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Operation isn’t just one of the most dynamic works at this year’s Next Wave festival; it’s easily one of the most intriguing pieces to have recently played in Melbourne in any context. The first show by new company Blood Policy, it combines puppetry, microvideo, sound and performance to create an intricately unfolding mystery of terrorism and redemption, spectacle and intimacy.

For a production in which words and text play so little part, Operation speaks volumes. The audience is guided through a space filled with tiny map-covered podiums upon which rest shadowy objects: a miniature helicopter, a chair, a rubbish bin. Once seated, we become aware of the body lying upon an operating table at the far end of the room, a projection screen hanging above. The performance begins with a video image on this screen: a point-of-view shot of someone entering the space, as we have, and lying down on the medical table.

A doctor enters and moves to the lifeless body below the screen, now revealed as a lifesize articulated puppet. He attempts to obtain some sign of life, and this is signalled when the mannequin opens its eyes: what it sees is now shown to us through the projected video above. We’re suddenly confronted by a doubling of space, a reciprocal perspective in which we see ourselves being seen by the object of our attention, and this is just the beginning.

Operation is the story of a dying man’s journey to the medical theatre in which he now lies: the doctor, also our puppeteer, opens up the patient’s body to extract tiny versions of his subject which then play out dramas of his life on the various miniscule stages scattered across the space. A camera mounted on the man’s head offers us an extreme close up of the homunculus as he journeys from a war-torn third world country to the banal ignominy of a first world existence of servitude, before being dragged into a terrorist resistance by a figurehead who reveals the degraded existence into which he has sunk. All the while, the constant layering of both narrative threads and visual fields creates an energy and dynamism which is entirely absorbing. Operation is worth any chance you have to attend.

Jacklyn Bassanelli’s Pink Denim in Manhattan is another power-punch to the sensorium, a 25-minute performance which delivers as much affect as many full-length works. Clambering through a narrow tunnel, the audience settles inside an inflatable snowdome detailed by the unmistakable New York skyline, and towered over Liberty Statue-esque by Bassanelli in pink tailcoat, hotpants and mirrorball heels. Her impassioned monologue is a love letter to the city, the iconic metropolis available not directly but only through the many incarnations in film and song which have given the city its mythic status. Snatches of text from popular movies and Broadway tunes weave together with Bassanelli’s original dialogue to form a tragic-ironic plea to a city which cannot return her affection; she finds herself gutterbound, another victim of an urban infatuation which is destined to death. The spectre of 9/11 pans out as a shadowplay, a model aeroplane heading towards the twin icons of legs held skyward; and the tiny, final image of a glowing heart ascending the Empire State Building is a charming nightcap for a piece all-too-brief but more than satisfying.

Works by emerging artists too frequently betray their youthful innocence; Australian works especially have seemed beset by historical amnesia, unconscious of the history of performance which has come before. It’s deeply encouraging, then, to view the sophisticated way in which Ming-Zhu Hii presents her homage to Yoko Ono, a performance artist whose significance for later generations is worth revisiting. Y is not a conventional biography, since the iconoclastic position of Ono would render such a depiction paradoxical, but is instead a performance of the figure, producing her image through emulation but not impersonation.

Hii makes accessible the kinds of performance art so often derided by reactionary critics: throwing eggs upon the floor, apples rolling from the wings, a succession of matches lit and extinguished, slowly adding to the pile of burnt stubs at her feet. It’s all too easy to see these gestures as signifying nothing more than their own lack of significance, but Y contextualises these moments in a history which seeks to regenerate the heady moments of the late 20th century avant-garde. The personal, political, fiction and fact are interwoven in a way which doesn’t result in an undifferentiated miasma but instead produces the sense, if not the logic, of an artist frequently written off as a relic of counterculture aestheticism.


Blood Policy, Operation, co-director, puppeteer Sam Routledge, co-director, media artist Martyn Couts, sound Aaron Cuthbert, puppet & props Andrew Mcdougall with Zoe Stuart, spatial design Alison McNicol, The Croft Institute, March 15-30; Pink Denim in Mathattan, writer, performer Jacklyn Bassanelli, original concept Danielle Brustman, Jacklyn Bassanelli, director Clare Watson, choreography Peta Coy, design Danielle Brustman, music/sound Kelly Ryall, lighting Luke Hails; Artshouse Meat Market, North Melbourne, March 23-April 2; Y, writer, director, performer Ming-Zhu Hii, co-director Gerard Williams, lighting, Bronwyn Pringle, designer Alo McNicol, sound Jacqueline Grenfull; Artshouse Meatmarket, March 23-April 2

RealTime issue #73 June-July 2006 pg. 4

© John Bailey; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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