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Want to finger a ficus? Sex, life, and sex lives under the spotlight in Sydney

Performance Space’s second annual Liveworks Festival of Experimental Art is now in its second week at Carriageworks, and Ben Neutze went along to review three diverse and fascinating works: Ecosexual Bathhouse, The Talk, and Mermermer.

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Plants: can they consent?

That’s one of the lingering questions from Ecosexual Bathhousethe centrepiece of the second week of Sydney’s Liveworks Festival of Experimental Art at Carriageworks. The immersive experience, from Perth-based company Pony Express, invites you to have intimate, up-close and personal interactions with plant life.

As you enter the “bathhouse”, all the attendees are given a set of instructions and a small, white condom to slide down over their chosen finger.

This is a safe space, after all, to explore and find your way through and explore the connections between the ecosystem and sexuality. And if anything gets too full-on, there’s always a safe word — timber!

You can stimulate pollination from an orchid using your gloved finger, and maybe even cross-pollinate. You can have phone sex with a plant while you give it a little squirt. You can engage in some light massage, stick your fingers deep into a bathtub full of soil, and even browse some erotic plant-based pornography.

If that all sounds a little too full-on, you needn’t be too worried. The artists and performers are wandering about, gently guiding you through the various experiences, so even the eco-curious can play around with ecosexuality.

I worry that I mightn’t have had enough time to become fully immersed at just half an hour — and apparently those who attended the previous night were a lot more playful than my cohort — but Ecosexual Bathhouse didn’t strike me as a hugely impactful or profound experience.

I’m also still not entirely sure what ecosexuality is — how it works, what the purpose of it is in this artistic setting, or how it really informs a relationship with the planet which we live on, love, and exploit.

But the notion of the experiment, and finding this intersection between science, art and nature, is admirable and totally fascinating.

mishthetalk

At the other end of the spectrum is Mish Grigor’s The Talkwhich is similarly fascinated with how we experience ourselves as sexual beings, but carries huge emotional weight.

Grigor recently interviewed all her family members about their sex lives, and has turned those interviews into a piece of theatre. As the show begins, everybody in the audience is given a glass of warm, French champagne. Why? Because that’s what her brother Will once did — went all out and brought a bottle of expensive champagne for the family, but then forgot to refrigerate it.

Grigor then recreates these awkward and very funny conversations, asking people from the audience to play members of her family. They’re reading from a script, so there is an element of control, but the line-readings come to life in the way totally unrehearsed audience members choose to place their emphases in what are very personal and sensitive conversations.

Mish reveals the type of sex she knows her mum to like (only because she used to hear it through the walls in their childhood home), the way seeing her father’s penis shaped her sexual life, and a particularly mortifying sex story.

The work uncovers something surprisingly profound about shame and fear, and a part of our emotional lives we feel unable to share. It’s also constantly asking questions about what should be kept private, and how drawing that line can undermine our closest relationships.

It’s surprisingly gripping, very funny, refreshing and, as I said earlier, quite an emotional experience.

mermermer

Nicola Gunn and Jo Lloyd’s Mermermer is difficult to define or explain, but it’s full of an uncertain and indescribable wit, driven by the way the human mind leads from one subject to another.

The two performers enter onto a large, purple stage, performing seemingly random, jerking, interlocking movements as they murmur back and forth a kind of spontaneous, mundane, stream-of-consciousness conversation, covering everything from Tilda Swinton to the minutiae of everyday interactions.

Both wear brightly coloured bodysuits, traversing a large stage to a repeating and constantly evolving soundtrack by Duane Morrison. Sometimes the movement and conversation is fast, fascinating and highly energetic, while at other times it relaxes and slows right down.

Their movement matches the conversation and, while there are moments where they come close to imitating some kind of more dancerly movement, the whole thing is defined by a glorious lack of virtuosity, and a sense of ordinariness.

Although its informed by the more absurd, existential notes of the piece, I’m not sure the final section — in which Gunn and Lloyd repeat a simple, rhythmic, shuffling movement over and over again, crossing back and forth over the space in a trance-like state — is quite the right note to end on, but it’s all very engaging and provoking up until that point.

Ecosexual Bathhouse, The Talk, and Mermermer are at Carriageworks until Saturday, November 5

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