This essay published in Eyeline Art Journal (Brisbane) and another by Linda Carroli & Ceallaigh Norman 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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By Beth Jackson

VOLT—The New Performance was held as part of the inaugural Brisbane Festival. Produced by Maree Cunnington, Volt featured established and emerging artists in a "strident performance-based visual arts program", including performances, installation events, and a two-part seminar. Unlike works in the main program, most of the works in Volt were developed specifi­cally for the Festival which, to my mind, increased the status of the Festival as a whole. In fact this aspect underlines (yet again!) how hard the visual arts work on such little resourcing compared to the performing arts.
The Volt events were of a high standard, with possibly the weakest part being the lack of a printed curatorial rationale to cohere and conceptualise the program as a whole. This was particularly unfortunate since the aim of the program was to "widen the scope of 'performance' ... and, most importantly, to encourage true collaboration and critical discourse." Certainly the works themselves were able to do this, and it can be said that performance art has been doing this for a long time, but whether Volt and/or the Brisbane Festival, in either its format or rationale, were able to achieve this is another question. Achieving such things as "true collaboration" and "critical discourse" is ultimately a question of infrastructure and the support of performance art is a valuable initiative of the Festival.
The increasingly central and radical position of performance art and the performative/ephemeral dimension of visual art, can be seen as part of an intellectual trend in cultural and social the­ory. Performance is a central notion in the enunciation of theo­ries of gender, sexuality, postmodernity, post-Freudian psycho­analysis, and the philosophies of difference. While a curatorial thematic for the Volt program was not articulated, the overriding connection between the works was gender and sexuality. I will draw upon Michel Foucault's understanding of sexuality and transgression in order to explore how these performance works articulate postmodern subjectivities. Many of the Volt works pro­vide key insights into postmodernity and are leading examples of critical artistic expression. The central thematics of sexuality and transgression are, according to Foucault, synonymous with this space.
the limit of consciousness: For Foucault, the centrality of sexuality for the contemporary social subject marks an "interiorisation" of the limits of selfhood. This can only occur because of the loss of collective belief in an external authority ("God") and the autonomy of being which that authority produces. For Foucault then, sexuality actually announces the limit of being. The site of the limit, the fissure or shoreline, is also the site of transgression, where the subject encounters a shift, a slippage in his/her narrative, or raison d'être, or speaking position. Transgression in the postmodern age involves a fracturing of subjectivity into multiple, partial identities. Many of the perfor­mance works of Volt explored this very site of transgression at the fissured interiority of sexuality.
Jill Orr's Sound, Silence and Light continued the artist's complex and sensitive embodiments of Western cultural icons. In this work Orr dealt with the figure of Eve and the original act of sexual transgression, the biting of the apple. The work was superbly produced from installation/set design, to sound and lighting, it made wonderful use of the venue (top floor of the Institute of Modern Art), and its professional polish "softened" the subversive intent of the piece. However, this quality of populism acted as a critical aesthetic strategy, "embracing" the audi­ence. Orr's Eve was, at once, the character of fairy tales, the New Age female spirit, the self-actualising feminist, a romantic heroine, and many other femininities. These flickered subtly across a narrative architecture, dissolving and coalescing with the flows of sound and light. Orr's highly erotic work, climaxing at the point of the apple being bitten, pursued (feminine) sexuality as a discursive limit of being the soundtrack of ocean waves and clamouring bells symbolising Foucault's "shoreline" and his cavernous "fissure" of interiority. The work was incredibly positive and exhilarating, achieving a "jouissance" in the performative space.
The Ghost in the Machine: through the pane by Company In Space (performers Hellen Sky and John McCormick, technicians Oliver Yan Qui Wang and Jennifer Hector) was a far less successful attempt to negotiate postmodern subjectivity even though it involved high technologies. Rather than tracing discursive limits, the work dialogically explored binary oppositions such as male/female, absence/presence, technology/tradi­tion. While this play of oppositions was at times sophisticated and intriguing, at others it reinforced stereotypes (such as asso­ciating the female body with landscape imagery and interiority while masculinity remained far more abstract and singular).

the limit of the law: If Orr's performance mobilised the positivity of postmodern transgression through the feminine, Arthur Wicks's performances enervated a crisis condition through the masculine. In Moments of Inertia: Friction, Wicks, dressed in suit and tie with a latex face mask, tortuously pedalled a crudely constructed wooden machine until sweat filled the mask and began to spill out of the mouth hole. Then the machine was converted to a giant rocking chair, where Wicks would rock autistically in a state of physical exhaustion, only to recover and pedal off again. In this work one may see the space of transgression as a violent fracturing of the self, spiralling introspectively into ever smaller microcosms of power (like fractal patterning).
Wicks's work embodied a debordered, postmodern self. His efforts were at once resistance and slavery, demonstration and demoralisation. Wicks locates this crisis of power and authority in the 'masculine'. Moments of Inertia: Friction was performed in the Queen Street Mall in the city centre for four days. At the first performance police stopped the work on the grounds that it was dangerous. Rather than simply ceasing the performance, Wicks crawled to his vehicle with the infernal machine strapped to his back, escorted by police the whole way. This inspired collaboration with the police was a spontaneous transference of the masculine anxiety and authority crisis which was the stuff of the performance.

Experimetro's contribution to the Volt program was Pyjama Girl: a touching tale of murderous proportions written and direct­ed by Maryanne Lynch and collaboratively produced with Joseph O'Connor, Scott Walton, and Shane Rowlands. The work was based upon the bizarre spectacle of the "pyjama girl", a woman murdered and mutilated in the 1930s at Albury (NSW), and displayed in a bath of formalin for over ten years "as thou­sands of Australians filed past in an attempt to identify her." The work drew upon the aesthetics of the carnivalesque with its show-ground spectacles of magic (the woman sawn in half), freak shows, side shows, puppetry (Punch and Judy), gambling, and quasi-medical quackery.
This carnival atmosphere threw a surreal light on the sub­jects of sexual violence and misogyny, heightening feelings of claustrophobia and repression. While achieving some interesting and powerful juxtapositions, the acting, set design, and multime­dia all remained quite distinct fields of activity in the work, and could have been pushed further in terms of experimental the­atre. The work described the limits of its subject conceptually, bleeding violence into social, political, cultural, and poetic realms. However the actual production of the work fell a little short of this conceptual ambition. Pyjama Girl inscribed the post­modern space of voyeurism, where the removed spectator sub­ject stares transfixed, in horror and fascination, at the victim's body and the marks of its mutilator. This site of sexual violence was the fissure wherein collapsed all possible subject positions.
the limits of language: #14 was the most ambitious event of the Volt program, a sustained multimedia event, involving practices of video, virtual technologies, electronic soundscapes, narrative, dance, performance, and visual art, from collaborating artists: Keith Armstrong, Anthony Babicci, Panos Couros, Alex Karydis, Brian Lucas, Lisa O'Neill, Ann Wulff. The work, set in an empty twenty-five metre swimming pool known as the Spring Hill Baths and viewed from above on the surrounding bal­conies, very skilfully interwove these practices, exploring permu­tations of form, sound, and space in a manner that was at once subtle and highly engaging. The sophisticated interconnections of these practices became the substance of the work, as form dissolved into sound, dissolved into narrative, dissolved into dance dissolved into form. One of the major artistic strengths of #14 was Anthony Babicci's images and narratives which pro­pelled and cohered the work. The narratives were autobiographi­- al, relating intimate details of family and friends in a way that avoided sentimentality, while his graphic, gestural images were produced in sand, shaving cream, and virtual painting. These refreshing realisms acted as the necessary accompaniment to the highly abstract and formalist dance performances of Brian Lucas and Lisa O'Neill, whose bodies and their virtual accompa­niments played over the space in complex patternings.
The exploration of the body as a tool in the dance works, jux­taposed with narratives of personal memory, floated in complex layerings of sound which ranged from mainstream kitsch to abstract electronics (by Panos Couros). The dislocation of body and subject, the absence of a speaking authorial "I" mapped a postmodern subjectivity, enacting a series of transgressions through alternating speaking positions manufactured by body, practice, and technical apparatus. The work was punctuated with projected sign posts of text which referred to the fascistic idiocies of government ("Watch Your Mouth", "Life wasn't meant to be", "Blatant, filthy disgusting porn"). In this way #14 was both a lament on the absence of community and the political lie that is "we", while also being a synthetic collaboration and a revision of community. Through its instantaneous play of limit and trans­gression #14 perhaps glimpsed a postmodern understanding of community.
Ann Graham also engaged notions of community and her work Chain of Chambers explored new methodologies for the relationship between artist, art practice, and audience. A circle of tent-like structures was set up in the city centre (King George Square). Each tent contained a set of objects, mostly items of personal care, and the audience was invited to participate in the work (writing, washing hands, eating bread, and so on). In the evenings, Graham projected silent films onto the tents and set up a type of outdoor soup-kitchen attracting wide audiences (from elderly street people to teenagers and upper middle class concert goers). Chain of Chambers was a subtle and sensitive work, engaging in a ground-breaking area of ephemeral arts practice.
sexuality as fissure: Parlour Volatile by Moira Finucane and Jackie Smith was the most disturbing and confronting work of Volt. Moira Finucane sustained an intense and full-on solo work on the performance of sexualities. Her characters (male, female, queer, and hybrid combinations of these), appeared and disappeared in quick successions of spectacle, leaving a dizzy audience to interrogate its own gaze and subject position. The work was a biting satire of mainstream mass media cultures (from rock music to television show hosts to strip shows), reveal­ing the depths of misogyny and homophobia in the mass media's paranoiac projections of collective culture.
At the opposite ends of the Volt spectrum, though in some ways dealing with similar concerns, George Pinn's Surge was a site-specific installation work in a construction site beneath the Centenary Pool at Spring Hill. Pinn's was a far more conceptual and experimental investigation of the gaze and the relationship between artist and audience. The audience was guided through dust and debris of the construction site to an underground area, where site-specific and audience-generated sounds were cap­tured, mixed, and relayed and visual images were projected onto walls and objects. One of the main images was of a large eye­ball, bloodshot and blinking. Most of the space was constructed from found debris of the construction site as well as Pinn's own poured plaster shapes which resemble frozen fluid forms. The work was claustrophobic and enveloping while at the same time resisting any overriding narrative confinement.
The works in Volt testify to the critical importance of perfor­mance practice for the future of artistic and intellectual practice. The lack of conceptual rigour behind the program itself was dis­appointing. Perhaps Festival culture precludes the possibility of such a brief. Certainly the Volt subtitle (The NEW Performance) was banal and misleading, and symptomatic of the artistic amnesia from which this country suffers. The Symposium (organised by Donna Confetti), held over two afternoons at the Institute of Modern Art, was lacking in coherence. Purporting to be a discussion on current directions in performance art prac­tice, the symposium was actually a series of (albeit interesting) artist talks. Either the speakers weren't given a proper brief for their presentations, or they themselves are sadly lacking a criti­co-historical framework for their practice.
In conclusion one can only whinge, yet again, about how big a bite of the infrastructural cherry goes to (non-experimental) performing arts in comparison to the visual arts, and how hard any experimental arm works. The significance and success of #14 was directly attributable to its additional funding (a Hybrid Arts grant as well as support from Queensland University of Technology). "True collaboration" requires time, space, and money. "Critical discourse" requires sustained models for inter­pretation and participation, as well as time, space, and money. Let's hope Brisbane's performance culture can get beyond the electroshock therapy of Volt and the knee-jerk reaction of the Festival mentality.
Michel Foucault. "A Preface to Transgression". Language, Counter-Memory, Practice. Ithaca- Cornell University Press, 1977.



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