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Indelible Indelible
The contention that our sense of self is not unified, but rather radically split and divided, has a long history in contemporary aesthetics and philosophy. After World War 2, this idea became particularly associated with theories about memory and sensation. Put simply, our concept of the self is an illusion which, upon closer examination, is revealed to consist of nothing more than a blizzard of free-floating sensations, memories, fragments and moments, a shattered pattern of pieces hanging in a corrosive sea of time—“like tears in the rain” as the replicants of Blade Runner tell us.

Though this is an evocative proposition, it has become a cliché of contemporary avant-garde art, underpinning operatic performances as varied as Jenny Kemp’s Still Angela, Company In Space’s The Light Room and the Philip Glass, Robert Wilson masterpiece Einstein on the Beach. The overwhelming mastery of the latter work especially means that it is a brave artist who draws upon such models today.

At first glance, choreographer Simon Ellis’ Indelible seems to rest on this much-tilled soil. Fragments of recalled memories are replayed as video and sound. Furtive resting-places are briefly established within the gallery, while the audience cautiously moves about, trying to capture these elusive moments. Smoky pools of light bounce off the white walls as the performers write on surfaces in a failed attempt to diarise their thoughts. Even the movement seems to come and go, to suggest and glance off firmer shapes and emotions, without actually capturing any entirely established world or event. It’s all shards and pieces, scraps and patches, in which even the possibility of actually seeing every moment of the performance is deliberately denied the audience in the absence of a stage, defined seating area or other formal certainty.

The effect is entirely consonant with the idea of the divided self, but somewhere something darker, more ecstatic and more imponderable occurs. Moments recur, touches and elements are evoked and return in a deferred sense, but a kind of gentle chaos intrudes. Where Jenny Kemp paints characters who finally become resolved to their expanded, multiple sense of self, Ellis produces something closer to a mnemonic auto-da-fé. The pieces represented are not so much knitted back together to form a collage as they are broken, erased and pushed even further into a propulsive, unarrested formlessness. With only the barest temporal and emotional rises, Ellis creates a sense of an increasing trajectory of shattering and division. The final image is of a woman dressed in white, prone, mouth open as water (white with the light upon it and the walls behind it) drips into her throat, an absent, almost sadomasochistically-consumed blankness written on her face and body. As one of the texts inscribed on the walls during the show reads: “She sat on the bank and drank oblivion of her former life.” What is left remains blurred even within the memories of the spectators.

Indelible, Choreography & video Simon Ellis, dramaturgy Tamara Saulmick, sound Lydia Teychenne, lighting Alycia Hevey, design/installation Elizabeth Boyce, costume Marion Boyce, performers Natalie Cursio, Suzannah Edwards, Marion Jenkins, West Space Gallery, Melbourne, Feb 1-15.

RealTime issue #54 April-May 2003 pg. 36

© Jonathan Marshall; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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