You've never seen anything like performance artist Justin Shoulder's latest creature
In Carrion, Sydney performer and artist Justin Shoulder embodies a ‘fantastic creature’ inspired by a microscopic animal called the ‘Tardigrade’, which was discovered by Johann Goetz in 1773. “It’s one of the only organisms that can survive anything – extreme heat, extreme cold,” says the performer. “You can’t kill it.”
This ‘Tardigrade’ is one figure on a spectrum of transformation that unspools in Shoulder’s one-man sci-fi show, which premiered at Carriageworks as part of Performance Space’s Liveworks Festival. It's now coming to Melbourne's Arts House for a short season.
Set in a dystopian post-apocalyptic future, the show is part installation and part dance work, and is a “reflection on evolution, and the possibilities of adaptation and survival,” says Shoulder. It opens on a figure that has survived everything; “then I become human, machine, animal – and then this combination of all those things.”
Shoulder has been making Fantastic Creatures, colourful avatars consisting of full-body costumes that he ‘performs’ in, for ten years now. His first, Caenus Cerabrallus, debuted at the now-defunct warehouse space Lanfranchi’s in 2007.
The origin of Carrion was a performance Shoulder did at Pink Bubble, a semi-regular queer club he runs with Matt Stegh. The artist describes that first incarnation as his “most human creature” to date, and his least “camp”. Among the ideas and issues it explores are climate change, cyborg culture, surveillance, Trump, and the rise of white supremacy. “It’s much more informed by fear and anxiety [than my previous works] – which is probably a reflection of our times.”
Unlike previous Fantastic Creatures, Shoulder has built the characters in Carrion from their bodily movement upwards, rather than from the costume downwards. To this end, he has been training in the Japanese-inspired BodyWeather discipline with mentor Victoria Hunt, for the past two years. He describes the goal as “deep bodily transformation”. “It’s like I’m Justin, and I became all these other things or characters”.