Night falls. Under the cloak of darkness there descends a circular wall of rhythmic drumming, drawing audiences to a cleared patch of ground on which an event will take place. In this space, male and female dancers from the islands of Wallis and Futuna, as well as local performers from the Samoan and Australian Aboriginal communities, move in lithe movements, facing each other off, keeping up with the fast-paced, strenuous pounding of skin and tin.
In the centre of this arena which speaks both to sports stadiums and village ceremonial spaces found across the Pacific, a challenge is to be enacted. Beating, twirling fire sticks and rhythmic movement stir the emotions, engaging the body and stimulating the sense of awe to be expected when the challengers arrive. At the heart of this performance is the bare-chested New Zealand/Samoan artist Michel Tuffery, sporting a traditional pe’a (tattoo). Collaborating with New Zealand/Futuna musician Patrice Kaikilekofe, Michel has manifested this challenge as part of his participation in APT3 in 1999, and like any sponsor of a ceremony, stands right within the action directing its progress.
The challengers are in fact two articulated, life-sized bulls created by Tuffery from corned-beef tins, a nod towards the impact of commodities introduced into Pacific communities. Having already completed a spectacular ‘run’ from the Gallery to West End and back, and shooting fire from their nostrils, the bulls are pushed at each other at breakneck speed, with a vehemence worthy of the rugby field. The clashing of metal, the shouts of the challengers as they push these mighty animals, and the sound of the crowd merge together to create an embodied roar.
With this work, Tuffery and Kaikilekofe draw on the continued importance of ritualised performance and spectacle as a way to comment on social tensions within Islander communities. Tuffery’s bulls also speak of the major ecological and dietary problems that result from global trade and colonial economies.
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