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acting out and mouthing off

ken bolton: bronwyn platten, mouths and meaning

Ken Bolton lives in Adelaide and writes poetry and art criticism, the latter being freely available at http://aeaf.org.au/events/critical-writing.html as The Dark Horsey Form Guide, Archive and Punter’s Companion. A selection of his criticism was published by CACSA as Art Writing in 2009.

Sarah Coggrave and Bronwyn Platten, Untitled (The Party), 2011—a short film conceived and performed by co-collaborators Sarah Coggrave and Bronwyn Platten for Mouths and Meaning. Filmed and edited by Insa Langhorst with still photography by Huw Wahl Sarah Coggrave and Bronwyn Platten, Untitled (The Party), 2011—a short film conceived and performed by co-collaborators Sarah Coggrave and Bronwyn Platten for Mouths and Meaning. Filmed and edited by Insa Langhorst with still photography by Huw Wahl
WORKING IN THE UK SINCE THE LATE 1990S, BRONWYN PLATTEN MADE A WELCOME REAPPEARANCE IN ADELAIDE THIS YEAR. HER MOUTHS AND MEANING EXHIBITION EXAMINED IDEAS ABOUT EMBODIMENT AND BODY-CONSCIOUSNESS, THE BODILY EXPERIENCE, AND RELATED PHOBIAS AND CONDITIONS (BULIMIA, ANOREXIA) AND SOCIAL, GENDERED ATTITUDES TO THE BODY. WHILE A NUMBER OF SMALLER OBJECTS AND STILL IMAGES SERVED AS BAFFLES, COMPLICATIONS TO THE MAIN FOCUS, FILMED WORKS DOMINATED.

Untitled (The Party) (2012) was projected large, to wall-filling size in a room to itself. Its soundtrack—intermittent and with long stretches of silence, but regularly bursting out into a goony, boisterous frivolity—filled the gallery, advertising the film’s presence if you had just entered, reminding of its story and content once seen.

Running for just a little under 20 minutes, it offers itself as both narrative and documentary and as a child’s story. A young woman turns up to a door, knocks and enters to meet an older woman and there they have a party: cakes and fizzy drinks. Platten’s collaborator, artist Sarah Coggrave, is the shy, uncertain visitor—addressing the door tentatively, entering slowly, filmed from behind and below. Her red balloon lingers briefly, caught outside the door before following her in. Inside, Platten sits at a table repeating to herself, “Mum, mum, mum, Mum; mummy, mum-mum mum”—writing the words as she speaks. So, mother(s). We are quietly shown the room with its arrayed feast of sugared and creamy fare. Some plain black shoes are filled with whipped cream and feet are plunged into them, the cream squelches luxuriantly as the foot enters, and again as the laces are pulled tight. A moment for both glee and revulsion. Hilarity begins, and the ‘comic’ music. The two don conical party hats, stomp about and attack the food, blow paper trumpets etc. An exorcism.

The film’s longueurs are calming. If exorcism—or facing-down—is the point, it seems a simple exercise: the pace is leisurely, the actions few. The pay-off is a kind of capaciousness that allows the viewer to entertain as many of the various thoughts, the various attitudes about these matters, as might suggest themselves. The Party holds them in suspension, or in slow revolution.

Bronwyn Platten, For more and more love hours (R.I.P. Mike Kelley 1954-2012), 1973-2013, hand-stitched marimeko quilt, found soft toys, oats, liquorice, treacle Bronwyn Platten, For more and more love hours (R.I.P. Mike Kelley 1954-2012), 1973-2013, hand-stitched marimeko quilt, found soft toys, oats, liquorice, treacle
photo Alex Lofting
A floor-piece sits centre gallery, a large, brightly checkered hand-sewn blanket, a tribute to artist Mike Kelley—with the initials, M. K., RIP, and dates of birth and decease, borne on the chests of soft toys arranged there—bears, dogs—each covered in breakfast oatmeal. (Abjection, shame are the terms associated with Kelley.) Around the blanket’s perimeter is a fringe of boldly printed words. All begin with ‘B’ and are to do with physicality, the body, with activities that a self might undertake or enact as a role-playing, gendered being. (Body, boo, boohoo, boobs, booby, book, bookish, boss, bossy, bosom, boy, boycott, bounce, bouncer, bow, bowel, bowl, brain).

Bronwyn Platten, body to brain and back again, 2013, still of filmed performance Bronwyn Platten, body to brain and back again, 2013, still of filmed performance
photo Huw Wahl
It is these words, taken from a child’s dictionary, that Platten does brief, three-to-five-second impressions of, one after the other, in the sequence that they follow around the sculpture—in the film on the nearby screen—as in the manner of charades. A little like a one-woman Haka, with a wider range than just the usual threat to devour and rend: demonic and graphic and sometimes inscrutable, at others ticklingly on-the-money. Platten is filmed—fixed camera, the action sped up—between the shelving stacks of a library. So, framed by books either side—in a rather full, dowdy pale blue frock, with serviceable pinafore. On her head are draped a pair of upside-down (men’s) black shoes—heels at the centre of her head, the toes above each ear. The silhouette says (to me, anyway), ‘Dutch milk-maid.’ Under each foot a book is strapped. (Knowledge? Theory? Yes, the feet-above-the-head—body-over-the-cultural, over ‘ideas’—signals a kind of topsy-turvy or reversal.) Platten swaggers and stomps about, crouching, gesticulating, remonstrating, shaking her fist, clutching at her stomach, adjusting an imaginary bra, swaggering, slumping, slouching, perorating—ingratiating or coquettish, threatening or stern. Mad and very funny.

Titled body to brain and back again (2013), the film, on permanent, crazy rotation, renders the words and the kind of definitions we might imagine for them suddenly literal, ‘embodied,’ all vague nuance banished: as if ideas—abstract, nebulous—are just so many wisps-of-nothing, each one dispatched. At its regular beginning Platten stands, ready—ready for the roll-call of words to begin, her mouth tightens then opens slightly and we see that she is breathing like an athlete readying for a test, her chest rising and falling. Heroic. Then the action begins.


Bronwyn Platten, Mouths and Meaning, Australian Experimental Art Foundation, Adelaide, Feb 1-March 2

Ken Bolton lives in Adelaide and writes poetry and art criticism, the latter being freely available at http://aeaf.org.au/events/critical-writing.html as The Dark Horsey Form Guide, Archive and Punter’s Companion. A selection of his criticism was published by CACSA as Art Writing in 2009.

RealTime issue #114 April-May 2013 pg. 53

© Ken Bolton; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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