Monday, August 20, 2007

Wade Marynowsky: Interpretive Dance

Wade Marynowsky's Interpretive Dance has just been released on the artist's Demux DVD label. I'm currently gathering material for a DVD compilation of Australian audiovisual work - more about that later - so Wade sent me this disc, along with another new release, Peter Newman's Paperhouse (review coming soon). Interpretive Dance documents Marynowsky's installation and performance work since 2004 - almost all live audiovisuals, made using Max/MSP and hybrid sound/image processing. Long story short, it's great - essential viewing for anyone connected with the Australian experimental/improv scene (you might be in it) or anyone sick of new media performance that takes itself too seriously.

On the cover of this disc is a familiar image: artist-at-laptop, gazing at the screen, immobile; behind, the "visuals" are projected large. The image instantly identifies a whole genre of AV where the body, conventionally at the core the performance, has been immobilised by the computer. The projected image, hovering over and behind the artist, forms an abstract, animated surrogate. Movement and gesture have been rationalised and externalised, the body's been reconstituted at PAL resolution. Taken with the disc's title, the cover image is a reflexive half-joke; because rather than replicate the new orthodoxy of man-machine AV, Marynowsky playfully shreds it. He puts the body - whatever that is - at the centre of post-laptop AV performance.

In the Autonomous Mutations installation he focuses on the performing bodies of the Australian experimental improv scene. The video, shot in studio conditions, extracts the performers from their native cultural environment - the utopian/bohemian niche of artist-run-space, cheap beer, all your friends in one room. Instead they have been archived, framed, some - the laptoppers and twiddlers - look vulnerable; some (like Marynowsky) use dress-up-box burlesque as a form of counterattack. Out of context, the body is forced to bear more of the weight of conviction. What do you think you're doing, at that laptop? What is that noise you're making? The performances hold their own, even as Marynowsky subjects them to an algorithmic cutup process, folding them into an automated improv-of-improvs apparently controlled by a runaway pianola. Embodied performance is guaranteed by our expectation of an audiovisual link; hearing and seeing, both at once, is fundamental. Here Marynowsky breaks that link, staggering sound and image edits to continually construct, recombine and deconstruct the performing body, and in the process casually generate moments of intense audiovisual counterpoint and (in)coherence.

The_Geek_from_Swampy_Creek further embodies Marynowsky's laptop pisstake. Sporting goggle glasses, nerd tie and megacephalic exo-brain, the Geek sways calmly at his Powerbook, generating an audiovisual meditation on the Creek from whence he came. Again Marynowsky puts his own body on the line with a persona that uses parody as a kind of side-door through which landscape, identity and narrative quietly enter. Like all the best parodies it works because it's true: the Geek is our embodied guarantee, he really is weaving organic image/sound textures together, on the fly. The shattered, glitchy processes feed the parody and the narrative, as the Geek's manipulations seem to take him ever further from home, abstracting his swamp into a haze of pixels.

Uranium Country and Apocalypse Later also deal with lost and abstracted landscapes, overprocessing image and sound into dense, evocative textures. In the audio track of Uranium Country cicadas and birdsong merge imperceptibly with the buzz-saw hum of digital timestretching. Apocalypse Later closes the disc in devastating style, drawing on images of Tasmania's Styx Valley, Kakadu, Old Sydney Town and Australia's Wonderland to develop a nightmare collage of trash culture, disintegrating landscapes and implied violence. Just when the abstract textures begin to lull you into a comfortable stupor, the body returns: a lash across the back, a flash of light and a wet snap; it's the crystalline moment of the disc, a visceral sync point that's also a parodic nucleus of history and fake history, national kitsch and real violence. It also jumps the representational gap that the whole disc explores - between the live, performing body and its image. Using processes that operate across audio and video, Marnowsky occasionally extracts abstract audiovisual gestures - gut blows or head-jarring abrasions - that pull your own body into the circuit, too.

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