Out of breath already, I begin on the steepest part of the climb up to the 1820 Settler’s Monument. My chinatown backpack is bulging with camera equipment, notebooks, stationary, recorders and I am worried the straps will snap. My precious tripod is slung over my shoulders like the club of a Neanderthal. Ready for use in the case of either photography or an attack.
But I’ve barely gone 10 steps when someone yells out of a car window, “Hey! You want a lift?”
Thank God. Crammed in the back of a red Toyota, I stammer thank you’s to three third-year Art students. It’s about 5:10, so we are early. The girls, my saviours, are planning to help set up the drinks and snacks.
We park. Unfortunately, none of us know exactly where to go. Monument is unexpectedly large. I have some experience navigating the internal structure of the building, but I have never heard of the Side Stage.
I chance upon a sign. “Becoming(s)”. It directs us through a strange kind of alley into another parking lot, presumably a loading bay for more extravagant theatre productions. There is no one else around, but one of the students suddenly seems to have figured out where we are going. We wind around trees and emerge in a cul-de-sac.
A thin, blond girl is sitting on a cube of concrete, smoking a cigarette. “It’s so cold, isn’t it?” She remarks, taking another drag.
We have found the right place. It looks like a shipping dock, like some kind of service entrance. A rusted ramp leads to the massive, black sliding doors. I am worried it will collapse under my weight.
Inside there are a couple of tables with glasses and wine, along with a door that says “Do Not Enter”. Which, of course, I try to enter. It’s locked, but my abortive attempts attract the attention of the people on the other side.
Pixie hair, black eyeliner, slight, pretty; Minke Wasserman emerges from the darkness. She appears a little nervous, but excited. Her face has a certain intensity; she looks me in the eyes when she speaks.
“Oh, do you want to get your photos before everyone else starts wandering around?”
This is excellent. Marvelling at how much more of a sense of authority a tripod provides, I enthusiastically agree and am permitted into the Side Stage.
It’s dark. Very dark. The roof, stretching to at least ten metres, is cluttered with pipes and shadows. What is this place? Minke draws the door closed behind me.
In the middle of the hall is a group of spotlit figures. I approach them, walking on a path of wooden stepping stones. The strange creations are tinted orange in the glow of the floorlights. They cast massive shadows against the high walls, looming demon shadow puppets.
Animals. No, not quite; they are an unearthly hybrid. A bunny man hunches menacingly; his hairy chest a man’s, his disproportionate arms a child’s, his head a giant rabbit’s. A ring of smaller sculptures convene beside him. Perhaps they are bears, or small girls. One has the face of a lamb, bejewelled legs and feeler-like hair. They are coated in the mottled fur of stuffed toys.
Further back, a two-headed deer reposes on the floor; antlers strewn with bird nests, skin made of bark. Two octopi squat on either ends of the display, their tentacles grasping the air.
I crouch down to take a low-angle shot and find the ground is soft with grass. There is a lawn on the concrete floor. And I have narrowly avoided stepping on a plastic frog, part of the display. The tiny frog has human arms attached to it; a Barbie doll became an amputee for this purpose.
My camera, a ten-year-old Pentax with a temperamental disposition, does not approve of the dark. The long exposure times upset it and it contemptuously writes to the memory card with all the speed of an aged sloth. There are so many shots I want to take, there is so much to see, but I must make every click of the shutter count. I know I have limited time to capture this ethereal fantasyland.
Sure enough, people are beginning to file in. Reluctantly, I draw back and fervently hope that I have captured something of the sense of Wasserman’s exhibit. Part childlike, part adult; the art captures the ambivalence of growing up and leaving behind the fairytales of youth, which continue to linger in the shadowy realms of our unconscious.