Nomanslanding is a contemplative kinetic floating artwork experience which ‘breathes’ in and out on the surface of the water.
5 international artists - Robyn Backen, Nigel Helyer & Jennifer Turpin (Australia), Andre Dekker (Netherlands), Graham Eatough (Scotland) and 3 curators Michael Cohen (Australia), Katja Assman (Germany) and Lorenzo Mele (Scotland) worked together to create a site specific touring artwork, a world wide commemoration of WWI.
The collaborative artwork premiered in Sydney’s Darling Harbour in April 2015 is currently on show in Ruhrort Germany. It will travel to the Clyde River in Scotland in 2016. Each location has a water connection with World War I industry production or points of embarkation where soldiers left for the front. Water is the universal symbolic thread linking each site. Water is the physical and metaphoric driver of the concept and design of Nomanslanding artwork. In the artwork water is symbolic of the space between life and death.
‘Nomansland’ was that place between two army forces in World War I that no one dared traverse – an impasse, the gap of fear and uncertainty between the two opposing sides. Nomanslanding the artwork is a creative poetic reimagining of this empty space. In the artwork ‘Nomansland’ becomes a space of memory and metaphor - a place where the audience contemplate states of vulnerability during conflict, and a lament on the sadness of loss and devastation of war.
The artwork comprises a floating dome split into two separated half domes that slowly draw together. The artwork acts as a bridge, connecting two separate and opposing sides to create a new joint territory, bringing people together to experience, remember and contemplate. The opening and closing movement becomes a breathing space on the surface of the water.
A circle inside a square. A dome inside a box. The pure simple geometric forms of the floating structure resonate with traditional commemorative and spiritual architecture - dome as chapel, slatted walls as temple.
The quiet, unadorned dome is the inner sanctum, the charred timber slatted walls, like columns of the outer temple. The charring is symbolic of both death and destruction.
The architecture is loosely modelled on the Temple of Janus in ancient Rome. Janus had two faces, one on either side of his head, and was the God of gateways/thresholds. His temple had entrances at either end. In times of war the gates were open. In times of peace they were closed. The artwork mimics this with its two entrances and gateways which open and close during the performance.
The Nomanslanding dome is a ‘whispering’ acoustic architectural space, where different voices, languages and sounds reverberate, ricochet and are whispered.
A six part performance takes place every 25 minutes; first the audience is processed and prepared for the crossing in army tents on floating barges, moving to a processional experience as they walk out over the floating walkways. Audience are ushered into the dome by a dark figure who controls the movement of the dome / boat. He reminds us of the mythological character ‘Charon’, the boatman who ferried the dead across the River Styx. Within the open dome an abstract soundscape conjures ‘going off to war’. As the dome closes the audience is engulfed by sounds of conflict and battle. The darkness of the closed dome and changing soundscape evokes the thoughts, feelings, memories of being inside the head of a soldier on the edge of death. A solo performer begins to sing a lament, an elegy, a reflection and contemplation – conjuring sadness and loss. As the doors open and light floods in the lament culminated in a moment symbolizing hope and redemption.
The artwork was commissioned by: Sydney Harbour Foreshore Authority, Glasgow Life Urbane Kunste Ruhr, Germany Musical collaborators: Cora Schmeiser (Germany) and Ben Fink (Australia)
Photography by Ian Hobbs Media