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Rebecca Cunningham, Chambers Rebecca Cunningham, Chambers
photo Rachel Cobcroft
CHAMBERS IS THE THIRD IN A SERIES OF EXPERIMENTAL HAPPENINGS ORGANISED BY THE ADVENTUROUS BRISBANE BASED CURATOR/ARTIST REBECCA CUNNINGHAM, EACH OF WHICH HAs SET CONTEMPORARY PERFORMANCE AND SONIC ART AGAINST AND WITHIN CAREFULLY DESIGNED CONSTRUCTS OF INTERVENTION, CHANCE, MULTIPLICITY, IMPROVISATION AND INTERACTION.

Musicircus in 2004 (RT 65, p43) emanated from Cunningham’s deep fascination with the music and philosophy of John Cage. Flux-US in 2006 similarly paid homage to avant-garde tradition, this time extending the scope further beyond sound into intermedia performance. Both shows hinged on often problematic processes of re-enactment, an especially difficult proposition when it comes to highly contextualised radical work. The results can be confusing and amusing; for instance, the classic piano chainsawing act in Flux-US was in reality a fairly tame gesture, but still garnered some requisite notoriety via an unintentionally hilarious piece of sensationalist tabloid moralising in Brisbane’s Courier Mail.

Chambers is Cunningham’s first event to shed the cover of historical precedent and focus exclusively on new work. It’s also the most controlled and exploratory event, structurally and spatially. In six discrete chambers, partitioned by heavy black curtains, six works take place simultaneously, with the audience free to circulate and interact in any manner. The only element formally common to all the works is the set of headphones required to enter each chamber’s distinct sound world.

Chamber 1: Alicia Jones

We enter a dimly lit backstage dressing room. Assorted costumes are hung on a theatre rack. An actress studies herself in a mirror, tries on this and that, and paces the space in dissatisfaction. The transient audience voyeuristically observes the self-consciously awkward nature of these physical transformations. Later I return to the scene: chaotically chopped hair tufts, a circle of bones, a sense of something magical occurring. I have no idea what has happened in the interim.

Chamber 2: Rebecca Cunningham

A video projection of blurred lights, a cityscape gushing smoke, flickering or shivering. This is a disaster scene, familiar enough to anyone who consumes such dystopian news images on a daily basis. Which city is this—could it be any city? This is a chamber without a performer. Empty. The detached, distant, almost anti-social atmosphere is both unsettling and somewhat of a relief.

Chamber 3: Jan Baker-Finch

An intensely focused hobo dancer is dressed in black garbage bags. Chalk-rendered memories or fantasies (in fact, three brief extracts from Samuel Beckett’s Worstward Ho) are scrawled along the floor. A grid of rabbit-shaped plastic moulds forms a wall. We hear the sound of the garbage bags swishing and rubbing, a melancholy sound that intensifies the schizophrenic intrigue of the scene. Inside the headphones, entrancing hypnotic piano pieces (compositions by Philip Glass) begin to generate a total perceptual transformation. In a place of unknowable dysfunction we clearly recognise a synchronous dance to the rhythm of death, loss and perhaps most pervasively, hope.

Chamber 4: Robin Fox

The silent flickering green lasers of classic science fiction. Without sound the eyes are free to absorb even more movement and scope within the impossibly complex and inventive shower of light beams transforming the space. Fox demonstrates the control he has over this stimulating process, creating morphing pulsating concentric circles of light which wrap around the bodies of those who enter, enclosing them in a translucent glowing capsule. Inside the headphones sound and image are re-united, the overarching synaesthetic structure of the contraption revealed.

Chamber 5: Richelle Spence

A pseudo-religious ritual of scrolls, candles, and symbolic costume, presided over incongruously by a power-suited woman, who occasionally breaks into a morose lament for something lost or absent. This spectacle sits uneasily between the private and public: are we voyeurs or participants? Headphones play the tweeting birds of the summer countryside. Later I return to find the performer with fingers spread, a prosthetic glove set alight at the tips. I read a scroll: “something we were withholding made us weak, until we realised it was ourselves.”

Chamber 6: Rebecca Cunningham

A room divided by displaced rolls of heavy grass on one side and scattered rocks on the other. A woman sits silently in a wedding dress; she inhabits this space as an object, but the space also feels constructed out of her ‘memories’—real or imagined? ‘Family history’ snapshots are pinned to a board made of wine corks. Snippets of incidental conversation and ‘forgotten’ pop music play inside the headphones. This ‘memory room’ is perpetually strung between poles, suspended in a unique tension. Social/isolated. Childhood/adulthood. Silent/sonic. Memory/artifact.


Chambers, curator Rebecca Cunningham; Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts, Brisbane, March 5

RealTime issue #79 June-July 2007 pg. 36

© Joel Stern; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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