REVIEW: The Audience Is Present by Belinda Anderson-Hunt

On the Friday the 14th of October ‘The Audience is Present’ a new work by performance artist Belinda Anderson-Hunt was presented as part of Verge festival at the Cellar Theatre. In ‘The Artist is Present’, Marina Abramović’s game changing work of performance art, 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.

Similarly in Anderson-Hunt’s work ‘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 led into a darkened space. There Anderson-Hunt performs a series of stretches. Then one by one she takes spectators by hand and leads them into a second space with two seating banks opposite to each other. Anderson-Hunt leads each person to a seat one by one and then 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 people’s 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.

Art and About Sydney – Opening Night

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The opening of Art and About Sydney was celebrated at Martin Place earlier tonight. The celebration, coined as Friday Night Live, was an evening of cocktails, music and film that set the tone for what is sure to be an inspiring and exciting festival. The event started with a screening of The Arrival by Shaun Tan with a live performance of the score by percussionist Ben Walsh and the 10-piece Orkestra of the Underground. Next The Break filled the audience with trippy space age rock from their new album, Space Farm. Delicious cocktails were on offer throughout the night alongside quirky food trucks. 

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For the night owls the evening was just beginning. Attendees could head to the Justice and Police Museum for part one of Penguin Plays Rough at City of Shadows exhibition. This exhibition/performance/literary hybrid brings together ten writers, comedians, playwrights and other wordsmiths to create a story, over several months, in response to a photo chosen from the Police Forensic Archive.

For those looking for a chilled evening Custom’s House library offered the solution: relaxed music, readings and performance. Other recommendations for the night included seeing the Artists’ Market at the State Library of NSW or taking in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Exhibition at the Australian Museum.

Art and About Sydney boasts an eclectic and intriguing mix of artworks and performances that will bring the city to life from the 20th of September to the 20th of October. Have a look at the full spread of events and exhibitions here. In the next weeks I will be trying to see and review as much of the festival as possible! Happy festivaling!