Fantasy novelist, poet and opera librettist, Alison Croggon, writes on Matthew Day's new work, Assemblage #1, for Dancehouse.

BOOK NOW for Assemblage #1


I don't know what you're about to see.

I know it will have certain shapes, certain colours, certain sounds, perhaps certain smells. It will occur within a landscape mapped out in a room, scattered with a miscellany of objects – fruit, items of clothing, construction materials. As with all landscapes, what happens within it occurs in time, and is unpredictable. Someone moves through a landscape and changes it, and is changed by it.

Day offers us two possibilities of engagement. In one, we sit and watch a fifty minute performance. In the other, a three hour performance, we may walk in and out at will, investigate a reading room, behave as we might in a public space. In both performances, the doors are open.

Like all performances, it's an invitation. It asks for our attention. Perhaps it asks whether this is a performance at all, since Matthew Day may be responding purely spontaneously to the materials he has assembled. There may be movements that appear like a concentrated impulse of the moment, introduced as casually as the way we might unconsciously brush a fly off our face, that blur the borders of finished and unfinished.

The finishedness of all art is an illusion, after all. It is always, as Marcel Duchamp said of The Bride Stripped Bare, "finally unfinished", a process that has reached a temporal pause. Day offers us a place of suspension between before and later, a chance to inhabit the ambiguity of the present.

A man walks into a space, and his presence in that space gradually transforms it. Our presence in that space transforms him. He is very alone: he has only his materials to play with, the curiosity of his body. We are here to observe him. He has his thirst and his hunger, his bananas and Berocca, his costumings of masculinity, his Bunnings building materials, his blankets and caps, his precarious contructions. He is a little comic, a little sad, joyous, fragile. He is constantly struggling against gravity, which never goes away, but which may grant him some respite.

Or perhaps not. I don't know what you are going to see.

Day resists representation, but a human being on a stage is always a metaphor from the moment he or she appears, in those ambiguous moments when we begin to understand that a performance is taking place. A metaphor is something that is at once literally and figuratively true. It is about likeness. He is like us, and he is unlike us, both at once. A metaphor is not an illusion. It is a moment of disruption in which relationships are created between things that are like and unlike each other, an instability created in our perception. A moment of what Day calls "subtle incitement".

There is no illusion in this performance. The process of making it is absolutely apparent: everything we see is made before our eyes. The artist turns on the sound. The artist controls the light. The artist manipulates objects. Nothing is hidden, and everything we see is ordinary.

Mystery hides inside the ordinary. The unsensational, the apparently transparent, holds within it the fascination of the unknown. If we release our constant, panicky demands for crude sensation, perhaps we can sit inside the ordinariness of ourselves and be surprised. Perhaps this possibility of ordinary mystery is a place of radical importance. Perhaps it is something that that we must decolonise from consumability. Perhaps we should pay attention to the silence – the sadness, the delight, the desire, the mystery – that exists inside us all.

Do we pay attention? How do we pay attention?

~ Alison Croggon for Dancehouse.


BOOK NOW for Assemblage #1