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Almost Always Everywhere Apparent, still, Sonia Leber and David Chesworth Almost Always Everywhere Apparent, still, Sonia Leber and David Chesworth
OVER THE FIVE YEARS SINCE ACCA OPENED AT SOUTHBANK, MULTIPLE STRUCTURES GENERATING UNEASE AND CLAUSTROPHOBIA HAVE BEEN CONSTRUCTED THAT RECONCILE, AND AT THE SAME TIME, EXPLOIT THE GALLERY’S CAVERNED INTERIOR SPACES. COLLABORATIVE ARTISTS SONIA LEBER AND DAVID CHESWORTH HAVE MOST RECENTLY BUILT SUCH A MICRO-ENVIRONMENT WITH THEIR INSTALLATION, ALMOST ALWAYS EVERYWHERE APPARENT.

A dimly lit foyer acts as a transitional zone between the bloated scale of the ACCA lobby and the core of the installation. This spartan, rectangular void offers a brief moment of stimulus deprivation heightening the sense of immersion that follows.

Open the next door and partially illuminated in neon-pink is a corridor. It veers slightly, concealing its course. Traversing this eerie segment, a digitised crackling noise from above creates an auditory itch. Fragments of choral music also echo in short bursts down the narrow space. The resulting eclectic theatricality is rather like Lara Croft meets the Vatican, in this consecrated low-rent sci-fi set.

Emerging from the passageway some people grin with excitement while others peer out nervously, overwhelmed, into the dark ovoid central space. Five corridors splay out from this shadowy zone, each illuminated by turquoise or lime-green light. Leber and Chesworth seem to replicate the dynamics of Jeremy Bentham’s panoptic prison architectural system, where a central concealed overseer observes a perimeter structure of permanently silhouetted figures.

Accentuated by the splintered choral singing, the installation equally hints at ecclesiastic architecture, of cloisters and interior domes. By combining panoptic and cathedral inspired space, the installation highlights their shared architectonic logic of an omnipresent overseer. Yet, there is a phenomenological disjunction between these two architectural systems.

The church utilises psychologically uplifting atmospherics to reduce bodily awareness, conjuring a sense of being closer to a godly presence. Ceiling details prompt faces to look skyward, reducing the sensation of being grounded, and an often-grandiose scale translates its unconfined nature with a disembodying effect. Conversely Bentham’s panoptic administration, by making the overseen conscious of their silhouettes and of being forever overheard through tin channels, constructed a constant reminder of physical confinement. Leber and Chesworth work the tensions between these two spatial demands.

The abstracted choral sound bites emanate from above where, hanging in the black interior sky of ACCA’s hulking gallery, rests a circular projection screen. This screen hypnotically offers a slowly spinning dull metal propeller behind which warm hued petal shapes move as though the viewer is pushing up through them.
Almost Always Everywhere Apparent, installation Almost Always Everywhere Apparent, installation
photo John Brash
The quasi-spiritual mood this uplifting movement induces comes with a catch; if contemporary meditation is offered through this simulated, slowed-down centrifuge, the propeller is a barrier that would chop into you. Conjuring physical awareness, the spinning blades deny any sense of potential salvation.

Equally reminiscent of the visceral heaviness of the human body are the noises emitting from the corridors. If the choral music from above seductively evokes the human body in unison and as a hollow instrumental vessel, the noises below come from individual bodies dense with meaty organs from which guttural grunts and groans emerge. Full-bodied gurgling, crying and hissing burst forth as segmented sounds from all directions.

Animalistic yet distinctly human, this repertoire of pre-lingual expression is theatrical in its variety and discordant layering. As gallery-goers veer into the claustral corridors they experience a hiss from the side or an ‘uuuuggghhhhhh’ from the ceiling, like the phantasmic sound track of a ghost ride.

At the dead end of each corridor is a peephole suggesting, as in the panopticon, the opportunity for invisible witness. Lured towards this, figures in silhouette hunch and peer. Observing these observers forefronts the installation’s performative dynamic. The bent over heads appear attached to the wall, bathed in a cool neon glow, their posture suggesting stylised despair, repentance or even some sci-fi cranial procedure.

The videos Leber and Chesworth have concealed behind the peepholes each utilise one of two devices, depicting an upturned hallway so that figures wearing black appear to defy gravity, or showing an overhead perspective (in one, a bird’s eye view of an interior cathedral space). But with these distinctly different perspectival tropes, the artists fail to create an accumulative sense of disorientation. Easily visible monitor edges grounded the images, nullifying the capacity for the videos to further articulate the bodily tensions theatrically constructed by the built space and auditory layering.

Without this concentration of visual detailing the installation threatened to topple into overblown theatrics. Yet, what pulled it back from the brink was the rich complexity of sounds oscillating within its confines. These unstable collisions between spectral and corporeal evocations provided Chesworth and Leber’s phantasmic portal with a surprisingly taut density.


David Chesworth, Sonia Leber, Almost Always Everywhere Apparent, ACCA, Melbourne, Aug 10-Sept 30

RealTime issue #81 Oct-Nov 2007 pg. 54

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

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