Melbourne Festival: Before your very eyes

Seven 10-to-15-year-olds perform and play in a box made of two-way mirrors with a camera in the corner. They do what a disembodied voice tells them to do. We watch; they can’t see us.  It’s not as creepy as it sounds and gives children something rare: a voice equal to adults.

Before you're very eyes
Before you’re very eyes

CAMPO (formerly Victoria) are from Ghent in Belgium. Every time I see something from this city, I want to go there. Before Your Very Eyes is the third and final in a series of works for adults performed by children. The second was That Night Follows Day, which was directed by Forced Entertainment’s Tim Etchells and seen at the 2008 Melbourne Festival.  This is a co-production with Gob Squad, a collection of UK and German artists

The project started with a group of 7 to 12 year olds in 2009. Over the years the children were recorded improvising and interviewing themselves on camera, and the footage is incorporated into the the production, which was first seen in early 2011. A year is a long time as a child; what you loved at 10 can be shameful by 11. This show lets the older child talk to their younger self.

The children are asked to live their lives out for us, so they grow beyond their three recorded years. The transition to 19 feels like dress ups with cigarettes and the idea of what being an adult is, but the mood changes as the children are asked questions by their younger selves. How do you tell your 10-year-old self that you lost their favourite toy?

As they hit their 40s, their reflection of the I-could-have and the I’m-really-not-special ages lies between uncanny and disturbing. It’s odd to recognise yourself being played by a teenager. Yep, that’s how we begin to dress and I’m trying to remember a party without homemade sushi, a discussion about wine and someone dancing badly in the corner.  And they continue talking with their younger selves. Would 15-year-old you be proud of who you are today? Mine would like my hair and my friends, but that’s about it.

This beautiful and fascinating work takes the children through to their deaths. Their lives are not special, we don’t know what they did, we just watched them live and die.

As Etchells’s piece confronted the view children have of adult power, Gob Squad let children show us what they think of growing up. As “kids” are bundled into a generic lump, so kids bundle 19, 40 and 80 year olds. Maybe we are always only acting our age.

Anne-Marie Peard

Anne-Marie spent many years working with amazing artists at arts festivals all over Australia. She's been a freelance arts writer for the last 10 years and teaches journalism at Monash University.

Anne-Marie Peard

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