Mixed Metaphor: selected breakages

Jonathan Marshall

Yumi Umiumare, INORI-in-visible

Yumi Umiumare, INORI-in-visible

Yumi Umiumare, INORI-in-visible

“I like smashing things,” Margaret Trail confessed in K-ting!. It was a fortnight of ‘smashing’ in Melbourne, from Chunky Move’s exploding set floor in their Hydra (shades of John Carpenter’s The Thing) to Yumi Umiumare’s evocation of the Hanshin earthquake in her Mixed Metaphor piece INORI-in-visible. Artaud’s exclamation that “The sky has gone mad!” was repetitively rendered on stage.

The Mixed Metaphor artists were obsessed with language, or languages—their layering, mutual incompatibility and paradoxical similarity. Dancehouse was filled with projected text, surtitles, interrupted whispers, mangled soundtracks, bodies both literally and metaphorically inscribed in a way affective and yet impossible to fully know. Metaphors of likeness and unlikeness, these are works inhabiting a realm between holistic unity and irreducible multiplicity.

A new space is opened up in the creation of a performance which is like a performance (rather than ‘like nature’); metaphors about metaphors. Susie Fraser for example, offered us the doubled spectacle of watching a mother watching her experience of motherhood, represented by diary entries, medical reports, home video and more. Her confession however left much unsaid. Similarly dancer/choreographer Jodie Farrugia projected a mysterious book above the dancers, containing poses that they appeared preordained to echo. A partial revelation of the inaccessibility of destiny as semi-unconscious accord.

Full revelation was perpetually offered yet denied the audience. Various texts bound these performances together whilst allowing one to glimpse through them towards something else—aporia perhaps. The performances were vertiginous in their very materiality, creating the possibility of a metaphoric conflation and conflagration of the word.

In this respect, Trail’s K-ting! was the most absorbing, and frighteningly funny, work. Scored to a complex deconstruction and montage of pieces torn from some unknowable and apparently absurd conversation or conversations (“Are you really a fireman?” she remarked), the text was constantly interrupted by the sound of smashing crockery and other materials. Each misplaced phoneme shattered the veneer of normality, raising the almost literally hysterical possibility of social opprobrium and embarrassment (“What is…what is it…it is…this really quite unpleasant thing we do?”).

Trail stood largely at ease in the centre of this vortex of mistakes, Freudian slips and alliterated nonsense, pondering and imperfectly miming under the spotlight. She acted as a performer performing someone not performing—not really, not in any overt way. The subject-hood of the scored ‘characters’ she interacted with was provisionally and variously defined by the name they answered to—“I’m super-model Margaret”, “I’m fireman Jeff”. Trail dramatised how all conversation and recognition occurs under the threat of potentially sublime linguistic breakage or meltdown (“k-ting!”).

Lest one seek refuge in the idea of a pre-linguistic body, Trail exemplified the tendency of the performers to dramatise the body as a parallel, coded presence. Her physical performance consisted of a series of abstract yet implicitly communicative gestures: arms raised, hands spread wide and shaken in frustration, or fingers curled delicately as they described the space that bathed and sustained the subject. Though these actions ‘touched’ the recorded vocalisations, they never followed the same logic or pathway—meta-performance perhaps. The poses recurred and frayed, like old phrases becoming increasingly meaningless or overloaded through use. The body struggling against becoming a cliche. Of what? Of itself.

Compared to Trail’s thoughtful, at times ecstatic, implicitly sexual linguistic farce, Yumi Umiumare’s performance was immediately disturbing. Should one laugh? Is it okay to laugh at someone else’s horror? Can an Anglophone laugh when berated in Japanese without appearing insensitive or culturally smug? Aural hieroglyphs from the perspective of the Anglophone, words transformed—transfixed—rendered as ‘pure’ sound or affect by cultural and geographic distance.

Umiumare entertained her audience, but she did not let them off lightly. She was, however, more reluctant than Trail to revel in smashing. The sticks she wielded acted as ambiguous talismans of the quake zone, memory and experience.

The core of the performance was Umiumare ‘re-enacting’, trying to phone her relatives in Hanshin. “Hello?…Hello?…Hello?” Echoing calls degenerating into violent, hysterical shouts, and even a psychic space outside of this. An implosion of space, time and emotion. The venue becomes an abstract, mnemonic theatre in which Umiumare imagines an event she herself was denied. The walls’ “shake” she mimed for us, breaking through language for a moment. Umiumare’s adoption of an almost childlike, tragically playful performance mode suffused the space with an overwhelming sense of presence and absence, of felt pain and the impossibility of its recapture. One moved from Trail’s almost orgiastic celebration of smashing, to Umiumare’s ambivalent attempt to recapture it.

Mixed Metaphor, Separate at Earth, video installation Cazerine Barry; Stories From The Interior…Shedding, writing/direction/performance Susie Fraser, video Lisa Philip-Harbutt, dramaturgy Sue Formby. In Outside, direction/choreography/performance Jodie Farrugia, performer/collaborators Dylan Hodda, Rowan Marchingo, video Dermot Egan. K-ting!, writing/direction/performance/sound Margaret Trail. Operation in the Middle of Things, creation/performance Tim Davey. INORI-in-visible, creation/performance Yumi Umiumare, set Anthony Pelchen, sound Tatsuyoshi Kawabata. Lighting (all works) Nik Pajanti. Dancehouse, Melbourne, July 27-August 6.

RealTime issue #39 Oct-Nov 2000 pg. 38

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

1 October 2000