New Territories incorporating the National Review of Live Art :: Sarah Jane Pell

February 2003 Glasgow, Scotland

The juncture between the ‘real’ world and the life of the NRLA really began the night before the festival opening. Artist sand members of the NRLA ‘family’ met at Maos: a restaurant in a (c)older part of Glasgow. At this table artists, some only known to each other by their name or work, others life long colleagues and kindred friends, melted into each other’s conversations. It was such a joy to enter into a dialogue with like souls rather than merely like minds where we could each be invigorated, challenged and stimulated by notions of art, life, practice and principals of existence and order without encountering competition or misunderstanding. The meeting of people such as Raimund Hoghe, Johan Lorbeer, Hideyuki Sawayanagi and Stelarc had brought about a strange sense among us all, like coming home with all the terror, comfort and excitement that entailed.

New Territories incorporating the National Review of Live Art was an occasion to survey intersections between performance, installation and anything in between. If the Review was a benchmark of ‘live art’ practice this year you would have to assume that it was an actual/virtual mutant of the sculptural or theatrical. Narrative story telling, (non) linear dialogues or analogical gestures were installed and ‘acted out’ amongst the bellows of The Arches. The poetic revelry that scarred the walls somehow seeped into the festival and the performances became as transient in the venue as the disco-bunnies in the nightclub that it became at night. Critic Mary Brennan warned that the NRLA experience was like entering a different world. She was right, for I walked into The Arches and five days latter emerged as if from a Peter Greenway film. We drank on the rhythms of ideas; looking inward and looking outward; recklessly escaping and engaging in a live art heaven or at least a haven for live art.

It was fantastic to see a plethora of works that would normally be the exception rather than the rule in any other festival programming. I was most excited by works that generated real-time individual performances for the visitor. They included Stelarc’s Prosthetic Head, an actual/ virtual system made in the artist’s own image with an Embodied Conversational Agent (ECA) and a (main frame) brain situated in Philadelphia and Lizzie. A synthetic entity of a digital system called Kurort created by Angelika Oei & Rene Verouden (Netherlands) that inspired very human experiences both actual and virtual by reinterpreting interactive treatments within the systems.

Generally I felt that artists were there to celebrate rather than challenge notions of live art. There was some fine work like the elegant win(d)g generating glass hut filled with feathers by Pernille Spense (UK) and the precision and dramaturgica lcare of platform artist Kate Stannard (UK). Johan Lorbeer (Germany) transformed the ordinary into extraordinary with aid of a little illusory magic: sitting up precariously at a floating office desk to appear suspended in space defying gravity and Raimund Hogue (Germany) performed Lettere Amorose a simple, elegant choreography about love and loss. His treatment of time, space and action unfolded with the grace and exactitude of an ikebana master. With each arrangement Raimund glided in and out memories and emotions; talking to us and touching us; each moment made precious and awe-inspiring by his physical prowess. I fluctuated between peaceful sleep and tears during this performance.

I was deeply affected by the works of both Michael Mayhew (UK) and Anne Bean (UK). Each artist presented ‘a sequence of actions’, words, and pre-recorded images that delved into their personal architectures and environmental psychologies albeit in very different ways to arrive at a similar performance ‘site’. Anne kissed, smothered and tore apart a wooden chair that became her lover before leaving us with a mix of movements recorded using thermal imaging – their impressions flooded back at us almost kaleidoscopically. Michael cocooned himself in cotton wool and poured his own blood over his body, to lie before us as a shell and to whisper to us from within. He lay amongst the chaos of 24 signaling alarm clocks, a Swiss flag sprawled with objects and loud music, but somehow negated time and neutralized our fears. I was most impressed by how both artists performed entirely in the present.

Attendance at New Territories was an invaluable experience where I was not only able to learn from those around me and enjoy their works but also share and examine experiences about Australian arts contexts and my own research into the aesthetic possibilities of the aquatic realm. I am developing an underwater studio practice, movement repertoire, and associated life support technology to create submerged habitat performance.

I presented Second Nature: Second Skin composing in part of an underwater performance pre-recorded in Western Australia. My quiet aquatic work looked lost amongst the audience and the venue; I guess I felt it too – as I let many of the pre-choreographed and rehearsed elements of the work dissolve into the confused eyes upon me. What remained was a kind of separation anxiety for me: a fish out of water, sitting with her audience, looking up at a porthole projection of an aquanaut moving about in her aquatic world. While the journey of Second Nature: Second Skin was difficult, it was also cathartic. I now have a greater understanding of how components of my research could be better installed.

I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to have been a part of this incredible festival. It was both a challenging and rewarding experience enabling me to reach new levels of understanding and meet so many fantastic people. I look forward to be able to contribute to the continuation of discussions between practitioners and facilitators upon my return to Australia to perpetuate this critical forum.

It was with great appreciation that I acknowledge the support of Sharon Flindell from the City of Swan and the Conference and Workshop Fund at ANAT, whom assisted this project, and the producers of New Moves International Ltd.

Sarah Jane Pell holds the inaugural candidature PhD of Visual Arts at Edith Cowan University. Her work was part of the NRLAat the Midlands Railway Workshops, Western Australia in 2002. This was her first performance in the UK.


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