The space was completely dark when my sister and I scurried in late. We entered what would have felt like a lifeless and abandoned factory space, if it weren’t for the presence of a crowd gathered a few metres away - all of whom appeared to be observing something of apparent significance. Whether a result of the absent-minded fluster that accompanies lateness, or just lucky timing that placed us at its origins, we could now hear a magnetic sound. An art exhibition structured around an interactive map, we had found ourselves in Caldera’s geography. In an otherwise inert space, we were all attracted to the sound. Moving through your body like jolts of electric charge, the sound presented life to different places through its unpredictable wave-like energy. One beat after another seemed to just form some kind of rhythm, before a foreign sound burst through to disrupt the newly-developed pattern. Peering through the crowd, I noticed haphazard coloured lines flitter across a translucent screen, responding to the chaotically rhythmic waves of sound in a relieving unison. It was as if some harmony could be found among all the discord.
Then blackness resumed, reviving that feeling of intrigue that accompanies confusion. “What’s going on?” one woman murmured to her friend, aptly summarising everyone’s feeling of being lost and uncertain of where to head once darkness resumed. The crowd weaved around each other in a chaotic yet controlled fashion. Controlled because there was a shared purpose – to find life or guidance amid the otherwise dark Eveleigh Works. As if in a flock, I followed a crowd heading towards a small room ahead. I couldn’t help but feel guilty and embarrassed at how easily I had been lead in a direction by a group of moving bodies. It was as if we were all committing an artistic sin to so easily submit and sacrifice our individuality to avoid the anxiety of being left behind, discarded.
This crowd mentality isn’t as obvious in traditional gallery spaces. While the architecture of a gallery often suggests a trajectory, this exhibition was more like a performance. Each artist never sat in isolation, but formed part of a greater narrative, albeit one that each audience member discerned on their own. Nevertheless, there was something refreshing about having my typically fleeting attention focused through the guided exhibition space.
In this space people awkwardly moved around each other, mindful of the structure almost to an overly conscious degree. Unlike traditional gallery spaces, our time here was limited before we would be signalled to move onwards. I looked over at my sister as we both stood back and observed the shadows of waving arms create beautiful flowing movements. “Why does this man have so much control?” my sister asked, more as a joke than the result of some thought-provoking comment. The man’s shadow was the result of his position in front of a fan. Was being placed in front of the fan a desire for power? Perhaps it was just attention. As the fan’s breeze washed over me, such analysis was brought back down to earth by a reminder of the fan’s basic utility. The kind that saw a couple of women revel in the simple gratifying coolness of air propelled onto skin.
Exiting as the novelty, and the numbers in the room, dissipated, I was struck by a large group of people forming an ring around sounds of clatters and bangs. Initially, only the reverberating bangs could indicate that people were pounding heavy tools on metal. But then a feeling of warmth and a hint of light revealed a dangerous ring of fire around a large cylindrical piece of metal. Gasps from the crowd seemed to offer the kind of reaction this creative scientific rhythm deserved. This typically monotonous perception of routinised metalwork became a creative spectacle, but perhaps only where it was loud and visible and grand – for metalwork had previously displayed itself to only a small group of interested individuals in a dismissively small space on the side. Was it arrogance when everyone gathered around only the spectacle of what had really been modestly occurring all along? Or, was it arrogance that motivated my sister to realise we had already observe the empty installation, and feel a sense of power in challenging the status quo?
Those thoughts carried me through as the fire’s light vanished, the bangs subsided and the crowd yet again flocked onwards. Drawn to the absurd and beautiful aesthetics, I photographed what looked like a magnificent pink bob clothing a chandelier. While I felt an element of frustration in being unable to feel anything significant from this piece, I temporarily lost my sister (and my gin cocktail) to an abandoned chess set-up. I was drawn in by this sadly nostalgic scene of past memories, as cobwebs draped over the wine glasses and rust stained the stools. Had a now separated couple frequented here long ago, or perhaps old friends who had now moved on from what they then believed was an eternal friendship? At the same time, I anxiously didn’t know what my hands could touch, could they touch anything at all? The empty stool welcomed physical engagement and becoming a part of the scene, but that was condemned by the unspoken prohibition against touching an art object.
This space was immersive, but how immersive? Was it to be approached like immersive theatre with its explicit rules of audience engagement or would it always remain a gallery space? Navigating traditional exhibition rules, with their generally indisputable hands-off policy, with a confessed interactive art space, was confusing. But that was part of the appeal. In many ways it felt like a test. How close could we get to assuming the role of performers ourselves in the exhibition? And what if we already were?
Then blackness, and its accompanying confusion, resumed. A newly formed crowd coalesced around a distant light. A fantastically glittered figure emerged, and soon her gentle operatic voice melodically guided us across the space. As we followed her, we truly became a part of the performance - puppets connected by the string of her vocal chords. It almost felt wrong, if it weren’t for the irresistible sensation that her voice, in that short moment, somehow resolved all of our anxieties in its utterly compelling harmony.
Perhaps there was no right or wrong. The rules and experiments I thought existed, in fact did not exist at all. What was most compelling about Caldera was its complete refusal to subscribe to any proclaimed meaning or to confine itself to artist statements. There’s something far less intimidating about an exhibition that could mean a wide variety of things to different people. This is not to say that it was not uncomfortable to sit in this uncertainty. Emerging from the darkness into the night, our questions remained comfortably unanswered.