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AN ODD MIXTURE

Print Version

NZ Fringe Festival 2013
RESIDENCE
Presented by Everybody Cool Lives Here

at Inverlochy Art School, Inverlochy Place, Te Aro, Wellington
From 22 Feb 2013 to 3 Mar 2013
[1 hr]

Reviewed by John Smythe, 23 Feb 2013


The reception room is festooned with memorabilia evoking the history of Inverlochy House. If you have come expecting to rediscover its Victorian and Edwardian era as a ‘grand residence' by virtue of this Residence, engaging with these artefacts will be your only chance, until the very end.

The ‘show' proper, billed as a “candlelit promenade performance”, treats us to a series of experiences in different rooms. Well the first one – an ‘Afterlife 101' seminar (led by Aidan Weekes) – is relatively experiential in that we drape ourselves in spook sheets and participate in an exercise or two. A vocalised list of names presumably relates to past inhabitants but we learn nothing about them.

The rest of the hour is more observational. Beyond the Dark Room we find a woman (Rose Kirkup) in a bubble bath. Clad in a leotard like Beyoncé wears in her ‘Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)' You Tube clip, she relates her poignant story of migration from the Hutt Valley to the big city and “an awesome job in an accounting firm” only to suffer staff room humiliation in her quest for love. 

Quite where this fits in to the house's history is unclear but it turns out to be the most compelling portion of the hour. And if you know Beyoncé's ‘I'm A Survivor' there's a brief opportunity for some sing-along participation.

Up the stairs, in an art room, a disembodied voice keeps telling us there is to be no [spoiler averted] in this room, which of course produces the opposite result. I guess that's quite experiential, to be fair. And it may relate to some notions of Victorian propriety.

Next, in a bare room this time, we passively watch a grungy digital film depicting disaffected youth in suburban Gisborne, where “every day's a Sunday.” Despite being the first city in the world to “see the light”, this is “Dystopia” … There are scenes in a beer garden, a couple of kids play out domestic violence scenes from Once Were Warriors, and a drunken youth talks about his fickle father.

How this fits the show's advertised concept is even more of a mystery. Maybe it claims some tenuous connection to the time when the House was “a dwelling of anti-developers”.

Back in the foyer we are given a microwave cooking demonstration (by Nic Lane, I think). By this time I have to conclude that Inverlochy House's current role as an Art School means that anything goes and any sense of thematic or conceptual cohesion would be regarded as far too conventional.

The front parlour is effectively returned to its past by an overhead projector image that clothes the walls in Victorian décor as a pianist adds to the evocation, providing a context for the perpetrators to take their bow.  

Overall it is an odd mixture of performative elements from which I feel more and more detached as the hour progresses. If I declare it adds up to considerably less than the sum of its parts, will its creators feel they have therefore ticked some sort of ‘post-modern deconstruction' box?

Amid the wealth of other works on offer in the Fringe, I find it hard to care.  
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Comments

sam trubridge posted 24 Feb 2013, 11:03 AM
 

John, I would like to respectfully respond to your review, which I think was written without much knowledge of contemporary practises that are blurring boundaries between visual art / installation practises and theatre. As such your writing belies a rather narrow understanding of the field that a performance studies or visual arts writer would have many problems with. Granted that ECLH included the work in the theatre section, but this indicates the problem in categorising works in festival programmes, given that Residencewould probably be out of place in the Visual Arts category as well. Besides, there are plenty of other 'theatre' projects like this around the world by companies/artists like Punchdrunk, Dreamthinkspeak, Signa Sorensen, Kretakor, Deborah Warner... but I suspect that you are not au fait with these works, let alone the visual art practises of Christian Boltanski, Anne Hamilton, etc. I have not seenResidenceyet, so my words are not in defence of the work. Rather my words here are to advocate for a greater literacy in contemporary performance practises that can be brought to bear on cross-over works such as this. Otherwise we will just end up only encouraging the models that writers like you are familiar and comfortable with. Sam

John Smythe posted 24 Feb 2013, 12:44 PM
 

Well gosh Sam, should I apologise for not being au fait with some secret society I was not informed I had to join up with in order to better understand this work? I thought that even with performance art the only qualification one had to have to attent was to be a sentient human being. Anything else should advertise clearly that only the initiated and qualified are welcome - then the rest of us poor ignorant sods need not waste our time.  I actually find it very offensive that you assume I want Fringe shows to keep me in my comfort zone. Far from it. 

sam trubridge posted 24 Feb 2013, 01:28 PM
 

But you are a reviewer John - who has the responsibility of communicating with the public about works that are made. And perhaps this requires just a little bit more knowledge than most about the field? Of course it does not require an exclusive knowledge or secret society to engage [or not engage] with works like this, but perhaps it does if you are going to write about it as a serious critic? A good topic for debate either way. I'd be interested in what others think.

John Smythe posted 24 Feb 2013, 03:06 PM
 

Sam, if you do get to Residence I would love to you review it for Theatreview. Meanwhile, on listening to today's Arts On Sunday discussion on community involvement in performances, I found myself agreeing whole-heartedly with your colleague Christopher McElroen about the importance of artists asking themselves, “Why am I telling the story I'm telling and why am I using this form of expression?”

Need I add that I get we are not necessarily talking about conventional story-telling here? I do understand that all sorts of art forms can be described in terms of the ‘narratives' they contain, be they explicit or implicit.

I do appreciate your point about reviewing from an informed position but if I ever start using phrases like “self performativity” (as used by another participant in the same discussion) I hope someone will kick me.

Ryan Hartigan posted 25 Feb 2013, 03:08 PM
 

Kia ora John,

 

Someone just brought my attention to this bunfight. As the other primary discussant in that AOS conversation, and the one who I assume you're referring to, I'm pretty bemused. I'm not hard to contact, and not shy about being named. A snide aside to a third party? I don't remember looking to get involved in your current forum. It seems a bit sad, really. Particularly because it's directed to a close friend and collaborator who invited me to have those days of inspiring conversations with local artists. I could respond in kind, but it seems like a bad way to live. I'd rather have more of those inspiring conversations, and be direct and talk -to- people I'm talking -about-.

 

By the way, I hope that no-one does decide to kick you if you catch up with a pretty straightforward term, with over nine decades of usage, and which is pretty commonplace in the artistic scene I'm in. It's particularly amusing that you're trying to parody something as jargon when you've made a sally at the word "deconstruction" in your review. It reminds me very much of the memorable line of the character, Inigo Montoya, in "The Princess Bride": "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."

Cheers!

Ryan 

John Smythe posted 25 Feb 2013, 04:03 PM
 

OK Ryan, that was a bad pun, then. I simply meant that many structures pulled to pieces or having their interconnecting components removed tend to lose their value as more than the sum of their parts. A disassembled collection of struts and rungs is no longer a ladder; a disassembled bicycle carries you nowhere, etc, etc. I do realise Derrida's ‘deconstruction' (as a form of semiotic analysis) is not synonymous with ‘disassembled' … As I say: bad punning.

I have no idea whether the makers of Residence have a rationale for assembling the elements of their work as they have; all I can say is I did not detect one. Considering the title – which is often a key to solving such questions – does not help in this case. And coming at it from my own perspective, regardless of what its makers intended, leaves me feeling less than enthused.

If this is due to my sad lack of acquaintance with ‘artistic scenes' where terms like ‘self performativity' are commonplace – presumably among those seeking to expose hegemonic conceptions of identity as fictions by questioning the unity of the liberal subject and problematised liberal legal discourse on minority rights (see Dr Geoff Boucher's critique of Judith Butler) – then may I suggest audiences be screened for appropriate qualifications.  

Simon Taylor posted 25 Feb 2013, 07:26 PM
 

you are so complacent, so self-satisfied, in your ignorance, John, that you impute it to others. You impute it to others, in niggardly fashion, implying a prospective audience ought to be screened for the knowledge that would permit them to appreciate Residence, and yet remain complacent and self-satisfied in your ignorance and mediocrity. I tend to think you are confusing 'mediocrity' with 'average' in tarring the prospective audience with the whitewash that is so greying on you. I am recalled to the Muldoonism of invoking the ordinary bloke to undercut any would-be critic. He also availed himself of the Ivory Tower defence - of course, it was not his government who pulled down the pretentious edifice of learning-as-end-in-itself down or learning-by-those-who-might-make-a-living-of-it.

sam trubridge posted 26 Feb 2013, 03:33 PM
 

Hi John, I really want to see Residence - and am trying to make a time. I will also try and write a review if I can, although things are rather busy at the moment. All the best, Sam

John Smythe posted 26 Feb 2013, 03:39 PM
 

Thank you Sam - looking forward to it. (And yes, this feels like the busiest week of the year so far.)