Of terrorism and tourism

Jeff Khan

Adopt a codename. Fill out the identification form. Sign the disclaimer. Then get on the bus.

That was the drill for the audience of 22 passengers as they arrived at Artrage’s Breadbox gallery for the PVI Collective’s latest crossover performance extravaganza, TTS: ROUTE 65. And you don’t argue with an enormous, pissed-off looking bouncer named Daddy.

A tour-de-force, TTS: ROUTE 65 was a unique bus tour of Perth, taking the audience to various ‘strategic’ points around the city where they alighted to be confronted with cleverly-layered monologues and performances that were dynamic, absurd, confronting and thought-provoking. TTS furthered the Collective’s continuing investigation into how everyday life is mediated, interrupted, monitored and messed with by technology, surveillance and the mass media, with a new focus on the much-hyped phenomenon of ‘terror.’ As the microcosmic renderings of local spaces and sites in TTS unravelled and Perth was slowly scrutinised and pulled apart, connections to the macrocosm of global Western culture (and paranoia) became evident.

Discourses of terrorism and tourism crashed head on (with some pop history and market research) in the monologues delivered by our deadpan, hilarious and terrifying on-board ‘guides.’ These explications merged mythologies, potentialities and public representations of each site from their strategic weak points and tactical significance to their aesthetic values and visitor statistics. The mixture of meticulously researched fact, outrageous lies and lucidly imagined fiction challenged the audience to unravel an impossibly layered, tangled web of ideas and narratives, revealing the gaps and inconsistencies in the ways we understand and exist in our immediate environment.

Meanwhile, under the cover of night, we were passing through a city growing stranger and less familiar and loaded with shadowy facts and shady figures. Performers chased, serenaded and moved around us, while passers-by looked delighted and confused. By the time we were waved off the bus at Parliament House and herded past a series of wildly gesturing figures with masks and almost-legible profiles attached to their chests, reboarding within a 2 minute time limit, it became even more apparent that PVI is less interested in acts of terror than in the cultural machine that drives our understandings and representations of such phenomena.

The seamless fusion of methodical, astute research and conceptual rigour with equally compelling and challenging performances continues to be PVI’s strength. Core performers Kate Neylon, Chris Williams and James McCluskey as usual delivered intelligent (sometimes literally), commanding and—especially in McCluskey’s case—extraordinarily athletic performances. For TTS, they were joined by Jackson Castiglione (who did a spine-chilling job as our first, ever-so-slightly deranged tour guide—cue nightmares of kindly yet distant men with bloodied teeth) and a strange, chorus-like ensemble of performers who appeared and disappeared in several guises throughout the tour. Melbourne-based electronic outfit Pretty Boy Crossover’s soundtrack was by turns atmospheric and absurd. This expanded line-up and collaborative approach resulted in the most resolved PVI performance in recent memory.

Given the increasing obsession with ‘terror’ in popular Western culture, particularly those strange sound bytes and television commercials which have popped up in the Australian media, hazily warning us to “stay alert” and “look out for anything unusual,” TTS was an intelligent and welcome intervention, delivered to a highly appreciative, if slightly shaken, audience.

TTS: ROUTE 65, PVI Collective, devisors Kelli and James McCluskey, Steve Bull, Chris Williams, Katherine Neylon, Christina Lee, Jackson Castiglione, music and soundscapes Jason Sweeney aka Pretty Boy Crossover, Artrage, Dec 5-8, 10-14, 2002

RealTime issue #53 Feb-March 2003 pg. 38

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

1 February 2003