The Living Thing / Notebooks :

Time machine 2012

First published in Realtime magazine.

There is a whistling glissando, the pitch sliding vertiginously down the octaves. A foley effect from a war film, perhaps, to signify a bomb descending. The damn thing never seems to hit us, though, and I’ve been here for hours while the whistling glides perpetually on. If it is a bomb, then we are suspended in the instant before the impact. I’m not speaking in metaphor here. The sound is not existential dread projected onto my tinnitus, but bleed-through from an installation in the exhibition a floor above us. Tim Bruniges’s AV work, Continuum is soundtracked by the classic auditory illusion, the eternally-descending Shepard–Risset glissando). The piece is soothing, if you stroll up the stairs for a look, all gentle blue-hued pixels. Downstairs, though: 100% harbinger of doom. The thing is, a bomb seems already to have hit the joint at least once. This place is half demolished. Last month’s hipster pop-up-performance decorations have been swept away in favour of undressed concrete. And that concrete is strewn with broken glass, splinters and dirt crowded into into rude piles.

Last night, this room had mechanical sculptures in it. A clip of discarded fluorescent tubes fed a machine which smashed them, one at a time. Mechanical hammers, triggered by mobile phones in the IED fashion, wrecked glass at the behest of phone-toting punters. Last night’s intricate, sculptural demolition machines are today indistinguishable from their own by-products. They were, in turn, ravaged by more sophisticated, more destructive mechanisms: the audience. The opening night party-goers raged wild, atomising the lot: garbage, sculptures, whatever. This room of artful abandon, or, if you’d like, of wanton public health hazards, is called Age of Ease. It is a collaboration between Andrew McLellan, Michael Candy and Lachlan Anthony. I don’t know if they intended this magnitude of destruction; you can’t engineer a riot necessarily, but you can put people in an environment where having one will be more rewarding for everyone. (They got one.)

Time Machine could not have chosen a more suitable opening night special.

There is more than broken glass and anxious sound effects going on here. There is a punishingly full program of events, encompassing performance lectures, tours, plain old concerts, workshops, Facebook theatre, debates, beer, essays and a generous supply of miscellaneous, across 5 venues plus the internet. It’s impressive. It’s impossible to see it all, or to summarise succinctly.

I don’t even know what “time-based art” is, except for being the subject matter of the event. There seems to be something about transience, and unrepeatability. Ephemerality is belligerently, intrusively present. The artworks are temporary, spontaneous; Performance lectures and live gigs sure, but even the sculptures: Take Creo Nova‘s Genesis of Biosynthia, gratingly sonifying the random fluctuations in the flow of water through an assortment of pot plants.

More, the venues are themselves just as fleeting. Take this venue, “Serial 002”. Before Time Machine, it was the Queen Street Studios space on Kensington Street, (“Frasers” to the brand-sensitive.) A sop to the Richard Florida gang by the multi-billion dollar Central Park development, a lure to the creative classes, the space was born doomed to live for only four years. It was a den of rolling boutique wine bars, temporary exhibitions, and general celebrations of the precarity of creative practice. It’s stripped of comfort that left for its ultimate appearance in this festival of entropy. Unapologetic in art brut warehouse chic and peopled with the obstreperous destructive classes.

In this fortuitous conjunction of public relations and schedule gaps, Serial Space’s curators have created an echo of the artist-run spaces that once dotted Chippendale, like a new media Brigadoon. The brief interval, of course, is employed to give several sarcastic, thoughtful or vitriolic public presentations on the nature of the urban redevelopment that has housed us all for a moment and will evict us again in another. Serial Space doesn’t just bite the hand that feeds them, they flense that hand and exhibit it in formaldehyde. Then they run a performance lecture about it.

No one is safe from their limit-testing, mind. So, I was tickled by the the day-long sociological investigation that was the final Saturday’s programming.

For that process, the broken glass room divided Serial 002 into two camps:

In the remote room, remote-controlled robot cage fights all day. Truly, there is such a thing as an international league of robo-warriors, and the local chapter of Robowars is run by a chap from Pymble, Angus Deveson, who has put this battle on, not to mention a week of solder-heavy workshops in the lead-up. The competitors are mostly, or all, male, and the smell of sweaty boy bedroom comingles with overheated electric motors in a den of technology-mediated violence.

In the room near the front door, a program of panels and presentations run entirely by women, discussing, say, “the relationship between women and technology”, or a retrospective of Bonita Ely’s mythic Dogwoman performances.

More than the content, necessarily, of either half of the porous division in the programming, the social divide is fascinating. The front row at the robowars thing is rife with teenage girls, for one thing, who don’t feel a need to voice their opinion in on the relationship between women and technology. At the back of audience of the panels a couple of attendees are sneaking back and forth to check on their favoured death machines’ performance in the semi-finals as those who like to talk about their art and those who prefer to watch it destroy itself vie for time and acoustic space.

And all the while you can hear in the background, that damn bomb is about to land on us. It is trademark Serial Space this cheeky, disruptive intervention. There’s not a neat take-home moral at the end for us all, just a deftly-engineered, intriguing experience that you can’t really repeat, which I suppose is the point.

Time Machine 18-29 July 2012

Curated by Frances Barrett, Kate Blackmore, Jennifer Hamilton, Tom Smith and Pia van Gelder