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When the surrealist designer Else Schiaparelli first saw a 17.47-carat Cartier pink diamond, she said this of the shade: “Bright, impossible, impudent, becoming, life giving… a shocking colour, pure and undiluted.” She branded the colour “Shocking Pink”. It is unsurprising that Phillip Adams—the Melbourne-based choreographer whose work might similarly be described as life giving, impudent, and shocking—has saturated his latest work Glory in bright pink. In Glory—which premiered at South Melbourne’s Temperance Hall, the home of Adams’ company BalletLab, this year celebrating its 20th anniversary—pink is exulted as a deity via Adams’ signature complex choreographies, manifesting as something between dance, film and conceptual art. I sat down with Adams to speak about the making of Glory.

Rennie McDougall: Your body of work employs encyclopedic reference points from art, film and pop culture. Which artists were you thinking about when making Glory?

Phillip Adams: Yves Klein was an enfant terrible of his day; he was one of the first art stars. He was rejecting the form of the American modernists through his practice of his monochromes, and his sensibility that material is evil and that it must be shed in order to get to the essence of spiritual colour. Hence International Klein Blue being the final point where he entered the void.
Yves Klein had this hype around him; he had art-star factor, and he played up on that as a celebrity. In the same way, I channel that expression to which he had a vision. The corpus of my work over the past 20 years has built up a fake or false god, in order for me to continue to play out the fantasies which I draw from my childhood. My father bought me my first record box set album, the Bach Brandenburg Concerto [the musical score for Glory]. My mother would watch TV in the other room, so I always had this background of sitcoms going against classical music. So what does Bach, Yves Klein and television have in common? Well, Glory came about because I thought it was time for me to make a portrait of myself, and what would that portrait look like?

RM: This language about worship, god, cults and followers—and this paralleled with the art world—you have a sincere fascination with worship, but there’s also a mockery. I feel like this is where queer comes in.

PA: Yes, the mockery—that anachronism has queer possibilities. Queer doesn’t want to be defined. It’s a tricky word; it tries its best to reject all form. The minute it’s pigeon-holed, I will quickly shift away. You have pinpointed something important when you talk about mockery, because I think personally that’s my only way of dealing. The mockery is a mechanism for coping with the making process. I wrote once that, in regards to being raised a Catholic, and being a young adult queer male in the 1970s and ‘80s, I didn’t know I was queer. I look back now and know that I was, but the word queer wasn’t around then. It got invited into the vocabulary in the nineties; now it just seems very old hat.

Queer doesn’t want to be defined. It’s a tricky word; it tries its best to reject all form.

RM: The word queer now has a more specific politic identity attached to it. Does your relationship to it have more to do with queerness as a practice, rather than a kind of identifying label?

PA: Yes, I am queer by nature because I have an alternative way of thinking and seeing the world. I’ve never been politically active in my queer makeup. I rely on my old-fashioned body of thought to make things beautiful, the way that the French did. So in Glory, I invest heavily in the pictorial; the imagination of Klein’s history of work, and to modify that history and make it queer. How outrageous that he has the patent on International Klein Blue. Well then I claim “Phillip Adams International Pink”. That’s queer.

I want to get back to the Catholic upbringing. I became an adult that remained a child (thank god) and those impulses prompted these spiritual mockeries. I made false shrines; I kept being a child and making cubby houses and playing out games.
So these cultural transformations that are happening inside of my work, with objects and movement and imagery, are a mockery of moralistic values, a reflection of my peculiar and provocative behaviour. The result of experimenting with movement and visual art and sacred values has provoked my fabricating an imagined queer divinity. What does the queer divine look like? And in Glory I expose that as best I can, expressed in my body.

RM: Your work borrows from visual art, design, architecture, but at the core is your body and the bodies of your collaborators. Why does physical practice remain so essential, and how does it lead to these object-based manifestations?

PA: I started dancing at the age of five. I’ve not stopped moving since. The language has never been more redundant in my body, yet also so alive; it’s a contradiction. As much as I’m over it, I’m on it. And I’m notorious for saying that dance is dead, but that’s my process today. What I’ve learnt is that the foundations of movement practice are essentially spiritual. Perhaps that’s part of the success of the works, and the failings of the works, that you can’t really exhibit them, you must perform them.

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