Strange Embrace

Everyone has had that moment, the moment of awkward silence, random exchanges or uncanny recognition. Opening this Friday 29 May at the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre, Strange Embrace draws on those experiences, pushing and prodding the audience past what is deemed comfortable interaction.

A site-specific exhibition for the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre, the exhibition has been specially curated and organised by Rilka Oakley as part of a 7-day live-in residency at the Bilpin International Ground for Creative Initiatives. Exploring the potential of Strange Embrace, the works in the exhibition have evolved within the practice of performance art.

Each work evokes the artist’s exploration of ‘strange embraces’, a contradictory theme that challenges the viewer to take part in or ’embrace’ the moments of the ‘strange’, uncomfortable and unfamiliar encounters that we usually avoid.

Throughout the residency the five artists worked within the experimental forms of installation, live art and photography, despite the difference in their practices, the development of the show was cohesive due to the collaborative relationships between the artists.

This type of exhibition is unique, creating an active dialogue between the artists and curator throughout the organic construction of the show. The artists works were directly or indirectly influenced by  the group dynamics of a shared residency.  Performance artist Astra Howard reflected on the process of the residency stating, “we were finding the connections and the why of us all being in the show.” Expanding upon her conceptual practice for this unique site-specific exhibition, Howard stated “I am interested in the stories that reveal themselves in a place, where fiction and realism combine to create new and possibly contested histories.”

For live arts/social sculptor Honi Ryan this site-specific exhibition held great attraction, known for her instructional pieces that invite shared encounters. In discussing the residency Ryan said “It has brought to light the universality of human experience and asked me to further dissolve my boundaries of public and private, which is always a little daunting at first. It’s a vulnerable place – which I think breeds beautiful creative work – but it’s a little bit scary sometimes. In that sense I saw [the residency] as an investigation into the value of pursuing actions that are out of the ordinary.”

Involving a significant proportion of interactive works that requires an active audience, the line between comfort and awkwardness demands to be crossed. It is a highly immersive show that wishes to engage the audience past the traditional role of viewing.

An ongoing, inclusive event during the exhibition is Exquisite Corpse: a collaboration, an old parlour game adapted by the Surrealists in the early 1900’s. After the residency at BigCi the artists were inspired to continue the sense of teamwork and family they had experienced, now inviting gallery visitors to join in on this strange embrace. The collaborative image game involves an individual contributing an image of a 5th of the body: head, torso, groin, legs or feet, without seeing the other images of body parts. The different images will be compiled by gallery staff to create an exquisite corpse that will be on display, changing randomly throughout the exhibition.

Unique to the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre the exhibition has evolved from day 1 of the residency, setting itself up to be a dynamic show with a clear, strong dialogue between the works. Make sure you make it along to the opening this weekend. An all-inclusive show, it calls for active audience members – don’t be left as the odd one out.

Strange Embrace
Opening night 29 May
30 May – 19 July 2015
Blue Mountains Cultural Centre

Courtesy the artists and the Blue Mountains Cultural Centre

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