Every text participates in one or several genres […], yet such participation does not amount to belonging.Derrida.
Might it be helpful to suggest that Matthew Day’s solo works participate in the genres of dance and conceptual art? I could make up a new genre, ‘Dance Art’, whose relationship to Dance is comparable to the relationship between Performance Art and traditional Theatre or Visual Arts. I would cite as evidence thatThousands and Cannibal (the first two in a planned trilogy) are conceptually driven, embrace real-time endurance, and expose the affect of the ‘dance’ on the performer. I could build up a binary: representation vs. non-representation. Day’s work would have to fall into the latter. I might even mention how cross-disciplinary it is.
Genre is a set of expectations ‘readers’ bring to a work. I like how these works display a sophistication that sees them able to be read across a number of genres, effectively dissolving artform borders. Thousands was created for the Next Wave Festival for the Northcote Town Hall, a highly theatrical space with high ceilings, ballroom wooden floor and rich gold-coloured curtains. In relation to this space, Day’s protraction of one movement over the duration of the piece seems to reference a theatrical history, singling out and interrogating one gesture. Day has said that the usual high-energy movement of dance is created from a still inner, as in, the eye of the storm. In Thousands Day internalises the ‘storm’ working fast inside to slow down completely. Over the duration the effort of maintaining such control breaks through in trembling muscles, reddened flesh and sweat dripping.
For Cannibal the floor and walls of PACT Theatre are painted white, reminiscent of a gallery space. Day rigorously adheres to a single parameter throughout, an approach that could see the work at home in at least some of the more experimental gallery spaces. Repetitiously, he flails limbs and clenches muscles as if to a despotic metronome. Rather than a complimentary rhythm, James Brown’s sound design is relentless rumbling sub-bass, similar to Thousands but without the mid-way repose of a 7-minute club anthem. Lighting design by Travis Hodgeson ups the theatricality with the play of shadows and added starkness. Again Day’s effort is palpable. He turns his face to the audience fifteen minutes in, revealing a pained and contorted expression. Day descends to the ground, pulsing knees scraping the ground with disregard. Didn’t we see some blood on the white floor? Meanwhile the odd pirouette or similar has made its way into the choreography – a reminder that this is a body marked by years of dance training.
These are extreme acts of endurance and repetition driven, “fascistically”, one friend told Day, by conceptual conceits that allow the works to move beyond established artform conventions. Reading the work solely through genre, or transcendence of, of course would be a disservice. With Cannibal co-presented by Mardi Gras, the works also explore ideas of “queer embodiment and queer thinking as physical action", as addressed in an accompanying forum with Day and Sydney artists Fran Barrett and Bryan Fuata. Thousands and Cannibal are also suitably open to invite the reading of your own fantasies and narratives while watching. Without expecting a neat resolution from the final instalment of the trilogy, I am certainly looking forward to seeing where Day takes his exploration from here.
Quotes from Day taken from a Skype interview prior to presentation of Thousands in Sydney, 2010.
Thousands presented by Next Wave Festival, Northcote Townhall, 26-30 May, 2010
Cannibal presented by PACT and Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, 16-26 Feb 2011