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A Night of Ideas

Past the Gallery Kitchen, which for tonight has become an open mic Poets Café, I swim through the swirling 100-metre-long, multi-panelled Mun-Dirra (Maningrida Fish Fence), woven by 13 Burarra women weavers, which hovers above the floor and makes the gallery a waterway. I arrive to find Rosalind Crisp in the moment before the first of her two ten-minute performances, behind artist Hugh Hayden’s salvaged wood classroom ecosystem. Map still in my hand, for the locating of events communicating not just with the voice, but with the body, through dance, I am at the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV), after hours, for the Night of Ideas (La Nuit des Idées), an initiative of the French Embassy in partnership with the NGV and the Institut Français, taking place in various locations on the ground level of the NGV’s Triennial. Crisp’s legs and feet are instantly recognisable behind the blackboard of Hayden’s The End. Hidden in plain sight from both the extinct dodos in the installation and the wandering audience, a water bottle and a Guest Artist gallery lanyard by her feet, the gallery as a dance venue presents a distinct challenge. She pads the space, and I think about how hard it must be when the backstage is improvised.

Performance

Rosalind Crisp, “A Night of Ideas”

Place

National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, Australia, March 1, 2024

Words

Gracia Haby

Rosalind Crisp at the National Gallery of Victoria's “A Night of Ideas.” Photograph by Michael Pham

In the neighbouring gallery space, where Crisp will soon be performing, CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere principal research scientist, Karen Evans is in conversation with musician and writer, Wilfred N’Sondé. In keeping with the theme of the night, “fault lines,” they are discussing the fault lines in our seas. Looking at my watch, their conversation will spill into Crisp’s performance. In the doorway, now watching, Crisp checks to see when they might end and she’ll begin, such is the organic nature of a night of ideas encouraged to flow, and I am reminded of seeing Crisp standing just inside the doorway of the Upstairs Studio space at Dancehouse before the performance officially began. As the audience makes their way into the room, weaving past her, the sense of being hidden in plain sight is amplified. A small sign by the door reads “Dance Performance: Rosalind Crisp” alongside the scheduled times. Crisp, denoted by a sign, unbeknownst to the many, now reminding me of a lyrebird I saw by their signage on a forest trail. The lyrebird raked at the leaf litter at his feet, making a stage just as Crisp quietly toes at the gallery earth. Then and now, a stage transpires, and the sense that the performance has already begun at its advertised time, once I open my eyes. 

Rosalind Crisp at the National Gallery of Victoria's “A Night of Ideas.” Photograph by Michael Pham

Inside the darkened gallery, the talk now concluded, Crisp introduces herself to the audience. On the wall, thanks to a tiny projector mounted on a tripod, beams a “DIRt” (“Dance In Regional disasTer zones”) excerpt, filmed by Andrew Morrish. Crisp now stands alongside Crisp projected, walking through the blackened, incinerated heathland of what was bandicoot and potoroo habitat in Cape Conran, East Gippsland, after a so-called controlled back-burn. The line between Crisp’s own introduction to the work and the dance that unfolds in response, or is that extension, is indistinguishable as her words become small, selected movements plucked from the earth, and felt within.[1] With her left hand raised above her head, Crisp pats repeatedly at the space before her with her right, and I think of how the earth must feel beneath the hopping spring of a potoroo after a fire has scorched their habitat. As Crisp draws her left leg upwards, her left arm mirrors the action, and the space between the two limbs remains at equal distance to the other. With her hand upon her forehead, she gently guides her head backwards and the gallery spotlight reads like the sun that she unfurls and warms before, ever attuned to something beyond, something past, something coming. Not always within view, these glimpses of Crisp alongside the gallery wall that serves more as a passageway between gallery spaces feel tender and powerful, as Crisp extinguishes John Gerrard’s continuously burning gas flare video, Flare (Oceania), on the wall opposite.

Returning for the second performance ten minutes later, Crisp begins the work from the middle of the gallery, in amongst the audience, enshrouded in the space. Now she is a silhouette and the same performance is a new performance. The suggestion of a nocturnal bandicoot digging with their front feet appears momentarily. The tripod, too, has relocated and rests in the “snout pokes” of a bandicoot for stability, allowing Cape Conran to materialise on the other side of the gallery. Looking at the projection, it is as if the trees roots extend down the gallery walls and have felt their way in the soil of the gallery floor to where Crisp is nestled in order to help her anchor herself and aerate the soil. A sense of time alters as if in answer to how long does the soil biome take to regenerate after fire, decades, as Crisp raises both arms bent at the elbow, in a performance of a handful of minutes. As Crisp digs into and disperses, this is slowing down to notice the little things that we often miss.

Rosalind Crisp at the National Gallery of Victoria's “A Night of Ideas.” Photograph by Michael Pham

Akin to the bright green shoots of new growth that come after fire, the dance continues to grow after I leave the gallery. Standing in the laneway behind the gallery, to return a Gould’s wattled bat to their original habitat after they’d been in wildlife foster care, the performance reforms in the gentle haze of contemplation. I feel the energy of the microbat in my palm, as if I were a tree; as if I were Crisp. The microbat vibrates their awareness; they know they’re home. After a moment of stillness, she takes off before I can even register it. She loops high overhead, and disappears from my sight, and I cannot help but wonder how the performance unfolded for others receptive to the transference of ideas after they left the gallery, attuned to noticing small things and the essence they in turn reveal.

Gracia Haby


Using an armoury of play and poetry as a lure, Gracia Haby is an artist besotted with paper. Her limited edition artists’ books, and other works hard to pin down, are often made collaboratively with fellow artist, Louise Jennison. Their work is in the collections of the National Gallery of Australia and state libraries throughout Australia to the Tate (UK). Gracia Haby is known to collage with words as well as paper.

footnotes


  1. “After 60 years of inhabiting these places, they are contained in my body. Our familial connection is continuous despite the devastation of much of their materiality. Crashing between the grief and joy of being part of a vibrant rural community, between dancing in sheds, halls and theatres around the world and dancing in the dirt of ruined places I love(d). How do they talk to each other—the love and the rant, the practice and the activism? What can dance do? Without an intimate knowledge of this land we live in, how can we as artists move beyond its ongoing, colonial destruction?” Rosalind Crisp, “DIRt Residency,” Critical Path, https://criticalpath.org.au/programs/dirt-residency/, accessed March 2, 2024.

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