An impetus to innovate

Jonathan Marshall talks to Artrage’s Marcus Canning

<img src="http://www.realtime.org.au/wp-content/uploads/art/1/160_artrage_pet.jpg" alt="Pet Photo Booth,
Jenny & William 2006″>

Pet Photo Booth,
Jenny & William 2006

Pet Photo Booth,
Jenny & William 2006

Marcus Canning, director of Perth’s Artrage, concedes that festival themes can often be “arbitrary or a little meaningless.” Nevertheless in describing the selection of events he has gathered for the coming Artrage Festival, he notes that there are “elements that act as strong connectors throughout this program”, namely a sense of “pedestrian suburban reality transformed.”

While previous Artrage Festivals have tended to be, in Canning’s words, “a bit sprawling—traditionally it has been a month-long program”, this year however it will be “a shorter, tighter package.” Events will occur over a 10-day period, closing with the Festival of Northbridge—the suburb in which Artrage’s main venues are located. The program includes return seasons of some of the best events fostered by Artrage itself over the previous 18 months, together with specially commissioned works, public events, spectaculars and interactive booths designed to appeal both to Artrage’s usual clientele as well as to the wider public. As Canning puts it, audiences will experience “not only a transformed Northbridge, but also contemporary West Australian emerging culture, across all levels and all forms.”

Situated just north of the Perth city centre, Northbridge is, in Canning’s words, “the playground of the suburbs”—a busy strip of nightclubs, bars and restaurants. A prime piece of real estate in the area has recently been cleared and transformed into a grassy public space. This site, The Block, at the corner of James and Lake Streets, just up the road from Artrage’s main venue, the Bakery, is to act as the locus of the festival. “We’re building a compound from shipping containers,” Canning explains. “Six of them form the entrance. Then on the corner there’s Feuerwasser by artist Miles Van Dorsen. It’s a bit of an entry statement and, again, an example of the innocuous or the kitsch transformed. There’s a standard, above-ground Clark’s swimming pool—with the classic veneer wood panelling on the outside—and then there’s a 5 metre fire fountain that erupts out of it. It’s also an incredibly gentle work, because gas is literally fed through the water. So on the surface, you get this combination of flame and water intermingled.” Behind these structures will be a circus tent, its interior distinguished from traditional big tops by ornate curtains and a proscenium stage for a variety of performances. Meanwhile, the Bakery will house new pieces from emerging artists Zoe Pepper (schlock-horror theatre work, Manic Pony) and Paea Leach (solos from the choreographer, recently returned from dancing with Chunky Move in Melbourne).

“Alchemical” public art works such as Feuerwasser coexist in the festival with what Canning regards as more overtly “populist” or “playful” elements, like Pet Photo Booth. The public can bring their animal companions to be creatively immortalised in this small photographic studio. As Canning explains, “this is a work which we’ve supported over a long development. It’s had an initial showing in the form of 4 prints within the exhibition which the Australian Centre of Photography put together for this year’s Melbourne Festival. Then it will have a showing here, and finally they will do a big version of it in the front gallery at ACP in Sydney during December. Here, people will be bringing in their pets and booking a spot to join this growing number of extraordinary portraits.”

Pet Photo Booth is one of a number of ‘interactive’ installations at The Block, some of which call for audiences to activate the works or otherwise participate in their creation, and others which have been generated as part of Artrage’s outreach collaborations and satellite projects across regional WA, in schools or with tertiary institutions. One is Audiosity, initially mounted earlier this year in Geraldton by local young artists mentored by WA composers. Inhabitants of the town scoured their environment for found sounds to craft into a number of percussive loops which can be activated by audiences, alone or together and in different combinations. Canning explains that the interface comprises a number of “lift-up boxes which you can then plug in to a big grid. So it’s like a big, physical, 3-dimensional game board. It was set up as a bit of a fun park in the gallery at Geraldton.”

Other festival events include an opportunity for spectators to craft a close-fitting calico model of themselves (Lifesuit), an installation of bottle-top art works created by secondary school students to accompany a hand-painted set by local children’s book illustrator Shaun Tan, as well as 3 short, intimate theatrical performances from students in contemporary performance at Edith Cowan University (The Suitcase Trilogy).

The 2006 festival will also feature Artrage’s “strongest film program yet”, including a showing of US installation artist Matthew Barney’s famous Cremaster Cycle, as well his latest screen work, Drawing Restraint (p22). Accompanying this will be the WA instalment of the national ReelDance Festival of dance film, here supplemented by a special screening of works by WA filmmakers and students (Body Cuts) as well as a public artists’ forum (Cutting Film for the Body). I have curated these 2 events to try to get beyond the notion that if dance is the rhythmic arrangement of moving objects in space and time, then all cinematic editing of moving objects should be considered dance film. If the genre is to flourish as anything other than highly specialised then an expanded and filmic definition is required. Body Cuts will also include classic approaches to dance cinema, short works from students at Edith Cowan University and the WA Academy of Performing Arts, as well as 2 films from Perth dancer and choreographer Claudia Alessi. Her intimate, close-shot films will offer a strong contrast with the festival’s live dance spectacular, Crossfire, for which Alessi is producer. This piece features over 150 dancers performing on James and Lake Streets on the last Saturday of the festival. Also on show will be dance photography from Christophe Canato, who has worked at Paris’ Théâtre de la Ville, documenting the work of luminaries such as Ushio Amagatsu of Sankai Juku, Pina Bausch and others.

Canning is pleased that “The Cremaster Cycle, which is playing at the RMAX Cinema just off James Street, will feed into the ReelDance Festival less than a block away at Cinema Paradiso. Those are 2 really interesting programs sitting alongside each other. With the addition of the seminar and the local works screening, this will be a real jab of stimulus to local dancers and filmmakers. Artrage is here acting as a primer. It supports and develops emerging artists, across all art forms, throughout the year, and the festival is a great time to add some spice. Those who engage will hopefully walk away from the experience transformed, thinking: ‘I’m going to go out and make some work that I never thought I’d make before.’ And that’s what we at Artrage should be about.”

Artrage Festival, Bakery & associated venues, Perth, Oct 26-Nov 5, www.artrage.com.au/festival

RealTime issue #75 Oct-Nov 2006 pg. 12

© Jonathan Marshall; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

1 October 2006