Underground, actually and seriously

Ilana Cohn, Restaging Restaging

Atlanta Eke

Atlanta Eke

Atlanta Eke

The recent surge in the popularity of performance on institutional and art market circuits is at odds with its historical status as an alternative, ephemeral (and therefore unsellable) art form. Alaska Projects’ performance series, Restaging Restaging, represents a humble attempt to reconfigure this ideological inconsistency.

Over four Sundays in 2014, eight artists were invited to create 20-minute performances in Alaska Projects’ gallery space, located in the basement of a Kings Cross car park. In their notes for the show, curators Brian Fuata, Jess Olivieri and Sarah Rodigari describe their aim to present performances “with an earnest ideological purity of genuine interdisciplinary exchange.” The presentation of these works inside the curious car park space adds a raw energy to the execution of this project, enabling performance to regain some sense of its former status as an alternative underground art form, literally.

The final show in the series included a double-bill featuring two Melbourne-based artists, Matthew Linde and Atlanta Eke. In Spring Cleaning, Linde is dressed in grey and surrounded by common items of clothing scattered across the floor, along with haphazardly placed suitcases and coat racks. To a continuously changing music track, he walks calmly around the space, placing the clothes on racks and repositioning suitcases, and it is difficult to decipher a deeper structure or order in these gestures. Before long he begins using his feet—in white socks—to drag hats across the floor before placing them atop the coat racks, which gradually come to resemble clumsily dressed shopfront mannequins.

Linde is joined by five performers who sit or stand motionless, only moving sporadically to form new unassuming positions before becoming still again. Like over-enthusiastic children playing dress-ups, they wear too many clothes, with extra tops and pants wrapped superfluously around their limbs. Despite a shared occupation of the space, they remain conspicuously isolated from one another, never exchanging so much as a glance.

Linde is director of Melbourne’s Centre for Style, an exhibition and retail fashion space that blurs the line between gallery and commercial boutique. In Spring Cleaning, his purposeful yet ultimately arbitrary rearrangement of everyday clothes invites us to reflect on their purpose and worth. He calls into question the utilitarian value of fashion versus its art value, subtly interrogating the usually reified status of fashion objects and our relationship to them. And across them, perhaps also, our relationships to each other.

Another everyday object, the car, is reimagined in Atlanta Eke’s performance, The death of affect restaged with a return to the Japanese nude 2017. A beep announces Eke’s arrival on an advancing white car; the dancer sits on the bonnet, legs splayed pin-up model style. A loud crash sounds as she makes her way to the driver’s seat, but keeps the door open and bends her body forward with hair flung to the ground in a frozen posture that creates an oddly authentic portrait of a crash scene. In the stillness, audience members snap photos on their phones, like curious voyeurs passing by a freak road accident.

Suddenly, the car begins inching forward, propelled by Eke’s hands on the floor and assumedly an unlocked hand brake. What follows is a highly controlled pas de deux featuring human and machine. To the beat of stark, suspenseful music, Eke manoeuvres her car in all manner of ways: pushing it from the back; lying face forward on the bonnet with hands on the ground to move it in reverse; even dropping to the floor and pulling the car over her so that it covers her completely.

Soon Eke’s car is joined by a blue Toyota and a shiny white Audi, manoeuvred by three performers who stand beside their vehicles as they push and steer. This choreography feels brave and bold in the tight space and before long we lose cognisance of the human bodies steering them and focus only on the cars. I hold my breath as the Audi barely scrapes past a concrete pillar. The weight of the cars gives them a slow, measured movement, forming a dreamlike dance that is both playful and surprisingly moving.

Recently awarded the inaugural Keir Choreographic Award, Eke confirms the clarity and originality of her choreographic vision. As with the most successful site-specific art, this performance restructures our conceptual and perceptual experience of the car park space, which is progressively transformed into a concrete stage for dancing cars. The uncanniness this produces is humorously highlighted when another (real-life) car parks just up the ramp from the performance. It is a privilege to witness original work of such calibre in this unexpected space.

Alaska Projects, Restaging Restaging, Kings Cross Car Park, 7 Dec, 2014

RealTime issue #125 Feb-March 2015 pg. 35

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

23 February 2015