Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne

review: eyeline 20 summer 1992

My background is a series of displacements and expatriations which cannot ever be recuperated...the fact that I am always in and out of things, and never really of anything for very long.

Edward Said.

While I was intrigued and delighted by Jude Walton's latest performance, Eating Earth from Home, I felt somewhat perplexed by this new work-one which I knew to be, however well developed, presented as a "work in progress". The work's third part, rich and dense, seemed at odds with the other two sections of the piece, and I found myself examining the structure in an attempt to grasp the overall sense. Until, that is, I realized that it is the structure itself which bore witness to the act of viewing, to the act of performance.

I should explain: in the installation performance, Walton created three sections, LARK, PASSAGE II and ENOUGH, which one experienced sequentially. The first was a sculptural/audio piece: scrubbed white chairs suspended above cones of flour in a blue room, the sounds of boat masts tinkling through it suggesting movement, breezes, water. PASSAGE II engaged the audience to varying degrees after having begun when three dancers started a series of crossings, of "passages" in the corridor-like room which was chained off adjacent to LARK Here, the audience was unsure about how to crowd in, how to watch, and half of them remained outside watching snippets on a monitor, busily chatting. Following this section, the audience was ushered through to the third section ENOUGH-a move from difficult viewing to seductive spectacle.

But Walton played with this very confusion, offering us both parallels to, and an understanding of, the work as a whole. The work became unified when one engaged the viewing process. As always, Walton's presentation of both form and content were correlative, the one implying the other. Moreover, this contexture, this weaving together, was a direct pointer to the notions of do-territorialisation and fragmentation toward which she guided us in the above quote from Said and the title of the work. The title is evocative of the African custom according to which a new bride eats little bits of earth from home in an effort to "help her make the transition between her homeland and her new home" (Ana Mendieta). In an article of Irit Rogoff's which is of interest to Walton, Caren Kaplan describes this process of 'de-territorialisation' as "a term for the displacement of identities, persons and meanings that is endemic to the Post-Modern world system ... [where] meanings and utterances become estranged [enabling] imagination even as it produces alienation-to express another potential community, to force the means for another consciousness and another sensibility." Having experienced the first two sections, we came to ENOUGH and were offered a poetic exploration of cultural and spiritual identity.

LARK was an imagined space of imagined movement, a play on movement, a frolic, a romp, a play on words where we imagined the movement of these chairs as birds of passage, boats of passage. This suggested swaying, suggested a being somewhere else, a sort of memory which plays with absence, presence and the one standing in for the other. The room was both of the here-and-now, and of the elsewhere-and-whenever. The flour was yet another encouragement to subaudition, carrying us over to ENOUGH, to what was to come.

PASSAGE II, then, offered a passage to viewing, a transition from one state to another, a ̉motion through" from the one state experienced in viewing LARK, to a more complicated viewing procedure involved in what "passes between two persons mutually, an interchange of confidences"(OED). The interchange here was between audience and performers as well as between each performer. (A passage is, one recalls, also a section of discourse.) Due to the, limited and constricted viewing space, the audience had to jostle for a position, (or didn't as the case may be), did or didn't make a choice about what to watch, how to watch. While a surveillance camera watched the dancers, we tried, (or couldn't be bothered to try), to watch them. We moved around as we watched the 1hree women, conscious of our voyeuristic concerns, while they acted out phrases associated with "passage": divergence, convergence, progression, oscillation, shortcoming, propulsion etcetera. They might have been happily playing leapfrog with a thesaurus. While we watched, or denied, these convoluted progressions from one well to the opposite, we were made acutely aware that the issue is, as Kaplan also maintains, positionality.

Then we are ushered into ENOUGH and uncomfortable complexity opened up to spectacle. Beckett's bleak and lovely "Lessness" was heard in darkness as the sky opened up to Ian de Gruchy's projections-from blackness to cloud-filled sky wrapped around the walls, in turn giving way to the endless, cloudless blue sky of a vast land. I was reminded of that very English expression of ultimate optimism, "Should the sky fall, we shall catch larks". In the corner stood the naked and painfully vulnerable body of Walton. Back to us, short haired, she appeared androgynous and tiny, like a little boy-girl, very slowly turning in a sod of ritualised cleansing process set amidst the words of Beckett. A little pile of clothes in the corner, abandoned, pointed up the utter isolation of being human, Everything was seen, thrown open, alone. "Legs a single block arms fast to sides little body face to endlessness" (Beckett)

Another change and the dancers, accompanied by the sad and penetrating blasts of a single trombone, returned carrying bags of flour. Slowly and carefully they filled with flour the geometric shapes of light cast across the floor by de Gruchy, making the audience gasp at the beauty of the gradually increasing brilliance-of light taking form, making light solid, the trombone's sounds making air solid, reverberating, breath caught, breath held, breathless. The dancers started to spin, making stars of flour in the dark, pouring out circles of light, creating density of lightness, of nothingness. Creating lightness from substance. In PASSAGE II the dancers marked out territories, backwards and forwards up against the wall; here they marked it out with flour, spreading around the substance of life. This substance gave way to a being of the air. de Gruchy's tracings, the formal images disintegrating into abstraction, the dancer's tracings through this field of white, leave marks as a memory of where they've been, of having been.

These tracings and the memories of previous shows combined to create patterns and series of displacements which were in fact recuperated, being ultimately "made solid" in memory, for just a moment before again disintegrating, transmogrifying, like the spin of a dancer in and out of things, never really of anything for very long.'


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