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Bonemap: off centre, in balance

Gail Priest interviews Bonemap

Jim Denley, George Chua Kim Sen and Rebecca Youdell, Conflux Jim Denley, George Chua Kim Sen and Rebecca Youdell, Conflux
photo courtesy of The Cairns Post
Twenty-four hours drive north of Brisbane and 70km north west of Cairns, is Emerald End, homebase for interdisciplinary new media performance group Bonemap. As an urban individual it’s hard not to be fascinated by this choice of location; by the fact that you can drive that far north of Brisbane and still be on land, but more importantly by the implications and resonances of such remoteness for a contemporary arts practice. For Bonemap it’s the perfect situation for developing work that is interconnected, informed, and in itself an interpretive embodiment of place and environment.

Bonemap is Rebecca Youdell and Russell Milledge. Youdell is a choreographer and performer with a background in ballet, contemporary dance and movement practices such as Body Weather; Milledge, a new media designer and director, has a fine arts background. They formed Bonemap in 1999 to be a “hybrid mesh of live art, installation and new media.” Since its inception Bonemap has had residencies at Brisbane Powerhouse, The Australian Choreographic Centre, Tanks Arts Centre, Cairns and The Substation, Singapore 2001 (receiving the first interdisciplinary residency from the visual arts and performing arts panels of Asialink). Their work has appeared at festivals such as Experimentica 02 (Chapter Arts Centre, Wales), Worms Festival II (Plastique Kinetic Worms, Singapore), New Criteria (The Substation Singapore) and L’attitude 27.5 (Brisbane Powerhouse). They were also part of the first Time_Place_Space cross-disciplinary investigations at Charles Sturt University in 2002 (see RT 53). I met them in Brisbane where they’re working on their current investigation, Bridge Song.

Inspired by Brisbane’s legendary Story Bridge, this work is an exploration of interconnectedness, of the impact of the environment on flesh. Milledge describes it as an intimate work for solo musician, dancer and projection design. Much of Bonemap’s work has a site-specific outcome, but Bridge Song will take place in the Judith Wright Centre theatre. Milledge says this is a conscious move to develop a stronger audience base in Brisbane. However they have conducted extensive research on the bridge through site-based performative explorations, filming and sampling of the bridge and its environs. The work has grown from their urban/rural spatial dislocations and an investigation of architectural iconography. Milledge says, “the transition from a kind of remote rural working environment to an urban environment is about the different sense of space and it’s not something easily put into words. It’s a perceptive, cognitive thing. There’s an awareness developed in open space that’s compressed in an urban environment. One thing we were wanting to do was look at an urban location and overlay our perception of space.”

This layering of non-urban time/space perception and industrialised environment indicates an ongoing preoccupation with what Milledge and Youdell term ‘decentring.’ Working so far from the supposed creative hubs of urban environments means that they have been very active in encouraging an expansion of arts culture within the local community, both with Bonemap and through their involvement with Kick Arts in Cairns. It also offers more opportunities for cross-cultural pollination. Milledge says there is such “a diversity of cultural types in Northern Australia...there’s more reference to closer neighbours [in PNG and the Asia Pacific] that you don’t really get in southern cities...We like to collaborate with artists from those backgrounds. We want to engage with a practice that’s land based, grounded in the geography of where we are. It’s not about something that is imagined—that old Australian mythology of imagining the geography of another place.”

With Body Weather as foundation in both artists’ practice, it is not surprising that environment plays such a vital role in their work as site, in new media manipulations or as the basis for experiential body-memory choreography and improvisation. Bonemap has incorporated these elements into a notion of ecology that extends beyond simplistic notions of the natural environment, to incorporate a performance ecology. This is ecology as a “spatial reference” with inter-relationships and connectedness as the central principles. Milledge says, “Although we are seemingly based in this flesh-against-earth paradigm, we’re also interested in this imagining of ecology as virtual systems” which can come about through the relationship of live and mediated performance.

So how does the new media content function within this performance ecology? Youdell states, “It’s had different modes really. We have tended to create work that’s modular. There would be some cinematic component, as well as performative and some sort of exhibition. It’s been quite separate in the past so we’re just beginning to look at integrating this more closely in a performance context. You always see the performer in front of the screen and we’d like to go beyond that and integrate it.” Milledge adds that projection is “convenient and almost too easy. The idea of engaging with a remote location, like a marble mine or a lava tube is, obviously, that you can film that location and it can be transposed into a theatrical setting. I guess there [are] other ways at looking at the relationship between environments and performance which are to do with internal body nerve memory kind of stuff. There’s an incredibly obvious element to cinematic projection in performance, and I think the kinds of performer interaction with projection turns cold on an audience unless it’s the audience manipulating it in some way.”

The guiding principles of ecology and decentring also create a practice that is collaborative and interdisciplinary. The Bridge Song project will be an interplay between body, image and sound with Youdell and Milledge working with Brisbane-based musicians Erik Griswold and Vanessa Tomlinson (Clocked Out Duo). In 2004 they plan to continue a collaboration with improvisational musician Jim Denley and work with Singapore’s Lee Wen, who performed the Yellow Man at APT3 (Asia Pacific Triennial) in 2000 and Simon Whitehead from Wales, both of whom have “walking practices”—performative journeys through public spaces. Planned for the Brisbane Powerhouse, they envisage this work will be durationally oriented, though its form—theatre or media based or both—hangs enticingly in the air.

Bridge Song, Bonemap, Judith Wright Centre, Brisbane, Jun 12-14.

RealTime issue #54 April-May 2003 pg. 45

© Gail Priest; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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