Shadow boxing with illusions

Ben Brooker: Vitalstatistix, Adhocracy

David Williams, Open Your Mouth and Let Words Fall Out

David Williams, Open Your Mouth and Let Words Fall Out

David Williams, Open Your Mouth and Let Words Fall Out

Now in its fourth year, the nationally situated ‘hothouse’ Adhocracy continues to bring together South Australian and interstate interdisciplinary artists to explore untested ideas through workshops, talks and work-in-progress showings. The proceedings take place over the three-day Queen’s Birthday weekend at Port Adelaide’s Waterside Workers Hall, the hub of innovative production and performance company Vitalstatistix.

Artists set up and perform in every part of the heritage-listed building from the cavernous main hall to the claustrophobic supper room, their disparate performative entities embryonically grappling with the hopes and anxieties of now: democracy, human rights, corruption, post-industrialisation. Almost all of the works propose questions about the nature of truth in an increasingly illusory world.

In Open Your Mouth and Let Words Fall Out, version 1.0 co-founder David Williams appropriates the bizarre real life testimony of con artist Gerald Carroll to create a nonsensical verbatim monologue. An earpiece feeds him questions from the Commissioner of the anti-corruption operation Atlas. We cannot hear the questions, but we can both hear and witness Carroll’s literally flailing responses. Hounded from above by an elaborate pulley system from which hang half a dozen or so light globes, Williams ducks, weaves and shadowboxes in a breathless physicalisation of the arts of equivocation and deception.

The telling, and not telling, of politically pertinent truths is also central to Love and Boats, an exploration of refugee rights and asylum seeking. Still in its infancy, Love and Boats sees two artists (Karen Therese and Boris Morris Bagattini) and one Human Rights lawyer (Joe Tan) begin an unconstrained conversation about the intersections which characterise the immigrant experience: love and law, freedom and oppression, integration and isolationism. It is unclear what shape or form any finished work may take, but the trio’s use of Skype points towards a mediatised and internationalised response. The showing is framed by impeccable legalese and performance theory, but Love and Boats’ messiness and unfocused passion seem to get closer to the essential, obscured truths at its heart.

Taking its name from a notoriously desperate stunt to reinvigorate flagging sitcom Happy Days, Malcolm Whittaker’s Jumping the Shark Fantastic is an irony-rich attempt to give audiences what they want. It is a ‘residency model’ in which Whittaker presents the results of two days of research within the Port Adelaide community into what both theatre makers and theatre goers want their ideal show to look like, sound like, feel like. The results, which Whittaker presents as a sort of stream-of-consciousness lecture while dressed in a bear costume, are predictably absurd, underscoring the illusion which lies at the heart of our democratic processes: that everyone can get what they want all of the time.

Taking place behind the curtain of the Waterside Stage is Bron Batten’s Use Your Illusion, an investigation into hypnotism and performance drawing on the performer’s collaboration with a clinical hypnotist. Influenced by a recent residency with Chicago Theatre Company The Neo Futurists, it is Batten’s contention that acting is innately fraudulent, and hypnotism one possible pathway to ‘truthful’ performance. There is a tension present in the showing between the application of hypnosis as a clinical tool, and its chintzy appropriation as spectacle by the show business industry. Batten investigates both applications, at one point requesting the assistance of an audience member in seemingly moving a chain with mind power alone, at another playing with the idea that hypnosis can compel her to provide truthful answers to sometimes intensely personal questions provided by the audience. Nothing like a conclusion is ever reached—indeed, the concept of hypnotism is often subsumed by sheer spectacle and Batten’s engagingly self-deprecating personality—but the fact that audience members are ultimately unable to discern the reality of all they have seen is evidence enough of the performer’s useful problematisation of truth in performance.

In Reclamation, Adelaide-based sound artist Tristan Louth-Robins presents an enigmatic soundscape crafted from site-specific field recordings taken in Port Adelaide during the course of Adhocracy. What emerges is a sort of living record of the region’s historical and continuing conflict between the natural and industrial worlds, Louth-Robins’ hydrophones collating a complex and contradictory array of sounds: circular saws, jet-skis, the trilling of dolphins and the clattering bows of harboured boats. Or maybe—and Louth Robins embraces this possibility—it is none of these things and, like so much else we have seen and heard over the course of the weekend, imagination, prejudice and deceit fill the spaces a reality denied to us creates.

Vitalstatistix, Adhocracy, curators Paul Gazzola, Jason Sweeney, Emma Webb, Waterside Workers Hall, Port Adelaide, 8-10 June

RealTime issue #116 Aug-Sept 2013 pg. 46

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

19 August 2013