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High anxiety, vivid wondering

Keith Gallasch: Nicola Gunn & Jo Lloyd, Mermermer

Nicola Gunn, Jo Lloyd, Mermermer, Liveworks 2016 Nicola Gunn, Jo Lloyd, Mermermer, Liveworks 2016
photo Gregory Lorenzutti

It’s as if, out walking, you’re passing two joggers who have slowed to do stretches, their muttered, barely audible utterances riding on breathy exhalations, overlapping as if each speaker knows the other so well that talking in disjunctive tandem is a given. When this foggy sussuration clears a little, you hear mention of innocuous specifics—sex, giraffes. The conversation is funny, everyday, as silly as the awkward, lurching moves the pair make, the work’s harp-like minimalist score meanwhile anchoring us with its sane, sweet pulse.

The sense of intimate, exercised entwinement will return, but for now playfulness takes over: arms and legs disappear beneath large grey blanket-like outfits, rendering the pair variously swaying objects and crawling critters, garlanded with glittering strands fallen from above (costuming by Shio Otani). As they play, one rattles on about addiction—nicely matching the pair’s obsessive drive and monstrous fantasy-making.

What ensues makes this vision seem a mere diversion. In an astonishingly sustained scene of furious entanglement, frightening in its risk-taking, artful in its remarkable synchronisation, the pair engage in countless holds that evoke all-in-wrestling, extreme sports workouts, chiropractic, cramp treatment and the excesses of Eurotrash dance. Heads fly past each other with apparent millimetres to spare, arms swirl and swipe and the talk—youth, beauty—goes relentlessly and unbelievably on.

The pair’s oneness, expressing mutual dependency, perhaps dangerous co-dependency, is at once profound, in its care and artistry, but equally banal in its profusion of pointless exercising and rabbiting on. It’s seriously parodic.

One of the pair adorns herself with a mass of glitter, again fallen inexplicably from above, and circles the stage, breathlessly pondering what she wants to be and why “Tilda Swinton pops up in funny places.” It’s mildly parodic.

Jo Lloyd, Nicola Gunn, Mermermer, Liveworks 2016 Jo Lloyd, Nicola Gunn, Mermermer, Liveworks 2016
photo Gregory Lorenzutti

A gentle rattling, first train-like, is underscored with a heavy shuffling and thumping beat which sets the pulse for the compulsive little three-step dance that the pair, now wordless, execute, moving in parallel, drifting apart in wide circular trajectories and, as ever, drawn together. But this final union is unusual. Side by side, facing into the same corner from which they had entered, each balances on one leg, heads, torso, extended arms tilting down, as if rendered statues, fading into black. The scene is a baroque conclusion to an otherwise wild scenario. But how wild? The fantasies are trivial, the exercise-saturated activity banal, however viscerally engaging and funny. It’s ultimately a dark vision.

The artists’ program, describing the work as a “phantasmagoria,” details the etymology of their invented title, Mermermer, its association with MERMER (forensic “brain fingerprinting”), memory and memoir (from the Latin and Greek) and “Indo-European mer-mer: ‘to vividly wonder,’ ‘to be anxious,’ ‘to exhaustingly ponder.’” These states Mermermer successfully induces.

The work has clear kinship with Nicola Gunn’s Piece for Person and Ghettoblaster, which also follows physical and verbal (and moral) exhaustion with a dark reverie. In Mermermer, performance-maker Gunn, typically droll, delivers the solo spoken passages and dancer Jo Lloyd’s distinctive choreographic precision is evident most of all in the challenging entanglement duet. This charismatic team has produced an engrossing work—surprising, visceral, satirical, simply funny and, worryingly altogether something else.

Performance Space, Liveworks Festival of Experimental Art: Mermermer, concept, direction, choreography, performers Nicola Gunn, Jo Lloyd, lighting design Matthew Adey (House of Vunholy), composer, sound designer Duane Morrison, costume design Shio Otani; Carriageworks, Sydney, 2-5 Nov

RealTime issue #135 Oct-Nov 2016 pg.

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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