For the Transmission show at Campbelltown Arts centre, artists were paired with musicians and asked over a relatively short period of time, with no distinct brief, to make something in collaboration. Co-curator Carrie Miller says that she felt her job was to bring the right people together, let them go for it creatively and be there to solve any problems that arose. This mutual trust and creative freedom reaped its rewards as is evidenced by a very strong show well worth the journey to Campbelltown, and I urge you to treat yourselves to a mind-boggling range of audio-visual delights.
On Friday night I was there for the opening. It was cold in Campbelltown and entering the warm arts centre felt a bit like travelling through a portal into another world. Although the Transmission show is not curated with a distinct theme in mind, this sense of altered reality is something that flows through the show like a substance taken at a concert. After all, that is why many people are drawn to live music and performance, to experience a transcendental moment, to witness someone being conduit to something other as performer – and to themselves be part of something greater as audience. There are no words that can precisely sum up this experience but most people will at some point have experienced it and agree that it is a powerful and seductive one. Even in the works that weren’t live performance I felt that there was an emphasis on this relationship between minds, transmission, reception and altered reality.
On the night, that suave crooner Renny Kodgers, complete with orange tan and large cowboy hat, interrupted the speeches to spread his unique brand of love. He did this with the help of the ‘Sweet Tonic Choir’, a group of older ladies and gentlemen who I believe are local to the Campbelltown area. I felt a moment of trepidation where I wondered what angle he would take, whether there would be a level of mockery which would have made me feel uncomfortable, but in fact he managed quite the opposite. He pulled it off with good humour, respect and sense of endearment for these people of another generation, whose tastes may seem anachronistic to a younger audience. It was a reminder of cultural and generational change and, if anything, fostered a sense of understanding between otherwise non-compatible worlds. It was quite sweet really.
Kusum Normoyle delivered a visceral performance of primal sound created with her voice; she sounded like an enraged animal, alternately yelling into a microphone, making a purring, panting sound, and deliberately creating feedback with the speaker. The level of energy and the way she gave herself over to the performance was impressive and potentially confronting. It brought to mind the effect on an audience member at a heavy gig where the primal energy is a release from the constraints of everyday convention. Where conventionally more confronting and primal feelings are trapped inside to enable the smooth running of society, who hasn’t at some point wanted to go totally animalistic?
The final performance on the night was from Justene Williams and Tina Havelock Stevens. What a mad cacophony of sights and sounds. So many references I’m sure I didn’t fully decipher but I was genuinely intrigued. What I did understand was the way in which, as performers, they became depersonalised in their karate uniforms, orange wigs and masks. In a sense, their performance was about all performances. They threw themselves into this role of conduit with a totally committed physicality. To me, there was something about the voodoo witch-doctor in the work, as though channelling the ‘other side’ through a sense of hypnotic and compelling ritual. Although I did not always understand in a rational sense, I think that was probably the point. It was more about being transported into a parallel place, I simply couldn’t look away and so became witness to something wild and other-worldly.
One of the questions which came up for me in considering this show was: what are the defining differences between musicians and artists? (Sorry, there is no clever punch line here.) The answer at first glance is that musicians work with sound and performance and artists work with visual media – but as is evidenced by this show, these categories are in fact very interchangeable. After all, even a career musician will almost certainly have some involvement in visual decisions â€“ cover art, video clips and costume and set design. Conversely, as outlined in the description of the performances on the night, artists often inhabit territory one might assume is the realm of the musician. We do sometimes simply call them all artists though it’s true categories can make things easier to talk about.
A good example of this crossing over was seen in Rachel Scott’s video collaboration with Mick Harvey. He provided the atmospheric soundtrack but also some video footage shown alongside Rachel’s. There was an emotional undercurrent pulling one into this work featuring a lone female figure adrift in the night.
Another artist/musician combination took the more familiar form of a music video clip with the song a launching point for the visuals. Daniel Mudie Cunningham’s collaboration with Stephen Allkins, ‘Boytown’, is a beautifully executed ode to gay culture and the 80s. It uses the background of the Bronski Beat song ‘Smalltown Boy’ and pieces together a simultaneously poignant and self-referential narrative. It treads this line so carefully that neither meaning is lost. It brings to mind the way friends might share painful truths about themselves, particularly when young, hiding the rawness behind a little self-deprecation and parody.
So if they’re all simply artists, all I can do is tell you, in my humble opinion, what an artist is; someone who has a life-long commitment to their process and is able to incorporate personal experience and thoughtful interrogation into their work in an ever-evolving way. It is wonderful to see such talented artists feeding the fires of each others’ practice and I, like so many raving about the show on the night, thoroughly enjoyed it.