It was a dramatic start to Freeze. The 70 or so audience members were asked by Dutch visual/performance artist, Nick Steur, in the ABC Grainger Studio’s attractive foyer to be silent throughout, told that we could stand, walk about or, as most did, sit on the floor – and watch. Inside was a large thin metal floor with faux rust in places, 4 neck-high metal hollow square tubes standing and 5 lying on it, the whole surrounded by rocks of different shapes, sizes and composition.
Nick, an unassuming young man wearing workmanlike gear and thick protective boots walked into that uncanny silence and set to work. He thoughtfully walked around the rocks, selecting a couple, nestling one between neck and shoulder while he carefully inspected another. Finding a pointy shard-like bit on one, he pushed it in one standing tube and then painstakingly and oh, so intimately, he balanced the other on top, not flat on flat mind you, but rather point on point. We wanted to clap but the rule was golden so silence reigned.
Several things really struck me about this performance. First, in the publicity we were told that no glue, magnets or tricks are involved. So how is it done? As the degree of difficulty increased with more rocks improbably and precariously poised making one after the other “sculpture”, it seemed that Nick Steur had an understanding of the rocks. He stared at them intently, became au fait with their weight, their size, their shape – he knew them, almost as if he had e.s.p. with them. He explains his art by saying that’s it all about focus and “finding the balance between your own force of will and that of the stone.” His mind against the stone’s. The “will of the stone”? I thought that was the stuff of fantasy and science fiction but on the other hand inanimate objects sometimes do seem to have a will of their own. But this is extraordinary.
Nick held those rocks in place gently but firmly, a different stance, legs akimbo, body balanced for each piece and then eased his hands off when he felt they were “ready”. Ever played “house of cards”? You’ll know the feeling. Another point was that, from those dozens of rocks, he gave the choice of many of them to members of the encircling audience, silently indicating that they choose what he should use and pre-performance advertising invited them to bring their own rock if they liked. He never gave up by discarding any rock given to him. As the task took longer and longer one’s thoughts were along the lines of “Give up. Give up. That’s impossible!” When one structure fell to the metal floor with a clatter, it was a shocking rent in the cloak of silence but Nick appeared unperturbed and just picked it all up and started again.
Some people walked about on the carpeted floor, some without shoes, and looked at what was happening from different angles, careful to create no vibrations, but nothing disturbed the performer’s concentration. The silence was remarkable, except for one poor woman caught with a fit of coughing and gulping water to subdue it, another stifled a guilty sneeze and a man dropped his magazine, all eyes on them briefly. Audience reaction to this show was part of the performance. We’re an interesting lot in ourselves. We’re ready to give all kinds of innovation a go especially during the likes of this Adelaide Fringe and Festival. This was an unusual and courageous performance but at times it was like watching grass grow.
A question asked afterwards was, “Is this theatre?” The Oxford Dictionary describes theatre-in-the-round as “dramatic performance on stage surrounded by spectators”. It was that alright, although the question itself deserves discussion. It is not listed by Adelaide Festival as theatre but as Performance Art. Whatever it is, may we continue to include oddities like this in our theatrical ambit.
2018 Adelaide Festival
Venue: Grainger Studio, Botanic Gardens and Kangaroo Island, SA
Dates: 15 – 22 March 2018
Bookings: 131246 | adelaidefestival.com.au