From the costumes designed for the Ballets Russes by modernist masters in the early 20th century, to dance’s influence on Australian artists from Robert Rooney to David Noonan, visual arts and dance are not strangers. In recent times, the performing body has made its home as easily in the gallery as on stage – like last month when the question, ‘If Tate Modern was Musée de la danse?’ saw choreographers and dancers take over the famous Turbine Hall in London. Multi-disciplinary art forms are the new normal, and so is coming across performance-based work in an art museum.
Three years ago multi-arts venue Carriageworks commissioned 18 Australian and six international artists to create works exploring the nexus of video art and dance. Since then curators Beatrice Gralton and Nina Miall have been working with these artists, who often collaborate with practitioners beyond their field. The resulting works straddle the realms of dance and video in as many different ways as there are works, although some key themes emerge from screen to screen, such as the relationship of the body to landscape and to technology, and the body’s physical and psychological strength and vulnerability.
In the public space of Carriageworks, two enormous projections face off, portraying football fans packed into the stands like blue and red sardines. We see nothing of the match that grips them – they, and their relentless war cries, are the spectacle. The quieter element of this work by Khaled Sabsabi depicts an internalised, individual approach to this intensified consciousness – an Indonesian spiritualist figure in a trance-like state. This work sets the stage for the exhibition to come, reminding the audience that there is no singular way to engage with the world around you.
In Tony Albert and Stephen Page’s work, a target-emblazoned young dancer holds the viewer in his intense gaze as he moves screen to screen inside the exoskeleton of a burnt out car. From the urban landscape to the rural, Daniel Crooks and Nat Cursio’s collaborative work stretches a body into the surrounding landscape until it takes on its own horizon lines. Choreographer Alison Currie explores a rocky landscape, the images projected over a sculpted screen a reminder of how bodies and the landscape can choreograph each other.
There are notes of absurdity too, such as in the work of Byron Perry and Antony Hamilton, where piano keyboards allow the audience to choreograph the duo’s facial movements over two enormous screens. In Sophie Hyde’s work, dancers occupy five 19th-century-inspired video portraits whose brightly coloured sets are made further strange by anachronisms like a young man ballroom dancing solo in an AC/DC t-shirt.
Artists were asked to consider the unique nature of the Carriageworks environment when developing their works, and it shows. With over 50 screens in the darkened 6,000 square metre space, from the miniscule to the massive, there was ample potential for visual and aural confusion, and technical disaster. However visuals and associated sound connect well, whether through amplifier or headphones, and neighbouring works complement rather than overwhelm or interrupt.
Works for screen often render exhibition context irrelevant, which can be a logistical advantage in the presentation of art. When the same space was occupied by mainly video work for the Biennale of Sydney last year, viewers moved from box to black box, the manufactured cubicles fighting against the gritty, cavernous Carriageworks. By contrast, 24 Frames makes itself at home in the space – a significant benefit of artists having three years to develop specific works, working closely with curators. The works in 24 Frames push the boundaries of screen-based work as much as those of dance, making for a show that must be experienced in the flesh – by both dance lovers and those who are strangers to the considered choreography of the human body.
24 Frames Per Second, Mon to Sun 10am-6pm until 2 August, Carriageworks, 245 Wilson Street, Eveleigh; (02) 8571 9099, carriageworks.com.au