An intriguing performance at a Melbourne music festival that purportedly planned to induce an epileptic fit in an apparent sufferer has left punters divided and generated a trail of intrigue on social media.

Ripples of outrage percolated around the annual Sugar Mountain Festival on Saturday at the historic Forum Theatre during a collaboration between rock enfant terrible Kirin J Callinan and music video specialist Kris Moyes.

At the start of the performance, Moyes read out a lengthy diatribe claiming the duo planned to deliberately induce a seizure in “Billy”, an apparent photosensitive epilepsy sufferer, to gauge the audience reaction. But he claimed festival organisers had shut down the stunt due to safety concerns. Instead of the live seizure, a rehearsal video was screened, drawing catcalls and general opprobrium.

“Billy” was stationed in the audience adjacent to a buff audience member, who later lumbered on stage to attack Callinan before being tackled by security.

Other “audience members” — believed to be plants — howled abuse from other quarters, while ordinary punters turned their backs in disgust and moved to other parts of the venue, seemingly unaware they were part of a Fluxus-style experiment exploring thresholds of tolerance.

Eyewitnesses have told Crikey that “Billy” and the stacked accomplice — who had been tweeting photos of himself with the hashtag #sugarmountain in the lead-up — were wearing pink wristbands reserved for media and artists’ guests.

The Callinan/Moyes performance ended prematurely at the conclusion of their allocated 40-minute slot, with the band, featuring local rockers Shags Chamberlain and Daniel Strickland, only managing to churn out a few tunes.

On Facebook one punter was outraged, saying the set-up didn’t “change the fact that this was a situation that put someone at incredible risk, I hope they hired actors to play the doctors who would have to oversee this ‘controlled event’. F-CKING BULLSHIT.”

Others, including Vine music editor Marcus Teague, appreciated the “awesome” absurdity, coining the tongue-in-cheek hashtag #farcegate.

While the Sugar Mountain Facebook page currently features an underpanted Callinan as its cover image and its official Twitter account retweeted praise for the performance in its aftermath, Crikey understands organisers are disappointed in some aspects of the show. Sugar Mountain is expected to release a statement on the incident this afternoon.

UPDATE 3:30PM: Sugar Mountain has released the statement: “Sugar Mountain is a music and arts festival that fosters creativity across multiple art forms, giving our artists a platform to showcase their art. We also have a responsibility to our patrons to provide a duty of care, and unfortunately Kirin and Kris’ planned performance breached this.”

Callinan, formerly a guitarist in defunct Sydney popsters Mercy Arms, didn’t respond to queries this morning. Moyes — who has made video clips for The Presets and Sia — referred queries relating to the organisers’ opinions of his “performance art show” to the organisers.

However, last week on 3RRR show Breaking and Entering, Moyes said the performance was “going to be the most talked about thing of 2013”: “What are the boundaries, what is not acceptable and what is not unacceptable for a live show?”

Callinan added the show was about “pushing ourselves and pushing the audience into unfamiliar territory”. “One thing to understand about either of our practices is … we don’t make things for the sake of being shocking or controversial. We make things because they have a meaningful conceptual grounding and that’s something we believe in,” he said.

Lisa Raph, client services officer at Epilepsy Victoria, told Crikey that while a small induced “absence” may not have been too serious, a tonic-clonic (grand mal) seizure could have resulted in an injury. In her opinion, the sequence of events was a set-up because “there was no way Billy — if he was a real victim — would allow himself to be subjected to something like that”. Raph says only 5% of epilepsy sufferers are truly photosensitive and the condition is less likely among older people.

Last year, Moyes constructed a fast-moving video clip comprising a series of animated GIFs for Callinan single Way II War.

Peter Fray

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