On your feet: protest & walking as art

Victoria Carless: Metro Arts, Slipstream, Festival Of Time Based Art

Stance, Liesel Zink

Stance, Liesel Zink

Stance, Liesel Zink

Some years ago a professor of surgery at a teaching hospital, for whom I was doing some data collection, remarked, “Students these days. They’re only concerned about their part time jobs. No one marches anymore.” I did not challenge the good doctor (after all, I had my job to consider). I reflected however, that unlike his generation, students today do not go to university for free.

Liesel Zink and collaborators have perhaps also noted this apparent lack of public demonstration but have addressed it a little differently, protesting through performance in a very public way. The result is The Stance, a durational work taking place over a day in Brisbane’s King George Square. The Stance meshes live dance and sound and was the opening act for the Slipstream Festival of Time Based Art, presented by Metro Arts in August.

When I first attended the work at midday the square was throbbing with the lunchtime rush. Oddly, nobody raised an eyebrow at the young bodies in street attire evoking figures in propaganda posters; all that was missing was the sickle. Later these figures were forcibly dragged away by others, appearing from the crowd like plainclothes police. Later again there was a stoush, a stylised struggle between two protesters, perhaps on different sides of an unnamed ideology. No one observing broke any of this up. Baudrillard’s notion of “war porn” came to mind—the idea that we are so now accustomed to seeing images of war virtually. In their proliferation these images become a parody of real violence and no longer shock (Baudrillard, 2005).

Telling was the audience’s engagement with the work; people crossed the square texting, eating and running errands in their lunch hour, oblivious to the strident demonstration going on around them. At the registration tent, two women were turned away, presumably because they didn’t want to hand over their drivers’ licenses, the collateral required to borrow a pair of headphones to participate. By this stage, someone from the ensemble had been ‘shot’ and the body was dragged away.

I didn’t experience the political fervour that the professor of surgery had so missed from his student days. Yet The Stance still appeared to subtly infiltrate the madding crowd. There was a moment in the work where time stood still, and this, the most moving image, was also the simplest. The young bodies lay face down in the square, eerily inert. The moment was ghosted with memories of the images of the students in Tiananmen Square after the tanks rolled in. They were reproduced around the world in 1989 and made the West stop mid pork bun. Perhaps we roll over too many important moments these days, simply because we have to get back to work.

Walking, Gregory Stauffer

Walking, Gregory Stauffer

Walking, Gregory Stauffer

Also concerned with time and part of Slipstream was Gregory Stauffer’s Walking. To begin, in the dark, Stauffer heralded us to a primal forest with his drum. Here he spoke sweetly of the animals he encountered, of the deer and the snake, and it was agreed that they would have a picnic together, despite the fact that they would all ultimately die some day.

Stauffer then walked for the large part of an hour—and to watch him was fascinating. The articulation of his limbs, the infinite variations and possibilities of the human form in executing this everyday activity was incredibly engaging. For me, his walking read as an evolution of humankind; initially he was early man struggling out of the muck, then he struck a patch of bindii eyes and now he was on the catwalk; look at him go!

It wasn’t all fun and games though and things got downright difficult at a point. He was literally on his knees from exhaustion and we silently barracked for him to get up, to keep on walking, no matter how difficult the journey seemed. He eyeballed the audience intermittently to ensure we were fully appreciative of his efforts. We grew to love him, even when he’d worked himself into a lather of sweat and had to take all his gear off. He seemed as surprised as we were by his nakedness.

At that point, he exited stage right, giving the audience a moment of reprieve. Unable to resist our adoration, however, he returned for the final part of his journey. This time he was a Pan-like wood sprite in a rainbow caftan dancing in a glade and playing the recorder via his nostrils. Our neo-shaman had a glow stick round his ankle; the little drummer boy was all grown up. In any case we rejoiced that he had finally found his feet. All it took was a little time.

Metro Arts, Slipstream, Festival of Time-based Art, The Stance, choreographer Liesel Zink, sound artist Mike Wilmett, producer Leah Shelton, dramaturg Martyn Coutts, King George Square, 13 Aug; Walking, creator, performer, Gregory Stauffer, Metro Arts. Brisbane, 13-15 Aug

RealTime issue #129 Oct-Nov 2015 pg. 18

© Victoria Carless; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

9 October 2015