Erica Sklenars
Audiovisual Aotearoa

Opposite Sex performing live, with visuals by Erica Sklenars
Opposite Sex performing live, with visuals by Erica Sklenars | © Erica Sklenars

Experimental audiovisual practices in New Zealand

As a visual performance artist I work collaboratively across Aotearoa’s music scene, creating projection mapped environments, often under the moniker Lady Lazer Light, and engaging in collaborations such as Sign of the Hag, an experiment in live audiovisual construction using spinning wheels, with musician and artist Dan Beban. Live collaboration between audio and visual artists is fascinating for practitioners and audiences alike. It creates a multi-sensory experience, uses an immediate mode of communication, and connects artists and audience in new ways.

Throughout Aotearoa, experimental musicians collaborating with visual artists have lately begun to attract a wider audience, emerging from the underground venues and artist run spaces and moving into bars and clubs. Many of the AV projects and collaborations mentioned in this article occupy a space between the underground and pop culture. Instant Fantasy, for example, works on the edge of pop, her dark synth-pop music accompanied by synced projections of sickly sweet colours, roses, digital sparkles, and flashes of text that recast the performance (“I’ve given up on you”). Ducklingmonster (Beth Dawson of the Futurians and File Folder) iis another experimental musician and visual artist who works with experimental sound and visuals using combinations of overhead projector images and slides, as well as digitally layered live audio visuals collaborations with artists such as Embedded Figures.

Video: Ducklingmonster, video for Bully by Embedded Figures

My involvement in audiovisual collaboration began in artist run spaces, like the Eye of Night in Whanganui, Frederick Street Sound and Light Society (Fred’s, closed in 2012) in Wellington, None Gallery in Dunedin, and later the Pyramid Club in Wellington and the Audio Foundation in Auckland. These spaces brought me into contact with artistic practices I had never experienced before, and most importantly, these practices carried with them the freedom to experiment. A good example of such an approach is the work of visual musician Kim Newall, who uses a combination of analogue and digital hardware, live camera feeds, and physical objects and imagery. Newall combines live visuals with his four-piece synth electro band SoccerPractise. His work is improvised performance art, bringing an experimental approach into the pop sphere.

Video: SoccerPractise performs at the Silver Scrolls, the Australasian Performing Rights Association awards

After formative years as a young adult in Whanganui, Wellington became my home for 6 or so years. Fred’s, based in an old wooden church, was home to weekly experimental sound and light performances. This collective later moved to the Pyramid Club, run by musicians and artists Daniel Beban, Nell Thomas and Jonny Marks. The Pyramid Club, both a gallery space and performance venue, currently thrives as Wellington’s hub for experimental music and art.

Two bands to mention here are Orchestra of Spheres and The All Seeing Hand. Both collaborate closely with visual artists, including myself, in creating multi-sensory experiences using costumes, set design, performance, and video. These performances are staged in small underground experimental venues, as well as bars, clubs and festivals, both in Aotearoa and internationally.

Video: Orchestra of Spheres Live at Temple Bar, Beijing 2015

The All Seeing Hand are notable for their multi-disciplinary, multi-artist, ever-changing work – this collective dynamism means All Seeing Hand are as much a movement as a group. They have collaborated on live performances with the likes of Georgette Brown, Andrew McLeod, Dan Harris and Nathan Taare. Along they way they have played inside giant B-movie style alien cysts, hatched out of eggs, and been immersed in projection mapped environments.

The All Seeing Hand, live with visuals by Erica Sklenars
The All Seeing Hand, live with visuals by Erica Sklenars | © Erica Sklenars
Video: All Seeing Hand, Blob Eat Blob

Wellington is home to many audio and visual practitioners. I’ve always loved the visual performances of Beth Hilton, using slide projectors, prisms, lenses to bend light into magical forms and textures. Mo H. Zareei (aka mHz) is an electronic musician, sound artist and a researcher also based in Wellington. His work experiments with custom built software and hardware, kinetic sound-sculptures and audiovisual installations. In his work the relationship of sound, beat and light is strong, resulting in mesmerising but jarring experiences. Wellington also played host to a collaboration between audio visual artists Flo Wilson and Olivia Webb through their Toi Poneke Arts Centre. Their audio visual installation ATTUNEMENT explored deep listening, identity, and vocality, and featured large-scale performative projections, audio created from layers of song and breath, alongside live performance.

Video: Interference [dac] mo h. zareei + jim murphy

Recently I experienced a very startling audiovisual performance by former Wellington artist (also now Berlin based) Reece McNaughten, who performs as Big Flip the Massive Using audio and video samples triggered on his drum kit, McNaughten’s beat-based work deployed projected warped CGI imagery of faces, absurd and surreal objects, and bodies twisting in either pain or ecstasy. The result was both entrancing and horrifying.

Video: Big Flip the Massive, Live @ Festsaal Kreuzberg, Berlin (October 2017)

Continuing my southward journey, two years ago I shifted to Dunedin, that cold gothic city of sound and birthplace of the celebrated Flying Nun record label. I took up residency in a studio in None Gallery, a space that has been home to experimental sound and visual art for many years. I also moved to Chick’s Hotel, a legendary venue that has now become a recording studio.

Live visuals by Lady Lazer Light (Erica Sklenars)
Live visuals by Lady Lazer Light (Erica Sklenars) | © Erica Sklenars
Since 2000, Dunedin has hosted the biennial experimental music festival Lines of Flight, spanning venues such as Chick’s Hotel and The Anteroom in Port Chalmers. Since 2014, on alternate years, a sister festival Refining Light. has emerged, run by filmmaker Campbell Walker and musician Peter Porteous. The festival celebrates the visual aspect of collaborations, exploring expanded cinema alongside experimental sound. Both festivals have birthed many audiovisual collaborations by Dunedin-associated artists, such as Kim Pieters with Peter Stapleton and Peter Porteous, and Campbell Walker with Sally Anne McIntyre, to name just a few.