Ahead of an intriguing weekend of performances, MELODY NIXON caught up with Fleur Elise Noble and Erica Field of 2-Dimensional Life of Her, a combination of film, animation, and marionettes.


FLEUR ELISE NOBLE is an Aussie lass with an idiosyncratic way of describing things. She wants her artwork to be “completely transitory” and to move “outside of the rectangle.” She likes scribble drawings best, and has a story about a 7-year-old girl who had a profound effect on her way of thinking. Fleur Elise seems peculiarly gifted. I walked away from our post-work, 5pm interview in a CBD pub with a lasting impression of her genuine and down-to-earth talent.

She was joined at our interview by Erica Field, the “live body” performer of Fleur’s current theatre-visual-arts-animation show 2-Dimensional Life of Her. The show opens this weekend, in a warehouse space off Egmont Street in Te Aro, Wellington. I’m told the show combines puppetry (with hand-made mini marionettes), projection (using human bodies as the projection screens and subjects), animation, film, drawing and live performance to give the audience the experience of a “three-dimensional real-time artwork.” Fleur and Erica filled me in on 2-D Life over some Weiss bier and chips.

What do audiences in Wellington stand to gain from 2-Dimensional Life of Her?

Fleur: An experience that they’ve absolutely never had before! [Laughs] Generally that has been the overwhelming response from this show – people sort of going: What?! ‘Cause it doesn’t really fit in any box at all. It is a theatre production, but…

Erica: It’s an experience of possibilities as well. When you did the show in Brisbane Fleur I was speaking to someone who came to see it and they said ‘I never realised how many things are possible, oh my god. I have so much that I can do now.’

Fleur: I think as well it’s the doing so much with so little. Like, the show’s made out of paper and it’s made out of hours, and hours, and hours [laughs] of work, and animation and puppets but pretty much everything has come from primary materials. Everything has been made.

So your work revolves around mixing a whole lot of different mediums. Why focus on so many mediums?

Fleur: It’s actually more that the medium thing happens secondary to wanting to explore processes and looking at what is being communicated through the artwork. Allowing, you know, art or artwork, to be something which is completely transitory. And I’ve found that theatre was the best place to do that in. It turned out that theatre was an excellent place for me because in it I could combine every interest I had.

Why do want your artwork to be completely transitory?

In a sense it was a bit of a reaction to the art world, and things being valued so much by their monetary value. And the desire to ‘own’ something – it’s almost like people would judge an artwork by their ability to own it. I love the idea of artwork being more of an experience. Making it transitory means there’s no other option than to own it like that.

Is there a political message that you want to come through in your work? I.e. one of wanting to confront consumerism etc?

Ah, there’s definitely a frustration which inspired it, to begin with. But it’s definitely not out to say ‘This is wrong,’ or ‘I’m trying to give this message.’ It’s more about trying to convey how exciting that space is where things are being made, and giving the audience the experience of the whole process of making things, by putting them in a space that doesn’t stay still. Rather than giving them something that’s finished, and something that doesn’t have much to do with that space anymore.

Would you say then that your work has a “pro-“ rather than “anti-“ force?

Yeah, in many ways it’s positive. It’s more about inspiring people to go with it, and to go really far into things.

Also, the combining of everything in a way came as a bit of a reaction to everyone saying to me: ‘Maybe you should just focus on one thing,’ when I have so many different interests. If you go far enough into things, anyway, and work hard enough, you can actually bring everything together and make a new thing.

Like, we’re encouraged to specialise in things so much in our lives, and to act ‘vertically’ and climb through life – and this can sometimes come at the expense of a broader understanding or experience. Is that what you mean?

Mmm, and culling things that you also love, you know? This has kind of come out of me going ‘I’m going to take everything I love and create something completely new.’

Is that what led you to want to create a ‘three-dimensional’ experience?

Fleur: I think I went so hard with two-dimensional arts when I was in New York [studying on a scholarship at the New York Studio School of Drawing, Painting and Sculpture] that I kind of realised that I love it but there’s so much more to do. So I came back [to Adelaide, Australia] and decided that I would try to do everything – all at the same time! And I don’t think I would have come to that conclusion if I hadn’t gone so intensely into 2D arts and become so fascinated by them. I have so much of an interest in imagery and what it suggests, and how people relate to it.

I used to do thousands and thousands of little pen drawings and one of the best moments, and it just stayed with me for such a long time, was this little girl looking at one of these pen drawings of a woman’s face and saying to me: ‘It looks like you just scribbled on her face.’ She was saying that if I took these lines off the paper there would be a real face underneath it; that was how she saw it. It was such a profound thing for me to hear.

I read that you’re very much into the idea that there is “something real beneath the abstraction of the real.” It sounds very Chekhovian to me.

This quote was very much related to the story of the little girl I just told you. Because all two-dimensional arts are an abstraction of the real. Often people see paintings and so on and they ‘see’ people in them. I just am incredibly fascinated with the life of imagery, and the possibility of it.

It’s so often with my thousands of drawings and also hundreds of little clay faces, and clay puppets, that everyone will look at them and go ‘Are they real people? Or did you just make them up?’ And that just makes me go ‘Wow, that’s so interesting!’ If I say they’re real, will that make them more real? Or if I say they came out of my imagination, does that somehow make them less real?

Would you say that, with the multiple mediums and multiple layers of your work, you’re looking at exploring the spaces outside of the usual medium we associate with an art form, and the spaces between art-forms that are not usually brought to light

That touches on an element of it, in terms of the relationship to the mediums that I’m working with. In terms of space though, the show’s definitely about the space between the maker and the made. It’s a space that happens over time, where things are being made.

While we’re talking about space though, [laughs] another big part of this work is wanting to break imagery out of the rectangle. We are so often used to viewing like, all films, and all paintings and drawings, in a rectangle, and in this kind of framed area. So the work is about wanting to pull the two dimensionals out of the rectangle and into the space, and all around you.

Would you say that your fascination with the multiple layers of things, and the spaces between them, is a personality thing – a part of your character – or is it a philosophy, and idea that has changed over time?

In a sense it probably it is a fair bit a part of my personality and a part of my upbringing. Of that ‘anything is possible,’ and ‘if you want to do it, you just do it – you make it happen.’ I probably wouldn’t say to everyone ‘Why don’t you try to do everything all at the same time?’ Because a lot of people would end up running around in circles and never get anything done at all. [Laughs] But I think the thing about it is that it’s an exciting place to want to learn and to want to try to do things that you don’t know you’re capable of.

I got quite bored pursuing single areas of art and being ‘good’ at them in quite a quantifiable kind of way. Because you know you can look at a painting and say ‘Oh that’s very well done.’ You can compare it to all the drawers and painters of the past and say it’s up there, you know. But with this kind of thing, I love that you can’t do that.

So what is your art, for you?

During my Honours year I put an enormous amount of thought and a huge amount of research into asking myself what I care about. The only thing I cared about was process and making things and talking about process. And it’s still the only thing I know about, in a big kind of way, in a really passionate kind of way. And so to make work about anything simpler than that seemed absolutely bizarre to me, and very boring. And very dishonest!

You mentioned that you want audiences in Wellington to come away from 2-D Life suddenly aware of possibilities. It’s like you’re seeking to inspire people to go off and explore their own expression and feel encouraged to do things that they were afraid, or didn’t think they were able, to do.

Yeah. And it’s about wanting people to understand, and to get an idea about, process as something which is so much about the failures and the unknowns. Like going into spaces where you have no idea about how to do it. Entering spaces where you’re completely out of your bounds, and just trusting. In many ways the whole story is based on that – in an abstract sort of way! But I’m putting this on as well at a kids’ show in Adelaide [at The Australian Festival for Young People]. We’re also doing a show at an underprivileged school here in Wellington. So I think it’s something which is relevant to everybody.

Erica what have you gained from working on 2-D Life? Has it given you a sense of the ‘possibilities’ that are open to you?

Erica: Yeah absolutely. It took me a long time of working with Fleur to kind of understand what she was even doing. Because there are so many layers to it, and so many angles and perspectives that she’s coming from. And because she comes from a predominantly visual arts background as well, it was a very different mind-frame. I’m still getting to know how she works. But it’s opened up all these completely different possibilities for performance. All these different mediums, I think, are coming together in a way that has never been seen. And in a way that opens up opportunities within each of those mediums and in separate mediums also.

How do you find working with Fleur?

Erica: I always say to people that Fleur knows what she wants but sometimes she – I guess that when you’re working so intensely on stuff like Fleur does, and there’s so many things that you’re trying to hold in your mind about it– I think sometimes she just needs someone to say to ‘Oh should I do this?’ and that person says ‘Yep, you should do that.’ Sometimes she just needs a bit of affirmation. [Both laugh]

So Fleur, would you say Erica is your practical ally?

Fleur: Yep, though the next show we’re working on is pretty much collaborative. It’s much more performance based. This one [2-D Life] has performers in it, but they’re kind of like a side dish – they’re not really the main course. But the next show is really really focused on working with one performer and working with film, and that’s going to be really collaborative. I need it to be. Because, you know, there are constantly a million options out there, and I need help just picking one!