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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 Review 2017 – Burlesque Idol

Hannie+Raegan+Burlesque+Idol

 

One of the most pleasing things about Burlesque Idol is that, year on year, the standard of individual performers is just getting exponentially better. It is abundantly clear that routines are being polished and workshopped amongst peers and mentors – not to say such competitions can’t be a lab bench to experiment with new idea’s, but it is more so satisfying when previous proof-of-concept creative is laid out as a finished opus.

 

But the other growing trend is the number of fella’s getting into the competition – and the night kicked of with Kaiju-stylin boylesque, Gingzilla. A Fire-Giant killing it on-stage with an operatic Brynhildr vocal range and a pair of heels so high that they could only have bought hir closer to Valhalla.

 

No stranger to our previous reviews, Audrey Addiction was a melting pot of all the right elements – strong audience connection, a sense of humour, drum tight synchronisation, but keeping the pace slow & sexy so that individual components flowed from one to the other with just the right continuity.

 

Senorita Desert Rose was armed & dangerous, a bandit-Saint Nuestra Dama de la Danza. Under her flowing ruffled dress, her heels fired like Smith & Wessons on the stage. Her demeanour switched between demure and defiant in a drum beat, while she delivered sharp dance technique from a broad range of disciplines.

 

Diana D’vine was the Hero we had been holding out for as she channelled her inner Linda Carter over 80’s Steinman pop anthems, bringing our favourite Amazonian to stage. I personally find good burlesque comedy is as much 90% facial communication – you can dance with shtick all you like, but if your lips & eyebrows aren’t doing a conga line with your hips, you lose the audience. No danger of that from this Wonder Woman.

 

Ira Luxuria may have come on stage in all classic burlesque adornments, but any fears of a unambitious by-the-numbers affair were blown out of the water when she rocked out a take-no-prisoners routine to high energy Glaswegian pop-punk. A thoughtful juxtaposition of hard attitude with delicate appearances, she brought together the best of old & new burly smarts.

 

Marilyn Mocktail undertook an alchemical endeavour of transmogrification on stage, with an archetypal Crone finding her inner Maiden alive and well. There were some clever plays on popular burlesque stripping tropes, the mandatory glove peel taking on a much more visceral fleshy delivery with handy prosthetics. What underpinned her performance most of all was her smile – it was omnipresent , pervasive and persuasive, and invested us in her performance.

 

Miss Curvella, Miss Burlesque SA 2016, juggles elegance and swagger in a way that reinforces just why she won the State title last year. Her lips & eyes are deployed like weapons of mass hypnosis. Her routines are deceptively athletic, delivered gracefully and measured, but executed such the physical demand is well concealed, the mark of a professional.

 

Holly Wouldn’t transformed the stage into the realm of an Ice Queen – her eyes batting shyly, but only to ensure we approach enough to be ensnared. Regal & resplendent, adorned with light and diaphanous wings, she delivered a symphonic-driven tease that used the mystery of her veils for a slow shedding of form to magnificent effect.

 

Wayne Carter has possibly forever ruined father-son movie time for me by devising Minion Boylesque. But far from despicable, he bounced, twerked, bumped & grinded like a Black & Decker on the stage and on unprepared audience members. And a valuable lesson that the stage extends past those floodlights, and sometimes audience connection is not just psychological – but a very physical thing!

 

Lastly, Ziggy Charms was literally the kid in the candy store. Frequently bearing a resemblance to a Richard Simmons aerobics workout while on a corn-syrup bender, he bought a rainbow of colour & emotions to the floorboards. What was pleasing was the Burly Poindexter routine wasn’t just a play on traditional routines, but had the simple joy of a 6 year old rocking out in their underpants to Saturday morning music vids.

 

The big winner on the night, deservedly so, was Senorita Desert Rose. Burlesque Idol continues its national journey in coming weeks up the East coast of Australia throughout March.

Posted by Jonathan on Feb 25th 2017 | Filed in Burlesque,Cabaret,Events,Reviews | Comments (0)

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