Relaxed, but engaged?

Samara Mitchell queries audience positioning at bergbau a techno spectacle in Adelaide

The Mercury Cinema was the venue to host the final manifestation of bergbau, a 4-part series of chance-based art events held at the Lion Arts Centre in Adelaide’s west end. Presented by elendil, MRC’s new media coordinator, bergbau and its ensemble of local sound engineers, filmmakers and artists set out to experiment with the synergism of sight and sound through developmental combinations of old and new media technology.

Throughout the performance I felt myself shifting restlessly from anthropologist to engaged participant. The dexterous display of geekery from the technical crew hunkering around elaborate consoles in the shadows beneath the screen, was often far more captivating than the hypnotic streams of light and sound resulting from their adroit manoeuvres. After attempting to consciously collude with the gaudiness of the techno-wizardry going on around me, I began to grow weary, reaching for fleeting windows of escapist immersion.

Picture theatres invite a physical lethargy that forms part of the entertainment, as cinema audiences trade the vulnerability of their static bodies for the sanctified and total engagement of mind. To wilfully partake in this hoaxing of consciousness we require the complete collaboration of the senses. Theatres harbour the ritual grafting of external narratives to the individual experience of self through the acquiescence of bodily comfort and safety. If the collaboration of body and mind is in any way interrupted (if your bladder is about to erupt or someone in front keeps rustling that chip-bag) it is impossible to attain that state of lethargy required to really transpose your conscious beliefs into the psychic space the film is attempting to invoke. Filmmakers have made their life-work out of convincing audiences that what they see and hear occurs simultaneously and without mechanical intervention. The artists within bergbau, however, attended to the amplification of mechanical intervention within the duration of the performance, creating a noticeable rift between the cueing up of sensory input and the delivery of sensory output. The quilting of archived film snippets with what appeared to be live web-cam grabs and DJ’d sound generated some gorgeously bizarre dialogue: the resulting compositions made for some delightful aural and pictorial experiences. Unfortunately, the architecture of the Mercury Cinema made little contribution towards sustaining the audience’s involvement or augmenting the atmosphere bergbau would have attained, had the audience been able to move around within the space. I felt it may have been interesting, given that the ‘operation room’ of the show was exposed, to display the images appearing on the screen in reverse, as if we, as an audience, were tapping into the back projections of a spectacle directed at an audience on the opposite side of the screen.

Within the context of a rave, revealing the performative ‘means of production’ of sound artists, musicians, visual and performance artists is a major part of the art itself. In the context of a sit-down theatrical event, however, I feel that the experience of those audience members within the physical parameters of bergbau may have been sacrificed for the benefit of a remote audience receiving a live stream of the event across the internet via r a d i o q u a l i a. As often is the case with art ‘happenings’, fixed and catalogued documentation will hard-wire the forms our memories seek to recreate them. The documentation of bergbau (http://www.va.radioqualia.com.au/
bergbau
) would make for an exquisitely beautiful aural/pictorial if treated not as false advertising but as another plateau for the work to spread.

bergbau, Mercury Cinema, April 11, online at www.radioqualia.va.com.au/bergbau

RealTime issue #31 June-July 1999 pg. 26

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

1 June 1999