info I contact
advertising
editorial schedule
acknowledgements
join the realtime email list
become a friend of realtime on facebook
follow realtime on twitter
donate

magazine  archive  features  rt profiler  realtimedance  mediaartarchive

contents

  
Julie Traitsis, Open Embrace Julie Traitsis, Open Embrace
photo Amy Marjoram
THE DISCOMFORTING POTENTIAL OF NEXT WAVE’S 2008 FESTIVAL THEME “CLOSER TOGETHER” WAS REALISED IN JULIE TRAITSIS’ RELENTLESS VIDEO-LOOP OF A COUPLE DANCING THE TANGO AND MICHAEL MENEGHETTI’S LIVE PERFORMANCE ON A STRIP CLUB STAGE. THE WORKS EXPOSED “IDEAS OF CLOSENESS AND ITS CONFLICTED NATURE” BY ENTANGLING THE AUDIENCE IN THE AWKWARDNESS OF PROXIMITY.

With his feet encased in strap-on stilts and his arms in crutch-like supports, Michael Meneghetti clambers on all fours up the stairs on to the stage at the Men’s Gallery. Crouched like a praying mantis on these simple splints of untreated pine, he stalks the length of the stage. His face is obscured by a homespun version of a gimp mask as he purveys the packed-in crowd who holler enthusiastically as he begins to gyrate.

Meneghetti’s kinky shed fashion is rawer in construction than clear acrylic stripper heels, but it similarly exacerbates the tension in his movements as he laps his crotch about the club’s silver poles. The splints force him into a slow elevated crawl that’s animalistic and oddly slinky, his pace matching the strippers in the downstairs bar who slither about like stoned snakes.

Michael Meneghetti, Vixen Michael Meneghetti, Vixen
photo Paul Chan
In this work titled Vixen, Meneghetti seems strangely vulnerable, the blockish wooden saddle complete with stirrups strapped to his back mocking his tenuous position perched on stilts. Yet he also displays much physical strength and stamina as he hoists himself about. The contrast creates a tension that had been similarly apparent in Meneghetti’s Goanna Pull Contest (VCA Student Gallery, Victoria Park Gallery, 2006). That performance enacted an unusual country game between two men who lie on the ground facing each other. They are joined together by a leather belt strapped around the backs of their heads, then with their backs arched and their arms braced against the floor they proceed to try to drag one another forward tug-of-war style. Brute aggressive force was coupled with the clear pain of the exercise; the pure competitive, albeit stupid, machismo made for strangely gripping viewing.

Vixen was equally compelling, feeding off the hyped up, lurid surrounds of the strip club. This time the elevation of Meneghetti’s bent body was accentuated by the height of the stage, and the no-touch etiquette clearly applied to his threateningly precarious prowling. The carpentry body extensions were consequently both constricting and protective. As was the mask made of slotted wood that hid his face from voyeurs (much like the peculiar expression of satisfied boredom worn by strippers) whilst also appearing stiflingly claustrophobic.

The artist’s restricted movements pointed both to the (typically male) striptease audience hobbled by rules that restrict their responses and to the strippers who writhe about in the spotlights that were now highlighting Meneghetti’s tight-fitting, acid washed jeans. The physical limitations Meneghetti imposed on himself referenced the whole convoluted power dynamic of the striptease, stripped of clothes, stripped of money, either way you are exposed and you are performing.

Julie Traitsis’ video installation Open Embrace occupied the quieter, confined darkness of the AV gallery at Kings ARI. Invasive camera footage awkwardly enfolded the viewer into a tango embrace, Traitsis having strapped video cameras to the heads of a dancing couple. Two screens opposite each other showed the dancers’ looming faces as they self-consciously concentrated on their steps. The footage also offered peripheral glimpses of a suburban tango school with other couples in denim and tracksuits hesitantly practising the ‘dance of desire.’

The couple took turns wearing the camera-helmet as they rehearsed. The resulting neatly synched videos suggest simultaneous filming yet the recording contraption is never visible. This furthers the sense of intrusion, the viewer feeling pressed between the couple like an invisible chaperone; the unrelenting closeness of the head-held camerawork and the embedded flow of its movements turning the intimacy of the Open Embrace tango into a claustrophobic vise. As well, the privilege of being able to stare was made discomfortingly complex by the couple’s trust in Traitsis’ intervention. Their stilted expressions as they try hard to disregard the camera’s presence are awkwardly endearing, depicting the gentle discomfort of trust. With the humour of the situation quietened by this unexpected response to their predicament, Open Embrace becomes a genuine and disconcerting study in the complicated dynamics of proximity.

Engaging with Open Embrace is undoubtedly an awkward experience. Despite the closeness of the couple their tango is one of technical restraint, the effect disquietingly void of desire. The installation exacerbated this quality, with the flat screens mounted on clunky stands like hybrids of gym equipment and art easels. These heavy supports stood apart, allowing room for the audience to enter the dancers’ bisected embrace.

Lured like an insect into this space lit up by screens, the viewer attending to one video has the ever-present sense of the other behind them. This created an urge to oscillate attention between the screens, a pressure of captivation akin to the dancers avidly locked on their timing. Wedged in the intimate space of Traitsis' arrangement, the spectator becomes embedded in and tries to keep up with this skewed adaptation of desire.


Michael Meneghetti, Vixen, part of Nightclub 1, Pure Pleasure, curator Ulanda Blair, Next Wave, The Men’s Gallery, May 21; Julie Traitsis, Open Embrace, part of Next Wave’s Remote program, Kings ARI, May 9-31

RealTime issue #86 Aug-Sept 2008 pg. 46

© Amy Marjoram; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Back to top