Merging with the elements


The animations Building Mawson and Balancing Time were developed through the improvised movement of dancer Jonathan Sinatra.

In Pouring : a contact skill to explore (Proximity on-line journal), Jonathan Sinatra discussed a time when it felt like he wasn’t giving his weight fully into his movement. He was talking about moving with people, in Contact Improvisation.

Today he works outside the dance studio, to explore ways to contact with the elements: air, water, earth.

He invited me to document, with a view to animating, his response to the abandoned wasteland around the rail yards of Redfern, Sydney.


Leaning into wind on a shipping container, he ours his weight into the air.

Crawling with bricks on his back, he pours his weight into the earth.

Merging his body with water after rain, he pours his weight into into a pond.







Hoping for a sunny day this Wednesday, to catch some shadows.


14 Replies to “Merging with the elements”

  1. Still photographs were taken of a dancer negotiating a landscape through the unpremeditated motion of movement improvisation.

    The pictures were not posed, and so do not represent frozen moments.

    As frames of a body in motion, they rather resemble – in their present context – the images of huans in motion captured by Eadweard Muybridge.

    Jonathan moves into the physical limit of his balance before falling, or ‘pouring,’ his weight into the wind, or earth.

    Animations will be made from these sequences of still images.

    The photographs you see here may fade in and out of this figure, moving between urban and Antarctic landscapes.

    I am exploring ways to connect us kinesthetically with the Antarctic landscape, moving through familiar to unfamiliar places.

    The movements of the dancer offer insights into a relationship we can have with the Antarctic landscape, in that they can connect us vicariously to the elements all landscapes share – air, water, earth.

    The fact that the figure is naked is unexpected in an icy landscape. I was shocked when I first saw the naked man running on ice in the film, Atanarjuat (The Fast Runner), which was set in the Canadian Arctic.

    Jonathan and I joked that I would need to sprout him hair, if he was to survive the Antarctic cold!

    The beauty of translating the human form onto an animated model is that he be positioned into different landscapes. He can also be transformed to suggest other creatures.

    His movements approaching the water, for example, are bird-like. He could be an Antarctic petrel seeking water. He could be transformed into a bird.

    Watching Woody Allen’s 1977 film, Annie Hall last night, I was reminded of simpler and less expected ways to make visual shifts in meanings. For example, cutting straight into a literally visual representation of what is being imagined. This worked brilliantly in a scene where Woody imagines the girl he is making love with his not completely with him. She is in bed with him, but she is also (superimposed) getting out of bed and sitting in a chair.

    Such simple devices can be very powerful.

  2. Art making is not an argument you have with other people, but with situations and materials that present themselves to you in life – and that matter to you.

    The reason for working with them is not always immediately obvious, or explicable.

    Antarctica contains about 70 percent of the world’s fresh water in its ice.

    Humans have colonized the few ice-free areas for their own purposes, displacing wildlife on the rocky ground.

  3. Maybe you could explain the ways in which the movement is offering insights into the relationships between the Antarctic landscape. It looks like a series of frozen moments or poses. How is this speaking to you and hat can you do with it?

  4. When you say that the movements ‘connect us vicariously to the elements all landscapes share – air, water, earth,’ I’m wondering if I should say that I don’t feel connected at all by these images. They seem quite alien even forced to me. I’m curious about the decisions you made about what to capture or not capture/omit. I’m also wondering about how you’ll reconcile Antarctica’s lack of water and earth. I can imagine the power of the wind (present in Antarctica) but where does it figure in these movement experiments and what does it all mean to your research?

  5. Yes I agree with what you say about art but doing a Ph.D (even when it’s practice based) is about making an argument or at the very least about providing a coherent explanation. I’m not trying to upset you but I am trying to shift your attention from making art to making a Ph.D. If this is uncomfortable, then it’s worth asking yourself why and trying to explain exactly what you find so deeply disturbing.

  6. Dear Lisa

    This is one of the primary tensions that I’ve been examining in the School of Creative Media. The staff are mainly artist/practitioners with a day job at the University. To do their jobs they have to suppress their non-rational artistic selves but to make their art they have have to suppress their rationality. It’s a tension that some can work with but generally speaking it is the art that suffers. But I guess that’s the cost of having a day job. See hat Lesley Duxbury has to say in ‘Thinking through Practice’. She manages to do both.

    You can do both too. But you will need to recognise these storms of doubt for what they are, the natural waves, rhythms, ebbs and flows that come with tension and relief. You are also very brave. So go to the centre of what is disturbing you, look it in the eye and write down what you see. Maybe you need to dance towards it?

  7. I have read what Lesley Duxbury has to say in ‘Thinking through Practice’ and did not find it interesting.

    It seems like hard and meaningless work to justify one’s existence in places one may not need to be.

    Academic thinking about art divides, rather than connects, artists.

    I think of a car sticker I saw that said, ‘I’d rather be dancing’.

    I really don’t know what the solution is, and don’t think it’s my place to solve the problems that academics have.

    I put my energy into making things that connect people with each other and with the changes that are happening in the environment.

  8. Dear Lisa

    I’m out of contact until the 17th December. Maybe we can talk then. I spent most of Saturday assisting Jane Prophet with her installation in Avoca. Nice experience spending time with an artist of her standing.

    We talked a bit about the tension between being and artist and academic (she is a Professor). She didn’t see a problem and regarded it pragmatically as just another literacy.

    I ha hoped that the way the Lesley wrote about her art practice would inspire you – especially the way she brought walking and the weather into her thinking. As best I remember, her last walk (earlier in the the year) was about 2 weeks across Baffin Island in the Arctic. She was dropped off by Inuits from a small boat. If she didn’t get at least 10 miles inland she would have been eaten by polar bears.

    I’m sorry that you found her piece so uninteresting. I don’t agree with you that thinking about divides rather than connects. Nor do I think that you have to solve other people’s problems. You have your own questions to answer: that’s what this is all about….

  9. It was common in country towns to mark telegraph poles with past flood lines.

    I have seen this idea also at the art gallery at Inveresk, Launceston, which is prone to flooding.

    This is of interest as an example of community information signage.


    Artists can dedicate whole lives to making work that connects with just a few people.

  10. I am Lisa’s housemate and am currently a Ph.D candidate of science (physics). I thought I would add a few of my own comments after reading this blog.

    I believe Lisa’s response to the meaning of the art on this page is in tune with the underpinning goal of her Ph.D. Which, to my understanding, is connecting the landscape of Antarctica to an audience. The initial arguments Lisa presented in her first reply seem coherent to that end. Do bear in mind that this particular thread of art is not yet complete.

    I agree with Simon in that there does need to be a ‘justification’ for the art; obtaining a Ph.D is what is important and ultimately that will require a passage of thought. However, I am left a little confused in that I felt the explanations given within Lisa’s first reply were sufficient to me.

    I would also take the liberty to mention here a more broad comment pertaining to Lisa’s Ph.D: conveying the breadth of an Antarctic landscape to an observer is by no means a simple task. Consider that the environment for which Lisa currently does her art and studies is vastly different to that which she is attempting to connect an audience to. Indeed, as my own supervisor might say, overcoming this particular challenge would be one of the “breakthroughs” that will make her thesis. More importantly, I believe such genius through art would be very interesting and relevant to many people.

  11. One of the features of this entire website is development and process. Lisa clearly states the she will document the movement of a dancer “with a view to animating”. I should imagine that the development of documentation to animation will in itself provide an answer to Simon’s initial question about the relationship between the images presented here and the Antarctic landscape.

    The processes Lisa will use (which includes replying to these responses) will no doubt provide both the artist and the audience with an insight into the problems any (Antarctic) traveller has in the articulation of their experience with a landscape that they are helping by their story telling to create.

  12. Thanks Cameron and Kathryn for your reflections on my work.

    The documentation of animation is happening both during the process, and after the event.

    The images you see here are very much the beginning of some lines of thought that will only present themselves as animations – or objects – evolve. These will ultimately evolve only through working directly with the materials.

    I have many ideas about what I might do with images, and I talk about them on this Log. But what I say I’ll do, and what is finally made, can be very different.


    I walked through a landscapes nearby where I live, with a dancer exploring his connections.

    When invited to photograph him at work, I selected images according to ideas I had already developed about what I wanted to convey about the Antarctic – cycles of motion and change.

    The first thing I made was a crawling cycle, now incorporated this in Balancing Time.

    The brick is a metaphor for work. A familiar object balanced on a man’s back, it becomes, in the context of the song, a metaphor for Time. When there are more images relating to Antarctica, it is intended that the brick evoke the building of Antarctic bases – man’s colonizing of the last wilderness. This may or may not work out. I will only know how it works after working closely with the images as they are collected, drawn, animated and sequenced.

    Further images of Jonathan, in wind and earth and water, will appear in other contexts as they unfold.

    Balancing Time is evolving as a dialogue, a play between the usual and unusual. The visual annotations of a song about time, appear random on the surface. But the point I am trying to make is that everything’s connected.

    I’m engaging people in a dialogue about how we spend our time, in the context of Antarctic landscape.

    I am starting with the familiar to connect with the unfamiliar.

  13. I have replaced the high-pitched sounds (like wires screeching in wind) to the bass tones of a human voice: Yoris Everaerts improvising to one of Fred Elliott’s drawings of nunatacks in Antarctica.

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Posted on Thursday, December 6th, 2007