Plasticity, performance & environment

Profile: Bonemap

Nerve Engine for RealTime 2015 from Bonemap on Vimeo.

Bonemap is a creative partnership between Cairns-based artists Russell Milledge and Rebecca Youdell. Since 1998, the pair and their collaborators have crafted creative projects that vividly and immersively integrate contemporary choreographic performance, media, site, visual art and audience interactivity. The video of the one-on-one performance Nerve Engine (2013) that accompanies this profile, in which an audience member and dancer Youdell interact, face to face and technologically with adapted iPods, offers evidence of Bonemap’s ambitions and its capacity to engender rich imagery, movement and engagement.

The challenge for an innovative company based in tropical far north Queensland is to stay connected with its peers across Australia and overseas. Bonemap has achieved this through residencies and performances in Eastern Australia, Asia and Europe with which it has built invaluable networks. It has also been regionally active, impressively drawing together local dancers and a range of visiting artists.

Bonemap sees this evolution as being bolstered by adaptability and “shape-shifting,” producing public art commissions, brokering partnerships to present an annual dance program (New Move Network 2011 and now 2015-16), curating artists into collaborative teams, designing productions, curating visual arts, producing graphic design, writing articles and co-producing festivals (On Edge Contemporary Media+Performance festival, 2005-2009).

Rebecca Youdell, Russell Milledge, Bonemap, 2000

Rebecca Youdell, Russell Milledge, Bonemap, 2000


Youdell and Milledge write that, working regionally “is about being on the edge, on the outskirts, and this has been a particularly interesting and creative space for it to inhabit, our projects probing the conceptual layers of the body’s relationship to the environment, often by engaging in durational projects where the journey to remote locations feeds creative development. New media and visual communication skills have been important elements in bringing these exploits to wider public attention.

“The action of dance in the environment is extreme, ephemeral and evocative. This is made even more palpable in the far northern tropics by the proximity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture. There are two remarkable dance festivals that occur bi-annually, the Laura Dance Festival in Cape York and the Torres Strait Islander Cultural Festival on Thursday Island. For many of these artists from homeland cultures there is a clear integration of dance, music and visual arts, and this continues to be an area of insight and growing awareness for us.”

Bridge Song, 2003, performer Rebecca Youdell

Bridge Song, 2003, performer Rebecca Youdell

Bridge Song, 2003, performer Rebecca Youdell

Hybridity, perspective & plasticity

The company describes its aesthetic discipline as “a hybrid mesh of performance and media arts framed by an overarching ecological philosophy placing the context of our creative practice in the environments we inhabit and often ignore. Bonemap’s hybridisation is a rupture, crossing between gallery, theatre and alternative platforms, and is a natural response to engagement in an intermedial creative ecology.” Its works are “creative ecological acts…artists create using a variety of artforms through a process that becomes the artwork. An interest in intuitive design and interfaces guides the work.”

The environment which Bonemap inhabits—“one of the only locations where the reef, rainforest and savannah all meet”—has imbued its artists with an appreciation of “the ephemeral nature of performance, in that it leaves little human impact on the earth.”

Habitus Habitat, 2006, performer Rebecca Youdell

Habitus Habitat, 2006, performer Rebecca Youdell

Habitus Habitat, 2006, performer Rebecca Youdell

It’s not surprising then that Bonemap likes to challenge the perspective of the viewer with theatrical and technological illusion, to “fracture reality,” to change perception and develop empathetic responses to the environment. But to do this requires the company to ask important questions about the experience of technology in its ”reflective practice”: “Where does audience attention lie or go? Is the audience more cerebral and less physical because of the sedentary nature of paying attention to a screen? The more it interacts virtually is it interacting less on the physical plane? Can we engage an audience through virtual and physical space spanning distances between worlds?”

Bonemap posits that “in creating simulated environments conducive to authentic movement, participants engage in spontaneous expressive movement exploration in or with the interface. There is a constant switching from passive to active viewing, which induces a heightened spatial awareness of self, and a more internal sense of the spatial, physical and conceptual relationship.”

Milledge and Youdell find support for their approach in Norman Doige’s notion of neuro plasticity: “the brain is structured by its constant collaboration with the world, and it is not only the parts of the brain most exposed to the world, such as our senses, that are shaped by experience. Plastic change, caused by our experience, travels deep into the brain and ultimately into our genes, molding them as well…” (The Brain That Changes Itself, 2007).

Nerve Engine, 2014, Performer Rebecca Youdell

Nerve Engine, 2014, Performer Rebecca Youdell

Nerve Engine, 2014, Performer Rebecca Youdell

The artists extrapolate: “Human plasticity provides potential for interactivity and dance in that we are making intuitive body/mind design interfaces, art, to facilitate transformative experiences, while participating in social, political and cultural dialogue. Humans are not hardwired. Exposure to what we creatively produce influences the development of the body and human endeavour.”

Bonemap in 2015
New Move Network

Bonemap has brokered the New Move Network 2015+16 (NMN), a consortium of independent dance artists in partnership with Ausdance Qld, Centre of Contemporary Arts Cairns (CoCA), James Cook University (JCU) and Nintiringanyi training centre. Extending the touring program NMN will conduct interviews and create critical writing about local/national practitioners and will document artwork/residencies over the two years. The program includes touring works and works in development with the support of the Australia Council’s Creative Australia initiative and Arts Queensland.

Bonemap and Igneous’ FLUIDATA

As part of NMN 15+16 Bonemap is collaborating with Brisbane’s Igneous on FLUIDATA with a collaborative big-screen performance via telematic linkup between Cairns Centre of Contemporary Arts (CoCA) and QUT’s The Block and accessible on www.water-wheel.net on June 13.

Bonemap & Clocked Out

Bonemap and Brisbane new music duo Clocked Out (Vanessa Tomlinson, Erik Griswold) are collaborating in a residency at the CoCA Theatre, 21-25 September to develop a new work, Time Crystals. The project takes as its starting point a recent discovery in physics of strange, perpetually moving particles called time crystals or space-time crystals. Using prepared piano, percussion, movement, mirrors, video and media, the collaborators will explore complex repeating patterns, circularity and crystalline shapes to create an immersive live performance event.

Solo Science Festival & DANscienCE

Bonemap will participate in Solo Science Festival and DANsicenCE, a Dance and Science Festival 20-22 August during National Science Week. The event is being hosted by QUT Creative Industries, where established choreographers will present short solos as part of a program with a wide range of scientific inspirations. RT


George Dann, Deep inside the world-as-body
Nerve Engine, RealTime 123 Oct-Nov 2014 p32

Bernadette Ashley, Movement is rewarded
Cove, RealTime issue 97 June-July 2010 p24

Keith Gallasch, Never too far away
Whispering Limbs, RealTime 93 Oct-Nov 2009 p14

Victoria Carless, Beautiful hybrids
Whispering limbs, RealTime Induce Workshop, July 2009

Fiona Winning, Bonemap on the brink
Brink, RealTime issue 69 Oct-Nov 2005 p8

Sophie Travers, Bonemap: Resonant residues
Rupture and residue, RealTime 64 Dec-Jan 2004 p43

Mary Ann Hunter, The bridge: between iron and flesh
Bridge Song, RealTime 56 Aug-Sept 2003 p7

Gail Priest, interview: Bonemap: off centre, in balance
RealTime 54 April-May 2003 p45

Nicholas Mills, Mapping the wild edge
The Wild Edge, RealTime 37 June-July 2000 pg6

RealTime issue #126 April-May 2015 pg. online

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

20 May 2015