Crawling Through Mud, Catapult Dance, Newcastle Art Gallery, March 2
A buzz of excitement reverberated throughout the Newcastle Art Gallery as gallery-goers eagerly awaited the debut of an exciting collaboration; a commemoration of the return of the esteemed Sodeisha ceramics exhibition.
Thanks to the support of the Sir William Dobell Arts Foundation, the gallery was able to commission Newcastle’s Catapult Dance team to create a homage to the ceramic art movement. Catapult director and choreographer Cadi McCarthy contacted prolific Australian contemporary dancer Kristina Chan to fulfil the performance role of this meeting of artistic minds and institutions.
On first sight of Chan in her performance position, there was a sudden silence among the hum of conversation.
There, built into the small garden oasis, was a large, almost sand-pit looking square holding what seemed to be tepid clay about a foot deep. Inside, Chan stood, seemingly frozen, but emanating the palpable electricity and energy of an artist who clearly knows how to captivate an audience.
As the spectators shuffled to be seated, I could detect the very slightest ripple of movement in Chan's right arm. It travelled to her shoulder, then her neck, her head, and suddenly, in sublime symbiosis with music, Chan came alive and began to move.
It was as though she was an ethereal statue, moulded by the likes of Giacometti or Rodin, waking up after a life of sleep, to create a new cultural relevance for the work of the Sodeisha collective.
As she moved in the mud, the English translation of the Japanese word “Sodeisha” as “crawling through mud”, became real. I felt that as choreographer Chan had developed this physical translation further: not only was Chan present in the mud, the mud was present in her.
Some could take this to be a metaphor, a reflection of the weight of many societal issues pressing on the minds of young people in the world day. The heaviness and restrictive nature of the mud on Chan’s movement seemed to create the presence of hopelessness and powerlessness that many of our generation are experiencing today in the face of some of these issues.
Rather than just crawling through the mud, the mud seemed to be crawling through her, infecting her and controlling her, weakening her, pushing and pulling, and drawing her into its depths like quicksand. It was like watching a physical expression of an inner battle between the fight for and against change.
Through the development of the piece, Chan displayed the will to fight against the forces that were exhibiting their control on her: punching the mud, and resisting that which was trying to consume her. But often, the relentless nature of the mud was overpowering, and as the piece continued we witnessed this anger and fight slowly be drained.
The work finished with a calm, almost meditative energy and Chan’s movements gained a much slower movement quality, reminiscent of strong but supple yogic poses.
I felt that this peaceful progression could be translated into a lesson of how to better deal with the metaphorical 'mud’ seeping into our contemporary society. Chan demonstrated to her audience through these soft, yet controlled movements, that it can be more effective, or less damaging, to find a sense of peace, and cultivate a gentler approach to fighting for change.
Her physical expression of peace in the face of injustice seemed to be a visual representation of how fighting and wrestling with the issues that affect us can only do so much. Aggressive reactions can often leave us vulnerable and open to further manipulation. We must all learn to find a calm presence among the chaos if we are to survive, and thrive.
The evening was an incredibly moving and thought-provoking contribution to the Sodeisha collection. It is worth acknowledging the new layer that McCarthy and Chan have added to the historical dialogue and influence of the Sodeisha art movement through their creation: an exhibition that already held a multi-faceted relevance to the history of art and politics in Newcastle has been pushed to take on an even more current stance.
The work is strong and emotive enough to be a stand-alone piece. The gallery deserves commendation for the innovation and potential influence of their artistic collaboration.