Mono-Poly September 2022, Chi Tran, Aarti Jadu and Tinh Than
Emily Winslade

Framed as a “lesson in hums, vibrations and other forms of celestial (mis)communication”, Liquid Architecture’s September 2022 Mono-Poly consisted of the collaborative research of Jacqui Shelton and Mel Deerson. This resulted in the presentation of three performances that created a meditative atmosphere using sound.

The performances took place on a cold night in Fitzroy, at the Florence Peel Centre. From the outside, through large windows I could see a space, partially illuminated by warm orange lighting. Contrasting pink and purple lamps filled the space. The room was full of scattered chairs and pillows, which the audience was invited to sit on. I found a seat close to the stage and took in my surroundings, which included an array of instruments and a screen accompanied by a projector.

The room was packed and Shelton and Deerson hosted the event. They began by providing the audience with a schedule of the upcoming performances. They then explained that the curation of performances was informed by their shared interest in exploring the sounds that are often ignored and under-appreciated in our everyday lives and the unspoken communication that occurs within relationships.

Chi Tran, If Heaven is temporary, 2021, 2:47 film still, screenshot taken 02.10.2022, runway.org.au/chi-tran/

The first piece was as a video work titled If heaven is temporary (2021) by Chi Tran, which followed the narrative of a female protagonist trying to find a way into heaven without dying. The film dealt with ideas surrounding death and the afterlife. The young woman in the video attempted to warn those in heaven that they were in a temporary situation and must prepare for another afterlife. The story was explained as I read text overlaid on a black screen. I found the silence of the audience reading this text to be an interesting way of capturing the action of listening through a lack of noise.

This was followed by familiar, natural sounds like birds chirping, wind and running water.

The protagonist was then seen singing into a microphone in front of a curtain in a dark room. A deep blue spotlight illuminated her and I thought this suitably mimicked the coloured lights in the space I was in. The sound of someone singing has always been calming to me and this reminded me of my grandparents singing to me before I went to sleep (Goodnight Irene and This Old Man were favourites). The video continued with clips of the woman in nature, pruning plants and placing a floating device on water. This floating device had incense, a pink flower and scrunched paper on top of it, which the woman lit. I watched the flame dwindle until it went out. I interpreted this to be a ritual for the dead and believe that the flame was a symbol of life, something temporary that eventually fades.

During the nine-minute film, there were quick transitions to excerpts of fan dancers performing to music and it is on this image that the video ended. Tran’s storytelling demonstrated her ongoing research into the concepts of life, the afterlife, rituals, language, religion and fantasy.

Tinh Than as Subject Δ, Mono-Poly September, 2022, performance documentation, Florence Peel Centre, Melbourne. Photo by Kenneth Suico. Courtesy of Liquid Architecture.

Afterwards, a workshop facilitated by Aarti Jadu was presented by Josie Alexander. The audience was instructed to set an alarm for seven minutes into the future and to dip their hands in water before grabbing a piece of paper. During these seven minutes, the room filled with the sounds of paper being scrunched and rubbed and quiet chatter. Whilst I stayed in my chair, scraping the paper against my boots, other participants stood up and rubbed the paper against the walls. These combined sounds created an interesting, low frequency song of sensory relaxation. The wet paper deteriorated quickly, causing it to shred as it was rubbed. This made me wonder if the point of getting participants to wet their hands first was to quicken the deterioration?

Although the destruction of the paper initially seemed aggressive, I eventually found the noise relaxing. This performance ended with a cacophony of alarms blaring at 8:03pm and another instruction to scrunch each piece of paper into a small, tight ball. The alarm acted as a wake up call, a disruption to the calm of the shuffling paper. The act of connecting to the piece of paper for a limited amount of time was a mindfulness exercise, in which the audience had to focus on the material and their bodily movements completely.

Aarti Jadu (facilitated by Josie Alexander), Mono-Poly September, 2022, performance documentation, Florence Peel Centre, Melbourne. Photo by Kenneth Suico. Courtesy of Liquid Architecture.

Following this, there was an intermission. Subject Δ (Delta) then presented an untitled sound-focused performance consisting of the outputs of pedal and drum machines, which created a physical representation of locational sounds including natural elements. Subject Δ began by building up sounds, using alternative objects such as a hanging tin can, grains of rice in bowls and eucalyptus leaves, to create a textured, ambient track. They then introduced a traditional Vietnamese zither, known as a dan tranh, overlapped with noises and ambient sounds as an orchestration of unrecognisable distortion.

Subject Δ’s layering of sound resembled a DJ set. What began as mediative, became a sensory overload; the extra-terrestrial sounds they were creating were overwhelming and inescapable. Looking around the room, it was easy to tell who had succumbed to the sound work and who had become impatient by who had started scrolling on their phones or chatting to those around them. I have not witnessed the manipulation of everyday objects to create ambient sound in combination with a dan tranh before, especially not in a performance art context. Each sound was then stripped back until the performance ended with the remaining musical elements being silenced simultaneously.

The trilogy of works presented in the September 2022 iteration of Mono-Poly explored sounds that are typically ignored. Besides the curators who guided the performance, there was no talking which meant the audience both listened and became included in the participatory works. This left the audience in a position of listening for an evening, taking in all aspects of the performances, which aimed to project sounds and actions that destabilised, grounded and calmed the atmosphere of the space.

The performances raised many questions regarding sound I frequently under appreciate, including:

What sounds are ignored as they are an accepted part of my daily life?

What non-human noises make me feel relaxed or excited?

Can I sit comfortably in silence?

Why do some noises irritate me, whilst others bring me joy?

This iteration of Mono-Poly took place on Thursday 8 September 2022 and was curated by Jacqui Shelton and Mel Deerson.

Emily Winslade (she/her) is an emerging Queer Naarm-based curator, writer and arts administrator with a passion for critically reflecting on contemporary art practices. Graduating with a Bachelor of Fine Art from Monash University, Emily is now studying a Masters of Art Curatorship at the University of Melbourne in order to further pursue her interest in academic writing, queer theory and curatorial collaboration.

This piece is the public, creative outcome of Performance Review director, Anador Walsh’s short course in experimental curating BLOP BLOP BLOP at the University of Melbourne’s George Paton Gallery in 2022. BLOP BLOP BLOP was a series of four, one-hour sessions focussed on strategies for curating performance and the importance of critical writing in a curatorial context. This piece is Winslade'’s first attempt at critically engaging with performance through writing and was edited in-class by Walsh as part of this course.

Performance Review acknowledges the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin Nation as the traditional custodians of the land on which we operate. We pay our respects to their Elders; past, present and emerging and recognise that sovereignty was never ceded.