Hours of operation

Performance Review and Gertrude present:

Contact High

Making Content from the Wreck

By Anador Walsh

Making content from the wreck
Anador Walsh

“the thing I came for: the wreck and not the story of the wreck the thing itself and not the myth”. Adrienne Rich, Diving into the Wreck (1)

“Each day we wake to sell our labour so that we might endure our lives. Each night we dream our escape from this relation”. Snack Syndicate, Groundwork (2)

It began with bushfires in so-called Australia, families huddled together on the beach beneath a smoke filled, blood-red sky. Words like firestorm circulated in the media and I couldn’t understand their conflation — until I saw it with my own eyes. COVID-19, which started as a whisper, was now screaming, from TV sets, podcasts and social media infographics (some more credible than others). The virus followed trade routes and breached borders. Masks were introduced, hand sanitiser sold out and we were confined to our homes. Then there was state mandated exercise time, zoom meetings, baking focaccia and endless Netflix series. The death of George Floyd sparked international Black and Indigenous Lives Matter protests and the turning of statues commemorating slave traders and colonisers into a-, counter- and anti-monuments. Canada recorded its hottest days on record, mussels cooked in their shells and a fire erupted in the ocean off the Gulf of Mexico. Somewhere, amongst all this, Mark Zuckerberg launched the metaverse and Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson journeyed into space. We hoped COVID-19 would bend capitalism back on itself until it broke, but instead Amazon profits skyrocketed. Then Omicron hit and the Australian Government ‘let it rip’. Case numbers surged through the summer, more infographics made the rounds and RATS sold out en masse. And all the while, we kept producing content, monetising our leisure time to produce and disseminate images.

When I started developing Contact High, I was gearing up for ‘hot vaxxed girl summer’. I told Diego Ramírez, who edited this essay, that I was going to kiss so many people, my life would resemble the montage scene in Lars von Triers’ 2013 film Nymphomaniac; a sea of nameless faces, pulling back from mine in slow motion, post smooch. But that didn’t happen. Diego is still disappointed. Instead, when I sat down to write this essay, I was in the thick of the thing itself: the wreck. After two years of running from COVID-19, I was diagnosed with the virus on day three of seven days of isolation, in January 2022. Getting a PCR test was a five-hour ordeal in 27-degree heat and RATS were impossible to find, if not criminally overpriced. Scott Morrison refused to subsidise them, prioritising the cricket, cos-playing the larrikin and espousing more spin than the balls. These days passed, like most over the course of the last 24 months, experiencing the world through windows — both digital and physical — rather than for myself, with my body or through my relation to others.

In 2021, during Naarm’s fourth lockdown, I began thinking about the way we relate with digital technology and social media as being like the early stages of a romantic relationship. You desperately want to impress your lover, even when they’re not physically with you. So you sub-tweet them: post a funny meme or Spotify link to your story; chuck on the nose-bleed filter, look back at the camera and smile; hope that they’ll respond with a one liner or maybe a flame emoji. “Look, I made you some content. Daddy made you your favourite, open wide”. (3) Within this framework of logic, the creation and dissemination of content through the panopticon of social media, became for me an unrecognised act of unpaid labour, that flattened the spectrum of human experience and left it bereft of any real feeling. This made me question, as Rob Horning does in Place the abyss in the abyss, why we were choosing to “turn all of lived experience into spare capacity, into ‘content’”, especially during a global pandemic, while we were locked in our homes and people were dying. (4)

During this same lockdown, at Amrita Hepi’s suggestion, I watched Adam Curtis’ Can’t Get You Out of My Head, 2021. In the second last episode of this six-part docuseries, I learned about activator emotions, like desire and rage, that social media platforms weaponise in order to engage our interest and elicit an amygdala response. This freaked me out so much that I didn’t go on Instagram for a whole 48-hours. When I returned, I engaged with the anti-spectacle of a few galleries’ final attempts at digital programming and was left feeling cold, underwhelmed and questioning why we still expected artists to produce work, particularly works of performance that require or rely on a tangible audience, in these circumstances. In Groundwork, Snack Syndicate write: “What is all this extra work for? Malcom Harris asks this question while considering the enormous amount of unwaged labour that has reorientated people’s lives, as they move their paid jobs home to join their unpaid jobs or as they are stepped down: ‘In today’s crisis, we’re building tomorrow’s normal’”. (5)

Contact High is a reaction to and attempt to move away, with purpose, from the conditions that have come to define or restructure artistic practice during the COVID-19 pandemic. It is an effort to make the artistic labour inherent of performance transparent again and to separate it from digital content production. Rather than retrofitting performance to fit within gallery hours, the framework of this project aims to nurture the development and presentation of performance and to bring audiences back into the gallery in a physical encounter with artists. Randy Martin thought of movement as being indexed by the socio-political and the psycho-emotional.6 He wrote that movement amounted to an “amalgamation of thinking and doing as world-making activity”.7 This is true of the six performance works that will be presented across Contact High’s two performance nights. Though conceptually distinct, each of these works either respond to the conditions of life over the course of the last two years or speak to broader issues underpinning both our industry and contemporary existence.

However, the irony of curating and staging an exhibition premised on contact and physical proximity, right now, as Omicron case numbers soar, is not lost on me, nor is the reality that this is our new ‘normal’. In the words of Dean Kissick, “and now we’re returning to normal and that’s a sham; except I don’t think we are because so much has changed and it’s not coming back”.8 The world has changed and so too has the way we engage with contemporary art. And so, to witness these performances in person, unfettered by a screen, we will do what we’ve been doing since March 2020: we will adapt. We will check in, wear masks and stand 1.5 metres apart. Because if we have learned anything from the last two years, it is the importance of being together, of human contact and connection, of community and solidarity. The thought of being together in the gallery again — even if from a considered, safe distance — is intoxicating. Can you feel it? I can. I think I’m getting a Contact High.

1. Adrienne Rich and Frances Driscoll, Diving into the Wreck: Poems 1971-1972, (New York: WW Norton & Co, 2013).

2. Snack Syndicate, “Groundwork”, in Homework, ed. Snack Syndicate, (Melbourne: Discipline, 2021), p. 28.

3. Inside, directed by Bo Burnham (2021, USA, Netflix, 2021), Comedy Special.

4. Natasha Stagg, “Out of State: Summer 2020, part 9,” SPIKE Magazine, 20.09.2020, https://www.spikeartmagazine.com/?q=articles/out-state-29.

5. Snack Syndicate, “Groundwork”, pp. 27-28.

6. June Miskell, “the feeling that moves us,” Free Association, 07.04.2021, https://freeassociation.com.au/?texts=the-feeling-that-moves-us.

7. André Lepecki, Of the Presence of the Body: Essays on Dance and Performance Theory (Connecticut,Wesleyan University Press, 2004), 48.

8. Dean Kissick, “The Downward Spiral: March ’20 Through August ’21,” SPIKE Magazine, 10.08.2021, https://www.spikeartmagazine.com/articles/dean-kissick-downward-spiral-august-21.

Arini Byng in collaboration with Rebecca Jensen, Lilian Steiner and Rohan Rebeiro, I felt it when you fell, 2021/2, performance documentation, Contact High, Gertrude Glasshouse, Melbourne. Photo: Keelan O’Heir. Courtesy of Gertrude and Performance Review.

Arini Byng in collaboration with Rohan Rebeiro, Lilian Steiner and Rebecca Jensen
I felt it when you fell, 2021

“In the post of 2020–2021, a period marked by isolation, loneliness and the loss of physical touch and connection, I felt it when you fell looks at systems and physical manifestations of care”.

This work produces care through contradictory gestures. Informed by a score written by Byng, the movement of the two dancers, Jensen and Steiner, is both tender and practical — they intertwine, caress one another and move in unison; their bodies acting as support braces through movements that are physically challenging or gravity-defying. This movement is accompanied by a discordant soundtrack by Rohan Rebeiro, produced through focussed contact with percussion instruments that fluctuates between appearing careless and tender. This sound element is responsive to the actions of the other performers and highlights the complexity of giving and receiving care.

Thank you to Olivia Radonich and Ed Davis of ReadingRoom.

Alexander Powers, The Plastic Body, 2021/2, performance documentation, Contact High, Gertrude Glasshouse, Melbourne. Photo: Keelan O’Heir. Courtesy of Gertrude and Performance Review.

Alexander Powers
The Plastic Body, 2021

The Plastic Body is a choreographic project by Alexander Powers that extends her tremor/exhaustion-based practice and uses repetition, interruption, improvisation and sound. Powers’ work spans experimental performance, electronic music, DJing and event organising. Across all of these mediums, she is committed to interrupting hegemony and dedicated to experimental interrogations of new forms of gathering and spectating.

Sean Miles Out, in, out, in, out, in, out, in, out, in Out, in, out, in, out, in, out Out, out, out, out, 2021
Performance, single-channel video and mixed media installation

when I am the manaia 

I inhale 

the green scent of harakeke

and exhale

into a woven fish

my breathe will swim through the air

and you will not drown in the sea.

Sean Miles’ Out, in, out, in, out, in, out, in, out, in, Out, in, out, in, out, in, out, Out, out, out, out, 2021, responds to the experience of oscillating between being in and out of lockdown. This work is composed of three key components: Miles’ 2021 video work Killing Time for Runway Journal, a costume of the Kahu made by Miles during the 2019 bushfires that ravaged so-called Australia and a new performance developed for Contact High. Killing Time articulates a frustration with standardised, colonial time, fucking with its measurements in various ways, using visual, sonic and written forms. Inspired by Miles’ dreams during the lockdowns of the last two years, this performance-for-video sees Miles liberate themself from the construct of time, to instead follow the rhythms of their own body, spirit and mind. Continuing Miles’ interest in trickster folklore, the costume of the Kahu installed in Gertrude Glasshouse references the story of Māui, in which he transforms into a Kahu (red tailed hawk) in order to fly out of a burning forest, singeing his wings in the process. Set to a soundtrack comprised of sound recordings of Miles sleeping and an augmented version of Kate Bush’s Breathing, the performance component of Out, in, out, in, out, in, out, in, out, in, Out, in, out, in, out, in, out, Out, out, out, out, engages with dreaming and the breath as means of traversing space and time during periods of lockdown and isolation. In this performance, Miles wraps themself in a bedsheet, as they have frequently over the last two years, to cocoon and regenerate themself. When viewed collectively, this work touches on the respiratory effects of COVID-19 and the air toxicity caused by climate catastrophes, to explore the necessity and transformative potential of dreaming and breathing.

Thanks to Bon Mott for developmental support and ongoing mentorship/collaboration; Anador Walsh, Agnes Whalan, Klari Agar and Jake Treacy for developmental support; Mum and Dad for their love and support; Ian Bunyi for installation support and Seb Henry Jones, Ellen Formby, Joel Spring and Runway Journal for developmental support in the creation of the video work.

Rebecca Jensen with dancers Enzo Nazario and Lydia Connoly-Hiatt
The Effect, 2021

The Effect, 2021 continues Aotearoa-born, Naarm-based dancer, choreographer and teacher Rebecca Jensen’s ongoing interest in inverting the function of the studio, to make work that is developed live, through performance. The Effect is a solo-ish dance performance that responds to Jensen’s 2020 short film of the same title. This work concerns itself with the narrative of the last man standing, as it relates to the production of a solo work. Referentially, The Effect engages with two solos that become trios: the 1985 New Zealand science-fiction film The Quiet Earth and choreographer Yvonne Rainer’s seminal work of post-modern dance Trio A. Central to this work is a questioning of the idea of the singular voice and an acknowledgement of the dancer’s experience of the performing body, as a lexicon of their histories, thoughts, relationships and understandings of the world. Jensen refers to this as a process of navigating the “ghostly traces” left in the body. 

Rebecca Jensen acknowledges that The Effect was developed on the unceded lands of the Wurundjeri and Boon Wurrung people of the Kulin Nation. 

Thanks to Zoe Scoglio, Thomas Muratore and Experimental Dance Week, Auckland, Aotearoa.

Ari Tampubolon and Scanlan Wong, Contract High Xx, 2021
Performance and single-channel video 

“Yesterday, I was walking to an important meeting with a prospective client I had never met. It was a beautiful, sunny day and I was dressed in my newly purchased Versace blazer I found at Goodbyes (yes, I shop at thrift stores instead of boutiques). On my way to this meeting I saw a whimpering dog, a gorgeous labradoodle, stranded in the heat. Initially I had thought that this poor dog was waiting on its owner since it was sitting in front of a St. Ali cafe, but after some waiting, I deduced that it was a stray. I then proceeded to feed this dog, the poor thing. I gave it water, some vegan treats and a few pats on the head. I spent so much time caring for this poor dog that I missed my meeting! The next morning I got a call from the prospective client asking to reschedule our meeting. I profusely apologised for my absence the day prior but he seemed completely unbothered. I was surprised, but I strolled over to the radio station he suggested we meet at. When I got there, a lovely lady in a bleached cap came up to me and told me he was waiting for me. Much to my shock, this prospective client was the labradoodle from yesterday!” 

Contract High Xx, 2021 is an ongoing, collaborative project between Ari Tampubolon and their alter ego Scanlan Wong. Drawing its inspiration from Joe Scanlan’s 2014 performance as Donelle Woolford at the Whitney Biennale of the same year and Ryan Wong’s subsequent claim to be Joe Scanlan in the Hyperallergic article I Am Joe Scanlan, this performance responds to the increasingly uncertain structural and political working conditions of the Australian arts ecology. In Contract High Xx, Tampubolon adopts the guise of a ‘girlboss’, in order to pursue their desire for extreme career success in an unfettered way. Tampubolon employs this persona of a hyper-woke, hardworking, identity politics obsessed influencer, to bring into focus the inherent whiteness that sits behind the veneer of ‘girlboss’ capitalism. In evoking the spirit of ‘girlboss, gaslight, gatekeep’, they also point to the precarity of our industry continuing to hinge, as it presently does, on hustle culture and performative politics. 

A special thanks to my dear friend Allison Emmett for helping me gaslight everyone and a special thanks to Kimberley Kardashian for her assistance in the development stage of this project.

Marcus Ian McKenzie
Solo For Smartphones, 2021

Solo For Smartphones is an emerging body of work considering dissociation, derealisation and the body’s rapidly transforming relationship to devices, screens and networks at the cusp of the AI singularity. Setting up parameters for novel encounters between bodies and devices, this work invites narratives in which devices have increased agency, yet still rely on human bodies and labour to enable that agency. As we hurtle towards a fully-automated future, how will our feeble human meat-sacks slot into new systems of meaning, production and desire? Solo For Smartphones projects a fantasy in which people and devices subsist in a heightened symbiosis and the devices we carry with us daily are given a chance to roam — partially untethered from the whims of their carriers.


Performance Review thanks founding patrons Create Space Consultancy and MurriMatters for their support of Contact High.

Anador Walsh thanks the exhibiting artists for their hard work and perseverance in bringing this project to fruition; the Performance Review board, Mark Feary, Tracy Burgess, Siobhan Sloper and the Gertrude team for their ongoing mentorship and support; Georgia Banks, Amelia Dibbs and Marcel Tabuteau for their feedback and friendship; Amrita Hepi for the soundtrack to this exhibition and Diego Ramírez for his input to and editing of this exhibition’s catalogue essay.

Gertrude Glasshouse is generously supported by Michael Schwarz and David Clouston.

The 2022 Gertrude Glasshouse exhibition program is supported by the City of Yarra’s Annual Grants Program.

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Gertrude Contemporary

Wurundjeri Country
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Wurundjeri Country
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Melbourne, Australia

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