Exhibition review: WHEN I AM NOT THERE

A performance-exhibition that includes components from the artist's earlier works of costumes, soundscapes and text.

Shelley Lasica is a dance artist known for her interdisciplinary collaborations, with four decades of performance experience. Driving her work is a sense of openness and curiosity; this was evident in her recent bustling exhibition at Monash University Museum of Art (MUMA), WHEN I AM NOT THERE.  

The 2021 recipient of an Australia Council Dance Fellowship, Melbourne-based Lasica has created the WHEN I AM NOT THERE alongside ten other artists. They include: dancers; LJ Connolly-Hiatt, Luke Fryer, Timothy Harvey, Rebecca Jensen, Megan Payne, Lana Šprajcer, Oliver Savariego, composer François Tétaz, artist Lisa Radford and architect Colby Vexler.

For the10-day duration of the project, Lasica and her dancers occupied MUMA’s galleries with a choreography that engaged the architecture and behaviours of the museum alongside various material, including images, texts, sculptural objects and costumes. This performance-exhibition was a survey of Lasica’s previous work, as well as an invitation to generate new work. The museum, as a space for live dance performance, is an unusual choice and accentuates the tension between ideas centring on ‘performing’ and ‘exhibiting’. 

Additionally, WHEN I AM NOT THERE also features a monograph published by MUMA and Monash University Publishing featuring writing from Erin Brannigan, Lisa Catt, Justin Clemens, Hannah Mathews, Claudia La Rocco, Robyn McKenzie and Zoe Theodore. 

Visiting WHEN I AM NOT THERE I was struck with the intentionally indeterminate nature of the space. An ultra-reflective shiny floor makes any movement made over the surface a mirroring exercise that spectators can choose to play with as they desire while watching the dancers (present through all exhibition hours) as they move.

The soundscape by François Tétaz is ambient and present throughout the gallery via 6-channels. It too revisits the archive of Lasica’s earlier works, given the two have worked together for over 30 years.

Hung and strewn around the space were costumes, objects and texts from Lasica’s archive, allowing for a deeper engagement with her oeuvre. Hannah Mathews, MUMA’s Senior Curator, drew together an inspiring array of talks and performances for the season, including a discussion between Matthews and Lasica pondering the question: ‘Where do you put yourself?’

Lasica also teaches dance to fine arts students as part of her work, and has worked on various fashion projects, demonstrating the ways in which she crosses the disciplinary divide further.

Read: Exhibition review: Fantastical Worlds

It was wonderful to be invited into the space of a museum / contemporary gallery and an institution – a university – and be embraced, whether as a trained dancer or someone simply wishing to explore the potentialities of their bodies in an overall undefined space.

It felt overall unpressured and expansive as an exhibition and an embodied reminder, after all the diminution of our worlds over the long Melbourne lockdowns last year, that the world can be vast and thrilling whichever way we all experience it.

WHEN I AM NOT THERE by Shelley Lasica and collaborators
Monash University Museum of Art, Melbourne
WHEN I AM NOT THERE was presented from 16-27 August 2022.

Leila Lois is a dancer and writer of Kurdish and Celtic heritage. Her poetry, essays and reviews have been published in Australia, New Zealand, USA and Canada by Southerly Journal, LA Review of Books, Honey Literary Journal, Right Now, Delving Into Dance and more.