Justin Talplacido Shoulder - Carrion: Origins

Justin Talplacido Shoulder – Carrion: Origins

Justin Talplacido Shoulder explores the precipice between Technology, Nature and Human as his hybrid characters express the effect of machines and natural elements on their forms.

A dancer, choreographer, performer, creator of immersive environments and experiences, his work has grown from the Queer events and dance party scene in Sydney to theatre and into contemporary art spaces and galleries. In his work Carrion: Origins at the Warrnambool Art Gallery, we see a creature that is almost naked, part machine, part animal.

The original Carrion concept was born at a costume ball Shoulder ran, with a theme of future-tech bodies. His sister Amy Shoulder made a cast of his face, a kind of death mask that Justin embellished with iPhone chords. Later he created bone shapes out of foam and latex to define his almost naked form. “It was an instinctual cyborg marionette, I started to do club shows and used the figure as a mode of drag performance,” he said.

Carrion became a strong mechanism for Justin to explore the idea of shapeshifting. He has always been interested in mythical creatures because he feels they are accessible as an ancient form of storytelling. “The stories come from the issues I have been thinking about - how the human body is changing and its inter-relationship with technology and nature. In the work I move between human, machine and bird and different re-combinations”.

In his work there is not only this sense of future and changing environment but also a deep connection to the past as he reimagines his mythology, and the animist traditions, culture, and language of his Filipino heritage. “I have always been interested in mythical creatures because I feel they are accessible - an ancient form of storytelling from dragons to water spirits- so I am looking at ways to tap into my own version as a form of storytelling”.

Part of the provocation of the work is not just transformation through costume but also the exploration of changing the body frame through movement.

Justin has been training with Body Weather in Sydney and working with his mentor Victoria Hunt to explore the practice of emptying the body and bringing in the effect of a different elemental state, for example, electricity in the knees, or lava in the fingers that will create a stimulation that causes the performer to change. Justin said through this elemental work, he has developed a whole notation system of choreographic language that draws on different elementals to guide the movement.

Carrion was designed to be a portable club performance in a suitcase, one that since 2017, Justin has taken to galleries, nightclubs and public spaces in China Europe and America, Indonesia, Philippines, and many others. The theatre version of the show has also toured in Sydney and Melbourne, Hamburg, Paris and Canada.

Justin said, “A lot of the design features come out of portable spectacle: how to create a spectacle in a club in a way that is easy to take around but also to transform the body in an dramatic way. The electronics are powered by a battery pack strapped to my body it is all hidden, which maintains the magic”.

He said the work is Queer in the way the body transforms.

“Queer doesn’t have to be a term for sexuality, it is about different bodies and possibilities. It’s also about the performance language that comes from a nightclub culture ‘I’m deeply embedded in, reimagining forms of drag and performance,” he said.

Justin enjoys the contrasts between audiences in different settings as they all play a strong part in the work. “In a nightclub where there are competing elements, dramatic and sensory, they are inebriated and malleable they can be drawn in a different way than in a theatre which is a quiet, dark and focussed space where you can take an audience on a different journey. In a Gallery it is visual and translates well, there is a real focus on the object, and we have made works that have translated well into gallery spaces using lighting and robotic systems that make it come alive,” he said.

His pseudonym, Phasmahammer has also developed many works which morph through these ideas of mythology, futurism and environment including the recent Titum Arum for the Art Gallery of New South Wales, where the central form is somewhere between robot and plant. “It was more colourful and psychedelic focused, less on the human and more on the animal and plant.”

Titan Arum was named after a particular flower – a corpse flower that attracts the pollinators deep into its bell through its scent. He said the work was also drawing from the history of craft he has been working on with his partner Matthew Stegh. They have been developing textile inflatable organisms, which encourage the audience to question are they a plant, a mammal or something else in between. “They are alien and yet familiar,” he said.

Even though his work draws on tropes including the Terminator he is conscious of not painting a bleak future rather, one of evolution. “I think – about really listening to what people are feeling and I think people are fragile and angry, I am interested in making a work that speaks to the interconnectivity of human and non-human beings. What kinds of relationships do we need to cultivate and nurture?”

Carrion will be at the Warrnambool Art Gallery until 3 April 2022

Image credit: Justin Shoulder, Carrion. Photographed by Alex Davies, edited by Tristan Jalleh 2019. Special thanks to The Myer Foundation, Readymade Studios, Performance Space.