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Hammer Time

There was a series of warnings that led up to the moment it all fell apart, but no one listened. Everything appeared to follow a linear trajectory, an illuminated, diagonal path that led straight to the suspended glass orb at the foot of the stage. But the breakdown that ensued, it was neither smooth nor gradual. And it certainly was not linear, as complex, interwoven systems sought to find an equilibrium in the aftermath. You can push things past a tipping point, easily, when armed with a three-pound mash hammer.[1] What you cannot do is push them back. The orb, once broken into pieces, cannot be reassembled. Irrespective of how much you try, you cannot reverse the transition of states.

Performance

Lucy Guerin Inc: “One Single Action: In an Ocean of Everything”

Place

Chunky Move Studios, Melbourne, Australia, June 14, 2024

Words

Gracia Haby

Lucy Guerin's “One Single Action: In an Ocean of Everything.” Photograph by Gregory Lorenzutti

I might be talking about Lucy Guerin’s new work, “One Single Action: In an Ocean of Everything,” presented at the Chunky Move Studios, as part of the new Rising festival, but I could easily be talking about climate tipping points, which, once flipped, flip another, and another, in a domino effect. As thresholds are approached, things start to flicker.[2] The wobble before the critical transition: the first part of Guerin’s “One Single Action.” As a new equilibrium is found, it proves hostile to most life forms, as a rainforest becomes a savannah in the fallout: the second part of Guerin’s result of “One Single Action.”

Of course, this relies upon me reading the suspended white orb as planet Earth. This relies upon me reading the dancers actions as repeatedly chipping away at Earth’s stability, having failed to read the warning signs of megafires, thawing permafrost, and the death of coral reefs, driving us to the point of no return. In the inkblot interpretation of dance, in particular the non-narrative realm that Guerin likes to inhabit and reveal, perhaps the orb is the Moon, shown in beguiling luminosity. Perhaps the orb is an idea. Perhaps the orb is a system that needs to be broken in order for something new to grow in its place. Equipped as they are with a hammer, at one point, in each of their hands, the dancers, Amber McCartney and Geoffrey Watson, could be agents of destruction or performing a task necessary for renewal. As Guerin explained in the Q&A session that followed the performance, facilitated by Alison Croggon, she invites the multiple interpretations people will have as McCartney and Watson, instead of throwing a lasso around the moon, in the spirit of It’s a Wonderful Life’s George Bailey, smash both it, and ultimately themselves to smithereens.

Lucy Guerin's “One Single Action: In an Ocean of Everything.” Photograph by Gregory Lorenzutti

In the first part of “One Single Action,” McCartney and Watson switch back and forth between alternative states, just like the phenomenon of flickering in which the Earth’s systems recover from small impacts. Sometimes they move in sync with each other, as when they are seated, legs wide, extended before them, swinging a single hammer in an overhead arc. The force of the hammer as it strikes the floor is so great that it lifts them both in the air upon each landing. They are both a machine part and the operator of the machine, and the effect is playfully cartoon-like as the tension builds. Each wearing safety goggles, and matching florescent yellow singlets, reminiscent of high-vis vests, they pound the floor, and no reading is allowed to settle. Later, a single hammer is used more as a lever to bring about a change in the other, or as a handle to grasp, or as an extension of their own hand. All the while there is a sense that neither will drop the hammer or hammers, but the same cannot be said of the orb whose days have been marked from the moment the work began. As they each extend an arm towards the glass orb,[3] they make a chattering motion with their fingertips that reminds me of a moth drawn to a flame. At speed, they tap their fingers to their thumb, and the moth they have each conjured, strains to reach the light source. In Guerin’s first extended work for a female and male dancer, [4] McCartney and Watson are opposites and co-conspirators, and neither will allow the moth to reach the desired light.

Lucy Guerin's “One Single Action: In an Ocean of Everything.” Photograph by Gregory Lorenzutti

In the layering of opposites, when choreographing this first part, as Guerin described in the Q&A session, she created many small sections and followed each small section with a counter action.[5] The first part, too, retains much of the original choreography. The sound component within the work, so as not to be prescriptive, was added later, thereby ensuring that the movement did not follow the sound, but rather the sound followed the action, in an ongoing, conscious decision to avoid narrative. This was then layered upon the work, and further built, resulting in a composition and sound design by CS + Kreme which sounded like blades sluicing through water, as McCartney and Watson rendered themselves like fans, and the imagined soundscape of a tree being drilled by a woodpecker. And just when I thought I had a grip on things, cinematic movement is drawn in response to a musical composition by none other than Bartók, in the second part, and the loudest sound became the silence, when I was aware that if I moved my arm, the rustle the fabric would make would deafen the audience around me.

While I cannot help but wonder what it would have been like to have ended the work upon impact, upon that single action that tipped the cart, as Guerin at one point intended, in the fallout or freedom of the second part, there is also humour tinged with the futility of glass pieces being swept up, and comfort derived from a sense that if this all falls down, this Earth, there is renewal of some kind. A big boom! And something new to start over, as beautifully, agonisingly conveyed by McCartney ‘swimming’ along the back curtain, like a stone skimming the surface. Her hands pinged the curtain and a ripple of water appeared. In the final, hopeful moments, she appeared as a white dog, inquisitive and gentle, pawing at the earth. Something new had started, and the house lights came on.

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. Or so the person at the hardware store thought, when I showed them a photo from the performance the following day. He swung his arm up in the air, echoing the movements of the dancers, before confirming, “yeah, I reckon you could comfortably swing a three-pound mash hammer.”
  2. George Monbiot describing what systems theorists refer to as flickering that might suggest the approaching of tipping points, “The flickering,” November 3, 2023, https://www.monbiot.com/2023/11/03/the-flickering, accessed June 15, 2024.
  3. Designed and constructed by Andrew Bowden of Killer Art, the glass orb is a theatrical illusion; for safety reasons, it is fashioned from breakaway glass or sugar glass.
  4. In a bid to avoid creating the obvious “I love you, now I loathe you” narrative arc in a dance for a female and male dancer, as Guerin discussed in the Q&A session.
  5. Watson describes “Performing “One Single Action” feels like riding a mechanical bull. If you tense up you get tossed off so the only choice is to breathe, release into your pelvis and ride it ’til the end. I’m trying … to fully embody a distinct physical, psychological state for a moment and then drop it for the next one. I feel like I’m flicking through channels in the television of my mind.” Lucy Guerin Inc instagram account, https://www.instagram.com/p/C7DtrswyFfW/, accessed June 15, 2024.

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