The Israeli-born, Brussels-based artist Shelly Nadashi trained at The School of Visual Theatre in Jerusalem before attending the Glasgow School of Art, and she consistently mixes this training to significant ends which, to date, have resulted in a number of notable live performances. Her solo show at Transmission Gallery, ‘Text Me Faster Dance Company’, was part-theatre, part-museum of anthropology, bringing together films of puppet shows and the props used in them to develop an ambiguous and personal lexicon.
Nadashi’s work regularly centres on the social contexts of performance, and at Transmission she pushed this further, calling into question the malleable nature of documentation and methods of presentation adopted when addressing durational work within the gallery. The exhibition was neither a performance nor a collection of objects, but an ambiguous territory which alluded to both. The cipher of props and structures was most easily decoded in a series of three small overlapping projections that played on a loop in a corner of the space, each capturing different acts from a puppet show – a character handling an ornate glass light fitting, two puppets violently clashing heads. Intercut with this footage were close-up shots of three men playing hackneyed tunes on recorders. In a show that was often concerned with the artist’s relationship with her tools, Nadashi was surprisingly absent – dressed in black for the puppet shows, filmed from the neck down and intimated by a black and white blown-up photocopied self-portrait (only visible from the street or through a porthole cut in the gallery wall).
The props used in the puppet skits were also displayed on three large wooden frames that stood in the centre of the gallery like surrogate plinths; their upper portions doubled as shelves on which the puppets and other artefacts sat. With sculptural undertones, the structures elevated the significance of these childish forms, positioning them just above shoulder height and out of reach. The objects’ tactile, toy-like appearance intimated that they could be handled, and simultaneously denied this contact with their contextual switch to art objects. All the while a metronome ticked, giving the viewer a constant rhythm to which they could situate themselves within the scenario; aiding the suggestion that the viewer could initiate a role within the workshop-like environment.
Positioning the viewer at the centre of this dialogue, Nadashi provoked comparison between the displayed props and the three projections, with each asset holding proportional significance to the next. Neither would be successful without the other, but in combination they successfully unravelled the links between object and objecthood, material and form, and the significance each holds with the viewer. Therefore, her decision to bracket everything with one title, ‘Text Me Faster Dance Company’, was wise, as her relationship to puppetry and performance is complex, and expounding this dynamic seems superfluous when the work invests so heavily in the viewer’s inclusion.
Reading the exhibition as a whole, however, was challenging, as its constituent parts demanded thorough and often contradictory readings. This open narrative offered the viewer an entry-point into the artist’s practice, that effectively articulated the processes of production involved when negotiating performance within an artistic context. Becoming a player in Nadashi’s world exposes the limiting parameters of social and contextual norms; ridiculing them for their absurdity, she asserts her unique role as a mediator between the fiction performance facilitates and the reality in which the audience is positioned.