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Brian Lucas, Avril Huddy, absence(s) Brian Lucas, Avril Huddy, absence(s)
photos Fiona Cullen
ABSENCE(S) CROSSED THE BOUNDARIES OF DANCE, INSTALLATION ART AND PROMENADE THEATRE. THIS HAUNTING WORK CARRIED ALL THE METAPHORICAL FREIGHT OF ‘MOVING’, AND AIMED WITH PRECISION TO INCULCATE AN EXPERIENTIAL AUDIENCE REACTION. IT DID SO BY RISKILY LOCATING THE CENTRE OF THE WORK IN AN ABSENCE, IN THINGS UNSAID AND UNSPECIFIED. ADORNO INSISTED THAT “INTELLIGENCE IS A MORAL CATEGORY.” IN THAT SENSE, IT WAS THE SHEER INTELLIGENCE OF ABSENCE(S) THAT TRIUMPHED OVER POTENTIALLY ENNERVATING MATERIAL, OVER THE ACHING SADNESS OF THINGS.

The production played on our anxieties by immersing us in the concept. We were first separated from whoever we came with, then taken from the Judith Wright Centre in a group of strangers to an undisclosed destination and asked to remove our shoes and personal belongings. We moved through dim rooms constructed from plastic drops, through which we discerned dim traces of movement, heard faint echoes of voices. An entrapped performer, Avril Huddy, transfixed us as if we were sadistic voyeurs. Brian Lucas monstrously loomed, nastily reminding us in classic Lucas style that we, too, were being watched. We encounter a loft with a well full of shoes. Teetering amidst the debris, Vanessa Mafe-Keane, as a survivor, sought equilibrium. Rules were set in a prelude to a larger movement as the space gradually opened into its entirety. A panoramic shot of the last group seen through the plastic dividing the length of the space was breathtaking, a tyro effect of lighting design and placement straight out of Schindler’s Ark.

Barred windows, stark walls, the audience as crowd fixtures in the installation. Reproductions of the missing along one side, inadequate descriptions of the appearance of somebody already disappeared. The Freudian concept of introjection tells us that in mourning the loss of a loved one the ego is also mourning the loss of a part of itself. This was made graphic by the excruciating tension of Huddy attached to Tammy Meeuwissen by cotton strings, by the heart piercing declaration that “it hurt.” Rumours of knives, memories are scars, projections into the future stymied in one of the most disturbing interludes between Lucas and Mafe-Keane: she wondered if she should change ‘his’ room, while Lucas performed a mad tarantella as he moved into her empty spaces. Dyson choreographs possessed people with the mordancy of an angel. Slide projections transversed the space with unnerving lucidity.

The environment, created by Brett Collery’s darkly ambient sound, Mark Dyson’s filmic lighting and Bruce McKinven’s installation, simply but powerfully evinced what Frederic Jameson has called (in relation to postmodernism) “the displacement of time, the spatialization of the temporal.” The mass produced, black and white photographs of missing persons irreducible to individual identities suggested the phenomenon of a human consciousness likewise unsituated, unlocated. The pit of shoes, the clothing beneath our bare feet, threatened to inundate us, to engulf us in a chaotic miscegenation of all identities by insisting on the subject’s necessary relation to death, to corporeality, to the abject materiality of shoes and clothes. History was invoked but only as a residue, or a deposit, of imagery and association (the Nazi death camps, the ‘disappeared’ in South America), signs that floated free from what they designated in a way that constantly threatened to open into a void. This was a vertigo-inducing theatre of traces, lines, demarcations. No redemption.

Nevertheless, Clare Dyson seemingly holds to the feminist belief that the ‘personal is political.’ Even if interpretation was a relative exercise, or subjects had little authenticity, there was a structural clarity that spoke well, that clung to an ethic of speaking well in times that enforce us, in Dyson’s words, “to segregate, to isolate, to dislocate.” The decentralisation of theatrical presence forced us to abandon a fixed, fetishistic attention to the performers’ bodies, forced us to move, to cease to be spectators, to find our own psychological and moral truths. We were constantly being invited to look elsewhere, to make choices, to become part of the performance, to absent ourselves.

In this first stage of a compelling new site-specific project Clare Dyson and her scintillating team created a hyperbolic, fractured space of uncertainty, of disconnection, disappointment and loss. But exhilaration lay in the artful play with boundaries, the risks taken with the Janus nature of disappearance and appearance, and in the constant swing between visceral agitation and mental reflection. Dyson has said that she wanted the audience to feel that the concept was in everything, but this was surely a way of saying that the concept was nowhere, neither in the theatre nor out of it; it was more a matter of positioning. In her theatre of revenants, of invisibles, of alarming traces, it was we who were at stake. We who will one day disappear.


Absence(s), created by Clare Dyson in collaboration with performers Avril Huddy, Brian Lucas, Vanessa Mafe-Keane, Tammy Meeuwissen, lighting design Mark Dyson, design Bruce McKinven, sound design Brett Collery; Judith Wright Centre for Contemporary Arts, Brisbane, February 21-24

RealTime issue #78 April-May 2007 pg. 32

© Doug Leonard; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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