13 Rooms: First Impressions

Published April 11, 2013
Allora and Calzadilla, Revolving Door, 2011, performed by Sydney Dance Company, 13 Rooms, Sydney, 2013

Nude women in rooms are as big a drawcard for major art events as they are for Kings Cross sleaze parlours. There is, however, a world of difference between the tawdry eroticism of the strip club and the aura of high aesthetic distinction that applies to a project such as 13 Rooms.
John Kaldor and his team are well aware they risk attracting an audience for all the wrong reasons, but the missionary ideal behind this event is that those who are drawn by the prospect of gratuitous nudity will find there is nothing gratuitous in these rigorous and confronting performances. In other words, come along for whatever reason you like, but leave as a convert to the cult of contemporary art.

It’s not such a bad option. As cults go, contemporary art is more varied and interesting, more stimulating and provocative than any of the alternatives. The real strength of 13 Rooms lies in its sheer variety – a mix of old and new performance works, featuring some pieces that engage with an audience and others that keep us at arm’s length. It includes works by big names such as Damien Hirst and Marina Abramovic, and by relative novices such as the Brisbane duo, Clark Beaumont.
This event asks us to view the human body as a form of portable sculpture. Within this idea there is room for a huge variety of activities, from the formal, mechanical process of painting a room in John Baldessari’s piece, to the haggling, bargaining activities of Roman Ondák’s Swap. It’s already obvious, even from previews, that some rooms are shaping up as hits, notably Allora and Calzadilla’s Revolving Door, which features dancers in a choreographed routine; and Xavier Le Roy’s Untitled, with its dim forms moving slumberously in the dark.
John Kaldor sees 13 Rooms as the most ambitious project he has undertaken since he brought out Christo to wrap Little Bay in 1969. With about 140 participants, there is an air of excitement about this event that justifies his entrepreneurial enthusiasms. 13 Rooms deserves to be popular. More than simply a celebration of performance, it asks us to rethink all our most cherished ideas about art.
13 Rooms, Pier 2/3, Walsh Bay, April 11- April 21, 2013

Published in the Sydney Morning Herald, April 11, 2013