orai/awry ISEA2002 :: Anne Walton

27th – 31st October 2002 :: Nagoya, Japan

Anne Walton, "public address" video stills

Anne Walton, "public address" video stills

It wasn’t easy. 45 papers, 18 panels, four round tables, 34 poster sessions, ten institutional presentations, two workshops, one tutorial, 67 exhibitions, 35 pieces of electronic theatre, 29 performances and eight concerts – all over a period of four days.

It was, quite frankly, bigger than Ben Hurr. In retrospect – if the body and real space didn’t burden one – the best way to approach ISEA2002 would have been to surf it. Now that’s interesting. Do you notice how ‘surf it’, when read out loud (and with a bit of a French accent) can sound like ‘surfeit’? The definition of which is, ‘an excessive number or quantity of something; so much so that people can become sickened, repelled, or bored by it.’ Now, I’m am speaking only on my own behalf here, and do not wish to sound ungrateful for ANAT’s assistance in getting me to Japan for ISEA2002.

I was accepted by the ISEA Committee to present a live video performance called public address in an empty city shop over a period of a few days. Beyond executing this work, I was hoping to find time to connect with other artists, see new work and listen to some of the papers being presented. And to be fair, I did experience some of this. But the overwhelming impression I left with was frankly, one of being overwhelmed (once I could raise my head out of the task of adapting my performance to a shop space accessible only when I was accompanied by an ISEA volunteer entrusted with the key).

At the risk of sounding even more prima donna-ish, no date, time or place was given for public address in the official ISEA program because a suitable shop space was secured only one week before ISEA kicked off. To compound things further, my access to the shop space ended on the same evening that the symposium was officially launched. Despite the comic absurdity of it all, I threw a flyer together the day before the symposium opened, thankful that the shop space was within easy walking distance of the main ISEA warehouse venues at Nagoya Port. But in the end, very few symposium participants saw public address. I did, however, negotiate for a time slot in one of the main warehouse venues on the last day of ISEA, to show a video document of the work as it appeared at Nagoya Port and in other Australian locations, and to speak about it. Again, this wasn’t in the printed program and only a handful of people attended.

Anne Walton, "public address" video stills

Anne Walton, "public address" video stills

The theme for ISEA2002 was ‘Orai’ – a Japanese word for comings and goings, streets, traffic, communication and contact. In view of the theme, public address was a very suitable work, and I’m disappointed about the way things unfolded. But I take a kind of semiotic comfort from the fact that ‘Orai’, when spoken, sounds a lot like the English word awry which means: ‘not in the proper position but turned or twisted to one side; not in keeping with plans or expectations’. My experience in Nagoya was a salutary lesson, reminding me that public address belongs on and to the streets and not to the rarefied atmosphere of the art world. A few hundred ‘ordinary’ people out and about on their day of rest, walked past my little shop space at the amusement pier in Port Nagoya. Some slowed their pace, others kept moving. A few stopped to watch for a minute or two. A small group of young art students watched for a long time, inscribing themselves into the work. I invited them in and we improvised for a while. We ate out together later. A humble case of contact/orai.

The question of audience for a work is a critical one, as is location. Cat Hope’s performance of Fetish at ISEA2002, in which I collaborated with improvised video projections, was in some respects another comedy of errors. Categorised by the ISEA organisers as a ‘concert’, Fetish was presented on a raised stage in a squeaky clean, sound-proofed rehearsal room in the very conservative looking Aichi Arts Centre. Given the tone and texture of Cat’s performance work, a gig in one of the grungy Port Nagoya warehouses would have been much more appropriate.

Cat is a Perth-based performance artist with a local, national and international reputation for her work with noise, soundscapes, pop music and film. In her live performances with bass feedback and distortion she is increasingly working with real-time triggered video projections onto and around her ‘enhanced’ body. When I arrived in Perth in September 2002 to show work at ECU’s SpECtrUm Project Space and at Perth Institute of Contemporary Art (PICA), we met for the first time and quickly struck up a fruitful artistic exchange. The fact that we were both accepted into ISEA and both assisted by ANAT was a happy coincidence, allowing our collaboration to continue in Nagoya. We have since applied for research and development funding from PICA, to pursue this collaborative potential further. Another case of contact/orai.

Because of my absorption in presenting public address as well as working with Cat on Fetish, there wasn’t much time to even scratch the surface of the mass of ISEA papers, exhibitions and performances scattered around Nagoya. The little I did manage to see, however, left me with the impression of a kind of abandonment, dare I say it… of the body. Call me an old humanist if you like, but the electronic works that have lodged in my mind tend to be those which were earthed so to speak – works which found anchorage either in a visceral quality or a recognisable object (as opposed to a piece of computer hardware).

To mention just a few of these, there was Shawn Decker’s (Chicago) The Night Sounds – metal buckets half full of water, suspended by piano wires from the ceiling, amplifying and radiating the sounds made by the piano wire being struck in accordance with a micro-controlled system of motors. In the ISEA Catalogue, Decker writes: ‘The patterns of the piece (and) the nature of the sounds are modeled after crickets and cicadas found in the Midwest … where I grew up … These sounds are ever-present in the summer … at times taking over the entire landscape with their sonic intensity’.

Jean Dubois’ (Montreal) tact – a large mirror with an inset circular screen displaying a moving blur which, when touched by the viewer, settles into a woman’s face pressed hard against the glass screen. Her face twists and distorts in response to the viewer dragging their finger across the screen – a kind of abuse or manipulation. Dubois says: ‘tact attempts to suggest the lack of tactfulness that often occurs in situations of virtual rather than physical presence, when we are not actually face to face with another person’.

Tamara Stone’s (Toronto) Are You Afraid of Dogs – a large pack of leashed and flayed, store-bought, motorised dog-ettes whose barks were … well, motorised. Their yapping and writhing was triggered by motion sensors that set off a pseudo-random program ensuring that ‘…the animals … respond in a different order every time. One animal will go on, then another and another until almost all of them are barking and straining at their wires’. At the end of the short time cycle, the little dogs all stop simultaneously, frozen in that moment’s gesture. This work was a big hit with everyone, especially with the Japanese.

But really, it wasn’t until the symposium was over that I finally saw a body of work that made it all worthwhile. Jim Campbell’s (San Francisco) exhibition Data & Time was showing at Nagoya City Art Museum concurrent with ISEA2002 and was promoted as part of its ‘associated program’.

This haunting electronic exhibition, with its deathly quiet and its pared down, black and red pixelated portrayals of barely discernible frail singular human figures moving, forever moving, has grafted itself onto my memory of a shockingly bright blue suburb of neatly-bound, plastic-covered crate-homes forming an avenue of the homeless right down the middle of Nagoya’s central park. Both ‘works’ – the intended one and the unintended one – struck me with the full force of this: gravity, reminding me yet again of this and that (inescapable): body.



Tags: , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply