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When I Am Not Theatre ★★★
Art Gallery of NSW, until June 4
It’s almost more fun watching the audience at Melbourne artist Shelley Lasica’s new performance exhibition than it is watching the work itself.
Spectators follow the lead of a troupe of dancers, including Lasica, who wander around two large rooms of the gallery, stopping to dance singly or together, gyrate their hips, paw the floor or pile up into an untidy tangle of limbs.
Shelley Lasica’s When I Am Not There can be unnerving to watch.Credit: Felicity Jenkins
Yet etched onto the onlookers’ faces is a heady mix of confusion, fascination and, sometimes, outright alarm. A man standing idly viewing the performance visibly jumps when a dancer walks straight up to him and says, “I didn’t expect to see you here!”
He’s just composing an answer when you can see it suddenly dawn on him that this is simply part of the dancers’ dialogue and has nothing at all to do with him perhaps playing truant from the office. But by then, he’s already blushed beetroot red.
And that’s part of the charm of such an avant-garde display. It feels quite confronting to be so close to the performers, and on their level, watching what they’re doing with their arms, their legs and their bodies, especially when they break off and march towards you or sidle past.
Staring at more traditional artwork never feels this intimate. This, however, is the tension between the ideas of “to perform” and “to exhibit” that Lasica has been highlighting over her four-decade career.
Sometimes there’ll be eight dancers, sometimes six, occasionally two. All are dressed in mismatched outfits and dance independently – with one taking off her top and using it to wipe away her underarm sweat – before coming together to the sounds of an otherworldly score by Francois Tetaz.
The props, including costumes from past performances pegged to a webbing, moulded plastic children’s chairs and vinyl mats, look almost incidental.
It’s an interesting, and slightly unnerving, concept, with the only guarantee that, at any viewing, it’s unlikely ever to be the same. And that we’re all, somehow, playing a role in this strange balletic search for meaning.
Sydney Morning Herald subscribers can enjoy 2-for-1 tickets* to the Archibald, Wynne and Sulman Prizes exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW during June 2023. Click here for more details.
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