by Bernadette Klavins and Grace Marlow
TRACK reveals the potential for artists to navigate landscapes, both physical and emotional. As the title suggests, the works emerge from past performances and actions, through which artists create open and experimental dialogues with people and place. Curated by Sasha Grbich and Andrew Purvis, TRACK is a dynamic conversation between contemporary video performance practices, in which artists use their body as an active medium to engage with their ideas. We access these performances through our own physicality and bodily memory, as the works engage sensitively with elements of touch, sound, sight and movement. TRACK connects artists from Western Australia and South Australia, including Jacobus Capone (WA), Tanya Lee (WA), Jenna Pippett (SA), Kate Power (SA), as well as Grbich. The diverse practices of both artists and curators intersect within the gallery, with Grbich and Purvis harnessing these emergent dialogues to spatially enhance our experience of the works, and emphasise the purpose of collective context. Through considering artist and curatorial intent, we also contemplate the slippages that emerge at this intersection.
Bernadette Klavins: Tanya Lee’s multi-screened video work, Personal Space, 2013, plays with the tension between private and public arenas. We watch and wait... until a lone figure begins to shuffle across each screen, clad in curious costumes that mimic suburban fences. These costumes speak of the way we construct our personal boundaries–both through suburb and body. The costumes act as site-specific suburban camouflage, as Lee attempts to playfully integrate herself with her surroundings, whilst simultaneously announcing her presence within these spaces.
Grace Marlow: I’m reminded of what it feels like as a woman to attempt to blend into ones surroundings. A desire to become invisible; even if only from one particular gaze. Here, Lee has fenced off her body. She’s constructed a physical perimeter of personal space. We’re very aware of her costuming and intentionality; though I spy within this echoes of subtle socially deviant behaviour; a hood pulled over a teenagers head conceals both too much, and not enough. How easy it is to slip out of and disturb the norm.
Jenna Pippett’s Levitate, 2016-17, responds to a found photograph that captures her family gathered around her great-grandmother's coffin for a final family portrait. Pippett extends the gesture of a final family portrait through embodying the position of her great-grandmother–now in a new state of moving image–as neither dead nor alive. Pippett’s body is projected at human scale onto a horizontal screen propped up by the support of two chairs, mimicking, I realise after seeing the photograph, the arrangement of Pippett’s great-grandmothers coffin. I consider the suspension of this body in a state of perpetual revolution a suggestion of the limitations of the physical body. However, our bodies retain memory, nostalgia and melancholy: physical manifestations of those who have physically passed away.
BK: Pippett performs for an imagined space, one that is built from the fabric of passed down memories and the mnemonic object of the family photograph. Upon the horizontal screen, Pippet’s body rotates, lively and composed. The levitating screen and the ever-spinning figure act as gentle points of humour, whilst also contributing to the work’s numinous aura. The work seems to play upon the bonds between life and mortality–perhaps similar to reawakening a dormant memory, or a person performing a ritual to ward off death.
Fittingly, Jacobus Capone’s work Saudade, 2011, is positioned alongside Pippett’s work. The Portuguese word ‘saudade’ poignantly refers to a feeling of longing, or a sense of absence, which serendipitously speaks to the affective qualities of Pippett’s Levitate. We experience Capone’s intensive performance across three screens arranged in a circular form. We are led to follow the screens clockwise, with each revealing a successive extract of his thirteen-hour performance. The work unfolds via Capone’s touch, as his bare feet and hands become sensors upon the island’s rocky terrain. His wearing of a blindfold initially speaks as a kind of deprivation or vulnerability, however it might also act as a blinker that allows the heightening of his focus and other senses. Capone performs on the boundary of the island, with his crawling movement around the coast suggesting an intuitive act of mapping.
GM: This enduring course of intuitive learning disrupts our usual perception of how place is taught. There is so much that can be learned of place and self through navigating and understanding ones bodily experience of the world. In being pulled around the formation of the screens to follow Capone’s journey, we become displaced from the environment both in which we stand, and the exactitude of Capone’s navigation. I notice the way the performer in Personal Space first directs me into the gallery as they awkwardly waddle across screens. Pippett’s body too, pivots us within the gallery: her revolving parallel to our own momentum in navigating the works. In their collective context, the movement inherent in these performances gains new significance to the spatial navigation of TRACK.
I follow Capone over rock, then turn to face Kate Power’s Unknowing, 2016-17; a textural papier mâché wall. An evocation of the surfaces Capone traces over in his performance. The mâché carves out small cavities: each nestling moments performed for video. I see hands trace over crumbling stone walls, and wish to mimic this action across the papier maché. I want to navigate the sculptural structure and places of Unknowing in ways that Power and Capone demonstrate in their performances; with my body as a carrier of affect and intuition. The hands explore peculiar yet familiar forms; I guess what the object might be, and try too to transport my body to these states of touch that we know, yet cannot quite articulate. Our bodies know these relationships to materials and surfaces better than language does.
BK: In Unknowing, the chewed paper render speaks simultaneously of interior and exterior spaces. It becomes a skin for the wall, after first being broken down by the mashing of teeth and saliva. Its lively texture activates our need to touch, much like the hand within the videos that lingers upon other surfaces. The four screens embedded within the wall reveal moments of probing and searching, with the hand that performs these actions appearing both bare and costumed. I imagine these fabrics becoming filters for these tactile experiences–like second skins, one surface upon another. Through isolating and abstracting the body’s movement, Power heightens our response to it. In this way, the body becomes ‘other’, as we try to make sense of it within these unexpected contexts.
My initial experience of Sasha Grbich’s Small Measures, 2015-17, was through the sound of a powerful and tender lament. In this ongoing work, Grbich encourages a performative dialogue between people and place to unfold, as she invites local choir members to melodically engage with vulnerable environments that lie on the fringes of Auckland. The singers too become vulnerable with these sites, as they offer their voices forward into the landscape. Each of these environments are touched by human industry, however Grbich approaches these spaces non-hierarchically and sensitively, as she affectively enters into conversation with politics of place. The projected sounds emotively resonate within the space, whilst the headphone’s audio draws out the complex relations that we sense between the performers and these sites. As I sit experiencing Small Measures, I catch a glimpse of Capone’s crawling performance, and consider the power of sound and touch as mediums for becoming close to place.
GM: I am also led to consider Small Measures as a rationale for learning an empathetic political practice. The people singing in Grbich's work are engaging with reserved land under threat of development. We are familiar with violent power and assertion of control over place though here, there is a suggestion of a more empathetic relationship to place as a potential method of coexisting. I think this too has correlation with both Unknowing and Saudade where the artists utilise touch and personal affective engagements with their bodies and environments. Our first encounter of Small Measures is through hearing voices devoid of context. Quiet songs of resistance–a very different strategy to direct demands of typical protests. I feel empathetic toward this sound, even before understanding the context. It is through Grbich’s un-intention to engage with the political in a direct way, that I find openness to engage in a multitude of strategies to understand.
As we move back through the gallery, re-enacting our previous mapping of the space, the works feel newly coloured by Grbich’s work. We are brought back to Tanya Lee’s quiet suburb, and in those long pauses between her emerging from the fences, there is space to ponder a violent undertone–the many pre-existing tracks that we are treading on.
Grbich and Purvis have generated a series of ‘tracks’ within the gallery space, as they channel the emergent connections between artworks. The carefully considered visual, spatial and auditory crossovers work to heighten these relations. The show shifts focus from the centrality of artist’s intent, and through the intent of the curators, one is lead to question and think about the role of these works. In curating this space, Grbich and Purvis have brought together these incidental dialogues between works that allude to the greater social and political complexity of body and place.