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Drawing Blood – Victorian Seance

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photographer: Ivana Jovanovic, used by permission of Venus Vamp/Drawing Blood.

 

Through the “anti-art” movement, those wielding sharpened graphite or with charcoal dusted hands have had a cornucopia of opportunities to engage in that most staple of artistic mediums – Life Drawing – particularly capturing subjects from the Burlesque & Fringe performance worlds.

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Sydney’s Drawing Blood, curated by creatrix Venus Vamp, differentiates itself from the usual studio-in-a-pub affair by way of a specific resurrection of the deepest sentiments of the 19th century French Salon de la Rose + Croix movement. To this end the specific focus of Drawing Blood is on the imagery of the occult, esotericism, metaphysical and mythological symbology, a vehicle to introduce artists back into the visual splendour exalted through Impressionism, Symbolism and Romanticism.

The theme for the session attended by Absinthe.com.au, Victorian Séance, is not only an interesting juxtaposition of the gradual baring of flesh that comes with life drawing to an era associated with conservatism – but is symbolic of how the pre-World War 1 spiritualist movement was a societal reaction against the repression of the Church dominated State. We will return to this point.

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Drawing Blood is not a static drawing session, but an active narrative over a number of hours, a staged storyline cradled with sounds from Sydney DJ Unfamiliar Nostalgia– providing an unpredictable soundtrack of untuned piano music, post-rock strings, witch house glitch and darkest ambient soundscapes.

The stage parlour was appropriately set with velvet drapery, Grecian pillars, peacock feathers in vases, tapestry chairs and fringed lamps. Our first subject, the Funereal Lady, stands under a shroud, black shawls, high necklines and tight corsets. Like armour against the physical world, her attire as much serves as a vessel to imprison the spirit from reaching out to the beyond. The Raven Haired Medium, our second subject, sits gazing into the distance over a table filled with memento mori, a scrying crystal and tarot cards. Our third protagonist, the Bearded Skeptic, stares intently at the Raven Haired Medium. Is it disdain? Unbelief? A man of reason, of the Establishment, he presents a pillar of defiance against the unknown.

The Raven Haired Medium’s head and eyes tilt back in the early stages of mediumistic rapture, her eyes distant and white. Exposed necklines, bare shoulders and loose ruffles – by sheer faith she is the antithesis of the repressed Funereal Lady, whose arms are upward, imploring the presence to make themselves known by sign, rapping or apparition.

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The scene moves. The Funereal Lady reaches to out the the Bearded Skeptic. He is clutching his heart, shielding it, as though he had witnessed something that shakes his resolve, his hand tentatively held out to hers.

In our next pose, the Bearded Skeptic is all ruddy of face. He stands with firm fingers boring into his cranial temples, like he would otherwise be blocking his ears, but rather it is his mind he is trying silence…the voices…the voices. The Raven Haired Medium ponders at the scene of denial. The Funereal Lady raises her veil, the rendering of which speaks to the removal of barriers between the worlds.

The Raven Medium now leans on the table, her hand propping her chin, eyes full of gnosis as the crystal ball opens the gateway.  Our Bearded Skeptic reclines on a chair, body crossed, a tilting of the hat to protect him from the gaze of the Raven Haired Medium. But something has landed in his heart, for there is a weariness or sadness etched in his features. The Funereal Lady stands behind him now, reassuringly placing her hands on his shoulders and she gazes down upon him with empathy, as though she reads the sorrow caged behind his emotional fortification.

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But the scene soon changes dramatically. The Bearded Skeptic is now prostrate on the ground like a corpse, but he is between realms with his dead eyes open. His finger rests on the cover of a fob watch. It’s time. Chronos. A silent partner to Azraels caress, a metronome to our performances in this world, the springs unwinding, ever slowly but with a persistent momentum.

The Funereal Lady clutches at the crystal ball, pineal gland pressed to its cold surface, her mouth hanging. The Raven Haired Medium is overcome in rapture, bent backwards in a dystonic spasm clutching onto the back of the chair through white knuckles, her black hair cascading to the floor. A grinning skull on the pedestal seems slightly tilted, as though it is looking at her with morbid affection.

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These written vignettes of a much larger chronicle reflects what was captured on paper by many dozens of artists present. Despite the intensity of the scene one should not assume malevolence is at play or intended. This was physicality acting as a canvas for spirituality. As though deprived the agency of sensation for so long, a spiritual return to the body results in each step, head turn, and movement being an act of pure intensity. Nerves crave not subtlety.

Noted noir-author and underground-film historian, Jack Sargeant, punctuated the evening with an historical review of the spiritualist movement. As he elucidated to the audience present, counter-intuitively, spiritualist popularity was parallel with the rise of Scientific Method, both serving as a societal response to the dominant narrative of the Church. It was, perhaps, no strange coincidence that with Queen Victoria on throne, within the spiritualist circles women were the principal mediums. It was a position of power in a patriarchal world, and represented a return of the feminine mystic as captured by the likes of John Collier in his 1891 masterpiece of Pythia, the Priestess of Delphi. Victorian repression was a war on the female body, but when women became mediums, it openly challenged these conventions and shifted the balance of power, however temporarily.

 

Posted by Jonathan on Jul 23rd 2017 | Filed in Art,Culture,Events,Reviews | Comments (0)

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Adelaide Fringe Review 2017 – Bad Luck Cabaret

Under a blanket of electro-industrial beats, Laurie Black struts onto the stage with a degree of PVC clad-menace and Alexander McQueen style, but the minute she opens her mouth and her affable sing-song Londoner accent spills out we know immediately that we are among friends at The Bad Luck Cabaret.

Introduction aside, she launches into her first number which is more poetic than melodic – but it was hard beat British verse in keeping with the Kate Tempest school of delivery. My monochromatic days in the 90’s Doom Generation clearly still have nihilistic currency, as Laurie lists the Bad Luck Generation’s barriers to opportunity and a hopeful future. Yep, it’s still the fucking Boomer’s fault.

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Laurie is a musical box of surprises, once the handle is cranked you don’t quite know what might come out. Showing us she can rock a keyboard with every appendage, we got a number about pseudo-sapphic pianophilic tendencies that hit my keys as she tunefully rattled off the models & specifications that made her the woman she is today. Audience participation was also mandatory as she tackled the addictive qualities of fascist-leaning felines in assembled IKEA packaging systems, especially when broadcast on the interwebz.

But this is cabaret – so rather than monopolise the limelight we were firstly granted an audience with Jamie Mykaela. Armed with ukulele, bitter memories, and birdsong in her lungs, her magical powers included long-range stink eye and a bucket of A-grade whimsy to feed the appreciative masses.

Second guest of the evening was the statuesque & startling Jennifer Kingwell – who ravaged the keyboard mercilessly to a Tom Waits cover, and then enlightened us to the phenomenon of Radical Activist Cheerleading by enchanting us with a so-themed love song. Apparently Melbourne’s loss is now Adelaide’s gain – the terms and conditions are quite clear, Victoria can’t have her back.

The Bad Luck Cabaret clearly got the Fortune Cookie tonight that says “You are very talented in many ways”. That or “Your shoes will make you very happy today”, because we are just downright pleased they came to RAdelaide.
Over a week of performances left, no excuses not to get along to one!

Posted by Jonathan on Mar 9th 2017 | Filed in Cabaret,Culture,Music,People,Reviews | Comments (0)

Adelaide Fringe Review 2017 – Becky Lou’s Real Woman

It is rare to attend a burlesque show and find one is in fact witness to a journey akin to Inanna’s Descent Into the Underworld. Just as the Goddess of Love, War, Fertility & Wisdom is forced to shed garments the deeper into the chthonic realms she descends, so too Becky Lou’s “Real Woman” sheds the accoutrements of her Art to face a climatic realisation of self-knowledge.

Burlesque may be glamour, but the root meaning of glamour also pertains to illusion. For many, the illusion is important (and valid) because it is aspirational fantasy. And clearly amongst the burlesque sorority (and emerging fraternity) bonds are made between performers of rare strength. But what happens when one achieves reputation as a strong powerful woman, independent, free and artistic – but emotionally your innermost being still feels like a stage kitten, picking up after the main act?

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Real Woman is therefore not a burlesque cabaret performance as such, but it is a show about burlesque – in so much as it has been an important way point on a bigger expedition.

She openly reminisces on the projections ingrained into young women as teenagers through to their thirties, which may trigger your own memories about how you learned sexual realpolitik, the power imbalances in gender, and how you overcame the societal programming. Or maybe you didn’t? Or maybe you were on the other side of that equation? On the turn of an anecdote we frequently slid from hilarity to deep introspective thought. Or tears. Our silences were the bookmarks between her time-travelling chapters.

Let it be said, Becky is a cabaret psychopomp who never carelessly played with our emotions, but gave us our own informed opportunity to engage with them. And I hasten to add, that she refused to leave us in the underworld. Kicking and screaming we were regularly dragged from melancholy into rapturous delight, a seasonal & cyclical re-emergence into the upper world.

Expect this show to make you laugh and cry simultaneously. And it is going to feel awkward. That may be something to be thankful for.  There is an excellent run of shows left over the remainder of the Adelaide Fringe Festival.

Posted by Jonathan on Mar 8th 2017 | Filed in Burlesque,Cabaret,People,Reviews,Theatre | Comments (0)

Adelaide Fringe Review 2017 – The Curiosity Experiment

The smell of Carclew House is all old wood and leather. Its 19th Century grandeur is a vestibule of memories imbedded in the lacquered patina, the sort of place you would expect denizens of the afterlife to dwell (and popular legend asserts this is so!). What more fitting place is there to stage The Curiosity Experiment?

No more than 13 personages are admitted per performance. When one walks into the antique lined Board Room allocated, we become conscious that this will not follow standard theatrical formula – with we, the audience, separated from events. Rather, that this will be immersive drama.

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The blindfolds on the table are amongst the first things you’ll notice. An instruction is given on how to withdraw from the performance lest your nerve not withstand the events that will unfold, with the caveat that you will not be permitted to re-enter. Be warned there will be sensory deprivation of a manner, but only to amplify the perceptions of the remaining senses in order to better facilitate your imagination, wherever that may take you.

Tapping into the tradition of post-War Spiritualist methodology, by séance & psychometry, we the participants are led into a performed purgatory of restlessness amongst auditory apparitions condemned by tragedy. How and what transpires, I am really not at liberty to say. Nor could I assert my particular experience will be in anyway analogous to yours.

It is, however, amongst the more innovative & intimate stagings I have encountered at a Fringe Festival. And a chance for a seat at the table is becoming progressively in limited supply. It’s the quick or the dead I’m afraid.

Posted by Jonathan on Mar 4th 2017 | Filed in Culture,Reviews,Theatre | Comments (0)

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