Fiona Gardner’s ‘Shattered Perfection’: Living the dream even when it’s not what you expected

Shattered Perfection by South Australian choreographer Fiona Gardner

One of South Australia’s many festivals is the South Australian Living Artists Festival, or SALA, as it is known to locals. It is a festival that pays tribute to the living artists, rather than those who are no longer with us. Typically, it is about visual artists, and all sorts of venues across the Adelaide CBD and metropolitan area, as well as regional areas, are festooned with images and artwork of all kinds throughout August every year.

So what is an article about a festival to celebrate visual arts doing in Dance Informa? Well, one of Adelaide’s most energetic and bold choreographers, Fiona Gardner, has just won the Moving Image Award for her work, Shattered Perfection, a collaboration with video animator Michael Larue, which was filmed and projected at large scale on buildings in Adelaide during the festival.

DI had the chance to chat with Gardner about the work, where the idea came from, and the importance of collaboration.

The film is a montage that shows Gardner’s body shattering as she moves. It explores the themes of body image and self-perception and, in a way, distorts the way we view ourselves in real life.

“A long time ago, I had created a short solo about the idea of shattered perfection,” Gardner says. “It was really about the whole idea of your mind crumbling. So everything around you kind of crumbles, and everything you thought was your world has dissolved. That’s where the idea of ‘shattered perfection’ grew from. As you get older, you start to realise that what you might have thought is beautiful isn’t, or what you might have aspired to wasn’t really what you thought you wanted.”

Gardner explains that through the work, she is hoping to raise awareness of body image, entitlement and self-worth.

“I was reading an article the other day that said Gen Y is living in a delusional world of entitlement,” she adds. “So we believe that we should get those things, and we don’t, and we don’t understand it. So I think that shatters our whole self-worth, which is really interesting when you consider that these days we see ourselves as so important. And then everything dissolves and changes. We need to be open to that, to embrace that change. If you can embrace it, you don’t get hung up on what you didn’t achieve; instead, you keep focussed and strive toward what makes you happy and satisfied.

“As a dancer, you are required to look in the mirror, to criticise,” Gardner continues. “You can never be good enough at what you are doing. You are just constantly going through how to improve yourself. I suppose this isn’t psychologically healthy. It’s very isolating. We come to believe that the dancer’s body should look a certain way, and that you should act a certain way. Then you develop a fear that if you behave otherwise, then it’s not acceptable and you’ll be ridiculed.” 

One of the things Gardner enjoyed about the collaboration with Larue was that they each come from a different perspective, a different background.

“Michael, who edited the film, doesn’t know dance, so what he sees is completely different to what I see,” she explains. “For example, I’m holding my head to signify sadness, or throw my arms up in anger. It means that people who see the work who don’t have a dance background can really relate to the work, really experience an emotional engagement. As dancers, we are trained to see specific things in movement, but people who aren’t dancers don’t see that. So it’s cool to mix the visual effects with dance, and when you look at it projected up on the building from Grenfell Street, it looks really impressive.”

'Shattered Perfection' by choreographer Fiona Gardner

‘Shattered Perfection’ by choreographer Fiona Gardner and video animator Michael Larue. Photo courtesy of Finsart.

I asked Gardner about what she had on next, and she spoke about her longer term plans for the work, as well as some of the other projects she’s juggling. She is always looking to build and grow and develop, explaining that one of the great things about dance on film is that it is less ephemeral, and it can have a longer life. There is some talk of the work being projected again as part of the Adelaide City Council Moving Image week.  She’s not just a dance and interdisciplinary artist, but she’s also an entrepreneur. She has achieved a quite amazing feat of securing for herself a space in a building in the heart of the CBD, and worked tirelessly to refurbish it herself so that she would have a space in which to create her work, to build a hub of dance activity through residencies and workshops by other dance artists, and to establish a Pilates and yoga business that helps her continue to pursue her art and retain her studio.

To top things off, she is also a student, working her way toward a Bachelor of Psychology and Art, which explains why she is exploring issues about body image, entitlement and disappointment in her dance work. I asked her about how all these different interests and elements shape the identity of Fiona Gardner – artist, small business owner, psychologist, and how she brings these different disciplines together in her work.

“I think all these different things make up who I am” she says. “I was just writing a motivational piece for my Pilates and yoga classes, and I can see the psychology coming into it. I find it fascinating to sit back and be an observer of different environments. But I’m not a follower. I tried to work out why, why my personality doesn’t follow. It’s so difficult. It just seems easy to follow. If I just followed, my life would be fine. Maybe I’m a control freak.”

She laughs at this, then pauses to reflect.

“The most inspiring person I’ve ever met is probably Lloyd Newson when I auditioned for DV8 in Paris,” Gardner explains. “He practically created what we now know is physical theatre. You can’t create something individual and unique like that if you have just followed your whole life. You need to look around you and be inspired by your peers, but you also need to spend time focussing on your own creative inspiration. Without doing that, and finding that, you’ll be a follower. It takes a lot to stand out on your own two feet, to do your own thing. It’s not easy.”

After finishing a project and achieving the accolades of an award, you might be tempted to rest on your laurels for a bit. But not Gardner. She is busy planning what comes next. 

“I’m hoping that I can produce Shattered Perfection a bit more,” she adds. “I’m also working with an architecture lecturer from Adelaide University, and we are going to see what we can develop in architecture and dance and aerial harness stuff.”

Collaboration is something that Gardner sees as integral to getting anything done. From creating dance works, to running a studio or dance program. It’s about building relationships and making things happen together.

“It doesn’t stop,” she says. “I’m trying to work out how to make my venue more accessible for Fringe shows. I need a team of people. When I launched my studio, I had a team of dancers behind me, helping me. They are all doing a residency at my studio at the moment, which is great because it makes my space more giving, and I can give back to them. You can’t do things without other people, and working in collaborative relationships. It’s important to like to work with other people.”

Unlike many people in the arts sector at the moment, Gardner can see the silver lining in the funding changes in the arts at the federal level. She’s never received government funding and believes that having less expectations of support is better. It doesn’t mean that she doesn’t think the government should fund the arts, but she recognises the freedom that comes with doing our own thing, forging partnerships, building relationships, and working out how to make things happen though a network.

“Keep trying to find avenues and loopholes and whatever it takes to make things work,” Gardner adds. “I don’t think I’ve mastered the art of being completely successful in my art. I still work other jobs. But I know that the way to succeed is to develop more skills, more knowledge, and connect with more people.”

For more on Fiona Gardner, visit her website.

By Jo McDonald of Dance Informa. 

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