The rather unassuming name of Artwork, which is being performed at Carriageworks until August 8, can be read in a few ways, but the most compelling way to read it is as a sly joke. Artwork literally calls itself art, but its unusual casting and staging are constantly asking the audience to consider what art actually is.
Artwork breaks down the divide between performer and audience, because just like those watching, the performers have very little idea what is about to happen. A live video feed before the performance shows the backstage area where the performers sit, all of them looking a bit nervous and confused as they are assigned numbers and thanked for answering the internet ad that brought them there.
Throughout much of the performance, the “performers” are instructed what to do through headphones that they wear, often looking bemused or baffled as they misinterpret or mishear what is being said. Part of the magic of a piece like Artwork comes from the disorientation and on-the-fly style.
You may expect a trainwreck then, but Artwork actually very successfully ties together several strands of multimedia, including giant projection screens, music and sound effects. Samples of voices and snatches of video captured in the piece re-occur later, binding everything together with a real sense of cohesion.
It sounds like heady stuff, but Artwork is fun and it’s funny, as well as being insightful. At one point, audience members who had chosen to give their phone numbers were called by the performers and asked to answer a series of questions – somewhat like the survey that we’ve all taken over the phone at least once in our lives. In this context, with all eyes and ears on these strangers, the questions seem probing and deeply personal, acutely pointing out out some of the complexities of how we relate to the world as individuals.
Artwork will probably have you feeling confused at first – to many it may seem dull, or just plain bizarre – but you come away from it with a sense of having witnessed something pretty special. It makes you think about the way we present ourselves, the value of our images, and the weight of words in very unexpected ways. This is definitely a performance you should check out, and further proof of the ways in which Carriageworks is pushing the boundaries of contemporary performance art.
Buy tickets to Artwork here. Image by Zan Wimberley