UK live art duo Action Hero have recently been in Melbourne, performing three of their works in a mini-season at Arts House. The last in the season is Wrecking Ball. The title and the promo images will tell you everything you think you need to know about this show. But whilst the Miley Cyrus/Terry Richardson angle is a clear starting point (and clever marketing opportunity) for this work, the discussion within the work is broader than just one case study.
The set-up is simple – a famous woman is having her photo taken for her new album. The photographer is working with the model, trying to draw out the perfect shot. But the parameters for this “perfect shot” are constantly shifting. There is tension between the two from the start: as we enter the space, the photographer offers us a drink and explains – at length – how laid back everything is, while the model sits in place in the photo studio, looking… surly? bored? uncomfortable?
From the moment we walk in we are attempting to read her – read both of them – in the language of images and postures. We try to interpret what their bodies mean, what their clothes reveal. As the pair warm (slightly) to each other, their words start to expand the picture they’re both attempting to construct. The model poses, but the scene in which we are to imagine her shifts. She is positioned as a victim, as a weapon, as the destruction of everything and as the possibility for rebirth. When this rhetoric is employed by the photographer we see straight through it as pretentious posturing and power-play. When the model takes this language and runs with it, though, the picture gets muddier, less black and white. Perhaps we even believe that she is owning this process; that she has wrested control of her image back from the photographer.
This is a work that seems to ask where the power of images lies – with the image itself, or with the language and framing around the image? A photo is taken of a girl sitting on a beach, but who decides what that means – or if it means anything? The modes that the performance shifts through in its exploration of these concerns feel like different camera angles, with each subverting or providing a new vantage on the other. Naturalistic interactions give way to explicitly exposing the script. Script gives way to a man eating an entire ice cream in real time. Each of these developments represents the effort of one of the characters to impose their own notion of truth or reality – what it is, and if/why it matters.
Wrecking Ball is a slender 60 minutes, and I left the theatre hungry for more. Whilst there are plenty of intriguing or thought-provoking moments, I felt that there was more to be explored between these two figures, in this scenario. I was particularly intrigued by the way that the (occasionally stilted) script was eventually exposed and questioned. This moment of questioning was quite brief, and left me imagining what might be possible if performers and audience alike could make an earnest attempt to escape from the script – both the script of the show and, by extension, the social scripts at play between these two characters.
Wrecking Ball by Action Hero
Co-created, written and performed by Gemma Paintin and James Stenhouse
Lighting Design: Jo Palmer
Dramaturg: Deborah Pearson
Producer: Mel Scaffold
Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall
31 May – 3 June 2017