Lillian Steiner’s MEMOIR FOR RIVERS AND THE DICTATOR is a layered discussion of the way histories and power structures are remembered and conveyed. Through suggestive imagery and movement, it is in conversation with its audience, encouraging them to bring their own associations, judgements and memories into the space. It journeys us through a series of images: powerful, embodied and elusive. Through evocation of scale, it speaks to the layering of narratives onto a historical event. This sense of scale is activated across the different domains of the performance with the textural activation of the entire space retreating into soft spotlight moments, with sonic crescendos recoiling into silence, with frenzied motion receding into stillness. The different patterning of these elements speaks to the shifting of perspectives, the complexity of understanding the past through a complex interplay of recorded and embodied knowledge.
The visual landscape of the piece is stunning: bold colours give way to stark minimalism which tumbles into intricate detail. Through the shifting aesthetic lens, the bodies in the space embody shifting perspectives. Physical motifs of colonial grandeur stand in contrast to the fluid sorrow of the body in motion. A poem of remembered pain is read to the spectral growl of the trumpet’s voice. However, even in this, the performance retains a refined tonal grace. Perhaps glimpses of rawness, the intrusion of ugly and painful would add a sense of dynamism to the piece, would allow the audience to connect in a more honest way. But this is not the story told by the work. Instead we witness how precise aesthetic control over narratives both implicates and silences. In this, MEMOIR FOR RIVERS AND THE DICTATOR is a nuanced and multifaceted dialog about the way that personal and collective trauma and narratives intertwine.
i have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night is a hypnotic ritual, a visual assault which subsumes the audience. The piece is superficially structurally simple, with a physical performer moving back and forth across the space, but the collision of sound and light layered upon the body takes us on a complex and nuanced journey. The work is obsessive and relentless, but the artists have a masterful control over shape and tone: just when you are sure you cannot bare it anymore, it shifts.
The piece engages both with a glitchy technological nostalgia and the consuming awe of current technology that saturates the present. As the performer journeys through the space, different concepts of viewership and subjectivity emerge: we are being watched by an eye of which she is the pupil, we are watching her as object, we are projecting ourselves onto her, she is watching, with us, an impending future comprised of enthralling flashing lights. The subtle power of these shifts is infused with the warping of reality encouraged by the lighting. In flashes, it is revealed to us the way the performer is dressed and is facing, but in the complex shifting onslaught we are made to doubt our own perception.
Watching i have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night I wanted to look away but couldn’t. And as the piece evolved, I was more and more addicted to and consumed by the arousing multisensory cacophony.
I would caution though that while there was a warning of ‘flashing lights’ in the foyer and ‘strobe lighting’ and ‘loud music’ on the website, this is not enough to warn potential audience members. The piece doesn’t just include these elements, it is these elements, and it is important for access reasons to give more of a sense of the aural and visual onslaught, and the potential overstimulation.