Get­ting in touch with the self and death

The Australian - - ARTS - CHRIS BOYD

THE­ATRE In­fir­mary De­vised and di­rected by Ka­te­rina Kokki­nos-Kennedy, with Clair Korobacz. Triage Live Art Col­lec­tive. Arts House, North Mel­bourne Town Hall, Novem­ber 7.

The young, healthy and able body is in­vis­i­ble to it­self, trans­par­ent, open to the world and sens­ing only the world. What it knows of it­self comes from mir­rors — or, nowa­days, self­ies — and from the touch and ac­tions of oth­ers. It can’t know it­self any more than it can tickle it­self. Be­ing is per­ceiv­ing.

Ill­ness, chronic pain and age make a body translu­cent and in­fin­itely self-aware. The mind can no longer ig­nore the body, and the ex­ter­nal world be­comes dif­fuse through the senses.

Triage Live Art Col­lec­tive’s lat­est show, In­fir­mary, asks us, in­di­vid­u­ally, how do you sense your body? Doubt­less, your an­swer will dif­fer from mine.

Limited to roughly a dozen au­di­ence mem­bers a ses­sion, In­fir­mary is ex­pe­ri­enced in hushed iso­la­tion. We’re each as­signed a carer (in my case Vic­to­ria Mor­gan, trained ac­tress and trained nurse), then as­signed a hos­pi­tal bed.

We’re sep­a­rated by ac­cor­dion-pleated cur­tains, then fur­ther cut off from one an­other vis­ually (our eyes are ban­daged) and au­rally (first we’re con­nected up to a stetho­scope, then head­phones).

This is not an ex­er­cise in height­en­ing our senses, even if we are sub­jected to var­i­ous sounds and scents, from mild es­sen­tial oils to the clean, fruity sting of cloves. The touch, too, is muted and un­ob­tru­sive. Calm­ing. In this ap­prox­i­ma­tion of a med­i­cally in­duced coma, we’re freed of the obli­ga­tion of re­spond­ing in any way.

What’s truly re­mark­able is the way In­fir­mary takes us into a time-warp­ing state in which we are barely con­scious yet still re­cep­tive and thought­ful, in which we are com­pletely dis­ori­ented but tena­ciously fo­cused. Ka­te­rina Kokki­nosKennedy’s di­rec­tion is high risk but con­fi­dent and ex­act.

In­fir­mary is a kind of re­hearsal for death but it’s a death with­out panic or fear, death as the body’s ul­ti­mate opac­ity, death as a turn­ing in­ward of the self. It is a unique ex­pe­ri­ence.

Tick­ets: $35. Book­ings: on­line. Du­ra­tion: 70min, no in­ter­val. Un­til Novem­ber 18.

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