Lauren Simonds, Unseen: A glorious revelation

Elyssia Bugg

The smell of coffee, the taste of chocolate—things that move around us, through us, between us that we may not give pause to recognise. Lauren Simmonds shares these sensations with her audience in the opening moments of Unseen, passing around shards of dark chocolate on a silver platter and wafting a plunger of freshly brewed coffee under the nose of every audience member.

A small performance space is rendered cosy by this initial act of hospitality. Hard metallic surfaces seem to soften and glint with promise. In one corner there is a picnic spread of goblets and ornate silver vessels. In another, a mass of gold foil is surrounded by cosmetic mirrors. On the back wall, collaged coloured yoga mats are arranged shrine-like, peeling back from their mounting. Over the course of the performance Simmonds uses sound, light and her own body to activate each station, unleashing the concealed potential of the seemingly inert in a fascinating, playfully fragmented examination of the invisible forces that conjoin to form our perception.

This fragmentation is both a strength and a weakness. While phrases such as one likening the postures of browsing Facebook and taking selfies to yoga poses sits clumsily amid more visually stimulating sequences, the work itself is unified by the overarching sense of curiosity and exploration that its episodic structure evokes.

Midway through the performance, Simmonds pours sugar onto the floor. With tender intent, she pushes a circular magnet through it until its pull exposes other magnets concealed beneath the grainy white mess. The process of making authentic connections amid the chaotically saccharine may be analogous to Simmonds’ favoured mode of expression, but she navigates the borders of sentimentality with quiet assurance.

This assurance must come in part from her knowing that the work’s final act will be utterly and ecstatically mesmerising. While Simmonds drapes herself in a string of party-lights, audience members are directed towards what appear to be 3D glasses, hidden beneath their seats. The lighting dims, The Flaming Lips’ anthemic indie-pop spills questions of the universe from the sound system, and Simmonds begins to spin and sway. There are audible gasps as the glasses render the space kaleidoscopic, the lights around the artist splitting into intricate parallel patterns of pure colour. It’s like magic, except that there is no deception; just a glorious revelation of the otherwise unseen.

Through her use of objects and techniques typically associated with illusion, Simmonds manages to penetrate the everyday and shatter the assumption that our perception of it is in any way complete. Yet her practice does not conform to cynical post-structuralist rhetoric. Rather, she achieves something rare with Unseen. Here is a work, full of joy, that uses deconstruction as a lens through which to ascertain a sense of unity. The warmth and genuine sense of wonder that Lauren Simmonds projects is not accidental. It is integral to the audience’s understanding of her thesis that we are part of something bigger, brighter, more mysterious: all of us, together.

Metanoia: Unseen, Lauren Simmonds, Metanoia Theatre, Mechanics Institute Brunswick, Melbourne, 9-10 July

21 July 2016

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