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Sunstruck

Breaking all rules of good composition, I would like to start on an unrelated note. It leaves me wondering whether the atmospheric density, the sensual coherence, so common in Australian theatre (Liminal Theatre, cabaret, quaint circus, The Heart of Another is a Dark Forest, and many many more), even art in general, from film (The Proposition) to visual arts (Fred Williams, John Olsen, Russell Drysdale, and the plethora of landscape painters) is somehow related to the lacking grand narrative of this culture. The basic reduction of colours, shapes and motifs, the bedrock of all aesthetic coherence, is also the bedrock of the narrative coherence of cultural identity. To describe a place ex novo is nothing less than to bring it into existence or, as Lepecki would smugly put it, we need to consider representation as an ontological force. And the complicity between landscape painting and nationalism has long been identified. Sunstruck looks very much like


Russell Drysdale: The Cricketers, 1948.

this. More importantly, though, it also looks like


Raymond Depardon: Désert du Téneré (detail), 1989.

this which, no less importantly, was used as a cover image for L'Estranger [The Outsider].

The sun was shining almost vertically onto the sand and the glare from the sea was unbearable. There was no one left on the beach. It was hard to breathe in the dry heat rising from the ground. I wasn't thinking about anything because the sun beating down on my bare head was making me feel sleepy. (...) For two hours now the day had stood still, for two hours it had been anchored in an ocean of molten metal.</i> - Albert Camus, L'Estranger


The sun is one of the most frequent motifs in the first part of the book: the grinding sun that reduces existence to two-dimensionality. There are no fine shades, no minute complexity of detail, in front of the blinding sun. Everything is reduced to the elementary. Flat black and white – like graphic novels, a medium extremely apt to deal with basic existential questions (and interested in them). Sunstruck also looks like


Danijel Zezelj: from Stray Dogs (detail), 2004.

this, and like


Hugo Pratt: from La ballata del mare salato (detail), 1967.

this. Both of these graphic novelists, interestingly enough, are chiefly concerned with monochrome explorations of the most fundamental mechanisms of life. While in Zezelj's work the fine lace of detail dissolves into spare lush strokes of black on white whenever a larger theme is brought up, so do Pratt's characters regularly meander out of world wars and treasure hunts to walk empty beaches and have existentialist dialogues.

According to Sagi and Stein, Camus is concerned with concrete existence, which he thinks of in terms of the basic encounter with immediate experiences, exemplified by the sea and the sun – what they term 'his Mediterranean thinking'. In this sense, he continues the existentialist-phenomenological tradition of the Husserl/Kierkegaard/Hiedegger variety. Aesthetically, his writing contrasts the experience of the sea as immersion into absolute immanence to the existential alienation of the sun. In front of the blinding sun, we are reduced to our barest humanity.

Who doesn't know that heavy feeling of heat, turning life into abstract, thoughtless being?

The idea of 'Mediterranean thinking' is something that appeals to me, although I would stretch it to include hot and dry climate more broadly.In hot climate, all the questions appear more basic: all major religions have sprung up, fundamentally, in the desert, and so have philosophy and mathematics and tragedy. Pursuit of principles, so to speak. Standing in the front of the sun, one is never much more than simple geometry.


George Hoyningen-Huene: Untitled (Bathing Suits by Izod) (detail), from Vogue, July 5 1930.

A bit like the unavoidable abstraction of the beach body.

But this all came much, much later. Sunstruck was a piece of performance that blinded, cleansed; it left one feeling sated on pure ether, heart full of empty space. Discursive response was impossible for days after, the pure and amimetic unsuggestiveness of Sunstruck slowly letting the contradictory, overwhelming wealth of emotional response build into something more than speechless awe.

With nothing more than two men, dressed in black, one circle of chairs, one rotating sun, a fantastically fluid incorporation of the enormous shedspace into the relatively unspatious performance. Livia Ruzic's soundscape alone makes fifty percent of the experience. The choreography is never more than a rich hint of human existence itself, two men moving like blinded by great headlights, like on that Algiers beach, and it is no wonder they are men, and not women. Something about the lines being cleaner. The sea, I hear you smart kids wondering, is also present, if nothing in the seagull cries right before the end, the seagulls flying over the construction landscape outside our enormous shed. If we believe in Camus, and there is no reason not to, it is at this point that the absurd finality, limitedness, of bare existence makes peace with the immanent, and the two two-dimensional men merge with the world. There is, really, nothing more. Like that Japanese cottage in spring, like utsubo, a quality, greatly appreciated in buddhism, of being empty in order to contain the immense, hollow as an ability to become full. A bit like the capacity for pregnancy.

Martin probably summed it up best, saying:

It just seemed to encompass everything about men and joy and inexorable tragedy and struggle and continuation and children and inevitable loss and sadness and wisdom and compassion. It was one of the most empathetic pieces I have ever seen.


In this year's Arts Festival, with such aggressive preponderance of explanation, of persuasion, of unfulfilled promises, Sunstruck shines like a supernova, all understatement, undermovement, all viscous substance. By plunging as deep as possible into an atmosphere, a sensation, unexplained, unjustified, unconceptualised, it encompasses everything and more.

MIAF. Sunstruck: a premonition of events from memory, fantasy and the imagination. Concept collaboration: Helen Herbertson and Ben Cobham. Directed by Helen Herbertson. Design and lighting by Bluebottle/Ben. Physical realisation by Helen Herbertson, Trevor Patrick and Nick Sommerville. Set realised by Alan Robertson. Soundscape by Livia Ruzic. Music by Tamil Rogeon (violin) and Tim Blake (cello). Production by Bluebottle/Frog. Shed 4, North Wharf Road, Docklands. Season ended.

Comments

( 10 comments — Leave a comment )
(Anonymous)
Oct. 21st, 2008 09:55 pm (UTC)
I wish I'd seen this. It sounds stunning. I do disagree with your summation of the festival as a whole, though. So far, out of 17 performances, I've felt that 14 have done it for me in one way or another. Still waiting for the end of the week until I see what the narrative of the festival as a whole says to me. - A
misonou
Oct. 22nd, 2008 01:43 am (UTC)
It really was quite awesome, although there is always a fine line here between extremely subtle and boring. A critic's performance, I'd say.

But, look, I am all festivalled out. I've had four festivals back to back this year - and that's nothing compared to what some people, in some places, have to go through. Your perception of merit fundamentally changes when it feels like you're sifting through a very high pile of same old, same old, most of your time.
misonou
Oct. 22nd, 2008 01:46 am (UTC)
On the other hand, I was never as enthusiastic about MIAF 08 as you, not even when the program was released in June, with all the anticipatory buzz.
(Anonymous)
Oct. 22nd, 2008 04:30 am (UTC)
True. For my part, I'm finding this a festival with a lot of depth. And more to come. Are you seeing Romeo and Juliet? One of my big anticipations and I'm hoping it lives up to expectation.

But hey. It's not like I'm entirely ignorant of European work and aesthetic. And I'm wary of the rabid consumption of art that leads to it all becoming an ill-defined blur in one's head, something that can lead to ennui or myopia. I'd always rather try to see each thing for what it is before interrogating it for what it isn't. - A
misonou
Oct. 22nd, 2008 06:18 am (UTC)
All the shows I have been most excited about are coming up in a block this week: Appetite, Endgame (which I missed last year), That Night Follows Day, and Romeo & Juliet.

I hope I didn't subconsciously say anything about European work just now? I've found MIAF 08 to be surprisingly homogeneous so far, in terms of style, approach and aim; but greater diversity need not bring greater quality. And Europe has as much ordinary theatre as any other place. Just perhaps more varied.

Overall, I find myself more critical of dance than of verbal theatre. It may be called ennui, but I think of it as an accelerating inquiry into the possibilities of the art form.

But, I'm sure you'll agree the world is big enough for disagreement. I understand why you like Corridor, and I understand why many may dislike Sunstruck. I am looking forward to what those children of Footscray have to say about it all.
(Anonymous)
Oct. 22nd, 2008 10:29 pm (UTC)
Argument makes my world go round, Jana! I enjoy the whetstone of disagreement. As I've said often, I can only claim my own experience. And I have to say that homogeneity hasn't been my experience of this festival. Ligeti and Patti Smith set the spectrum early for me...
misonou
Oct. 23rd, 2008 04:37 am (UTC)
I wonder what you would have said about Goran Bregovic, Alison. I am still trying to come to terms with the experience.

Fortunately, I am not required to churn out quick responses to what I see: I have been able to stay mercifully quiet on Tim Crouch (how unrewarding to write on what one disliked!), and did not have to attempt to speak on the behalf of Deborah Hay (who would have been a fantastic candidate for a mini-retrospective this time around - not merely for the weight of her oeuvre, but because hers is a type of artistic inquiry quite alien to the local audience). The programming, though, has seemed to be a confused statement at best. But I'll wait until it's all over...
vivid07
Oct. 23rd, 2008 12:30 am (UTC)
sunstruck
Thanks for a beautifully written and thought out response to Sunstruck Misonou.
Pity I didn't feel the same about the piece itself.
Lazy performances, it really was quite absurd in its lack of commitment.
At least Camus' existentialist exposure was in an informed position to reflect something larger.
A 'kind of Zen spareness' used as an excuse for not much detail or thought, becoming like a trick rather than an invitation into a (very) rigorous philosophy.
Emptiness, a wonderful notion, is unfortunately too valuable to apply to this work of pasteurised exoticism. Considering the performers were speaking fragments of Chinese, not Japanese ('what's the difference hm?') it was confused. But the sun is universal right?
Nevertheless, the atmosphere created by the set and music and seagulls was captivating and concealed the lack of depth. There is a difference between empty and the commodified airport lounge image of empty.
Don't mean to excoriate, but unless I come to the conclusion that it's a ruse, I have to expect more (respect).
misonou
Oct. 23rd, 2008 04:47 am (UTC)
Re: sunstruck
You see, one could make the same comment about Camus's novel being a lazy performance, showing lack of commitment, etc. Well, could have made, some years ago. Fortunately, literary criticism has always been much smarter than theatre criticism. As has been remarked elsewhere, so has art criticism.

When understating, it is always questionable how much depth you can find lacking. 'Some people can read War and Peace and come away thinking it was a simple adventure story. Others can read the ingredients on a chewing gum wrapper and unlock the secret of the universe.' I do think your experience often comes down to your personal mood, temperament, what you've been reading..., as much as the performance itself. And, mind you, it was a critic's performance, very much so.

Finally, a very serious problem: how do you sparingly convey depth of thought? Give me examples.
vivid07
Oct. 23rd, 2008 06:35 am (UTC)
Re: sunstruck
Depth is in the eye of the beholder?
Therefore me being unable to find depth in the work lack the ability?
=I am bad critic and you are smarter QED?
You are right! and wrong.. together. For a critic's performance you were very uncritical. And we should get our terms clear if we're going to talk about commitment and the past - are we talking about the same things?
But then, although all is relative and subjective and it's a (free) country and we can do what we want and say and write and read what we like, right, what the critic (must) do first is not interpret but
ascertain what is being said, engage with the artist's voice, into which we can then read and judge and criticize. No?
As for the last question - you think you can get it that easily?
( 10 comments — Leave a comment )

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About

My name is Jana P and Mono no aware is my soul HQ.

I've lived in Croatia, Venice (Italy) and am now stationed in Melbourne, Australia; I blog in many languages, to many people.

I'm a web-designer; translator; journalist; good cook; light traveller; free thinker; street make-up artist; hitch-hiker; amateur photographer; prolific kisser; fighter of bureaucracy; theatre-goer; writer of love letters; failed japanologist and a prospective urbanist.

I'm interested in the relationship between words and images, between mind and space.

These days, I write mostly on spatial theory and theatre.

I can be contacted at relatively [at] gmail [dot] com.
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