During Temperance Hall’s lockdown, we’re taking some time to reflect on what the Hall and Phillip Adams BalletLab have created. This first post is a reflection by Temperance Hall Artistic Director, Phillip Adams, on his seminal work, Amplification, which premiered at Athenaeum Theatre in Melbourne in 1999 and showed again at MARS Gallery in 2018.
Using the car accident as a metaphor for mental and physical disassociation, Amplification examined the thresholds of the human body’s response to sound, light and physical impact. Developed through research conducted at a hospital emergency ward and the Melbourne morgue, Amplification magnified the 1.6 seconds “disassociation” freeze-time that occurs at the moment of impact. Skidding, sliding and crashing into a world of body bags, pain and healing, where reality and fantasy collide, Amplification deconstructed and reconstructed the site of impact with a coldly scientific and even morbid fascination with the body in chaos. Amplification was an exploration of densely layered, highly technical and studied partnering, and revealed the possibilities of death, ritual, burial and torture within the form of a dance installation. Set in a stark minimalist environment, Amplification also featured live turntable compositions by DJ Lynton Carr and set design by awarding winning Australian design team Bluebottle.
Amplification explored the idea of impact and a possible sense of liberation in the collision of car culture and eroticism. The work was set in an anonymous laboratory—a landscape that inhabits both catastrophic and transcendental emotion. I think back on the work as a series of transubstantiated experiences in which the body is subjected to the triggers associated with the extremities of a car collision. The car cash was abstracted into the catastrophic realm of human cruelty, sacrifice and suffering. Amplification was my first full-length work and an exemplar of the notion of glorified “tragedy”. The work’s cinematic dimensions were able to be referenced, and the work forged new methods of an interdisciplinary practise. The gesture of the work emits the trappings of experimental modernity for the exotic surfaces of the body.
The car crash “killer machine” in the 1.6 second-long moment of a collision was a site of deconstruction and a release of the amplified sensations of sound, body and light. I kept pushing my foot on the accelerator and increasing the speed, drama and aggression to the point of dissociation; a kind of time freeze of the mind. It was like an impact zone, where the debris of the body got flung around like crash test dummies smashed against each other on their disintegrating drag racecourse; a carnival of carnage.
A sense of violence, desire, power and energy is experienced when driving. The experience of driving mimics many of the experiences of being a human being, a marriage of the physical aspects of being ourselves and the imaginative and technological aspects of our lives. Cataclysmic events of the 20th century involving mass execution and devastation further amplified the interiors of the work: the Holocaust, the assassination of J.F Kennedy, and the Hindenburg airship disaster.
This backlog of tragedy was whirring around in my head and led me to think about playing with my own death, or more truthfully, the avoidance of it. Kind of a strange love affair, bringing in all sorts of visual and phycological factors around glamorising morbidity and a desire for immortality.
I was interested in the exact way I could bring together the visual codes for expressing our ordinary perceptions of reality. A syndrome that could be described as “the worse things get, the better the results”. The whole system of expectations is contained in religious experiences, and expectation about our freedom to move in time and space through the transubstantiated body and of sacral idealisations. To become something of something else—a higher entity. Amplification sowed the beginnings of complex relationships between us and the world of objects around us. Highly visual codes can be seen repeated in the dystopian landscape of the work. What does all this mean? Where can I make sense of these huge (epic) ritual systems? Have I replaced the altar of church with the site of a car crash? I looked at the complexities of movement in specific events, most of them seeking out venerability and redemption. Therefore, it’s no surprise that subjects such as the car crash, take centre stage at the altar.
Was I putting together a totally meaningless tragedy? I truly feared something, rather than nothing, would be made from it. Fear, however, is where things get done with an unconscious (or sometimes conscious) intention. All of this was considered in Amplification—the way that the choreography connected to tragedy involved the object and the performers (people) becoming the prophesy, a guide to the afterlife.
The work’s cathartic tensions—transcending ceremonial passages, apocalyptic visions and musicological arrangement to a DJ scratch and mix of Stravinsky’s Rites of Spring, Holst’s The Planets, The Velvet Underground and experimental industrial noise, were an all-in act of truth and reasoning of omnipotence. The car is God. This convergence between our own soft bodies and the hardware of the materials referenced in J. G Ballard’s 1973 novel, Crash:
“The aggressive stylisation of this mass-produced cockpit, the exaggerated moldings of the instrument binnacles emphasised my growing sense of new junction between my own body and the automobile.”
There is a convergence between our horror of death and love of spectacle.
“She sat in the damaged car like a deity occupying a shrine readied for her in the blood of a minor member of her congregation … the unique contours of her body and personality seemed to transform the crushed vehicle. Her left leg rested on the ground, the door pillar realigning both itself and the dashboard mounting to avoid her knee, almost as if the entire car had deformed itself around her figure in a gesture of homage.”
The structuring of such fetishisms in Ballard’s Crash thread the work together in abstract compositions and movie-set stagings that scrutinise the body under observation.
Crash gifted me with the language that Amplification could sit beside. I made a performance of his book and film. The film language was the tool to heighten this idea of “sensorial experience”. As my work sits within multi-disciplinary field it is important for me to be looking at works such as Ballard’s. In Ballard’s work, he heightens this idea of sexuality and creates a pornographic novel. Such explicit references are subverted in Amplification. I chose to focus on desirability and ways in which I could entice the viewer, although in his text Ballard does not entice, rather, he creates a spectacle. I sit somewhere in between.
Amplification was essentially the first Holy Hollywood dance chapter according to Phillip. It had a gothic storybook style, a grainy B-grade science fiction quality, its campiness and cinematic experimentation with the film and book Crash are brought to an altar of sacrifice and states of euphoria. In the image above, you can see a pile of naked bodies in the hands of their destroyer made desirable; they are like sacrificial lambs at the Gods altar, smothered into a grave of universal endings.
The body was placed in a choreography of dissociations, a time freeze that occurs in a 1.6sec car collision stretched out to a 60min durational event. At times, the work was a reverse and forward motion action of the accident, giving the crashing car and the thrashing body inside a slow-motion, balletic quality.
Amplification makes me think about the spiritual aspects of my work and the strange phycological dimensions it seems to touch. It is 21 years old this year. The themes of sex, death and the afterlife are tested in the car accident and given some spiritual reasoning through the performance’s objects and rituals. What we see in Amplification is a regard for everything around us as fictional. We see its ritualistic patterns as a place of absolute fantasy, like living in an enormous Hollywood movie set. A kind of distinction that Freud made about the inner world of the mind between, say, what dreams appear to be and what they really mean; how they apply to the outer world of reality. All the structures within Amplification amount to a place of divinity; an enormous Hollywood movie set as an altar to the cannon of Western contemporary art.
In Amplification, the structures of the Mass are theatrical enough to drive a car crash of choreographies into alternative realities where sacrificing of the body and the artefact are official props of the service.
Here in a section called Tape Pull (interrogation), 10 minutes’ worth of cassette tapes were pulled from the mouth. I suggested the cassette tapes be a reordering of the tragedy and its relationship to human forms of confessional causality.
In Amplification’s sheet-folding section, we encountered a preservation of the body through a covering ceremony of fetishized corporal embalming. The performers assumed the roles of Doctors and Nurses, undertaking a sequence of codified bodily sheet wrappings and unwrappings. The setting was an operating theatre. Referencing George Lucas’ film THX 1138 (1971), it was a cyclorama white-out. The cadaver is revealed naked through a processional sequencing of unzipping body bags, and white and orange sheet coverings over metal slabs. The corpses interact with the Doctors and Nurses in a choreography of coming back to life. The campy, deadpan delivery of this ritual is further bound up in a pseudo-Japanese burial ceremony.
Amplification fit within the field of new wave science fiction and futurism. The work mirrored a post-apocalyptic world that we can envision around us even currently. Amplification examines odd relationships and fetishes towards technological and other glitches such as motor vehicle incidents. Each scene is described with sensually-charged adjectives through a romanticised scope – it was in my interest at the time to depict the devastation through choreographic conventions that the viewer was able to place this within a contemporary context.
The sensorial experience is significant and is mentioned frequently in my practise. In this work, it’s manifested in the experience of a car crash, creating though the motion of filming it from inside the car, attempting to capture desire and lust. Trauma is used in this work through a lens that takes the viewer from a standby audience member to a front row character. I structured the text as a choreographic film narrative broken into shards, almost as if the choreography itself had experienced these traumas. The use of sexual adjectives and the horrific yet artistic nature of the work allowed me to question where this type of language and eventually came to hold its place in my work as a tool to encourage viewers to look past what is in front of them.
Everyone died at the end of Amplification like the carnage of the car wreck itself, but they all get revived in a telemovie twelve years later, called MIRACLE, which was presented at MONA FOMA in 2011. Screaming at the top of their lungs after having been suspended in the purgatory of a car wreck for twelve years, the performers woke up in the New World Order in which they to get to drink the Kool Aid in heaven.
–Phillip Adams, April 2020
DANCERS AND COLLABORATORS
Gerard van Dyck