Cutting the Collection
Gracia Haby & Louise Jennison
Cutting the Collection
Digital print zine
Edition of 100
Cutting the Collection features treasure found within the digital archives of the Performing Arts Collection. Skimming the surface of their dance, theatre, and circus collections, we harvested digital copies of raged-edged programmes, costume designs, and juggling balls. A mixed bag of images we in some way responded to and thought we could combine within the pages of an A6 zine to be created especially for the Melbourne Art Book Fair at the NGV. Chiefly in the role of the fan, whilst also acting as the visually curious, we selected images of Moya and Fred Brown juggling cushions, c.1920s and Patricia Redmond and Owen Laurence performing as ‘Latasha and Laurence’. We collected more than we needed to tell a tale, all the better to whittle away the excess later on in the studio. This was our process. We dug about in the archives and left with a wealth of sepia-toned gems.
In the collages within Cutting the Collection, we have layered two or more elements one atop the other. In echo of the process of creating collages by hand, layers serve to mask or reveal, and all in some way to alter. And so you have illustrated costume designs replete with ruffled collars and long feathers atop photographs of stage sets for musical comedies. At first glance it might appear as though we have blanked out what was once a part of the scene, but the closer you look, the more you will see that the additional silhouettes are from a different period or of a different scale. A circus poster collides with a set from a vaudeville show. Our interest here is shape, yes, but mainly the new story it tells.
Pared back, in this way, whilst making these works we were thinking about the ephemeral nature of dance; the thrill of a live performance and the trace it leaves; notions of recording what was, whilst not ever able to capture or document it fully; and the importance of such collections. The transitory nature of all performance, filtered through our own memory of it or through the imagined memories documented by others before us, in the sense of the earlier material held within the Performing Arts Collection, is something we wish to explore further.
A live performance cannot be siphoned in its entirety into a recording (unless specifically created and/or staged for film). It cannot be ‘relived’ fully just by looking at a piece of staging; the work was beautifully fragmented before the curtain closed. The very idea of something so impossible to harness holds great appeal to us. Serving as an exquisite metaphor of life’s cycle, what occurred on the stage at the very moment can never be seen nor felt again. We are left with trace memories, borrowed or otherwise, with costumes that yellow and fade; we are left with silhouettes that tell a little of what was. This “state of vanishing,” as the choreographer Crystal Pite described, is both powerful and quite tragic.