â€œhereâ€ at First Draft. Performance evenings presented by Terminus Projects:
The last few weeks, I’ve been heading down to First Draft to check out the performance evenings put on by Terminus Projects. The two that have happened so far haven’t been formal performances really, not in the sense of “an audience focusing for a particular period of time and then cheering afterwards”, and not, either, in the way Artspace seems to have been promoting lately – endurance events of a cathartic nature. They’ve been casual, and rather unassuming.
Koji Ryui and Huseyin Sami hosted the first night, two Wednesdays ago. Koji was doing portraits of visitors, using only his hands to “read” the face of his sitter. He had a white cube helmet on his head, restricting his vision, and sat at a simple wooden desk, with an array of pencils and paper in front of him. One by one, those who wanted to be drawn would sit in a chair opposite. He would reach out and gently touch the contours of their head. The touching lasted a few minutes. Then he would grope around for his pencil and paper, and draw what he could remember.
For me, the encounter was surprisingly intimate. When I sat for my portrait, Koji first spent some time feeling my hair. I was aware how greasy it was, especially since his hands were dry, soft, and clean. Although I had shaved that day, I could feel that his fingers felt the new stubble, as well as the clefts in my nose and chin, which are almost indiscernable visually. His fingers had a tentative, gentle patting motion on the skin – obviously, he was trying to get a sense of the shape of my face, but it seemed he was cautious, not wanting to be too “forward”.
I joked with him, trying to draw him into having a conversation with me while he worked, but I don’t think he wanted this. The drawings were quite quickly executed, distorted, of course, but with a lightness of touch and a confidence of line. When I compared mine with Lisa’s, it occurred to me that Koji is probably a very good “draftsman” – there was a knowingness about the linework and a confidence. I wondered whether this exercise of “blind drawing” would be more interesting if the artist was not an accomplished drawer, or if he used his left hand. But maybe that’s just my obsession with seeing “struggle” and “learning” in the actual execution of the work of art – seeing it happen right before your eyes (rather than “here’s one we prepared before the show”).
Huseyin’s work was certainly happening live – he was serving up delicious, home made fried breads as we came in the door. I assume that the bevy of smiling ladies he had working with him were his mother, aunts, and grandma, but I didn’t stop to verify that fact. One was making up the dough, kneading and then handing it over to Huseyin, who rolled it out with a rolling pin. Another lady was doing the frying work. The finished rounds, which looked like small chappatis, but tasted like a cross between Turkish bread and Lebanese bread, were laid out on a table for guests to help themselves. As I took my first (I ate three) I held it up to say thanks to the ladies, and to Huseyin. They seemed pleased with themselves. It was a generous gesture. First Draft at that time of day was bathed in orange light. It felt like a good time of year to be in Sydney, and this seemed like the right kind of art to match my mood.
The second evening (last Wednesday) was hosted by Brian Fuata. His event seemed to be about the crap jobs he’d done in his time. When I arrived (a bit late) he was already up to the second of three simple actions. He was sitting at a chair, doing nothing much, and Sarah (from Terminus Projects) was writing a long story up on the wall behind him, in charcoal. The story had something to do with him working at the airport, sorting linen. I only read a bit of it when I noticed I was standing next to Barbara Campbell. I had been wanting to talk to her for a while, she’s been doing this amazing 1001 nights project, where each day at sunset, she reads a story as a webcam performance. (The stores are submitted by her website readers, as prompted by a quote from the day’s newspapers. Barbara takes a quote from the _inevitable_ coverage of political affairs in the middle east.) So I got talking to Barbara, I wanted to tell her I was enjoying the project. It must be quite a feat, to submit oneself to this task, every night for three years, without one night off. I suggested it might be hard over summer in Sydney, to force herself to head back from the beach before sunset…We talked a bit about Lone Twin, their cycling project, the idea of “daily” activities which build up into something. She said she had to hurry actually, as sunset would be soon, and she had to read Brian’s story and run.
I left her to it and wandered into the back room. There, a woman in a red gown was sitting on a chair, eating a sandwich. Again, Sarah was writing text on the wall behind her, with charcoal. She started high, and was dragging a ladder around to reach. Instead of an anecdotal story, it was a “biography” in another sense â€“ the list of her achievements as a professional dancer. She had danced in London with this company, in Brisbane as part of that festival, dates, etc. None of it really meant that much to me, but I could see she was accomplished in the field. When Sarah got to the bottom of the column of text listing the dancer’s CV, she wrote, “I ASKED HER TO EAT A SANDWICH, AND SHE SAID YES.” And there she was – eating that sandwich. Laboriously, too, I might add. Brian was standing next to me, and I suggested to him that she might need a glass of milk to wash it down. He laughed, and went over to the wall and began scrubbing it with a sponge dipped into a bucket of water. Bit by bit, he erased (imperfectly) the dancer’s story, leaving only the sentence “I ASKED HER…” I thought it was a funny and subversive way to “use” the talents of his colleague.
Possibly it had something to do with Brian’s crap jobs – having all this amazing experience, but being required to do something banal for your “bread”. When I returned to the front room of First Draft, I found the remnants of another performance that had taken place before I arrived. A glass display case, like the sort of thing in a sandwich bar, was sitting there, filled with sandwich ingredients. A story was on the wall, again scrubbed out. There was a story there too, but you could barely discern it. Something about a job making sandwiches. I should have asked someone, but forgot to â€“ whether in this phase of the evening, Brian had made the sandwich that his dancer later had to munch her way through. That’d make sense, I guess.
Brian’s, Koji’s, and Huseyin’s events had a lightness about them I really enjoyed. It didn’t feel like we were being badgered into â€œbearing witnessâ€ to something groundbreaking and of great profundity. The performances presented as part of “here” were more intimate, quieter, more “one on one”, and the the small (smaller than First Draft’s usual) crowds helped make that happen.
Some pictures are here.