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ArtsLab: Unreliable Witness

ArtsLab: Unreliable Witness
Creative director: Natalie Rose
107 Projects, Redfern
February 17 – February 21, 2021

ArtsLab: Unreliable Witness is the youth-led Shopfront Arts Co-op’s annual emerging artists’ festival featuring a program of five works exploring the theme of perception and misperception. Each of these diverse works including two outstanding theatre performances is the outcome of a six-month residency at Shopfront in which young artists, selected from many applicants, are given the opportunity to work with an industrial mentor.

The gallery space houses three presentations. Two engrossing video works – No place like tomorrow by Eric Jiang (mentored by Anna Breckon) and what is saudade is yuánfèn is longing by Linda Chen (mentored by Michele Lee)explore the Westernised Chinese diasporic experience. The third – Retitled by Jason Liu (mentored by Paschal Daantos Benny) – is a collection of artworks questioning traditional and current media expectations through subversion.

However, it is the theatre pieces that are truly exciting and offer the promise of relevant and innovative future productions. Both Pollon created and performed by Elizabeth Scott (mentored by Nicola Gunn) and The Infinity Mirror created and performed by Lily Hayman and Thomas Doyle (mentored by Kate Gaul) probe ideas crucial to human experience at this moment in time and which in different guises have always been important.

Pollon explores the process of forgetting, remembering, re-remembering and the fragmentary nature of human memory. Sound is important to memory not only in the sense that the buzzing of cicadas or the sound of waves or something that sounds like them – an audio cue – might arouse a particular memory but the way in which memory loops: repeating small sections, persistent, reworking. It seems that our memory at best is always fragmentary and that perhaps dementia is only an intensifying of memory’s emotional unreliability. And when loved individuals pass from our lives and we become custodian of their stories how likely is it that we can hold back their ultimate erasure, the dispersal of another’s identity?

By contrast The Infinity Mirror tackles the usurping of identity through “deep-fake” videos, artificial constructions of real-life individuals acting and speaking in ways they would repudiate. Needless to say, the most common use of this technology is to insert women (without their knowledge or consent) into pornographic films. Lily Hayman confronts us with the full horror, rage, grief and shame of a woman who types her name into Google and is met by images of herself in obscene sexual activity. She can turn off her laptop but has no control over her image now a part of the worldwide web. By means of a dialogue conducted with herself via a mirror/screen she asks important questions not only about invasive technologies but also about the behaviour of her friends, her family, society.

Both Scott and Hayman give extremely strong one-woman and mesmerising performances. Scott has the confidence to give all of her movements, from her toes pressing the buttons on a loop station to the solemn lighting of a candle, a considered grace. She is wonderfully funny as she tells the story of the crooked mouth family and charmingly arch as she recalls one “hot” summer. The success of this very original concept depends on her ability to match sound with movement and she is remarkably successful.

Hayman is powerful and authoritative in her role and commands attention. She is by turns fiercely angry, frightened, pleading and accusatory and fully engages her audience in the emotional intensity of the woman’s horrifying lack of control over her own image. She can be very funny, drawing attention to the multiple “yous” that appear on FB with the same name. Tony Doyle supports her effectively managing the props and screen with fine timing.

Congratulations to Shopfront and Natalie Rose for once again giving young artists the opportunity to learn from industrial mentors and to take their work from idea to stage – despite Covid-19.


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