Created by Fleur Elise Noble
Reviewed by Catherine Bisley

A TROUPE of puppets get their clumsy fingers onto a packet of cigarettes and some matches: Puppets + Fire = Trouble. Within minutes, 2-Dimensional Life of Her, a paper based show, roars up in flames. Projected flames, I should say. Black and white turns to colour and boy is the illusion powerful; I sat nervously eying the piles of paper strewn about the set, lest two dimensions leapt into a third. Concealing its own virtuosity with a beguiling improvised feel, this exceptional show explores the labyrinthine space between images.

2-Dimensional Life of Her is the creation of Australian artist Fleur Elise Noble. Using multiple projections, Noble lets the audience in on the world of her studio. While it’s sophisticated in its questioning, the show does not lose the ‘work in progress’ feel of the artist in her private space with her materials. The projected Noble rebels against 2-D existence by walking around the studio with a mop and bucket; with simple but effective sound design, we follow her footsteps as she traverses the empty space between screens. Traditional rectangles are not the norm here; the screens onto which the show’s live action films, animations, pen drawings, and puppets are projected are irregular and layered. One surface is a cut out of Noble, another is a table covered in studio disorder (including a wine bottle and glass), while a third undulates – the paper momentarily held up by a live actor (Erica Field, Noble’s collaborator).

Projected Noble works hard; the mop isn’t just for show. When she scrubs a surface, a new image is uncovered. The show explores the possibilities of perception and the chimerical nature of images. A determined puppet repeatedly rips through a sheet of paper. Quizzical and slightly superior, he stares down the audience, seeming to ask us what we are doing looking at him. Another puppet with a concussion-wish dips his head in ink and creates portraits by beating his head against paper. Each smackdown produces a different line drawing. The process of creating an image can be violent, it seems. In addition to the projection of multiple media, live theatrical incursions – which varied in the two performances I went to - remind you of the show’s real time setting. Like the sound design, the live bodies draw the images into the space, stretching the frame of visual art.

Multimedia works can get caught up in their many strands, end up amorphous. Not so with 2-Dimensional Life of Her. The show’s various modes coalesced into a performance that had formal power. Original is an overused word, but this was. I saw the show twice. The first time at an architect’s studio on Egmont St and the second in Toi Whakaari’s large basement space. In the latter venue the diffuseness of the audience and the size of the space didn’t quite recreate the immersion of the first performance.

The show has a quiet humour. And there is pathos too. Projected Noble repeatedly edges away from the space onto which she is cast; then her cut out walks away - white space leaving behind white space, nothing becoming nothing. As they smoke, the puppets project a short film entitled “Projected girl searches for her cut out.” As the title suggests, this is a narrative fragment that evokes a Platonic search for the other half. In the cut out’s search she comes across misfits (it happens). Then the pathos: the lost cut out wanders alone in the dark of a night-time street (…Courtney Pl, Friday, 2am). But before image and surface can unite, the fire puts a stop to proceedings.

“I want a happy ending” says the actual bodied Noble, directing the sullen post-fire puppets. They traipse off and re-enter the stage in colour for a picture-book ending. Though the projected Noble returns to her cut out to take an uneasy bow, the show isn’t tied up. Just as the images elude their own frames, 2-Dimensional Life of Her offers no resolution. One surface leads to another. Behind becomes in front.

See also:
» Savoir-Fleur: An Interview with Fleur Elise Noble