Deb Bain-King’s installation with performance, The Soft Stuff opened on Saturday evening, (22 November), at The Front. There’s a double edge to this title as the performance event entailed two people, Deb and her partner, sitting across from each other, blind-folded with a set of very sharp knives lying flat and tied up on the table between them. As if a game or perhaps a test, the performers proceeded to untie the knives, wrapped in ‘soft stuff’, and as you can imagine, they needed to be very, very careful. They then reconfigured – constantly aware, intuitively negotiating each other’s moves – to wrap the knives into a neat bundle, tied with some soft material. People watching held their breath, this event could end in tears, or blood. It’s fraught yet very moving as each knife is moved into place.
What is remarkable and significant is that the performance proceeded with no words being uttered, and the performers blinded/ blindfolded and therefore not able to see each other or the object of the task somehow interact with enormous care, agility and intuition. As a performance of relationship and intersubjectivity the place of vision and words, usually our most relied upon senses to communicate with each other is downplayed, even left out, as the performers negotiate through intuition, touch, spatial awareness, experience and simply that strange unknowable magic that can enable two people to experience being together. Like dancers, the performers can simply sense each other’s next move.
The performance event was staged within a larger installation of soft sculpture and videos. One video featured two women arm wrestling. The intensity of their gaze as they grasped each other’s hands powerfully suggested an ambiguity of purpose, an erotic intensity beyond the game-like set up. Are they wrestling or flirting? The images on the other video flashed and jumped between moments, suggesting the jumpy, uncertainty that can exist between people, and this was enacted through images of a hand reaching for a cup, as two people stand on each edge of the picture frame, their bodies cut off so that only their hands or parts of their bodies are seen.
The walls of the gallery held large soft sculptures, as if conjured in a dream. The seductive and luxurious softness of the sculptures offset the technological hardness of video monitors as the artist cleverly played across media and mediums. At a certain angle the sculptures read “I love you” where the word “love” was replaced by an image of a big heart made from soft white cushiony, cotton-wool like material punctured with colourful pointy party hats. These large soft objects evoked a joyfulness and playfulness, and created a context for the unpredictable interplay of relations played out in the video pieces
The world of people and things and even animals, is full of negotiation and uncertainty. There may be sharp objects and obstacles in our way, which can make each encounter a complex set of compromise, debate, agreement and disagreement. It’s push and pull. Yield and resist. Yet, as The Soft Stuff suggests each instance is intimate and intense, and the objects may be sharp but the feelings between the people are soft and vulnerable. As if performing a Greek myth this installation shows the bodily experience, the actual material presence of our experience of each other and “the fluid state of being that exists between people.”
The Soft Stuff performance and installation of video and sculpture was installed at The Front, a gallery/residence space at Docklands. The Front is one of the significant spaces currently operating under the Renew Australia program that has been running with some success at the Docklands now for over a year, along with D11@ Docklands, The Food Court and Inkling Workshop.
Docklands Spaces is a pilot initiative by Renew Australia to activate some of the currently under-utilised spaces in Docklands “through incubating short-term uses by creative enterprises and independent local initiatives on a rent-free basis.” Commissioned by the City of Melbourne, MAB Corporation, and Places Victoria, the program has successfully installed 7 creatives in empty spaces down at the Docklands. And in the process they have created an art destination which attracts a sizeable art audience, especially on opening nights, when all three spaces often open together.