On Time, Sarah Rodigari
Brooke Stamp

Sarah Rodigari, On Time, 2021, performance documentation, The National 2021: New Australian Art, Carriageworks, Sydney. Photo: Zan Wimberley. Courtesy of and copyright the artist.

Presented as part of The National 2021: New Australian Art at Carriageworks, Sarah Rodigari’s On Time, takes place within the echoes of the former foundry that is the Eveleigh Railway Workshops. It’s a site that pulses with intersecting material cultures and political histories – vital as a continuing site of engagement for Redfern’s surrounding First Nations communities and their stories and adjacently potent as a Western site of industrialisation and political activism – notably home to one of the country’s largest scenes of industrial action in 1917, known as The Great Strike.

Sarah’s exhibition is bookended by two performances on the opening and closing days of The National. I was fortunate to be present for both. The performance is something of a poetic monologue Sarah forged with the contributing voices of 12 front and back of house Carriageworks staff, with whom she undertook 12, one-hour long conversations prior to the exhibition. Her script accumulates their individual experiences and commentaries on ‘casual’ into a poignant rumination on casualisation – and rubs up against everything from casual behaviour to casual wear, casual sex to casual agreements.

I was invited by Performance Review to write about Sarah’s performance – and so, what follows is my somewhat affective read of the work's processual substance – a dancerly read, let's say, that obsesses a little over how the work ‘works’.

Also, implied in this read are some liberties afforded through my long-term friendship with the artist.

nothing pops, not even a button, everything’s in place

Sarah issues a kind of invitation into the ambience of casualness. With the commencement of her reading, her opening few lines lay out a kind of terms for engagement, a nod to the casual contract of attendance – for attending to art. She’s effortlessly dressed in an ensemble of double blues, schoolboy chic shorts and T, she’s typically cool in posture, her voice equally silky and assertive – “I’m actually quite an anxious person”. Her speech glides across phrases like “consensually non-exclusive”, “adaptable and approachable” and – “due for long service leave”. It’s through her words that we’re introduced to the undertow of twelve other voices speaking through Sarah to us, speaking to one another – twelve nuanced experiences and positions collaged into one by Sarah’s poetic hand.

Before Sarah reads on, my attention is drawn to her installation and her place within it. 12 steel objects, like 12 discreet, metaphoric backbones, form an abstracted constellation around her. They are meter or so high lengths of steel, independent and free-standing, with a conspicuously casual twirl spiralling up the length of each, to detail to different degrees the hours shared in conversation. One steel twirl – the first hour, two twirls – a second hour and so on up to 12. Effectively ornamenting time, the objects are steadfast and beautiful. They present with a certain frankness of tone and disposition and – uncannily like Sarah, they’re a kind of queer union of minimal, witty, elegant and self-possessed.

As she moves through the passages of her script, Sarah uses the sculptures in space; moving one, sometimes two at a time – a symbolic abstraction of the hands of a clock face. She places them in distinct and calculated orientations, using them as temporal markers to warp the visual shape and tonal balance of the room. In doing so, she offsets the lightness and shade filling her words. “How do I survive? I turn my hobbies into money. I hustle” – Sarah punctuates her point with each placement of a sculpture and/or – cause for pause and reprieve with each new spatial orientation. By her own hand, she destabilises and restabilises her context, her outlook, her horizon? Sarah reorients herself within this picture and the visual balance is precarious, placing herself inside the situation relationally as both auteur and subject. When you dive deeply enough into the atmospheric dramaturgy, Sarah’s voice becomes one in an elegant disarray of independent bodies and nuanced perspectives – slightly unmoored in the casual ambience of her own vulnerable career – and – installation.

Sarah Rodigari, On Time, 2021, performance documentation, The National 2021: New Australian Art, Carriageworks, Sydney. Photo: Zan Wimberley. Courtesy of and copyright the artist.

the right words, the right work, money, love, and a home

The script begins to draw out, with equal measure, charm and brutal existential blow, the often-paralysing effects of impermanence and the fatiguing effort that goes into sustaining a life untethered from basic, universal securities. And so, … bolstered by her consummate skill as a performer, it occurs to me that On Time might be ‘non-exclusively’ let’s say, contextualised by the extremely difficult and disorienting events of last year (2020) – most profoundly from my vantage as an implicated artist, that of Carriageworks' unsettling 10-week long brush with Voluntary Administration.

I detour around the details of the above as there’s been much already written and since ‘resolved’ and because, I’m more interested in reflecting that the psychological and spiritual task artists face in negotiating the anxiety and anticipation of irregular work, gigs and opportunities – is not new. It simply came into sharp relief at the institutional level last year thanks to the pandemic and as such – a very public light was shone on the commonly privately beared conditions of fragility, to which artists (and other casual workers facing unemployment with the onset of COVID-19) are no stranger.

Artists tend to uphold the institutions they’re employed by, with a broad spirit of collectivity, community and solidarity – they turn out, show up and against such odds somehow continue to do so. I’d like to get at something here, about how Sarah’s work seems to do this at the heart of its own processual realisation. Sarah reinforces the fibres of collectivity, community and solidarity not only through her work's thematic armature – but by the very effort and merit of the work’s making. On Time, not only speaks to that which binds art, work, labour and institution – but by nature behaves it.

Sarah Rodigari, On Time, 2021, performance documentation, The National 2021: New Australian Art, Carriageworks, Sydney. Photo: Zan Wimberley. Courtesy of and copyright the artist.

Precarious workers work casually toward the possibility of working tomorrow

While cognitive labour and language are casually reasserted in this work as Sarah’s 'raison d'être' – it’s On Time’s material matrix that puts into much more than words that which casualisation grapples with and can rarely express – to make the precariousness of casualisation understood to the unyielding networks of impermanency it operates within. Even though it’s Sarah’s presence and command of language that arouses the work’s hypnotic, rhythmic meter, there’s a tactility moulded into the sculptures for example, that asserts a rhythm of its own. Forged individually by hand, by a local blacksmith, the sculptures imbue the entire installation with dexterity and gesture – with skills and techniques that have been passed through history between blacksmiths for millennia. Their making intimates a matter/sympathy bind and their resoluteness of character, within the old Railway Workshop, is powerful. Their beautiful swan-like neck doubles as a reliable handle or faithful brace and implies an intimacy with time – in the sense that the manual labour pervading their detail presses upon history, to create a slow, imperative, utilitarian expression of the present. Something the pandemic seemed to ask of us.

The aesthetic counterpoints of steel sculptures and backdrops of large, printed photo-documents of the work’s worn and retrospective rehearsal scripts, produces an aesthetics of impermeability and impermanency at once. Then, arranged upon a raised lino performance platform that smacks of a floor you’d find in an abandoned 80’s office break room, this mise-en-scène/installation pulls attention through its internal infrastructure back to the very institution we gather in, or – as.

The exhibition as a whole, holds the fullness of its own physical, emotional and psychic weight.

Art, etc. Work, etc.

If you haven't been in a casual relationship, then you can’t imagine the minute to minute, high stakes, precarious scenes of self-exploitation fuelled and governed by passion

An ambience of theatre is produced as Sarah performs. Public, friends and colleagues gather at the fringes of the lino stage with the kind of attention and anticipation rarely expressed throughout the past year. An atmosphere is collectively built. A thickening of context emerges through collegial witness – and this brings Sarah’s practice and the potency of her exhibition into sharper view, again – “If you haven't been in a casual relationship, then you can’t imagine the minute to minute, high stakes, precarious scenes of self-exploitation fuelled and governed by passion”.

I find myself reflecting on what her performance is actually doing. And how?

Attention is being galvanised around Sarah and around a language of semi-permanence and loss through her presence. Access is being granted to psychic apprehension and anticipation through her presence. Effort is being acknowledged in the face of exclusion, through her presence and – all of this presence is circulating as ‘art’ within the high-stakes (low-returns) ecology of art.

I wouldn’t say to realise this is sombre, because, with every perfectly timed glance and deliberately wry shift in posture, Sarah is of course, an effortless comic.

But – it’s meta.

Poetics – are the materials.
Aesthetics – are the rhythmic composition of language.
Installation – is a method of emotional threading.

On Time is both a performance and an exhibition. An installation and a script. A kind of locus and an event. Or it’s a deft wrangling of matter, mise-en-scène, medium and matrix. It’s a sharp reflection on casualisation, that simultaneously embodies, as well as by its nature labours against, the psychic uncertainties defining working lives during the pandemic and that more acutely saturate our neo-liberal condition.

Nothing about Sarah, or her work is casual.

Brooke would like to thank the artist for her work, conversation and friendship; Bree Richards, for her time and generous feedback on this piece and Anador Walsh for the invitation to contribute to Performance Review.

The two performances of On Time took place on Saturday 27 March 2021 and Saturday 19 June 2021 as part of The National 2021: New Australian Art 26 March – 20 June 2021, curated by Abigail Moncrieff at Carriageworks, Sydney.

Please see the Carriageworks website for information on the site's history and updates to its Voluntary Administration.

Brooke Stamp (born Parramatta 1979) is an Australian based performer, choreographer and researcher. Her career spans two-decades of inquiry in dance bridging visual art, sound-performance, writing and dramaturgy. Her creative works explore the live-form of performance using mediums of installation, improvisation, site and film and are buttressed by her long-form research project, The Line is a Labyrinth, which reconceptualises authorial frameworks for museum-based performance. Stamp has an MFA from the UNSW Faculty of Art and Design and is a PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne, Faculty of Fine Arts and Music. She performs regularly with artists Adam Linder, Agatha Gothe-Snape, Sidney McMahon and Sally Smart, including most recently in the work Shelf Life, by Linder, for the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

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.