Pinky is an internet demon, born from social networking and online shopping. His skin is the colour of fairy floss and he’s got a head of wild, crimped pink hair. When he smiles, he reveals a mouth of jutting USB sticks –he uses these to devour his diet of diamantes, adoration and electricity.
OK so Pinky’s a little over the top, but performance artist Justin Shoulder who will present his new piece The River Eats at Carriageworks from July 3-13, readily admits that subtlety is not his forte. One hour of arresting live performance will see Shoulder use the character to explore the contemporary ego, technology and material obsession.
Born and raised in Sydney, the Digital Media Honours graduate spent his early 20s living in an urban world, dominated by tech-speed and virtual spaces. Following university, he worked full-time as a photo re-toucher.
“The repetition of working on a computer dulled my senses,” Shoulder says, “it shut off my imagination. I didn’t feel very alive.” In desperate need of self-expression, the performance artist started showcasing his ‘Fantastic Creatures’ at nightclubs as well as working with drag cabaret troupe The Glitter Militia.
Shoulder’s The River Eats introduces the audience to two of his ‘Fantastic Creatures’. There’s Pinky, the Gen Y, need-for-speed digital demon and OO who represents all that is natural, primal and grounded. The visual spectacle of the show comes from Shoulder’s transformation between the two characters: from the synthetic Pinky to OO, a multi-winged black, white and pink patterned creature inspired by a butterfly Shoulder saw while visiting The Amazon.
While doubtless Shoulder’s performances are original, his work falls in line with a long lineage of fantastical fictional characters that are used to reflect and warn on real-life issues. In ancient times, characters such as Medusa put fear into the heart of the Greeks by telling a ferocious tale of a woman’s power to castrate a male, while more recently Bram Stoker used Dracula to voice the anxieties of the Victorian age.
Shoulder believes that this ancient mythological language still has power today because it allows artists to “approach core issues from a fresh perspective”. The River Eats does not take a moral stance condemning technology, he insists, but rather invites audiences to think about what it is and means to live in a digital age.
“It’s a lifestyle of speed and never having the time to think or appreciate simple things,” Shoulder says. He suggests that to be balanced we need both Pinky and OO elements in our lives. We need a balance between the synthetic and the organic, the frenzied and the peaceful – an insatiable need for more and the capacity to appreciate what we have.
The River Eats comprises drag, dance, mask-work and spectacle. It transports audiences to an alternative realm by mixing humour with suffering, beauty with unsettling ugliness, and the glimmer of fantasy with barefaced truth. In Shoulder’s words, “It’ll bend your mind”.
BY AMELIA SAW