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Culture news
The Third International Body Navigation Contemporary Arts Festival started Saturday.
07.18.2007 13:23

body_art_festival By Matt Brown

Staff Writer

The Third International Body Navigation Contemporary Arts Festival is underway, continuing its mission to explore the human body and its relationship to the environment around it with a series of events that combine dance, photography and music.

Unlike many apparently international festivals held in St. Petersburg, Body Navigation succeeds in bringing an array of artists from numerous countries to present their works and explore its central concept.

“The festival program presents a showcase of the latest experiments in media and movement… at the crossroads of visual arts, dance and performing arts, from Nordic countries, Europe, Asia and Russia,” the organizers write at “The festival benefits each artist involved, as well as the larger community of St. Petersburg. The dialogues begun during the festival continue, not only here in St. Petersburg, but in each of the countries represented.”

This year those countries include Australia with the presence of installation artist Lara O’Reilly and her “site specific” work “Absence Presence: Kronshtadt.” The film and performance takes place on Tuesday in an abandoned chapel on Kotlin Island in the Gulf of Finland where the fortified town of Kronshtadt is located.

“‘Absence Presence: Kronshtadt’ is a continuation of a series of site-specific performance and film installations that take place on islands,” said O’Reilly in e-mailed remarks this week. “I work within abandoned spaces, built and natural, and usually located on islands, so Kronstadt provided the perfect canvas for me to create ‘Absence Presence.’

“I seek to compose highly experiential and dramatic experiences within the abandoned worlds. Through a spatial, temporal and theatrical exploration of the rupture/suture paradox between marine and terrestrial, past and present, the outside and inside, the remote and the intimate, of seduction and abandonment, experience and the underworld.”

O’Reilly previously staged the performance on Cockatoo Island in Sydney Harbour, Sydney Australia, an island with a similar history to Kotlin Island as a naval base and industrial zone. Now converted into arts venues, the buildings on Cockatoo Island resonate with Australia’s often violent early history in the 19th century. But the history of Kronshtadt offers violence and tragedy on a truly Russian scale: in 1921, disillusioned with Bolshevik tyranny, the crews of two battleships stationed at the garrison staged an uprising and issued demands for free elections. The Red Army was sent in and crushed the rebellion; thousands of people were killed.

O’ Reilly said she was acutely aware of Kronshtadt’s tragic history when she created her work.

“This has been something which I have found most fascinating and in all of my works I am drawn to the embedded memory within the site,” she said. “The filmic sequences of ‘Absence Presence: Kronshtadt’ are primarily performed by the Russian model and dancer Olya, in the Konstantin Fort, the 300 year-old Kronshtadt Cemetery, and the Summer Gardens. These cinematic performances are overlaid with film sequences of ascending movement through the interior space of the chapel, conjuring the bodies of the victims of the revolutions that passed through.”

O’Reilly said the work transforms the chapel, beside the military hospital on Kronshtadt into “a memory world” with rooms occupied by suspended female bodies, veiled and lit in a sensuous light, to conjure emotions of sadness, loss, loneliness and reverie.

The live performance and film elements are combined with a live cello to reflect O’ Reilly’s interest in sound and technology. She notes that the Russian physicist Alexander Popov conducted early radio experiments on islands in the Finnish Gulf at the end of the 19th century.

There are other “site-specific” references in the work. For example, the dissonant montages of film footage O’Reilly has evoke early Russian filmmaker Dziga Vertov’s Kino-Eye cinema experiments. Vertov wrote in 1944 that the Kino-Eye is conceived as “what the eye does not see”, as the “microscope and the telescope of time, as telescopic camera lenses, as the X-ray eye.”

In O’ Reilly’s island experiences, the catalogue for the work explains, the viewer “must cross a psychological threshold to enter the work, because like Eurydice’s mythic journey to the underworld, we must re-play the allegorical journey across the river Styx from the mainland onto the island and into a simulated netherworld.”

Tuesday’s performance, which is supported by Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, is just one event in the packed Body Navigation program. Sweden’s Robert Brecevic and Geska Helena Andersson bring “Men That Fall/ Women That Turn,” a video installation using the latest plasma screen technology to address gender issues installed at the popular new venue The Place on Marshala Govorova Ulitsa from Saturday through Tuesday. The Place was also the venue where Body Navigation hold its official opening event on Saturday.

Earlier Saturday, at 1 p.m. on the Lebazhya Kanavka, a canal running alongside the Summer Garden and into the River Neva, one of Body Navigation’s most intriguing performances was set to take place. “You Cannot Deny It Just Might Happen,” by Norway’s Anne-Britt Rage, Gunnhild Bakke, Anneke von der Fehr and Rolf-Erik Nystrom took the form of the three women artists trying to stand up in a canoe on the canal, to the accompaniment of live music performed on the bank.

“Absence Precense: Kronshtadt” takes place at the Chapel of the Naval Hospital, 2 Manuilskogo Ulitsa, Kronshtadt on Tuesday through 2 p.m. A special bus departs at 10 a.m. from Ploshchad Iskusstv (Arts Square) in central St. Petersburg.

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