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Antistatic 99

Architecture, body parts & language

Erin Brannigan: Antistatic 99

The 2 installations presented at antistatic consisted predominantly of film screenings. Anderson, Bram and Doig’s films were projected onto entire walls, Medlin’s films were scattered throughout the space in conjunction with lighting features and sound, and Everitt’s films were projected onto 3 screens as a triptych accompanied by a soundscape.

A common element across the works was architectural structures and space which interweaved tightly with the filmic dimension throughout. The situating of action within architecture, the projection of the work onto the walls of the building and the incorporation of structure as sculpture (including Doig’s staircase and arch which fractured the projected images) created a striking theme. I thought about dancing bodies I have seen drawn into a purely filmic space and live dancing which rigorously reworks the body’s surrounding space and the contrary tensions represented here—space and movement, volume and elasticity come up against each other in these works rather than integrate.

Medlin’s Choreography of Space exemplified this effect with its multiple approaches. She managed to convert the entrance hall into a cinematic simulacrum, the flickering lights combined with the progression along the corridor mimicking the cinematic apparatus with the participants/spectators themselves becoming the ‘moving image.” Upstairs and in the foyer Medlin created encounters with oversized body parts; an arm that beckons, appearing on a dark wall like a miracle and writhing across it before retreating and repeating; huge feet that measure out the guttering above the foyer.

A beckoning arm (or is it shaking off?) again becomes an anticipated moment in Everitt’s triptych, A Simultaneous Retracing. It reaches out of the dark centre screen towards the audience, disembodied and plastic, before withdrawing. Another theme emerges now—the representation of the dancing body. The dancer in this case is Rebecca Hilton who also almost appears in Doig’s work. Libby Dempster is the dancer in Medlin’s piece and Lucy Guerin features in Anderson’s Black and White and Animation. In all these cases, the dancers are subsumed into a choreography of images, providing articulate body parts, singular gestures and abstracted dancing figures within fields of motion which cover structural and sculptural surfaces.

Bram’s film, Kuala Lumpar 1998, is a landscape dancing with micro movements created through fast-motion. Anderson’s Eisenstein-esque montage featuring stone statues brings a kind of impetus to the static through rhythm. Hilton turns a corner again and again in Everitt’s work, figure and landscape hammered onto the same plane through repetition; beside this a hazy view of a room shaded from afternoon light imbues the domestic space with potential action. Collectively, these fields of motion seduce the spectator into participation—moving around the rooms, up the stairs, catching beginning/middle/end.

Doig’s The Other Woman featured alone before the Clavicle programme. Its sculptural dimension—a staircase and an arch—produced odd details; Doig’s painted lips in a close-up came to rest on the lowest step of the stairs. Close-up shots featured heavily in determining this ‘woman’—an-other woman who Doig plays in various guises. The close-up turns her face into a plastic surface whose micro movements constitute a kind of disembodied field of activity. She appears in harshly fabricated places; fake bricks and astro-turf provide a background for her heavily made-up and bewigged characters that seem caught mid-scenario. In striking contrast to Doig’s appearances in this work, Hilton is a faceless body moving through an indefinite space. She ‘dances’ in this work in a full-bodied, rhythmic way not seen in the other collective installation and the treatment of Hilton here brings to a head issues relating to ‘the dancer’ in such work.

The dancer is removed in these installations from a live performance space but included in an investigation and reconstruction of a performance space, putting the dancing body into a kind of productive crisis. This results here in disembodiment, fragmentation and transformation, a play with appearance and disappearance and a dispersion of the figure to become one amongst other moving elements. These observations arise due to the context of the installations within a dance festival. The conscious play with motion, space and the choreography of bodies and images explains their inclusion in antistatic and they represent an important interdisciplinary area of development. My question—why dancers—is perhaps about the fascination of the figure in such work and what the skills of the dancer bring to that.

Doig went some way towards answering this question in her discussion of The Other Woman as part of Atlas—a mixed programme of talks, screenings and the antistatic workshop showings. Doig said that she had brought Hilton into her project to develop a series of gestures for Doig’s characters, gestures demanded by the melodramatic tone of the work. The links between melodrama, movement, gesture and dance are logical but Hilton’s performance within the work sits outside this system. Doig explained that she wanted to keep Hilton anonymous so as not to complicate the already profuse collection of characters. All this amounts to an interesting and telling play within this work between drama and dance, face and body, character and movement.

Lisa Nelson, in discussion with Rosalind Crisp, spoke about what video has offered her as a dancer. Nelson picked up a camera when she stopped dancing for a while. When she returned to dance, she says that what she took with her from that experience was a new awareness of choice-making processes. From using the camera as an eye she developed an acute sense of focus and frame which informs her improvisational work—the imperative to move, to follow, to change. “Movement” has come to equal “choice” for her; she has worked her way back to this point. During the supper discussion later that night, the “thought” involved in this “choice” became the focus as she spoke of a “mind-body-dance” and joked about the intelligence going on behind the “narcissistic display” of dance performance—an intelligence that has had to be “outed.”

The struggle between movement and a verbal or written account of it which Nelson signals here (Nelson is co-editor of US magazine Contact) was an issue which developed further throughout the supper discussion (and indeed into the next day). Jennifer Monson struggled to speak—she provided a clear, straightforward voice throughout the festival for me—settling on dance as her ‘language.’ This reminded me of her comments at Susan Leigh Foster’s lecture at UNSW where we had worked our way back to a body released from technique which was heading towards being released from habit. Monson intervened to save the dancer’s own specificity—the peculiarities of physical language which make someone like Monson the remarkable performer she is.

Margie Medlin, Stephen Bram, Jacqueline Everitt, Ben Anderson, Elasticity and Volume, The Performance Space Gallery and surrounds, March 25 - April 4; Adrienne Doig, Rebecca Hilton, Peter Miller, The Other Woman, The Performance Space Gallery, April 1 - 11

Atlas: Tracie Mitchell, Adrienne Doig, Surething; Vikki Quill, Rosalyn Whiley, MaryAnne Henshaw, LayLeisurelyLay, The Performance Space, April 10

RealTime issue #31 June-July 1999 pg. 11

© Erin Brannigan; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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