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Glenn Thompson, Julie-Anne Long, 4’33’’ Into the Past Glenn Thompson, Julie-Anne Long, 4’33’’ Into the Past
photo Heidrun Löhr
Despite a reluctance to do so, one can’t ignore saying something about John Cage’s performance 4’33’’ and the tradition within which this work sits. Why? Because even though Julie-Anne Long and Glenn Thompson do not directly perform this famously controversial score (musician on stage with instrument without playing said instrument over three movements in front of an audience) they do participate playfully and parodically with the provocations and propositions of Cage and others of this period historically labelled “happenings.”

Born on the stages of the Bauhausian influenced Black Mountain College with Cage, Merce Cunningham and Robert Rauschenberg, these experimental events reverberated east to New York, with the groovy gallery interactions of Alan Kaprow and the often lab-coated performances of Fluxus artists muttering and/or instructing their audiences through microphones

In the gallery spaces of Campbelltown Arts Centre the reverberation continues. Long in a white lab coat is busily collecting data and mapping the suburb and state electorates in which audience members live. We are not asked our earning bracket, but how much “actual cash” we have brought with us, “down to the last cent.” A record is made—the card swipers, pushers, tappers and wavers obvious among us. Meanwhile Thompson, also in lab coat, begins to drill holes in the gallery wall. A large plasma screen is mounted. The stage is divided. A drum kit played by Braxton Hegh from Campbelltown Performing Arts High School animates the first story of the past. High on the high hat with rock beat Lesson No. 5 underway, Thompson drops to his knees and recounts a ‘when I was young’ encounter; it’s nostalgically small, but character forming. On the margins of stage right we see the profile of Long directing someone offstage with tripod and camera, revealed on screen to be Georgia Briggs, also from CPAHS, who is “whipping it around” in a release based movement sequence: lesson, practice and warm-up.

The stage resets. There’s a bit of turntable rubbing from Long and an explosion of applause from a studio audience—not us from the Greater Sydney electorates, but artificial cheers jabbing at the space. Briggs sweeps through the space with her routine and a solar system appears on the plasma. All four dance a quirky number together, in white, in a white box with the galaxy glittering through a digital window.

Two microphone stands. Long and Thompson tell more stories of the past: were they formative in the emergence of arts practices? Hegh and Briggs sitting cross-legged flank Long and Thompson, left and right, in a perverse symmetry responding to these memoirs with simple mimicking gestures while plugged into their handheld devices. But where are their instructions coming from? The logic of transmission is unclear.

Long, helped by Briggs, returns to focus our attention on a faux-analysis of previously collected data. A map of the state electorates shows the density of attendance this evening, followed by an emerging pie chart on the monitor as a new galaxy representing how cashed up we are together: ca-ching! Use-value versus exchange-value suddenly takes on new meaning: could a coin really be a carrot rather than an abstract representation of it? But what is the point? Hmmm, my interpretive brain is working overtime here; am I taking Cage too seriously? Perhaps the point is no point: a pointless build to nowhere. This is the piece’s charm, along with a poke at earnestness. And for the askers of the why: why the hell not!

The Casio filtered voice of Long repeats the words “the contemporary dance” as we are plopped into an I♥NY loft scene, with Hegh strumming on acoustic guitar, Briggs leaning, coolly observant and Thompson wrapping his arms and hands around his head in a baroque twist to physically frame the retro-blurring of instrument, voice, image, movement and mood. A strong light beams in from stage left; the room thickens with smoky ice. Acceptance speeches in a canon run of overlapping “thank you’s” spoken into mics—doubling, trebling and quadrupling in the portal mist of a dying light.

The work feels less a happening than that things happened, offering us scenes, or better yet, events of not really knowing what or why, other than that we were ‘entertained’ by ‘art’ and fulfilled by the offering to “pay attention to what it is just as it is” (Cage 1957). Cage’s 4’33’’ is a paradoxical score about silence. Into the silence all we can hear is the noise. For Long and Thompson, the past—all we can find, and indeed applaud—is the present since the artists here are from where they were: Thompson, the little drummer from Queensland and Long “the prima batlet ballerina” (as she recorded in a childhood book of 1972 charting her then career) from suburban Auckland.

4’33’’ Into the Past was developed as part of the Campbelltown Arts Centre’s I can Hear Dancing Program (2012) initially curated by Emma Saunders and curatorially developed by Kiri Morcombe.

I can hear Dancing, 4’33’’ into the past; artists Julie-Anne Long, Glenn Thompson and collaborators, Campbelltown Arts Centre, Sydney, 25 & 26 Sept

RealTime issue #130 Dec-Jan 2016 pg. 35

© Jodie McNeilly; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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