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In the wastes of Ormen

Stephen Wright: site performance, Louise Morris, Anne Scott Wilson

Stephen Wright’s essays have won the Eureka St Prize, the Nature Conservancy Prize, the Overland NUW Fair Australia Prize and the Scarlett Award, and been shortlisted for several others. He was writer-in-residence for the 2015 MESMERISM new music festival and his non-fiction novella A lantern carried down a dark path is forthcoming from Tiny Owl.Stephen Wright’s essays have won the Eureka St Prize, the Nature Conservancy Prize, the Overland NUW Fair Australia Prize and the Scarlett Award, and been shortlisted for several others. He was writer-in-residence for the 2015 MESMERISM new music festival and his non-fiction novella A lantern carried down a dark path is forthcoming from Tiny Owl.

Site-specific performance improvisation, Louise Morris, Anne Scott Wilson, Lorne Sculpture Biennale, 2016 Site-specific performance improvisation, Louise Morris, Anne Scott Wilson, Lorne Sculpture Biennale, 2016
photo M. Smith

It had been something of a grey day in Lorne. I was there as the Lorne Sculpture Biennale’s guest writer and had spent the day wandering along the shore among uncanny sculptures. I almost missed a site-specific performance devised by Louise Morris from photographs by Anne Scott Wilson and carried through by some dedicated students apparently sunk in Samadhi [intense meditative concentration. Eds]. Rain was lurking somewhere out at sea, throwing a damp, chilly pall our way. Over the hill the ashes from the destruction of Wye in the Christmas Day bushfires had not long gone cold.

I was tired at this fag-end of a strange day and sat on a CCA-treated fence on the shelf of rock above the beach, waiting for the performers to arrive, passing the time analysing patterns of discarded cigarette butts, pretending I was a gumshoe in a film noir. (Conclusions: the person who sat there before me was shorter, a left-handed smoker, probably wearing a voluminous raincoat, who some time the previous evening had used binoculars to watch something unfolding in the car park about a kilometre distant).

As I was in this odd, distracted, forensically reflective state of mind, the performance began. Scene: a stretch of beach at low tide; a lagoon almost drained of water; sand churned up by the day’s beachgoers; wind backing into the west; dusk approaching; light becoming increasingly granular; a time of the day when the streets are emptying, so the world can feel a little forlorn. The Real is just outside your field of vision, eating away at the edges of your security.

Six women dressed in black moved across the sand. Silence bracketed by the distant rush of waves. Some of the women were dragging winding pieces of crimson fabric. They walked as though nobody was present. The watchers became invisible, became the impossible thing: the observer who isn’t there.

Site-specific performance improvisation, Lousie Morris, Anne Scott Wilson, Lorne Sculpture Biennale, 2016 Site-specific performance improvisation, Lousie Morris, Anne Scott Wilson, Lorne Sculpture Biennale, 2016
photo M. Smith

The women fanned out across the beach; slow, slow-motion. But when my gaze returned to any one figure, she seemed to have moved further than time would have allowed, as though little glitches in reality, like edits in a strip of film, were parsing our cognition. Some women were down at waves-edge, in limicole. I felt a little anxiety rising in me, as though we were in the margins at the end of the world, an attenuated space where it was just, just, possible to speak of what really matters. I thought some random violence might intervene: black vans; radiation; something from the sky. Just below the knuckle of black rock where I was standing, kettled into my jacket by the cold air moving in from the ocean, a performer had burrowed under one of the sheets of crimson fabric, which was suddenly not like fabric at all, but something sinister and powerful, a little totemic. It began to undulate in slow convulsions. It seemed to be growing bigger, but the light was fading imperceptibly, things disintegrating an atom at a time, so that it was difficult to maintain a depth of field that one could trust in. It was still dusk and dusk was going on forever.

It was like a low-tech outtake from Bowie’s Blackstar: women in mourning carrying through the rituals that will annihilate melancholia, in the wastes outside the village of Ormen.

A woman lay on the sand. Jetsam. An omen to take into our dreams tonight. The atmosphere was of prophecy, the dance an oracle speaking, the women as they moved making images on imaginary Tarot cards. I tried to imagine a drones-eye view, the spatial relationship between one woman and another, to imagine a pattern, to fake up an analysis in different time signatures. But my mind—soaked up into the slow ritual movements, carrying, as rituals do, the things we cannot carry alone—couldn’t find a grip on a linear image.

Hours passed. Or perhaps only minutes, ticking. Two of the women crossed the lagoon. The others followed, as if slowly picking up a hidden current. They crawled and rolled up the steep bank toward the empty road, as though, having taken the measure of gravity they could match it, gram by gram, make it work against itself.

The next day, I took a cab out to the airport at Avalon with a driver who spoke to me of time-travel and passengers who vanished into air. I looked at him suspiciously and wondered if he had been on the beach, watching me.

Site-specific performance improvisation, Lousie Morris, Anne Scott Wilson, Lorne Sculpture Biennale, 2016 Site-specific performance improvisation, Lousie Morris, Anne Scott Wilson, Lorne Sculpture Biennale, 2016
photo M. Smith


Site-specific performance improvisation, creators Louise Morris, Anne Scott Wilson; Lorne Sculpture Biennale, Lorne, Victoria, March 19

Stephen Wright’s essays have won the Eureka St Prize, the Nature Conservancy Prize, the Overland NUW Fair Australia Prize and the Scarlett Award, and been shortlisted for several others. He was writer-in-residence for the 2015 MESMERISM new music festival and his non-fiction novella A lantern carried down a dark path is forthcoming from Tiny Owl.

RealTime issue #133 June-July 2016 pg.

© Stephen Wright; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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