REVIEWS & DETAILS
Toi Poneke | His Remembering Heart
Art All #94 – Wellington Round Up
Published in Artists Alliance Art All Issue #94
Anoushka Athique’s exhibition at Toi Poneke in February explored the tragic true story involving a heart donated by the family of a suicide victim, and the heart recipient’s gradual strengthening relationship to the family, in particular the wife of the suicide victim, whom he eventually marries. Ultimately his life ends in his own suicide in strangely similar circumstances to the original donor. The show focused on ideas surrounding cellular memory and whilst encompassing the truth of this incredible story Athique elaborates upon it with her own fictitious narrative.
With a degree in Performance Design, and a Masters in Scenography (theatre design) Athique’s approach to the exhibition was very theatrical. As you walked around the exhibition the objects and ‘acts’ of the story were whimsically strung together with wire in places and scratchy music played throughout the gallery like the score to a black and white movie. The combination of sculpture, collage, found objects, poetry and letters in the exhibition made for a widely varied show. The translation from theatre to gallery for Athique, in my opinion, seemed natural and successful. Unfortunately the exhibition came to an end in February, but hopefully this won’t be the last venture into the visual arts realm for Anoushka Athique. Next at Toi Poneke is John Lake’s show, The Candidate which runs until March 27.
Teignmouth, Newton Abbot and Teign Village, Teignbridge
26 – 27 July 2008
Reviewed by: Mark Greenwood »
‘The Storytelling that thrives for a long time in the milieu of the work – the rural, the maritime, and the urban – is itself an artisan form of communication, as it were. It does not aim to convey the pure essence of the thing, like information or a report. It sinks the thing into the life of the storyteller, in order to bring it out of him again’. (Walter Benjamin, ‘The Storyteller’. Illuminations.)
Across from a tourist information centre we are led to a point. A slab bears witness to timeless history, spanning unconceivable chronologies. A brief history of the area is given from this point. It is hot and necks burn as we traipse across the beach.
We receive the scandalous story of a dancer from a dancer, crab buckets, salt water, balloons, and life jackets as we watch cardboard ballerinas in a miniature theatre. Tales of promiscuity and tragedy, of lost lovers undergoing electric shock therapy, loss and desire, lies and truths. Under the shadow of old boots two stories plait, ravel and loop like frayed laces: a dancer who takes to the arms of a lover, a failed engineer who takes to sea. One continues oblivious to the consequences, the other falls victim to them – both entwined in fishing lines, nets and webs of deceit that litter this beach. Their denominator is this place where we stand. On the shore that looks across to the Atlantic we listen attentively to these tales, we look to maps, charts and faded photographs to decide for ourselves where the facts and fictions lie in these narratives.
The storytellers ask us to hold red ropes. We gaze at spilt salt, unused teabags and matches. Transient objects that lie in the sun amongst the rusty chains and splintered wood. Unfinished voyages and false coordinates, drunken philosophy and creaking decks, shipping forecasts and seagull shrieks accompany our journey to a site where water and granite deposit are mixed in silver buckets. Our hands are grey and greasy as we discover that this was the place from where ‘ball clay’ was exported across the empire. Notions of displacement arise as we consider this oily mass as an object of capital used in the manufacture of domestic appliances and household goods.
Our first story ends here as we stare through holes in the wall to catch a glimpse of the interior of a disused factory from where this commodity was exported. Where we expect to see abandoned machinery, we find artifacts stuffed in the holes of the walls – a small wooden ship, rolled up maps and salted fish. The storytellers stray to a secluded alley and play bowls with the moulded clay.
When a new space really comes into its own
Productions I’ve previously seen at this theatre have accepted the standard 80-seat black box for what it is, and taken its layout as prescriptive. Burn My Heart, however, reminds us of the transforming power of a good set design. Anoushka Athique’s mesh of sewn sheets covers the entire stage area and transports us to a symbolic 1950s Kenya. Almost endlessly inventive, this is one of the most cunning sets I’ve ever seen.
Benches become Jeeps, cloth becomes fire and the ground is elevated to become sand dunes. It’s unusual for a designer to be so in tune with the theatrical intentions of a company, but the result of Athique’s collaborative work with Trestle is evident. The space is easily adaptable and can be manipulated to facilitate the more physical sequences of the production. A montage of silhouettes, created behind a cloth screen, is particularly chilling: as the actors loose their distinguishing physical features, we see the raw brutality of an interrogation of those suspected to be Mau Mau sympathisers. John Purkis’ lighting design also enhances the emotional frictions of the story: strong reds, whites and blues conflict with a palette of more earthy African colours, and cause the action we are watching to take on an unnerving hue.