Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Labours of love: Whittaker and Caesar's Starfuckers

Following in the tradition of famous artist couples such as Marina Abramovic and Ulay, performance maker Malcolm Whittaker and his partner Laura Caesar, billed as a “primary school teacher and arts and crafts enthusiast,” developed and performed the durational performance Starfuckers. Whittaker and Caesar’s suburban narrative landscapes offer a significantly more intimate if lower-key performance to Abramovic and Ulay’s break-up event, Great Wall Walk (1989).

One at a time, our partners in love and art step up to a microphone and read out a story. Some are diary entries written during the making of the project, and some are personal relationship memories. Each of these stories has been printed out and inserted into a magazine—Woman’s Weekly, Who, New Idea—torn out after they have been read and put immediately through a shredder. At the other end of the room, the detritus of these pedestrian love stories with their glossy celebrity underlay is transformed into papier-mache, moulded into figurines and baked in a small oven. Wearing aprons, the performers take turns to read, share and deliver the shreddings to be glue-soaked and flour-covered, shaped, baked and finally displayed in an ever-multiplying tableau across a long red-covered table. The small studio seems overly warm, filled with the crisp smell of baking paper, and over the hours a small army of tiny figures—effigies of the performers themselves?—gradually populates the long central table, filling up the space previously occupied by language alone.

Read the rest of my article, Labours of Love, published in the sprint and online editions of RealTime #99, here.

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

I'm trawling through my old notebooks, looking for my descriptions of my first meeting with Paul Dwyer to talk about what became The Bougainville Photoplay Project. What I hope to find is something of the pre-history of the work to use in a note I'm writing for the published performance text that will shortly be released through Currency Press. Whilst I've found lots of rehearsal notes from the last five years of casual, now-intense, now-languid, workings that somehow conspired to create the beauty of that work, the precise target of my search - the very first extended discussion in Ralph's Cafe at the University of Sydney early in 2005 - is proving elusive.

What I am finding, perhaps unsurprisingly, are huge amounts of memories, tiny moments peppered with my exhortations to remember particular things, things which, in the act of writing them down, I promptly forgot. I remember two comments along these lines - "writing is a technology of memory" (Edward Scheer, though he was probably quoting someone else), and "we write in order to forget" (Paul Dwyer, I think, whilst we were making CMI back in 2003).

Anyway, given the context of my searches down memory lane (if nothing else, The Bougainville Photoplay Project is a performance about remembering - I found the following citation of deep interest:

"The antithesis of the theatre of indifference is not spontaneous simplicity, but drama in which both the principle protagonists and the audience have a common interest. The historical precondition for the theatre of indifference is that everyone is consciously and helplessly dependent in most areas of their life on the opinions and decisions of others. To put it symbolically: the theatre is built on the ruins of the forum. Its precondition is the failure of democracy. The indifference is the result of the inevitable divergence of personal fantasies when isolated from any effective social action. The indifference is born of the equation between excessive mobility of private fantasy and social political stasis. In the theatre of indifference, appearances hide failure, words hide facts, and symbols hide what they refer to."

John Berger, 'The Theatre of Indifference' in The Sense of Sight (1975: 72-73)

Whilst I remain far from Berger's apparent pessimism expressed here about the political possibilities of the theatre, in my current reflection of The Bougainville Photoplay Project I've become very interested in what he might mean by the "common interest" of the protagonists and the audience. This is obviously not a post in which I'll engage in deep thinking, but at the shallow end of the analytical pool: might such a "common interest" be found in shared national histories, whether these histories might be remembered, forgotten or actively concealed? Might a "common interest" be found in the shared status of the performer(s) and audience as 'citizens', especially when the theatrical experience attempts, in a small way, to unpack some of the actively-forgotten backstory of this civic enterprise? Surely moments like these are where theatre not merely covers over the "ruins of the forum", but rather actively aims to build a civic dialogue?

At any rate, I've now hit the wall in the shallow end of the analytical pool, and should go back to the notebook trawl. See you all in the theatre soon so we can all begin remembering together.