Submitted Review

‘DWTD is too cool to love, but it works the rooms in calculated, contemporary style.’

‘Dancing with the Dead’

  • The Lock-Up • New South Wales

  • 19 June—08 August 2020

  • Una Rey • Published 23 June 2020

The Lock-Up (TLU) has built a reputation as Newcastle’s premier contemporary art space with a critical agenda of socially engaged, interdisciplinary practice, culturally diverse community engagements and a (once global) artists-in-residence program. Dancing with the Dead is type-cast TLU, in partnership with Antidote Projects, Sydney and curator Grace Partridge.

TLU is a tough space and the strongest projects work with/against the weight of its colonial, penal history. Post-lockdown, mid-winter, TLU never felt colder. A police lock-up from 1861-1982, the heritage-listed site comprises seven cells, high walled exercise yard, central white-cube and two converted colonial offices. TLU throws a great dance party for the living, its structures purpose built to keep ‘the loud’ inside. But crowd-free, it’s a dark place which requires robust work.

Dancing with the Dead’s muse is Famadihana, the Madagascan ritual of exhuming the bones of the deceased. While not all cultures go digging, honouring the ancestors is practiced worldwide, from the Mexican Day of the Dead to the Christian calendar’s All Souls Day. As we become the COVID pandemic, we stand reminded that death is the most inclusive show of all.

Premise disclosed, Dancing with the Dead’s ten artists each use death as a loose departure point – the flesh is in the metaphors. Fiona Foley’s black hoods eye-lined in pearl-shell buttons (19th century slave labour) punctuate a wall to chilling effect, executioner/torturer reference stark in black and white. With I can’t breathe on so many lips, we watch ‘the angry’ in Jemima Wyman’s kaleidoscope-mandala and choke on capsicum spray, and in Stanislava Pinchuk’s Red Carpet, ‘the beauty’ conceals the violent invasion of Ukraine.

Art works hardest in the sgraffito cells, the natural home of screen-based works. Above the flickering vignettes of Sarker Protick’s Rasmi (ray of light), a chink of daylight reminds me of stars. Darker still, Pieter Hugo’s haunting photographic portraits of Rwandan and South African children make me long for the sun. Dancing with the Dead is too cool to love, but it works the rooms in calculated, contemporary style.

Una Rey

Dancing with the Dead features artists: Khadim Ali @khadim96 Soojin Chang @soojin_chang Dr Fiona Foley @fiona_foleyartist Dr Mojgan Habibi @mojgan.habibi Pieter Hugo @pieter.hugo.official Lindy Lee @lindyleestudio Pierre Mukeba @pierre_mukeba Sarker Protick @sarkerprotick Stanslava Pinchuk @stanslava_pinchuk and Jemima Wyman @jemimawyman curated by Grace Partridge @gracie_zp from @weareantidote