ArtsLab: Unreliable Witness review

Photography by Joshua Morris, design overlay by David Molloy.

by Eliza Scott

So here we are: it’s 2021, I’ve come out of theatre reviewing retirement and what a time it is for the Sydney theatre scene.

The work I’m seeing at the moment is the most relevant and exciting work I’ve seen in a long time, and Shopfront’s ArtsLab is just that. We’re going to put a spotlight on Eliza Scott’s pollon; it was just a wave of feelings and shivers and realisations.

pollon is an interdisciplinary work performed solo by Eliza, featuring monologue, soundscape, movement, live audio mixing – and it doesn’t even end there. The work explores what happens with memory and who upholds memories when someone or something disappears. It was a powerhouse of quite literally creating art before the audience’s eyes. Creating and building music/soundscapes over and under beautiful storytelling, movement and imagery, it just made me feel so many things. For the entire 50 minutes, I was completely engaged, as if Eliza was discovering the story as they built it in front of us, almost making it an immersive experience. It was honestly so simple, which goes to show that theatre doesn’t need a million-dollar production budget to create brilliant work.

Eliza was on the money performance-wise; each of the monologues sat perfectly, not so overdone that it felt like a performance, but still able to carry the audience on this journey. And combined with every other element, the movement, the sound, the lighting and the only word that comes to mind is sublime. It was just sublime. This is the kind of work that people should be seeing, whether you’re “artsy” or not we all want to feel something, and that’s what this show does.

Shopfront’s ArtsLab: Unreliable Witness, featuring pollon by Eliza Scott and 4 other works by emerging artists is playing at the 107 space in Redfern until February 21st.

Adam, 20 (He/Him)

The Infinity Mirror
by Lily Hayman and Thomas Doyle

From the female gaze, Lily Hayman’s new work is a nuanced take on womanhood and how technology has warped our understanding of our sense of self, identity and agency.

The Infinity Mirror is created through Shopfront Arts Co-Op’s ArtsLab, an emerging artist initiative that pairs artists with established creatives and allows them to explore their own creative pursuits and build industry connections. In other words, a great opportunity for artists.

The work Hayman has developed delves into the world of revenge porn in a new way. In a world where we can easily digitally manipulate others’ faces onto different bodies, Hayman undergoes a terrible experience – we suffer this experience just as greatly.

The very nature of a one-woman show is a terrifying feat for anyone to achieve, the act of standing on stage alone can be mortifying. Hayman embraces the isolating nature of this format, allowing us to feel as alone as she does on stage with this incredible story.

The direction and mentorship from Kate Gaul is a match made in heaven. The pairing’s experimentation with technology and live-action is divine and complements the blurred lines between feminine identity, consent and the limitless nature of internet boundaries.

Go see new work, by new artists. You won’t regret it.

Laneikka, 19 (She/Her)

by Jason Liu

RETITLED By Jason Liu was a piece about how internet culture and memes are seen as less important than the traditional media, even though it forms a huge part of today’s culture.

RETITLED is made up of artworks and pieces of information across the walls that make you think about what we value in today’s art and media. It makes you think about how simple techniques in art can be used to display something with a much deeper meaning. It also shows that people on average spend only 30 seconds looking at a piece of art online but will spend more time looking at artwork on a wall because of the painterly aesthetic, and sometimes the big golden frame.

At the end of this piece there is a QR code that takes you to a YouTube video of Rick Astley’s “Never Gonna Give You Up”. This (if you know what it means) among with many other things, was what made this piece funny.  At the exhibition I saw two elderly ladies open up the link and watch the entire Rick Astley song while having no idea what was happening. This shows that this piece is probably directed more towards Millennials and Gen Z. Overall this piece has a great meaning behind it and has well-executed pieces of art. I highly recommend going to see not only RETITLED but all of the other Shopfront pieces in this exhibit when you can.

Jasper, 14 (He/Him)

no place like tomorrow
by Eric Jiang

Eric Jiang’s no place like tomorrow is an abstract video installation exploring the perception of time through a queer-platonic relationship. Both Rachel Seeto and Robbie Wardhaugh’s performances were outstanding in their gentle intimacy and connection. The free-flowing movement choreography within the video footage hauntingly illustrated the disconcerting experience of time. These scenes sparked a strong sense of confusion and disillusion as I started to question how time manipulates our relationships with others.

It was surprisingly disorientating to enter the installation with the video sound blaring as you step over the layers of AstroTurf carpeting the ground. Jiang constructs an intriguing space that reflects the dream-like poetry woven into the dialogue of his short film. The conversation between Seeto and Wardhaugh was fragmented and incoherent, depicting
how a strong connection can withstand miscommunication and misunderstandings.

Whilst I may not have grasped the complexity of what Jiang was trying to communicate through this piece, it did provoke questions about time and connection that I had never considered before.

what is suadade is yuánfèn is longing
by Linda Chen

Linda Chen’s one-woman art project is a fascinating exploration of family, Chinese culture, and identity. Using digital video installation with sound and a collection of found objects, Chen immerses the audience in her complex relationship with grief and memory after the loss of her grandparents in Shanghai. Lyrical narration of her brief, but close relationship
with her Shanghainese grandparents was heartbreaking to hear. In the face of this grief and loss, Chen ponders the fictionalised nature of memory, and the way we reconstruct events in our minds each time we revisit a memory.

As a Chinese-Australian woman, I resonated deeply with Chen’s poetic recount of the short time she spent in Shanghai, and the familiar feelings of displacement coming from a member of westernised Chinese diaspora. She likens the experience to being a visitor in a museum which is reflected in the myriad of old photos of a family trip to Shanghai scattered throughout the video installation. There is a distinct sense of confusion about belonging and ‘home’ that many children of immigrants would understand. It was as if Chen had absorbed my own thoughts into her work. what is suadade is yuánfèn is longing is a piercingly intimate and lovingly crafted artwork.

Janine Lau, 19 (She/Her)

ArtsLab: Unreliable Witness is at 107 Redfern until February 21. Book your tickets here.