Photo: Dave Cheng.

From the bone-splitting trauma of the girls on the track to the abusive and war-mongering cries from the fans, the Sydney and Canberra Roller Derby League at the Hordern Pavillion on October 9 this year was in for a 'bloodbath'. In association with Bump Projects, "BLOODBATH" is a collaborative performance created by five very different artists: Linda Dement, Nancy Mauro-Flude, Kate Richards, Francesca da Rimini and Sarah Waterson.

Through the powers of technology each artist used a computer situated on the stage and a Nintendo Wi-fi remote strapped to the head of every player, to draw back and forth information which recognised feedback such as track records, speed time or physical contact in order to create an artwork. Each work titillated something different or unique which was then shown to the crowd in the midst of the first game on five massive projector screens above the stage.

Roller Derby in short is a raucous and impertinent sport. The game is divided into two teams. One member of each team attempts to pass the opposing team around the flat track in order to score points. These players are called ‘jammers’ and by passing them the action is called a ‘jam’. The focus here is not on an object or a ball, it is on the ‘jammers’ trying to viciously force their way through the opposing team in the sequential amount of ‘bouts’ before the time is up.

Interestingly, Roller Derby usually results in minor injuries. Yet actual injuries on this occasion are only implied with illusions of violence and aggression when the patrons in their ‘suicide seats’ become psyched, teased and bloodthirsty. For this very reason BLOODBATH’s initiative was to show and in someway reveal our ‘human tendencies, attractions and states’ to the lustful necessities of violence.

Photo: Fee Plumley. whitu/5070069035/sizes/l/in/photostream/

However not all went accordingly to plan. Most artworks seemed just offbeat, just behind the bar in revealing some tiny notion or sliver of complicity to an act of violence. Linda Dement’s erratically obtrusive display of bruise imagery seemed to fold and flutter after the first few spurted images, as did Mauro-Flude and Rimini’s works. Even Sarah Waterson’s electrifying and robotically programmed Axel Grind, which was an electric guitar randomly spurting chords to Joan Jett’s “I Love Rock n’ Roll” at the sight of a push, failed in practice. At times most of the artworks felt too arbitrarily displaced or scattered to reveal anything, let alone the philosophical potencies of the sport.

The game needed the spectacle of its vibrant and assorted array of rockabilly folk flocking the stadium to seem complete. There were times when I thought I had entered the wrong arena, and arrived at some bizarre convention. Fans dressed in science fiction memorabilia, while quasi-Goths from outer space sipped tea out the back.

There were even odd cases of half naked Dr Frank-N-Furters, Stormtroopers and Princess Leias parading around in fishnet stockings and rollerskates, smoking and teasing the audience. In a lot of ways the atmosphere was similar to that of a late sixties Grind House environment or a midnight movie session in some underground cinema of America. The air was thick with the ubiquitous resonance of esoterica, drudgery and empowerment; like the game.

Artist Kate Richards’ “Affective Resonance: Jostle and Jam” played on these notions. By using archival footage from international global Derby matches, she spliced, manipulated, mashed and dissolved a gritty intensity which combined the patrons’ individual experience of the game and the game’s debauchery into an immersive experience of women’s rights, poverty and social reclamation.

However strange and unique these collaborative forces were, in the end it was a comforting sight to see that the Sydney and Canberra Roller Derby League is something more than just group-orientated sport.