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Within and Without Within and Without
photo Heidrun Löhr
LAST YEAR’S TINY STADIUMS FESTIVAL FEATURED A SITE-SPECIFIC WORK OF NOTE. APPLESPIEL, A COLLECTIVE OF FORMER UNIVERSITY OF WOLLONGONG STUDENTS, TOOK UP RESIDENCE IN SYDNEY’S ERSKINEVILLE TOWN HALL AND, OVER THE COURSE OF 12 DAYS, TRANSFORMED A COLOURFUL CARDBOARD MINIATURE OF THE SUBURB’S MAIN STREET INTO A STRANGE NEW VERSION OF ITSELF. INVITING AUDIENCE MEMBERS TO PLAY THE ROLE OF HANDS-ON URBAN PLANNERS AND ENGINEERS, THE COLLECTIVE PLANTED MONEY TREES OUTSIDE THE CAFE, BROKE GROUND ON A NEW AQUARIUM AND CUT THE RIBBON ON THE BATCAVE, A BATMAN-THEMED MUSEUM.

I was reminded of Applespiel’s Erskineville recently when I visited Within and Without’s Manila. A collaboration between the Philippines’ Anino Shadowplay Collective and local artists Valerie Berry, Deborah Pollard and Paschal Daantos Berry, Within and Without is a hybrid work of performance and installation art that is laudable for its ambition if not always for its achievement. More than a mere city street, it features a sprawling miniature cityscape constructed not from coloured card but recycled detritus: cardboard boxes, unloved toys, curious knick-knacks and old tangled fairy lights, the lot held together with masking and gaffer tape.

While I have spent a little time in Erskineville, I have never been to Manila. My impressions of the city were formed by Alex Garland’s 1998 novel The Tesseract, which paints it as a sprawling nightmare slum and John Safran’s TV series Race Relations, where the show’s host famously had himself crucified on what were pretty flimsy thematic and narrative grounds. In Within and Without, Manila is presented as a city defined by its own ongoing, contested construction: the US rebuilding of Manila post-WWII, the Ayala family’s construction of the affluent Makati district and Imelda Marcos’ Martial Law-era beautification projects are all mentioned during the show. The most devastated allied city after Warsaw, Manila is here imagined as one that has not only grown out of the debris, but has actually been constructed from it.

Within and Without Within and Without
photo Heidrun Löhr
For all the aptness of this metaphor, however, there otherwise remains a disconnect in the piece between its form and content. As you are shown around the cardboard city by a performer-cum-guide—you see only parts of the installation during any given performance and would need to attend maybe two or three times in order to experience the whole thing—this disconnect becomes ever more apparent. From the arts-and-crafts construction of the city to the wide-eyed, forced-grin delivery of the tour guides, the form is instantly reminiscent of children’s television programming. The content however covers everything from WWII and the ensuing dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos to tours of the city’s gay and red-light districts—“I am sure we can find you a nice ladyboy here, ma’am-sir!”—and is decidedly more complex than either the cardboard city, or the piecemeal exposure available to it on any one visit, would suggest.

While occasionally charming, this disconnect between form and content doesn’t really seem to reveal anything about either. While providing a more or less arbitrary framework for us to learn about Manila, the cardboard-and-egg carton city does not appear to reflect or reveal anything about the flesh-and-blood one, which itself seems like a strange choice of subject for anyone looking to more fully exhaust the possibilities of this form. It is a poor critic who presumes to tell an artist that they could improve their work by doing something entirely different. But Applespiel’s Erskineville keeps coming to mind. It seems to me that a Playschool-ish approach is perfectly suited to the creation of a wholly imagined city, or an amalgamation or reinvention of an already existing one, and that such miniaturisation is a perfect way to get people thinking about urban planning, spaces for living in or the relationship between geography and community. As a way of getting people to think about what the program notes call “the horrors of history” it seems indirect and ineffective. We are left to ask ourselves one of two questions: “Why Manila?” or “Why in miniature?”

Garland’s The Tesseract provided such a striking representation of the city—I cannot, obviously, speak to its accuracy—because it employed a narrative form that was well-suited to its author’s idea of the place: a temporally dynamic postmodern structure for a spatially dynamic postcolonial city. It is arguable that the aforementioned disconnect between Within and Without’s form and content itself mirrors the manifold divisions inherent in what the artists, in their aforementioned program notes, describe as “the way we collectively see [the city]:” the divisions that exist between East and West, Christianity and Islam, rural and urban, rich and poor. Tellingly, two of the words the artists choose to describe the city are “schizophrenic” and “chaotic.”

Which is why the soundscape that opens the performance, taking place before we have even seen the cardboard city, is more effective than what follows it. Entering a dimly-lit space and asked to don the blindfolds they have been given in the foyer, the audience are treated to a densely layered sound design that includes everything from barking dogs and construction work to loud-mouthed hawkers and a discordant dirge of car horns. The key word here is ‘layered.’ Where the rest of the work is characterised by its own internal divisions, this opening sequence gets somewhat closer to approximating the messy, communal and continuous process that is the construction, not only of a city like Manila, or even an inner-city suburb like Erskineville, but of any space in which we must live. In doing so, it gets somewhat closer to actually approximating what a history is, too. It gives us a palimpsest.


Performance Space and Blacktown Arts Centre: Within and Without, artists Paschal Daantos Berry, Deborah Pollard, Valerie Berry, Anino Shadowplay Collective (Datu Arellano, Andrew Cruz, Don Maralit Salubayba), guest artists David Buckley, Kenneth Moraleda, Melanie Palomares, lighting designer Jack Horton; Blacktown Arts Centre, Sydney, June 23-July 2

This article was first published as part of the July 26 e-dition.

RealTime issue #104 Aug-Sept 2011 pg. web

© Matthew Clayfield; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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