Enter the Whist performance space at Carriageworks and guides invite you to move around and inspect the sculptures placed around the room. You walk around touching black and cream, marble-like material shaped into cubes and strangely curved objects. Some appear partially submerged under the floor.
The show is created by the UK-based experimental dance company AΦE in consultation with a psychoanalyst from the Freud Museum, so perhaps they are supposed to be visual representations of the unconscious, the ego, and superego. Who’s to say? It doesn’t particularly matter, because they really only take on a meaning when the next part of the show begins.
The guides return and fit you with goggles and headphones and you move around again looking for the real-life counterparts to the objects that pop up on your screen. Find a match and a 360-degree film starts, each one based on stories from Freud’s real life case studies. As you look around the scenes, the eye set monitors your eye movements.
I was reminded of the eye tracking technology used by online sites, as well as the scenario imagined in Veronica Roth’s Divergent novels, where teenagers are put through a virtual reality test that gauges their responses to determine the tribe they will belong to. You’ll be relieved to know the stakes aren’t as high here, but if like me you tend to an anxious disposition you might feel unnerved that the usual voyeurism of theatre is now heading in both directions. As you look around the Whist artists and analysts are, apparently, looking into your mind.
What you don’t look at is apparently as important as what you do look at. In a decayed room, a picture on the wall shows a reclining nude: if I look too long at the triangle of pubic hair will I be diagnosed as a weirdo? If I don’t look, will I come out as a repressed prude? What if I linger too long on that blood? Will they think I’m a serial killer in the making? The immersive scenes are curious and low level disturbing, and they also pass swiftly – I could easily have stayed longer in this strange world. At the end a number pops up on your screen. You return your headphones and goggles to guides, who have now become fortune tellers standing behind a bench laid out with cards. You pick one, write your number on the back so you can later follow the directions to a website to find your reading.
As it turns out I have some issues around … triangles and square frames. I wasn’t too surprised, but I wished the psychoanalysts could have followed me after the show to diagnose further deep disturbances. Visiting the bathroom I promptly lost my card and my cloakroom pass. I briefly panicked until I realised it was just really really dark and I found them again.
Outside, I immersed myself in the Saturday morning markets. I was so busy focussing on the goats milk halloumi stand and the bunches of dahlias for sale, I didn’t see the hole in the ground. I tripped and fell face down, traumatising every member of inner city Sydney’s aging hipster population with a flash of Saturday morning underpants.
At the train station I realised I’d left my travel pass locked in the car, now parked at home. Even without a professional diagnosis I’m clearly currently performing well above average in the human mess competition. But don’t let that deter you: this show is a treat for the voyeur in all of us. And it will happily feed the narcissist that – if we’re being honest – lurks somewhere in most all of us too.