Zoe Porter — Conjure

Level Gallery, 12 March – 1 April 2011

Zoe Porter’s latest performance installation sees her previous drawings and paintings extended to realise a grander, more interdisciplinary environment. Featuring painting, music, video, acrobatics and pre-recorded sounds capes, Porter draws together several concerns regarding the relationship between the human and the animal in order to engage with a site-specificity which is simultaneously surreal yet uniquely Australian. The extension of her works on paper into both the third dimension and public space have allowed her to articulate a more elaborate vision of her investigations into the relationship between art, nature and the politics of place. She achieves this through iconic references to the Australian bush, scattered throughout the painted and collaged installation which introduces the viewer to her anthropomorphic transformation during the accompanying thirty minute performance.  Donning a costume evoking a marsupial-like creature, Porter plays hand-made instruments, paints directly onto the gallery walls and interacts with her two similarly costumed, nameless accomplices in order to utilize all parts of the installation as a type of  interdisciplinary landscape. The impact these characters make upon the gallery form the basis of the installation for the duration of the exhibition, composed of the remaining instruments, amplifiers, paints and sheet music. The accompanying video footage projected onto the wall adjacent to the performance features the shadows thrown by a man dancing in a public park, both elusive and mutable. The open-endedness of the relationships established between the viewer, Porter and her anthropomorphic conspirators during the performance-event opens up new possibilities for imagining place and our impact within it. She poses these possibilities through the potential for audience participation through acts of creativity in public space, of which the man featured in her projection becomes an example. Her decision to leave the debris of the performance within the gallery space leaves open the potential for further ongoing collaboration through the audience’s involvement with the work in progress. The surreal anthropomorphic beings featured both in the performance and painted aspects of Porter’s installation sit on the crossroads of her artistic concerns. Not quite human yet not animal, they are often possessed in shamanic states that are both familiar to the viewer due to their usage of Australian iconography while simultaneously alien due to their discordant, semi-conscious nature. In the performance of Conjure, these beings struggle to articulate a world in which the role of the artist functions as a conduit, transporting the audience into surreal situations which recall the evocative environment of the Australian landscape.

Porter’s past works found audiences at music festivals, cultural exchanges and street corners, sites that better suited her refusal to allocate a completion or closure to the work of art in preference for considering her practice as an ongoing exploration. In this new work the ‘relics’ she has consciously left behind from these endeavors – painting debris, stencils, stickers – trail back to the gallery. Her inclusion of instruments, sheet music, dance, light and smoke machines into the performance also demonstrates her unwillingness to categorise her practice into any one tidy genre.

The staging of the work in the large front space of Level gallery suggests an imagining of place which could be easily contextualized within the genre of three dimensional landscape painting. This landscape evokes Australian flora and fauna in a way which extends beyond simple interpretations of national identity towards a more complex and ambitious consciousness of place. The dualities of private and public, flatness and dimensionality, dreams and reality allow Porter and her collaborators to create interpretations which go well beyond any tired artefacts that might shape the dominant imagery of more standardised interpretations of ‘Australia’. In this way we can see a post-colonial tendency at work in Conjure which disavows the notion of a grand narrative of nation in favour for a more flexible, ambitious reconstruction.

By engaging with post-colonial theory by way of the surreal, Porter’s interdisciplinary landscape consider notions of territory, both animal and human, to suggest the parameters of a kind of dream-world where the artist functions as a central visionary, as a being representing both nature and culture. The three collaborators who seem caught in a state of becoming between drawings, animals and humans make music, painting and gestures that offer a loosely choreographed means of interacting in this half-dream, half-real scenario. They invite us to do the same.

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