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Aleks Danko, Jude Walton, A list of positive things for later when things may not be so positive, Palm House, Adelaide Botanic Garden Aleks Danko, Jude Walton, A list of positive things for later when things may not be so positive, Palm House, Adelaide Botanic Garden
photo Michael Zerman
AT MEDIEVAL FEASTS THERE WAS A PARTICULAR CLASS OF DISH CALLED SUBTLETIES. TRICKSY DISHES, THEY WERE MADE FOR EFFECT (MARZIPAN CASTLES, BIRDS IN A PIE) AND ALL ABOUT ILLUSION AND ITS DISSOLUTION. COLLABORATIONS BETWEEN MAKER AND AUDIENCE, THEY DEPENDED ON THE DINER’S WILLINGNESS TO RISK ENTERING THE UNKNOWN AND THE ILLUSIONIST’S CREATIVE SKILL. IN RETURN FOR BELIEF THE REWARD WAS SURPRISE AND DELIGHT. THIS TACIT CONTRACT LIES TOO WITHIN COLLABORATIVE PARTNERSHIPS. AS COLLABORATORS ARE TWINNED AND DOUBLED, SO RISK AND DELIGHT ARE INTIMATELY ALLIED. NO LIGHT THING, DELIGHT IS SHADOWED BY LOSS AND FOR THE DELIGHT OF WHAT IS GIVEN AND CREATED, COLLABORATORS CONTINUALLY RISK IT.

It’s not such a long way then from marzipan castles to Pip and Pops’ fantastical sugar landscapes, Farrell and Parkin’s gleeful animation or the joy of two poets talking on a bright cold day, for delight runs deep through Duetto’s rich offerings.

Twinning exhibitions with film and performance elements, the Australian Experimental Art Foundation’s exploration of the nature of collaborative partnerships, Duetto, ranges over a broad variety of collaborative forms and expressions. What emerges most strongly from this multiplicity is a sense of sustenance—of sustaining and being sustained by these ineffable and often alchemical relationships. While these may, as director Domenico de Clario writes, “resist any kind of articulation” (Duetto catalogue), the scaffolding is there to be sensed in the rhythms, synergies and patterns of the work.

Delight is immediate with Pip and Pops’ Three minutes happiness (2010), their grand, hugely detailed landscape composed wholly of coloured sugar, origami follies and craggy mountains. Its wealth of things (birds, lights, horses, rainbows) technicolour palette, scale and idiosyncratic sensibility fascinate. Yet it’s not simply whimsy with the landscape forms and arrangements owing as much to Japanese gardens, with their raked patterns and symbolism, as to the sensibilities of kawai culture’s cuteness. In the same way that Japanese landscapes draw the viewer into contemplation, the absolute superabundance of Three minutes happiness provokes wonder, drawing the eye in and through, revealing something gentler and deeper.

D&K, The stranger and his friend, Queen’s Theatre D&K, The stranger and his friend, Queen’s Theatre
photo Teri Hoskin
Here collaboration emerges as ethical. Greg Burgess and Pip Stokes write of their relationship as “a form of healing care of the self and other” and their term “the architecture of kindness” seems an apt and expressive one for the structures of nurturing partnership and for the persistence of care that abounds in the works in Duetto. D&K’s performance The stranger and his friend (2010) involved the two men almost naked, hooded in black, slowly swinging and singing hymns beneath naked, single light bulbs. Haunting, it was also a work of great and unexpected tenderness.

Janine Antoni and Paul Ramirez Jonas’ two-screen video work Migration (1999) shows one artist endlessly stepping into the only just made footsteps of the other. Quoting Octavio Paz on the experience of love, “we are the theatre of the embrace of opposites and their dissolution,” the continuous production of the self, other and the collaborative third is embodied in this endless loop of making and dissolving footsteps.

This experience of being joined and yet individual is articulated as forms in space in Burgess and Stokes’ Sense (2009). Hollow beeswax blocks, the six-sided form referencing the cell and collective life of the beehive, are arranged in an open curve, like a half built tower. Neither open or closed, the curve creates a sheltering space defined by the tension between openness and enclosure. Not simply a work between two people, photographed in its original bushland setting, Sense extends collaboration into a healing relationship with nature.

The doubling of self and other moves through the spoken word poems of Aleks Danko and Jude Walton. Taking their audience on a rambling processional through the Adelaide Botanic Gardens they performed A list of positive things for when things may not be so positive (2010). An index of first lines borrowed from other poets—”musing on roses and revolutions,” “beauty and beauty’s son,” “and the winter’s cold bright tulips we do know”—grew into a singing duologue of lines bouncing back and forth between the poets, a gentle rhythm of the accommodations of each to the other’s thought. Enveloped jellyfish-like in raincoats in the Victorian Palm House, they gave us a couplet of longing (“I mist you,” “I mist you too”) as they lovingly sprayed water into each other’s faces. The rhythm of this nurturing partnership flowed through it all as play and humour.

Different sorts of collaborations take place in the works by Stelarc and Nina Sellars and Farrell and Parkin as they expand and mutate the possibilities of collaboration. Stelarc’s Ear on Arm (2010), seen as a giant sculpture and surgical photographs, is to be internet enabled with microphone and transmitter allowing remote transmission and input. Becoming many to one, Ear on Arm both diffuses the idea of collaboration as necessarily intimate and complicates it as the ear becomes the implanted collaborator.

As Stelarc morphs self into many, Farrell and Parkin merge in their kooky manga video Physiology of spite (2009/10). Stretching the possibilities of portraiture, Farrell and Parkin have mutated their images into cartoon beings. Seen first as themselves they mutate into winged creatures that spread flaming, highly coloured destruction. Against this unreal apocalypse comes the third creature made of their merged photographic selves, a golden ambiguous angel. This oddball take on the collective self embodies their practice, their joyful willingness to enter into the collaborative moment, recognising its generative possibilities and the surprise and delight therein.

Missing my own domestic collaboration, I couldn’t attend the World Cup tribute soccer match or Domenico de Clario and Stephen Whittington’s tribute to the eclipsed moon, Universe as Mirror (2010). But in a way the descriptions of these celebrations were enough. Delighting me in the telling, in my brain they became something other than what actually happened. Ideas connect and grow; every time a tiny collaboration.


AEAF, Duetto; Queens Theatre, Mercury Cinema and Adelaide Botanic Gardens, Adelaide, May 28-June 26

RealTime issue #98 Aug-Sept 2010 pg. 52

© Jemima Kemp; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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