Monday, November 24, 2008

the black lung: anarchy in the back brain

Immersed within a set influenced by Sergio Leone's Once Upon a Time in the West and David Lynch's The Elephant Man, the audience settles into the Tower Theatre for The Black Lung's production of Avast. 

A young man wearing black Speedos - his body smothered in white grease paint and illustrated with phony jailhouse tattoos - is joined by a beefy Baron wearing tan calfskin pants, who just happens to have popped out of an old Westinghouse washing machine. Brothers Tom and Gareth have gathered together at The Black Lung's mythical abode upon the death of their tyrannical father. With more one liners than a Bugs Bunny cartoon the brothers dissect their disagreeable relationship under the ominous eye of their father's ghost. He sits in a highchair overseeing their diatribe armed with a flintlocked blunderbust and wearing one of those silly grandpa masks sold in crass magic shops. Beneath the chair sits a quivering mess of a man dressed in white longjohns. His only apparent purpose in this play is to be a Quivering Mess; that is, until there is an unscheduled interval, the brothers Tom and Gareth momentarily exit, and the man in white longjohns finds his feet in a sequence of deliberately offensive jokes about the menstrual cycle and malfunctioning tampons. 

Some in the audience are genuinely huffed. But The Black Lung have anticipated this reaction. A couple sitting front row - who are less than obvious patsies - rise to leave. But the beefy Gareth summarily executes both, forcing each back to their seats. Apparently terrified, they do so without question, and this riotous excuse for a performance continues with 1. The uncanny appearance of the same polarbear recently seen in Jenny Kemp's Kitten. 2. A deformed contortionist wearing little but a head dress of ostrich feathers who veers on and off stage with the precision of a steam engine. 3. A matriarchal puppet, lifesize and leering, that performs a rattling dance of death, and 4: a suave, straw hatted man whose one purpose is to wrestle control of the show from those endlessly dueling banjos, Tom and Gareth. From the Goons through to Black Adder, via Monty Python and The Young Ones, add a dash of Red Dwarf and there you have it, The Black Lung. 

Avast is a slick rendition of men done with their mother's embrace, who then set about finding their masculinity among the ashes of a dysfunctional family. Some have argued that this is its failing; that the absence of a pronounced feminine presence is not simply denigrating to women, but a disgrace. There may be some validity in this charge. But I suspect it will make little difference to The Black Lung. And good luck to them... More concerned with shaping an authentic anarchist impulse residing somewhere in the company's collective imagination, these performers have ample time to repair their feminine side. Meanwhile, the show must go on in the funereal loungeroom of the entrepreneurial Black Lung Theatre and Whaling Firm


Performers: Sacha Bryning, 

Gareth Davies, Thomas Henning,

Mark Winter, Thomas Wright & 

Dylan Young

Sound Design: Liam Barton

Lighting Design: Govin Ruben

Stage Manager: Eva Tandy

The Tower Theatre, CUB Malthouse,

Melb., Nov. 15 - Dec. 6

*images by jeff busby

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

care instructions: gentle wash, very dry

Slowly, a washerwoman's frilly cap emerges from a cotton laundry bag. There are several other cotton bags on stage, for this scene is set in an archaic laundry of the imagination. 2 further cotton carriers of dirty linen pulsate and purr, then gravitate and whirr as each of the 3 bags engage in an act of germination. Soon, 3 women stand tall; their legs, feet and abdomen preserved within 3 draw-stringed bags. With upper bodies bathed in muslin gowns and delicate, 17th century lace, a door belonging to a 20th century clothes dryer positioned centre stage is slammed shut. Now electric and alive, the repetitions and repeats, the deep sorrow and exquisite joy that characterises existence spins into being. The cycle of life begins and Care Instructions is born. 

Just as there is life in birth, there is also death in life. And the 1st of 3 washerwomen is soon strewn across silent bags of immobilised linen. Her 2 companions then remove from the moody spin dryer technicolour ties and puffy red bra, brown satin slips and slingshot g-strings that are then arranged as viscera and entrails along the 1st washerwoman's slumbering length. There occurs the stonewashed cycle of the Gertrude Steinesque; expressed in chants, ritualistic songs, and unnerving nursery rhymes that hint at, yet obscure, some dastardly feminine deed. A difficult task for a director is this uncompromising text. Yet a brave stance for a writer who intuitively senses that fiction's hidden truths can only be accurately expressed in the rhythm and cadence of a text without index. Horizontal, sublime, the director's images and the writer's words entwine in the gut instinct of 3 performers mystified yet enthralled by the mysterious challenge this performance presents. If communicating to an audience was as simple as flicking a cherry coloured g-string from 1 side of the Carlton Courthouse to the other, then we'd all be in that underwear up to our armpits. The trick in this play has been to leave an impression. To somehow make that which is intangible within the feminine psyche, clear and defined. As Kristeva famously postulated, perhaps this can only be expressed as something that resides at the level of sensation. Or in other words, a feeling...

In Care Instructions, this enigmatic femininity is at once iconoclastic and divine. In contrasting scenes of laundromat ritual underscored by High Modern, self consciously scratched violin and thumping Trance music, this femininity is both puritanical and captivated by the wilderness that beckons at the back of a wild mind. It is also violent and insightful; mystical, and quite possibly obsessed with a self-righteous sense of being unfairly maligned. Above all, it is a femininity characterised by a meditative joy obtained via the ritualistic tasks of the laundry. Fluffing and folding sheets or finding a quiet and optimistic order in the chaotic puzzle of 30 separate pairs of recalcitrant socks; then expressing this optimism via the multilayered tale that is language lingering in this laundry of the mellifluous female imagination. An imagination that beckons toward yet sometimes bewilders the bricks and mortar of the average male mind. 

Care Instructions

(An Aphids Production)

Writer: Cynthia Troup

Director: Margaret Cameron

Performers: Jane Bayly, Liz Jones

& Caroline Lee

Music: David Young

Lighting: Danny Pettingill

Stage Management: Amanda Prado

Video: Eugene Schlusser

Photography: Yatzek

La Mama, Melb., Nov. 19 - 29

*images by Yatzek

Thursday, November 13, 2008

soda_jerk: mongrel bastard

Wrestling with the demands of an ill-fitting technology has become such a common occurrence in this age of super slick edits and ‘Wow’ factor digital effects, that we now expect that immersion within a media artwork should be a wondrous experience akin to the ecstatic prelude to falling in love. Of course, the actual interface between human being and machine is highly problematic: compatibility problems are widespread, and if a person happens to have been reared on a Mac, well nigh the day that same person is subjected to a Windows interface. Refreshing then, is Sydney based remix outfit Soda_Jerk and their budding oeuvre of digvid flicks. By foregrounding in their films the faulty rhythms of bad transmission, coupled with unlikely and sadistic edits plundered from an infinite archive of Hollywood movies, their work not only faithfully renders the problems associated with the human being-machine interface, it aspires toward a simulation that is also a precise expression of a long forgotten Australian colloquialism. Orphaned and free of any easily identifiable pedigree, iconoclastic, idiosyncratic, and a catastrophic dissection of today’s on-line copyright predicament, Soda_Jerk’s latest work Pixel Pirate... is that penultimate expression of Australian frustration catapulted into the Postmodern age: a genuine mongrel bastard.

During a seminar at Swinburne University, convenor Darren Tofts quotes William Gibson by pointing out that “The street finds its own use for things”. And this is nowhere more apparent than in Soda_Jerk’s modus operandi. With backgrounds in visual arts and cinema studies, co-conspirators Dan & Dominque Angelora have formulated a bottom-up practice that is founded upon Hollywood film fandom, and a fierce desire for revenge against the oppressive copyright regime that haunts the media paradigm. While living in the same household, the Angeloras’ discovered that their mutual interest in watching videos could be mobilised by the use of rudimentary editing suites such as imovie, resulting in their first film, the contagious Dawn of Remix. A satirisation of the famous ape-evolution scene from Stanley Kubrick’s 2001... Remix is also a wry commentary upon the male dominated, testosterone pumped hip-hop scene, and a concise expression of digital video’s potential for visually representing kinetic street rhythms. 

In ...Remix, Kubrick’s bone crushing primate is transformed into a drum thumping, cymbal crunching hip-hop thug by strategic edits, surgical scene selection, and the juxtaposition of previously disconnected material. Chimpanzees use parched fingers to scratch wished for turntables in the dust, while a chorus of orangutans, edited to resemble wiggers busting moves on a street corner in South Central L.A., hail the evolution of hip hop to a killer soundtrack. This digital manipulation not only immerses the viewer in a bastardised version of Kubrick’s film, it transforms the original material into a strange mongrel that is strikingly unfamiliar. Consequently, there is much unsettled laughter and a desire to ask provocative questions from those assembled in the auditorium.

Why this mongrel is so peculiar is mainly due to the Angeloras’ desire to subvert conventional understandings of chronological time. Like Burroughs, the Angeloras’ speak of time travel as if it were an actual possibility: that by watching a remix of Charlton Heston in The 10 Commandments, juxtaposed with an image of Elvis Presley transmogrifying into The Incredible Hulk, we the audience are actually travelling through time. When pressed upon this point, the Angeloras’ concede that this claim is an exaggeration. Yet because their work playfully refutes chronological time in all its sullen numbness, audience experience of a film such as Pixel Pirate is akin to the acquisition of an altered state of consciousness. 

Chronologies in the actual world, or the passing of minutes and seconds within an imposed structure of 24 hours, is annihilated in Pixel Pirate in favour of a perception of time as it can be in the virtual world. Not only is material from the 20th and 21st centuries remixed to form disjunctive temporal oppositions within a single image, such as Elvis transmogrifying into The Incredible Hulk during a scene from The 10 Commandments, but the material itself is often a representation of a time long passed, and a time yet to be fixed. So when Moses skirts a mountain path carrying a tablet of stone, only to be confronted by characters out of Star Wars, the audience experiences a sardonic mesh of the fictional historic and the speculative, while simultaneously maintaining an awareness that The 10 Commandments and Star Wars were 20th century films created some 40 years apart. In the temporal space of Pixel Pirate’s virtual world chronological time as we know it mutates, becoming 1 distinctive temporal strain among many other possibilities. Rene Descartes would be turning in his grave.

Chronological time is an acquired, if not implanted temporal structure. Our lives are so organised around its linear and tedious momentum, that when a film like Pixel Pirate subverts this chronology, we find it most peculiar because it reminds us of the exciting ways in which we perceived time before mind numbing chronologies were implanted in our behavioral streams. (These chronologies are not only present in the ‘Working Day’ structures of primary school curriculums, they are also present and therefore sensed by children in their parents’ lives long before schooling begins). And even though the Angeloras’ claim that their films can initiate time travel in the actual world is an exaggeration, they are justified in claiming to have sparked time travel in the virtual world, and the minds of their audience. Little wonder then that Soda_Jerk express a specific desire not to be asked when they will start making “Real’ films: that is, conventional narratives with steady chronologies that reinforce the economic status quo within a society confined by the 24 hour day. And even though there was much enthusiasm toward Soda_Jerk from an audience comprised of 20-30 year olds, it was also interesting to hear the vaguely offended tone of 1 or 2, indirectly evoking the charge of a lack of originality. But the Angeloras’ were unperturbed. Both seemed quite capable of viewing their own practice within a rich historical aesthetics stretching back to Duchamp, his Readymades, and beyond. Anyway, offence toward an iconoclastic work such as Pixel Pirate is to be expected once audiences are reminded of the unreliable function of the human brain, or their very own mongrel bastard. 

*images reproduced with permission