Between 2009-2011 I was privileged to work with Helen Michaelsen and Mona Oren on v.o.i.d. The project initiated by Helen Michaelsen was developed through two collaborative residencies at ComPeung in Northern Thailand.
Documentation of the work as it was shown at Canberra Contemporary Art Space in 2012 can be seen on vimeo: https://vimeo.com/48525724
Below is the text written for the project:
Loosely referencing Friedrich Nietzsche the inspiration for and essence of the v.o.i.d project is
“when looking long enough into the void, the void looks back at you”.
Designed as a collaborative project Mona Oren, Ellis Hutch and Helen Michaelsen have been working together on this project for 3 years. Meeting up in Northern Thailand in January 2010 and January 2011, they developed a series of video performances, each dealing with their individual v.o.i.d.
Dreamt up as voluntary, ongoing, internal, displacement or v.o.i.d., the dictionary definition of the word void refers to emptiness, space, the cancellation of something and of emptying out. But what does it mean to approach the void, to enter it, to embrace it, to make it?
Void and as such the v.o.i.d. #01 becomes a space of possibilities. Stepping into the void, into the unknown, decisions are made to push personal boundaries and to step outside familiar comfort zones. Exposed to a vast external space, layers of internal spaces unfold with directions, both new and previously explored.
The chosen site, Mae Kuang Dam (เขื่อน แม่กวง), is manmade yet evoking a pristine environment. The 3 performance locations at the dam - an irrigation canal, a hillside wall reinforced with concrete, and a maintenance road on top of the dam - initially intrigue and challenge us. Then they intuitively guide us in mapping out our performances in response and as continuous interaction to those spaces and their dominant site-specific elements of water, height (air), and ground (earth). As a result they are temporarily transformed into v.o.i.d. spaces each with a quiet, steady pulse following their own rhythm.
Fluid, vertical, horizontal, rough, rugged, uneven surfaces that initially resist, demand endurance and reward us with powerful force once embraced in the process. Through our mental and physical interaction with the site, we, the performers, become the interface accessing “our” spaces. As a way of becoming at home we are engaging mentally, emotionally, and physically with our individual bodies in continuous movement. Not only do we situate ourselves in the space but form a contingent connection to the space, embodying the v.o.i.d.
What might seem to be ordinary actions, lifting and letting go, moving through pre-determined forms, and writing, traversing a surface back and forwards, are in fact highly charged, personalized actions visible in moments of tension, instability, imperfection and translated into temporary yet continuous movements. letting go by Mona Oren, a flower garland grows until it disappears into the distance, farewell by Helen Michaelsen, Tai Chi forms flow over the rough uneven surface of a little used road in a vast landscape, writing by Ellis Hutch, the transcription of a dictionary definition becomes a physically gruelling process.
The essence of the v.o.i.d. #01 yet remains what does it mean to act, to act out or to perform a series of actions with actions being deliberate and of individual significance, relevance, and urgency?
Ellis Hutch, Helen Michaelsen, Mona Oren
January 2011... one year later... still challenged by the essence of the v.o.i.d. ‘what does it mean to act, to act out or to perform a series of actions with actions being deliberate and of individual significance, relevance, and urgency’?
Hence v.o.i.d. #02 continues to explore this essence at Mae Kuang Dam (เขื่อนแม่กวง), this time focusing on the fluid element of the water with 3 individual approaches.
กลับบ้าน homecoming by Helen Michaelsen is Shiva’s return journey home, her final journey. A tribute to the epitome of free spirit... ชีวิตชีวา, the metaphor of life and energy. White soft hair is felt, touched and caressed. A gentle intimate gesture, repeated again and again, prolonging the inevitable. The touch activates memories of softness, of smell inscribed forever in my senses and into the skin of my palms, my hands, my fingertips. Her hair parts from my hands, releasing it to the air from where it continues its journey to the water. Floating past for a final salute, letting go by setting free... her hair regroups in bundles, weightlessly traveling the surface like clouds sailing the sky. Departing... once more displaying her silent power through fragile reflections in the water until slowly drifting away into the open space of the dam... becoming one with the fluid flow of the water.
holding on by Mona Oren starts at the roundhouse, 10.000 flowers are being needled to become a web of fragile existence. It is there where for the first time the love flower web evokes the illusion of existence, “reflecting” the circular roof structure of the roundhouse, imaginary and real. Transformation... the existence of the love flower web altered forever once released into the water of the dam, choosing to become this strong physical form of white light and noise. Refusing to be subdued by the power of the water, the love flowers discover their strength in dense unity and free floating form. Using the water as a mirrored stage, they totally immerse with their own reflection, traversing between reality and illusion.
breathing by Ellis Hutch, a floating net on the water surface... becoming one with the rhythm of the water... protruding and receding. Like a trap, the net becomes heavier and gradually starts to sink, with the vital signs of breathing subside swallowed by the density of the water.
December 3 -29, 2011 v.o.i.d. has been shown as a single screen projection in the group exhibition: ComPeung Revisited 2007 - 2011, at the Chiang Mai City Arts & Cultural Center, Thailand.
Helen Michaelsen, the initiator of the v.o.i.d. project, divides her time between Perth, Australia, Chiang Mai, Thailand and Paris, France.
As a cultural practitioner she is involved in various collaborative art projects. Together with Pisithpong Siraphisut she has established ComPeung (compeung.org), the first non-governmental artist in residence program in Thailand. Teaching multimedia @ Polytechnic West and running graffiti workshops, she passionately believes in creative engagement and education being prime catalysts for change and empowerment.
Mona Oren, born in Israel, lives and works in Paris. Studied at the Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux Arts in Paris.
As a multimedia artist Mona Oren has exhibited her photography, video, sculptures and installations internationally in solo and group exhibitions and her work is represented in private and public collections in Europe, Israel, Asia and Australia.
Ellis Hutch is an Australian artist, writer and performer who creates ephemeral, time-based video and installation works. Hutch’s work is informed by her fascination with how people construct the places they inhabit and their social relationships. She has worked on a diverse range of collaborative and solo art projects since completing her Masters in Sculpture at the Australian National University School of Art in 2000
farewell, Helen Michaelsen
writing, Ellis Hutch
letting go, Mona Oren