Repatriate
Installation, News, Reviews, Visual arts

Dancing or drowning

Perth Festival review: Repatriate by Latai Taumoepeau ·
Fremantle Arts Centre ·
Review by Jess Boyce ·

At the end of a hall I’m filed into a single line with the crowd as we move into a room to view Latai Taumoepeau’s Repatriate, displayed in a dark tunnel-like structure. It’s the opening night of Fremantle Art Centre’s Perth Festival programming, and Repatriate sits alongside the main event, Amy Sharrocks’ “The Museum of Water”.

When it’s my turn I move into the narrow tunnel, where I’m presented with five iPad screens, each depicting a different stage in a recording of the Australian-Tongan artist/dancer’s 90-minute durational performance. The rhythmic soundtrack accompanying the work is encompassing, yet muffled, and I feel as if I am submersed in water.

The claustrophobic installation mimics Taumoepeau’s situation. Contained into a Perspex tank no larger than a standard shower, she performs a Pacific Island dance as the tank fills with water around her. The dance is an amalgamation of choreography informed by multiple Pacific Island cultures, including her own Tongan heritage. Her wrists, ankles and waist are encircled by yellow floaties, playfully referencing the body adornments for which Islander dancers are known.

As the work progresses, the water level in the tank begins to rise, and Taumoepeau’s movement becomes laboured. Eventually reduced to a series of kicks and awkward gestures, her movement is not only affected by the water, but the floaties. These pull her body towards the surface, a hindrance rather than a help. Perhaps these ineffectual “aids” symbolise the limited resources that small island nations, such as Tonga, have to combat the effects of climate change (in comparison to the larger, more powerful nations that have caused the problems).

Repatriate
Eventually reduced to a series of kicks and awkward gestures, Taumoepeau’s movement is not only affected by the water, but the floaties.

As Taumoepeau is submerged, details of the dance are lost, a poignant metaphor for the loss of culture that will occur as sea levels rise around Pacific Island nations and residents are displaced from their homes and traditions.

According to the wall text, the small screens on which the work is displayed recall “souvenir postcards depicting Indigenous people as primitive stereotypes inhabiting island paradises”.  This format also allows for an intimate experience, an almost one-on-one viewing. Rather than displaying a lengthy screen work as a grand projection, as is common in galleries, this series of postcard-like glimpses into the work provides a sense of the entire 90 minute performance in a manner that is both efficient and engaging.

Repatriate is a powerful performance work, although it deserves a more prominent placement than its hall-end location. Latai Taumoepeau presents a compelling art work that draws attention to the impacts of climate change and rising sea levels not only on the Pacific Islands, but the world. The use of the artist’s own body to demonstrate this impact, paired with the intimate setting of the small screens and confined space is both humanising and commanding.

“Repatriate” is on display until 23 March.