Branch Nebula co-founder Lee Wilson and visual artist Mickie Quick were reminiscing about the old days.
They used to squat in the same suburb, and recalled a group of fellow squatters who had gathered so much discarded packing tape that they filled a room with it and used the resulting mass as a crash mat. The notion had immediate appeal for Wilson. “I wanted to play with materials that were readily accessible and available around us every day. Rubber bands, cardboard, sticky tape, stuff like that… I really liked this idea of trying to find alternative things for suspending your body or making crash mats out of cardboard boxes or things like that.”
Wilson and Quick began driving around looking for materials in back alleys, secondhand shops and consumer warehouses like Bunnings and Officeworks. It was an experiment—there was no sense that a show would result—and Wilson says that the materials themselves led the process.
Once they had a room full of boxes, tape and other consumables, they began to play. “It’s almost about a delight in doing the wrong thing,” says Wilson. “I’ve had a lot of training with safety because of my acrobatics history and I’m also an aerialist so I’ve had some really good mentors that have taught me about good rigging practice. It’s very liberating to break all those rules.”
After 20 hours they shot a rough video. It took a few months before Wilson’s Branch Nebula co-founder Mirabelle Wouters got around to watching it, but when she did, she loved it. “I was like, oh my god, this is fantastic,” she says. “It really sparked my imagination immediately. I had a really good feel for where it could go.”
Like all of Branch Nebula’s works, High Performance Packing Tape sits in the spaces between disciplines. It has the risk and immediacy of live art, the visceral curiosity of contemporary dance, even the discipline and rigour of circus.
“We’re actually quite anti-theatrical,” says Wilson. “We’re very anti representational kinds of performance. Any kind of fiction or narrative. We do that because we feel very strongly about our performance roots. We want to share with an audience that look, you don’t need that. We can make a very powerful and dramatic experience without it being fictional or having characters or story or all that stuff.”
With High Performance Packing Tape, what you see is what you get. Nevertheless, past audiences have discerned their own stories amid all the chaos that takes place—an office worker taking out his frustration in the supply room, for instance, or a parable about all the waste generated in the name of productivity.
“We want the audience to work,” says Wouters. “We don’t want to make anything clear about what they’re supposed to be thinking. We don’t want to steer people or direct people into what it’s supposed to be about. I really love that the work evokes different things for different people and that people read different things in it.”
Image by – Tristan Still