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Slippery subject, slow drowning

Gail Priest

Hannah Furmage, Scoring Dope for Sally Hannah Furmage, Scoring Dope for Sally
photo Tania Doropoulos
In the history of the Sydney underworld, the names Sally Anne Huckstep and Warren Lanfranchi have taken on the aura of legend. Lanfranchi, gunned down in the back streets of Chippendale, has been canonised by a new generation with the naming of an alternative warehouse artspace in his honour—The Lanfranchi Memorial Discotheque. The story of his girlfriend Sally Anne Huckstep—found dead in a pond in Centennial Park—has recently been used as the inspiration for performance artist Hannah Furmage’s Scoring Dope For Sally, as part of Artspace’s durational performance series.

Durational performance is physically and mentally challenging at the best of times, however Furmage pushed this close to its limits as she lay fully submerged in a fishtank full of live (and eventually not so live) eels. In a wetsuit to prevent hypothermia, hooked up to an aqualung, sporting high heels and long blonde wig the image was certainly impressive, and awe-ful. The underwater sounds were sampled and manipulated live by Wade Marynowsky to great effect, with bubbles breaking down to static and a melodic drone that always seemed to suggest something very, very bad was about to happen. There was a sense of parody about Scoring Dope For Sally—a reflexiveness about the idea of durational performance—just how hardcore can you get without chopping off vital appendages? But the image suceeded in creating a lingering anxiety. The knowledge that the physical act was incredibly uncomfortable created a keyhole of pathos into the image and the story itself—an empathetic unease. The gently floating body, tendrils of hair mingling with the lithe eels and autumn leaves seemed bizarrely peaceful in contrast to the implied violence. The resonances of the aquarium setup piqued a disturbing sense of voyerusim.

At what point do famous stories and images become public property? The Huckstep family, hearing of the “play” being put on at the “Artspace Theatre” (The Sun Herald) objected to the unauthorised use of Sally’s story. But, sympathy for the family aside, how can you stop part of a city’s collective imaginings being used as impetus for an artwork? The threat of legal action proved toothless and the performance went on, complete with rottweiler and bouncer on the door enhancing the underworld feel—a fine example of durational performance in which the effect of the imagery itself was as strong as the shock tactic of the performative mode.

Hannah Furmage, Scoring Dope For Sally, Artspace, May 8

RealTime issue #61 June-July 2004 pg. 14

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

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