by Urszula Dawkins

Montreal-born, Sydney-based performer Talya Rubin speaks with quiet, warm intensity, perched on a big wicker chair at the top of Arts House’s sweeping North Melbourne Town Hall staircase. I tilt the voice recorder closer to capture the strains of her story, during a short break from rehearsal. In the rehearsal room, the blinds are closed, the very air is dark. But Rubin is light and her description is acute of the world she’s created in this work, and a story that insisted it be told…

Of the Causes of Wonderful Things is the tale of a southern American aunt in search of five nieces and nephews who have mysteriously disappeared – where did the idea for the work come from?

It’s a rather unusual story, and it’s not a true story as far as I know. It came out of an improvisation I did as part of a devising exercise – I had these different stations around the room and I was just working with different objects. Within about an hour the entire story emerged, which was very odd. The whole thing came out of thin air, in a way.

At first I just dismissed the idea, because it was so dark, and so strange – there were five dice in a plastic bag and they represented these five children that had gone missing… It was like, ‘OK these things have appeared, now I need to follow them’ – but it took me a while to trust that I did.

It does have a ‘true story’ ring to it – a mystery to unfold…

There is definitely a kind of ‘noir’ mystery element… but it’s more about an exploration of darkness, and this descent – the journey of this woman and the potency of these children and their disappearance. Then there are these strange worlds that emerge – there’s a town hall that’s a portal to the dead, there’s a puppet that’s a little bit nasty – there are these worlds that seem to insinuate themselves into existence.

What about the title of the work, Of the Causes of Wonderful Things?

I had this sense that [in the work] there were going to be small worlds within worlds, and I had this idea of projection or magic lanterns. And I was doing research on magic lanterns and I came across this book about the existence of natural things, or how natural things come about – it was written in the 1600s – and there was this whole chapter called ‘Of the causes of wonderful things’. It just struck me as the right title.

I think there’s something wonderful in these worlds: in their delicacy and the intricacy and the beauty of them, but there’s really not something wonderful also, that’s happening at the heart of this show – it’s wonderful and terrible. And somehow I liked that a title would invoke the wonderful and mysterious but that there’s this other side…

I saw a video clip from an earlier work of yours, called The Girl With No Hands. It seemed that the idea of storytelling was very important – even the way you washed your hands in that video seemed part of the art of storytelling, as though the gesture itself was like a story we all know in our hearts…

The last two works that I made are very much about what it means to tell a story, and certainly The Girl With No Hands was about someone who got their story taken from them, and in the end had to speak… There’s something about solo work that does ask that – it’s immediate, there’s that sense of there just being this one person speaking and transforming and doing all kinds of things.

With this piece it’s quite visual storytelling as well…I operate the ‘worlds’, I’m working all the lights from on stage and I’m working an overhead projector and creating images… There is a narrative, but it’s non-linear…it’s more like a montage, in a way.

I was actually really interested in interrupting that more traditional narrative, or the idea of the solo. This work feels like its coming from quite a different place, in the sense that the characters, I would have to say, really needed to speak. In that sense they have things to say that I didn’t even really understand. Again, that’s a bit mysterious!

It sounds very mysterious!

I don’t want to be spooky or weird about it! It just has its own logic – it was like a world that had to speak. And I was like, ‘OK, I’m going to let it speak’. Even the visuals – knowing that I had to run everything, the lights… I wanted the world to feel like it was being manipulated and operated and unfolding before your eyes – the mechanics and the beauty of it.

Of the Causes of Wonderful Things
Talya Rubin

Arts House, Meat Market
Thursday 11 – Saturday 13 August 2011


About Arts House

Arts House presents contemporary arts in programs encompassing performance, exhibitions, live art, residencies and other activities that nurture, support and stimulate cultural engagement. For more information, please visit artshouse.com.au.
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