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Drawing Blood – Victorian Seance

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)

Adelaide Fringe Picks for 2016

 

Carnivale was the best damn thing to happen to television at the turn of this century and its cancellation will remain a crime forever more.  Fortunately my sorrows are annually ameliorated with the influx of performers, magicians, vagabonds, burlesque queens and musicians into dear (R)Adelaide for the Fringe Festival, dragging their creative accoutrements, stories and daring-do across the many miles.  They may not have gypsy wagons but flying in on Tiger Air is equally fraught with difficulty and an act of endurance demanding respect.

A number of familiar faces return this year – some are re-imagined offerings, some a bold new solo adventures for seasoned troupe performers. Here is my pick for Adelaide Fringe 2016. IT ALL STARTS NEXT WEEK SO GET YOUR TICKETS!

NOIR REVUE

A Fringe cabaret/burlesque favourite, a new line up albeit still under the steady hand of Sarina de Fuego – including musical director and co-producer Michael Wheatley who’s performance prowess has taken this production to another level.

THE VAUDE-VILLAINOUS MR.GØRSKI

If you have a child under 7 years of age – chances are they are familiar with  Hoopla Doopla! and may already be on the fast track to running away to join the circus.  Jango, aka Daniel Gorski, brings out one his darker split personalities in the Vaude-villainous Mr Gorski in this child friendly production with magic, juggling and chaos.

gorski

BURLESQUE IDOL

A good show case of the burly arts from a line up of local talent making the transition from enthusiastic amateur to national-starlet-in-the-making. Who will be the big names in Australian burlesque in the future?…get the good oil here.

bidol

 

LOVE, LOSS & LATTES

Mistress of the acrobatic aerial arts brings her solo show to Adelaide for the first time, as she explores the theme of her favourite caffeine marking time throughout life’s travails.

missy

 

ADULT-ISH

We knew her best from Peaches & Gin Burlesque, but now Luna Eclipse has found a new voice as she comes to terms with growing older, responsibility, and whether she can continue justify living life like one of Neverland Lost Children. I think we know the answer but best go along just in case….

luna

 

SCARLETT BELLE’S SCARLETT LETTERS

Ex-Blues and Burlesque star, Scarlett Belle, is another throwing caution to the wind and embarking on a solo tour, bringing a show of songs, stories & erotica that promises love, lust & adultery – something for everyone, including the grandparents.

scarlett

BECKY LOU’s “SHAKE”

We reviewed Becky Lou’s standout tragi-comedy-burlesque performance last year in a charming ramshackle possibly near condemned building acting as a performance space. There was nothing ramshackle about her performance however, so imagine how great she is going to be on a larger stage with no risk of floor collapse! If you didn’t see this last year, don’t be the last person at your local front bar to be able to talk about the virtues of merkin puppets.

becky

Posted by Jonathan on Feb 6th 2016 | Filed in Art,Burlesque,Cabaret,Culture,Music | Comments (0)

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