WHEN I AM NOT THERE
While the world of dance has its traditions and formal codes, Shelley Lasica has always thought of something different. In her latest work, the Melbourne-based choreographer combines fashion, art, sculpture and sound to redefine movement. Her performance-exhibition – which is supported by the Art Gallery of NSW’s next generation philanthropy group, Atelier – will play out over 14 days and it’s an evolving dream of a production, an evocative dialogue between artists and audience. Here, in conversation with the choreographer and curator, Lasica shares the inspiration behind her art.
WRITTEN BY NATASHA INCHLEY
PHOTOGRAPHED BY JO YELDHAM
MEET THE ART VISIONARY REDEFINING DANCE
Your work pulls audiences in with its great sense of independence, strength and beauty. In your latest piece, WHEN I AM NOT THERE, we see a constantly evolving narrative – can you tell us about its inspiration?
“The title is key – it speaks to memory, loss, change, continuity and mortality. I’ve been working in museums and galleries for a long time, and one of the things I was particularly interested in was the idea of the word ‘figure’. It has a big relationship to choreography in terms of patterning, design and music. It also has meaning in the sense of how you might ‘figure’ something out. When I begin thinking about a new work, it usually relates to an idea that interests or annoys me.”
Your work is not just about movement, you also explore fashion, painting, sculpture, video and sound. How do all these elements come together?
“Over a period of time. I’ve always been particularly interested in collaborating with artists and the communication that comes from those relationships, the different languages and the way people function together, personally, privately and publicly. In WHEN I AM NOT THERE, we are eight collaborators, and then there is also the curator – it’s fascinating when the institution becomes a collaborator because it allows the work to do different things in different ways. I love flexibility in performance, and this work is never a repeat of itself during the 14 days.”
DANCE CLASS: MEET THE ART VISIONARY REDEFINING HER WORLD
Lisa Catt, a curator at the Art Gallery of NSW, worked with Lasica on this latest commission. Lisa, from the curator’s point of view, what intrigues you most about Shelley’s work?
"I’m interested in how Shelley’s work situates dance right at the nexus with visual arts. It has full awareness of the history of dance, but it actively works to place choreography within conversations on artmaking, exhibiting, collecting, interpreting and encountering. When I heard that Shelley was setting out to make a new work that was a performance-exhibition, I was intrigued by what that meant for the Gallery. Through having performers in the space over 14 days, each visitor will encounter something different. I think it’s an extremely important work in terms of making a statement about the independence of dance as an artform.”
FASHION, ART, SOUND: A MODERN APPROACH TO DANCE
Shelley, you had a wonderfully creative childhood, immersed in the dance world of your visionary mother, Margaret Lasica. How did she influence you, and were you ever daunted by her success?
“These things are always complicated. My mother taught dance and movement classes, so I was lucky enough to start when I was young, but not through the classical ballet framework. I had a very unusual formal education, and started making my own work when I was 16 – my mother encouraged me and was an enormous supporter, but in some ways she also discouraged me. It was an extraordinary time and I feel very privileged to have had that upbringing. An important lesson she taught me was the idea of always being curious, to ask questions and not take things at face value, to keep questioning.”
In your mind, how did she manage to continually make statements and push boundaries?
“My mother was a refugee from eastern Europe. She started dancing at a young age and then came to Australia as a teenager with a different kind of dance education. She was an extraordinarily open person who was very interested in making herself available for new projects.”
Your latest work features the costumes you created together, how was that process?
“My mother was a pattern cutter when she was younger, she hated sewing but she knew how to cut three-dimensionally, and understood how a person might move wearing something. She would take me to look at clothes, always turning them inside out to study them, then she would go home and cut straight into the fabric. I watched her do this as a child, it always fascinated me. She would create costumes for her Modern Dance Ensemble and we would make clothes together too, which was always fun.”
MEET THE ART VISIONARY CELEBRATING FASHION, ART, DANCE
How do you use clothing and costume to speak to an idea in your work? Do you consider fashion to be an artform?
“I think fashion is a whole lot of things: it’s a social code, things people wear or need, it’s also how people identify each other. What we wear is a function of various codes, necessity, availability and ingenuity. A lot of the costumes in the performance function in a number of different ways – sometimes they’re worn, sometimes they are objects.”
Lisa, tell us why you feel Shelley’s work is so right for now?
“I think it’s a very relevant artistic conversation for us to be having. Shelley has been practising for over four decades, recognising and supporting her work is overdue. The Gallery is proud to be bringing her work to the institution, particularly as it coincides with the opening of its new building, and certainly in presenting Shelley’s work we wanted to signal that we are serious about our commitment to support the full spectrum of contemporary art across our program. In that sense it feels like the right moment but, more importantly, to align and work with Shelley at this point in her career is a real privilege.”
WHEN I AM NOT THERE 2022 will be presented at the Art Gallery of NSW from May 22 – June 4 in the South Building. It has been co-commissioned by the Art Gallery of New South Wales and Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne, and supported by the Australian Government through the Australian Research Council and the Art Gallery of New South Wales support partner Atelier. It is also supported by the NSW Government through the Culture Up Late Program.