A fortnight back: Friday night fades into view amid a swell of well-dressed bodies, beers and varied conceptual art protrusions. A bucket lies on its side where, not long before, a man (his name is Martin Heine) had attempted impossible push-ups with his feet on the wall, his arms on a ladder and his head teetering over the water-filled pail. His failure to sustain the act saw his crown plummet into the vessel, spilling liquid across the floor. The performance was called ‘Climate Change.’
The exhibition is Paper Mountain’s “RUN ARTIST RUN,” a survey of works produced expressly by directors or key players in Perth’s array of Artist Run Initiatives. Most of these reflect, with a healthy touch of irony or obliqueness, on the nature of running an ARI in and of itself. Dan Bourke of Benchpress provides a diptych of four-colour risograph prints, each showing a profile of a stock-image jogger, first drinking from his water bottle, then spraying his entire face. The currency of stock photos (endlessly repurposable images, humorously devoid of internal logic) plays well into the premise, whereby process (in this case, near-accurate photo reproduction with risograph and soya ink) is at the fore. The jogger becomes a tongue-in-cheek motivational metaphor; art is sweaty, exhausting work, but it’s good for you. Compare with the hi-vis vest, helmet and boots of Hard Work Club: an artist statement describes how construction is the hardest work the artists could imagine. Two artists are photographed looking decidedly uncomfortable in the FIFO-type gear. We’ll stick to visual art, they concede, in an endearing moment of both affirmation and humility. Moana ARI supplies an engrossing and strangely beautiful mixed media installation, marrying a used drop sheet, a painting of an instructional washing-machine diagram and faintly cryptic wall text to ruminate on the visual poetry and gentle absurdities of the gallery lifestyle. Paper Mountain directors transplant an assortment of plants from their home balconies to the gallery’s far wall and ask patrons to water them – an endearing inversion of the artwork maintenance dynamic, and perhaps a sort of utopian metaphor for arts patronage in general. It’s a fascinating show, a sort of not-quite-behind-the-scenes; a reimagining and aestheticisation of such processes and ideas as give rise to shows like itself.
The following night we snake through lanterns and wandering bodies to enter the recently relocated ‘Common Ground’ store, which sells clothes and artisan wares. Up the back of the spacious Rechabites Hall adjunct room, chairs are arranged in neat rows and a small area is delineated as a makeshift stage. The show is called ‘SLUMBER PARTY TIME TRAVEL,’ created by new comedy duo SLOW LORIS (that’s Marnie Allen and Ella Bennett, FYI) and things kick off with a black and white, pre-filmed, wall-projected scene of a prototypical feminist being beaten down with the placard of the faux-moustached archetype-patriarch. A toy rat approaches the victim’s body – text reads: “the rat steals the soul from the mouth of the dead suffragette!” which is more or less the best line ever. Cut to 1988 where two (seemingly average) schoolgirls, Candice and Evelyn, are returning from prom. Bemoaning the terrible eventuality of the hotly anticipated occasion, they discuss boys, hair, drinking, nails; they bitch about classmates and scheme sternly in relation to Candice’s family’s organised crime cartel. As the pair’s teenage political apathy and middle-class entitlement grows clear, Candice’s brilliantly-named pet rat (Jürgen!) emerges as a supernatural MacGuffin: eyes glowing red, he transports the pair into the pivotal days of the suffrage movement, and into the future, to learn some much-needed life lessons. Well, on paper that seems to be why – in the event, this show isn’t burdened by any overt moralising, character growth or even a particularly consequential story arc. Rather, it’s a howl-inducing succession of oddball dialogues, bizarre scenarios and amazing, often subtle, one-liner gags. They take cues from countless comedic approaches – from innocent wordplay to topical humour and irreverent cultural references; to the surprise tactics of unexpected violence and vulgarity, to outright absurdity. Oh, and wigs. There are a LOT of wig changes in this play. Expect more great things from Slow Loris if their debut is this golden.
The next afternoon I go and sneak in for the closing hour of JOSH COBB’s exhibition “Pillars | Truss” at Free Range. Featuring nine sculptures dispersed handsomely through the modestly-sized gallery, Cobb’s first solo show is really exceptional. Molded concrete, carefully cut and assembled jarrah and geometrically contorted metal rods intersect to create beautiful, compelling and dynamic 3D works. In each, Cobb has considered spaces and events his own home, channelling the sort of meta-sculptural process involved in creating places in the world – a process of closing in on ever-smaller sites and shapes to demarcate nuances of ownership and purpose. If concrete is the foundation and wood the elaboration of form, these silver steel lines notate movements, journeys and gestures – invisible traces made solid. I don’t know about these motivations instinctively, of course. Josh is one of the friendliest artists – nay, humans – you’ll ever meet, and when prompted he gladly talks me through the entire process with a grin, before showing me his book on Egyptian Cosmology.
Thursday night spins round and after playing a gig at the Bird we end up in the Fringeworld pleasure gardens. There’s a silent disco going down and, as my buddy Rupert says, it’s the first silent disco we’ve ever seen that actually seems to be “going off.” We join in and, amid 3 channels of audio groove goodness on the tricolour glowing headphones, the boogie flows effortlessly. As Pharrell croons intimately in our ears, we are indeed “up all night for good fun.”
The Saturday just gone I zoom in on that newly underground train and it spits me out the other end in a kind of Narnia, a small doorway in a way which opens up into a majestic secret viewing arena called TEATRO. I’m here to experience a special – and final – Gala edition of Perth’s much-loved night of oversharing, BAREFACED STORIES. The stalls are steep, dark and packed. The stage is big, a wide yawning plain compared to the singular performers who soon appear, but it doesn’t feel impersonal. Maybe the deeply private, close-to-home tales soon to spill forth are enough to shrink the room, to make the whole thing feel like a huddle.
NICK SUN is up first. I’d never heard of him before, but he’s got his own wikipedia page, so I guess he’s a pretty big deal. I’m not really mentally prepared for Sun’s quick-mumbling assault, which is hilarious, confronting, endearing, weird, moving and thought-provoking, all in the space of about ten minutes. He discloses tales of an affair on a friend’s couch with an over-eager S&M enthusiast (“her safe-word was more”) and about trying to entertain British children at a festival whilst souped up on ecstasy, ultimately to have them follow him into a toilet block in single file (“the words “pied pedo piper” kept looping in my head”). These outrageous stories go beyond mere craziness or train wreck cringe-factor; they are laden with pathos and humour-soaked abhorrence at Sun’s own thoughts and actions. Upon watching his sexual partner have a PTSD-induced seizure mid-canoodle, Nick muses: “I wondered how long I had to watch before it wouldn’t be impolite for me to check my Facebook feed.” Such lines of self-reproof come thick and fast and are as refreshingly as they are awkward.
JACQUES BARRETT follows, with two pretty damn funny recounts of communication gone horribly wrong: first at an RSL, secondly with a convicted pedophile who should’ve been a pizza delivery guy. The punch lines rely on being offensive to make an impact, but Barrett’s real forte is in becoming different characters mid-story; taking on voices, gestures and mannerisms to increase mid-gag laughs tenfold. Next it’s LISA-SKYE, the Melbourne-based comic responsible for the fringe show “Bunny and Mad Dog Get High.” There is plenty of getting high in her confessional – mostly by her parents; the storytelling sits halfway between humour and grim poignancy, and as such doesn’t quite nail either, but certainly goes some of the way. One gets the sense that these stories – bound up, as they are, in a protracted narrative of childhood, adolescence and identity, would work better in a more long-form format. Conversely, comedian MIKE GOLDSTEIN plays the stakes low – discussing, simply, his failed attempts at acting in advertisements, and why Red Rooster will never work with him again. It’s funny, good clean fun, but not especially “barefaced.”
After a brief intermission, we hear from Bryan O’Gorman, a super amusing, giggly, Canadian “professional jerk off” who waxes lyrical about doing coke in a toilet stall at 5am and getting unexpectedly digitally penetrated by his one-night lover. Matt Saraceni provides by far the evening’s most emotionally intense story, as he details his final memories of his father, who passed away between last year’s fringe festival and now. Barefaced stories needn’t be funny, and this one certainly isn’t – it’s earnest, touching and sad – though Matt, remarkably, manages to inject a generous helping of jokes into the deeply personal tale. Similarly pitting personal tragedy against humour is Brian Finkelstein, the self-consciously cynical and neurotic New Yorker who details his wife’s amazingly chirpy demeanour, his anxieties over the prospect of parenthood, and the impossibly difficult experience of their pregnancy ending in a miscarriage. In a few short minutes, Brian lays out some of the most gloomy forecasts for life and humankind one could encounter on a Saturday night, and yet leaves us on a note of life-affirming optimism. That’s quite a schtick.
Fringe so far has been, as you’d hope, a freakishly diverse array – aesthetically, emotionally. Perhaps the unifying factor is a sense of risk-taking; less beholden to commercial interests, these shows will take the plunge into weirder, more polarising territory. Last year I saw, hated, and ranted in vitriolic criticism of a particular Fringe show in a review for this column, but that’s fine – divisiveness is truly part of the fun. And for every pocket of creativity in Fringe that you don’t personally enjoy, there’ll be loads that you do. It’s as easy as getting on a train, mind the gap, take the leap. Perth FRINGE WORLD runs ’til Feb 23.