San Francisco

Jill Scott

80 Langton St.

If there’s another artist with whom performer Jill Scott has an affinity, it’s writer Jorge Luis Borges. Both create poetic, archetypal dream pieces. Both utilize timeless and metaphorical images of nature and primordial existence, in the process enveloping the world in myth. And both are rooted in the geographic peripheries of the Western cultural tradition.

Born in Australia, Scott left there in 1972. For ten peripatetic years, she has studied and produced art, making videotapes and performances, traveling and exhibiting widely. As I write this she is performing in Europe, en route to an indefinite stay in Australia. Before leaving San Francisco—her longtime American home—she performed Sand the Stimulant. It constituted a poignant farewell, both summarizing Scott’s artistic concerns of the last few years and pointedly referring to her imminent homeward journey.

A non-narrative series of actions, Sand the Stimulant unfolds, rather than progresses in linear fashion. Each action employs a smorgasbord of aural and visual elements, en masse comprising a sprawling, sculptural installation. Instead of speaking Scott manipulates objects and makes sounds—in short, activates the installation.

She dishes up chameleons, crickets, and birds—seen and heard live, audio-taped, videotaped, and amplified. She also brings us the sounds of curious machines with curiouser names (like the “Revolving Desert Simulator”), large percussive instruments fashioned from pipes and tubes, and a didgeridoo (an Australian aboriginal instrument created from a eucalyptus branch, and requiring circular breathing). Prepared visuals include videotapes of animals projected on twin monitors, rear-projected slides, and atmospheric lighting. On a small, sand-strewn performing area this collection of objects and images resembles a garage sale where the handmade and the high tech amiably coexist.

Sand the Stimulant functions simultaneously as environmental installation, coded autobiography, sound piece (Scott cites Terry Fox as an important influence), and allusive ecological statement. Images of potential disaster, such as slides of power stations, are visible briefly, but they quantitatively pale in relation to images bearing circular and spiraling forms, suggestive here of natural cycles. Perhaps the most potent moment of the performance comes when Scott holds shoulder-high two battery-operated revolving discs on which sand drops from spigots mounted above. As the sand overflows the discs and piles up at Scott’s feet, her identification with the landscape is concretized.

Literary description hardly does justice to this hypnotically fragmented piece; Sand the Stimulant lingers in the mind with the dissociated power and persistence of a dream. Or, as Borges noted in the appropriately named Book of Sand (which Scott quoted in her book, Characters of Motion): “If space is infinite we may be at any point in space. If time is infinite we may be at any point in time.”

Robert Atkins