More OzAsia: from Australia

Keith Gallasch

In last week’s interview with OzAsia Festival Artistic Director Joseph Mitchell, he spoke about major performance works in his festival. This week we’ll look briefly at three Australian collaborations that reveal an increasingly complex and exhilarating weave of cultures, before moving on to the festival’s music and visual arts shows in coming weeks.

In Between Two

Mitchell emphasised the importance of the personal in his 2017 OzAsia programming, even in large-scale works. One of the standouts of the 2016 Sydney Festival was In Between Two. I wrote in my review, “In a logical but equally lateral extension of the modus operandi favoured by photographer and solo performer William Yang, In Between Two [dramaturgs Yang and Annette Shun Wa] features two artists in conversation, with their life stories, projected photographs, video and live music.”

The performers — both are musicians and they accompany each other — are Chinese-Australian spoken word and hip hop artist Joel Ma aka Joelistics and Filipino-Dutch-Australian guitarist, producer and songwriter James Mangohig who generously and engagingly share their family histories, having first swapped them with each other as they became friends and “each other’s therapist.” They tell fascinating tales about heritage, love, drugs, religion and politics. Among them is Joel Ma’s account of his beautiful, energetic Chinese grandmother who came to Australia from Hong Kong when she was 17, had several children and co-founded Sydney’s legendary Chequers nightclub in the 1930s (there are wonderful photographs and film footage). I saw In Between Two as “expanding our sense of what it means to be Asian-Australian, to achieve a sense of cultural heritage, to escape the strict dictates of religion and family but also to reconcile and be able to turn life into art with music and wit.”

Marienbad, 2012, (detail), John Young, Macau Days, image courtesy of Chancery Lane Gallery, Hong Kong

Macau Days

This mixed-media exhibition about Macau — administered and then colonised by Portugal from the mid-16th century until 1999 and handed back to China (with some autonomy until 2049) — features paintings by the Australian Hong Kong-born John Young, poems and prose by Brian Castro (also born in Hong Kong) and soundscapes by composer and media artist Luke Harrald evoking the lives of Chinese and Europeans across centuries of the region’s history. This is an intruiging combination of talents focused on a place most of us know little about beyond James Packer’s casino problems.

Fairweather, image Erik Griswold

Fairweather

Born in Scotland, Ian Fairweather (1891-1974) is widely regarded as one of Australia’s greatest painters. First-hand experience of Asian art, especially Chinese calligraphy, and Australian Aboriginal art transformed his painting in an astonishing life of travel across Asia, involvement in both World Wars and often impoverished life in remote coastal Queensland locations where he made some of his best-known work on brown paper or cardboard, often leaving it open to the elements. His greatest concern was to simply keep painting.

Composer Erik Griswold, author and narrator Rodney Hall and video artist Glen Henderson will stage Fairweather, their response to his art and life, with koto virtuoso Satsuki Odamura and Adelaide’s Zephyr Quartet. You can see part of a 2013 performance here and hear an ABC interview about the work in which Hall emphasises that the collaborator’s creation does not aim to tell the story of the artist’s life, “it’s the opposite of storytelling,” rather “it’s about an accumulation of extraordinary incidents that lay bare the depth of his character and his alienation.” Hall adds that he’s running “a campaign against the plethora of stories we’re surrounded by.”

For Griswold, Fairweather’s appeal lies in “the musicality of his paintings, the rhythmic quality of line and colour.” When looking at the paintings, he says, “I could almost hear these musical patterns.” For Griswold and Henderson the fusion of Western and Asian techniques are central to their response. Fairweather promises to a be fascinating collage of image, text and music.

Hot Brown Honey, promotional image Danika Yakina

Hot Brown Honey

Black Honey Company are on a roll. Teik-Kim Pok in his review of their latest work in May this year (a co-production with Campbelltown Arts Centre and Brisbane’s La Boite, where it will play 10-21 October), wrote, “One the Bear is a stunning gathering of artistic talents and a timely allegorical warning about cultural commodification and its oppressive narratives. And Candy Bowers and Nancy Denis’ skilful, iconic buffoonery excites hope for life beyond this production for the artists’ bear alter-egos.”

After successful seasons in 2016 at the Edinburgh Fringe and Melbourne’s Arts Centre and in June this year at the Sydney Opera House, Kim ‘Busty Beatz’ Bowers and Lisa Fa’alafi’s Hot Brown Honey will appear in OzAsia with its giant beehive set and matching honey cell-patterned costumes in a political burlesque featuring women of colour from Africa to the Pacific to Australia wickedly protesting white patriarchy.

OzAsia Festival, 2017, Adelaide, 21 Sept-8 Oct

Top image credit: Joelistics, In Between Two, photo Prudence Upton courtesy OzAsia 2017

2 August 2017
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