‘Brief Encounters’ by Ben Shapiro – Film Review

By William Hadwen

Ben Shapiro’s documentary Brief Encounters, released October 2012, follows Gregory Crewdson’s photographic process during the making of his 8 year long series Beneath The Roses. Predominantly set in small-town American suburbia of western Massachusetts, he observes and presents a very unique cinematic photographic style, showing scenes of romanticised, ficticious, almost fantastical moments of contemplation and urban decay.

The film is very affecting, narrated primarily by interviews with the artist and also various writers and people who Crewdson works with to create this sublime imagery. A psychological tension festers in worlds that are seemingly real, searching for a moment – a perfect moment, with real characters who he has generally found locally. The viewing experience is enhanced by a very simple and mesmerising piano soundtrack.

Crewdson talks a lot about his own life within his work, drawing from past experience and observation. His father was a psychoanalyst with his practice in a room under the family home – young Gregory was not allowed in and it was always a place of ambiguity, curiosity and mystery. A fascination for what lies beneath really does come through in his work.

Each image is narrative based but without plot or character development, simply providing a tableau with real characters and an atmosphere accentuated with smoke machines and an excess of carefully considered lighting – it is up to the viewer to figure out the details for themselves and become immersed in the image. A very presonal narrative to anyone who takes the time to work it out.

The images in this series project a sense of social dilapidation, people and places perpetually aging, consumed with neglect and incompleteness. Depressingly fluorescent in their desperate dependence on the flawed American Dream.

With regard to his influences, Crewdson seems rather taken by scenarios that are initially inviting but with emerging unsettling and sinister potentialities, such as Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, David Lynch’s Blue Velvet and photographic works by Dianne Arbus. He is also known for directly referencing old movies such as Psycho –the hotel room used in one of Crewdson’s images, Untitled (Birth), looks very similar to that used in the film – there really are these layers, depths of understanding to his works that can reveal themselves over time. The Psycho reference really gives the image a disturbing atmosphere that I only suspected as a worst case scenario.

There is a real sense of ambiguity within his imagery, a blurring of reality and fiction.

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Power Plant – Exhibition Review

By William Hadwen

28 Februrary – 16 March 2014

The Wellington Botanic Gardens’ light show, ‘Power Plant’ ran as part of the Wellington Arts Festival, in partnership with Contact Energy. It involved a series of largely light and sound-based interactive installations within the gardens themselves. This public event was provided by a collaborative group of five artists (Mark Anderson, Anne Bean, Jony Easterby, Kirsten Reynolds and Ulf Mark Pedersen) who have converted public parks around the world into large immersive spaces through innovative uses of light and sound since 2005 – transforming nature into nocturnal, other-worldly nightscapes.

A sectioned walkway wound through the gardens for visitors to become immersed in this Alice In Wonderland-esque experience, progressively making their way down from the top cable car station to the duck pond, through the central entrance gardens and back up to the cable car. A huge range of installations ensued as we progressed along this pathway guided by illuminated alien plants, insects and gramophones, catching glimpses of what was to come as strange lights wove through the dark unknown of the gardens. The installations appeared to be very meticulously considered whilst giving an illusion of spontaneity and playful response, seeming almost to be naturally interacting with their surroundings. These works employed sound as liberally as they did light, outlining and highlighting select areas of the gardens in a fantastic resonating array of constantly shifting sounds and light forms in different moods, claiming their domains in inventive and unique ways.

Many of the works were cleverly understated and unpredictable – they were very good – with elements of surprise, fantastic but not ‘theme park’. Some however seemed a bit contrived and underwhelming, specifically the floating dresses and lamp shades, which certainly had potential haunting qualities but perhaps not in this setting. The artists’ site-specific response is to the natural environment of this public space – they worked in situ with what was already there, using the dark of night to their advantage. Changing and emphasising the brief encounters of a familiar, extraordinary mindset – a willingness to believe anything in the depths of night-time.

Mysterious, understated, clever, light and playful. Yet a certain dark undertone. The charm of the show was the illusion and ambiguity which allowed for an imagined sense of drama and atmosphere of mysterious happenings as if waking up inside a dream. Haunting, it gets under your skin, you take away a fictitious unravelling within your subconscious.

The Dance of Not Death by The Great Danger – Art Review

By William Hadwen

“Elephant and Bear are best friends. They are watched over by a wise Human Child.” – this was the only hint as to what the audience were in for.

‘The Dance of (Not) Death’ is a choreographed physical theatre piece as part of the 2015 Fringe Festival. The piece was performed by Callum Devlin as ‘Bear’, Freya Daly Sadgrove as ‘Elephant’ and Jordana Bragg as ‘Human Child.’ The venue was 17 Tory Street Art Space. The play was performed in the gallery with a very simple, spare set with only a chair, a rug, rope and a temporary wall as props.

This charming three piece tale bore an innocence and childishness which brought with it a real sense of nostalgia and tenderness, paired with a state of vulnerability and inquisitiveness. It is performances such as this that knock the grown up out of you, encouraging the viewer to reevaluate one’s own conditioning and values in more simple terms. The play did reveal dark undertones, dealing with a fear of the unknown and imparting a romanticised comprehension of the peculiar reality that is mortality. Based on the Human Child’s ‘real world’ experiences; observations, emotions and thoughts are projected and passed – working through troubles and trying to rationalise these new, scary things with inadequate past experience.

Considered, plain, warm-tone lighting techniques were effectively used to define different imaginative spaces in which the characters were inhabiting, and set an intimate and emotive atmosphere with subtle sequences. The soundtrack, composed by Callum Devlin, provided the score throughout the performance and set the tone for some really quite captivating, heart-wrenching, yet simple and understated dance sequences. These brief physical bursts spanned the majority of the plot, the down-time was really more of a narration or clarification, possibly even translation for the audience.

Interestingly, between the start and end of the play, the light outside progressed from twilight to darkness. This caused the play to take on a possibly unintentional progressive intensity that, for me, really brought the end to an even more dramatic finale as the lights finally died and the space was plunged into darkness.

Wandering Objects by artist Lucy Wardle – Exhibition Review

By William Hadwen

Lucy Wardle’s recent work in the 2015 Wellington Performance Arcade, ‘Wandering Objects’ featured a shipping container with one open end for participants to enter through, while the other end was occupied by a transparent pink wall. This performance felt approachable and welcoming and participation was quiet and contemplative compared to the more intense and confronting performances I have experienced. Inside the container was a rather inviting pile of what I could only describe as elephant trunks, constructed with hundreds of threaded floral rounds, cut from warm-tone woollen blankets.

In regard to presentation, once lying on the woollen trunks – intertwined and content – I noticed lights had been installed in the ceiling of the container, emphasising the pink glow of the transparent wall and dowsing the interior with an artificial pink glow. This saturated illumination gradually diffused toward the opening, which appeared to provide a certain natural green glow from the outside world caused by my eyes’ over compensation in reaction to the overpowering pink setting. While this work was certainly presented as a contemporary interactive performance – it was in the Performance Arcade, after all – it also showed certain formal qualities which I didn’t expect and was in fact pleasantly surprised by. The processes employed involved both physical objects within the space and a study of light and human visual perception, purposefully displacing what one would expect to see and offering a filtered view of reality – we don’t realise what we take for granted because… we take it for granted.

Simple objects with elements of complexity within a rigid, strongly geometric space brought a certain physical minimalism with potentially darker undertones of a more gruesome or bodily narrative, inside the belly of a whale perhaps. Willing participants, consumed into the warmth of a nurturing interior. My favourite aspect of this sculptural installation was the intentional use of light on the ceiling and walls of the container, it was as though it offered two different poles between the artificial pink overload and exaggerated green compensation. The undulating metal surface alternated between bars of pink and green light, each becoming thicker toward their respected end, but meeting harmoniously and in balance at the center of the container’s interior surfaces.

The success of this work was its understated immersiveness.

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