13 Rooms: An insiders perspective with Paea Leach

 

Lilly and I were lucky to immerse ourselves in 13 Rooms –  Kaldor Public Arts Projects together this weekend. After our BIG kid Twyla’s experience I was excited to fly in on Friday to witness several of my friends working as performers or ‘interpreters’ in the exhibition. Paea Leach is a long time dance collaborator and friend and she soon ushered us in through the stage door to join the crowds of all ages. (We were also thrilled to meet John Kaldor who was a generous presence across all the hours we were there on each day).
Jo enamoured with the impossibility and tranquility of Xu Zhen's In Just a Blink of an Eye

Jo enamoured with the impossibility and tranquility of
Xu Zhen’s In Just a Blink of an Eye

One of the most talked about rooms features Marina Abramovic ‘Luminosity’ where the work features a single woman lit up naked on the wall. It is a work of trancendence and endurance and quite simple beauty that also bought to the fore the question of artwork that might be inappropriate for children within a space that so clearly invited them in (we were delighted to see cups of coloured pencils on all the tables in the cafe, and children actively responding to their surrounds, participating in the experience in age appropriate ways).The rooms featuring nudity were clearly signed and a guide gave a gentle reminder before you entered. Despite this, during the times we were in the room, a number of children walked in and not one of them disrupted the viewing of the works in a negative way. All watched openly and easily. Our favourite moment was when a young girl of about 3 responded immediately by lifting her t-shirt  – it was a split second response no-one could’ve predicted, and the performer, Paea Leach handled it with the beautiful acknowledgement of a conspiratorial slight smile.
We asked Paea for her responses to this work and of her experience of kids in the mix:

In Luminosity you are interpreting a work by Marina Abramovic in which you sit on a bicycle seat affixed to the wall of a small room, naked and still. As a dancer who is moving constantly, how does being still for half an hour at a time compare?To stay so still or calm, seated as I am on the bike seat ‘suspended’ on the wall, I need to be maintaining a constant awareness of micro shifts, or small dances if you will. In some sense you ARE moving all the time. I can get really focused on monitoring the minutiae of my body and the different body systems at play that are helping me stay there, while I work to maintain a constant and steady gaze and to engage with the audience (an important aspect of the work is that we seek to connect with the audience via directly establishing and holding eye contact for an amount of time we feel is right).

How do you feel about performing naked and were you happy to be viewed by children?
My feelings about myself being naked in performance shift daily. Some days I feel quite empowered performing naked, as often I think not everyone is able (or willing) to do such a thing. On others I feel very watched, judged, desired, rejected and self judgmental.  In Luminosity I can see the audience quite clearly and sometimes the energy of the people watching can affect how I feel about myself. In my logical brain I think we are all bodies and we all have a body. It is a basic and beautiful idea. In Luminosity the nakedness is important for the image and so the work, it empowers me as a performer and woman and at some point the nudity does not matter. I have spent time watching others and performing it myself (watching others watch me) and I think the crux of the interest in this work is about connection. So after a few minutes all you tend to focus on is the face of the performer. The space can in these moments of connecting becoming empathic, sad, charged. As we are both seeing and seen.
A lot of children come in and I feel that I try and send them a gentle gaze if they want to look at me. A lot do not want to look. Babies seem intrigued, by the light I am guess, and other children have varied responses. Mostly they are a bit confronted by it, or simply fail to see why it is interesting, and fairly quickly want to leave. A lot have made connections between what they are seeing and their own mothers. As I was doing Luminosity just ten minutes ago I watched a mother and daughter watching together. I thought that it is a privilege to be a child who has a parent that is able to bring them to such things. hopefully these parents are part of a stream of parents who are encouraging the next generation of children to learn in new ways…or to think and feel outside the square so to speak, from the beginning of their lives.
I do not find the children distracting in the space at all, if anything it is adults who have the most wild responses.  
How would you describe the ‘dance’ of the work?
The dance of the work is on the inside of my body. It is between myself and the people I make lovely and lengthy connections with. It is what is happening between my body and yours – and the energy transferred. This is absolutely what dance is about for me. It is in the choreography of the bodies I see moving, relocating, sitting, rearranging before me.  People are a mixture of arrested, intrigued, needy, impatient, confronted, alarmed, discomfited, and happy. Many men find it hard to look at me when I am looking at them. Older women seem somewhat delighted and respectful, women my age are a little unsure….but once we establish a connection they seem to enter the contract and feel satisfied and a bit heart warmed. Some people come back. It is intriguing to watch everyone working out how they feel about it. And of course I can see them and I watch body language, and people relax, endure the silence, allow the space to open out.  It is an incredible experience.
I think the silence of it invites people to land in their own bodies and for a brief moment, consider the weight of themselves. 
An insiders view of the space of 13 rooms before the crowds. Image by Paea Leach
Post Script: A counterpoint to the ease of inviting children into the space was thoughtfully articulated by another of the Luminosity interpreter/performers Nalina Wait- an artist and mother who felt it was not suitable for children “not because of the nudity, but because of the very strong issues and feelings it raises. It is a mature work about suffering, loneliness and the strength to overcome this. It’s about having lived and having had harsh life experiences. It takes a certain amount of maturity to process and understand it in an art context and I don’t think children have that capacity yet. Usually they are brought in by well-intentioned parents who want to open their children to art, but who haven’t really taken in the work yet themselves. Children are very sensitive and open and usually want to leave the room before their parents. It is a very strong work and I don’t think there is any benefit to exposing them to that just yet – there’s plenty of time to soak up the pain of life later…. Everything else in 13 rooms is wonderful for children!”
 
Our experience with 4yr old Twyla was easy and delighted. On walking through the exhibition it would’ve been more provocative to say “you cannot go in this room”. Luminosity evoked in her a sense of wonder“This is amazing mummy, is she glued to the wall? This is very cool I think it’s magic. How does she balance? Her arms are definitely not glued on”.
 
The decision to view the work with a child is certainly not a fixed conversation, with the experience and appropriateness different for everyone.
 
Did you take your child to 13 Rooms? Would you take your child into Luminosity? 
on Apr 27, 2013

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