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Life and Afterlife

In a willingness to explore the mythologies of the afterlife, I find my way to the last of a handful of seats for Melanie Lane’s “Arkadia” at the Substation.  As my eyes adjust to the appropriate dimness of the hereafter, having come in from the brightness of the day, I could be in a cloister-like garden of monasteries or a walled-in castle garden. A veil cast over the scene, I follow the pictorial code of the illuminated manuscript before me. As if transplanted from a copy of The Book of Hours, the margins are decorated with a border of floreate ornament potentially inhabited by a host of fantastical animals my eyes have yet to determine.

Performance

“Arkadia” by Melanie Lane

Place

Rising Festival, The Substation, Victoria, Australia, June 8, 2024

Words

Gracia Haby

“Arkadia” by Melanie Lane. Photograph by Gianna Rizzo

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In the black beyond, a planet engulfed in flames rotates. I am unsure if the planet is Earth, and a sign of what awaits, or if it is a fireball coming towards Earth, a sign, too, of what awaits. Unsure, in the sense that Lane has created a work in which I feel invited to surrender to meditation, I sit and let the stream of consciousness surround me. I may have been too earthbound in my reading; speculative utopia calling: lean into the virtuosic. “Arkadia” is the first work presented by Corps Conspirators led by Lane,[1] with an emphasis upon multi-artform collaborations, and it features a 3D animation, developed by Tokyo-based artist Kim Laughton, projected across screens that are interlaced with Eugyeene Teh’s set design (drawn from Marg Horwell’s original set design concept), as well as each of the six performers’ cultural and personal histories. As Lane describes, in “Arkadia” there are “multiple fictional narratives that interconnect the dancers through a shared experience of physical transformation and mythic conjuring.”[2]

Inhabiting the shadow groves and verdant meadows of the Roman poet Vergil, Rachel Coulson, Tyrel Dulvarie (from Bangarra Dance Theatre), Benjamin Hancock, Samuel Harnett-Welk and Georgia Rudd have crossed the threshold and are in perpetual spring. Shedding skins (of latex, tulle) they pose: what happens to our bodies after we pass? Let’s see. From afar, they could be carrying marble funerary vessels, from which water freely flows. Upon the screen, the rocky-faced temple of Ancient Virtue flickers before it grows into something other, such is the cycle of life, death, transition, and rebirth. Homer’s Elysian Fields by the river Styx meets the prolific growth of plants, irrespective of season, in the Garden of Eden. The science fiction of Jules Verne collides into Ursula K. LeGuin’s Earthsea books in the melting pot pooled under the sky. 

“Arkadia” by Melanie Lane. Photograph by Gianna Rizzo

By the mythical cleansing powers of rivers, the supernatural agents, Coulson, Dulvarie, Hancock, Harnett-Welk, and Rudd bubble and cascade in the semi-shadows. With lighting design promising immortality by Bosco Shaw and a composition of keys and strings divine by Chris Clark, my footing remains hard to secure, as befits the operatic hyper-realm of a mythological terrain of gods and aliens. It is as if I am crouched in the bushes, inching closer, bit by bit. Like the animals earlier, in the margins, they are blissfully unaware I am there, as they languidly walk across the stage, each biting an orange in unison and spitting out the rind like a dragon breathing fire. In their wake, a trail of rind curls litter the forest floor. There is an overwhelming sense of watching figures resting in paradise, doing, as Lane describes, “the things we don’t have time to do in real life.”[3] And so “Arkadia” becomes a way to experience life outside of the everyday-mundane, and it has called upon a unique palette summoned by all the performers to reach the beyond. Because eating fruit from the Tree of Life, enjoying the sound your heels make as you let them swing and clack together, wading through the shallow waters, cavorting with a panelled mirror, and plucking a lyre harp to encourage a congregation of pigeons to swoon belongs to the realm of unbound time.

“Arkadia” by Melanie Lane. Photograph by Gianna Rizzo

Turning gravity upon its head, water flows upward, in “Arkadia,” contrary to tendency. A projected waterfall appears to cascade as if rewound footage, and later, an actual fountain squirts and surges, blurring the watery reflection further in the connection of ideas. In a pool, at the farthest distance from where I watch, suggestive of a beautiful lake which is emptied by a small rivulet in the central foreground, the figures glide and cavort in the home of the nymph. Calling to mind both Narcissus by the pool, in the mirror of water, prompting reflection of all kinds, and a remembered visual of a group of typically solitary lyrebirds sheltering in a dam from an advancing megafire.[4] In reflection of the extinction crisis, did the outline of an isolated group of Ganges river dolphins, whose habitat is fragmented by multiple dams, swim by? I may never know. Without clear distinction, in the best possible sense, “Arkadia” serves as a handbook for how to build a grotto for your personal reflection and quiet, textured with shells and flint, replete with the sounds of the murmur of water and omnipresent references to the afterlife and abundance.

Like Persephone, returning annually from the underworld to the world of the living, I head home, but with an irresistible, transitory tapestry of images leaving a lasting impression upon my skin.

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. Melanie Lane, Corps Conspirators, https://melanielane.info/corps-conspirators, accessed June 9, 2024.
  2. Melanie Lane in interview with Chris Duncan, May 11, 2024, DanceLife Australia, https://www.dancelife.com.au/interview-with-melanie-lane-rising-2024/, accessed June 9, 2024.
  3. Melanie Lane and Chris Clark in interview with Oliver Coleman, May 30, 2024, “Getting Mythical with Melanie Lane’s “Arkadia’,” SmartArts, RRR, https://www.rrr.org.au/on-demand/segments/smartarts-getting-mythical-with-melanie-lanes-arkadia, accessed June 8, 2024.
  4. Ben Millington, “’Solitary’ lyrebirds band together to save themselves in ‘incredible’ show of unity under bushfire threat” ABC Newcastle, January 30, 2020, https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-01-30/lyrebirds-band-together-to-avoid-approaching-bushfire/11910666, accessed June 9, 2024.

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