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deeply abhorrent and utterly entertaining

bryoni trezise looks into version 1.0’s latest inquiry


Deeply Offensive and Utterly Untrue Deeply Offensive and Utterly Untrue
photo Heidrun Löhr
THE FINE PERFORMANCE STRATEGY BUILT BY VERSION 1.0 OVER THE LAST FOUR YEARS (CMI, WAGES OF SPIN, FROM A DISTANCE...) ARRIVES AT ITS MOST NUANCED AND DELICATE IN A PIECE ABOUT THE DRIEST SUBJECT MATTER: WHEAT. DEEPLY OFFENSIVE AND UTTERLY UNTRUE IS AN INQUIRY INTO THE 2005 COLE INQUIRY INTO THE UN OIL-FOR-FOOD PROGRAM WHICH WAS EXPLOITED BY THE AUSTRALIAN WHEAT BOARD WHO PAID SADDAM HUSSEIN’S REGIME IN IRAQ $300 MILLION IN KICKBACKS WHILE THE AUSTRALIAN GOVERNMENT WAS PREPARING OUR TROOPS FOR WAR IN THAT COUNTRY.

The work steals its title from the “polished” rhetoric of the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer. The idea that the Australian Government “went to war to protect its wheat market” was, he declared tersely, “deeply offensive and utterly untrue.” Version 1.0 use theatre as a mode of interrogation, here into repeated attempts by bureaucrats and politicians to create a veneer of truthfulness by using evasion and obfuscation, only to mire themselves and the government in ignominy.

Version 1.0 are at their canniest when they compel the words of their subjects to do the job that has to be done. Words here are objects to be offered in place of meaning. Version 1.0 recycle and rehearse these words, as if testing whether this time spoken slower, faster, funnier or intoned, we might understand what is actually being said.

Not a chance. Blank parody becomes a way to restage meaninglessness. We hear the emptiness, variously desparate, raging and slick, of politicians and administrative bunglers at their best. “I don’t know”... “I don’t recall”....”I can’t remember” becomes a chorus of practiced deniers performing a chamber piece from transcript ‘scores’ on music stands. In a recurrent direct video feed from the CarriageWorks bar, Stephen Klinder drolly recites Alexander Downer’s parochialism for the benefit of the media masses: “You see”, he repeatedly reminds the camera, twee-ly and with pursed lips, “It’s very, very complicated.”

Version 1.0 go to great lengths to unravel the complications of the corruption scenario. In playschool-like skits they physically spell out the money chain, the information chain, the wheat chain, the political chain. Kym Vercoe runs a marathon over a chalked world map, charting wheat markets across the globe. To track the cash flow, the performers enact an escalating transaction scenario conducted between Iraqi middlemen, a growing number of non-existent trucking companies around the world and Wheat Board executives. After aptly playing with a remote control toy car, Michael Long, AWB Sales and Marketing Manager, reveals with disingenuous naivety how the trucking fee was likewise toyed with and casually inflated—here a calculation scribbled on paper on someone’s back and flaunted before the camera. Not at all complicated.

Sean Bacon’s videowork is superbly Brechtian: each testimonial undercut with the biting satire of a suspicious longshot or looming close-up, or a parodic intervention into the scene with images of Iraq—that ominously ‘other’ world. Gail Priest’s lilting Arabic folk music motifs compound these visual statements, becoming tantalising reminders of how we construct the exotically faraway. In a deep corner, at a distance, Saddam Hussein appears on a portable monitor. His televised trial offers a minute backdrop to the events played big screen. Up close, a projected mouse teeters on a piece of cheese placed in a trap. It takes a moment, but we soon notice that the mouse is live onstage, in a cage. Underneath the projected image, an awkward Peter Greary, General Manager of Trading at AWB, is questioned...but doesn’t take the bait.

So many of these moments animate the dry and dusty annals that are the Inquiry report itself. We are told at the beginning that, laid out in reams along one side of the stage, it is “confidential...but can be downloaded online.” This kind of paradox continuously haunts the Inquiry and feeds version 1.0’s unrelentingly coy, cynical tone. Frankly, I’m thankful that they got to all of those words first before we had to read them. What they reveal is the absolute shambolics of due process, the hollow gesture of an Inquiry which hasn’t interrogated or unpacked anything at all. In this sense version 1.0’s performance of a performance of (un)truthfulness is at once deeply abhorrent and utterly entertaining. Next time, Alexander Downer might want to watch his words.


Version 1.0, Deeply Offensive and Utterly Untrue, devisor-performers, Stephen Klinder, Jane Phegan, Yana Taylor, Kym Vercoe, David Williams, video artist Sean Bacon, dramaturgy Paul Dwyer, physical dramaturgy Christopher Ryan, sound Gail Priest; Performance Space, Aug 24-Sept 8

RealTime issue #81 Oct-Nov 2007 pg. 37

© Bryoni Trezise; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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