REVIEW: The Audience Is Present by Belinda Anderson-Hunt

On the Friday the 14th of October 2016 ‘The Audience is Present’, a new work by performance artist Belinda Anderson-Hunt, was presented as part of Verge festival at the Cellar Theatre.

‘The Audience Is Present’ by Belinda Anderson-Hunt aims to expand on the themes of   Marina Abramović seminal performance art piece ‘The Artist is Present’.  In ‘The Artist is Present’, Abramović invited spectators to sit opposite her for 5 minutes or less with her full attention and direct eye contact, leaving them to sit comfortably or uncomfortably in her gaze.

In ‘The Audience is Present’ the audience is shifted from their position as safe spectator and left feeling exposed. When I arrive at the Cellar Theatre we are instructed to turn off our phones and are led into a darkened foyer. In the foyer Anderson-Hunt performs a series of stretches and encourages the audience members to join her. Next she takes the spectators by hand, and one by one leads them into a second space with two seating banks opposite to each other. Then, she leaves.

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The spectators are left for 30 minutes and the results are intriguing. Each audience member is left to sit uncomfortably in each others presence. Some refrain from direct eye contact, preferring to stare directly at their shoes. The eyes of a whole seating bank is intrusive. Some audience members embrace the eye contact with welcome, while other eyes dart away from the intimacy. The duration of the work is certainly what made it so powerful, as noone is quite sure how long the piece will go for.

Without phones, without distractions and without any indicator of time, there is nothing left to distract us but the fact that we are in presence of other people. How often are we left to socialise without any of the social cruxes we cling to: a drink, a joke, polite banter, a phone?

A comfortable silence, is often thought of as something that can only be achieved with a true friend. Surrounded by this wall of strangers, constrained to silence, I felt that we were forced into such a friendship. No talking, no excuses, no laughing, the audience was only able to drink each other in. The long duration led, me at least, to take in every detail of the audience, to construct their personalities by only what I could see.

We so often stalk each other online. Hours are spent staring at someones pictures, making guesses at who they truly are, but in civilised society we are never allowed to just stare, to purely take someone in without fear of being labeled a creep.

By the end of the performance I felt like I knew a little about each person; the one who adverts their gaze; the one who smiles; the performer; the one who shifts in their skin. A study conducted in 1989 by Kellerman, Lewis, and Laird posited that with enough direct eye contact anyone can fall in love. It was this strange thought that lingered in my mind, as I walked out of the performance and heard these peoples voices for the first time. The experience was one of isolation and intimacy, and one I was glad to have caught.

I’m excited to see what Belinda Anderson-Hunt comes up with next.

 

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‘Actions for Tomorrow’ Yangjiang Group

Chinese artist collective Yangjiang Group has brought their first solo exhibition to Australia in association with the Sydney Chinese New Year Festival this year: Actions For Tomorrow.

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Yangjiang Group are Zheng Guogu (b. 1970, Yangjiang, China), Chen Zaiyan (b. 1971, Yangchun, China) and Sun Qinglin (b. 1974, Yangjiang, China). Founded in 2002 the group name themselves after their home town, a city in Guangdong province, where their principle studio is located.

The exhibition will be open from 17 January – 7 March 2015. So get in quick!

Art and About – ‘I Think I Can’ Review

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I Think I Can places a thoroughly modern concept: avatars, onto a nostalgic frame. The interactive artwork, being exhibited as part of the Art and About Sydney Festival, allows individuals to create avatars that live and interact in a large scale model railway named Springfield Junction.

Taking it’s name from popular children’s book The Little Engine That Could’, I Think I Can focuses on creation and storytelling. The work is the brainchild of Terrapin Puppet Theatre artistic director Sam Routledge and artist Martyn Coutts and is presented by Performance Space and Art and About Sydney.

I found I Think I Can at the Central Station Concourse on the opening night of Art and About Sydney, and quickly decided I wanted to experience it. After an informative chat with a volunteer I decided that I would get an avatar. The first step was a personality test. Then I was presented with a selection of different avatars that I could choose from. I chose an ‘Activist’. Other avatars that you could be assigned included the Queen, a vandal, a reality TV star, or President Obama.

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My ‘I Think I Can’ Passport and my selected avatar.

The next step was figuring out where he would be placed in Springfield Junction. I decided my little man should be hanging by the abattoir. Next his back story had to be established. I decided the activist was visiting friends who work at the abattoir and coming for a spot of protesting. The guy, let’s call him Ned, had decided to protest at the abattoir because he had found an embryo in a can from the factory. He’d only been an activist for about a week. This back story was recorded in an iPad.

My tiny avatar was then animated by a puppeteer and broadcast live onto a screen above the model town.

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The puppeteer animates the Activist.

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The Activist has become part of Springfield Junction.

I have been told that each time I come back I can change what my activist is up to and I can follow his adventures if he pops up in the ‘I Think I Can Times’: an online publication of the scandals and news of Springfield Junction.

I enjoyed the artwork on many levels. On one level, the process evoked nostalgia of model train stations and made me appreciate the enormous capacity we have as children to create fictional worlds. This element allows the work to be family friendly, it’s great for kids and it’s cheap (free to participate)!  On another level, I enjoyed the art work for all statements that it was making. I Think I Can made me consider how much we try escape our own lives through building hyperreal (often better) versions of ourselves, and our lives. I Think I Can felt like a tangible version of Second Life that was framed in a nostalgic way, making such virtual worlds that are traditionally seen as strange and deviant, playful and natural. It made me realise that this identification with a character is something that we are drawn to even as children.

What statements do you think I Think I Can is making?

Springfield Junction

Little avatars hard at work.

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Springfield Junction is a hot bed of activity.