ABSENCE PRESENCE: Kotlin Island, RUSSIA

Lara O’Reilly’s ABSENCE PRESENCE installation on the Kotlin Island, St Petersburg
site specific installation 2007, International Body Navigation Festival, St Petersburg, Russia http://www.bodynavigation.ru

Text by Tatiana Pentes

“Anyone who wants can look at my films as into a mirror, in which he will see himself”
Andrei Tarkovsky

Lara O'Reilly's ABSENCE: PRESENCE installation Kronstadt, Russia

Lara O’Reilly’s ABSENCE: PRESENCE installation Kronstadt, Russia

Documentary photo Lara O’Reilly’s ABSENCE PRESENCE installation on the Kotlin Island (2007)

Lara O’Reilly’s ABSENCE PRESENCE installation on the Kotlin Island, an abandoned built and natural environment is a doorway into present and the past, and between the visible and the invisible. Upon encountering site-specific multimedia performance and moving image installation, a dialogue between the psychological states of abandonment (a remoteness) and seduction (an intimacy) is opened inside and outside the architectural spaces – mirroring our interaction as visitors/viewers with space and memory in a site-specific environment.

In the contemporary convergent global media environment of digital networked technology, and pastische, empty parody (mimicry), O’Reilly’s ABSENCE PRESENCE returns us to the traditional notion of “multi-media”, suggestive of the shadows reflected on the walls of Plato’s allegorical Cave. The spectacular installation of ABSENCE PRESENCE, is staged on three levels within the Chapel of the Naval Hospital Kronstadt, (built 1717), the earliest medical establishment in Russia.

Screenshot 2014-05-01 11.11.10

Map of St Petersburg & Kotlin Island

The Russian staging follows an Australian site-specific manifestation of the performance on the abandoned industrial Cockatoo Island, Sydney Cove. O’Reilly creates for us a highly experiential and dramatic encounter, with her spatial, temporal and theatrical exploration of the rupture/suture paradox between marine and terrestrial, past and present, the outside and inside, the remote and the intimate, of seduction and abandonment, experience and the underworld. ABSENCE PRESENCE is infused with the resonance and mystery of what we feel but cannot see.

The Kronstadt work integrates real-time and the simulated (cinematic) representations of the performances/movement of the bodies of five young contemporary Russian female dancers, professionally trained in classical western ballet and Japanese Butoh dance. The filmic (technological) cinematic sequences of the woman are juxtaposed with the live performance of female forms (reminiscent of netted mermaids) suspended in cocoons from the rafters, and released to move, dance and wander. The chrysalised women are “veiled and lit in a sensuous light, conjuring emotions of sadness, loss, loneliness and reverie and yet a gentle sense of security of our own stilled existence within the incredible space where we find ourselves..on an island….”

The installation successfully plays with our notion of place, identity, communication, sexuality, the personal and the political, specifically with the cinematic and radio-phonic allusions. The haunting tones of a live music (a cello sound piece) conjure the ghosts of the past, the dispossessed, and those who have passed from this life to the next, in these spaces, the site of the tragic and violent Kronstadt Revolution of 1921, the sailors of Kronstadt staged an uprising and issued demands for free elections. The Red Army was sent in and crushed the rebellion: thousands of people were killed.

The filmic sequences are primarily performed by O’Reilly’s Russian model /dancer/muse Olya, in the locations of Konstantin Fort; the Kronstadt Cemetery; and Summer Gardens. These cinematic performances are overlaid with film sequences of the ascending movement through the interior space of the Chapel, conjuring the bodies (victims) of the revolutions that passed through.

O’Reilly transcends this confrontation with death through her cinematic mediation and documentation of the reality of this past. She does in the articulation of her feminine subjectivity through the representation of Russian performer Olya’s presence in these spaces. These dissonant montages of film footage evoke Dziga Vertov’s Kino-Eye cinema experiments “…as slow motion vision (reading thoughts in slow motion)…The Kino-Eye is conceived as “what the eye does not see”, as the microscope and the telescope of time, as telescopic camera lenses, as the X-ray eye, …cinematic images…processes capable of revealing and showing truth.” (Written 1944). In these ‘island’ experiences, the visitor/ participant must cross a psychological threshold upon entering the work, because like Eurydice’s mythic journey to the underworld, we must re-play the allegorical journey across the river styx from the mainland onto the island and into a simulated nether-world.

This cinematic imagery is projected in the first dark room of the installation, providing a threshold between the outside (real) world and the (imaginary) dance/performance work. Upon viewing the film projections, one enters through a doorway and looking into, an interior space where lived memory is a present state.

My first collision with a previous staging of the ABSENCE PRESENCE multi-media installation in a deteriorating industrial complex, located on the isolated Cockatoo Island in Sydney Cove, Australia (the indigenous Australian Aboriginal name for this island is Wa-rea-mah). I was touched by O’Reilly’s ability to deeply engage those visiting the location. The piece resonates with the dis-location of Indigenous people during the colonial period, when their island home was transformed into a convict prison for those transported across the seas from Britain. Later this place was a colonial & industrial shipping dock.

Therein lies the connective thread – through the ghosts of the displaced – between the Cockatoo Island (Australia) and Naval Hospital Kronstadt (Russia) re-enactments. My engagement with both O’Reilly’s work and the sites are complex and intertwined. As daughter of Vladimir, an Admiral in the Tsarist Russian Navy, my grandmother Xenia emigrated from St Petersburg with her mother Eugenia & two sisters during the Revolution, they never saw Vladimir again, but found refuge in Harbin, Manchuria, then Shanghai, China & later Sydney Australia. As a child I grew up with these memories and on the Balmain peninsula, my primary school opposite Cockatoo Island.

The dialectic relationship between these two island spaces (curt by sea), both scarred by waves of industrialisation (modernity), migration, military/colonial abandonment – they share a depth of history and speak to each other, as O’Reilly’s work speaks to me (the child of a Russian émigré).

In a world saturated by mass communications delivered via mobile device, cable, PDA, Internet, television, radio, and virtual experiences, ABSENCE PRESENCE grounds the visitor through the stillness of wandering through a physical space, where live performative theatrical, musical and filmic elements are apprehended in a real time spatial location. As media consumers, we can be likened to the shackled slaves mistaking the representations/shadows on the walls of Plato’s mythical Cave as reflections of a real world. The truth is always mimetic and portrays the outlines of puppets projected from the shadows of the fire – not of the Real as articulated in Plato’s philosophical Cave myth. Illuminated from their shackles those imprisoned in the Cave raise the truth of their situation and are liberated by the light of the Sun. The simile of the Cave is apt in the contemporary context, while it needs to be complicated. The Real and the Imagined have collapsed into the Virtual. One could argue that virtual engagement is a lived and real experience, whilst mediated by digital technology. Frederic Jameson’s argument that pastische, or empty parody (mimicry) is the order of the day. Thus representations, virtual reality, 3D animations, text chats, and Internet collusion’s – in traditional media terms would be considered fake, artificial, a lie…. in post-modern terms equal a real hybrid experience.

The opposition between the artificial and the natural have also collapsed in the same way. Jean Baudrillard espouses after Jameson in his texts Simulation, and Seduction, that the post-modern condition articulated in contemporary art, technology & communications have enabled new cultural forms/practises and have influenced the way in which we view our environments. In the famous words of Jacques Derrida

“…Disenchanted simulation: pornography – truer than true – the height of the simulacrum. Enchanted simulation: the trompe-l’oeil – falser than false – the secret of appearances. Neither fable story or composition, nor theatre, scene or action. The trompe-l’oeil forgets all this and bypasses it by the low-level representation of second-rate objects. The latter figure in the great composition of the time, but here they appear alone, as though the discourse on painting had been eliminated. Suddenly they no longer represent, they are no longer objects, no longer anything. They are blank, empty signs that bespeak social, religious or artistic anti-ceremony or ant representation…they describe a void, an absence, the absence of every representational hierarchy that organizes the elements of the tableau, or for that matter political order….”

The emptying out of representation of any original meaning creates the situation of the inability to comprehend the difference between the original and the copy. Which is the fake? O’Reilly’ s installation defines a lens through which perceive nature and suggests the way in which this understanding tames ‘nature’ for us. ABSENCE PRESENCE calls attention to the way in which we think, represent and conceive of ‘the natural’ as construction site. The artificial and the natural exist in a dialectical relationship to one another and the post-modern project is to create a third term outside this dialogue produces a meaning supplementary or in excess of this duality. ABSENCE PRESENCE simultaneously explores the gender/ sexual subjectivity relationship, which can be viewed through the psychoanalytic theories of Sigmund Freud (Vienna 1930s). Freud’s theory of the ‘unconscious’ and the psyche revolutionised conceptions of human behaviour and theories of human sexuality. His posthumous text “Three essays on the Theory of Sexuality” (trans. 1949) pinpoint the significance of sexual subjectivity and factors influencing the anxiety and neurosis in the individual and the cultural. The implication being that the individual repressed experiences that were intolerable and these formed an unconscious ‘well’ of experiences that come back to haunt as memories, their very repression necessitating their return, unannounced and triggered by certain signposts and expressed in slips of the tongue, psychosis, sexual subversions, creative articulations (poetry, painting, literature etc.) or escaping as dreams and un-realised wishes…but the return of that which had been repressed particularly in childhood. ABSENCE PRESENCE is like a return of that “well” of memories re-surfacing and haunting.

Lara O’Reilly’s ABSENCE PRESENCE installation on the Kotlin Island, an abandoned built and natural environment is a doorway into present and the past, and between the visible and the invisible. Upon encountering site-specific multimedia performance and moving image installation, a dialogue between the psychological states of abandonment (a remoteness) and seduction (an intimacy) is opened inside and outside the architectural spaces – mirroring our interaction as visitors/viewers with space and memory in a site-specific environment.

“The installation was intended to be a highly experiential encounter with the space and with oneself. For the viewer to experience their own sense of the space and find themselves in a world between worlds…blurred between interior and exterior realms of built and natural spaces and the interior and exterior states of mind that the performance and the sound-scape allude to….” Lara O’Reilly artist

Absence Presence:

Кронштадт, РOССИЯ
Лара О’Релли

Acknowledgement and special thanks to all who assisted me with the making of Absence Presence: Kronstadt. I am most grateful for all your support and assistance with the project

Special thanks to:
Podberjozkin Igor Vitaljevich / Подберёзкин Игорь Витальевич –
Chief of the Naval Hospital, Kronstadt
Stupar Michael Petrovich / Ступар Михаил Петрович –
Deputy Chief of the Naval Hospital, Kronstadt
Kuzhel Alexander Michailovich / Кужель Александр Михайлович – Deputy Chief of the Naval Hospital, Kronstadt and everyone from NCCA (National Centre for Contemporary Art) St Petersburg, Russia

Valeria Korotina and Rowan Ainsworth from Australia Embassy, Moscow. Lara O’Reilly’s exhibiting of ‘Absence Presence’ in Body Navigation III is supported by the Commonwealth through the Cultural Relations Discretionary Grant Program of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Performer in film imagery:
Olga Amromy / Ольга Амромы

Editors:
Yuri Elik
Viola Vorobyova

Performers in installation:
Olga Amromy / Ольга Амромы
Tatjyana Luzai / Татьяна Лузай
Olga Ivanskaya / Ольга Иванская
Darjya Khlapova / Дарья Хлапова
Alexandra Aksjonova / Александра Аксёнова

Video memory of installation with assistance:
Viola Vorobyova and Anna Kolosova

Cellist:
Philip Gulidov

Prop Builder/ Install Team:
Ruslan Atrokhov / Руслан Атрохов
Alexander Stadnik / Александр Стандин
Ruslan Shohirev / Руслан Шохирев
Denis Dzubin / Денис Дзюбин

Catalogue text:
Tatiana Pentes

Assistance with Photographic documentation of installation:
Marina Goulyaeva with assistance Nikolay Vladimirsky

Quoted from http://www.laraoreilly.com/russia/

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