By Urszula Dawkins

From gushing lava to petrified forests, and from fossil fuels to trace elements, rocks and minerals exist alongside human life, keeping their own, almost-timeless time. And in Zoe Scoglio’s intriguing performance–installation, Shifting Ground, the rocks are coming to life, ceremonially called upon to help us reimagine our relationship with the geological world.

Zoe Scoglio is nothing if not down to earth: working across the fields of performance, video projection, sound, and participatory installation, she has been prolific in building a practice that aims for the gaps between art forms and fills them with the oblique and magical. While the experience of her surreal created worlds defies categorisation, she is sharply articulate about her practice, which, she says, is deeply concerned with everyday objects, transformation and illusion.

For the past four years Scoglio has been exploring “geological substances” in her work, and especially their presence in objects, the architecture that surrounds us, and even in our own bodies. In Shifting Ground, Scoglio “re-vision[s] those things that we come across on a daily basis and look[s] at the different qualities that they have”. “There’s two different tangents,” she says. “I’m very interested in the body…and how we as human bodies live in this world. I’m also interested in transforming [myself as a performer; exploring] the similarities we have to rocks and to geological substances through the minerals that we also share within our bodies.”

“We come from the earth as human beings, as a species,” says Scoglio. She cites “abiogenesis” (the concept of biological life arising naturally from inorganic matter), pinpointing the moment when life first emerged from the rock as one that inspires and fascinates her.

Shifting Ground is an intimate performance, part-scientific, part-mythical, in which the animate and inanimate merge unexpectedly and intriguingly – aided by light, sound and physical props created with collaborators Chris Heywood, Nigel Brown and Zoe Stuart.

Scoglio and Brown, a sound artist, share an interest in the physical effects of sound.

“We’re looking at ways to bridge the screen-projected world and the real world, so sound [is] a really good way because you can hear it and also you can feel it. We’re also looking at how sound can manipulate objects in a space…using cymatics [employing vibrations to create visible sound patterns]…turning objects into speakers…working with voice processing…”

Interaction designer Chris Heywood is working on video mapping that will track projections onto Scoglio’s body – he also created the ‘technology’ for Scoglio’s collaborative installation with Cate Foran, Inter-radiessence, at Anna Pappas Gallery earlier this year. But Shifting Ground’s illusion is as hands-on as it is technical: sculptor Zoe Stuart has contributed “geologically-inspired props” that both physically ground the work and create a sense of spirit and ceremony.

Scoglio has explored ritual with her previous work in both performance and video. She mentions her installation Inanimate – a sculpture around which visitors would “orbit”, becoming part of it – and confesses her curiosity about how audience members can become performers in the work.

“I’m fascinated by the live performance, and that in itself being this shared experience that you have with a group… I think doing something that’s got a kind of conscious significance to it, even if it’s not explicit, can be a very powerful tool.”

“I often explore how audience members can in a sense become performers in the work, and make it relevant to their own experience and their own lives… We’re in a time and a place in our culture where there’s not [just] one way that we engage with the world. I think there’s lots of room within art practice to look at ways of connecting on a level that can be both functional and intellectual and spiritual.”

While there are myriad elements to Scoglio’s creation, the simple object – the rock – both gives audience members a space in which to create their own meanings, and focuses her own energy on creating that space.

“I’m using a rock literally as a foundation for all these other ideas – the environment is definitely a very strong part of that, just because of our dependence on it and how we are obviously part of the natural world. But then I’m also looking at our separation from that world, which comes back, I guess, to time as well – I’m fascinated with humans’ inability to really understand and conceive of a time beyond their life span.”

I ask Scoglio: If there was one thing you would ask an audience member to do before they come to Shifting Ground, what would it be?

“I’d say to bring a rock along.”


SHIFTING GROUND – TRAILER from zoe scoglio on Vimeo.

Zoe Scoglio


Arts House, Meat Market
Thu 19 – Sun 22 July 2012

(03) 9322 3713


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
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