UnderCurrent (2003-2005) Performance Series AU/UK
Dance4, Bonnington Gallery, Nottingham UK 2004.
Sarah Jane Pell
"Like the tremulously beautiful performances by butoh master Kazuo Ohno of the 1970s, in which he depicted the ghost of his “dead foetus” alter ego, or the childhood recollections of his peer Tatsumi Hijikata of holding himself beneath a deadly whirlpool while undergoing multiple deaths and rebirths, UnderCurrent is a violently sublime work, playing on the sadomasochistic beauty of our fragile embodiment". - Realtime 2005.
UnderCurrent IV, 2004 performed by Sarah Jane Pell at Bonnington Gallery UK for Dance4.
Australian performance artist Sarah Jane Pell's works highlight the body's transfer of air and our dependence on air as living, breathing beings. They explore the physical and emotional limits of the body. Interdepend creates a closed-circuit life support system between Pell and artist Martyn Coutts, and UnderCurrent presents a single performer contained within a sealed transparent dome with a finite amount of breathable air. These works are extremely physically demanding for the performer and have an overwhelming emotional intensity. In Fumifugium, Evelyn refers to the air as the soul or spirit of man. Pell's works seem to give that soul or spirit a physical manifestation, either through human interdependence or through a single womb-like containment that without breathable air could quickly become a tomb. - AER - The Vehicle of the Soul by Andrea Polli, 2007
What does it mean to perform under pressure and with self-containment?
The body is suction-sealed inside a 45cm transparent dome containing 16minutes of air. The body ‘members states and conditions from subspace towards an aqueous alterity manifested through a movement trajectory. The performance concludes when either a) the air depletes, b) CO2 poisoning occurs, or c) 25 minutes passes. Emergency oxygen and a first aid attendant should be present. Post-dive recuperation and body monitoring is employed. In many ways, the ‘dome’ replicates the cavernous air pocket of a diving helmet. The dome behaves like a conch shell. My contained breath is amplified and it surrounds my ears in simultaneous time like being underwater. As such, I wear a wireless microphone during the performance to transmit my amplified breathing to the audience. Like a diving helmet, the dome also fills with condensation leaving a hot and moist residue on my skin and the skin of the dome. It impedes visibility of the outside world and for the outside world it impedes visibility inwards. As I would employ a life-line or the umbilical to the surface in diving, I do in this performance. Live camera operators and on-site medical support staff were my life lines to the surface and not passive attendants. Evidently my relationship with them was critical to my understanding of my relationship in the performance. I had to know that we could ‘speak’ as subject-to-subject in the undertaking of the performance whether this was visible or invisible; spoken or not. I asked them to be prepared to follow me through the process of the work and find the beauty in my body modification process no matter how contorted or distressed it appeared. I (unconsciously) asked them to be guardian realising the success of the work came down to my relationship with these artists and the role of mediator/ translator feeding me and the audience. In Australia I trusted Lorraine Corker and in the UK, Michael Mayhew. As a strategy to evoke "mama" (Corker's femine dogma nee dada), Corker painted an eye on the palm of her hand which held the camera. Corker’s vision-capture has become much of the aesthetic of my performance history. It is what you see if you were not there, and it is also what you could never see from any distance as an audience. Corker is literally responsible for giving others a unique and privileged insight into my process and I am very humbled by the maturity and sensitivity she brings to this. Mayhew’s strategy was very different. He used the camera to dance with me, my shadows and the image on the screen behind. During both UK performances he turned the camera off half way through, when he himself felt abandoned, ridiculous or ignored in the process. For him, there was no point in following me further if he felt invisible. I continued on regardless. Inadvertently, when Mayhew cut off the beam to the live video projections that were closely monitoring my body, he diminished my visibility also leaving or positioning me at an even greater distance from the audience. For Mayhew the connection was too dangerous and he contested/ protested silently and stood by, waiting for me to emerge. By severing the live feed, Mayhew unintentionally supported my passage further towards an indescribable semiotic space and overwhelming escape – adding even greater tension for the implicated audience.
UnderCurrent IV, 2004 performed by Sarah Jane Pell at Bonnington Gallery UK, Live Video Michael Mayhew, Video Production Richard Graham for Dance4.
For final performance of Under Current in the Bonnington Gallery, Nottingham, I experimented with a live post-performance care operation. Firstly, I did not remove myself from the audiences’ line of sight once the performance had concluded. Since I required assistance to stand out of the dome and walk to a stool, I did so in full view of the audience – adding to the perceived state of ‘intensive care’. There I sat perched like a storyteller. The audience milled around and, touch me in front of everyone else – as they seem to need to do after I perform UnderCurrent. The truth was people were close enough to catch me if I fainted. I sat there for nearly an hour and relayed my experience, talking about the frightening and exquisite natures of the work from the inside, the body modification process and the biological considerations for post-performance duty-of-care. I was very tired. Mostly the audience spoke and mirrored my journey. I listened and tried to understand. I tried to understand the experience for the audience and the socially coded nature of my role. The audience became my mirror in a way and guided me through the intensive care. The work concluded when everyone was ready to leave – except me. For some reason, I felt gutted. I still do and I have never gone back to the gallery. Not even to collect my dome. - excerpt from Walking with Water, Sarah Jane Pell 2005.
Training, National Review of Live Art, Midland Platform Performance by Sarah Jane Pell, NRLA Midland Railway Workshops Western Australia 2003. Photographer Lorraine Corker.
Live Performance History & Production Credits
[Training] National Review of Live Art, Midland NRLA Platform Performance, Midland Railway Workshop, City of Swan WA 2002. Sound Design David Pye. Photography Lorraine Corker. Thanks Nikki Milican, Sharon Flindell, Andrew Beck, Alister Morley, Domenico de Clario & Rose Williams. [UnderCurrent] Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts, Putting on an Act, Western Australia 2003. Live Video Lorraine Corker. Documentation PVI Media Services. Thanks Sarah Miller, Mike Jenner & Co. [UnderCurrent II] Fremantle Festival Fools & Follies Exhibition, Moores Building Art Gallery, Fremantle Australia 2003.Documentation Jackson Castiglione. Production Support Broomstick Productions & Rose Williams. Thanks Dolphin Dive Fremantle, Fremantle Marine Chandlers, Brendan Cole. [UnderCurrent III] Busselton Jetty, Courthouse Artist Residency, Busselton Western Australia 2003. Photography Lorraine Corker. Assistant Rose Williams. [UnderCurrent IV] GreenRoom Theatre, Emergency Live Art Festival, Manchester UK 2004. Live Video Michael Mayhew. Support Stacy Potter. [UnderCurrent V] The Bonnington Gallery, Dance 4, Nottingham UK 2004. Live Video Michael Mayhew. Documentation Richard Graham. Thanks Annette Foster, Stella Couloutbanis and Stephen Fossey.
Media Artifact Exhibitions
Presented in galleries as a live performace with dramatic lighting, large-projection video feed and amplified 'breathing'. The documentation of two works: UnderCurrent 2003 7'00" (PICA/AU) viwed at medium scale at waist height and UnderCurrent IV 2004 3'33" (Bonnington/UK) shown large-scale from floor to ceiling - have been produced as media performance artifacts for intallation in exhibitions as looped projections. The AER - The vehicle of the Soul GreenMuseum.Org exhibition curated by A. Polli 2007; The Media Infinity Australia-Taiwan New Media Arts Festival exhibitions including the National Museum of Fine Arts Taipei, Taiwan 2007; and BOOM! Fast and Furious Permetations in New Media, TNUA Taipei, Taiwan 2007; and Walking with Water, Western Australian Maritime Museum 2005.
Marshall, J., (2005) The Art of Life Support, Real Time & On Screen Vol 68, Aug/ Sep 2005, pp. 48; Mateer, J., (2004) Arts Alive in the West: The National Review of Live Art, Midland, Perth, Art Monthly Australia, No. 166 December 2003 – February 2004, p.42; Jansen, A., (2003) New Wave Artist, The West Magazine, Nov 28, p.27-28; McGrath, J. (2003) OCH #15, Exhibition Review, Art Seen in WA, Nov; and Transdiscourse 1: Mediated Environments (2010) Eds. Andrea Gleiniger, Angelika Hilbeck, Jill Scott, Springer; 1st Edition. edition (19 Oct 2010) AMAZON
The UnderCurrent series was developed with the generous support of a PICA Research & Development Grant made possible by the State of WA through ArtsWA in association with the Lotteries Commission 2003. This work is part of the Aquabatics Research Team initiative (ARTi) and in part, informed PhD research.⇐ Return to Performances ⇐ Return to Exhibitions