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Didi Bruckmayr, The Black Box Sessions Didi Bruckmayr, The Black Box Sessions
photo Alex Davies
YOU ENTER A DARK CORRIDOR ALONE. IT’S AN ALL ENVELOPING DARKNESS THAT SEEMS TO SUCK THE BREATH FROM YOU, BUT BY SLIDING YOUR HAND ALONG THE WALL YOU CAN NAVIGATE TOWARDS THE SMALL LIGHT THAT EVENTUALLY APPEARS IN THE DISTANCE—A PEEPHOLE. PEERING IN YOU SEE A SMALL SCREEN DISPLAYING INFRARED CCTV FOOTAGE OF A ROOM. SOMEONE IS ALREADY IN THE ROOM OVER IN THE CORNER WITH THEIR BACK TO YOU. YOU WONDER, "WHO IS THAT LOOKING INTO THAT PEEPHOLE?"

Some people recognise themselves faster than others and this moment of realisation is almost enough in itself. Looking at yourself looking at yourself—seeing one 'you' who is thinking about how it is seeing this other 'you'—creates a phenomenological mirror of infinity that leaves you gasping. But there is more to Alex Davies’ The Black Box Sessions. You are here to see a show that will be performed in this room, just for you.

Annabel Lines, The Black Box Sessions Annabel Lines, The Black Box Sessions
photo Alex Davies
I peeped at three acts randomly selected from the 30 performances by Australian and international performers. The lovely, leggy Annabel Lines escaped gracefully from a sack to hula-hoop for me; Didi Bruckmayr revealed his fully tattooed corpus in a rough striptease; and Patrick Huber tried to tell me, in his rambling way, about what a great actor he is. The performances are not always astounding and some are looser and more haphazard than others. The most successful moments occur when actions reinforce the sense of the darkened space and the performance is directed specifically to you. But even when the illusion is faltering, the sense that the action is taking place just behind you is hard to shake, heightened by the well-spatialised audio. The compulsion to look behind is strong, but when faced with the void you turn back to the screen for the mediated comfort of yourself and your performer.

The Black Box sessions continues Davies’ explorations into mixed reality environments first successfully realised in his installation Dislocation (2005, see RT70 and RT88). In this earlier work the room is visible in both the virtual/screen and real worlds, and the apparitions don’t tend to do much that is out of the ordinary. They are looking at the work as you are with the occasional anomaly of a barking guard dog or an argument. This mundanity creates a kind of ruptured reality. In The Black Box Sessions, the disorientation created by the utter darkness—the inability to match the screen view with the physical space—and the overlaid construction of the peep show creates a much stronger sense of entering a consensual fantasy. This is reinforced by Davies’ extension of the peepshow premise out in the foyer where a monitor placed on the gallery attendant’s desk shows CCTV footage of the waiting room (with you in it) and the adjoining dressing room with the performers undertaking their pre-show preparations. It’s a nice touch though easy to miss if you don’t have to wait too long to enter the corridor.

Like all Davies’ works, The Black Box Sessions is impressive from a technical perspective as the real-time video interaction is seamless and its complex machinations completely invisible. Davies’ playful attention to detail really invites you into this fantasy world. However this finessing reinforces the central wonder—first established in Dislocation and iterated here—of the perceptual and conceptual mind-bending that occurs as you try to reconcile your position in this world, being simultaneously inside and outside yourself. You will never look at yourself in the same way again.


Alex Davies, The Black Box Sessions, performers Celia Curtis, Annabel Lines, Chas Glover, Las Venus, Patrick Huber, Didi Bruckmayr, Roland Penzinger, Justin Shoulder, Matthew Stegh, Scott Sinclare; UTS Gallery, Sydney, May 31-July 15

RealTime issue #103 June-July 2011 pg. web

© Gail Priest; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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