Melbourne’s Arts Centre is a generally cheery place, and the multi-coloured spire on top tends to distract from the fact that the whole place is largely subterranean. Just how subterranean, the public never gets to see. Until Gabriella and Silvana Mangano went deep into the bowels and filmed a multi-screen video installation, that is.
Hidden Spaces, Ready Stages is the result of a two-month residency in which the artists ‘undertook a series of physical interventions within a labyrinth of machine rooms and tunnels’. Audiences don’t enter these underground spaces, which may be just as well, judging by the claustrophobic and oppressive images that emerge from this work. Instead, we enter an imposing concrete room just off the side of Hamer Hall, where filmed loops are projected onto the walls, accompanied by an appropriately sinister soundscape.
The spaces the artists have found and shot, under the cinematography of Tim Metherall, are powerful and affecting. My companions and I were reminded of such disparate connections as the Berlin Holocaust Museum and the Sci-Fi films of Ridley Scott. These images alone would have had a strong impact. But then the artists have included themselves, standing or leaning in the inhuman crevices, contrasting their utterly organic bodies with these inorganic, utilitarian spaces. The result is strangely alienating and comforting at once.
Occurring as this work does in the Arts Centre, home to many of our major stages, the invitation to the audience seems to be a meditation on the nature of performance spaces. Does somewhere become a stage as soon as someone starts performing in it? If there is no one there to see it, can a performance be said to have taken place?
Gabriella and Silvana Mangano have given us much to contemplate, and it’s kind of thrilling to get access to a part of the Arts Centre we never get to see. I’d have liked it to be constructed in more of a Labyrinthine configuration, with various rooms of different sizes, offering us a more visceral connection to the ideas. But it’s worth checking out, if only to see how quickly artists can lower you into the depths.