PACT Salon: Skeletons and Self-Portraits

Theatre, Performance art
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PACT Salon: Skeletons and Self-Portraits
Photograph: Carla Zimber
Performance still from PACT Collective: iDNA (2016), featuring Emily Dash

This mini-festival of performance, party and interactive art features a line-up of female artists who challenge perceptions about strength and vulnerability

PACT Salon is a new initiative by the Erskineville arts centre that invites artists to curate a 'mini-festival' for one night, featuring their dream line-up and taking over the whole PACT building and courtyard. The first edition was curated by performer and dance advocate Matt Cornell; the second is curated by performer, writer and filmmaker Emily Dash (who was previously part of PACT's 2016 show iDNA).

Like the first Salon, Dash's mini-fest 'Skeletons and Self-portraits' is designed to be interactive and immersive: audiences should drop their inhibitions within the space, explore the art installations and contemplate the performances – which range from movement to spoken word to live music.

Dropping your inhibitions should be made even easier in this case, because Dash has themed the night as a ‘masquerade’. “The theme is about perceptions of strength and vulnerability; how we see ourselves and how others see us,” she explains, “so I think the inclusion of masks is a good representation of that.” You can BYO mask, or make one on the night.

The artists on the line-up – all of whom were chosen by Dash because of their interest in challenging perceptions about strength and vulnerability – include Kay Armstrong, Cheryn Frost, Brianna Harris, Jessica Wiel, Lorraine MacLarty, Georgia McKenzie and Louise Kate Anderson. Dash herself will be performing a spoken word piece relating to the theme, and screening her short films within the space.

The title ‘Skeletons and Self-portraits’ relates to literal and imaginative aspects of the event: photographer Lorraine MacLarty will exhibit self-portraits that capture her reaction to being told a secret; Louise Kate Anderson is setting up shop in the dressing room of PACT, and inviting audience members into her ‘studio’ to ask her whatever they like. “It’s designed to break down stigmas around invisible disability and mental illness,” says Dash.

Other performative works relate to the idea of ‘physical self’, or ‘skeleton’, that Dash is interested in exploring through the event: emerging artist Brianna Harris will do a movement-based work about standards of ‘perfection’ and ‘beauty’ within the industry, and society generally; dancer Kay Armstrong will do a lighter tongue-in-cheek piece about ageism and sexism.

“I’m fascinated by the idea that no matter what is going on in life and in the world, we have a skeleton that physically grounds us to the earth and to our existence,” says Dash.

Also in deployment on the night is Glitterbox, an interactive installation by Zin (Harriet Gillies and Roslyn Helper) that was previously programmed as part of Sydney Festival. Essentially, you dance to a song of your choice in a neon-lit box full of glitter (AKA: instant glitter party).

You might have noticed that all the artists on the line-up are women. “I think it’s important to nurture female artists, so that they get those opportunities to be seen and heard as much as anybody else,” says Dash. “I also think that female artists can bring an interesting perspective to discussions about identity and the body – particularly because I want to explore things like body image, and ageism and sexism within the industry.”

The night will be split into two halves – or ‘portraits’ – so that people can arrive early or late and experience the full suite of performances. (Portrait #1 from 6pm-8.30pm will be audio described and Auslan interpreted).

By: Dee Jefferson