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We All Fall Down

To fell a tree, after determining the fall path, you need to make a notch in the side of the trunk with your chainsaw. Make a horizontal cut a third of the way through the trunk, and a bore cut on the opposite side to weaken the tree, but not cause it to fall over, yet. Hammer in wedges into your bore cut, and cut through the remaining portion. If you’ve followed the steps correctly, you’ll hear the tree crack as she falls over towards the notch. You can turn off your chainsaw now. If you know how to tie a timber hitch knot, ideal for cylindrical forms, like that of a felled tree, you can proceed to secure the trunk. And if you are choreographer and performer, Luke George, you can then suspend the trunk horizontally overhead in the foyer of the Substation, setting the tone for Lucy Guerin Inc’s annual commissioned triple bill program, “Pieces,” whose mission is to “unveil, defy and inspire.”

Performance

Lucy Guerin Inc presents “Pieces” with choreography by Amrita Hepi, Luke George, Harrison Richie-Jones

Place

The Substation, Melbourne, Victoria, December 6, 2023

Words

Gracia Haby

Luke George in “Fell.” Photograph by Gregory Lorenzutti

I have never felled a tree, but I campaign for ending logging in old growth forests nationally. I know little of knots, so I cannot tell you if this particular trunk is secured by a half hitch or a slipped buntline, but George, a self-described rope obsessive, does. The bright yellow rope around either end of the trunk strikes a forlorn note: what have we done to nature? With “Fell,” George traces a path to Tasmania / lutruwita, with an emphasis upon the impacts of the logging industry.

Passing through the foyer, beneath the fallen tree, I head up the stairs for the first of three pieces, Amrita Hepi’s “The Read,” with collaborator and co-creator, Tilly Lawless, and the promise of “risk, boldness and experimentation.” The stage is bathed in blue, the curtains drawn, and a sped-up baroque harpsichord prelude to spark the synapses commences as Hepi and Lawless engage in public-private wordplay behind two screens. Strapping on a pair of super high, transparent heels, as Lawless pitches her upper body forward for Hepi to catch, together they meet and make an equal force A-frame. As Lawless leans further forward, with her feet anchored in place, playfully testing Hepi until she says “enough” the genuine connection between them radiates. Lawless gives a smile that I read as “I would have kept going till I hit the floor.”

Amrita Hepi and Tilly Lawless in “The Read.” Photograph by Gregory Lorenzutti

The see-saw parallels flow into “Fell,” as George opens the curtains to let the outside in. With the precision of a tree feller, two tall screens are disassembled in parts and wheeled away. In their place, to the stage floor, the arrival of a second trunk, with sandbags roped to it to equal the weight of George. As George slowly hoists both their own body and what was once a living, life-giving tree into the air in a sustained, heartbreaking counterbalance, the silence of what would have been a forest abundant with wildlife now clearfelled for woodchips is palpable.

The image drawn is part what remains after logging, and of those on the forest frontline who through direct action defend takayna’s rainforests and tall eucalyptus forests, and the rivers and creeks that run through them, and the endangered species, like the Tasmanian Masked Owls and the Tasmanian Devils, that soar and scamper through them. High up in the trees, to secure the protection of 495,000 hectares of takayna,[1] they remain, a vigil of tree-sitters. The yellow of the rope akin to the yellow of the banners that read: “Rainforest Emergency: MMG Stay Out of Tasmania’s takayna.”[2] 

George leans back from the trunk, making the upside-down A-frame of earlier, and holds the position, head gazing upward, right arm falling out to the side. Around me, I hear what I interpret as uncomfortable shifting sounds in the audience, the longer George and trunk hold the scene. Their apparent inaction or stillness seems to highlight the inaction of the general public. What will you do? What did you do, when the moment came? In the distance, the familiar rumble of a train. In the stillness, holding the defence, and mourning what lies ahead. Might this be all that remains? Then what?

Luke George in “Fell.” Photograph by Gregory Lorenzutti

Unbeknownst to me, a sense of ‘mourning what lies ahead, then what?’ is what I carry too, into Tantrum For 6” by Harrison Ritchie-Jones, for comedy and tragedy can wear the appearance of the same masks. Premised asan abstract interpretation of our earliest feelings,” the wailing “toddlers” in pencil-box coloured, baggy briefs look like mini wrestlers with their colour-coordinated ear guards. Together with Ritchie-Jones, Anika De Ruyter, Rebecca Jensen, Georgia Rudd, Oliver Savariego, and Michaela Tancheff, thrash and remain fixed, cry and chuckle, hurtle and fall. At times, the upper part of the body conveys control and strength, and with it, coordination, and the lower part of the body, the legs, the opposite, for they’ve yet to learn to walk. A lovely play between two different types of responsiveness in the one body unfolds: one part which responds to what the brain is telling it to do, and the other which is responding to the ‘we all fall down’ singsong laws of structural collapse.

Harrison Ritchie-Jones, Anika De Ruyter, Rebecca Jensen, Georgia Rudd, Oliver Savariego, and Michaela Tancheff in Tantrum For 6” by Ritchie-Jones. Photograph by Gregory Lorenzutti

In a closing vignette, five bodies carry a limp form of the sixth, the image, for me, is a sorrowful one. As the crying of six people at the top of their lungs intensifies, I cannot help but see what is happening in the world now. And as numerous people around me start to laugh, the intensity and alienation builds.

From the intimate to the collective, we all fall down. In the meantime, here’s to the power of live art and all that it unlocks!

Protect takayna Tarkine, Bob Brown Foundation website: https://bobbrown.org.au/campaigns/takayna/

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. “Stand for takayna: Help stop MMG’s toxic destruction,” https://standfortakayna.org.au/, accessed December 7, 2023.
  2. “MMG, a Chinese-state owned mining company, plan to destroy 285 hectares of ancient rainforest in Tasmania’s takayna/Tarkine. They plan to flood Masked Owl breeding territory with toxic mine waste pumped from their Roseberry mine.” Bob Brown Foundation ‘Action for Earth’ flyer, distributed on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons out the front of MMG’s Melbourne Head Office.

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