Thursday 8 November 2018

The Infirmary - Live Art Review

What: The Infirmary
When: 7 - 18 November 2018
Where: Supper Room, Arts House
Created by: Katerina Kokkinos-Kennedy
Performed by: Suzanne Kersten, Katerina Kokkinos-Kennedy, Clair Korobacz, Victoria Morgan, and Julian Rickert
Photo by Bryony Jackson
One of the unique and exciting things about what is produced at Arts House is it's themed cross-discipline mini-festivals. In the month of November they bring us 'Mere Mortals', a collection of works with explores, interrogates, and celebrates the question of our mortality. It sounds a bit gruesome and somewhat fitting for a month kicked off by Halloween but the 'Mere Mortals' program is an intriguing collection of inspirations although it may be hard to find anything more intensely personal for us, the audience, than The Infirmary.

The Infirmary is a hospital triage wing and ward where we, the patient, admit ourselves for diagnosis and treatment. It begins with a one on one interview where you are asked some personal questions - some trivial, some very important. Your 'total care attendant' will then take you down to the Intensive Care Unit.

My attendant (dressed very much like a doctor) was Rickert who has a long history of these kinds of live art event with onestepatatimelikethis, a company who specialise in these kinds of intensely personal and solitary experiences (Nowhere, Since I Suppose, et al). Kennedy collaborated closely with Clair Korobacz, also of onestepatatimelikethis to create The Infirmary so the intense intimacy with myself was not a shock for me although it may be for many of you.

The Supper Room has been set up surprisingly faithfully to replicate a hospital with individual curtained off treatment beds and an 8 bed hospital ward. If you have never been admitted to hospital The Infirmary is a great way to discover and understand the experience without all of the pain, trauma, or illness your first real visit might include. It is also a great way to empathise with the experience of people you may know who are in hospital or are likely to need to be in one at some time in the future.

If you have been in hospital yourself, I guess this is a trigger warning because you will probably remember parts of past experiences. Having said that, I also eagerly point out there are differences and the main one is the tenderness and genuine care and personal attention you get on this journey. Your total care attendant is there to guide, mentor, and look after you as your travel on this psychological journey into your own understanding of yourself as a person who will stop existing one day - your own personal Ferry Man. Oh, and there is a tea and bikky if you want one...

Dress in casual clothes because you will be asked to strip down to your underwear and don a hospital gown. Don't worry - you get total privacy for this. Once in bed your attendant returns to listen to your heartbeat. You then get to listen for yourself. I was quite impressed with my booming chamber of life giving blood muscle!

Your eyes are then bandaged and this is where the real fun begins. At this point you have to give over total trust just as you do in a hospital. You will be touched and moved around (they are real hospital beds). 

I have been in hospital several times in my life and I can tell you the experience is very authentic except I kept expecting a needle. This is the first time I have ever been to a hospital and never had one. It was nice because it reframed my memories. The care and attention I received from Rickert made me rethink what those oddly dissociative experiences were and will be in the future.

Headphones are placed on your head and as you go on a an incredibly disorienting ride in the bed you listen to a fascinating scape of hospital sounds and people talking about their death connections (family, friends, grandparents). If you are a fan of fun park rides like ghost trains you will really love this part of The Infirmary. It's way better than any ride you will find at Luna Park.

At the end of the ride you will be exposed to bright lights which you can only guess about as your eyes are still bandaged. A sheet is pulled over your head and you are left in darkness - a time to ponder, a time to meditate, a time to reconcile.

The program asks whether there is value in practicing for death. For me the answer is yes. Death is a subject with an inordinate degree of taboo in our society. It sometimes seems as if there is nothing we wouldn't do to live forever. Children are being saved earlier and earlier inside the womb. Our life spans are increasing all the time. For some people it is impossible to even have a civil conversation about ideas surrounding euthanasia, abortion, or suicide. 

The reality is death comes to all of us. The Infirmary is a beautiful and gentle place to come to an understanding of what it means for each of us as an individual.

It is not just a death experience though. Like certain religious figures, we are resurrected into the shared experience - the family - of the ward and caring attendants eager to help us find our way back into the workaday world. Yes, there is value in practicing for death but perhaps there is even more value in practicing for hospital. I have certainly found myself there are few more times than expected!

Nobody else will have the experience I had in The Infirmary and I cannot ever have the experience anyone else will have because what we bring to the event is all that secret personal stuff you only ever share with yourself. And don't worry, you will never have to share any of that stuff with anyone else either unless you want to talk about it later with your partner or loved ones. There is no post-operative interview. You leave with the well wishes of your attendant and all they will ask is 'are you okay?' It is kind of nice to be given the space to have this conversation with yourself.

5 Stars

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