The Portrait Piper

Zsuzsi Soboslay, with flautist extraordinaire Eliza Shephard, leads a new guided interpretation of the life of portraits in the National Portrait Gallery, NPG Spring Festival, Oct 28, 2018.

“We need a different kind of language and a different emotional register if we are going to touch people…. And that’s what you are creating…” [writer, academic and social commentator Jane Goodall]

Performer and educator Zsuzsi Soboslay, with flautist Eliza Shephard, create a work that activates gallery spaces in a performative dialogue with the lives of portrait subjects, each of whom have made a significant contribution to Australian cultural and intellectual life. The performance animates little-known facts and characteristics of portrait sitters. Subjects range from the cyclist Cadell Evans to feisty women from the 1950s [such as Nancy Bird Walton] and the Bogong Moth, whose annual flight plays out against the backdrop of desert landscapes highlighted in the contemporary galleries. A ‘dinner party’ in Gallery 4  stages a musical dialogue between important C19th figures such as John Fairfax, Nellie Melba and the mining magnate Deborah Vernon Hackett. The music for this segment was specially commissioned by Australian composer John Shephard, for this room. The performance is a rare experience of interactive interpretation that was part of the National Portrait Gallery Spring Festival, drawing visitors into the gallery spaces and encouraging a more intimate engagement with the lives and eras of portrait sitters.

The 20-minute performance enthralls and delights people of all ages, from babies to seniors, and provides a multi-sensory and multi-dimensional experience, encouraging visitors to sense through the story-lives of portrait subjects on many levels.

Eliza Shephard plays personalized leitmotifs to match portraits and other compositions highlighting the relationship between portrait, viewer, and their moment in history.

Comments and reviews:

‘Your work makes me re-think my relationship and approach to my own research… A fine example of how you how you bring people together and provide space for their stories and voices” [historian Mary Hutchison]

“Your performance…adds richness to my experience…  I feel quite immersed in other layers of meaning..invisible fibers of sound and movement.. a broader scope of interpretation” [dancer, choreographer and community cultural development artist, Jane Ingall]

The event forms part of a series of gallery activations that Zsuzsi has created in collaboration with visual artists in recent years.  Other significant activations in 2018 include:  Locus [ANCA], and Ventilate [part of  Contour 556]– both with artist Sally Adair and musician Richard Johnson—on our inter-relationship with nature, geology and history; and Subnivien: the world beneath the skin, with Annee Miron and Clive Bourne, on the life of the endangered Ginninderry Frog, first performed at Craft ACT and then as part of an installation  in the 2018 finals of the Tom Bass Sculpture Prize in Sydney.  Each work involves in-depth subject research and amplifies the relationship between thought and sensory processing. Each creates a unique,  intimate and immediate relationship between artwork and viewer, amplifies sensory communication, and  translates research into a direct embodied and aesthetic experience.

Photography and video edits: Jane Duong

About the Author:

Zsuzsi Soboslay has a practice in writing, theater, dance, and community cultural development. She specialises in collaborative work across disciplines and has a special interest in the stories of immigrants and refugees, as well as experience of place. She has received numerous awards and residences, initiates collaborations with musicians and visual artists, and has a special ability to bring out the best in people of all ages, backgrounds and abilities. She was recipient of the ACT Multicultural Award for Outstanding Excellence in the area of ‘Creative Services and Experiences for the Community through Art, Media or Culture,’ 2018.

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