Showing posts with label Review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Review. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 13, 2023

On Aliens, Landscapes, Deep Diving and the Golden Runes of Art - Ella Baxter

June 13, 2023 0
On Aliens, Landscapes, Deep Diving and the Golden Runes of Art - Ella Baxter
It is peak hour on a Tuesday evening. I dodge black umbrellas and run across wet cement noting as always, that this far into Melbourne there is always a plastic-wrapped capitalist sheen to the bastard honking streets. Forty-Five Downstairs is an art gallery located in the lungs of the city and tonight is the opening of Rebekah Stuart’s latest exhibition, Orison. I’ve known Stuart for more than five years and this exhibition is evidence of her seemingly effortless commune with (as she says) something primordial, something divine. I am a big fan. A devotee. I always have been. 
Stuart, in the furnace of all her agitation and fury at the past few years, has managed to forge a utopia. These are atmospheric works, with moody skies, cresting waves, oceanic mists, and verdant, sun-lit waterholes. They are familiar, but they are also untouched. I think of the Night’s Plutonian shores that Edgar Allen Poe dreamed of. I think of Jupiter and her ninety-five moons, and also another poem, but I forget the author, who wrote that the sky above is an aerial ocean. In the thick throng of the crowd I bump into people trying to get closer. Someone sits down to get a better view. Someone else stands on their tip toes. I smell breath and perfume and the wool of the person’s coat beside me. We are clustered lemmings about to fall.
Let’s talk about place. Let’s talk about the artists role as navigator, as tour guide, as developer. Stuart is well versed in traversing inner landscapes before translating them two dimensionally. In this exhibition, she has sliced tiny slivers of intergalactic, otherworldly planes and pressed them between two pieces of borosilicate glass for us to contemplate. Stuart says this work came from an inner craving to understand the minutiae and magnitude of the world around her and to envision a pre-colonised land. Orison was made with urgency during the pandemic, growing alongside her search for home, while she uprooted herself from the city and attempted to resettle up North. But Neptune could never. Stuart has created a counterpart to earth. She has unpicked the fabric of time and space and pushed us through to another side, and we can only thank her. 

She has unpicked the fabric of time and space and pushed us through to another side, and we can only thank her.

Art can be artless. Galleries can be sink holes to the underworld, where hands rise from the floor to grab your ankles and drag you down to munch on your face and body and hair. Galleries can feel like money mausoleums. Stuart is exhibiting her inner worlds at a gallery perched on the edge of a man-made crater. Directly at the foot of her exhibition are mechanical excavators, compactors, and cranes. Out the window, a whole ass building has been lifted from the centre of the city by its roots. On a bad day this gallery could be a vault, a lair, but right now it is fertile ground. Stuart’s work blooms in the space. Is it bioluminescence? Or at the core of each piece has she dabbed gold? Can gold and neon mix or meet? How many textures has she added and subtracted? I need to know how many layers are hidden in each landscape.  The luminous works appear backlit, and in response the crowd flocks, desperate winter moths that we are, gunning for her light. This is a good time to mention the dancing. 
Marina Abramović says that in a city, the people are the nature. Three dancers including Stuart, walk into the space and stand in front of the window facing the crater. Clad in pale things, floaty garments, loose hair and barefoot, they are wide-eyed and lucid as if just born in the next room. Aliens. Creatures. They begin to move in and around each other. It is a dance, but it is also a reassembling. It is a dance, but it is also a hatching. Stuart leads the dancers deeper into the space to stand in front of her beautiful portals. The creatures become gargoyles, sentients to the landscapes they now block. They are trolls that dare us to cross. The crowd transforms again from moths to water, and the tide of bodies retreat to allow the three to move. And how do you write about movement and art? What do three beings look like in a dystopian coin cage in the guts of the city? Can dancers turn from guard dogs to oceans to sediment, churning? I would have to say yes. Washed out. Panting. Weathered. Barking. Sliding around on the fucking wood floor. Collapsed. They are together as one and then they are spread apart. Legs as arms and arms as heads. This is not the first time Stuart has done this.

There is something a little alchemical in what good artists do. They don’t just reference the past or future but rather bend everything that has ever existed sideways, until it all cracks open. They eat whatever flows from that space, chew it, and then spit it into the mouth of the viewer. Mother bird, baby bird.  Initiated by the performance, we are ready to leave our mortal plane and transport into the worlds of Orison. Words leave me for dead, and only another borrowed line from a poem comes to mind, this one by Robert Macfarlane in which he has the forest talking to time. Year, year fledge me a jay, and the year  (Stuart in this case) responds, I will fledge you a jay that will plant you a thousand acorns that will each grow a thousand oaks that will each live a thousand years that will each fledge a bright-backed, blue-winged, forest-making Jay. 

In her artist statement, Stuart says Orison is born from discomfort, displacement and inner agitation. She mined herself for sadness and anger, pulled each thread of feeling until she made art that functions as a memory of home. Stuart has distilled the peace of being in the natural world in this unnatural environment. In a closed space, filled with people desperate to see, she has cut windows for us all.

Ella Baxter, a writer and artist, has released her debut novel, New Animal, in Australia, the UK, US, and France. Her second book, "Woo Woo," is scheduled for release next year: Website

Rebekah Stuart Orison 
30 May – 10 June 2023 
fortyfivedownstairs, 45 Flinders lane, Melbourne, 3000, Australia

Monday, November 9, 2020

REVIEW: Topography of Breath 2.0

November 09, 2020 1
REVIEW: Topography of Breath 2.0

From The Synopsis: 

Topography of Breath 2.0 is a virtual encounter with skin, flesh and breath, which takes from Toh’s ongoing exploration of the body in relation to productivity and exhaustion.

live stream performance, Performance Art, Wednesday 28th of October, 8pm, 2020 

Approximately 45 minutes

CO-PRODUCTION: ARTFACTORY SUPPORTED BY: National Arts Council, Singapore & OH! Open House 


Topography of Breath by Pat Toh takes what would be short fun scenes in a science fiction-like film and draws them out into durational experiential nightmares of physical endurance. A figure suspended, twisting and turning in black space, gasps for air and vocalises strain and effort into the void. Repetitive exercise type movements create rhythm with a steady and hard breath. The body is dissected by shifting video panels.


Toh's stamina and physical application is impressive, rousing the same type of appreciation usually reserved for athletes. Her anxious rants reveal an internalised cultural dialogue of striving, competing and self-reliance. She is alone, isolated but also crowded by the expectations of family, culture and work. I wanted to reach out and offer some peace to her hurried mind.


As our world edges into catastrophic environmental and social meltdown, and science fiction becomes reality, it’s time to confront what that means as an experience and take the time to feel and acknowledge the physical strain. Toh has put her body on the line and takes us on that journey. The detachment of the human species from the planet, from the ecosystem and from others will be, and is, a great physical trauma.

A body being subjected to technological and social control submits to being scanned; a relentless sequence of inescapable assessment and evaluation ensues. The internalized voices now seem to subside with a dystopian body colonized by the state. The body is duplicated and multiplied, making an army of replicants. Toh loses her individuality. She is a part of a larger machine. 

A pixelized impression of city landscapes, public spaces and people in transit is presented, with Toh's body placed above. She kisses and sucks at her body, yearning for intimacy and connection. Her shiny sweat and warm flesh contrast against the sanitized pixilations. A calm and detached voice implies a male gaze, or the powers that be, watching on; interested, but unperturbed. 

Women’s spoken reflections on an individual’s utility in consumer society overlay a lingering gaze up Toh’s body. Once arriving at her face, Toh's expression appears resigned, still, perhaps a little peaceful. The work, her literal hard physical labour and psychological torment, and the piece itself has come to an end. The final feeling is one of exhaustion and sadness.


The sadness is reminiscent of seeing a beautiful, powerful animal in a cage at the zoo resigned to its fate. 

What is the purpose of this work? It reminds me that although systems of power may seem like intellectual concerns, the final place of contention, in all power dynamics, resides in the body. The body is ultimately where the individual must eventually contend with the broader implications of social, corporate, and labour policies.  What are the expectations, controls and limits placed on the body and what capacity do we have within to question, observe and combat those forces?

What Toh manages to achieve so beautifully is to elicit a palpable, physical empathy. As I watch and experience her journey with her, Toh shares what’s at stake when submitting to the hierarchy above and around. She lives the experience so that an audience may viscerally know and feel that same tender, human, alive part of our selves, wriggling within, questioning and fighting back. 

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Billie McCarthy Takes Up Space

September 22, 2018 1
Billie McCarthy Takes Up Space

Billie McCarthy, Kate and Julia at High School/  Ms Boon art class.

I went to high school with Billie, and now I was going to her cabaret show almost two decades later. Her show is called Billie takes up space. She tells stories and sings songs that include her experiences of being identified as ‘fat’ and living in her skin. She recalls experiences from her childhood, high school and adulthood.

I recalled my own memories with Billie from high school, we would sometimes keep each other company in the school grounds, café or an occasional visit to her house.

I recall laying on the grass with Billie in the park and giving each other intimate face massages. This was the type of intimacy that was significant as a teenager. Moments like this in the park felt defining. I was at an age when small interactions such as a friendly hug, a kiss on the cheek or an intimate conversation was enough to shape your sense of self; what I could or couldn’t do as a person. Can I have that type of intimacy with another person, am I worthy.

Billie reflected on her time time in high school and how her body played into these defining moments. I remember that in a performing arts school, there was a keen sense of how beauty and charisma could define who we were and our path in life.

Billie joked about being the best friend of a beautiful, slim, goddess girl in school, and having to listen to all the boys as they confided in her about their love for that friend. But how that love never seemed to be directed her way. I confess, I couldn’t remember who this friend might have been in high school, all the girls seemed so beautiful and spectacular. It was true that Billie moved in a crowd that was particularly charming.

I remember Billie being beautiful and charming and seemingly perfectly suited to her group of friends.

Later in Billies stories she speaks of a trip to New York where she feels appreciated in a way that didn’t seem forthcoming in Australia. She received more attention from men and it was both exciting and challenging. The type of attention that is laced with the potential to turn possessive and aggressive at any moment.

This story became harrowing, and it is difficult to hear how a friend has struggled and come so close to a type of annihilation. I felt for Billie, I wanted to give her a hug. In this moment, her music and voice gave so much depth and feeling to her story.

I love Billie, her musical and dramatic skill is intrinsic, it appears to come so naturally. With this show I felt so grateful that she has managed to cultivate and maintain the magic she shares with the world, even though at times, the world has made it difficult. Her ability to open up and share her touching vulnerability is so brave and generous, and in this show we learn that it is sometimes risky and dangerous and hard to keep giving that to the world. I’m so glad she shares her magic with us.

Billie McCarthy Takes Up Space
Written and Performed by:
Billie McCarthy
Created and Performed by:
Andrew Bruce, Nick Meredith
Fringe Hub: Lithuanian Club - Ballroom
Melbourne Fringe 2018
Billie McCarthy high school /Mischa Baka
Charlotte, Natalia, Camilla, Peter, Billie McCarthy and Kate at my 16th/17th? Birthday Party Mischa Baka

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

ECHO. Healing stillness, what lies beneath

September 05, 2018 2
ECHO. Healing stillness, what lies beneath

Echo is a new dance theatre work by Lola Howard, performed at Trades Hall in Carlton as part of LaMama Theatre.