Space excursions

Felena Alach

Life Suit, Sussio Porsborg

Life Suit, Sussio Porsborg

The Artrage festival has long held a crucial position in the arts landscape of WA offering one of relatively few opportunities for a diverse range of local arts practitioners (particularly younger ones) to initiate project-based works that are highly experimental, contemporary and sometimes risky. (See RT51 for an interview with Artistic Director Marcus Canning.)

One of the key aspects of Artrage 2002 was the strategy of excursions into new spaces, a new network of festival locations ranging from suburban Midland to inner city Northbridge—notably in the park across the road from the new Artrage Breadbox gallery/ Blackbox performance space venues. While this involved a degree of struggle and chaos — freak strong winds, rain, street shenanigans and over-policing—this intermingling of art’n’life was ultimately a welcome initiative. The conversion of the park into Moongarden thrust the festival into the public realm with the Strut & Fret performers on their circus rig (especially Shenzo Gregorio’s stunt violin antics), tree-bound trapeze with the E OI collective and the tongue in cheek playfulness of the Lunar Circus.

The MoonGarden was also the site for The Golden Dawn Project, a performance installation based on the Kabalistic pattern of the Sefirot (Tree of Life) devised by the Eater Presents Collective. Despite opaque arcane references and noise spilling in from outside, this work allowed viewers autonomy in navigating their own meditative journeys. Another engaging project in MoonGarden was Sussio Porsborg’s Life Suit, a shipping container housing 4 sewing machine stations, the deceptively sweat-shop aesthetic concealing a model for participatory democracy—’the wearer principal.’ People were able to sign up to learn all the necessary sewing skills for each to construct their own ‘life suit’, customizing themselves a calico ‘toile’ from a generic pattern. Keen participants threw themselves into hours of life-suit labour realizing the project’s potential as a committed and engaging experiment.

A key interventionist work, however, suffered a severe case of untimeliness. In the wake of the sad toll of the Bali bombings, it seemed a hypersensitive moment for the presentation of the PVI Collective’s satiric scrutiny of the form and language of security—anxiety and terror-angst in Terrorist Training School. (This traveling bus tour of Perth’s nether regions has been briefly deferred both out of respect and in response to the need for clearing space around these burning-issues-of-the-moment…stay tuned.) A key spatial intervention was Hotel 6151, for me the hands down highlight of the festival. Here nearly 50 artists operated in collaboration with conveners Christian de Vietri, Ben Riding and Heather Webb to bring 6 floors of a doomed-to-demolition hotel site into being as a dense and exploratory journey, a multisensory aesthetic engagement (see Bec Dean’s online report). On the theme of spatial intervention, a guest of the festival was Parisian street artist Space Invader, whose notorious arcade game pixel-images have infiltrated many urban sites internationally. A map of local ‘invasions’ revealed a welcome interference with the beige hegemony of Perth’s spatial politics. Space Invader’s work featured in conjunction with the MonoCulture group exhibition curated by Mark McPherson. This sophisticated collection of street-wise graphic works made a strong showing at the Breadbox Gallery.

The satellite events based in outlying Midland also extended the scope of the Artrage program (even down to the curious travelogue series of G Arden Gnome photos featured on Midland trains). I arrived at the opening, Firestarter…The Art Feast, post-carnage, with only the departing crowd and the remains of smouldering book piles, cooling spit-roast carcasses and trolleys of aging tidbits testifying to a strange, pungent night’s extravaganza. The premiere performance of Rachel Dease’s the scoundrel is made an outcast with the Schvendes Ensemble offered a rewardingly languid ambience within an intimately refined soundspace—a haunting vocal presence with rich strings and wayward jazz percussion elements.

The Urban Anxiety exhibition utilized a defunct Midland bank site, offering an examination of the makeshift economies and nomadic survival strategies of the disenfranchised. Curated by Kate McMillan, the show brought together thoughtful works reflecting textures of human detritus through traces and allusions: photographic documents, including Ric Spenser’s large prints of alleyway flotsam, Edit Oderbolz’s miniature spatial propositions and scale manipulations, and McMillan’s image of the urban shanty home of Japanese internal economic refugees. These were complemented by Raquel Ormella’s generic laundry tote bag lettering, S T A Y, as iconic motifs for restless displacement, and Matt Hunt’s illusion game of partitioned rooms brimming with mounds of coloured popcorn, later revealed to be propped up with cardboard (playing on the first world-third world polarities of maize as-currency/as-nutrition/as-junkfood).

Another intriguing gambit into alternate space occurred in the voyeuristic pleasures of Peep-In Death, housed in the upper floor of the Risque Erotica premises. With works compartmentalized into booths and requiring the authentic insertion of $1 or $2 for each viewing, Peep-In Death presented the staged ‘death-of-the-artist’ as peepshow amusement, featuring the works of a series of artists grouped as Arti-Choke (Ainsley Canning, Maya Catts, Sohan Hayes, Cat Hope, Sedon Pepper, Simon Perecich, Tanya V, Karl Ford, Petro Vouris). This offered such deliciously macabre performance moments as the meat-corseted martyr grinding hearts into a mincer while gazing at poster-boy photo (Tanya V); and the superb fish-eyed view into an immaculate white tiled toilet replete with a white-suited-fleshy-dome-hatted figure doing the ‘shakin’ shaman’ dance, summoning the spirits of Onan to a hilarious bluegrass hoe-down soundtrack (Canning); or the flaky video fate of scratching to death (Hayes) amongst other near-death experiences. Similarly The Tall Concrete Project, presented by /G.B.Kjub’Ed/, offered an innovative dance work sited on a city car park rooftop, featuring digital animation and electronic soundtrack drawn from the sounds of the carpark itself.

The sprawling program offered some excitingly fresh contexts for works despite the inherent hazard of becoming diffuse. As well as the projects already mentioned, representing a select slice of the larger works undertaken for Artrage, there were many other notable often smaller works contributing to the overall experience. These included the oscillating laser-gridded Clownhead (Richie Kuhaupt, Geoffrey Drake-Brockman); the candy encrusted MoonGarden folly, Ginger Bread House (Sarah Contos); the photographic street presence of Museum (Alin Huma) and Line of Sight (Tony Nathan); the dense construction of 11,000+ text-bricks in Bookmaze (Poets of the Machine, Ganz & Blum); the confessional voyeurism interactivity of The Booth (Jen Jamieson); and the activist art workshops and forums of Beyond Border Panic with Deborah Kelly.

Artrage 2002, Perth. Oct 15-Nov 4, www.artrage.com.au

RealTime issue #52 Dec-Jan 2002 pg. 8

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

1 December 2002
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