This essay published in Eyeline Art Journal (Brisbane) and another by Beth Jackson in the same journal relate to my contribution titled "Moments of Inertia: Friction." to the Volt section of the Brisbane Festival 1996

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volt 1996 - linda carroli + Ceallaigh norman


Peak Hour Apparition - Christine Johnston/Trent Arkleysmith Chain of Chambers - Anne Graham
Moments of Inertia: Friction - Arthur Wicks
Disco (Behaviouralism) - Dale Frank
Volt - Brisbane Festival
August 25 - September 8 1996


On the way home from work, the melodious sounds of an operatic voice and the strains of string accompaniment filter through the stinking, lumbering traffic.  It's a reminder that it is festival time and that we're supposed to stop and smell the art in sunny Brisbane.  The voice belongs to Christine Johnston whose contribution to the Brisbane Festival's Volt programme was a series of performances called Peak Hour Apparition in which she is accompanied by cellist, Trent Arkleysmith.  It's a rare moment that breaches the stress of peak hour diaspora and breathes joy into the routine of comings and goings.
Like many of the programmed 'events' in Volt, the contemporary art component of the Brisbane Festival curated around the theme of 'the new performance', Johnston and Arkleysmith's performance filled the objective of utilising non-traditional performance sites.  In many ways, this brief resulted in alternative explorations and experiences of the urban environment and of 'public' art as well as interventions which disrupted, engaged and reinscribed the city and metropolitan existence.
Another performance which fitted this bill was Anne Graham's Chain of Chambers.  It manifested as a luminescent 'soft city' nestled in King George Square, against the city's hard edges and surfaces.  Graham's work is textured by a sophisticated awareness of public art practices.  She constructs 'situations' which seek to subvert the notion of a passive audience as well as interrogate practices of space.  In this outdoor installation of tents, servings of food, films and conversation were intended to dissipate the demarcation between performer and spectator.  Instead, it evoked other divisions in our culture and raised several political issues, assuming such things require delineation from artistic issues.
The hand-made calico tents. as transient structures, recall this country's penal and migration history.  However, tents also bear the inference of homelessness and echoes of the 'tent embassy' protests in the 1970s.
Graham doesn't seem to acknowledge the penal past as colonial past or the already tenuous occupation of the Square by indigenous people and/or the homeless.
Like many 'gentrification' and recuperation processes which seek to aestheticise the urban environment, Graham's work seems to privilege one [idea of] community over another1 forging a specified practice of community within a rarefied aesthetic space.  Those more vulnerable people whose sense of place is fragile and precarious are further displaced and 'cleaned out'.  This tendency is stressed by Harvey who states, "once the poor become aestheticised [against a quaint and swirling backdrop which attracts no social commentary], poverty itself moves out of our field of social vision, except as a passive depiction of otherness, alienation and contingency within the human condition".2  The impermanence of the tents is an indication that Graham is not staking a claim nor making any type of investment in the place, and like a circus might be moving on in the morning.
Another resonance with the notion of the circus relates to the tents operating as an inner sanctum or refuge.  Chain of Chambers operates as an 'other space', "a spectacle held together within the enclosed space of a tent, offer[ing] a venue of special interaction within which some kind of human relating can go on".3  Apparently, the work is designed to generate a temporary community of shared experience within a comfortable and intimate space.  Although some sought unnecessary intimacy, as we witness a drunk guy lurch towards a young woman's breasts: reminded again about the limited and conditional 'comfort' that is accorded women in public space.
At Dale Frank's Disco (Behaviourialism), poetry gets pissed and hits on irony while a self-conscious crowd looks on.  This is actually a disco but also a disco pretending to be a disco. a disco asserting itself as art.  Concealed within a disused warehouse space, this is not a 90s phenomenon RAVE party pulsing with the artiphetamine charged bodies of adolescents.  This is a disco but not just any disco, it's a signature disco.  After all, it is Dale Frank's Disco in which the author himself postured, asserting his authority.  Not a lot is happening - let alone shaking and moving - despite the requisite ingredients being in place.  This is perhaps the 'behaviourialism' part of Frank's work. if you build it, they will come!
  Is this part of what Foster claims to be a 'return to the real' where art is necessarily grounded in bodies and/or social sites?4  Like Graham's tents, the Disco shares that sense of providing a frame for specific social and/or cultural behaviours.  However, in this performance, it is the inauthentic - the failures of style - which jars: the closure of the bar at 11 pm, the security guards, the unastounding music, the emptiness.  Given this, the notion of artiface, and even irony, falls flat on its face and the work is then insufficiently transgressive, synchronic or deconstructive to be any more than a disconcerting displacement or a hermetic safety zone for 'true believers'.

Two Division in Boggo Road. the old Brisbane gaol, now a site for weddings and parties as well as tourist and art voyeurism.  Potentially, this is a problematic space to use successfully. haunted, as it is, with the pain inherent in a history of incarceration and corruption.  In Moments of Inertia: Fiction, Arthur Wicks navigates the historic tensions and legacy of misery in one of his infernal and cumbersome machines.
Wearing a mask of latex concealing his facial features, Wicks' suited and caged body sits in the driver's seat.  Anonymous, looking like a hybrid of a politician, a bank robber and an insurance salesperson, his body labours to power the vehicle in an uneasy merging of body and machine.  Shafts of late afternoon light pierced the darkened and dreary cell block, creating dramatic shadows.  Menacingly the machine charged at the very small audience, its spiked wheels and elongated silhouette awkwardly jabbing at people and air: trapping audience members between protruding spikes and trapped within the tight, breathless space.
The vehicle spits stasis and motion, never fluid and is as inefficient to speed as the gaol is to reform.. here the Flintstonian meets the draconian.  There is movement but the notlon of movement is exposed as a problematic of perception.  Deleuze and Guattari argue that "movement ... is by nature imperceptible”.  Perception can grasp movement only as the displacement of a moving body or the development of a form.  Movements, becomings in other words, pure relations of speed and slowness, pure affects, are below and above the threshold of perception."5 The imperceptible becomes perceived through the process of "jumping from one plane to the other or from the relative thresholds to the absolute threshold which co-exists with them."6  Unrelentingly, it searches out lines of flight in a pre-defined territory: infinite tangents within this space of confinement.  Neither subjective nor objective but, as Virillo might say, 'trajective'.  Wicks performs that dilemma identified by Virilio who states: despite various recent studies and debates concerning internment, and the carceral deprivations affecting this or that society denied its freedom of movement ... it seems we are still incapable of grasping seriously the question of trajectory. except in mechanical, ballistic or astronomical terms.  Objectivity and subjectivity, certainly; but never trajectivity ... It seems that there is no place between the objective and the subjective for the 'trajective'.7

The vehicle creaked and groaned, tenuous in its function, precarious in its solidity.  A radio-microphone amplified its straining, crunching movement and the sounds resonated through gaol cells into molecular cells, bounced against walls, cushioned by soft bodies,.  As the sun drops behind the external wall, the wheels are removed and the machine metamorphoses into a somnabulistic chair.  Wicks autistically rocks in the corner.  Finally, the internal provides the only line of flight.

These works were but a few from Volt which acted on and emphasised urban environment/s to varying degrees of success.  Emergent from them is a sense that, in Brisbane, a battle for public space continues to be waged and that the rights of passage are never assured even at festival time.  The most notable example of this was police halting Arthur Wicks' midday performance in the Queen Street Mall despite the large crowd of curious onlookers: no permit, no art.

By Linda Carroli + Ceallaigh Norman

Summer No 32, 1996


1  A clearer example of this is cited in a report by Benjamin Genocchio, 'Situations: The work of Anne Graham', in Postwest, Faculty of Visual and Performing Arts, UWS, Nepean, Volume 3, No. 1, 1996, p 24.  Genocchio refers to Graham's 1992 work, For Walla Mulla Park in which she cleared and cleaned a space in Woolloomoolloo and over an eight week period served hot meals and screened films.  He states: 'Once the exclusive domain of the derelict and the destitute, local residents and friends began to gravitate towards the parks.  Instantly, an eclectic community emerged imbuing the space with an entirely different function." [My italics]

2 David Harvey, The Condition of Postmodernity, Basil Blackwell Books, Oxford, 1989, p 308.  The reference is to how the circus is framed by the tents in Wim Wender-s' Wings of Desire.

3 ibid., p 318

4 Hal Foster, The Return to the Real: 7he Avant-Garde at the End of the Century,
October/MIT Press, Massachtisetts, 1996, p iff

5 Gilles Deleuze + Felix Guattiri, One Thousand Plateaus, University of Minnesota Press,
Minnesota, 1987, p 280 - 281

6 ibid., p 282

7 Paul Virilio, "Perspectives of Real Time", in Christos M. Joachimides + Norman
Rosenthal (eds), Metropolis.  Rizzoli.  New York, 1991, p 59



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