Sydney

Lyndal Jones

Museum of Contemporary Art, Australia

Lyndal Jones’ exhibition “Prediction Pieces, 1981–1991” documented performances and installations produced over the last decade in Australia, Tokyo, Los Angeles, and Edinburgh. Dramatizing a feminist and post-Structural analysis of our troubled society, Jones used methods of prediction—tarot, dice, weather forecasts—in performances involving slide projections, taped sound, television, dancers, and actors. For this survey, the artist assembled videos and ten vitrines containing the props, costumes, scripts, slides, and documentation for each work. Jones wished to avoid the substitution of the “Prediction Pieces” by their video representation; her vitrines enable careful, textual “reading” of the elements in each performance.

More austere and self-reflexive than later works, the early “Prediction Pieces” introduce several motifs: fortune-tellers; video clips of the wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Diana; weather reports; and a series of projected messages. Each performance begins with the phrase “And as the sun sets slowly on the West.” Warnings and jokes are interpolated throughout: “Watch this space”; “Forewarned is forearmed”; “You will see stars”; “The end is very near.” The messages operate on several levels. The sinking sun refers to the West’s decay (several performances ironically image the ascendancy of Japan or China); the image also invokes the storyteller’s suspension of time, as in the start of the cowboy camp-fire joke, “It was a dark and stormy night.”

Prediction Piece 6: Pipe Dreaming, 1988–89, examines images of optimism but is fractured by the sound of gunshots. The first section of Pipe Dreaming is a highly romantic representation of revolution: actors in Peking Opera costume dance while declaiming Situationist speeches. Later sections undercut this mood. The actors quote Chekhov’s mordant play The Seagull, 1898, and a young Australian/Chinese artist reads accounts of immigrant ordeals and authoritarian repression. Pipe Dreaming is fractured by more than gunfire: older actors and younger dancers move separately around the stage; costumes and identities are chronologically mismatched. Crossdressing between categories, generation, sexes, and nationalities suggests identity in a state of flux. Prediction Piece 10: As Time Goes By, 1991, includes images of the night sky, arguments about science and art, physicist Stephen Hawking’s theory of time in reverse, and finally an apple thrown in a wide arc across a darkened stage.

The issues that Jones’ theme of prediction addresses are pretexts, precisely because her real attention is elsewhere. Feldenkrais therapy and post-Modern dance orient the way her performances unfold: through vernacular movements and repetition. Characterized by a choreography of labor, they are like lectures that redirect the audience’s attention. The “Prediction Pieces” dramatize an existing instability within our culture, and are thus explicitly didactic. Jones usually appears as a commentator or storyteller, sometimes disguised in men’s clothing. She has observed that acts of prediction are “processes through which we arrange our future(s).” And while she is described as questioning sexual identity, “Prediction Pieces” has become a meditation on nationality and historic global change.

Charles Green