September 23, 2014


By Mitchell Oakley Smith

In what may be the most innovative performance piece of the year, Byron Perry’s Obscura is a multi-sensory experience.

Next month, acclaimed Australian choreographer Byron Perry will present a new, multi-sensory performance in a custom-built venue at Carriageworks, Sydney. Mr Perry is well regarded in the dance and art communities for his experimental, boundary-pushing works, which have seen him awarded numerous Greenroom awards and the inaugural Harold Mitchell Fellowship in 2011. For this new work, Mr Perry accidentally discovered a camera obscura that occurs in the industrial setting of Carriageworks, and will thus recreate the photographic effect using small slithers of natural light, manipulating and engaging with it in unique ways. Here, he speaks to Manuscript about the development of Obscura.

“The whole piece began when I was rehearsing at Carriageworks for another show, and there happened to be a hole in the old doors where a lock had been taken out, so it was about the size of a 20 cent piece, and it happened to, at a certain time of the day, project an obscura of the outside. I was in this dark room rehearsing and turned around thought, wow, that is just glorious. It was amazing. I hadn’t really experienced camera obscura, and it’s not just a stream of light but actually reflects the entire image from outside. It’s impossible not to be shocked, and anyone that I’ve shown, their face drops, even though it’s so simple and we’re around cameras all of the time. The simplicity of it is shocking.

“I started experimenting with different apertures, so tiny slits, long slits, and how that plays with light, and then the idea came to make a work that uses natural light as its sole source. It sounds like a really great idea, but logistically is a complete nightmare. You don’t know what’s going to happen, and the sun moves, the planet moves, it’s something like a millimeter each day, which I noticed when I was measuring it on the floor each day. I’m interested in playing with timescales, and for people to experience it almost like a sundial.


“Then I began to think that it would be nice to take the streams of information around Carriageworks – the sound, the light, and the interaction with the people – and use that as the source material for the work. I’ve been videoing people around Carriageworks and am using a lot of that stuff for my material [to create the work] and the sound artist Luke Miles has miced up areas around Carriageworks and done source recordings, and we’ll have 200-metre cables that come from the venue so that we can mix the sound live for the performance. It will sort of be a wrestling match between myself, the natural light and the sound.

“There are some things that I don’t want to let on, but it will be an experience that you don’t have everyday. It will be visually challenging. I want to augment the way people view the work. I’ve just been working in a theatrical realm, telling stories, and I appreciate that this work is counter-intuitive and challenges people to write their own narratives over it. I champion art that does that, and I think performance art, especially dance, has a real strength in that, of being able to say multiple different things at the same time in a way that text doesn’t. When we get rid of that [text] it allows us to get into the headspace that we have in a dream-state.”

Byron Perry’s Obscura, presented by Carriageworks and Force Majeure, will be performed at Carriageworks, Sydney, 14 – 18 October 2014.

Images: Byron Perry photographed by James Nelson.