Testing Grounds

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Testing Grounds

Testing Grounds


Kat Henry
10.10.17 - 20.10.17
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Is it possible to experience a world without time? What would happen to the human condition in a space where time does not exist?

These were the key questions theatre maker and performance artist Kat Henry explored in TimePod. For ten days – from 7pm on Tuesday October 10 to 7pm on Friday October 20 2017 – Kat inhabited a place without clock time; a purpose-built sculpture in the middle of the Testing Grounds site insulated from natural light and sound, and with no watches, screens, or other ways of marking time.

A durational performance that tested the endurance of the performer, TimePod was ambitious in every sense – logistically, conceptually, and personally.

TimePod graphic design

TimePod planning

TimePod developed as the performance component of Kat’s PhD research into durational art and endurance performance. The idea for TimePod had been simmering in the back of Kat’s mind for years, and discussions about a week-long stay in isolation within a sculptural structure built at Testing Grounds began in mid 2016, after Kat had been commissioned to perform at the reopening celebration after the completion of the infrastructure upgrade of the site in November 2016. Kat had been in discussions with several other potential locations, but the space at Testing grounds seemed to suit the spirit and the aesthetic of the project perfectly.

Kat got a sense of the site and the rhythms of time at Testing Grounds through a three week Buying Time residency in the Clear Box in January 2017, which included a performance where she didn’t talk, eat, or sleep for 24 hours.

The TimePod project evolved, as these things do, through versions where the time inside was live-streamed to the outside world, or where the artist would be visible to the audience on site.

Ultimately, the creative decision was made to deny the audience direct access to Kat’s time inside the Pod. The Pod itself became a mirror and a provocation – a tabula rasa onto which individual audience members’ anxieties about containment, fantasies of isolation, and imagining of a space without time were projected.

The evolution of TimePod at Testing Grounds, in one easy diagram

Entering and Exiting Ceremonies

The opening ceremony was staged in every sense; a one hour spectacle of a cast of performers in choreographed spinning, an oration from artist/academic Stuart Grant, and Kat’s slow walk up to and slide into the Pod. At the other end, the exiting ceremony was much more organic, with Kat emerging slowly, a little disoriented, and taking a quick bow before slipping away to recover and recalibrate.

Both ceremonies drew a crowd of around 50 people – family and friends, but also strangers curious about the project.

Entering Ceremony run sheet

Exiting Ceremony run sheet

Talking About TimePod discussion panel

On the middle Saturday of the ten days, Testing Grounds hosted a panel discussion on performance, art, endurance, Kat Henry’s TimePod project, and the possibility of experiencing (no) time. The panel featured: Stuart Grant (Kat’s PhD supervisor), James Carey (durational artist), Natasha Phillips (TimePod pro- ducer), Chris Cheers (Kat’s psychologist), and was moderated by Grady Hancock (lecturer in screen and design).

Topics discussed included what kind of a performance is a performance that happens out of view, known but not seen, without markers of things having happened? How is time itself performed? And what does time do to a person when they can’t divide it or claim it or watch it pass? The panel also considered the concept of ‘good faith’ in a project such as this – the requirement of trust from the audience that what is claimed is really happening (since we cannot see her, how do we know she’s in there…?), and how to build that trust. The notion of the project as feminist was discussed, in the sense of this performance challenging notions of productivity and how time is spent productively – concepts that are intimately tied to notions of work, and masculine associations with the world of work. They asked what does endurance mean in this context – what is it to endure, and what are the politics of the performer putting their physical being on the line for their work? Precendents from the history of performance art were raised and considered in light of Kat’s project. The importance of documentation for this kind of project – one where most of the ‘action’ happens literally behind a closed door – was raised.

Testing Grounds podcast: Talking About TimePod

Talking About TimePod participant bios

Stuart Grant is Senior Lecturer in Performance Studies at Monash University. He has published extensively on performance phenomenology, Heidegger and performance, site-speci c performance, comedy, and other philosophical issues in performance. He is director of the performance group the Envi- ronmental Performance Authority, and leader of the punk band, Primitive Calculators.

James Carey is an artist and researcher with an inherent curiosity to notions of process, time and duration. Having practiced, exhibited, and published throughout the world, James’ practice is one of mark making, marking time, making time, and time making; foregrounding duration and marking an occurrence. His technique is one of working responsively, allowing particular temporal conditions to surface within speci c sites and situations. Marks made – whether they be on canvas, a house, a building, or within a gallery – materialise immateriality and allow the residue of particular processes to be assembled as collections of materialised and spatialised time.

Chris Cheers is a practicing psychologist and has taught for the last six years at ACU in counselling skills, behavioural neuroscience, youth mental health, research design and statistics. An endorsed Educational and Developmen- tal Psychologist, Chris also has a background working in Arts and brings an understanding of this industry to clients who work in performance, acting and other arts industries (including his professional relationship with Kat).

Natasha Phillips is a creative producer with extensive credits working inde- pendently and with companies in Australia and the UK. Growing up in both Hong Kong and Australia, and living and working in London for ve years, Na- tasha considers herself to be a third culture kid, and brings this perspective to her creative practice. Currently the Associate Producer at Arts House and a participant on the Australia Council Future Leaders program, Natasha works across contemporary and experimental theatre and dance with a strong engagement with the Chinese speaking region.

Grady Hancock is a Lecturer in Screen and Design at Deakin University with particular research interests in affect theory, phenomenology in cinema, social realism, representing the feminine, celebrity, and science ction.

The Shrine

In response to a call out for other artists to creatively respond to the project, Annie Last – an actor, artist, and close friend of Kat’s – used the Testing Grounds kit-of-parts to construct a shrine to Kat for the duration of her time inside. Based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the five-tiered shrine held items of material and emotional comfort that Annie wished she was able to offer Kat during the project. It was capped by a monitor displaying a countdown of the time remaining – from 240 hours all the way down to zero.

The third level of the Shrine included a jar for cash donations to the artist, which Kat used to buy fish and chips on the night she exited the Pod.

Artist response call out

Project publicity

The project gained a lot of word-of-mouth momentum, but was supported by media coverage and publicity from both Kat’s team and Testing Grounds. Media coverage for TimePod included:

  • Half-page feature in issue 68 of the newspaper Southbank Local News;
  • Kat interviewed about the project on RRR’s Smart Arts program on October 5th,
  • Testing Grounds Program Director Arie promoting the project on RRR’s Parallel Lines program on October 4th; and
  • Promotion through Testing Grounds newsletters, Instagram feed, and direct mail outs promoting the project overall and the discussion panel to precinct partners, academics, and arts industry contacts.

Kat interviewed by Adam Branson on RRR’s Smart Arts program

Southbank Local News Issue 68

Testing Grounds promotional video for TimePod

Words and images by Trent Griffiths unless otherwise credited