Obiter dickta

The camera transforms its operator into a creep. The eye not pressed to the viewfinder holds a wrinkly squint. So the camera operator always appears as if she or he is semi-disgusted with what has been found in or orchestrated especially for the viewfinder. Long hours, for some, are spent like this. The squinting eye is only partially idle, guiding … seeing and not seeing … idling. And so it’s with this eye that we also witness Lane Cormick’s performance, within a busy exhibition opening, via which we are party to many other acts of observation, there is so much looking.

Nina Simone begins her performance at the 1978 Montreux Jazz Festival by adopting a graceful deep bend in a long black dress, her hands held in supplication for a few moments, while the audience applauds. Once upright she distractedly begins singing to herself or perhaps just mouthing the first phrase before she takes the microphone to begin performing. Be my husband and I’ll be your wife. There aren’t many shots of the crowd, most of the footage is a close-up of Simone’s face and there is one lingering shot of a cameraman hovering in the background, behind her grand piano. Be my husband and I’ll be your wife. Cormick holds a projector, displaying this footage of Simone now rendered orangey black, and he aims it at a woman I’ve never seen before. The woman wears a black singlet tucked up into her bra, so that her stomach and her lower back are bare, and available for projection, sorry the projection. Simone singing. Love and honor you the rest of your life. If you’ll promise me you’ll be my man. Simone’s eyes are wide open and wild. The woman holding and not holding this footage on her body as she moves across the space, she looks somewhere, but not at us, and not around the gallery and not at Cormick. If you’ll promise me you’ll be my man/I’m gonna love you the best I can.

The exhibition space, during the performance, compressed the viewing experience, more so than usual: in addition to the audience of bodies who lined the walls and occasionally shuffled past Cormick and his performer, the repeated xeroxed portrait of ‘lost’ soul musician Lee Moses served as a kind of compacted, coded and symbolic scenography. The floor was also recovered in a collage of cut-up Adidas tracksuits, black with white triple stripes, perhaps a reference to Jesse Owens, or perhaps not. Repetition and doubling served to draw the sculptural and the performative elements together in a loose twirl.

Cormick’s projection was a careful and relentless shuffle, to his subject’s eurhythmy or, even, whim. Over the 40 or so minutes’ duration, a twisting and turning to the comparative stillness of our spectatorship didn’t serve to fully communicate the connections between all these portraits: Cormick’s self-portrait as projectionist, the woman as dancer and as projection screen, Nina Simone, Lee Moses and even we, the audience, caught in the viewfinder of the guy documenting the performance.

Last month many of us experienced Yvonne Rainer’s ‘Trio A’ ‘transmission’ sessions in Perth, Melbourne and Sydney, as well as Kaldor’s 13 Rooms, where the celebration, reinterpretation and recontextualisation of 1960s performance practices and aesthetics (rather than politics) have been given an overwhelming cross-institutional tick. By contrast, Cormick’s performance is a refreshing turn about the room because there is sex in here, even if it’s not good sex. The performer is hunted down each time, while successfully falsifying relaxed and languid movement, playfully and seductively enacting pose and repose. But maybe that’s just your writer inferring seduction, based on at least one instance of slow motion tousling of her own hair, her exposed midriff and her disinterested gaze loosely focussed on the middle distance, that even regular opening-goers are never easily able to fake.

Lane Cormick, Janis, TCB, Melbourne, 27 March – 13 April 2013.

Exhibition and performance by Lane Cormick, 27 March 2013, TCB

Exhibition and performance by Lane Cormick, 27 March 2013, TCB

Exhibition and performance by Lane Cormick, 27 March 2013, TCB

Exhibition and performance by Lane Cormick, 27 March 2013, TCB

Exhibition and performance by Lane Cormick, 27 March 2013, TCB

Gotta dance

Tarantism by Joachim Koester is a film prefaced on letting go. Bodies writhe and lash around the screen in attempts to release themselves. Watching these photogenic bodies move around, we are hypnotised by the rhythmic metronomic projector throwing up the images. Hypnotic trances, when working well, open up sideline spaces, enabling the focal point to shift from the centre to the edge.

I Participate
Wisps of hair flick through space, hitting the edges of the frame, cutting, yet always seductive. In these moments, intensity is not generated from within the torso, but instead expands beyond boundaries towards unknown trajectories: the rapture of letting go when you can’t see the function of the body, its extension into an abstract ideal, the whiplash of hair from a spasmodic head reaching beyond its line. An image hits off the body, off its form, and transmutes, to scratch the edges of a screen.

II Watch
A body is writhing on the floor while the other performers stand around and watch in a circle-like shape, a roda. Robert Hinton, writing in ‘Black dance in American history’, for the 1988 American Dance Festival Program booklet, distinguishes between dual audiences where, a) the dance can be created for the benefit of the dancers, where the experience for the audience is secondary, and b) the dance can be created for the pleasure of the audience, where the experience of the performer is secondary.

Here, in its rigidness, the polarity between the writhing dancer and viewing/inactive performers situates the space and the incongruity of this moment in Tarantism so that it feels like the edge of the peak. As the performers bandy together they cleave energy off one another to gather momentum for their tarantism. In the circle the inactive performers watch the active dancer’s seizure-like rapture as a precedent to perform, to dance. In this sideline, the investment, the articulation and the relationships shift. This is not to define the gestures, but to create a lineage and use it as a vessel for focus, to delve further, go deeper, get lost.

III Release
The dancers stop. Puffed out, breathing heavily, showing the exertion of their sustained performance. The panting completes the dance. Without it we can’t expel our own breath or even recognise we’ve been holding it.

Without it we can’t recognise what we’ve gotta do.

Gotta dance.

Joachim Koester: Tarantism, Ian Potter Museum of Art, University of Melbourne, 20 March – 2 June 2013.

Joachim Koester, ‘Tarantism’, 2007, 16 mm black & white film installation, 6:31 mins

Joachim Koester, ‘Tarantism’, 2007, 16 mm black & white film installation, 6:31 mins

How to explain YouTube to a dead hare

You may not know this, but late in 2012, Anish Kapoor released a version of Psy’s ‘Gangnam style’ in support of the plight of Ai Weiwei. (Ai’s freedom from incarceration by the Chinese state is a pet crusade of click-happy slactivists the world over. You really must do your research before coming to my Stamm; I can’t spoon-feed you forever.) And not since 1984, when a Republican advisor said to Ronald Reagan, ‘Let’s put some heartland rock into this campaign—try talking about that patriotic Bruce Springsteen number with the cheerful birthplace affirmation’—has such embarrassment resulted from one man’s attempt to rouse the masses through song.

If a lesson can be drawn from these disparate musical forays, it is this: the appropriation of a pop culture phenomenon is fraught with risk, particularly for those who don’t know how to dance.

Joseph Beuys couldn’t dance but at least the man wrote his own material. In 1982, he produced ‘Sonne statt Reagan’, three minutes of anti-nuclear, anti-Reagan Euro pop featuring Jesus Christ on drums.

With little attention to the mainstream appeal of her work, Laurie Anderson has been exploring the relationship between technology and communication for over thirty years. An artist, musician and ceaseless innovator, her curriculum vitae reads like one written by an ambitious yet troubled adolescent avoiding their geography homework. To wit: Anderson invented a voice filter enabling her to speak in a masculine register; she invented a vegan fiddle bow; she was the first and only artist-in-residence at NASA; in 2007, she received an award for her ‘outstanding contribution to the beauty of the world and to mankind’s enjoyment and understanding of life’; and in 2010 she collaborated with husband Lou Reed to perform a concert at the Sydney Opera House—for dogs.

Anderson is a renowned raconteur. Fitting then, that the Anne & Gordon Samstag Museum of Art’s survey exhibition The language of the future was selective, intelligent, engrossing and affecting—testament to the power of expert storytelling. At the opening, Anderson spoke of the death of her grandmother while playing an altered violin and balancing in skates atop two blocks of melting ice. I’m told that she was reluctant to have the performance filmed, most likely to privilege the experience of her attentive audience. Or maybe she’s seen enough crappy video on the internet, and suspects that YouTube is where avant-gardism goes to die.

Laurie Anderson, The language of the future, the Anne & Gordon Samstag Museum of Art, University of South Australia, Adelaide, 1 March – 19 April 2013.

Laurie Anderson, ‘A story about a story’, 2012, artist book, hard cover. Photo: Sam Noonan, courtesy Samstag Museum of Art, University of South Australia

Laurie Anderson, ‘A story about a story’, 2012, artist book, hard cover. Photo: Sam Noonan, courtesy Samstag Museum of Art, University of South Australia

Laurie Anderson, ‘From the air’, 2008, single-channel video projection, clay figure, dimensions variable. Photo: Sam Noonan, courtesy Samstag Museum of Art, University of South Australia

Totally none of my business

I wanted to make work that looked synthetic and graphic in its depiction of space, being heavy on the ‘Modern Painting’ trip (dominantly hard-edge abstraction) and also looking as if the compositions have been constructed in real space, sculptural and landscape. A melding of paradoxical spaces. The works have a play on a light source which reveals a certain sense of depth by the fall of the shadow, while the shadows themselves in some cases are wrong and allude to some fakery or bad coding on a video game or CGI. The paint is treated thickly and stresses to retain and exaggerate the coarseness of the bristle.

Trevelyan Clay, For the shadows fall, OK Gallery, Perth, 13 June – 14 July 2013.

Trevelyan Clay, studio, 2013

Trevelyan Clay, not yet titled, 2013, oil on linen, 56 x 75 cm

Trevelyan Clay, not yet titled, 2013, oil on linen, each 56 x 75 cm

Trevelyan Clay, not yet titled, 2013, oil on linen, 56 x 75 cm

Trevelyan Clay, not yet titled, 2013, oil on linen, 56 x 75 cm


Talk it out

The performance show I should’ve stayed in Sydney for was Work out at the MCA. What I stayed in the MCA for was William Eggleston’s video work Stranded in Canton, 1974—documentary photography turns absurd trip that held me far longer than 13 Rooms. I shouldn’t have been surprised that a packaged blockbuster of performance work was upsetting.

The 13 Rooms problem that really stuck was substitution (there were a few others—see below). Substitution of the artist for another performer is problematic when the hinge of the original work was the artist’s reclamation of agency over her own body. This hinge is almost completely reversed in the re-objectification of women’s bodies through the replacement of a very particular body (subject) with any other hired female body (object).

When Abramovic pins herself to the wall, nude in a spot light, for indefinite periods of time she exerts agency. When a number of anonymous women are paid to do the job for her they become objects of a higher authority. About turn. It’s just not the same thing to watch someone paid to suffer, as it is to watch someone who chooses to suffer.

Repeat re Joan Jonas’s work.

The substitution problem isn’t specific to 13 Rooms, but put it in the mix with the contextless mist of that exhibition and the crux of the work is hard to find.

So, re-presentation of performance over time.

Tino Sehgal’s This is new, 2013, was the only work that shirked the curatorial heavy hand. The invigilator who said ‘O’Farrell comes out for gay marriage’ was the single performer in the show not choked by the shuffling factory line.

I’ve been waiting a long time to be Sehgaled, so there was that too.

Sehgal, who doesn’t allow documentation of his works and only verbal sales agreements, has got something in this no paperwork no photos please policy. Radical immaterialism. Radically visible evasiveness too.

Re-performance and controlled transmission were also rolled out at the Trio A workshop held recently at VCA. Yvonne Rainer has a very particular way of facilitating the ongoing life of her iconic 1966 dance work. I sat down with Ash Kilmartin and Eliza Dyball to talk about their involvement in a workshop run by one of Rainer’s ‘transmitters’, Sarah Wookey. Eliza and Ash spoke of, and in, the language of Yvonne and Sarah—check in, tune up, take away.

Speech and the body. We talked about trying to close that gap—a gap that is wider for most of us than it is for a dancer. Eliza recalled an exercise where they each notated the dance and another participant then performed those instructions. The result was apparently often miles from the intention, which speaks of shift through the subjectivity of language.

Ash perceives in dance culture an acknowledgment that over time a work will change since it is passed down through the body and every body is different every day: ‘you’re not the same body two days in a row’. Sehgal and Rainer both transmit their work primarily through speech and both use the body and voice to either allow for or resist a shift in the work over time. Choreography expects another body to perform the work. And choreography acknowledges time. For those reasons Rainer’s and Sehgal’s works have a built-in protection against misrepresentation over time. Choreography not as a means (of instruction) but as a method (of making).

Sehgal controls the form, as Ash pointed out, and the content of the work is allowed to re-form each time it is performed. If the form of the other works in 13 Rooms were preserved, the content was all talk.

My rant about 13 Rooms includes, and this is an architectural as well as communication hitch, that the lack of context given about the works meant we became voyeurs popping in and out of the 13 white boxes like it was a freak show. The poetic and political was lost to the spectacle.

Also, the ‘coincidence’ that when I visited the exhibition each of the works involving women had the performers passive—often nude—and in those involving men, the performers were active. I went to the catalogue—the last hope—to find essays by four men and no women’s voices. But that was just a coincidence too so it’s cool. Lazy curatorial non-decisions left a bad aftertaste.

And (last one, I promise) what a slap in the face that the opportunity to contextualise Australian performance practice in this canon of significant international works from the last thirty years was used to show work by the very early career Clark Beaumont duo (not that their work isn’t strong and interesting—which is beside the point) rather than acknowledge the key works of this mode from recent Australian art history—Rrap, Parr, Stelarc …

13 Rooms, Kaldor Public Art Projects, Pier 2/3, Sydney, 11–21 April 2013.

Work out, MCA, Sydney, 22–28 April 2013.

Thanks to Ash Kilmartin and Eliza Dyball.

William Eggleston, ‘Stranded in Canton’, 1973, video, 77 mins

Marina Abramovic, ‘Luminosity’, 1997, re-performed for Kaldor Public Art Project 27: 13 Rooms, 11–21 April 2013

Sarah Wookey performing Yvonne Rainer’s ‘Trio A’ at Viva! Art Action, Quebec, 2011


TV Moore’s ‘The dead zone’ at AGNSW

In New York in February I saw the exhibition NYC 1993: experimental jet set, trash and no star, which I wrote about briefly for Stamm. Perhaps the most interesting thing for someone from my generation (born 1980) was its attempt to historicise 1993—a ‘period’ from my own lifetime. There was a bank of video monitors on the upper floor that grounded the included artworks through that year’s daily news cycle and emphasised the fact they were made in time, bound by real events from the prosaic to the extraordinary.

Last week in Sydney I saw TV Moore’s The dead zone, a work from 2003—exactly a decade later. Now a decade old itself, I wondered if it too was somehow emblematic of its time. What did 2003 look like in the art world? Was it any different from 2013?

Moore’s work achieved some profile when it was first exhibited. I think it was reproduced in Art & Australia and RealTime, most likely other places too. My feeling is that at the time I only ever saw reproductions and read about it, but nonetheless the work entered into my understanding of early millenial video art in Australia and lodged there.

The work is lo-fi in a considered way, a quality that in hindsight feels like it speaks of the period. Three years earlier Shaun Gladwell had shot to acclaim with the balletic skateboarding of Storm sequence. As with Gladwell’s use of slow motion, Moore employs a similarly simple trick during editing; a figure running (and stumbling) through the streets of Sydney in the cold light of dawn is filmed backwards then replayed forwards.

This effect grants the slowed-down action a certain heaviness and emphasises gesture and movement in interesting ways. It’s also strikingly cinematic, but in a way that remains non-specific. By this I mean that the work recalls any number of moving-image sequences yet these are never fully articulated; if there is a narrative it remains off-screen.

This calculated ‘fuzziness’ of intent leaves The dead zone open to interpretation. Its representation of urban anxiety is undeniably bordered by the SARS crisis of 2003 and the memory of September 11’s falling towers, but all this remains non-commital. Any gravity it might touch on is instantly defused by the feeling that Moore seems equally aware (perhaps more so) that the grainy urban vista of his work is also the stuff of zombie movies and rap videos.

In fact, the film-maker Spike Jonze used a similar backwards/forwards editing trick in 1995 when he directed the video to the Pharcyde’s ‘Drop’, a direct echo that reveals how culture circulates and how artists like Moore work.

For me this reference locates The dead zone perfectly—the pathos that carried ‘Drop’ in 1995 retreats just the right distance to become inflected with the kind of nostalgia that might justify its reinterpretation in 2003. This lapse also allows its dominant motif—figures moving through urban streets—to collect other references to events both real and imagined, to in a sense become populated with transient memories of the intervening time. Popular culture merges with the real world, but in doing so the features of each blur together and are rendered hazy. Unpegged from anything specific, The dead zone just might be about anything at all.

Is that what 2003 looked like?

TV Moore, The dead zone, 2003, dual-channel DV/DVD, John Kaldor Family Collection at the Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney.

TV Moore, ‘The dead zone’, 2003, dual-channel DV/DVD, colour, sound, each 3:30 mins

TV Moore, ‘The dead zone’, 2003, dual-channel DV/DVD, colour, sound, each 3:30 mins

TV Moore, ‘The dead zone’, 2003, dual-channel DV/DVD, colour, sound, each 3:30 mins

Paddle-pop populous and farcical femme-fatales

Mario Armando Lavandeira, Jr, aka Perez Hilton, had his first child on 16 February this year, appropriately named Mario Armando Lavandeira III—the mother a surrogate, the conception facilitated with a donor egg.

Cloning, copying, reproduction, redemption.

Gossip, someone says, is the production of something from nothing. A kind of Warhol-infused neo-Faustian bargain. A dialogue with the devil—aesthetics ‘n’ ethics. A schematic backdrop to mundanity.

Sue Dodd’s Best of: a survey of Gossip Pop, presented ever so briefly at Techno Park Studios, was a Mike Kelley-Day-is-Done-esque (minus the absurd narrative) immersive installation, which transformed the once kindergarden into a kind of lo-fi-sci-fi video-file den. Seductive and silly, the ambitious three-room installation presented several new satirical video works alongside a Gossip Pop compilation. At times droll and occasionally sardonic, Dodd’s performed and animated New Weekly (or is it Women’s Weekly?) chants an absurdist yes or no response to a series of speculative rumors—the slippery pages of the gossip mag become Beckettesque in a Quad kind of repetitive way—the outcome unimportant while the pattern is prolific, the irrelevancy of the question Is it true? existentially revealed.

Amongst the humorous and self-reflective multi-channel-but-on-a-telly-not-projected installation, backdropped and furnished with faux-silver-forms-cum-stage-props, a kind of melancholic void pervades—Gossip Pop may perform on the empty stage surrounded by her looped-video ghosts. Dave Hickey suggests Warhol wants us to be redeemed by representation. Dodd repurposes the voices of digital deities whom we consume, digest, passively accept and occasionally ignore. Twelve dead musicians: Kurt, Janis, Jimmy Hendrix, Morrison, Michael Hutchence, Winehouse, Nico, Karen Carpenter, Bon Scott, Freddy Mercury, Sid Vicious and Brian Jones, resuscitated, re-animated, brought back to life on a vertical flat screen, just managing to declare in a catechistic whisper—




Sue Dodd, Best of: a survey of Gossip Pop, Techno Park Studios, Melbourne, 23 March – 14 April 2013.

Sue Dodd, ’12 Most wanted’, 2012, single-channel video with stereo sound

Sue Dodd, ’12 Most wanted’, 2012, single-channel video with stereo sound

Sue Dodd, ‘Fame puppet’, 2010, single-channel video projection with stereo sound

Sue Dodd, ‘Gossip Pop may perform’, 2013, microphone, mike stand, NW magazines (2004–13), portable PA, laptop with iTunes visualiser playing selected Gossip Pop songs play-list on shuffle playback, duration: 58 mins, headphones, cardboard, silver tape, 240 x 250 x 250 cm

Sue Dodd, ‘Encyclopedia of Gossip Pop’, 2013, 8 single-channel videos with stereo sound, looped playback, headphones, cardboard, silver tape, 378 x 197 x 262 cm

Sue Dodd, ‘Gossip Pop may perform’, 2013, microphone, mike stand, NW magazines (2004–13), portable PA, laptop with iTunes visualiser playing selected Gossip Pop songs play-list on shuffle playback, duration: 58 mins, headphones, cardboard, silver tape, 240 x 250 x 250 cm


The cultivator: Hou Hanru

Two images from Hou Hanru’s Melbourne lecture last month stayed with me. Hou is the curator of this year’s 5th Auckland Triennial, If you were to live here … 

The first was an early black & white image from his student days in Beijing through the 1980s. The image he projected showed students standing on ladders pasting handwritten bill-posters all over a building—all over its façade. Hou used the image in the same way an artist might show early formative work. The picture was equal-parts building, student crowd and big-character text climbing the walls. Hou said it was the sort of activity he was involved in all the time in Beijing in the years before the events of Tiananmen Square. As a precursor it gives some practical reason for his preferences for display and process, which typically involve a melange of institutional partnerships, public excursions, interdisciplinary workshops, residencies and collaborations.

In the same week that Hou spoke at Asialink, I found myself in front of Stephen Bush’s painting Cultivator, of the same era as Hou’s student days. It’s a terrible gesture to draw equivalences too quickly, but I imagined Hou’s project and the Bush running in conceptual parallel, as method or critique of culture or civic progress. The painting has a faintly suspicious feel about it—hard to place, but an aspect that might in the 1980s have been called ‘postmodern irony’.

The second of Hou’s images that took my interest followed discussion that in contemporary China there are now something like 12,000 new museums under construction or almost completed.

This image was a diagram of how Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas planned to implant a museum in a new residential development in Guangzhou. Koolhaas and Hou had negotiated with a local developer to reposition an initial idea for a museum space, shifting it from a sequestered interior forecourt to an accessible rooftop position. Koolhaas had come up with a design that linked the rooftop museum via lifts to a street-front foyer with project spaces and studios inserted at middle height in the building. To me it is interesting too that this museum, like most new cultural initiatives in Asia, was a private initiative. From the developer’s viewpoint, the art museum helped brand the complex through the design and construction phases of the building in a way that was attractive to new residential buyers. Once well-established, I am guessing that the museum would be given over to the future collective residential ownership.

‘If you were to live here … a conversation with internationally renowned biennial curator Hou Hanru’, with Natalie King, Utopia@Asialink, Sydney Myer Asia Centre, Melbourne, 15 April 2013.

Big-character posters, China

Stephen Bush, ‘Cultivator’, 1987, oil on canvas, 132 x 198.2 cm, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne

Rem Koolhaas’s design for Times Museum, Guangzhou, China, 2005