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screen bleed

fiona mcgregor, bloodbath, bump projects, sydney

Fiona McGregor will be showing ‘Vertigo,’ a seven hour performance film at MOP Projects in February 2011. She can’t skate.

Bloodbath, Bump Projects and the Sydney Roller Derby League Bloodbath, Bump Projects and the Sydney Roller Derby League
photo Jonathon Delacour
TEAMS OF GIRLS ROLLER-SKATE AROUND A TRACK BENEATH THE LIGHTING RIG. THEY’RE DRESSED IN LITTLE SHORTS, RIPPED FISHNETS AND CROP TOPS, THEIR TATTS, DYED HAIR AND MAKE-UP CREATING A MISH-MASH OF EVERY CONCEIVABLE SUBCULTURE—PUNK, GOTH, ROCKABILLY, METAL. THEY’RE ALSO PADDED, HELMETED AND GUARDED TO THE GILLS. THEY SKATE FAST AND HARD; THEY’RE AGGRESSIVE SHOW-WOMEN, EGGING US ON WITH SUDDEN RUSHES OFFTRACK, KNEE-SKIDDING FLAMBOYANTLY TO STOP JUST METRES BEFORE THE ‘SUICIDE SEATING.’ THEY’RE LIKE THE TOUGHEST CHICKS YOU EVER CAME ACROSS IN SUBURBIA WHO YOU WANTED TO HANG WITH OR ELSE WERE SCARED OF. AND THE REAL GAME HASN’T EVEN BEGUN.

Roller Derby is an American sports entertainment currently enjoying a global revival, with roots going back through various forms of contact sport and competitive skating to Depression era games that gave poor women an outlet. Contemporary derby is mostly female and driven by a DIY ethos. Sydney’s Hordern Pavilion is routinely booked out by a crowd that ranges from westie families to inner-city dykes. Australians seem born to it— feral, ironic, in your face, and underneath the piss-take, bloody serious about their sport.

It’s the perfect theatre for Bump Projects, a formidable team of some of the best new media artists in the country—Linda Dement, Francesca da Rimini, Kate Richards, Nancy Mauro-Flude and Sarah Waterson—who in collaboration with Sydney Roller Derby League presented Bloodbath, a mediation of bodies through technology. The artists created a system to collect data from sensors placed on the skaters’ helmets, and in tonight’s game used this data to trigger works screened above the stage.

Bloodbath, Bump Projects and the Sydney Roller Derby League Bloodbath, Bump Projects and the Sydney Roller Derby League
photo Jonathon Delacour
This was where the first problem lay. The smallish screens lined up side by side above the stage made for somewhat static viewing. The context is gladiatorial, in the round, but the screens stilled the gaze and crowded one another somewhat. Bigger and placed at intervals around the track, they would have integrated better with the action, a friendly bout between The Pistola Cholas and The Smackdown Sallies. (Yes, the team names, in keeping with the overall style, are facetious, OTT kitsch. Don’t get me started on the players’ names.) A quick look at the website indicates Bump themselves may have preferred a more spacious screen arrangement.

In this way the diversity of the works would also have been better appreciated. Dement’s, for me the most successful, was a bruise whose slow formation seemed a radical contrast to the mayhem of the track. But this clear articulation of trauma was apposite, the bruise healing to neutral skin, finishing with a lightly drawn flower or triggered by a collision to form another bruise immediately. Adjacent to Dement, Mauro-Flude’s text feeds were unfortunately barely legible to us in the bleachers opposite. The idea is interesting though: quotes from skaters, audience and artists, fed across the screen in a status update frenzy.

Kate Richards’ work, like Dement’s, seemed to survive the technical hitches best, her material being archives of old games. The alternately gliding or stertorous movements of the footage, colours becoming more intense with increased impact, complemented and grounded the event. As popular as the game is now, few of us have context for it, and this work went some way to providing it.

Bloodbath, Bump Projects and the Sydney Roller Derby League Bloodbath, Bump Projects and the Sydney Roller Derby League
photo Jonathon Delacour
Da Rimini’s rich amalgam of medieval imagery, poetic fragments and mythical references felt too allusory for the context, but it has stayed with me. Waterson’s pink guitar, activated by the ramming blockers to play chords from Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock’n’Roll,” couldn’t be heard until towards the end and the visual was so subtle the whole thing didn’t appear to be working for much of the night.

Due to the many technical problems beyond the artists’ control, I felt I was attending a scratch version of Bloodbath, so my criticisms are reluctant. What could emerge from this project is incredibly exciting. If the works were to be fully integrated, they could become intrinsic. Roller Derby has a quasi-futuristic feel, partly because it’s women out there engaging in the sanctioned violence that draws us to sport. At the same time it’s the most ancient form of theatre, something that Francesca da Rimini is pointing to. The medium and method are attuned to the game, it’s just a question of the artists being given all they need for their works to be fully realised.

The second match of the night, Sydney’s Assassins vs Canberra’s Vice City Rollers, was a corker. Sydney led for much of the first half, then Canberra surged and it was neck and neck until a three point win by Sydney scored in the very last minute.


Bump Projects and the Sydney Roller Derby League, Bloodbath, artists Linda Dement, Nancy Mauro-Flude, Kate Richards, Francesca da Rimini, Sarah Waterson, producers Linda Dement, Kate Richards, original concept Linda Dement, technical development Mr Snow, House of Laudanum; Hordern Pavilion, Oct 9; http://bumpp.net/

This article was first published online, Oct 25, 2010.

Fiona McGregor will be showing ‘Vertigo,’ a seven hour performance film at MOP Projects in February 2011. She can’t skate.

RealTime issue #100 Dec-Jan 2010 pg. 22

© Fiona McGregor; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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