How to write about someone I have spent much of the last couple of months hanging out with, eating too much, drinking, laughing till pain sets in? Or more pertinently if I say this is one of the best pieces of art I’ve seen this year, how much of that is derived from knowing Alison Currie and the pleasure I get from seeing their personal weirdness as an artist unfurled? I thought perhaps I tend to favour art by my friends because I have this intimacy with them, an unscrupulous duplicity born of dance world nepotism, but perhaps I like my friends because I am entranced by their intellect and passion and ideas and personal fascination and so the art they make is only this attraction made real. Of course then I’d like it.
42a + downtown artspace = ✓ is is something of an installation, performance art, and post-show party without the attenuating distraction of the show, something of a second-stage development and mostly a visit into the odd minds and home of some of Adelaide’s most sublime artists.
Downtown, located appropriately opposite the warm fire of the Grace Emily Hotel is two smallish concrete rooms, the front possessing a large, wall-opening chrome-fringed sheet glass window. The past three weeks, Alison along with programmer (and dancer and choreographer and maker of Blood Rain) Adam Synnott, video artist Annemarie Kohn, artist and performer, chainsaw collector and cardboard box enthusiast Kel Mocilnik, dancers Veronica Shum and Rachel Fenwick, and with mentor Sol Ulbrich have been inhabiting the two rooms and growing a peculiar collection of objects, movement, things that do things when you do things, food, games, an accumulation of adventures to be found during its opening hours.
This is not a dance performance. It is dance, or rather there is dance there, movement, small phrases that evolve and adapt depending on who is watching, where they are standing or sitting or lying, fragments that come and go that become something different over time. It is like a raindrop. If rain on a window holds no attraction neither will this, though if the difference and repetition of each tiny explosion profoundly stills your attention, the continual ebb and flow here can become transfixing. As a performance it is one to attend or ignore to arrive and leave and arrive again; the opposite of a narrative chained to steps and counts impelled into existence over time that demands unfaltering focus.
Then there is the minutia, for those with microscopic attention who look for dirt in the cracks and seams of tiles, or how one wall folds into another, a certain kind of attention that privileges detail and minor architecture as much as the broad scale inhabited by people, one for getting on your belly and peering. After and hour or so delighting in all these things to be found and discovered, I interrupted Adam in a game of Go with Tanja to coax maybe some more things I’d missed from him. A fake powerpoint, more fingernail sized bicycles, and yes, a chainsaw. Another hour on and still without the chainsaw, I’d increased my collection of oddities again, and when we all departed still thought about what I’d missed.
As with Adam’s in the bones of children in which Alison danced, I’m caught between a mechanical listing and describing of objects and events and an evasive, subtle and entrancing experience, like floating, eyes out of focus. A favourite pastime for me is letting my thoughts bleed to a background haze, eyes barely registering the blankness or complexity of whatever room I’m inhabiting, a comfortable abandonment as much asleep in absence of response to the world yet nowhere near drifting into oblivion. All of 42a allowed my most enjoyed diversion complete indulgence.
Things and objects. Adam has again been programming and soldering, building and coding, giving movement to Annemarie’s luminous pixel flowers sliding across Alison’s turquoise wallpaper, and Kel’s coin-operated ice cave fridge and miniature sink-side tundra. I’m really in awe of his phenomenally rapid grasp and application of the technology he’s working with, and also where his aesthetic is coming from. For me, him and Alison are by far the most interesting and accomplished independent choreographers and artists in Adelaide.
Carboard boxes growing like lichen on moist and shaded concrete, spilling out onto the streets around Downtown, a pop-up New York Story, the coin-operated freezer ice-fountain, a fridge-top plate of hundreds-and-thousands cookies and a television with dancing technicolour cookie dots. The fake powerpoint. A medicine cabinet with ginger candy and Berocca, Alison’s breakfast snacks, The lift to the crystal room, more diminutive bycycles, cars and a condom. The worktable, games, food, chairs to sit with the residents of 42a. The wallpaper growing under linoleum floor tiles, between broken and perished gaps, into the walls where tiles and skirting aren’t quite flush. How much more have I missed?
People dancing. Veronica Shum, Kel Mocilnik and Rachel Fenwick are the trio who deal with the dancing part of this installation, though all the artists by being there somehow emerge as performers or actors. Kel is the only non-dancer in the midst, though for me often he pulled my attention more than the others. Besides having a really elegant natural movement, he was playful and spontaneous in how he could respond to the people closest to him, and more than once had someone following his gaze as he repeatedly glanced at something only he saw, or straining to hear conversations with himself, Veronica, Rachel or someone near.
Rachel often slouched to the floor drunk or insensate, pulling herself inwards mid-phrase to an unconscious stop before getting up, wandering off for a drink of water a sitdown and chat then off somewhere again, maybe to terrify the patrons of the Grace Emily. Veronica was by far the most introverted of the three, barely registering another’s presence, adding a voyeuristic confusion in watching her, like peering through someone’s uncurtained window.
The complete closeness of the dancers to audience, sometimes on top, around, constricting, or just brushing past is mostly absent in dance performance where the body is seen at a distance and the choreography relies on the broadest of gestures. Like Anna Teresa De Keersmaeker in her solo Once, the audience in the first few rows have an entirely different experience to those in the rear. And here, to be able to see and feel the warmth of a dancer’s skin and breath or if you so choose to touch, to see a performance so close it loses focus.
What did I want more of? I came along to the preview or I suppose dress run, and after thought a few things that remained after seeing it at vernissage. Of course I want more things to discover, a continual growth like the forest reclaiming Chernobyl, and for this also to occur across the duration of the season, so the evolution occurs not just across the hours of one day. Yes they only had three quick weeks, and really did not have an unclaimed minute.
The ceiling and area above eye’s horizon was sadly neglected, and I would have loved to find as much fascination in lying on my back gazing skywards as I did looking at the floor. Also, as this was a play with homes to have smells and odours, potted aromas of fish soup and compost, far from the smells of a house under the hammer of an auction. And more sound.
My immediate and enduring favourite place was beside the shoebox cardboard house listening to a drugged chainsaw or farm town pissup on insulating headphones watching Rachel Kel and Veronica arrive and depart. To have more of these also or to hear the different rooms and corners of the gallery amplified like this, the spaces continuously folding in on themselves would have been magical.
The choreography also which evolved depending on who and how many were in what proximity at times had that sleepy attraction for me I am so partial to. Again though I’d have liked to seen a more complex and subtle evolution. Stealing unconscious movement from the audience, growing into something absolutely unrecognisable from what was at the beginning of the night, really to play and be set free from itself. This I think is one of the contemporary concerns in dance, how to get beyond imprisoning movement to steps and counts, to understand movement as a series of initial conditions that can change over multiple iterations the way software models of organisms, cells, life can do the same.
To grasp how this could be achieved in movement I think is what Alison is striving for. Simultaneously how to engender a conceptual involvement with the scale of individuals one step magnified, like standing too close, and where identity resides at this level. Along with her ensemble, Alison is more than capable of bringing these off.