Dance takeover presented as part of NGV Triennial's Extra
Monday 22nd January, 2018
Choreographers: Anouk van Dijk, Antony Hamilton, Thomas E.S Kelly, Prue Lang
Performers: James Batchelor, Mikaela Carr, Richard Cilli, Benjamin Hancock, Thomas E.S. Kelly, Melanie Lane, Amber McCartney, Jessie Oshodi, Tara Jade Samaya, Niharika Senapati, James Vu Anh Pham, and over 30 volunteer dancers
With a Dancing Faun at the head and Farnese Hercules at the feet, I know I am in the right place.
In the foyer of the NGV, the gods and heroes of Greek and Roman mythology are draped across a 14-metre-long Eternity Buddha. Greco-Roman, Renaissance and Neoclassical sculpture meets the High Tang Dynasty (705–781 CE); West meets East. An interflow of all the big things: life, death, nirvana. Right place, like I said.
Standing before artist Xu Zhen’s monumental 3D-scan of the original reclining Buddha from the Nirvana Caves of China, I am rendered small in scale and self-importance. All compounded things are subject to decay.[i]
I am waiting for Chunky Move’s dance takeover of the gallery, as part of Extra, a ten-day, summertime, after-hours, and all-free festival nestled within the brand new NGV Triennial. Each night, Chunky Move is giving three performances within the gallery. Curated by Chunky Move’s Artistic Director Anouk van Dijk, Accumulation, like the Extra mantle it nestles beneath, is true to name: a collection of five new performance works created by Anouk van Dijk, Antony Hamilton, Prue Lang, and Thomas E.S. Kelly, presented as something Extra to the Triennial experience. As I stand watching an Immortal Persian Soldier Fighting crouch for eternity behind the feet of the Buddha, something tells me more than enhancement but centrepiece is in the offing. And Othryades the Spartan Dying, nestles in closer at the neck.
With the Fall of Icarus upon the hips, the Dying Gaul slides a little further down, and a crowd gathers, and waits. And waits some more, in own gentle accumulation. Accumulation, venue: Federation Court. Check. But as the scheduled performance time slips into the past, much like that lost Hellenistic sculpture down the thigh, the performance has started without us. It transpires that due to the popularity of Accumulation, you now needed to queue at a collection point near the information desk. As a queue forms for the second performance in one hour’s time, I decide to see more of the exhibition than the head and shoulders of someone before me in the line. I head in the direction of Yayoi Kusama’s Flower obsession to leave a red flower sticker within the installation, and in letting go of what I was seeking, tumble, into the brilliant game of chase that is Accumulation. In a room of Oki Sato’s fifty Manga chairs, reimagined, Hamilton’s choreography builds upon the speech bubble shapes within the chairs themselves. And in chancing upon this performance, my joy is heightened. The dancers, James Batchelor, Melanie Lane, and Jessie Oshodi, appear masked, as befits a manga-morphing to create an impromptu picture. With mirrored ski googles and heads wrapped in scarves, they snake through the rows of the display, and by following the lines dictated, conversing with the chairs in an unfamiliar tongue, they move from gallery spectator engaging with art to an integral part of the grunting, playful furniture.
As Benjamin Hancock appears, his face also concealed, I think how wonderful it would be to move through the space, face hidden by a mask but still able to see, as I face mortality. Encased from feathered headpiece to heel, Hancock serves as the adult version of the Artie Mouse[ii] gallery guide of my childhood: silent, otherworldly, and with a different silhouette to my own; I’d follow them near anywhere.
And follow I do, at a canter, to Thomas E.S. Kelly before a skull, pondering. Overlooked by Tiepolo’s The Banquet of Cleopatra, Kelly is also engaged in a conversation with the work, both the oil on canvas in the permanent collection, and one of Ron Mueck’s giant fibreglass skulls. Lunged before the skull, in a variation of Plough posture, he shucks the work like an oyster for the benefit of those assembled, and looks death in the eye. Death and history. And its Mass. In a room of European paintings, centuries previous, Mueck’s Mass presents one-hundred individual human skulls, part Parisian catacomb ghoulish glory, part in-your-face documentation of human atrocities. Atrocities in Cambodia, Rwanda, Srebrenica, and Iraq are called forth, and people take selfies. And in the corner, Kelly, a Bundjalung and Wiradjuri man with Ni-Vanuatu, Irish and British heritage, screams.
He falls to the ground, but I can’t quite see. Indeed, much, but by no means all, of the thrill of Accumulation comes from not being able to see. Missing bits, chasing after other bits, trying to catch the bits you missed in the first tour by catching the beginning of the second one, joining the aforementioned skull selfies and instagram moments (some 12,025 #NGVtriennial[iii] images, at the time of writing this) together to determine that Prue Lang’s piece binds Mikaela Carr and Amber McCartney with acrylic cord in Pae White’s work. Time after all is not linear nor does this experience need to be.
Harnessed tandem to the puzzle-work joy and general air of inclusivity is the dance pieces themselves. In van Dijk’s piece, beautifully orchestrated ripples within the surface of teamLab’s Moving creates vortices and vortices create movement appear like no other. In expression of cause and effect, revealing how all things are connected, in response to the movement of Richard Cilli, Tara Jade Samaya, Niharika Senapati, and James Vu Anh Pham, the surface beneath their feet comes alive. From the mirrored corner of the room, the dancers appear as a fan of paper dolls, contracting and growing, their movement tracked by sensors in communication by computer with projectors in the ceiling. Their movements grow to create the appearance of a whirling vortex on the floor. TeamLab’s work is not a set and the dancers are not extras, rather, together, a new way to see, a new perspective is shown. So long as movement can effect change, there is hope: a rule to live by, if ever there was.
In a world where skulls are gigantic and nothing is permanent, death is everywhere within Accumulation, and in turn, the Triennial. The green promotional flyer, still in hand, tinged with it too. The very wording “capacity is limited, please arrive early to secure a place” has me thinking of funeral plots. Coffin or cremation? I’m still in two minds. In two minds. Unfixed. All is transient. One moment you are running through the gallery in pursuit of a mouse and the next in bid to keep up with the lithe Hancock. The same, but always changing with experience.
And so, we end where we began, at the feet of the Buddha for van Dijk’s spiral-boom-collapse. In the end, we all fall down. Death is unescapable.
[i] Last words of the Buddha before he passed into Parinirvana.
[ii] Artie Mouse is (still) a gallery guide for children as part of the NGV Kids Club programme.
[iii] Public posts tagged #NGVtriennial on Tuesday, 23rd of January, 2018.
Image credit: Benjamin Hancock performs in Chunky Move’s Accumulation, as part of Extra, NGV Triennial 2018, by Eugene Hyland