Exist In 08

Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts and Metro Arts, Brisbane; USQ Artsworx, University of Southern Queensland, Toowoomba; Pinnacles Gallery, Townsville; Media Commons, Mackay
22 – 26 October and 1 November 2008

Over six days Exist In 08 offered challenging, diverse and breathtaking live art performances, questioning notions of identity, sexuality, pain and time. All events, including the daily forums, panels and discussions, were linked via Skype, with viewing hubs at Pinnacles Gallery in Townsville and Media Commons in Mackay. Live art has lacked a dedicated focus, leading many of its core ideas to be diffused through other disciplines. Curated by Zane Trow and Rebecca Cunningham, Exist In 08 sought to refocus and reconnect those core ideas. Audiences were immediately confronted with a fragmentation of experience as performances occurred simultaneously, allowing us to move between them and observe their temporal transformation. The use of space was also very uncharacteristic, with many artists sharing the space with the audience, even to the point of having to get out of the way or watch where you stepped.

In Bodytime-Timebody Helge Meyer (Germany) spelled out ‘TIME’ with what initially appeared like slender brown leaves. On noticing their quivering dispersal and movement, however, I realised he had released thousands of worms onto the floor. Seated at a desk he attached wooden clothes pegs to his face, which, as he twitched his brow, cleverly amplified his gestures. He then sticky taped large boulders onto his torso and dunked his head into a metal bucket filled with water. The following night Meyer gave a lecture expounding the ways pain is transformed into the visual as a means to make it ‘real’ to our senses. It is paradoxical that pain, the most intense emotion, evades tangible communication—the only medium of pain is the body itself.

On the second night Jürgen Fritz (Germany) performed a minimalist but remarkably heightened performance. With impressive focus he began slowly swinging a bell, silently, back and forth, beautifully symbolising the desire to express, but being unable to do so. As his efforts increased, we finally experienced that first chime, a sound synonymous with institutions. With still greater ferocity, the sounds ricocheted as he drained, eventually wheezing in exhaustion. Fritz responded exactly to Meyer’s concept of the role of the trickster figure who can change the senseless into something that makes sense (and vice-versa).

Richelle Spence, a Brisbane based artist performed Madness = Reason, confronting her own past struggles with mental illness. She littered the performance space with deeply personal artifacts, urging us to rummage through them—Newstart agreements, Seroquel pill packaging, relapse prevention plans and government mental health pamphlets. Richelle periodically vented her aggression, boxing-out against the wall and writing responses to the audience—‘how do I control thoughts with thoughts?’

Cautiously, I entered the cluttered space of Alicia Jones’s In Memory Of A Tree: The Reflection where she delved into an understanding of her mixed Caucasian and Tasmanian Aboriginal identity. Surrounded by empty bird cages, she sat on a swing and painted her skin black, she wrapped a soaking wet Australian flag around her head and began wailing, attracting the bemused attention of passers-by.

Michael Mayhew (United Kingdom), still in search of his sister Carole, drove a 4WD across Australia, collecting up all sorts of thoughts and a lot of dirt, bones and sweat. With a video camera mounted on the dash of his 4WD, he recorded vistas of shaking flat horizons, the red desert split down the middle by a road. He presented this long visionary excursion, reading a touching monologue of his thoughts while driving in isolation, ‘what’cha do with all this space?’

Fiona McGregor (Sydney) performed an excruciatingly intense six hour durational work meditating on Australia’s shameful legacy of asylum seeker incarceration. One by one audiences were hooded and bound in silence and darkness. They were then relocated into another space where the hood was removed and where they confronted the artist sitting in front of them with her lips sewn. They were then led to another space where they would observe the next audience member at the shocking moment the hood was removed. Audience members felt confronted, isolated and confused as to how they should act or think, compounded by the acceptance of their own complicity and the process of surveillance.

Abject Leader (Sally Golding and Joel Stern), a cornerstone of Brisbane’s expanded cinema scene, staged a suitably corporeal performance of Photo-Chemical Hallucinations. A bleached white Golding stood in the strobing caterwauling space as faces were projected over her face—her eyes and lips moved beneath the projected image. Images of rib-cages, breasts and lungs were projected onto her torso. Using simple turntables and hand processed films they produced an illusory and distorted ‘chromo-sonic’ experience.