Noah J Nelson on Thursday, Jun. 16th
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.