NRLA: Bodies making art and clouds

Rosie Dennis

Lone Twin

Lone Twin

Lone Twin

Sydney-based performer Rosie Dennis appeared at the third National Review of Live Art held in Midland just outside Perth. The parent festival, directed by Nikki Millican is based in Glasgow. Dennis performed her Access All Areas at NRLA in Midland and, on return, kindly met our request to describe the works in the festival that interested her. Eds

The UK’s Bobby Baker opened this year’s National Review of Live Art in Midland with Box Story. For those unfamiliar with Baker’s work she almost always works with food and adopts a housewife persona: Box Story begins with Baker lugging on a huge refrigerator box in very high, very expensive, very uncomfortable electric blue shoes. The box is full of other boxes: a wine cask, washing powder, matches, juice–about 10 in total. Each box comes with a personal anecdote attached, most of them tragic, ranging from the trivial (a failed perm) to the bleak (the death of her father). The contents of the boxes are used to make a map on the floor. The mess she has made comes to represent the world. Individual dark chocolates (from the final box) are thrown amongst the mess to represent the innocent victims of incest, of plane crashes and of wars.

Baker has a cheeky stage presence; she’s got a great smile and wins the audience over within the first few minutes. However, the structure becomes a little tired, especially since all 10 boxes are revealed at the beginning. After only 30 minutes I find myself counting how many remain.

Lone Twin (Gary Winters and Gregg Whelan), also from the UK, have been making work together since 1997, most of it involving walking and some of it dancing. Sledgehammer Songs is a culmination of the stories collected on their travels over the last 4 years. It evokes the mystery of the medicine show, the poetry of pub rock, the loneliness of the European busker, and the drawings of the great and the cursed.

We are invited to stand outside under rain threatening clouds, just as Whelan, dressed in thermals, gloves, hiking boots and layers of polar tech, finishes dancing. He’s been dancing for about 40 minutes, to 21 songs taken from a tape Winters listened to as a child: a guitar practice tape with no lyrics. He’s hot and sweaty. We are each given a cup of water. Cat Stevens’ Wild World blares from the amp and Whelan strips off, inviting us to throw water on his body. He is trying to make a cloud. We watch as condensation rises from his shoulders. Success! From that moment he is known as Gregg The Cloud.

The performance moves inside. We walk the length of the great Midland Hall–about 200 metres–and settle in to watch the 21 stories. Only this time the roles are reversed: Whelan narrates and Winters dances. Winters’ aim is to become Gary The Cloud (at the moment he is Gary The Revolver). During the next 80 minutes there are bull rushes, Bruce Springsteen and tales of lost love. All the while Gary The Revolver dances, adding more layers of clothing and dancing more and more complex choroeography. Finally we are invited outside again; the temperature has dropped and the sky cleared, making way for the clouds that now rise above the shoulders of Gary The Cloud.

Singapore’s Lee Wen has been performing variations of Yellow Man since 1992. We arrive and sit in a semi-circle of chairs. He is already standing in the space. He has objects laid out in anticipation: a paper bag, a plastic shopping bag full of PK chewing gum, local newspapers, a branch and yellow paint. He is quiet and intense. Over an hour Lee Wen moves through each of the objects on a clear trajectory, from punching his fist in the air inside the paper bag, to filling his mouth full of PK–causing him to dry retch–while repeating the mantra: “the state domesticates the artist as soon as the artist calls the state home.” He undresses, revealing an extraordinary body; perhaps the worst scoliosis I have ever seen. This serves to heighten an already politically charged and provocative performance. He uses his shoes as fists and beats himself, one cheek and then the other until his face is dusty and red. The branch is used to whip his tired body. I look around at the audience, people are wiping tears from their eyes. This was a beautiful and deeply moving work; although created 13 years ago many of Wen’s images seem more relevant than ever.

Cat Hope’s Voyeurgers (Australia) is a contemporary investigation of the journey. The work consists of travel footage Hope shot over the last 5 years. Ten distinct journeys are projected onto 10 bare backs to stunning visual effect. Each body sits on top of a 44 gallon stainless steel drum. Each has a voice recorder in their mouth to amplify the sound of wind. The audience moves in and around the bodies, invading the personal and metaphorical spaces of Hope’s travel memories…

Other works presented at NRLA worth mentioning are Grace Surman’s Midland White (UK), a quirky and whimsical take on the assistant, ever ready to serve the non-existent master. She popped toast, crunched apples and chased rubber balls. Bangkok-based Varsha Nair unpacked, stacked and built shapes from her childhood house in in-between-places. Croatian artist Zoran Todorovic gave the audience the opportunity to have their hands washed by 2 Serbian women, using soap made from his own body fat. A photographic installation accompanied this durational performance. Canadian sound artist Alexis O’Hara closed 2 nights of the festival with I Require Electricity. Outfitted as a nurse and plugged into her sampler she attempted to answer our questions–some more successfully than others.

There was a strong line up of Australian artists this year, most of whom had attended the national laboratory Time_Place_Space. A blindfolded Domenico De Clario performed Codependent Arising: bathed in blue light, he played piano from midnight until sunrise. Carolyn Daish offered 2 video installations, caravaggio heart and You Can’t See Me, exploring the play between the projected and real self in space. Kerrin Rowlands invited us to adorn her naked body with objects that included bunny ears, shaving cream, a cap gun and pegs in Rastro (meaning residue or canvas in Spanish). Anne Walton stretched time and lycra, moved ladders and shaped space in her time-based projection installation per:former, assisted by sound from Michelle Outram. Collectively they added texture to a festival that allows artists from the UK, Asia and Australia to exchange ideas about practices and politics, and present provocative new work.

The National Review of Live Art, curators Sharon Flindell, Andrew Beck, Nikki Milican; Block 2, Midland UK; April 8-1

RealTime issue #67 June-July 2005 pg. 36

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

1 June 2005