Breaking all rules of good composition, I would like to start on an unrelated note. It leaves me wondering whether the atmospheric density, the sensual coherence, so common in Australian theatre (Liminal Theatre, cabaret, quaint circus, The Heart of Another is a Dark Forest, and many many more), even art in general, from film (The Proposition) to visual arts (Fred Williams, John Olsen, Russell Drysdale, and the plethora of landscape painters) is somehow related to the lacking grand narrative of this culture. The basic reduction of colours, shapes and motifs, the bedrock of all aesthetic coherence, is also the bedrock of the narrative coherence of cultural identity. To describe a place ex novo is nothing less than to bring it into existence or, as Lepecki would smugly put it, we need to consider representation as an ontological force. And the complicity between landscape painting and nationalism has long been identified. Sunstruck looks very much like

Russell Drysdale: The Cricketers, 1948.

this. More importantly, though, it also looks like

Raymond Depardon: Désert du Téneré (detail), 1989.

this which, no less importantly, was used as a cover image for L'Estranger [The Outsider].

The sun was shining almost vertically onto the sand and the glare from the sea was unbearable. There was no one left on the beach. It was hard to breathe in the dry heat rising from the ground. I wasn't thinking about anything because the sun beating down on my bare head was making me feel sleepy. (…) For two hours now the day had stood still, for two hours it had been anchored in an ocean of molten metal. – Albert Camus, L'Estranger

The sun is one of the most frequent motifs in the first part of the book: the grinding sun that reduces existence to two-dimensionality. There are no fine shades, no minute complexity of detail, in front of the blinding sun. Everything is reduced to the elementary. Flat black and white – like graphic novels, a medium extremely apt to deal with basic existential questions (and interested in them). Sunstruck also looks like

Danijel Zezelj: from Stray Dogs (detail), 2004.

this, and like

Hugo Pratt: from La ballata del mare salato (detail), 1967.

this. Both of these graphic novelists, interestingly enough, are chiefly concerned with monochrome explorations of the most fundamental mechanisms of life. While in Zezelj's work the fine lace of detail dissolves into spare lush strokes of black on white whenever a larger theme is brought up, so do Pratt's characters regularly meander out of world wars and treasure hunts to walk empty beaches and have existentialist dialogues.

According to Sagi and Stein, Camus is concerned with concrete existence, which he thinks of in terms of the basic encounter with immediate experiences, exemplified by the sea and the sun – what they term 'his Mediterranean thinking'. In this sense, he continues the existentialist-phenomenological tradition of the Husserl/Kierkegaard/Hiedegger variety. Aesthetically, his writing contrasts the experience of the sea as immersion into absolute immanence to the existential alienation of the sun. In front of the blinding sun, we are reduced to our barest humanity.

Who doesn't know that heavy feeling of heat, turning life into abstract, thoughtless being?

The idea of 'Mediterranean thinking' is something that appeals to me, although I would stretch it to include hot and dry climate more broadly.In hot climate, all the questions appear more basic: all major religions have sprung up, fundamentally, in the desert, and so have philosophy and mathematics and tragedy. Pursuit of principles, so to speak. Standing in the front of the sun, one is never much more than simple geometry.

George Hoyningen-Huene: Untitled (Bathing Suits by Izod) (detail), from Vogue, July 5 1930.

A bit like the unavoidable abstraction of the beach body.

But this all came much, much later. Sunstruck was a piece of performance that blinded, cleansed; it left one feeling sated on pure ether, heart full of empty space. Discursive response was impossible for days after, the pure and amimetic unsuggestiveness of Sunstruck slowly letting the contradictory, overwhelming wealth of emotional response build into something more than speechless awe.

With nothing more than two men, dressed in black, one circle of chairs, one rotating sun, a fantastically fluid incorporation of the enormous shedspace into the relatively unspatious performance. Livia Ruzic's soundscape alone makes fifty percent of the experience. The choreography is never more than a rich hint of human existence itself, two men moving like blinded by great headlights, like on that Algiers beach, and it is no wonder they are men, and not women. Something about the lines being cleaner. The sea, I hear you smart kids wondering, is also present, if nothing in the seagull cries right before the end, the seagulls flying over the construction landscape outside our enormous shed. If we believe in Camus, and there is no reason not to, it is at this point that the absurd finality, limitedness, of bare existence makes peace with the immanent, and the two two-dimensional men merge with the world. There is, really, nothing more. Like that Japanese cottage in spring, like utsubo, a quality, greatly appreciated in buddhism, of being empty in order to contain the immense, hollow as an ability to become full. A bit like the capacity for pregnancy.

Martin probably summed it up best, saying:

It just seemed to encompass everything about men and joy and inexorable tragedy and struggle and continuation and children and inevitable loss and sadness and wisdom and compassion. It was one of the most empathetic pieces I have ever seen.

In this year's Arts Festival, with such aggressive preponderance of explanation, of persuasion, of unfulfilled promises, Sunstruck shines like a supernova, all understatement, undermovement, all viscous substance. By plunging as deep as possible into an atmosphere, a sensation, unexplained, unjustified, unconceptualised, it encompasses everything and more.

MIAF. Sunstruck: a premonition of events from memory, fantasy and the imagination. Concept collaboration: Helen Herbertson and Ben Cobham. Directed by Helen Herbertson. Design and lighting by Bluebottle/Ben. Physical realisation by Helen Herbertson, Trevor Patrick and Nick Sommerville. Set realised by Alan Robertson. Soundscape by Livia Ruzic. Music by Tamil Rogeon (violin) and Tim Blake (cello). Production by Bluebottle/Frog. Shed 4, North Wharf Road, Docklands. Season ended.

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2 thoughts on “Sunstruck

  1. […] a market researcher. Everyone, including ourselves, in anticipation over what our reaction will be. Sunstruck, while similarly Spartan in sign-posting terms, was a wealth of images and associations in […]

  2. […] things of interest include Morphia Series, by Helen Herbertson and Ben Cobham (see my review of Sunstruck) Chunky Move’s high-tech Mortal Engine, and Sydney’s Fondue Set with No Success Like […]

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