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PVI's Terror Australis

Pip Christmass

PVI Collective, tts: route 65 (Perth) PVI Collective, tts: route 65 (Perth)
photo Bodan Warchomij
PVI Collective is a Perth-based new media and performance art collective with a mission to expose our deepest public fears and interrogate our most private experiences. Established in 1998 by performance artist Kelli McCluskey and visual artist Steve Bull, PVI’s members include visual artists, sculptors, researchers and performance artists collaborating on site-specific works for galleries and public spaces.

PVI’s work is grounded in conceptual frameworks both political and psychological, and is presented in a way that encourages audience interaction, making participants reconsider their assumptions about everyday activities. Their latest project, tts:australia, had its beginnings in tts: route 65, a performance produced as part of Perth’s Artrage festival in 2002. Billed as an “intimate, alternative sightseeing tour of the Perth cityscape”, tts: route 65 invited participants onto a customised 22 seater bus for a multimedia tour of local architecture and tourist attractions, creating a simulated pseudo-military “tour of duty” which sought to expose security lapses and hidden corners in familiar business and government-related sites.

The original impetus for the project was a consideration of the post-September 11 political climate as seen through the lens of the mainstream media. “tts” stands for ‘terrorist training school’, the project’s original title. In essence, PVI’s terrorist training consists of performance artists at the helm of a simulated mobile training school that is ‘alert’ and ‘alarmed’ in its surveillance of city streets—a satirical response to the federal government’s call for the public to be on the look-out for potential terrorist threats in the wake of September 11.

Four days before tts: route 65’s opening in 2002, the Bali bombings hit the newspaper headlines. At the behest of the show’s sponsors and out of respect to those who died on October 12, the show was postponed and remounted in December 2002, using the abbreviated acronym. However, the project’s topicality was, if anything, reinforced as the mainstream media picked up on Western political leaders’ renewed commitment to the ‘war on terror’ and re-instigated heightened security alerts across the globe.

The positive response to tts: route 65 enabled PVI to secure funding for a 3 city eastern states tour of the project. Having conducted extensive research on sites of interest in each city, and with a rotating roster of city-specific volunteers and collaborators, tts:australia kicks off in Sydney on March 17, then travels to Melbourne and Adelaide.

Exploring the theme of terrorism as a form of social control, tts:australia is a response to the media’s role in creating a climate of fear amongst individuals and communities and, at the same time, a consideration of the way this mediated climate affects our understanding of our geopolitical landscape. This climate of fear can translate into wariness about the safety of living in our own cities and homes, affecting our sense of place in both public and private spheres.

Conceptually tts:australia draws on everything from the tabloid media’s war on terror, Charles Darwin’s survival of the fittest, Nietzschean philosophy, Hollywood action films, conspiracy theories, military training manuals and the works of various terrorism theorists and analysts, including Walter Lacquer’s influential book Terrorism and Andrew Sinclair’s Anatomy of Terror.

The project engages with the idea of urban mythology, taking well-known sights, monuments and buildings and removing them, in the psychology of the viewer, from their established context or significance via “on-site activities that just don’t quite ‘add up’: paranoid tour guides, security defects, bus inspections and simulated ‘training’ exercises... Passengers are forced to question their susceptibility to scare-mongering. Where does the caution end, and the unnecessary panic set in?” (

Steve Bull says the tts tour aims to disorientate its audience by playing with their perceptions and preconceptions through black humour and satire. How well do we really know the cities in which we live? How secure are we going about our everyday lives? Are threats to our safety in the public sphere real or imagined? And to what extent do we internalise the war on terror discourse we are exposed to via the mainstream media?

The most crucial aspect of tts’ “tour of duty” is its interactive and participatory nature. McCluskey says the tours are intended to challenge the notion of tourism as a passive act, and performance art as a one-way delivery of meaning from performer to audience. One of the core concepts behind PVI’s work is the idea of exchange between performers and audience: “We’ve always wanted to find a way of directly involving people in the work, whether it be volunteers getting involved on the spot, or people working directly with us”, McCluskey comments. “A lot of the projects we’ve done involve members of the public actually coming in and experiencing the work—either unwittingly, or by filling out a questionnaire online and then joining in...I think people are becoming a lot more receptive to this style of performance art. We’re really interested in the idea of breaking down barriers between performers and audiences, the idea of the audience becoming really immersed in the work.”

In keeping with tts’ multimedia focus, PVI Collective has produced a DVD to accompany the tour. tts: recruit will be available as a limited edition DVD on sale at performance sites, but will also be available to rent in video stores. As a “step-by-step guide” to military recruitment, the PVI DVD draws on traditional recruitment formulas—motivational videos, aptitude tests, game-play and role-play scenarios—to critically interrogate the methods by which a heightened state of alert is translated into a combat mentality.

A critical reader will also accompany the project, incorporating essays, writings, images and research intended as a conceptual “back-up” to the live work. “It was really good for us to be able to write about the work”, says McCluskey. “You don’t normally get a chance in performance art to talk about the processes of what you’re doing. We wanted to be quite playful with it; it’s a kind of training manual that you can refer to during the tour, or read afterwards as a companion to it.”

tts:australia is a truly multimedia performance art concept. It is deeply conceptual and politically questioning, but also promises to be a great deal of fun. In the words of PVI Collective: “Join up. Board the bus. And hold on to your seats.”

tts:australia, written, filmed and performed by PVI Collective in collaboration with Version 1.0 (Sydney), Cicada (Melbourne), Drive by Shooting (Adelaide), March 17-May 22

RealTime issue #65 Feb-March 2005 pg. 20

© Pip Christmass; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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