Reviews/Visual Art

Lost in a jungle of pot plants and plastic

14 October 2022

Variously meditative, confronting and psychedelic, pot plant laden performance work Hundreds + Thousands leaves Varnya Bromilow perplexed.

Hundreds + Thousands, Daniel Kok and Luke George ·
PICA, 13 October 2022 ·

How wacky do you like your performance art?

Over my 15 years as a critic, I’ve seen some wacky stuff but until now nothing has prompted me to scrawl Wackometer in my notebook.

As you may have guessed, the Wackometer gives prospective audiences a wackiness rating.

Hundreds + Thousands, by Luke George and Daniel Kok, scores a solid 10. Okay, maybe a nine, if you consider that no live animals were involved.

George, based in Melbourne, and Kok, based in Singapore, are best known as dance artists, but work in interdisciplinary practice that incorporates visual arts, sound, multi-media and film. The artist statement for Hundreds + Thousands is dense; bringing together various reflections on plants, our relationships with plants and each other, ecology, the overabundance of stuff – natural and human-made – what it means to “see”, and more.

At PICA on Thursday night, we enter the performance space to find part of the floor and some of the seats taken up by a collection of lush pot plants, interspersed with standing fluorescent tubes.

Kok enters, garbed in a billowing, transparent tunic and begins moving the plants around with a meditative slowness. In the background, a steady drone builds. At a show where you’ve been offered earplugs, the drone quickly acquires a slightly ominous feel.

Kok arranges himself on all fours. George enters and places a plant on Kok’s back. George starts shifting plants around while Kok remains on the floor, moving in a kind of glacial yoga, fingers flexed, limbs at strange angles. The drone builds, accompanied by a reediness.

A woman in chartreuse (Alice Hui-Sheng Chang) stands up from the audience and joins Kok and George in their slow-moving plant arranging.

A scene from Hundreds + Thousands in which we see a stage bedecked with pot plants, amongst which are nestled three performers.
It feels like my nanna’s collection of pot plants has somehow ended up on stage with some slow-moving characters and some DIY spaceships. Pictured: Alice Hui-Sheng Chang, Luke George and Daniel Kok in ‘Hundreds + Thousands’. Photo: Emma Fishwick

I spend the first 15 minutes seeking narrative, trying to will Kok and George to dance with my mind, until I’m forced to concede that this may be one of those works by dance artists where there is no “dance” as such. Around the 20-minute point, I embrace the calm scene with a resigned serenity.

A metallic tinkling starts, accompanied by a higher pitched pulse. George carries a spacecraft-like sculpture of plastic bottles. He flies it through the plants, bringing it to an unsteady landing, nestled in fronds.

It feels like my nanna’s collection of pot plants has somehow ended up on stage with some slow-moving characters and some DIY spaceships. It’s human versus the natural world sure, but both seem distinctly B grade.

Chang starts vocalising. Mutterings and whispering build into a babyish gibberish, a guttural stream of nonsense. With creeping dread, I remember the offer of earplugs.

But then everything goes black and silent. The lights slowly brighten and now there’s a popping, reminiscent of popcorn starting. It’s almost pleasant, until a loud crackle of an amp being repeatedly plugged in, breaks into the room. The performers are now using the tubes of light as weapons (you cannot not think of light sabres), grazing the plants in a sort of slow attack. Smoke fills the room, the lights change to green and it’s starting to feel like an otherworldly rave, an alien planet. The drone is back and so is Chang with a squealing, howling assault.

A scene from Hundreds + Thousands in which Luke George is placing a plastic decoration on a plant.
Luke George adorns the plants with gaudy plastic decorations in ‘Hundreds + Thousands’. Photo: Emma Fishwick

The lights strobe for an awfully long time. I’m starting to feel like I’ve stayed out too long, drunk too much or maybe someone dropped a tab in my drink? Two people leave.

It’s at this point I scrawl wackometer in my notebook. We’re 90 minutes in. Not long after, the lights go up and it’s quieter. Kok threads through the audience, looking for volunteers. Some poor soul goes with him onstage and is invited to lie down, pot plant on his chest, while Kok collects others.

George reappears, in a netting suit festooned with tiny plastic tubes. He’s dragging a sack of gaudy plastic decorations that he and the captive audience members use to adorn the pot plants.

If things didn’t feel indulgent previously, this meandering epilogue seals the deal. When, finally, it’s announced that we can investigate the exhibition, more than a few folks take the chance to leave instead. Which is a shame actually – the tablets featuring digital artworks have a thoughtful quality that the rest of the show lacks.

Don’t take your nanna. Don’t take your dad. Don’t take your conservative girlfriend. But that cousin who was really into acid in the 90’s? Take him to Hundreds + Thousands, he’ll love it.

Pictured top: Luke George in ‘Hundreds + Thousands’. Photo: Emma Fishwick

Hundreds + Thousands continues at PICA until 15 October 2022.

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Author —
Varnya Bromilow

Varnya Bromilow is a happy dilettante who has worked as a journalist, advocate, oral historian, teacher and train driver. She spent 15 years with the ABC, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and The West Australian and enjoys writing fiction. She loves guinea pigs and the thrill of a good slide.

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