Seen moves, silent power

Rachel Fensham ‘live’ at Company in Space’s The Pool is Damned

Trevor Patrick, Andrew Morrish, Company in Space’s The Pool is Damned

Trevor Patrick, Andrew Morrish, Company in Space’s The Pool is Damned

Performances utilising new technologies or an ‘interactive’ media environment are like waiting for Godot. The Pool is Damned opened with an explanation of the set-up—the cameras, the computer system and crew connecting us to Perth—but because it was five o’clock in the afternoon our solo audience at Perth Institute for Contemporary Art was the technician, who duly sent us a cheerio wave. And at midnight in Melbourne, when the audience in Perth were comfortable, the dancers had been performing in the vault for a handful of friends. The potential of this project is to merge dance with video via teleconferencing through which audiences can share a focus or trigger special effects that might also change the dance.

In spite of this virtual possibility, I was pleased to have seen the first incarnation of this piece as Part 1 when it was presented in the haunting brick shell of the ‘economiser building’, Melbourne’s first power station. Nineteenth century dirt floors and mortared walls provided a context that contrasted sharply with the digitised programming system projected on large video screens. Here, the itinerant audience encountered the dancers in suddenly illuminated lightwells, sometimes glimpsing their frantic signals better in the distortions than in the darkness. There was also an urgency about it, compounded by its immediate address to the race debate then at fever pitch in the mass media.

For almost 15 minutes the sound-modified text of Pauline Hanson’s maiden parliamentary speech filled the air whilst dancer Trevor Patrick slowly outlined the rhetorical style of rage—his images on a large screen becoming vitriolic, red, blue; or baboon-like in an x-ray vision of hollow cheek and bared teeth; and a silver foil effect turned him into a robotic magnification of power.

A series of cameo performances each worked with gestural vocabularies to frame modes of contemporary social hysteria. Hellen Sky’s crippled posturing of the socialite, the embrace of charity and pity—the crossed fingers, the licking of thumbs, the nervousness of smoking and the ineffective peace sign suddenly becoming the pointed gun. Memorable was Lucy Guerin dressed in Barbie pink shirt and red plastic mini with her mop of hair rolling and vibrating between two poles against a sky blue background. Her frantic washing of hands—to get rid of stains—replaced by a clutching and pecking. Pressed against the wall, she counts desperately—two fingers to lips, one in mouth, one zips lips shut, five cover mouth, 10 curl up into a ball.

And a duet of corporate masculinity between John McCormick and Trevor Patrick made you ignore the screens and become interested in these two slight and suited men holding each other up, pushing, clutching, hugging and then saluting. The Caucasian and the Asian in the embrace of patriarchal capitalism. The complexity of the issues at stake—the rhetorical vocabularies of racism and their manipulation of the public—seem to have been eroded in Part 2. Presented in more intimate, more pristine circumstances the ‘virtual trial’ overtook the performed event. To counteract audience confusion, there was now an actor, who set out to normalise the technology and simplify the objects and structures of racism. He tells us, too directly, about “the polite-ician; poli-technician who thinks that in their fish and chip shop they have the truth”.

But unexamined were the silent technologies of power enacted in the spaces between performance and video. Clever technology can both disintegrate and construct the power of the speaker but it cannot replace the subject-dancer’s capacity to reveal the gaps between real and imagined effects. When a train passed overhead, in this brick bunker underneath the city, the rumbling was louder than the computerised sound and the walls trembled against my back. My fear then was of being trapped in a world where audiences were compelled to watch mediated images whilst all around the bricks fell.

RealTime issue #18 April-May 1997 pg. 34

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

1 April 1997