Flight of a Bird: Life in Performance: Linda Lou Murphy

Curators: Keith Giles, Ali Baker and Yoko Kajio SASA Gallery, Adelaide 6 April - 7 May 2010

Linda Lou Murphy un/gather 2008, performance.

This stunning exhibition contains an overwhelming amount of sculptural objects and performance documentation videos from the archives of the late Linda Lou Murphy. Some works are derived from her solo career, the remainder created as part of the collaborative shimmeeshok with Ali Baker and Yoko Kajio, who performed at the opening.

Walking into what seems to be part of a Matthew Barney production, I am taken by the painstaking precision and fragility of Murphy's paperwork. It is obsessive, yet in a nurturing way. Each fold, crease, stitch and gather is a carefully rendered ritual for revelation. Full of delicate dismemberment and meticulous membranes, rolls, folds and endless gathering, I find no end here and no beginning, but a searching and unraveling. A myriad of paper forms coil at rest upon plinths or run their lengths down walls; objects alive via a sense of invitation. They are points of activation, drawing you inside and outside, over and under. They resonate with story, like musical instruments put to rest by their players. This is ritual and these are the sacred objects.

Paper, in a Western mindset, is associated with the written word and so I conjure the weight of history - a force that seems solid, until we approach it in linear fashion, whereupon it disappears into whispers. Conversely, a more Eastern approach might summon thoughts of religion and non-linear orientation. This paper that is interchangeable with skin, or organ tissue, that creases with leather-like homogeny, confounds me. Are these stand-ins for the body, or are they the body itself?

Stitching is rhythmic, methodic and meditative. The act also comprises small violations, piercing and pricking over and over, in and out. The resulting product is somewhat ironical - beauty through gruelling process and strength via fragility. Making is not part of the performance action however; these carefully created costumes are the ritual attire in performance works such as 'un/gather', 'weaving flight' and 'drawing threads' to name but a few. There are certain re-occurring themes in Murphy’s oeuvre: papery dresses, pins, blades, shadows, steaming dry ice pouring from tea-cups, darkened spaces, headlamps (worn at the throat), the searchlight of another kind.

The consistency of pins adds more weight to the idea of ephemeral performance. Pins suggest intermediary space, an object incomplete, yet to be finalised, uncertain, a possibility or proposal, a prayer. The pin holds things in place for the time being, it is not ordinarily a permanent feature and Murphy allows us this privileged view of transience.

Murphy’s performances can transform the grotesque into beautiful ceremony. Movements are slow, purposeful and poetic, but engage with ideas of pain or its potential, demonstrated in works such as 'cutting piece' and 'flight of a bird'. These involve the beautifully choreographed dance of knives sharpening one another, held by the performers in Victoriana style properness. Something teeters on the edge of mishap or violence, in spite of the frilly façade. A live memento mori accentuating the vulnerable human body.

The absence of vocalisation is noteworthy; its replacement is a highly articulated vocabulary of actions blended with sound. 'un/gather' and 'shiver' both incorporate materials being dispelled from the mouth (tape from cassettes or paper with text), a silent, salient revelation, a regurgitation of internal dialogues or records, the body rejecting itself.

Time is not cognisant in the work; consequently you are forced to go with this time-being. This is an interstitial awareness, a gesture of flight on the liminal. It is indeed a risky business to move through the in-between, that never gives true sureness of form but works a little differently by accruing fragments that trail and bind, creating an unimagined, unassuming strength.

The main projection screen loops through performances by shimmeeshok and envelops the gallery with the musical sounds of liquid air. The works 'weaving flight' and 'settlement' are a mixture of shadowplay and visible form. The most entrancing moment occurs when paper is blown like ash into the backdrop of the sky, merging with a flock of birds shifting across the screen, creating unification of body and beyond. The performers begin to pull on threads in the fabric of the sky and I expect soon it will unravel, revealing the very workings of the world itself.

Just as Japanese text written with a brush lends itself to the aesthetics of painting, perhaps Murphy’s technique with performance lends itself to the aesthetics of existence. The body as ink, fluid on the page of life.