One-and-a-half kilograms of paper are making their way to Australia from studio in Suffolk, England, via sea. “It’s a whole shipping container’s worth,” laughs Mira Calix, the artist behind the ream. To be transformed into an enormous, ethereal maze, the cargo will form the basis of her new work, Inside There Falls, premiering at Sydney Festival 2015. Spoken word, original classical music and dance will combine in an immersive experience.
The project began life about three years ago, as a result of a chance email from a stranger, who sent her a piece of writing. “I started reading it and responding positively. It really resonated,” she says. Or, as she puts it in her artist statement, “The text had taken hold of me. A stream of consciousness I found so enigmatic and elusive, creating feeling before reason. I felt compelled to take that avalanche of words off the page and let them breathe in a new form ... The writer had handed me the shoots and left me to grow my own forest.”
A year or so later, with the initial concept in mind, Mira came to Sydney, where other elements fell into place: seeing Carriageworks and meeting Sydney Dance Company artistic director Rafael Bonachela. “When I saw [Carriageworks] it was like love at first sight. My little heart said, ‘This is perfect.’ It has character, but it isn’t dominating, and, physically, it’s such an exciting space, if you’re thinking big ... We don’t have places like this in England. Space is at a premium. In London, anything on this kind of scale would be turned into chichi apartments very quickly.”
As for Rafael, Mira was already a fan. “He used to run a dance company on South Bank in London,” she says. “I gave him my construct and my narrative and he’s interpreting it. I like to work this way, sparking ideas, so that even among us, the work is becoming different versions of itself.” In keeping with Inside There Falls’ spontaneous, temporal nature, the dancing, despite being choreographed, won’t be scheduled. So whether or not audiences catch a fleeting figure among the paper will depend on chance.
In the meantime, they’ll be kept busy with an open invitation to touch the installation at their will. “I want people to physically interact,” Mira explains. “There’s a bit of ritual and participation element to this work. You step into the story through a big blue room, which is like an overture or a prologue, so you start off as a blank page. Then you step into a white room, where the paper starts off very dense, but opens out. At the same time, you are surrounded by the story – the text [narrated by actor Hayley Atwell] and the music are moving around you ... Everything to me is the story, including you."
Some artists are driven by their chosen medium, which they commit to for life. Mira, on the other hand, is driven by ideas. Combining music, sound and art, she draws on whichever materials are best suited to the story she has to tell. “I shift materials a lot,” she says. “Philosophically, to me, they’re all materials and it’s all composition. I see it all as one thing.”
In 2009, a 100-strong choir played an integral role in her installation, My Secret Heart, which won the Royal Philharmonic Society Award. And, in 2012, a monolithic stone sculpture featured in her interactive piece, nothing is set in stone, which appeared at the London 2012 Olympic Festival.
“You know what’s really strange about Singapore?” Mira Calix leans in, as though she’s telling me a secret. “Even though it’s tropical – even though it’s steaming hot – there are no insects. Isn’t that the weirdest thing?”
“Last time I was there,” she continues. “I did a performance with an orchestra, where I put insects inside boxes, and mic-ed them. That was interesting.”
Inside Their Falls is one of our top ten picks of the Sydney Festival. Check out our other favourite events over here.