Sete Tele and Lisa Hirmer, ‘Drinking Water’ ·
Moores Building ·
Review by Jenny Scott ·
“Drinking Water”, a project by Australian dance artist Sete Tele and Canadian interdisciplinary artist Lisa Hirmer, cultivates a timely awareness of (and appreciation for) water as a precious natural resource.
A field of floor tiles, scattered over the ground level gallery of the Moores Building, frame an assortment of furniture, plinths and tableware containing varying levels of water. Piles of photographs have been spread over these plinths, and arranged on the floor, depicting various methods of improvised, small-scale water gathering.
As the Fremantle Biennale’s website explains, Tele and Hirmer began this iteration of their project by enlisting Fremantle locals to participate as volunteer “water collectors”. Together the artists and participants workshopped survival water gathering techniques, before designing and implementing a collection method bespoke to each person’s home.
The resulting photographs in this exhibition presumably document the efforts of this community, showing buckets, ice-cream containers, dewy plants, and hands squeezing wet cloths. Lacking any explanatory text, these loose photographs act as an informal archive; capturing multiple moments of water collection in a human-scale format that can be re-sorted and rearranged.
Resembling the remnants of a domestic ritual, these images seem to collectively speak to personal interactions with the natural landscape, our communal relationship with water, and our place as citizens within a wider ecology. However the lack of personal presence from the participants in the exhibition space is keenly felt – with this absence emphasised by the sounds of the bustling café surrounding the show.
Exhibited as a part of “UNDERCURRENT 19”, the second edition of the Fremantle Biennale, the considerations raised by this project could not be timelier in our current era of climate crisis.
Review: Brooke Leeder and Dancers, Radar ·
The B Shed, Fremantle, 21 September ·
Review by Varnya Bromilow ·
The creaking, wooden glories that are the sheds of Fremantle port are one of the city’s secret beauties. What mysterious maritime activities go on inside C-Shed? What about D-Shed? Most of the sheds are off-limits to the public, a fact that seems suddenly heartbreaking when you attend a performance in B-Shed. These cavernous spaces create rustically sparse settings, ideal for dance or theatre. This year’s Fremantle Biennale makes fabulous use of these unique venues, but really, the public should be able to share in these spaces on a more regular basis. At the very start of Brooke Leeder’s Biennale contribution, Radar, giant wooden doors are pushed back, revealing a dimming sky on sea, terns restive on pillars. There was even the grand replica of the Leeuwin, an unwitting backdrop to the performance.
Leeder is well known in the Perth community, both as an independent choreographer and as a gifted teacher of dance. This work, created in collaboration with percussionist Louis Frere-Harvey and lighting designer Nemo Gandossini-Poirier, harnesses the talents of 23 of Leeder’s dance students from John Curtin College of the Arts, ranging in age from 12 to 17, as well as five professional dancers. With so many bodies, particularly when most are dancers-in-training, synchronised phrasing is very difficult. Throw in live percussion and you have a mammoth task ahead of you. Consequently, I was holding my breath for much of the show.
O ye of little faith!
The thrum of a densely electronic soundscape kicks off proceedings as two dancers thread through a brisk portside breeze. With an echoing thud, the trio of percussionists (Frere-Harvey, Rosie Taylor and Joel Bass), join the fray, building a menacing, aural cloud that fills the space. Black-clad dancers file in from the port, pairing with a partner in a fluid formation of geometric shapes. Arms scissoring through the air, legs all angles. Just as suddenly as the percussion began, it all stops. The dancers dart away, fish-like.
A new throng emerges from the wings – a younger set, mostly from year seven and eight. Is it just me who finds young performers so poignantly transparent in their motives? Look at me! We all want to be seen, I guess… young performers just wear it on their sleeves. The breeze buffets the wooden walls creating a ghostly effect as the dancers wind their way through the space. Undersea blips, the hum of a motor. The youngsters are joined by the older crew and then, in a wave of movement, comes the synchronicity. Lines of bodies, diagonally spread across the floor, alternating in their motions. Recognising the difficulty of synchronicity perhaps, Leeder opts for wave-like motions, movements spilling through the corps like water. I was worried for the nervy 12-year-olds, (Goddamn girl, leave the mothering at home!) but they nailed it. Driving drums, low lights, a sea of beautifully executed moves.
At its best moments, Radar reminded me of a rough-hewn iteration of Didier Theron’s work Harakiri. With just five professional dancers amidst a pool of students (however accomplished), this is a formidable achievement. It was hard to take my eyes off two of the pros in particular, Scott Elstermann and Lilly King. Not just their seamless execution, it was their unflinching commitment and confidence in seeing this ambitious enterprise through. Nerves? What nerves?
The single mis-step was an extraneous narrative piece towards the end. A police siren sounds, a girl falls, a boy saves her. There was nothing wrong with the dancing but the narrative felt awkward and unnecessary in a work that dealt primarily in abstractions. It’s a minor quibble and one quickly forgotten as the dancers re-emerged onto the stage for one last thrilling dance en masse.
It was over. The dancers filed out through the vast doors, into the darkened harbour, golden-lit with portlight. I breathed again as the audience rose as one, in cheering acclaim of Leeder and her collaborators.
Ron Nyisztor (curator), ‘Western Current’ ·
Fremantle Arts Centre ·
Review by Jenny Scott ·
A compact show exploring Western Australia’s coast as the borderline before the immense expanse of the Indian Ocean, “Western Current” features works by eight Australian artists – Robert Cleworth, Di Cubitt, Michael Doherty, Ben Joel, Moira de la Hunty, Gina Moore, Wade Taylor, Paul Uhlmann – most of whom are based in WA. Curated by Ron Nyisztor, the exhibition is part of “UNDERCURRENT 19”, the second edition of the Fremantle Biennale.
The works in this show avoid any typical depiction of our sunny shores – instead they collectively evoke a sense of foreboding, presenting what the exhibition catalogue calls a “coastal gothic narrative”.
The ocean’s shores are framed as a place of rumination in Moira de la Hunty’s works, where bleak muted hues of waves and sand suggest a loneliness or longing. Each of de la Hunty’s paintings pairs the beach with a reflective surface, suggesting the act of looking back at oneself while contemplating the surrounding vastness.
In other works, such as Di Cubitt’s South Point, the long flat horizon of an endless ocean seems to gesture to the indifference of nature, complete with foreboding dark clouds promising stormy times to come.
There’s a distinct uneasiness running through many of these paintings, from the disjointed bodies in Robert Cleworth’s finely rendered oil paintings, to the bizarre collages of imagery in Michael Doherty’s surreal landscapes. Furthering this sense of unease are hints of the occult and strong links to dark history, including iconic shipwrecks off WA’s coastline.
“Western Current” is an engaging and unsettling exhibition, with the featured works evoking depths far more expansive than the room they’re held in.
Penny Coss, ‘The Twist of the Sea’ ·
Moores Building ·
Review by Jenny Scott ·
Commissioned for “UNDERCURRENT 19”, the second edition of the Fremantle Biennale, “The Twist of the Sea” is a solo exhibition of works by Perth-based artist Penny Coss. The exhibition borrows its title from a translation of the Portugese “volta do mar”, a historic sailing technique involving the use of trade winds to navigate ships.
Through these works, which were all created in Fremantle, Coss seems to suggest linkages between the flow of the currents and our emotional states – a comparison encouraged by the excerpts from Walt Whitman’s poem “As I ebb’d with the ocean of life”, installed onto the outer walls of the gallery.
A bewitching large-scale video projection, Twist of the Sea (2019), follows two ethereal figures who drift on the ocean’s currents in inflatable swim rings. Dreamy underwater shots are mixed with aerial footage of brightly coloured fields of dye gently diffusing through the water around them. Much as historic ships were dependent on permanent wind patterns, these figures follow the movement of the water, which is evocatively accentuated through the swirling clouds of dye.
Is this mindful choice – their act of giving up control, of being driven by the wind? Or are the figures being passively swept along, helpless in the face of the movements of their environment?
In the following gallery, the assemblage Cool Breeze (2019) presents a flock of swim rings suspended in motion. Their top surfaces have each been covered in a thickly painted pastel colour – like the past traces of the waterline have become a tangible marking.
The final gallery houses three suspended screens showing video works exploring meditative repetition, the interplay of substances and forces, and the movement of the ocean.
This exhibition fits beautifully upstairs within the historic Moores Building, a quintessentially “Fremantle” venue in a port city so closely linked to the ocean.
Choreographer Brooke Leeder isn’t afraid to go big, and her new work RADAR – which will premiere as part of the Fremantle Biennale – is no exception, discovers Millie Hunt*.
Brooke Leeder’s most recent undertaking, RADAR, sees her at the helm of a cast which incorporates the talents of professional dancers (all graduates of the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts) as well as a youth ensemble from John Curtin College of the Arts (JCCA), and live musicians. Created in collaboration with composer Louis Frere-Harvey and lighting designer Nemo Gandossini-Poirie, RADAR premieres November 21, inside Fremantle’s iconic B-Shed, a massive space that Leeder plans to reinvigorate with contemporary dance.
In RADAR Leeder explores sound and the way it triggers human movement. “There’s an unspoken understanding that we universally respond to auditory cues,” she observes. “Sounds incite movement, but also signal different things to different people. I’m interested in human movement en masse, exploring how large-scale responses can be evoked through specific noises.”
Leeder’s decision to use a youth ensemble from JCCA alongside a cast of professional dancers was both practical and artistic. “It really stemmed from the idea of wanting mass movement, as well as having this double alignment with the whole concept of the 2019 Fremantle Biennale,” she explains “The overarching concept for this year’s Biennale program is ‘undercurrent’, and I thought, ‘It just works.’ It’s the undercurrents, it’s the under the surface, it’s the youth that are coming in to the industry and how we are revealing the way industry works for these young people.”
This is not the first time Leeder has tackled an unconventional venue, and also not the first time that the space has been huge. Last year she presented Structural Dependency in PS Art Space, a 1900s warehouse that has been converted into a gallery and performance space. Both the B Shed and PS Art Space provide much more room to move than a traditional stage, so what draws Leeder to working in these massive spaces?
“I have really liked presenting works in these unconventional spaces,” she replies. “My very first full-length work was also at PS Art Space but in a quarter of the space. So then when I presented Structural Dependency I thought, ‘Okay, now I’m going to take on the whole space.’ It was the challenge of, ‘How can I take a massive amount of space and make it feel intimate for the audience?’ It also interests me how the performers are actually dancing on the same ground as the audience – it’s exciting to be able to bring people into such close proximity in such a vast space.
That sense of vastness will extend beyond the B-Shed – Leeder plans to open the shed’s doors, so that the harbour, the sun setting and ships passing become the backdrop to the work. “When approaching RADAR in the B-Shed it’s still about creating intimacy in such a large space, but also the challenge of having the vastness of the harbour,” she reflects. “The space is 22 metres long. How do you open out a space like that and draw the audience in at the same time? It’s a challenge.”
Like Structural Dependency, RADAR is being made in collaboration with composer Louis Frere-Harvey and lighting designer Nemo Gandossini-Poirie. “Louis is composing the music in the room at the same time [as I’m choreographing the work with the dancers]. There are times when it’s really easy – we call it ‘staying in our lane’. Louis will be doing the music, I’ll be choreographing, the dancers are doing the dancing, and we’re all heading towards this common goal,” explains Leeder. “We’ve been working on how we can have rhythms of movement, the same way that there are rhythms of music. When working with the youth ensemble we decided never to do [the traditional counting] ‘5, 6, 7, 8’ – we are always trying to learn the movement through its rhythm, which has been really really interesting.”
Leeder has also recently established her own dance company, Brooke Leeder & Dancers, a move that reflects the interactive nature of her work. “It’s about recognising that I can’t do my job without dancers,” she explains. “But it’s also Brooke Leeder & Creatives, Brooke Leeder & Supporters, Brooke Leeder & Sponsors, Brooke Leeder & Audiences, I can’t do my job without these groups. That’s where the company came from, to bring people in to what I am doing. I didn’t want to be a solo individual. It’s me saying, I am doing this with you.”
Lawrence English is celebrated globally as one of ambient music’s modern masters. The Brisbane-based artist is in Fremantle for the Biennale festival, where he has transformed a submarine at the WA Maritime Museum into a sound installation. Seesaw Magazine caught up with English to find out more about deep listening.
Seesaw Magazine: What is the vibe down at Fremantle now that the festival is underway?
Lawrence English: Honestly, I think the Fremantle Biennale is an extraordinary project. To watch thousands of people gather together to experience Waaterlichtwas just wonderful. I think what projects like this do is build the capacity of the cities and towns where they take place. They don’t just contribute in quantitative ways though, the real value is in connecting people together and building new ways of knowing place for locals and visitors alike.
SM: The HMAS Ovens Oberon Class submarine retired from active service in 1995 and now rests at the WA Maritime museum. Whose idea was it to turn a submarine into a sound installation!?
LE: Director Tom Müller and curator Ned Beckley were the masterminds behind this location. All of the Biennale team have spent a great deal of time seeking interesting and unique spaces within which these experiences can be realised.
SM: The HMAS Ovens is an authentic Cold War-era submarine and you are referencing this part of its history– how do you do that through sound?
LE: The history of the HMAS Ovens is very much tethered to sound. At the time of its operation, it utilised amongst some of the most advanced audition technologies on the face of the planet. Its hydrophobic arrays could trace a single ship leaving New York from the other side of the Atlantic. To think about this kind of capacity for listening is quite remarkable. The Ovens was heavy utilised for surveillance and espionage operations and it’s these histories that I have researched and considered in making Standing Wave.
For the piece, I used the interior sonic architectures of the submarine as it stands today as the source material for the work. Working exclusively with this material I explored the resonant frequencies of the compartments and used these to create a kind of feedback cycle within the Submarine. The work is an invitation for audiences to navigate the Ovens through their ears, as well as their eyes, it’s about listening in place and time. Moreover it’s an invitation to listen into place and time, to consider what technologies such as those onboard Ovens represent, the geo-political histories that mesh with them and the implications looking forward for how we engage with these issues.
SM: You’ve done over 30 site specific or structural artworks. What is the appeal of turning a specific space – like a submarine – into a listening space?
LE: For me, I draw a distinction between space and place. Space is the static features of an environment, it is the things that ‘remain’. By contrast, place is the living and embed experiences that fill place. Place is not static or fixed, rather it is constantly evolving. It’s about our relation to those moments in that space in time. How attentive or distracted we are impact on the way we understand place. For me place is about a deepening, a willingness to be present in those moments.
For me works such as Standing Wave are an opportunity to interrogate how place is made, what is made available, what is hidden, how do these dynamics create affective potentials for those encountering the work. Listening, and by this I mean the active, agentive process of listening, not the subconscious state of hearing, offers us new ways to know the world. This expanded perspective revels so much, should we be willing to engage with it.
SM: What do you hope people will experience from Standing Wave?
LE: I’m very open to people’s varied experiences. One of the tour guides who had served on submarines gave me some lovely feedback. They said being inside the Submarine with the piece was as close as he could imagine to how it is when the Submarine is on ’silent running’ – the operational, surveillance mode – outside of actual operation. He said the sound created a kind of intensity, both acoustically, but also affectively which reminded him of the sensations when he served. I found this a very powerful commentary.
SM: What first turned you on to the idea that ordinary, environmental sounds could be musical/art?
LE: When I was a child, I’d go bird watching with my dad at this waterfront area of Brisbane that’s now populated with condos. My dad would take us there and we’d look for Reed Warblers on binoculars, which is cruel for children because they can’t control their own eyes, let alone a second set of eyes that’s meant to help them see deeper.
I was constantly looking for this bird, and after several months of not seeing it, my dad told me to put the binoculars down, to close my eyes and listen. He said, “Now that you know where the bird is, put the binoculars back to your eyes and look where you sense the sound is.” I did that and I was able to see the bird straightaway. That was the first time I understood the role of sound as a way of sense-making, as a way of being in the world.
SM: Why should we be curious about what we are listening to?
LE: Our eyes, to some degree, fail us. You can look at a coffee as much as you want, the view will only ever tell you so much. Until you smell it, taste it, you can’t really know it. Listening is a sense we have long relegated as secondary. I think it’s time we address that and make our experience of the world richer for that.
SM: What do you suggest people listen to next to experience more of your work?
LE: Right now I am in the process of working on a new record that completes a trilogy that started with Wilderness Of Mirrors. This work, Cruel Optimism, meditates somewhat on ideas that relate to Standing Wave. Perhaps it’s a good place to start listening.
1 – 24 November @ NWS Shipping Theatre, WA Maritime Museum ·
Presented by Kelsey Ashe ·
Filmed underwater in the seas around Fremantle, ‘Pearls and Blackbirds’ examines both dark and light undercurrents of WA’s historically significant pearling industry through contemplation of the lives and stories of female Aboriginal pearl divers and Japanese migrants that traversed through the port of Fremantle and Northern WA in the late nineteenth century. The commercial pearling industry transformed Northern WA into a prime colonial outpost of trade, and Fremantle into a flourishing multi-cultural port town, flushed with the affluence of ship building Pearl Luggers and off-season Pearl Masters spending their new fortunes.
‘Pearls and Blackbirds’ imbues an overdue acknowledgement of the collective histories of trauma and sorrow, whilst also imagining a visceral and mysterious underwater world. The film is a meditation on immense beauty and pain, humanity and redemption. It provokes difficult, yet transformative conversation by adding expressive voices to this significant era in WA history, helping to shape our cultural imagination, sense of belonging and identity.
21 – 24 November @ B-Shed, Fremantle Ports ·
Presented by Brooke Leeder and Dancers ·
‘RADAR’ is a new contemporary dance work by Brooke Leeder & Dancers, in collaboration with Louis Frere-Harvey and Nemo Gandossini-Poirier. Sirens and sounds are codes that trigger human movement – a universal, unspoken, sonic form of communication and direction into action. Alarms can also signal stillness; simultaneously meaning different things to different people. Timecoding live instruments, electronic tracks and lighting design, ‘RADAR’ will merge dancers, light and sound to create a unified body of work, with a small ensemble of musicians behind a large ensemble of dancers. The composition will act as a web of support, holding in silence and in response, launching the bodies into the space, as the lights change in precision along a time coded score. ‘RADAR’ creates surges of action or caution, movements of urgency and pause, the whole ensemble intently alert in either silence and siren.
8 – 10 November @ PS Art Space ·
Presented by Theatre by the Sea ·
Somnus is a radical enquiry into the nature of sleep, immersing audiences in the experiences of four sleepers as they cycle through the fear and ecstasy of REM and non-REM states. The pillared warehouse of PS Art Space will transform into an otherworld of kinetic still lives, nocturnal languages, poetry, and haunting music- scapes, where audiences roam between stages of sleep. What lights up in this panorama is our passionate search for meaning as we encounterour ‘nightself’. Conceived and written by Jennifer Kornberger, directed by Horst Kornberger, with music composed by Eva Jurgec, Somnus is a large-scale collaboration between some of Slovenia’s best performers and an outstanding ensemble of Australian artists.
Theatre of the Sea fuses multiple genres to produce installations and immersive events. Elements of site activation, theatre, ritual, live music, and poetry establish temporary sanctuaries where audiences participate in acts of transformation.
1 – 3 November @ Fremantle Esplanade Park ·
Presented by Studio Roosegarde ·
An Australian premiere in Fremantle, Studio Roosegaarde will present a large-scale light installation illustrating the universal power and poetry of water. ‘WATERLICHT’ is larger-than-life; cascading waves of blue light will soar in the middle of Esplanade Park, simulating a virtual flood and calling attention to rising water levels along Fremantle’s shoreline. The work will embrace the unique physical features of the site while acknowledging its past. A soundscape will accompany the work, including local stories about Fremantle’s waterfront by traditional custodians, prominent civic figures, historians, artists and community members. These stories will live on as an enduring legacy of the work’s appearance in Fremantle, and serve as a stirring call-to-action for a city-wide conversation around clean water initiatives and climate change.