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Cat Jones, The Plantarum: Empathic Limb Clinic, Proximity Festival Cat Jones, The Plantarum: Empathic Limb Clinic, Proximity Festival
photo Fionn Mulholland
Partaking in Perth’s Proximity Festival makes one feel a little like Alice in Wonderland, inducing an expansive tumbling sensation of descending into a deeper, hidden consciousness. Held throughout the late Victorian home of the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts (PICA), the festival sees one artist and one audience member come together in spaces for intimate, personalised 15-minute performances.

Each audience member encounters a series of these micro-works throughout the evening. They can select a program of four works lasting 80 minutes, or a marathon of all 12 performances lasting four hours. I attended two programs over two nights. Here is a selection of what I found when I slipped down the rabbit hole.

The Plantarum: Empathic Limb Clinic

A mobile field laboratory set up in PICA’s main gallery space, The Plantarum explores the synaptic relationship between humans and flora through a blend of neuroscience, mirror therapy and the horticultural technique of grafting.

Drawing upon the niceties of Victorian etiquette, artist Cat Jones invites you, the subject, inside her laboratory, a stimulating environment where Victorian botanics, modern science and technology are enmeshed. Jones then undertakes to generate an empathic connection between human and vegetation, lodging a neural graft via mirror therapy to ‘attach’ a botanical growth to the subject’s hand. No Frankensteinian horrors occur, just a gentle brushing of a soft leaf upon the hands. At the same time the subject watches a screen which shows the hands as they receive this treatment, interspersed with images of the leaf seemingly grafted to and growing from the subject’s fingers.

It is recommended that the subject contemplate the scion daily, absorbing it into the consciousness to lead to a greater connection with botanical species. While I am yet to tune into any messages conveyed by my garden’s subsystem, this piece was a complex, immersive and inventive experience in which to contemplate the possibility of forming a deeper bond with the greater vegetative kingdom.

Loren Kronemeyer , Remains Management Services, Proximity Festival Loren Kronemeyer , Remains Management Services, Proximity Festival
photo Fionn Mulholland
Remains Management Services

Loren Kronemeyer wants to ensure you make an educated decision when it comes to choosing how you want your physical remains handled after death. She provides you, her client, with multiple options for managing your remains, ranging from traditional means such as burial or cremation, to environmentally friendly choices including biodegradable casks and crematorium carbon offsets, as well as more elaborate plans such as being sent into outer space.

Kronemeyer offers to document your “remains plan” to serve as a true testament of your wishes that may hold some legal weight if any contention arises. This element adds tension and a twist to the work, where the participant is faced with the potential of generating a binding document within a performance environment. While the idea of my remains being turned into a diamond or having a burial cairn built in my backyard sounded enticing during the performance, pledging to such a commitment or even a more traditional option was something I couldn’t commit to in the moment, which certainly raises the stakes in terms of the participant’s investment in the performance.

Sarah Elson, Incendia Lascivio, Proximity Festival Sarah Elson, Incendia Lascivio, Proximity Festival
photo Fionn Mulholland
Incendia Lascivio

Sarah Elson invites you to deconstruct her large art piece comprising manifold miniature metal castings: invites you to melt it, in fact, and then re-cast the metal to create a new work. Elson nimbly guides you through the concerted effort of managing fire and crucible to produce a small sculpture of West Australian flora. I was captivated by this process. A flower is set in plaster and fired by a kiln, which completely disintegrates the bloom but leaves an intricate fossilised imprint of the flower in the plaster. By melting the sculpture taken from the artist’s initial work and then re-casting it in this plaster mold, a new and distinctive bloom of coppered elemental splendour springs forth, which Elson humbly presents to you as the custodian of this particular piece of her reworked art project.

Gallery of Impermanent Things

Stillness is often difficult to achieve, particularly during a festival where you may have just come from a performance where you were a sniper who had to hunt or be hunted or blindfolded in a room with a Minotaur. Stillness and calm is, however, achieved in Daniel Nevin’s portraiture exhibition which leaves only a temporary trace of his subject and work.

Combining elements of traditional photography and digital imaging, Nevin requires his subject to reach a point of perfect stillness while a long exposure in a darkened room captures his/her image. Simultaneously, the exposure is projected onto a surface covered with phosphorescent paint, whereby the projected light activates the paint to capture a portrait reminiscent of 19th century Daguerreotypes: ghostly, self-consciously reposed and lacking in the benign and beaming poses that we enact for the camera today. The phosphorescent image eventually fades, returning the gallery to darkness once more. The work is fleeting like performance, like memory. Nevin explores our obsession with trying to capture and preserve ourselves, asking us to delight in the unique exchange of a small moment and reminding us that nothing—particularly the image of the self—is permanent.

Proximity Festival, curators James Berlyn, Sarah Rowbottam, producer Sarah Rowbottam, program A artists Elise Reitze, Cat Jones, Humphrey Bower, Loren Kronemeyer; program C artists: Sarah Elson, Moya Thomas, Janet Carter, PICA, Perth, 23 Oct-2 Nov

RealTime issue #118 Dec-Jan 2013 pg. 41

© Astrid Francis; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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