Hi Melody, welcome to lala,
Tell me about the Neo-intimacy pod you made earlier this year?
Well, it was a piece for Exist-ence Performance Art Festival in Brisbane in Jan 2010. I wanted to create a kind of surreal installation and improv performance looking at the evolution of intimacy and how we connect. A red telephone booth was positioned like it had crashed into and destroyed a bedroom on the street. The bed was broken around this red British phone booth. The work was performed on the bitumen road outside of the gallery, and I worked as much intimacy into the performance as I could. I wanted to connect to people in this streetside Neo-Intimacy Pod using methods of modern communication. For the 2 hour durational performance I didn’t get off the phone, skype, email, facebook, myspace, twitter, or a home-made tin-can-on-a-string-phone. I began inside the phone booth, shut away from the audience and communicating with relative privacy over skype with a friend, then moved out of the booth to check my emails or facebook and chat online, I then switched to my mobile phone and spoke to someone else. While I was communicating, I was moving and performing actions with sand or papers or simultaneously destroying my own sphere of privacy by writing what was said upon the telephone booth for all to see. I used metal rings around my feet to walk outside the installation, they made the most amazing sound that I hadn’t counted on, but they connected me back to the Intimacy Pod if I walked across the road or sat next to people on the footpath. Mostly the work was improvised. I just provided myself with the installation and some conceptually aligned tools and left the performance to intuition and spontaneity. I think my favourite part was when I left the technological devices and spoke to someone face to face right at the end through a tin-can on a string, by this stage I had reduced my privacy down to my undies. Some real emotions and connection happened and I just spoke and spilled things in the middle of the street. I later spoke to a guy who had come to Exist-ence and was surprised to hear when he first turned the corner he was confronted with these emotions, he just wanted to stop me, pack it all down and put me inside the gallery where I would be safe.
I also had a soundscape for people to listen to through headphones that was a part of the installation, it was a recorded message from about a year prior, it was of a recorded voicemail that my friend had left on her ex’s phone overseas, she was so drunk and her message was so uncensored and real and full of emotion and so adorable. It really was this miniature intimate pod she’d created with a machine.
Also when I think of a ‘Pod’ I think of any environment that is defined by people or physical boundaries determining that space. Almost like the phrase ‘in our own bubbles’. For Neo-Intimacy Pod I was seeing the way that new mobile technologies had redefined or blurred our modern concept of intimacy and the spaces we use to connect intimately to other people. Our pods of intimacy prior to mobile phones and mobile communication devices were primarily in the bedroom, in our homes, or in enclosed private spaces and mostly just face to face or on the phone, You can see even through the gradual redesign of telephone booths that our society is now more open and public when communicating a private intimate connection.
And so it was Matt Locke’s research that coined ‘TIZ’; Temporary Intimate Zones, and he describes it as “…the real space of human encounters enabled by networks…” , I thought this was a great visual image, you know to find a ‘Real Space’ constructed in the street; a tangible reality of an intangible connection that is so ephemeral. Our intimate behaviour has adapted to this oxymoron of public intimate zones, like in elevators, trains, streets and really anywhere in an urban environment we’re merging more, our lives and the way we connect is morphing and evolving.
And how did the online and mobile communications work with the piece?
Well they were the foundations of the work and used simply as mobile devices as anyone on the street would use them. I had my laptop with wireless prepaid internet connected and my mobile phone constantly used. I invited people to be contacted during the work, some I knew very well and others not so well and some were overseas… I like the idea of geographically neutral; where distance is just eliminated through these mediums, and technology can do this to an extent.
And was Exist-ence a follow on from Zane Trow and Rebecca Cunningham’s Exist in 08?
Yes! Exist in 08 was fantastic! And I think very valuable to Brisbane and live art practice in Australia. Rebecca has been championing the way forward with Exist. There’s plans for another Exist festival in the future that’s really exciting. This last installment of Exist-ence in January was beautiful and a little more under the radar than Exist in 08, it was scheduled for 2 days, but it kicked on with some last minute extra additions for a 3rd.
Does much of this type of work happen in Brisbane? and has it grown out of another scene of has it been brought by some practitioners?
Brisbane, despite it’s sunshine, is pretty industrious. There’s a lot of experimental works going on and some really fearless artists are ploughing the scene. However as far as regular live art in Brisbane goes, it’s hard to find off the bat, I think of some artists I know and I guess it’s emergent from more theatrical or visual art scenes. It’s where I see experiments with live elements really being explored. But I think there may be some performance artists out there who haven’t come from another scene first, I just don’t think I know of too many right now.
That said though, I’m still a green bean newbie as far as the development of Brisbane arts, I just moved to Brisbane from overseas 3 years ago and it took me around 6 months to get my shit together, sort my life out, ditch the debt collectors, and then get back into the arts and take my own practice seriously after that. I don’t think I can speak of the scene before I got there or how it’s evolved with any kind of authority, I’m still discovering too. But Brisbane has a really enthusiastic and supportive dynamic, and people like Rebecca Cunningham and Zane Trow who have brought it to us from overseas and artists who are bringing it to us with their own creative work are pivotal. Michael Mayhew said it best over some beers though; that these curators need more artist support. I think generally I’m needing to be more pro-active as an artist in developing this culture.
How do you see this type of work in relation to the works you make that are sculpture or painting works?
Neo-Intimacy Pod was a progression. My ideas just progressed, paintings just don’t cut it for me now. I still paint, but I can’t express the more experiential ideas my work has taken by doing painting. I’m so much more enamoured with creating experience or immersion or actions or space for people to feel their surroundings. So the progression went from painting to sculptural installation and then to immersive and sensory installation and live art. I know that installation still holds a place in my work, because it can involve other people and affect them and their environments. But a live or performative element and the presence of the body can bring an immediacy or humanity to ideas and to audiences. I guess if we’re talking about Neo-Intimacy Pod, the installation itself was moved after the performance on the opening night and stood inside the gallery as it’s own entity, but as a durational performative work, performance was really just something that was essential to the work and to the way I had to communicate that idea. There really was no other way I could do it but as a durational performance. I think that visually, I’ll always be interested in the environment of the work or the imagery it projects, which is why installation or context or site-specifics or spatial immersion will play a role in live works I do.
And you have just been on a big travel session including a residency in Iceland, a trip to Gibraltar, Spain etc, is this normal for you or was this something spurred by work or restlessness?
Oh yep, this is very normal! I started traveling on my own 10 years ago, and it became an addictive habit. Since then I think the longest I stayed in one place was 3 years before skipping the country again. However this is the first trip I’ve actually traveled for artistic reasons.
How does it reflect on Australia for you?
I guess Australia is safe and a relief for me. After traveling and living in so many places,which I love, it’s taken a while for me to really appreciate what we have there. I think Australia is somewhere that is still developing it’s culture and we really have a say in it’s future and what kind of place it will be. Some countries, you may be born into a culture and way of life that has been existent for thousands of years, yet being born in Australia we are brought into a place where we are still developing our ideals, our culture, our laws and our people. I guess having seen a lot of cultures, I understand every one of them is developing in their own way, but we have this historically fucked up and bittersweet gift of starting from the beginning. And what we create is entirely up to us now.
And what is next for you?
Oooooh, I’m leaving Gibraltar for Denmark to hang out with the Snuff Puppets, then Berlin and Amsterdam, hoping to get a photocopier into a field, try some phantasmagoria out, immerse myself in the Melbourne Fringe, and exist a bit more in 2010. I’ll be back in Australia for a short stint for a couple of gigs, then New York and back to the residency in Iceland. I seriously can’t get enough of that indie underdog Nordic country.
Melody Woodnutt is a hybrid visual artist working across painting, sculpture and live art. She is from Brisbane but is currently on sabbatical from an artist residency in Iceland.