Photo of a pile of giant white plates sculpture in an art gallery

Robert Therrien. No Title (Stacked Plates) 1999. Assemblage

The Plate Spinner


Some time in childhood I saw on television a troupe of Chinese acrobats performing on stage, in a theatre somewhere in London. There is no fancy camerawork just a fixed, face-on, black and white shot framed by the stage curtains.

The framing of the image creates the illusion of the TV being a miniature theatre in a box, right there in the room - tiny people performing mind-boggling, body-bending manoeuvres that defy laws of gravity. At one point the performers conjure up a forest of bamboo poles, filling the stage, and then disappear from view. One reappears with a pile of plates. Before my eyes the figure begins to perform an impossible task, moving through the forest, placing a plate atop each pole and sets it spinning.

I watch mesmerised as more and more and more plates are added. I instinctively know none must be allowed to fall. Ever. The figure darts from one plate to another. Each and every one needing precise attention to be able to survive the performance.

My body remembers still, being taut with tension, willing the performer to keep the plates spinning and not allow them to come crashing down. And then, to some invisible cue, the act is played in reverse. Each plate is allowed to slow its spin. Just as it begins to topple the performer catches it, safely returning it to the static pile cradled in caring arms.

The whole performance is probably only a few minutes but I am exhausted from the tension (and possibly from barely breathing). I remember, too, how deft and assured is the performer’s every move; every touch no more and no less than what is required.

I am grateful this body-mind memory resurfaced. Given all that is happening in the world now, and all that faces us, it reminds me that even the trickiest tasks and situations are well met with a mindful balance of effort and ease.