It doesn't matter how many times I take the ferry across to Cockatoo Island, I am still in awe of the place. I love the rusty romance and uneven floors. Industrial heritage sites are charming at the best of times, but particularly if you have a tendency to love a little ruin porn, all hulking buildings and decaying paint. So as a location for the Underbelly Arts Festival, which positions itself as a festival about discovery, it is perfect. Underbelly this past weekend, cohesively and in many cases dramatically occupied a large number of spaces, while keeping its audience connected. I'm not sure whether running out of food on the opening night is a sign of success, but let's pretend it does mean that. The festival is about providing a range of bold contemporary art experiences and includes performance, video work, sound work, installation and immersive art, which in some cases is on a massive scale. It's a huge undertaking for one weekend.
I wanted to highlight three works that I was struck by, but there were many.
1. City Circle Arrives at Cloud Heaven by Thom and Angelmouse - an immersive three - channel video installation, featuring a series of images of people that they collected from magazines "animated to look and behave like trains". A wonderfully weird, intriguing and strangely meditative work.
2. Soft Concrete - Lucy Phelan. This sound work was installed in a round concrete bunker with incredible acoustics. Lucy Phelan (aka Lucy Cliche) took recordings from around Cockatoo Island which she then bounced off the walls. The result was both "harsh and serene". Amazing.
3. The Becalmed Heart - Brienna Macnish with collaborators Clare McCracken, Robert Jordan and Christopher Page. It's probably dull to focus on the magnitude of this work, but it's hard not to. The effort that went into its construction is profound and as a result it had an impact like no other. I wanted more time in there - it was calm and shocking. Set to a score, The Becalmed Heart is an large scale immersive environment, constructed out of plastic bags. The audience begins a "tour" in absolute darkness, before being led through a series of tunnels, rooms and caves, past stalactites and stalagmites - all sculpted from plastic bags. It is a powerful reflection on consumption, mass consumerism and our impact on environment. A strong, vivid comment about our relationship with nature and the impact of climate change, executed in the most brutally beautiful way.
Congratulations to all the folks who worked on and Artistic Director, Eliza Sarlos. Good one!