Australian artist Fleur Elise Noble’s2 Dimensional Life of Her stands out as the best pieces of work I’ve seen this year, and I’ve been graced with the opportunity to see a lot. During the RADAR LA festival, I was lucky enough to meet with Noble and talk with her about 2 Dimensional Life of Her, and what she will be working on this summer in her native Australia.
“Its kinda like a giant pop-up book in how it works spatially,” says Noble. “So it’s a theatre production without any live performance, or minimal live performance. The experience is like a theatre production but it’s primarily a projection.”
The projections put stop-motion versions of Noble’s artwork — drawings, paintings, and puppets — into a three dimensional space. It was an idea that arose out of her intense training as a painter and illustrator, which Noble says involved “drawing and painting for 12 hours a day for a year from life models. It was basically pushing two dimensional art making to such an extreme. To a point where I was just driven crazy by the restrictions of the two dimensional surface and the rectangle.”
“I just wanted to draw a person, I didn’t care about the space they were in. You couldn’t just leave that white piece of paper… you could, but… I just wanted to pull them off the paper and put them in a real space, and I wanted them to be real. So those kind of things drove me to start playing around with that idea and using projection to be able to have people in our space. And art that’s alive, rather than still.”
Before seeing 2 Dimensional Life of Her I was concerned that it would be one of those pieces about the process of “art for art’s sake.” The kind of college thesis work that inevitably crops up and is as tedious as it is intellectually precocious. This often happens with artists who are highly trained but lacking in real life experience. Noble’s work somehow avoids that dangerous pitfall, as the rigors of her training affected the necessary intensity to create real break throughs. A sheer volume of work that leads to insight. In Noble’s case that insight is often gleaned through the eyes of children.
“Once I [performed] for a group of 100 three year olds and they were all adamant that there were real puppets behind all of the paper, and they were just standing there waiting to burst out of the paper the whole time.
“When I made it, I lived with a 2 1/2 year old. The whole time she was the only person who was really interested in what I was doing and followed the whole process. Every day I got home (she couldn’t even talk yet), she just made me show her everything on the computer every day, and I’d bring home the puppets and she was just obsessed with the whole thing.”
Part of the show features pen drawings that Noble says she used to make “like a nervous habit.”
“Once this little girl,” says Noble, “this seven year old looked at one these pen drawings and said ‘Ah, man it looks like you just scribbled on her face.’ I was like ‘this kids amazing, this kid is saying if i took the lines off the paper then there’s a real face underneath the lines.’ That’s a really cool idea, because when people look at drawings and figurative art work, they’re relating to a person even though it’s just a drawing.”
This magical line of thinking extends into Noble’s next planned project, which she will be working on in Australia this summer. Noble says that it is “about following your dreams, which is a corny idea, but I had a dream about this half-man, half kangaroo.”
“I met this character in a dream, and it was an amazing dream. He had a kangaroo head, then sort of a half-man half kangaroo chest, and he has this amazing kind of animalistic posture and way of moving. But then he had sort of man legs and a suit, and then a big kangaroo tail. And he was pacing back and forth, and giving a lecture on something environmental.”
The dream is being transformed into reality, with Noble enlisting the help of Brandy Anderson, “the best puppet maker in Australia,” to create an animatronic, wearable puppet. Noble is heading into the Outback with the “Rooman” puppet, which she gave me a sneak peek at. It is an amazing creation, built with a visual attention to detail that rivals anything the Jim Henson creature shop or the WETA special effects house (responsible for the Lord of the Rings films) have ever produced.
She’s enlisted the help of actor friends who will wear the costume and Noble will document their interactions with people that they meet. The intent, in part, to bring this dream element into reality and see how people react to a creature from the unconscious walking around the waking world.
Performance artist Christine Marie’s Ground To Cloud is a cinematic shadow play about the legends that surround lightning. Presented last week at the RADAR LA festival, and again this week (June 21 & 22) at San Francisco’s Fury Factory, the work displays the artist’s ability to warp time through the intricate interplay of light and shadow.
As host Noah Nelson puts it in this special edition of The Spot recorded at the Los Angeles Theatre Complex, Christine Marie is a time alchemist… a fitting moniker for a performance artist who began her career as a film editor.
Australian artist Fleur Elise Noble’s performance/video hybrid, 2 Dimensional Life of Her is one of the most stunning pieces of work I’ve ever seen live. There are no shortcuts to describing the show, as the piece exists outside the lines of theater or film. “Performance Art” doesn’t do Noble’s work justice, as anyone who has suffered through a college arts program knows how loaded that term can be.
Instead I’ll rely upon my meager vocabulary to just describe the experience.
We entered the darkened ballroom of the Alexandria Hotel in downtown Los Angeles for the performance. Ushers had been equipped with flashlights to guide us to our seats, a collection of folding chairs, high end bar stools, and floor cushions. Two large scrims were tacked onto the back and stage left walls. A table, covered with a muslin tarp and suggesting the outline of a props, was postioned in front of the stage left scrim. A canvas set slightly upstage and behind that.
Onto the left side set the image of a living room projected in black and white. The foreground table was set with projections of a few scattered items, notably a wine bottle that formed the highest point of the outline.
Across the way, on stage right, a cut-out of Noble stood on a chair onto which a filmed image of her was projected. The back wall was mostly black, having the quality of a chalkboard onto which a slight outline of the projection of Noble bled like a counter-shadow. Another canvas set slightly to the stage left side of the center line. Detritus scattered all over the floor. An artist’s studio in disaray.
I’m spending so much digital ink on describing the set because it had a physical effect on me. Noble conjures a sense of location that is simultaneously very real and completely illusory with this composition.
The projection of Noble comes to life and begins cleaning the back wall, revealing drawings and puppets that begin to interact with the set — sometimes it is beautifully destructive ways — the experience is nothing short of magical. A story of sorts unfolds, an allegory about the artist’s inability to control her life due to the sheer power of the creative impulse. Noble stated in a symposium before the show that her intent with 2 Dimensional Life of Her was to convey a sense of her process as a visual artist, but along a condensed timeframe.
There are lulls in the action, but lulls are integral to the creative process, which is Noble’s theme. So, too, is the menace radiated by the living paintings and puppets that seem to demand a life of their own from the cutout girl. I’ll admit that the thought crossed my mind while watching Dimensional Life of Her that a life of reading comic books about alternate universes and supernatural malcontents probably prepared me for understanding the flow of Noble’s work as much as any familiarity with the creative process. I can’t imagine that Alan Moore, godfather of comic book weirdness, could construct a more compelling performance piece.
If you need a label to latch on to, then I’d recommend “Live Cinema”, which is the term that was slapped on Guy Maddin’s Brand Upon The Brain, the last piece to cause such an electric current to run down my spine. It’s an unfair analogy for those who haven’t seen that work, but those two words put together “Live Cinema” contains the spirit of Noble’s work. The space she builds and projects her moving images on to creates a sense of immersion and depth that no 3D process can hope to match.
My sincere hope is that the next generation of performance artists draw inspiration from Noble’s work and strike out on this path. We need more like her.
I’m attaching a video teaser of the piece, but I hesitate to do so. There’s no small sense of irony in the fact that a two dimensional image cannot do justice to a piece called 2 Dimensional Life of Her. But, at the very least, the teaser can give a sense of the visual textures Noble relies on.
2 Dimensional Life of Her plays as part of the RADAR LA Festival with multiple performances each day through June 19th. Los Angeles Theater Center, 514 South Spring Street, Los Angeles.
Theatre companies and performance artists from around the world are descending upon Los Angeles this week for RADAR LA, an international festival of contemporary theatre. It’s the sister festival to New York City’s celebrated Under The Radar festival, which has been pulling in audiences since 2005.
“What I ask of all of these theatre pieces in Under The Radar and at RADAR LA,” said festival co-director Mark Russell, “is ‘Why do theatre now? What do you have to say and why in this form now?’”
Russell is the founder of the Under The Radar festival, and is serving alongside Mark Murphy of REDCAT and Diane Rodriguez of the Center Theatre Group as co-director of RADAR LA. The three organizations have come together to produce a festival unprecedented for Los Angeles.
“It focuses on small, independent theatre companies from around the world. These are sometimes called experimental, but its really smaller scale, ground level work that is often developed or devised from an auteur artists or an ensemble.,” said Russell. “This is really how other cultures can talk to each other. Instead of the Bolshoi ballet coming through I’d rather see what a contemporary Russian kid is thinking about and writing about at this moment.”
Just six days long, the festival will pack in over 80 performances of fifteen different productions. While the density of productions, and the ticket prices, might be reminiscent of Fringe festivals around the world (including the concurrent Hollywood Fringe Festival being held just a few miles down the road), the similarities end there.
“Our thing was to take a theatre festival and approach it like a film festival,” said Russell, “We also program it so that you can see more than one thing in a day, and we keep the tickets cheap. That might be similar to what you might experience at the Fringe. But the main thing is that events are chosen and we’re paying fees to the artists. The events aren’t pay to play. So we’re trying to put them in a context, it’s very curated.”
That curation has focused on giving a snapshot of contemporary theatre around the Pacific Rim. Japan, South America and the West Coast of the United States are all heavily represented on the slate.
“I think it will be great,” said Russell, “for Los Angeles audiences to see their artists… maybe the ones they’ve been seeing and tracking like LAPD [Los Angeles Poverty Department] next to some of the masters that are coming out of Chile or Mexico or Japan.
“It’s really about taking a risk and seeing something from another country that you wouldn’t normally.”
RADAR LA runs through June 19th in various venues in Downtown Los Angeles and Culver City.
On this edition of The Spot, we talk with Mark Murphy, Executive Director of the Roy and Edna Disney Cal Arts Theater, about the upcoming RADAR LA festival of contemporary theater. The theater, affectionately known in Los Angeles as the REDCAT, has partnered with L.A.’s Center Theatre Group and New York City’s The Public Theater to produce a West Coast version of The Public’s Under the Radar Festival. RADAR LA will run for six days in a number of venues in Downtown Los Angeles (along with the Kirk Douglas Theater in Culver City) and provide a snapshot of the state of the art in contemporary theatre from around the world.
Groups from as far away as Chile, Japan, and Australia will join artists from L.A., Austin, Mexico and San Francisco for the kind of packed schedule that American audiences are only used to seeing at film festivals. Only all of these performances are in the kind of 3D that doesn’t leave you with a headache.
It’s an unprecedented collaboration within the theater world of L.A., and has elicited support from a consortium of organizations that includes Theatre Communications Group, the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs, LA Stage Alliance and the Los Angeles Theatre Center.