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movement is rewarded

bernadette ashley: bonemap, cove


Rebecca Youdell, Cove, Bonemap Rebecca Youdell, Cove, Bonemap
photo Suzon Fuks
BONEMAP’S COVE, AN IMMERSIVE ‘INTERACTIVE MEDIA ARTS EXPERIENCE,’ FELT LIKE A TEAR IN THE SPACE-TIME CONTINUUM, A PLACE APART, WHERE ERAS OVERLAPPED AND DISSOLVED, AND WHERE I COULD ACCESS MEMORIES NOT ALL MY OWN, BUT ACHINGLY FAMILIAR NONETHELESS. THIS APPARENTLY SIMPLE, BEAUTIFUL AND EVOCATIVE WORK, JUST 10 MINUTES LONG, CREATED A LEISURELY AND TIMELESS SPACE WITH WHICH THE VIEWER COULD INTERACT WITHOUT THE DISTRACTION OF NOTICING THE TECHNOLOGY, STRATEGY AND SWEAT SUPPORTING THE ‘EFFORTLESS’ EXPERIENCE.

My anticipation was heightened immediately at the booking phase when I (and every other viewer) was given an individual timeslot and the luxury of being an audience of one. This was principally due to the limitations of the technology involved (including an infrared tracking system), but Bonemap exploited the strategy fully, erasing the general expectation that numbers are everything in terms of audience. Without feeding off others’ reactions, the single viewer was compelled to rely on their own sensory and psychological responses, allowed to ‘own’ the space and to interact with the set and the solo performer, without interference.

After being primed by an usher while waiting in the foyer—”…movement is rewarded!”—I was led along a corridor to a doorway with a black drape, which built suspense while giving away nothing of what was beyond. The curtain was drawn back to allow me through, and my first brief sensation as I made out the wide circular enclosure of black scrim in the semi-darkness, was of being nine years old, agape in the Melbourne planetarium. I had to look back momentarily to check with the usher whether I should continue further forward. He gestured to keep going, then retreated, closing me in. I tentatively stepped down into the simmering fog of ankle deep dry ice to find that, yes, there was a floor underneath, I was not going to fall through to China. Piles of trunks and suitcases formed the perimeter of the ‘cove’, low in front, rising in hills behind to frame the single entrance/exit.

A moth or butterfly appeared high on the scrim and, following its flight, the ambient soundscape began to intone differently as I moved around the space. The moth was replaced by particles that could have been moondust or fog, and the power of the viewer to affect the projections quickly became apparent. I began to raise and wave my arms and walk back and forth, creating a black ‘hole’ in the fog which followed my movements. Then, mid-wave, the projection faded, an extended world beyond the scrim dawned. A woman in a red satin dress pulling a large travelling trunk was waving back at me.

From the safe haven of my cove, I could see a strange geography, teetering islands of luggage emerging from a suggested sea. The soundscape creaked and bubbled, reverberating with a low throbbing reminiscent of the industry of a port heard from underwater. The slight woman (Rebecca Youdell) continued to slowly make her way along a presumed dock, periodically pausing to squint into the distance as if looking for a familiar face waiting to meet her. If I smiled and waved she responded. Eventually she stopped and gestured at the trunk. I mimed that I wanted her to open it, and she did. Bending forward as if to take something out, she instead slowly disappeared into it, red shoes waving in the air as the scene went to black.

Waves washed against the walls of my cove, leaving me with a thousand questions about the fragile-looking lady in red. Why she was alone? Had she fallen through the world to China? I resumed exploring my space, opening a random case to reveal what looked, in the dim light of the projections, like vintage glass laboratory equipment, which I rapidly attempted to replace as I found.

The world beyond reappeared suddenly, and the woman was back, on one of the hillocks of cases, looking for something. Like an animal, she scrabbled around, sniffing the air, alert and primal even in her civilised finery. She singled out a little red valise, listened to it, then opened it to speak lovingly to something or someone inside. Back to black, back to wondering idly about the narrative I’ve witnessed, while playing with the projections, now clouds.

Then it’s sunset in the world beyond the cove, and the lady in red has transformed into a sea bird flying from the setting sun, her pleated dress now wings, her shadow looming huge on the scrim. She wheels in flight to follow my movement around the cove, as overhead a projected flock joins her migration. The sun sets and I must leave.

Bonemap’s Russell Milledge and Rebecca Youdell are masters at milking the power of suggestion and gesture to create rich visuals and engaging narratives. As they note, “the research funding for this work was focused on technical innovation” (primarily the interactive tracking systems), but they prove once again that technology becomes art when infused with their breadth of imagination. Following themes developed in their earlier work, The Exquisite Resonance of Memory (2008), Cove takes the viewer on a sensory journey through the ambiguous territories of colonisation, displacement, migration and memory, never pinned to a specific time and open to the viewer/interactor to question, interpret and colour with their own experience.


Bonemap, Cove, media design Russell Milledge, performer Rebecca Youdell, sound Steven Campbell, programming Jason Holdsworth; in association with Kick Arts Contemporary Arts and James Cook University School of Creative Arts; JUTE Theatre, Centre of Contemporary Arts, Cairns, April 29-May 1

RealTime issue #97 June-July 2010 pg. 24

© Bernadette Ashley; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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