Thursday, 10 October 2013

In Spite Of Myself, Oct 10, 2013 ****

By Nicola Gunn
Melbourne Festival of Arts
Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne
Reviewer: Kate Herbert

Review also published in Herald Sun online on Fri Oct 11and  in print later.KH
Nicola Gunn, Pic by Sarah Walker

I’m always a little bit excited before a Nicola Gunn performance because she invariably surprises and entertains me.

If you think artists are self-indulgent idiots justifying incomprehensible work with impenetrable psycho-babble you’ll love In Spite of Myself, in which Gunn satirises performance art in irreverent, funny, eccentric and unexpected ways.

With her brazen parody, Gunn takes the mickey out of art, ironically making the inaccessible more accessible – and funny.

After giggling at her living sculpture installation in the foyer, we enter the theatre where Gunn launches into her acerbic satire, “Exercises in Hopelessness – Nicola Gunn (1979 to present)”, a fictional retrospective about fictional art work created by her fictional self.

Dressed with absurdly elegant formality and wearing a silver-grey wig at a perilous angle, Gunn introduces the exhibition/lecture as Susan Becker, the absurd epitome of gallery curator/bureaucrat who doesn’t quite understand her subject.

Gunn plays with theatrical form and style, teasing the audience with parodies of academic, artistic and philosophical works, addressing us in both first and third person, frequently shifting persona from Ms. Becker wither her affected accent, to Nicola Gunn, the (fictional) dotty artist.

Her comic timing is impeccable, her writing is bizarre and unpredictable, her content often challenging and her parody of performance art ingenious.

The lecture is accompanied by some inspired video footage depicting Gunn performing ridiculous acts in Arts Centre foyers (my favourite is frottage against the red carpets), dancing with celery in the courtyards, or confusing patrons in elevators in scenes that look like hidden camera TV shows.

She talks about her (fictional) work, Disappointment Mountain that involves work that inevitably disappoint, and about Body Blanket in which an artist lies on top of a gallery patron and about Foucault’s philosophical Heterotopia (other places).

Three actors (Maureen Hartley, Brenda Palmer, Annabel Warmington) or “old women” as Gunn wickedly calls them, sit up-stage, silently moulding tiny figurines from plasticine while Gunn detonates another round of philosophical ammunition from amongst the audience.

The show is riddled with non sequiturs, snatches of contemporary dance or Irish jigs, an earnest diva singing 60s pop in Italian, and a bit of audience participation with handouts and requests for questions.

Susan Becker’s formal lecture finally degenerates into delightfully organised chaos and leaves one laughing – and thinking.

By Kate Herbert

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