You are running late, craning your neck for parking in a packed North Melbourne at late evening. You circle a roundabout and spy a center spot in an adjacent street.
Solid, open, three-meter high wooden doors delineate urban streetscape and the Victorian cobblestones of the Arts House Meat Market. Most of the audience has already cleared the antechamber. With your hurried focus directed towards the theatre’s entrance, a loud tick accompanied by a physical presence on the floor accosts you. You turn towards the sound and are momentarily disturbed by a still, stuffed garbage bag with the form and mass of a body. Recognising this as an installed object, your attention is redirected towards the entrance. The ticking seems stronger now. The murmur of the rest of the audience, your shoes clicking along the cobblestones, the electronically enhanced reverberation of the installed body bag reacts with the natural reverberation of the hard floors and high ceilings. You feel primed to listen.
You accept the program notes and are directed to sit at the far seating bank. Glancing at the A4 in your hands you scan an essay reflecting on the distinction between self and other. You recall this show is a reimagining of an old Ingmar Bergman film. You think you’ve seen it, was it 10 years ago? 15? Gosh.
Crossing over the threshold into the cavernous Meat Market, the faint light from the outside falls away and you have difficulty continuing your reading. Your ears quickly become your dominant sense again as you adjust to the darkness. The score is in a resting state, a pickled selection of pre-recorded sounds. Your eyes lift up. There are two sheer mesh panels awaiting projections, silhouettes of the performers are visible in between them. Smaller, opaque projection screens offset right up to the walls complete the square. You approach the seating rostrum, scanning for people you recognise. There are a few familiar faces but no free seats.
Past the screens and performers you see the far seating bank. Walking towards the rear of the space, your view of the performers becomes unobscured by the projection mesh. A swarm of cables, computers, a violin, a double bass and attendant performers—already immersed in their screens—become clearly visible, then obscured again. As you sit down, you notice another projection screen behind you. You have a feeling of being surrounded. No…cornered. A feeling exacerbated by the thought of a long, conspicuous walk to the entrance if you did want to leave.
The first visual indication of movement. Two digital clocks on the walls. One displays 00:01, the other 1:23. Clocks circling the duration of the performance. The projections punch into life. Grayscale faces are superimposed, intertwined. Their gaze is diagonal looking to the middle distance. The absurdity of their look fleeting inflates in your diaphragm. A breeze of mirth, not quite overflowing into the staccato exhalations of knowing theatre laughter. Faces sit in the frame like a midday soap opera. They belong to the musicians processing the sonic signals surrounding you. Stacked on one another, shining through two screens from opposite directions with reflections haphazardly muddying the final image. And at the nexus of the images, you can make out the performers silhouettes deliberately working among an electronic musical tech landscape of intermittent LED flashes.
Direct lights poke at your eyes, absorbing and desaturating the occasional colour in the projections. The palette remains persistently grey. The electronic score pokes similarly. Familiar baroque strains blindside you. You can see a silhouette of a violinist, but their sound is distributed around you. It recalls Persona for you somehow. A comfortable film music feeling—an accessible crutch in the contemporary score. A single violinist plays. Their efforts seem multiplied somehow. Multiple strings vibrate at once. Elongated chords permute with a single bow pull. This comfortable music is discordant with an avant-garde aesthetic, and it sits in your throat.
Again projections. Again computers. Again sparse instruments. You check the clock, counting up. You are squirming more in this performance than usual. Most of the time you find performances quieten your inner monologue, but not this time. Your attention is swamped by the repeating relentless stimuli. You lose the immersion of transport, your inner monologue drifts to the world outside this one created by the artists. You check the clock counting down.
A performer moves towards one of the smaller side projection screens. The film sputters into revolution with a mechanical whirring. This physical ignition brushes against the pre-programmed audio-visual sequencing. All surfaces of the audio-visual topography are activated with bodies. The flat depictions reach towards new spatial dimensions through their topography and relation. Your awareness shifts towards the myriad lenses that are being constructed. These videos capture moments which, although constructed for the camera, were once live. They grew from conversations and artistic inquiry, that grew from a common point of inspiration, itself a film. And you are located within them. Your presence in this setting completes it. They are other to the selves they depict. They are other to yourself. You are other to the person sitting next to you. You are other to the performers. But the whole requires this assembling of self and other.
The bodies on screen are depicted as landscapes. Slow panning shots of legs dislocated from their owners are impressed on textural backgrounds. Layered hands and faces follow. Found footage of a monk on fire flickers in front of you. These iconographies attempt to provoke you. Needling at meaning. You find yourself wishing that you had watched Persona more recently. Maybe that would give you more access to this work, that feels less penetrable as as the clocks countdown. Water pointedly drips on a contact microphone. Found sounds, live instruments and computer manipulation wash around you. You are at sea in this work, buffeted in a vortex of diverse but repeating forms. You dwell in this sensory overload, allowing your mind to quiet. Repetition as meditation.
Your outward environment mirrors your inner world. The projections cease and space becomes dark. The Meat Market’s natural reverberation holding soft echoes of sound in persistence. A performer walks towards the side projectors. She deliberately packs it away, clickingly. She rolls up the 16mm film. The clocks reach the end of their temporal oscillation. Counted to 0:00 and 1:24.
Image credit: https://vimeo.com/121005699