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new humans, beyond meaning

indija mahjoeddin: 2008 next wave


EMERGING ARTISTS CRITIQUE THE PROMISES OF TECHNOLOGY AND CONSUMER DECADENCE IN NEXT WAVE FESTIVAL’S 2008 COLLECTION. FROM THE RAW TO THE SLICK, THREE OF FOUR EVENTS I SAW ARTICULATED DISTRUST OF AN ARTIFICIALLY ENHANCED FUTURE. BUT FIRST, A SLIGHT FORAY INTO GRITTY SOCIAL COMMENT BY YOUNG ADELAIDE DANCERS, SARAH CARTWRIGHT AND GALA MOODY: JUST FILLING IN

Just Filling In, 2008 Next Wave Festival Just Filling In, 2008 Next Wave Festival
photo Gareth Hart
sarah cartwright & gala moody: just filling in

Amongst the refuse of civilisation we witness the contrasting responses of a
woman and her double. Sound: a tap drips. Vision: a destructible tower of consumer waste. From a rat-hole beneath the debris emerges…a fanny, clad (in black pantyhose—this is a family show, not!), spread-eagled, looming relentlessly towards us. Its owner, drunk with self-loathing, spares us the indignity of landing in our laps; staggers instead to her feet to act out some trashy porn; stabs her stilettos relentlessly, percussively, into the cardboard surface lining the floor of this subway alcove beneath the streets of Melbourne.

It is not clear who she is—some washed up stripper? Junkie? She gyrates lugubriously as I strain for clues that identify her with a corporate main-stream, as the program notes would have it. A square of cardboard speared on her heel suggests an ear-tagged cow, writhing legs aloft on a slaughterhouse floor. Part two—a mirror image: the good clown, innocence intact, responds soulfully to the garbage bequeathed her. Wombling into view undercover of a dead doona, bounding off artist Laura Wills’ cardboard ‘box’ set, good clown solicits reciprocity from her favourite plaything, a plastic shopping bag. When a range of strategies—fun, power, sex (more wanton gyrations)—fail, she strips off her clothes to swathe herself affectingly in an haute couture of bubble wrap. The work's structural symmetry posited contrasting responses to the decadence of society without examining complexities. The most telling metaphor—the action reflected on an exposed light-fitting—implied this underworld doubled a surreal existence on some upper floor. The characters did not interact, reading rather as two solos in a common setting. When ‘Slut’ runs dramatically out of the set, we turn to follow her off stage, expecting a second locus of play, perhaps the meaning of the action explained. But back on stage, Clown is slowly swallowing her erstwhile toy, perhaps annihilating hope, murdering innocence? Fade to black.

teching too fast?

Technological capability has evolved faster than our ability to redefine assumptions or ethics. Augmentation pushes the human phenotype beyond its boundaries. Digital worlds “outstrip our ability to give them meaning” (Abenroth, Gui & Scholz, Virtual World Building: Tools, Methods and Philosophy, unpublished thesis, 1999). But, says Douglas Allchin, “technological artefact is not philosophically idle” ("Thinking about 'Thinking about'", Techné 5:1 Fall 1999, University of Minnesota) and the artists reviewed below, showing a maturity nurtured in common (perhaps through Next Wave’s Kickstart development program), return courageously to a question even Aristotle spurned when faced with the “cosmological and moral confusion it engendered" (Mitcham, Carl, Thinking Thru Technology The Path Between Engineering and Philosophy, University of Chicago press, 1994).

Inside Out, 2008 Next Wave Inside Out, 2008 Next Wave
kenzie mckenzie & james brown: inside outside inside on

Kenzie McKenzie and James Brown’s Inside Outside Inside On pre-empts a world where ‘virtual nature’ is de rigueur. I am in a cubby house, a diminutive garden gazebo. The knee-high entrance has somewhat compelled me to commit, so I lieon the plasticy turf beside a synthetic potted bulb under a digital sky. This multimedia installation talks of "the illusory possibilities of technology to recreate our experience of the natural world." I immerse in clouds drifting over a horizontal screen barely a metre above me, paralleled by a soundscape that lends a filmic pretence of dimensionality. Every so often, the balmy azure firmament is inundated by animated intrusions of pop art, line drawings or a kaleidoscope grid of flashing lights. These morph and intersect with increasing fragmentation, matched by frenetic sound squiggles, before dropping me back to the gliding, soaring vaults of heaven. Sudden shifts, cut aways to test patterns and colour bars, jolt awake my reflexive consciousness, just in case I thought this was the real thing. Tension builds until the clouds seem gripped by a regressive force grinding them back on themselves, warping sound and image to eerie effect. Cut again. And the tape loop clicks over. In a way, it is not the projection but the edges of its artifice that speaks most potently of the distance between simulacra and simulated.

Out of Body Exp,  2008 Next Wave Festival Out of Body Exp, 2008 Next Wave Festival
photo Steve Howarth
keith lim: out of body exp

In his solo work, Out Of Body Exp, Keith Lim’s character begins sharing his well intentioned plans for self improvement in the interests of “the greater good." Then, donning elongated mechanical arms, he raises himself up like a newborn calf to explore the scope of this enhanced corporeality. His movements reflect an eastern martial art as functions of destruction and warfare find expression through the prosthetics. Describing a house he would build out of iPods, breakdancing with his video double or invoking the magnetic fingertips of a human current detector—surgical super-enhancements of the organism tripping us into ethical resistances—Lim questions where we draw the line between the illusory dream of perfection and transgression into inhumanity. His delivery is laconic, a storytelling, poetic and quotable. But his movement seems powered from the periphery, not quite fluid, not quite potent, the machinery too unwieldy.

Perhaps this unintended by-product comments tellingly on the medium. As for McKenzie and Brown, the observable limitations of their media only increase the alienation effect, furthering the critique of technology as an adequate substitute. In the end, the perfection Lim reaches transcends the biological human machine as, in the blackness, the once encumbered body now discreetly and perfectly facilitates a dance that is not about itself. Dancing handheld points of light, glowing LEDs manifest like metaphysical fireflies of a soul finally alive with fluidity, integrity and natural momentum.

Holiday, 2008 Next Wave Festival Holiday, 2008 Next Wave Festival
photo Fred Rodrigues
spat+loogie: holiday

Spat+Loogie's self-assured Holiday turns a similar critique into a slick and entertaining romp that had me grinning broadly throughout. The conceit, in this case seamlessly achieved, cast us as passengers in the foyer an airline departure lounge where, boarding pass in hand, I check though emotional baggage, surrender sharps and explosives (aka tongues and heart). After baring lower legs and clearing nasal passages (the collusion of audience in these ‘security measures’ was elegantly solicited), we were strapped into aircraft seats for an hilarious prologue of safety instructions danced deadpan to Captain Ahab’s Snakes On The Plane soundtrack. Bespectacled in 3D video goggles by our attentive stewards, we embark on a taste-, touch- and smellarama of favourite tourist destinations.

Safe within the specular range of our personal viewing screens we’re lurched from sand-and-sea spray through tropical rainforest to Arctic ice floes. Whether swimming with the denizens of the deep (was that a sea-cow brushing past my legs?), sweltering in the Central Desert or sampling hotel bistro satay poolside in paradise, all sensations were brought to us in low tech vivid sensurround—aromas for our olfactory, textures for our skin and the odd oral morsel. The travel brochure vision was interrupted by apparent breaks in transmission returning us to cabin interior where, from the eye of CCTV, we observe our own passive captivity by absurd and surreal flight staff. From the first taste of our inflight meal to the final inebriated kiss, Holiday made wry art of the mediated illusion of closeness.


Just Filling In, performer-devisors Sarah Cartwright, Gala Moody, dramaturg Netta Raschin, sound designer Alisdair MacIndoe, set design Laura Wills, Platform, May 28-30; Inside Outside Inside On, multimedia installation by Kenzie McKenzie, James Brown, Seventh Gallery, May 20-31; Out Of Body Exp, performer-devisor Keith Lim, sound composition Jon Creenaune, costume Kate Shanahan, set design Joe Au, Black Box, May 16-21; Holiday, performer-creators spat+loogie (Kat Barron, Lara Thoms), performers Naomi Derrick, Teik Kim Pok, sound design Fred Rodrigues, Black Box, May 26-31; Next Wave, Festival Melbourne, May 15-31, www.nextwave.org.au

RealTime issue #86 Aug-Sept 2008 pg.

© Indija Mahjoeddin; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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