelly Drummond Cawthon, workshop Rite of Spring, costume by Roz Wren

Kelly Drummond Cawthon, workshop Rite of Spring, costume by Roz Wren

Salamanca Arts Centre, Salamanca Moves, Hobart, 20 Sept-1 Oct

See the full Salamanca Moves program for information about other workshops and performances, including James Batchelor’s Deepspace, Ria Soemardjo, Jade Dewi Tyas Tunggal and Paula van Beek’s Enfold, and a host of workshops, presentations and public events.

RealTime issue #134 Aug-Sept 2016

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

Lippy, Dead Centre, Darwin Festival 2016

Lippy, Dead Centre, Darwin Festival 2016

There was an air of collusion at this year’s Darwin Festival as three highly technical productions brought audiences closer to the process of theatre-making. In Lippy, by Ireland’s Bush Moukarzel and Dead Centre, the playwright, producer-director and sound designer were also performers. Filipino performance company Sipat Lawin Ensemble presented Gobyerno (government), involving the entire audience as writers, cast and crew in the production. And Australia’s Terrapin Puppet Theatre created the sights and sounds of strange worlds onstage with an animator and musician in You and Me and the Space Between.

 

Bush Moukarzel and Dead Centre, Lippy (Ireland)

Beguiling, disorientating and jarring, Lippy is based on the true story of four related women in Ireland who, in a suicide pact, starved themselves to death. They clearly intended to leave no trace, shredding all evidence of their lives. Co-director Bush Moukarzel created the work and invited leading Irish actor and playwright Mark O’Halloran to contribute the work’s final soliloquy—for one of the dying women—hence his being credited as “cameo playwright.” O’Halloran also plays the lip-reader who tries to make sense of the suicide from viewing CCTV footage of two of the women in a Dublin shopping centre. [Listen to an interview with Moukarzel. Eds]

Lippy challenges perception on every level. It begins, surprisingly, with a ‘post-show’ discussion in which producer and co-director Bush Moukarzel, playing a version of himself, interviews the lip-reader. Too late, his subject is questioning the ethics of telling the women’s story. In reverse his experience unfolds.

The technician (sound designer Adam Welsh) sits on stage layering and disrupting live and recorded sound, video and live performance. YouTube’s Bad Lip Reading is turned on its ear putting real words in the mouths of the disempowered, instead of fake words into the mouths of the powerful.

The gravity-defying set tips this jagged world even further off-kilter. Designers Andrew Clancy and Grace O’Hara juxtapose floating bin bags and biohazard suits with leaf blowers and a leaky roof. In a tableau-esque depiction of their last days, the women (played by Joanna Banks, Ali White, Clara Simpson and Liv O’Donoghue) interact on ever shifting planes. The realisation of their act of starvation is hypnotic.

Lippy is a surreal experience. Memories, contexts and interpretations are warped by time and shifting perspectives, leaving us wondering who controls the way we are perceived in life, and in death.

 

Gobyerno, Sipat Lawin Ensemble

Gobyerno, Sipat Lawin Ensemble

Sipat Lawin Ensemble, Gobyerno (Philippines)

Sipat Lawin Ensemble director and facilitator JK Anicoche meets his Gobyerno audience in the foyer of Brown’s Mart Theatre. With local media personality Lisa Pellegrino at his side, Anicoche announces, “Protest is a rehearsal for revolution! How would you solve the world’s problems?”

Gobyerno is putting government back into the hands of the people. From the outset the audience is engaged, dancing into the theatre with their “one big idea” held high on cards. Eventually like meets like and everyone settles at work benches, tasked with agreeing on our “most urgent” policies. Guided by members of the ensemble (which includes Australian David Finnigan as dramaturg and facilitator) wielding the Dice of Reason, the pros and cons of each suggestion are considered.

Agreement came easily and energy levels, already high, cranked up a notch as hit music played while new teams were formed. The audience self-selected into groups of performers, costume designers, set designers, sound designers and urban planners. With a party atmosphere, basic materials and plenty of ingenuity, within 15 minutes we were ready to rehearse a State of the Nation Address.

The theatre transformed into a film set ‘in the round’ and the Ensemble put everyone through their paces, blocking the show. Soon, clapperboard at the ready, we were ready to make history. That night, Gobyerno did us proud.

Sipat Lawin Ensemble’s process was sustained, focused and liberating, giving people an opportunity to speak up and act—on stage at least. Their ideas will join with those of other Gobyernos from around the world on YouTube.

 

You and Me & the Space Between, Terrapin Puppet Theatre

You and Me & the Space Between, Terrapin Puppet Theatre

Terrapin Puppet Theatre, You and Me and the Space Between

The world premiere of You and Me and the Space Between was a magic carpet ride of puppetry. Choreographed projections, live drawn animation and performance explored the plight of refugees fleeing environmental change through the eyes of a child.

Written by Finegan Kruckemeyer, the work is the story of Eve whose blissful life is disrupted when her island springs a leak. Narrated by Emily Tomlins, the production was rich with childlike whimsy and wisdom, read in lilting story-time style. Between the tale’s two worlds, The Proud Circle and The Long Cliffs, we saw fantastic images: The Final Circle, where old people went to die, un-animals, fish that eat carrots and the obligatory angry giant.

Designer Jonathon Oxlade and lighting designer Nicholas Higgins created deceptively simple backdrops and props that doubled as screens. A single hole in the backdrop was at times a leak, an eye, a mouth, a planet or an island. A tarp on the ground was the ocean and then cliffs. Effortlessly (it seemed), puppeteer Felicity Horsley manipulated all the moving parts.

With keyboard and cello, musician Dean Stevenson generated storms, moods and fun, as well as voicing the characters and crowd scenes. On the other side of the stage, hand flying across his tablet, sat cartoonist Badiucao drawing animated places and creatures projected live onto multiple screens.

The production was fast-paced. I wanted more time to enjoy Badiucao’s drawings, more time to dwell on Kruckemeyer’s words. With its happy ending, befitting a fairytale, You and Me and the Space Between was a memorable journey for Eve and audience between two imaginary cultures.

2016 Darwin Festival: Bush Moukarzel & Dead Centre, Lippy; Darwin Entertainment Centre, 5-7 Aug; Sipat Lawin Ensemble, Gobyerno, director, facilitator JK Anicoche, writer, facilitator David Finnigan, dramaturg, facilitator Ness Roque, filmmaker Brandon Relucio; Brown’s Mart Theatre,16-19 Aug; Terrapin Puppet Theatre, You and Me and the Space Between, writer Finegan Kruckemeyer, director Sam Routledge, Darwin Entertainment Centre, 11-14 Aug

RealTime issue #134 Aug-Sept 2016

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

Tim Darbyshire, Stampede the Stampede

Tim Darbyshire, Stampede the Stampede

When choreographer Tim Darbyshire chooses to work with fundamental principles such as turbulence, duration and rupture in performance he does so by surrendering agency to the movement of machines and situates himself among the elemental rawness of rock and dust. He invites invisible forces of vibration and gravity to act upon his body over just enough time for the viewer to become a participant in his dystopic ordeal. The aural and spatial constructions provided by his sound and design team offer a seamless collaboration, creating an environment of powerful affect.

Darbyshire appears in dim light, hunched and slow moving, turning atop a tall wooden tower. A kind of Everyman in crumpled nondescript pale shirt and trousers, he circles, ponderous as a beast in a lair. The soundscape begins as a hum and transmutes into electronic scratching on a digital blackboard.

He sways on his haunches to a growing, insistent beat and with each repetition his body rises and falls until compelled by tempo it explodes upwards, long hair and arms swinging. There is an inevitability about this evolution of impact as mechanical rhythms command an inner spring of muscular impulse, fast twitching, switching, turning. Head and torso gain and lose momentum, human spheres in a fleshy Newton’s Cradle. He’s raising dust, dividing and subdividing the beat, then slowing down, minimising movement to stillness.

From this caesura point of pause, the man standing high and bare, we hear a sudden snap—sense the rupture in our own guts—as with a breathtaking gallows drop he falls feet first through the platform roof, from top to bottom of the tower.

Embodying the momentum of energy available within a closed system, Darbyshire appears subject to the laws of entropy, moving under pressure from order to disorder. This theme is amplified in Stampede the Stampede, beginning as an assault on the performer’s senses from the outside by sound or mechanical device, creating an eruption from within his body, firing movement that gathers almost to excess and then dissipates in his exhaustion or collapse.

Now at ground level in the tower, lit from the inside, Darbyshire is captive in a transparent Tardis-like box bombarded by a storm of language. A harsh machinic voice multiplies itself: “ag-it-a-tion, rev-el-a-tion, fab-ric-a-tion, alt-er-a-tion, stim-ul-a-tion, prob-ab-il-it-y, an-xi-et-y.” Pummelled by this long list of nouns, he dons a dust mask, earplugs and goggles to block his senses and prepare for the next intense episode.

Another portal ruptures as Darbyshire bursts through a low trapdoor, work lights snap to brightness and the scratchy drone returns. Moving slowly along a predetermined track as though on a conveyor belt, face covered, he gathers weight as his pace quickens to a trot and he makes a quick jump onto a low, gravel-strewn platform.

Tim Darbyshire, Stampede the Stampede

Tim Darbyshire, Stampede the Stampede

On this central bed of rocks Darbyshire prepares himself before inverting to hold a long headstand. The whole structure begins to vibrate and he becomes a human jackhammer, head drilling down, going nowhere, long shoelaces dangling. He sustains his position as long as possible then drops and readjusts, returning to the headstand. He does this again and again and as the earth beneath him shakes, rocks gravitate slowly to the edge, fall and bounce with speed and dust swirls around the vertical figure, like a doomed man in a post-mining purgatory.

As he endures the deep onslaught of bass-toned vibrations, absorbed through the top of his head and his hands, there is time for us to wonder. Imagining the shock to his muscles and organs, mesmerised amid our own personal, mythic associations triggered by the sparse composition of elements, we witness a body both subject to and complicit in forces outside of itself in this choreography of kinetic impact. Darbyshire doesn’t hide the preparation required to repeatedly return to the strenuous operation. Rocks give themselves up to gravity, he gives himself up to the unending quake. He must stay till all the rocks are gone, the surface stripped.

We witness the gradual erosion. We witness his responses and endurance. His bones must be rattled, jaw and skull jarred. Dominated by unseen remote force, he holds out until the excavation is complete and eventually slumps, then crawls, demonic, moved like the rocks towards the edge. He drops to the floor and comes to standing. How can his mobile molecules be still? Divesting mask, goggles, earplugs, his next slow transit leads to the third platform.

He climbs aboard, hoists into harness, hangs limp at first as though dead. As this new ground revolves beneath him, he lifts to stand supported, then flips upside down in the sling. A suspended falling, fallen angel turning on a sixpence, turning on only a fingertip’s contact with the turntable for a moment. Eventually he floats, he flies, blown by the wind of fans below. He opens and closes as though over a burning pit in Dante’s Inferno, and then I see a disfigured painterly Baconesque body reduced to spinning, spinning, spinning, eternally in dust and finally liberated in darkness.

While Tim Darbyshire enjoys the notion of a stampede’s “absurd irrationality”—where a surge of herd movement begins with “no clear direction or purpose”—he and his collaborators have assuredly created a world with a strange yet captivating inner logic. They have led me on a quixotic tour, swinging between detachment and visceral empathy. Spun, shaken, dropped, lifted, slightly brutalised, I come to land, immensely impressed.

Stampede the Stampede, choreographer, performer, voice Tim Darbyshire, sound design Madeleine Flynn & Tim Humphrey, set & lighting design Jennifer Hector & Bosco Shaw, Producer Alison Halit; Campbelltown Arts Centre, Sydney, 19-20 Aug

RealTime issue #134 Aug-Sept 2016

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

[Shifting Dusts], Keith Armstrong, Over Many Horizons

[Shifting Dusts], Keith Armstrong, Over Many Horizons

Three immersive spaces and two introductory works in Keith Armstrong’s Over Many Horizons combine into one installation, creating a synthesis of philosophy, science, art and technology. These engender an intriguing representation of the world in an ever-changing ecological state. Contingent to this kind of research is the question of how an artist might go about making an artwork in relation to environmental issues without seeming too didactic.

Unlike the scientist who relies on method and objectivity, the artist is able to use the tools of perception and to trigger emotional responses. Armstrong does not answer ecological questions or address how to restore what has been destroyed, but challenges his audience to immerse themselves in worlds that teeter between a sense of hope and of fear.

His enquiry provokes both philosophical and scientific questions in relation to how we, as a species, have evolved via the life/death cycle and the sensory apparatus that makes us unique as human beings. This kind of thinking also demands an emotional response from an audience.

The last show by Armstrong I had the pleasure to experience was Intimate Transactions (Stage2) at The Performance Space in 2004. Even though in a developmental stage, it created a vibrant response around Sydney as an exemplar of ‘cutting edge’ technology as used by an artist. The idea that one could form a ‘telepresence’ via an embodied experience fascinated new media artists who lined up in order to not only explore the nature of the work but to also analyse the technical processes and resources that sustained it.

[Shifting Dusts], Keith Armstrong, Over Many Horizons

[Shifting Dusts], Keith Armstrong, Over Many Horizons

With Over Many Horizons, nothing has changed in relation to Armstrong’s amazing ability to pull together an extraordinary mix of mediums including mechanised forms, robotic devices, spatial interactive sound, glass, fibre optics, video, 3D printed forms and organic materials, creating a curious amalgam of materials and energies.

The artist’s philosophical concerns are embedded, symbolically and metaphorically, throughout the exhibition space, which one traverses non-linearly. Three of the spaces [Deep Ecology] Horizon 1, [Seasonal] Horizon 2 and [Shifting Dusts] Horizon 4, are immersive, dark chambers that rely on complex mechanisation, interactive software, video and multi-channel sound. Outside the chambers, acting as a minimal introduction to the exhibition are two works [O Tswellang] Horizon 3 and [Inter State] Horizon 5, which reveal the artist’s reflections and drive the exhibition’s inherent thesis.

Drawing back a thick black curtain and stepping into the darkness of [Deep Ecology] Horizon 1, I notice a thin fibre optic light, which I immediately follow to two portholes in the wall. Staring into the first and allowing for my eyes to adjust, I see a transparent shape which twists and turns in a murky, black viscous environment. My first impression is of a piece of bubble wrap; however, on closer examination the object, or organism, seems to have tiny gills around a large orifice. The second porthole reveals glowing eel-like forms, which appear and then disappear into the darkness. Accompanying the fluid movements of these strange synthetic organisms is the dominant sound of a ventilation machine which, in turn, is accompanied by low to mid frequency abstract resonances. Although one can create a number of narratives from experiencing [Deep Ecology], Armstrong himself sees the work as an “anthropomorphic lament,” specifically one that backgrounds our unquestioned rush towards synthetic, lonely futures.

In both [Seasonal] and [Shifting Dusts], large circular shapes on the floor reveal what could be portals into new worlds. In [Shifting Dusts] a circular form is projected onto sand giving the impression of a porous magnified petri dish in which a black and white human form writhes and morphs through various embryonic stages. The form ultimately disappears in a dramatic veil of white noise and video static, creating a sense of the symbolic decay of the organism and offering a surreal cinematic experience.

[Deep Ecology], Over Many Horizons

[Deep Ecology], Over Many Horizons

The [Seasonal] chamber, which is close by and can be heard on approach, offers another morphing experience, in which subtle grey-tone shifting shapes traverse a circular dish elevated in the middle of the room. On entry, there seems to be a connection between robotic lights to which organic detritus is attached, casting shadows on what appears to be a wall-mounted satellite dish. Moving around the space, I become aware of the soundscape and how it shifts in relation to my proximity to various hidden sensors. The result is a live mix of wild nocturnal creatures and machines—foreboding presences.

What the audience picks up on in the immersive space is, according to Armstrong, “disturbance,” which causes the evolution of all aspects of image and sound. It also becomes an acknowledgement of our own presence and our power to create change, which can be both problematic and beneficial.

What is so extraordinary about Keith Armstrong’s work is his ability to create an interactive experience that is not instantly reliant on cause and effect. Due to the lag in the response time of the triggering systems he uses, the effect is not immediate and hence a more fluid sense of time and space is achieved. Chance and possibility are given freedom as an algorithmic process choreographs a theatre of sensations. This freedom is also evident in Armstrong’s interactive system which is analogous to an ecological system, and is not about balance. According to the artist, “We always talk about balance, but if you ask a scientist, there is no balance; it is about different co-existing states which have the propensity to move dramatically, and we get to a tipping point and then something must vanish. That is the history of the world, therefore balance is not a perfect world. It is much more about states, which co-exist while it suits them. When one drops out, other ones can, as we know, rush in and fill the void. So I guess in a very small way we even try to demonstrate that, even in the way the works work.”

[Inter State] Horizon 5, Over Many Horizons

[Inter State] Horizon 5, Over Many Horizons

On exiting the exhibition, I pause to reflect on [Inter State] Horizon 5 and [O Tswellang] Horizon 3, situated at the entrance of the exhibition. [Inter State] is a complex work, which conceptually conjoins and contrasts the thinking of science and futuring philosophies. It takes the form of a reimagined scientific periodic table, displayed as a transparency, examined by the user via a microfiche reader. Even though the table mimics formal science, elements are represented visually in relation to human development (understanding, thinking and acting). During my interaction with the work I paused on a quotation from Georges Bataille, “The sun gives without ever receiving.”

[O Tswellang] Horizon 3 is a hybrid form, created from a matrix of miniature cut-glass bottles, glass-diffused text animations and fibre optic cable. It presents as a seductive LED display, which runs text from right to left and stops on various words such as “HOT,” “Time to Start” and “There is no time to complain.” On top of the display is a series of small red lights. Closer examination reveals the bottles are lit up via optic cabling. The text, which reads out in both English and Sesotho [a South African language] is an urgent call to action by Thabang Mofokeng, a social change agent and leader of the HOT Rural Workers Collective in South Africa who are protesting to achive basic living and working conditions. Armstrong is part of the Re-future Project http://embodiedmedia.com/homeartworks/re-future which includes grasstroots agents for change like HOT and is “initiat[ing] a series of interdisciplinary, intercultural works designed for, and situated within, the townships of Bloemfontein/Manguang, South Africa, focused at the intersection of sustainability, community development and creative action.”

Quotations are from an interview the writer conducted with the artist at UTS Gallery.

Keith Armstrong, Over Many Horizons; UTS Gallery, Sydney, 2 Aug–23 Sept

Dr Keith Armstrong is a Senior Research Fellow at Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane. He is also the creative director, media designer and system integrator of the transdisciplinary arts organisation Embodiedmedia.

Debra Petrovitch is a new media artist and academic with an interest in creative immersive spaces, sonics and performance. Her most recent publication is the essay “Mike Parr: Performing the limits of language” in Elspeth Pitt and Roger Butler eds, Mike Parr: Language and Chaos, National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2016.

RealTime issue #134 Aug-Sept 2016

©Debra Petrovitch, for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Level 2 Large Drawing Class, Adelaide Central School of Art

Level 2 Large Drawing Class, Adelaide Central School of Art

A not-for-profit private school with a single purpose—the training of visual artists—the Adelaide Central School of Art was established in 1982 and has been registered as a higher education provider since 1998. It has produced many professional artists of the highest calibre. Quite separate from universities and TAFE colleges, it is able to operate without compromising its curriculum, its teaching methods and educational and artistic ideals.

The School is located in a rapidly developing cultural precinct based at the former Glenside Hospital site in the inner Adelaide suburb of Glenside. Prominent staff include Julia Robinson (winner of the Advertiser Contemporary Art Prize in this year’s SA Living Artists Festival), Roy Ananda, Johnnie Dady, Christopher Orchard and Luke Thurgate, and outstanding graduates such as Julia McInerney, Ash Tower, Rebecca Hastings, Chelsea Lehmann and Anna Horne. The School is particularly notable for its graduate resources, supporting artists by providing a range of programs to enable exhibitions and travel. As the School’s Vimeo channel demonstrates, graduates such as Jenna Pippett are able to explore the widest range of interests and ideas in their practice. I asked Lecturer Luke Thurgate about the School’s philosophy and, subsequently, Chief Executive Officer Ingrid Kellenbach about the School’s aim to develop a national profile.

Luke, what’s distinctive about the School’s academic program?

Our approach to balancing the technical and conceptual development of our students. We have maintained our focus on cultivating sophisticated making skills in a range of studio disciplines while increasingly challenging students to be engaged thinkers, researchers and professional practitioners. We are also distinct from many Bachelor of Visual Art programs in not requiring students to specialise in a particular studio discipline in their final year of study. We understand that contemporary artists are increasingly hybrid in their studio practice. We model this by making sure our students generate meaningful connections between thinking, researching and making in their graduate work.

The other main distinction between our program and most others is the intensity of the delivery. Through smaller class sizes, increased contact hours and frequent access to lecturers and facilities our students experience a more focused learning environment.

Student Jasmine Crisp in studio, Adelaide Central School of Art

Student Jasmine Crisp in studio, Adelaide Central School of Art

Drawing appears to be fundamental to the School’s curriculum.

It’s a core component and a versatile teaching methodology. We use it like scaffolding, around which the degree is structured. We believe it’s essential in developing the fundamental skills in analysing, making and thinking. We start by using drawing to teach our students how to observe, judge and respond. We then use it as a way of making links between the experience of the artist and the experience of the audience. Drawing’s directness and adaptability allows our lecturers to unpack the importance of making strategic formal, material, contextual and conceptual choices, not just in drawing but across all studio practice.

With rapidly changing technologies and an evolving visual culture, the education of visual artists must be moving in new directions?

The School has a balanced range of practitioners who lecture in our degree program. By strategically recruiting and supporting academic staff who are actively involved in the visual art industry, we not only ensure currency in the delivery of our degree programs but also expose our students to artists who are shaping new directions in visual culture. We are able to build on our core units by leveraging our lecturers’ experience of using new technologies in their own artmaking to give our students options in how they develop and execute work. We also believe that the ‘why’ is as important as the ‘how’ when it comes to using new technologies in art-making.

Teaching and Studio Building, Adelaide Central School of Art

Teaching and Studio Building, Adelaide Central School of Art

How does the School support students in developing distinctive forms of personal expression? Are artists becoming more concerned with political commentary or conceptual art, for example?

We often use language as an analogy when we talk about developing our students’ art-making. From the outset of the degree they develop a wide ‘vocabulary’ of techniques. They get to know materials, what they are and how they work. From there the ‘grammar’ of making is introduced. Students learn how to use techniques in combination to create particular effects. As they get a firmer handle on the ‘language,’ students start pushing around a range of possibilities for creating meaning in their work. At this point personal expression becomes increasingly important and students are supported in developing not only what they want to say but how best to say it.

In terms of content, everything is up for grabs for contemporary artists and we find the conceptual concerns of our students are as varied as their backgrounds. There are lots of different ways of taking the pulse of contemporary practice. We encourage our students to get to biennials, art fairs and exhibitions as regularly as possible so their own making is done from an informed position.

The School only employs lecturers who are practising artists, writers or curators. It also holds masterclasses with leading artists such as Anna Platten. How do students respond to this kind of professional approach?

Our students have the opportunity to work directly with a range of visual art professionals, both in the degree program as well as our public programs. Employing active artists, writers and curators is essential in cultivating trust between students and academic staff. Our lecturers model practice in and out of the School. Through their own professional activities they benchmark the initiative and commitment needed to maintain a career in the visual arts.

Grace Marlow (2015 BVA graduate), settled/unsettled, dual channel video projection, duration variable

Grace Marlow (2015 BVA graduate), settled/unsettled, dual channel video projection, duration variable

Being an artist has always been a somewhat precarious way of earning a living. How does the School prepare graduates for visual arts-related careers and how successful are they?

Our degree aims to equip graduates with the skills to become professional practising artists but we understand that this can be a challenging way of generating income. We develop skills in critical thinking and writing and expose our students throughout the degree to the wider industry. The approach is as hybrid as the nature of careers in the visual arts. Students are in constant contact with galleries, organisations and professionals who will support their careers. Through the connections formed during their studies our graduates generally hit the ground running. A number of our graduates from 2015 for example are already getting regular work in the Art Gallery of South Australia’s Public Programs Department.

Ingrid, I notice the School is offering travel grants and scholarships to attract prospective students. Are you looking to expand the School and develop its profile nationally?

We believe that Adelaide is an ideal place to establish a career in the visual arts and our degree program is of a leading national standard. We are completely independent and not exposed to the changing priorities of universities or reliant on either state or federal government funding. Students who are serious about studying to be artists need to consider the changing landscape of visual arts education in Australia. Given the climate of uncertainty surrounding the viability of art schools within university structures we have recognised an opportunity to attract prospective students from across Australia. We hope that our stability, independence and the quality of our degree attracts a wider range of interstate students to the School.

Michael Shaefer (2015 BVA graduate) FireHold, JumpDraw, IceHold, 2015, dual channel video installation

Michael Shaefer (2015 BVA graduate) FireHold, JumpDraw, IceHold, 2015, dual channel video installation

Adelaide Central School of Art

RealTime issue #134 Aug-Sept 2016

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