Team Trampoline/Lifting my Weight – February 2016

Artists: Meg Wilson, Ashton Malcolm, Josie Were/Jodie Whalen

Author - Tegan Hale

Performance and video artist Jodie Whalen rises before dawn and walks the streets of suburbia as day breaks.  Lifting my Weight is a video documentation of the artists’ point of view during one such walk. The powerlines, trees, street signs and telegraph poles appear and then recede as Whalen climbs hill after hill, eyes fixed forward. This everyday ritual – the morning walk – tests Whalen’s endurance, and in doing so provides an escape from her anxious mind. She is focused on her immediate goal, the top of the next hill, the end of the road, and it is through physical effort the artist is able to find a mental lightness that otherwise eludes her.

Located in the Back Gallery, Whalen’s work has created a meditative, peaceful space. The twinkling noise of the soundtrack to Lifting my Weight, the flickering of the sunrise through the leaves, and the constant movement of the image affected by Whalen’s gait, all contribute to the atmosphere. The video is divided into nine sections, each part parenthesized by several seconds of blank blindingly white screen. This separation provides a buffer of silence, prompting the drifting mind of the viewer to refocus and re-join the journey of the performance. Leaving the intimate atmosphere of the Back Gallery, I feel affected in a bodily way, possessed of the lingering sensation that I have taken a brief journey, and I am now returning to the world.

In the Front Gallery I step into a noisy crowd. It is opening night and there is anticipation in the air as we wait for the ‘main event’ – a performance by Team Trampoline. Trampolinist and artist, Meg Wilson sports an unmissable orange velour leotard and is accompanied by her coach Aston Malcolm and spotter Josephine Were.  Malcolm, megaphone in hand, doubles as the cheer squad, leading the audience as we follow in Wilson’s triumphs and challenges. Were performs the task of safety officer, recruiting audience members to help her cover the springs of the trampoline with delightfully retro, floral couch cushions.

The scenario plays out with mock seriousness. Wilson giggles in good humour as she is put through her paces; she executes moves to the best of her ability, the level of difficulty evident only in the occasional glimpse of true concentration on her face the moment before she begins. The absurdity of the scenario (an amateur trampolinist jumps on her home made trampoline in an impossibly small gallery space) only increases the appeal of the performance. There is a sense of comradery as we cheer Wilson on, wishing her to successfully complete each task and achieve the approval of her coach. On several occasions she is asked to perform a manoeuvre over if it was deemed unsatisfactory, but coach Malcolm is quick to praise once Wilson executes each action correctly. The challenge presented by the low ceiling is evident on the night and when I later visit the exhibition and am alone in the gallery, I can scarcely believe Wilson was able to jump at all without being paralysed by the fear of a head injury.

The performance is a pastiche of childhood games and the world of professional athletics. The space between the two is filled with repetition, practice, commitment and the inevitable blend of successes and embarrassments. The threat of failure is a constant presence.

The two performances, Lifting my Weight and Team Trampoline are an interesting pairing. Thematically aligned but experientially different, one performance is captured on film and one is live. One encourages the audience to take a moment and find their zen, the other is loud, interactive and funny, yet both artists play with comfort zones and the idea that pushing passed these invisible boundaries is necessary for advancement and excellence. Both also examine the idea of ‘flow’ and the artists seek that elusive moment that they slip into ‘the zone’ - that moment of peak performance when the all concept of time effectively disappears and an individual is at one with their task.