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PA Reviews: A Dispatch by Martin Patrick

A review of selected works on offer in PA2024.

Each year The Performance Arcade offers a kaleidoscopic spatial collage of performance-related events and event-based arts practices. Now in its 14th annual iteration, its site, coordinated by its founder-director Sam Trubridge along with a highly skilled and attentive team, has been both well travelled, and reconfigured many times, and the echoes of many past performances may be easily recalled if you have previously visited or participated. A kind of mirror image of characteristically large-scale public gallery exhibitions, most often centered around major retrospectives and material installations of many discrete works, the works on view in the Arcade bring a contingency, a fleeting “Did I just see that?” or “What was that meant to be?” lightness at the best of times.

"... a kaleidoscopic spatial collage of performance-related events and event-based arts practices."

The primary method of viewing from the outset has involved altered—sometimes radically so—shipping containers, which also aligns with the immediate surroundings along Te Whanganui-a-Tara / Wellington Harbour. Sometimes the containers are retooled as dark spaces, other times as maximalist or minimalist quasi-theatres or small project exhibitions. But particularly in its more recent programming, the Arcade has featured live projects that dispense with the container format altogether and roam the nearby city environment, activating it through performance.

One such event is Stephen Bain’s (with Jen McArthur) Drifting Room which I participated in on the afternoon of Thursday 22 February. Eight participants in total carried a small architectonic structure, seemingly a type of light, caricatured tiny house. A space reasonably opaque to the outside viewer, fairly transparent from the inside.

Stephen Bain's The Drifting Room. Video credit: Maddie Murphy-Harris.

Bain takes the role of a genial host/leader/MC/comedian observing small details along the roughly 40-minute route (spots can be booked online). We gradually learn to walk in better synch with one another as we proceed rather uneasily. Some members of the public along the way are appreciative, others ignore the “smallest theatre in Wellington” with blasé indifference.

We pause at times, resting our arms from the weight of this curious object that envelops us, and Bain signals us to notice bits of local history, posted notes, the signage that appears to always attempt to control the public sphere. Bain gives us chalk to draw constellations between spots of miscellaneous detritus on the brick sidewalk. And we do a few awkwardly choreographed pivots, dance moves, and sudden shifts around poles, cars, bollards. Marching band music blares from a wireless speaker in our home stretch, and then we emerge, back into the world of individual movements once again.

The Drifting Room, inside view. Image credit: Melody Nixon.

As I stroll away from my temporary home, I encounter members of Pedestrian Guiiidance (Josie Archer, Kosta Bogoievski, and collaborators), an improvisatory dance work in which five protagonists wearing bright red coveralls—as if carrying out some indeterminate, potentially utilitarian project—stretch, perch, stand, and move along a nearby pedestrian bridge. Each has a retractable belt emblazoned with the phrase WORK IN PROGRESS. Their work remains cryptic yet captivating, partaking as it does in a distinct tradition of movement-based improvisation, such as the contact improvisations of the late choreographer Steve Paxton.

Several of the container-based projects appear loosely linked by their shared aspiration to evoke a meditative reverie. One project by New York duo Temporary Distortion is entitled Meditation Crate (Transducer) and the space is a visually minimal, almost stark one, with a floor/platform made of plywood atop low frequency audio emissions. Their aural impact is also physical in terms of vibratory resonance, which can be felt especially well if lying prone on the floor of the space. It is yes, potentially meditative, but its edgy tonality also recalls drones of earlier generations of New York artists such as LaMonte Young’s compositions or Lou Reed’s polarising LP Metal Machine Music LP.

Passersby @meganstrosity & @whale_skeleton enjoying Temporary Distortion. Image credit: Melody Nixon.

In a directly adjacent container, The Perspective Series: 0.2 Immerse by Dannii Kellett and Knot Theatre involves several geometric levels/barriers/ceilings installed within the container from which mist is dispersed to surround the viewer/participants, with the stated intention of “touch[ing] upon the theology of a guiding spirit watching over you, and the new perspective you have on your relationship with someone, once they have passed. [...] reflecting on memory alone in a performance and art context.” This could very well be the case, but I primarily reflected upon the act of shifting my body to crawl along, under, and through the areas built into the space.

This in turn resonated with another nearby container project Sleepover by Emile Commarieu. The viewer is initially met with a remembrance of childhood play and dreamlike environments, here conjured via the use of sleeping bags, tarpaulins, and blankets. As the artist writes: “As a child, my favourite activity to do with my friends was to build forts with whatever we could get our hands on. That was fun, right? Blanket-tied-with-string, pillows, red-tent, big-bag-piece-of-tape, peas-in-a-pod type of fun.”

"The Arcade merits repeated visits and the increased possibility of seeing other works."

However, a more ominous contemporary phenomenon intrudes on these considerations of childlike activities, with texts printed along the interior sides of the container recording chilling statistics and information on the plight of children living in refugee camps and displaced from safe surroundings by war and violent conflicts, whether in Ukraine or Gaza, or so many other sites currently. In this work aspects of the evocative and the didactic occupy an uneasy shifting relationship.

Nearby these live events and container works is a live stage, hosting artists’ panels and musical performances and a bookstore hosting readings. Due to the Arcade’s various timings it becomes impossible to see everything within a compressed period. The Arcade merits repeated visits and the increased possibility of seeing other works.

Among the noteworthy projects not discussed here are: Savāge K’lub’s VĀnishing Room, Amaara Raheem’s Dance as Document, Siān Quennell Torrington’s How is Your Heart?, and Noel Meek and Elliot Vaughan’s Walking Scores (featuring scores by artists John Vea, Louie Zalk-Neale (Ngāi te Rangi), Rob Thorne (Ngāti Tumutumu), and Sonya Lacey).


The Performance Arcade 2024 runs until 10pm, 25 February. View our full programme here.

Dr Martin Patrick (he/him) is an art critic, historian, writer, and regular contributor to a wide variety of international publications.  His book The Performing Observer: Essays on Contemporary Art, Performance, and Photography (2022), features 50 short pieces of art writing. For more info please see:


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