February sees the play celebrated across the country with Yellamundie at Carriageworks in Sydney and the National Play Festival in Perth, as well as announcements of new awards to deserving playwrights. More lateral approaches are anticipated from emerging artists at PACT, The Public Studio in Melbourne, a real life human experiment in ANAT’s The Subjects, political provocation courtesy of Richard Bell at MUMA, seminal sonics from Deutschland and more…

And if you missed last week’s in the loop you’ll find current events listed at the end for easy access.

yellamundie, carriageworks

Sonny Dallas Law, Bjorn Stewart, Colin Kinchela, Bully Beef Stew, PACT Centre for Emerging Artists

Sonny Dallas Law, Bjorn Stewart, Colin Kinchela, Bully Beef Stew, PACT Centre for Emerging Artists

Sonny Dallas Law, Bjorn Stewart, Colin Kinchela, Bully Beef Stew, PACT Centre for Emerging Artists

Mooghalin Performing Arts’ Yellamundie: National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Playwriting Festival is now in full swing at Carriageworks. After a launch during the Sydney Festival, six plays have been in development with public play readings taking place Feb 7-9. The plays include Cuz by Billy McPherson, First Contact by Jane Harrison (guest editor of RealTime’s RealBlak edition) and Crowbones & Carnivores by David Milroy (also featured in RealBlak). There’ll be readings of plays by emerging playwrights who have been taking part in Redfern Salon, presented in partnership with Playwriting Australia, Redfern Community Centre and Belvoir. You can read director Frederick Copperwaite’s article on the festival in RealBlak.
Yellamundie, play readings and salon Feb 7-9, Carriageworks; http://www.carriageworks.com.au/?page=Event&event=Yellamundie

national play festival, perth

Playwriting Australia is having a busy month also producing the annual National Play Festival in Perth this year at the State Theatre as well as contributing to Yellamundie. A range of new plays will be presented via rehearsed readings including adventurous new works by Declan Greene, Andrea James (see RealBlak and RT105) and Angus Cerini (See RT107 and RT102). There’s also an emphasis on writing for younger audiences with readings of works by Lachlan Philpott, Casey Nicholls and Kit Brookman as well as a showcase of emerging talent from Western Australia.
National Play Festival, State Theatre, Underground Studio, Perth Feb 21-24; http://www.pwa.org.au/nationalplayfestival2013/

awf playwriting awards announced

Yael Stone, A Golem Story, writer Lally Katz

Yael Stone, A Golem Story, writer Lally Katz

Yael Stone, A Golem Story, writer Lally Katz

Still on playwright matters, Declan Greene (see above) and Lally Katz (see RT104 and RT95) have just been named as the inaugural recipients of the Australian Writers’ Foundation Playwright Award. The AWF is the charitable wing of the Australian Writers’ Guild; each writer will receive $15,000 to assist in their career development. (See in the loop: opportunities for the State Library of Victoria’s playwriting awards.)
Australian Writers Guild http://www.awg.com.au

harvest, pact

Harvest. PACT Centre for Emerging Artists

Harvest. PACT Centre for Emerging Artists

Harvest. PACT Centre for Emerging Artists

PACT Centre for Emerging Artists’ training program is now in its 15th year and we’re about to discover the latest crop of talent in the annual ensemble production, Harvest. This year it’s directed solo by Acting Artistic Director Julie Vulcan while Cat Jones makes the most of her Creative Australia Fellowship. Harvest explores “the world we live in through food, consumption and waste. Examining habits and the rituals that sustain us…When is one person’s insane act another’s act of sanity?” (press release). The opening night will also include the launch of PACT’s 2013 program.
Harvest, PACT Centre for Emerging Artists, Feb 20 – March 9, official opening and program launch, Feb 22; http://www.pact.net.au/2012/10/ensemble-2013/

until then, then, the public studio

Until Then, Then, The Public Studio

Until Then, Then, The Public Studio

Until Then, Then, The Public Studio

In RT73 John Bailey was impressed by performer/director Ming-Zhu Hii’s take on Yoko Ono in her Next Wave performance Y. He wrote, “The personal, political, fiction and fact are interwoven in a way which doesn’t result in an undifferentiated miasma but instead produces the sense, if not the logic, of an artist frequently written off as a relic of counterculture aestheticism.” Her subsequent work Attract/Repel featured in the 2009 Melbourne Fringe. Ming-Zhu Hii returns after a three-year break to present a new work in her collaboration with Nicholas Coghlan which is titled The Public Studio. The production Until Then, Then is an audio visual installation inspired by Baroque vanitas in which the central character, King Fool, is “searching frantically for answers about his own apparent death and ultimately—the meaning of life” (press release).
The Public Studio, Until Then, Then, La Mama, March 6-10; http://thepublicstudio.net

See also Ming-Zhu Hii’s article for RT85 on cross-racial casting.

the subjects, anat

Sean Williams, Fee Plumley, Thom Buchanan,  Jennifer Mills, The Subjects, ANAT

Sean Williams, Fee Plumley, Thom Buchanan, Jennifer Mills, The Subjects, ANAT

The latest project from the Australian Network for Art and Technology is a kind of reality tv-lab rat-residency hybrid. Four artists have agreed to subject themselves to sleep deprivation under the supervision of scientists while attempting to be creative during the process. The artists/subjects are self-confessed techno-evangelist Fee Plumley, painter and cross-disciplinary artist Thom Buchanan and authors Sean Williams and Jennifer Mills. The experiment will take place at the Appleton Institute under the watchful eyes of director Professor Drew Dawson and sleep and circadian physiology researchers Greg Roach, Charli Sargent and Xuan Zhou.
Follow the experiment’s progress at http://thesubjects.anat.org.au/; Feb 9-16

richard bell: lessons on etiquette and manners, muma

Richard Bell, Scratch an Aussie 2008 (production still, detail), courtesy of the artist and Milani Gallery, Brisbane

Richard Bell, Scratch an Aussie 2008 (production still, detail), courtesy of the artist and Milani Gallery, Brisbane

Richard Bell, Scratch an Aussie 2008 (production still, detail), courtesy of the artist and Milani Gallery, Brisbane

Opening the 2013 season at Monash Museum of Modern Art is the first Melbourne survey of the work of painter, multimedia artist, activist and agent provocateur Richard Bell. Brisbane-based, Bell is a member of the Kamilaroi, Kooma, Jiman and Gurang Gurang communities and has been creating work that is political and humorous, particularly paintings, since the 1990s. For this exhibition he will present Peace heals, war kills (Big ass mutha fuckin mural) 2011-12, a collaboration with Emory Douglas, former Minister of Culture for the Black Panther Party in the United States, as well as recreating the 1972 Tent Embassy inside the gallery, which will also be the venue for a series of talks by radical Indigenous leaders.
Richard Bell: Lessons on Etiquette and Manners, curated by Max Delany and Francis E. Parker, Monash Museum of Modern Art, Feb 5- April 3; www.monash.edu.au/muma

tools, kawita vatanajyankur, beam contemporary

Kawita Vatanajyankur, Soaked, 2012

Kawita Vatanajyankur, Soaked, 2012

Kawita Vatanajyankur, Soaked, 2012

Thai-born Melbourne-based video artists Kawita Vatanajyankur’s exhibition Tools uses the female figure in 17th century still-life paintings as a starting point. However, in her video pieces she “brings the female body into a new stark environment where body and domestic object conflate and seem to physically react and violently communicate with each other.” We are intrigued…
Tools, Kawita Vatanajyankur, Beam Contemporary, March 1-16, http://www.beamcontemporary.com.au/

einstürzende neubauten & pole

Pole, UnSound

Pole, UnSound

Pole, UnSound

Not one but two greats of late 20th century German music are about to tour Australia. Industrial krautrock legends Einstürzende Neubauten will be appearing in Melbourne courtesy of the Drones curation of I’ll Be Your Mirror (a side project of All Tomorrow’s Parties) as well as playing extra gigs in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane. Also on the festival circuit courtesy of Goethe Institut is Pole (Stefan Betke), the purported inventor of glitch. He’ll be performing as part of UnSound at the Adelaide Festival as well as in Sydney and Brisbane.
Einstürzende Neubauten, Melbourne: I’ll be your Mirror, Feb 17 & Palace Theatre, Feb 19; Sydney: Enmore Theatre, Feb 22; Brisbane: The Tivoli, Feb 23; http://handsometours.com/current/einsturzende-neubauten; Pole, Adelaide Festival, March 16; Brisbane: IMA, March 21; Sydney: Sound/Light/Stone, March 22; http://www.goethe.de

still in the loop

In Between Time 13, Bristol, UK
Feb 14-17, 2013, exhibition Feb 2-April 14; http://ibt13.co.uk/
more…

The Transmuted Signal
Broadcast on air and online Feb 3 & 10, and March 3 & 10, 2013; www.kunstradio.at; www.frequencyoz.com
more…

Blak Nite Cinema
Presented by the City of Melbourne, ACMI (Australian Centre for the Moving Image), Federation Square; Feb 8-10; www.thatsmelbourne.com.au/Whatson/blaknite/Pages/BlakNite.aspx
more…

Colour Box Digital Media Exhibition
Footscray, Jan 16-Feb 27, 2013; http://colourboxstudio.com/
more…

Sonic Acts: The Dark Universe
Feb 21-24, 2013, exhibition open now; http://2013.sonicacts.com/
more…

Wim Vandekeybus/Ultima Vez, What The Body Does Not Remember
Adelaide Festival, March 7-9; www.adelaidefestival.com.au/2013/dance/what_the_body_does_not_remember
more…

RealTime issue #112 Dec-Jan 2012 pg. web

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

utp, _space residencies

Michael Essien, I want to play as you, directed by Ahil Ratnamohan,  commissioned by UTP and presented  by UTP and CCLuchtbal. Feb 2-9, Antwerp

Michael Essien, I want to play as you, directed by Ahil Ratnamohan, commissioned by UTP and presented by UTP and CCLuchtbal. Feb 2-9, Antwerp

Michael Essien, I want to play as you, directed by Ahil Ratnamohan, commissioned by UTP and presented by UTP and CCLuchtbal. Feb 2-9, Antwerp

Urban Theatre Projects in Bankstown are calling for applications for their _SPACE residency program. Successful artists will receive access to the large rehearsal space as well as administrative and dramaturgical support. The residencies are for two week blocks in April, August and November 2013. Applications are encouraged from Western-Sydney based artists as well as those interested in engaging with the local community.
Applications due Feb 22, http://urbantheatre.com.au/current-projects/_space-residency-program/
[Image note: Ahil Ratnamohan is a long time associate of Urban Theatre Projects developing his first full length work The Football Diaries in 2009 (see RT91) with the help of a UTP residency. His latest project, commissioned by UTP takes place in Antwerp premiering at the AESP Sport Opening Ceremony, and continues his interest in football as choreography and the experience of players seeking new lives in foreign countries. Antwerp Feb 2-9; http://urbantheatre.com.au/current-projects/michael-essien-i-want-to-play-as-you/]

r e ross trust playwrights’ script development awards

The State Library of Victoria oversees the R E Ross Trust Playwrights’ Script Development Awards which are for the development and workshopping of new plays. The award is open to Victorian writers who can apply for between $3,000 and $10,000. “Winners also have the opportunity for rehearsed readings at Flashpoint at the State Library of Victoria or fortyfivedownstairs, and one recipient may be invited to either showcase their play at PlayWriting Australia’s National Play Festival 2014 or receive a two-week PlayWriting Australia script development workshop” (press release). See in the loop: quick picks for info on the 2013 National Play Festival in Perth.
Applications due March 22; slv.vic.gov.au/ross

studios and exhibtions, gaffa gallery

Gaffa Gallery in Sydney’s CBD currently have studio spaces available. These studios offer access to the communal workshop which features a range of useful tools. Resident artists may also have the opportunity to display work in the emerging practitioners retail section of the Gaffa Shop. Gaffa is also seeking expressions of interest from artists wishing to exhibit with them between August and December 2013.
Studios http://gaffa.com.au/how-to-apply; exhibitions http://www.gaffa.com.au/Gallery-Hire

police lane gallery, ballarat

Ballarat’s Arts and Culture Public Art Advisory Committee has announced a new public art venture for the city. The Police Lane Gallery will comprise the outside wall of the Ballarat Art Gallery which will house five 2x1metre vinyl banners. Exhibitions will run in six weeks blocks across 2013.
Expressions of Interest due Feb 28; email juliecollins@ballarat.vic.gov.au

international summer school, iugte

Physical Theatre Lab

Physical Theatre Lab

Physical Theatre Lab

The International University Global Theatre Experience (IUGTE) offers a range of labs and workshops across the year with an emphasis on “exploring the bridge between world theatre traditions and contemporary performing arts” (website). They have just announced their summer school which will be an International Physical Theatre Lab. Drawing on the methods of Russian theatre director Sergei Ostrenko it will use techniques introduced by early 20th century masters such as Stanislavsky, Chekhov and Meyerhold as well as Tai-Chi and contemporary forms. The workshop is suitable for experienced dancers, actors of physical theatre, contemporary circus performers, choreographers and directors and takes place in the Retzhof Castle in Leitring bei Leibnitz, Austria.
International Physical Theatre Lab, IUGTE, Austria, July 1 – 6; http://www.iugte.com/projects/lab

still in the loop

(see full article)

Western Australia Contemporary Dance Initiative
Applications due Feb 8, 2013; http://www.australiacouncil.gov.au/grants/2013/western-australian-contemporary-dance-initiative
more…

2013 ICMC, Edith Cowan University
Deadline for papers & works Feb 11, 2013; ICMC Aug 12-16, 2013; http://icmc2013.com.au/
more…

Brisbane Festival, Independent Performance Works
Applications due March 8, 2013; http://www.brisbanefestival.com.au/
more…

Borough of Queenscliffe’s 150th Anniversary Art Awards
Entries close March 13, 2013; http://www.queenscliffe.vic.gov.au/boq_150th_anniversary.php
more…

Bayside Artists-In-Residence
Applications close March 29 2013;
http://www.bayside.vic.gov.au/arts_artist_in_residence_program.htm
more…

Australian Antarctic Arts fellowship
Applications due March 30, 2013; http://www.antarctica.gov.au/media/news/2013/arts-fellowship-applications-open
more…

Chippendale New World Art Prize
Applications close April 16, 2013;
http://chippendalecreative.com/art-prize/
more…

RealTime issue #112 Dec-Jan 2012 pg. web

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

Thursday, Brink Productions & English Touring Theatre

Thursday, Brink Productions & English Touring Theatre

Thursday, Brink Productions & English Touring Theatre

ON JULY 7, 2005, GILL HICKS, AN ADELAIDIAN LIVING IN LONDON, MADE A SERIES OF DECISIONS. SOME OF THESE WERE QUITE SMALL.

As the trains were late she decided to deviate from her normal routine and go to Kings Cross Station. When she got there, pushed to the back of crowd, she decided not to barge her way onto the first train but wait for the next. When that next train came she decided to get into the first carriage. Then, after a suicide bomber in the first carriage of the second train from Kings Cross detonated his device, Hicks made a very big decision: to survive.

Artistic director of Brink Productions, Chris Drummond, had seen an interview with Gill Hicks on Andrew Denton’s Enough Rope in 2007. She was the last survivor to be pulled from the carnage and lost both legs below the knee. Drummond had the beginnings of an idea for a new work, but he was holding off because he thought “It was too focussed on a place like London for a small Adelaide company to do with any authenticity.” Then, serendipitously, at the 2008 Performing Arts Market in Adelaide, he met Rachel Tackley the director of English Touring Theatre who was seeking an Australian company for a co-production. Drummond says, “There was just a real connection between Rachel and myself and between the producers, Kay Jamieson [Brink] and Jane Claire [ETT]. The four of us really had a shared sense of the theatre we wanted to make…We had this wonderful thing of an Adelaide company and a London company talking about an Adelaide woman in London.”

Thursday is a true co-production, split 50/50 between the two companies including cast and production creatives. The first development took place in London and the final rehearsals and premiere will be in Adelaide with the production programmed for the 2013 Adelaide Festival. The creative development in London brought together a devising team to explore possible theatrical imagery. Drummond says, “We are a text-based company but what we are trying to achieve is a highly theatrical work coming out of the text, so we usually start with a group of [devising] artists in the room. We didn’t know with this one whether we would follow the events that Gill had experienced or if we might go in a completely abstract direction.”

Bryony Lavery, known for her award winning plays Frozen and Stockholm, attended these devising sessions and then took 12 months to create the final script. Drummond is impressed by the way Lavery “carried through the sensibility from the first creative development. Because writers deal in character and story we sometimes lose some of the more interesting theatricality in the writing process. Bryony works with Frantic Assembly and lots of other physical theatre companies in the UK and has a real interest in and the capacity to keep the theatrical poetry quite open.” Rather than telling Hicks’ story in documentary form the play follows the stories of the eight characters who come into contact with the fictionalised central female character and focuses on what Hicks describes as both the worst and best of humanity coming together in a single moment.

Chris Drummond, Gill HIcks, Thursday, Brink Productions and English Touring Theatre

Chris Drummond, Gill HIcks, Thursday, Brink Productions and English Touring Theatre

Chris Drummond, Gill HIcks, Thursday, Brink Productions and English Touring Theatre

Drummond continues: “What has resulted on the floor is not a traditional play. It tells a really big story and it tells it in a really deep way through the characters, but you never have two characters talking in a living room or that kind of thing. It doesn’t work like that. It works much more as a rolling, choreographic, image-based work.”

Gill Hicks was in London when the team first met for the creative development and attended the first day of rehearsals, sharing her story with them. Since then Drummond has kept her informed of the progress. In a nice turn of fate, Gill Hicks has not been substantially involved in the latter phases of the project as she has just given birth to a baby girl (and, with apt synchronicity given the play’s subject, two of the original devising performers also became pregnant at the same time).

Three weeks into the final rehearsals, Drummond is “thrilled with how it’s feeling. Much of it actually incredibly playful and but then it goes into some pretty harrowing territory.”

After the Adelaide Festival premiere, Thursday will be presented in Canberra as part of the centenary celebrations. In 2014 the work will tour to England and Drummond has plans for Australia’s eastern states as well.

Adelaide Festival: Brink Productions & English Touring Theatre, Thursday, writer Bryony Lavery, director Chris Drummond, designer Dan Potra, composer/musician Quentin Grant, lighting designer Colin Grenfell, producers Kay Jamieson (Aus) and Jane Claire (UK), performers Paul Blackwell, Emma Handy, Martin Hutson, Lena Kaur, Tom Mothersdale, Kate Mulvany, Nathan O’Keefe, Deidre Rubenstein, Rochenda Sandall; Norwood Concert Hall, Feb 28-March 6; http://adelaidefestival.com.au; http://brinkproductions.com; http://www.ett.org.uk/

RealTime issue #112 Dec-Jan 2012 pg. web

© Gail Priest; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Reckless Sleepers

Reckless Sleepers

Reckless Sleepers

NOT KNOWN FOR UNDERSTATEMENT, PERFORMANCE SPACE’S LATEST SEASON IS A DRAMATIC CALL TO ACTION—IT’S A MATTER OF LIFE AND DEATH.

While it’s a compact season, taking place Feb 23-March 9, it promises to help you live for the moment, with three major performance pieces, a Night-time short works event, Clubhouse activities and workshops all focussed on that sticky subject, mortality.

The headlining performance is from UK/Belgian company Reckless Sleepers presenting The Last Supper. In RT107 Megan Garret-Jones described the performance she witnessed at the Compass Festival in Leeds: “The Last Supper interrogated storytelling and history-making with what transpired almost as a word-association game of recalling the notable dead and literally eating their words, squares of paper disappearing into the performers’ mouths once their contents were recited. Performers and audience sat at dinner tables on the stage, intimately sharing the last meals of executed prisoners as distributed through a kind of raffle. We considered martyrs and criminals alike as defined by their last words and meals. We considered whether we were supposed to eat the cheeseburger and decided we were.” It’s an intimate performance for 39 guests. Each has a case number and it seems that for 13 of them, this could be their last meal. (Feb 27-March 9)

Brian Lucas, Performance Anxiety

Brian Lucas, Performance Anxiety

Brian Lucas, Performance Anxiety

Running simultaneously is Brian Lucas’ Performance Anxiety. Here we are invited into an intimate cabaret in which Brisbane-based choreographer/performer Lucas adopts roles of torch singer, war correspondent, orator and stand-up comedian. He shares tales of the large and small battles that an individual must undertake to be part of society. (Feb 27-March 2)

Sarah-Jane Norman, Corpus Nullius/Blood Country (2011), part of the Unsettling Suite

Sarah-Jane Norman, Corpus Nullius/Blood Country (2011), part of the Unsettling Suite

Sarah-Jane Norman, Corpus Nullius/Blood Country (2011), part of the Unsettling Suite

Much anticipated is Sarah-Jane Norman’s performance installation, Unsettling Suite which brings together four of Norman’s major works exploring her English and Indigenous heritage. In RT111’s RealBlak Norman wrote of her projects: “In preparation for Bone Library, I’ve spent nearly a year, it seems, with blood permanently encrusted under my fingernails, the result of months spent cleaning animal bones, pushing out plugs of bloody marrow; and I’ve gradually learnt the best spots on my own body, with its recalcitrant veins, to draw blood, having trained myself via the many DIY hotel-room phlebotomies that have had to be discreetly performed for Take this, for it is my body. Materially, physiologically and symbolically, blood is an undoubtedly fascinating substance.” This thought provoking epic is not to be missed. (Feb 23-March 10)

There is also a night of short works curated by ever-inventive writer, performer and curator Eddie Sharp titled Live and Let Die (March 2). Clubhouse will offer one-off events across the season such as Death(cha) Kucha by the Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions presenting their research into the history of execution; and Desensitising Death: A Night of Film by Mu Meson archivists Miss Death and Jay Katz screening ads and clips which have inspired horror filmmakers. Celebrant and artist Vicki Spence will share her ongoing research into contemporary rituals around death in her presentation Mortality Talking.

But it’s not all about death and loss, there’s also Making Time (Feb 23, March 2, March 9), a workshop by Make Shift and Tessa Zettel which will literally explore preservation. Here you’ll learn jam-making, bottling and preserving methods ideal for foraged, native or backyard surplus foods. It might almost make life worth living.

Performance Space, Matters of Life and Death, Feb 27-March 10, Carriageworks; http://www.performancespace.com.au

RealTime issue #112 Dec-Jan 2012 pg. web

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

Berberian Sound Studio

Berberian Sound Studio

YOU HAVE ARRIVED HERE BECAUSE YOU USED GOOGLE TO SEARCH FOR “HYPNAGOGIC” AND “HAUNTOLOGICAL.” I WRITE THIS BECAUSE I AM A MEME WITHIN THE FILM BERBERIAN SOUND STUDIO. I’VE HACKED THE FILM TO TRACE HOW ITS MODISH DIRECTION AND PRODUCTION IS BORN OF VOGUISH TERMS LIKE “HYPNAGOGIC” AND “HAUNTOLOGICAL” (HEREIN CONFLATED AS HYPNO-HAUNTO DESPITE THEIR DIFFERING ORIGINATIONS).

What is this film about? If one accepts its hypno-haunto inclination, it’s a dual text. One, a dream-narrative about Peter, a very British sound editor from the mid-70s who ends up producing sound effects for a very Italian mixer, Santini, tracking and mixing an unseen, film The Equestrian Complex, in the eponymous Italian post-production studio. The other, an audiophiliac celebration of the components, procedures and techniques for recording sound effects back then, with an ancillary appreciation of the Italian giallo subgenre of erotic thrillers produced in Italy since the 1960s.

Under hypno-haunto logic, the film fetishises the iconography and sonography of generic Library Music produced across the 60s and 70s—some of it wacky, some of it decidedly experimental. Its initial recouping came via the late 90s post-Lounge trend when European labels like Cinevox, La Douce, Plastic, Dagored and Crippled Dick uncrated rare/dismissed tracks from Italian movies, TV shows and Library Music companies. Groovy lounge music—additionally from British Library Music companies like Bosworth, Chappell and Southern—consequently formed a luridly dank sonic bed in much UK music. Berberian Sound Studio sleeps there too.

It’s a thoroughly saturated aural realm, created equally by hipsters and exploiters, sampling and processing aurally distinctive fragments and textures to signify a type of Cool Britannia re-plugging into a recent cultural past. If there are defining parameters to the hypno-haunto ethos, they are aligned to such ‘acts of listening’ wherein one identifies that something is being appropriated (though not quoted)—but so that one experiences its origins as vaguely remembered events, even though the listener is likely not to have heard the original sounds, only their redistribution through other acts of sampling and versioning. Its value as evocation supersedes its value as specification, hence the sensation of feeling the past’s incursive lay of the present via a haunting refrain.

Berberian Sound Studio

Berberian Sound Studio

And that’s precisely why Berbian Sound Studio is an example of ‘hauntological cinema.’ It’s littered with affected allusions towards said iconographies/sonographies from Italian giallo movies, British educational docos and groovy film scores from both Italy and England (here ‘hypnagogically’ collapsed through the atmospheric renderings by British duo Broadcast). But as much as I like the cultural library the film unracks—as well as the broad sweep of artists abstractly exploring these tendencies, from Boards of Canada to Mogwai to Broadcast to Pole to Actress, and great re-issue labels like Scamp, Trunk and Lo Recordings—the film does not move past the denotative position of ticking already validated checkboxes.

Most perplexing is how the film declares its love of the era and its artefacts (through well-researched fawning over Shears ¼-inch tape boxes, a Space Echo Tape machine etc) while curiously annulling the power with which those artefacts helped shape both experimental music and film scores. Berbian Sound Studio’s press kit has a telling line: “Santini’s (the movie’s fictional director) The Equestrian Vortex may be a schlocky giallo slasher, a classic horror, but Peter’s Berberian Sound Studio has a more absorbing, hauntological bent.” I read this after seeing the film, but found that it illustrates much of what the film illuminates for me: namely, a subtextual clash between stiff, uptight, prissy, picky, train-spotting Anglophilia and bombastic, gaudy, sensual, erotic, rapacious culture Italian-style. Yes, that’s the conflict between the film’s central characters, but the film’s shoehorning of contemporary notions of misogyny, sexploitation and B-grade categorisation ignores the fucked-up sexual terror which defines giallo and qualifies how the likes of Morricone (in Bird With The Crystal Plumage) and Goblin (in Suspiria) approached their wonderfully vicious soundtracking. Make no mistake: this film is more Harold Pinter than Lucio Fulci.

But Berberian Sound Studio should be well-liked by an Anglo ‘hypno-haunto’ audience. Retro technology abounds; it’s got a kinda Lynchian feel about it (signposted by its Mulholland Drive/Lost Highway midway dimensional inversion); it extols an ethical aversion to screen violence; the special effects evoke 60s radical cinema you can flip through on ubuweb; and further exhaustive online research for 30 minutes will lead you to single paragraph blogs with Wikipedia-links to Lucio Berio, Cathy Berberian, Dario Argento and Mario Bava. After that you’ll end up here at this review, because you used Google to search for “hypnagogic” and “hauntological.”

Berberian Sound Studio, director Peter Strickland, released June, 2012, screening ACMI, Dec 27, 2012-Jan 13, 2013; http://www.acmi.net.au/lp_berberian_sound_studio.aspx

This article first appeared in RealTime's online e-dition Jan 30, 2013

RealTime issue #112 Dec-Jan 2012 pg. 24

© Philip Brophy; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Welcome to the new-style in the loop. Less chatter and more art, but RT’s in the loop listings continue to be selected for their potential to excite, challenge, inspire and innovate (and because they piqued our curious-kitty natures). Read on to stay informed about interesting events in your part of the world as well as action around the country and overseas.

cementa, kandos nsw

Fiona Kemp, Lap Lane, site-specific work of a 46mx20cmx10cm trough embedded into the ground, coloured chlorine blue and filled with water

Fiona Kemp, Lap Lane, site-specific work of a 46mx20cmx10cm trough embedded into the ground, coloured chlorine blue and filled with water

Fiona Kemp, Lap Lane, site-specific work of a 46mx20cmx10cm trough embedded into the ground, coloured chlorine blue and filled with water

Fancy an art intensive weekend in the country? Try Cementa, taking place at Kandos around three and half hours’ drive from Sydney in central NSW. Co-curated by Ann Finegan, Alex Wisser and Georgina Pollard, Cementa will present over 40 artists in and around the town, which until recently was a thriving hub of cement manufacture. It’s an impressive collection of artists, both established and emerging, offering video, installation, sound, 2 and 3D works. Artists include Josephine Starrs & Leon Cmielewski, David Haines & Joyce Hinterding, Sarah Goffman, Cigdem Aydemir, Sue Pedley & Virginia Hilyard, Mark Brown, David Capra, Pia Van Gelder and Alex White. Each day will feature walking and cycling tours to make sure you don’t miss a thing.
Cementa, Feb 1-4, Kandos, NSW, various venues, http://cementa13.com/

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the transmuted signal, frequency oz

Curated by Colin Black and produced by Yanna Black, The Transmuted Signal is a radio series presented on air and streamed online via Kunstradio (ORF, Austria). Black himself and Philip Samartzis, Cat Hope, Nigel Helyer, Lizzie Pogson, Melanie Herbert and Entoptic will “transmute” a visual image into an audio-only work. “Each work follows an evolution of media from hand written symbols to audio technologies, broadcast technologies and the internet via live audio streams and podcasts” (press release).
The Transmuted Signal, broadcast on air and online Feb 3 & 10, and March 3 & 10, 2013; www.kunstradio.at; www.frequencyoz.com

wim vandekeybus, ultima vez, adelaide festival

What the Body Does Not Remember, Ultima Vez

What the Body Does Not Remember, Ultima Vez

What the Body Does Not Remember, Ultima Vez

Jana Perkovic, covering ImPulsTanz 2008 in Vienna for RealTime, wrote “Even the standing room only tickets have sold out, and the raging mass of disappointed kids looks like they may start a riot: the atmosphere before Ultima Vez’s performance is akin to a rock concert. Choreographer superstar Wim Vandekeybus’ company has toured the world with their trademark vocabulary of acrobatic, extreme, often violent movement, soaked in multimedia and energetic music ” (RT87). The Flemish dancer and choreographer Vandekeybus, who appeared in Jan Fabre’s legendary The Power of Theatrical Madness (1984), has revived his 1987 classic What The Body Does Not Remember for an international tour which will bring the work to the 2013 Adelaide Festival and the company’s much anticipated first visit to Australia (and only to Adelaide). Vandekeybus and the composers Thierry De Mey and Peter Vermeersch won a much-prized Bessie Award in New York for the work which was then described as “a brutal confrontation of dance and music: [a] dangerous, combative landscape.”
See an excerpt of Ultima Vez in performance at http://www.adelaidefestival.com.au/2013/dance/what_the_body_does_not_remember and glimpses of other works and a complete film on YouTube.

soundout festival, canberra

Now an established part of the summer improv wave that sweeps across the eastern states, SoundOut returns (with funding this year) for an intense weekend of “Free Improvisational, Free Jazz and Experimental Music” (press release). International guests include Abaetetuba Collective (Brazil/Switzerland), Barcode Quartet (Austria/UK), Hermione Johnson (NZ) Jeff Henderson (NZ) along with Charity Chan (Canada). Australian talent includes the Stasis Duo, Mike Majkowski, Alison Plevey and Reuben Ingalls, Jon Rose, Michael Norris and festival director Richard Johnson.
SoundOut, Feb 2-3, 2013, Theatre 3, Canberra; http://soundout2013.blogspot.com.au/

blak nite cinema

The Wrong Side of the Road, Blak Nite Cinema

The Wrong Side of the Road, Blak Nite Cinema

This three-day festival explores “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander visual arts, hip hop and country music, traditional and contemporary dance, theatre and the performing arts through film” (press release). As well as feature films Bran Nu Dae and The Sapphires there’s a great program of impressive documentaries.
Blak Nite Cinema, presented by the City of Melbourne, ACMI (Australian Centre for the Moving Image), Federation Square;, Feb 8-10; http://www.thatsmelbourne.com.au/Whatson/blaknite/Pages/BlakNite.aspx

gasp, tasmania

Susan Phillipsz at GASP, photo Rob Harrison; GASP landscapes, photos Pippa Dickson

Susan Phillipsz at GASP, photo Rob Harrison; GASP landscapes, photos Pippa Dickson

Tasmania is currently punching above its weight in cultural output. Another venture, Glenorchy Arts and Sculpture Park (GASP), is an impressive addition to the cultural landscape in which The Museum of Old and New Art figures so prominently. The park occupies the public land from Wilkinson’s Point to Montrose Bay on the Elwick Bay foreshore, 10 minutes north of Hobart. The main feature of the park is the architect-designed boardwalk by Room 11 spanning 600 metres of river. For their first permanent commission, GASP asked Scottish artist and 2010 Turner Prize winner Susan Philipsz to create a work for the bridge. The resulting sound installation, The Waters Twine (which takes its inspiration from James Joyce’s 1929 audio-recording of Finnegans Wake), was launched during the MONA FOMA music festival. It will be presented again at various times across the year so stay tuned. Stage 2 of the park is currently underway and due for completion in April 2013.
Glenorchy Arts and Sculpture Park (GASP), http://gasp.org.au/

digital media month, colour box studio

Layla Vardo, Cromlech “a kind of burial mound in observance of the death of analogue television” (artist statement)

Colour Box Studio is a pop up multifunctional artspace that opened in November 2012 in Footscray. “The space will change month to month to showcase Melbourne’s creative community and represent a diverse range of artists, creative people and artforms” (website). Over February it celebrates all things digital with an exhibition curated by William Head featuring major works by Layla Vardo and Ka-Yin Kwok, an extensive screening program focusing on non-fiction and more. The space was founded by filmmaker Amie Batalibasi and also offers workshops ranging from photography to web design.
Colour Box Digital Media Exhibition, Footscray, Jan 16-Feb 27, 2013; http://colourboxstudio.com/

international: the dark universe, sonic acts festival amsterdam

HC Gilje, Revolver, installation at the opening of The Dark Universe Exhibition

HC Gilje, Revolver, installation at the opening of The Dark Universe Exhibition

HC Gilje, Revolver, installation at the opening of The Dark Universe Exhibition

For some serious sound art fare/fair, there’s the upcoming Sonic Acts Festival in Amsterdam, this year titled The Dark Universe, investigating “how to make the invisible imaginable, teach us how to embrace the unknown, and guide us through the dark universe” (press release). The exhibition has already commenced at NASA: New Art Space Amsterdam and will be complemented by three nights of performance and talks. The impressive roster of musicians and audiovisual artists includes Maja Solveig Kjelstrup Ratke & HC Gilje, Jacob Kirkegaard, Makino Takashi, Mika Vaino, Biosphere, Lustmord, Tina Frank and Cut Hands (William Bennett).
Sonic Acts: The Dark Universe, Feb 21-24, 2013, exhibition open now; http://2013.sonicacts.com/

RealTime issue #112 Dec-Jan 2012 pg. web

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

Simon Faithfull, Fake Moon, IBT13

Simon Faithfull, Fake Moon, IBT13

Simon Faithfull, Fake Moon, IBT13

Auspiciously the 2013 In Between Time Festival in Bristol will take place not under one but two full moons. There’s the real one, perhaps difficult to glimpse in the February gloom, and then there’s Simon Faithfull’s Fake Moon, ready to pick up nature’s slack. Based on the College Green, Faithfull will send aloft a helium balloon fitted with its own illumination and each night of the festivities it will make its way across the Bristol skyline.

In fact for a festival in a Northern Hemisphere February, IBT13 offers quite a number of outdoor activities, challenging the brave to rug up and tough it out to experience art’s liveness. In The Woods, Norwegian group Night Tripper will take their audience on a walk through the wintery forest to experience a magical concert exploring animistic myths and voodoo rituals and said to feature an invisible choir. With more of an urban feel, Carmine Mauro Daprile’s The Moon will use “cosplayers”—people who dress up as their favourite cartoon characters (particularly from manga and anime)—to render the everyday environment strange and wonderful (exact location in Bristol’s CBD yet to be divulged).

Zierle & Carter & Chamber Made Opera,  Living Room Opera: Between Lands and Longings, IBT13

Zierle & Carter & Chamber Made Opera, Living Room Opera: Between Lands and Longings, IBT13

Zierle & Carter & Chamber Made Opera, Living Room Opera: Between Lands and Longings, IBT13

However, for the weak willed and easily chilled there are plenty of indoor wonders as well. Melbourne’s Chamber Made Opera have been commissioned to create one of their boutique living room operas with Cornwall-based artists Zierle and Carter (see previous review). Titled Between Lands and Longings it will explore ideas of home, displacement and migration. (See RT101 for a review of previous living room operas, and RT108 for an interview with CMO director David Young.)

Victor Riebeek and Florentina Holzinger, Kein Applaus für Scheisse, IBT13

Victor Riebeek and Florentina Holzinger, Kein Applaus für Scheisse, IBT13

Victor Riebeek and Florentina Holzinger, Kein Applaus für Scheisse, IBT13

There’s also a range of performances in more conventional theatre spaces, not that this means conventional theatre fare. From Amsterdam comes Victor Riebeek and Florentina Holzinger with what we are told is a flagrantly boundary-pushing exploration of contemporary pop culture—Kein Applaus Für Scheisse (no applause for shit)—which features “an elusive mix of dance, trashy pop, theatre, roller skating, acrobatics and love” (program). English ensemble Reckless Sleepers will perform A String Section—five women, five wooden chairs and five handsaws—you might be able to imagine how that will end. (After appearing in Brisbane’s World Theatre Festival, Reckless Sleepers will appear in February at Performance Space, Sydney in the Last Supper (http://www.performancespace.com.au/2012/the-last-supper/). There’s also Italian physical theatre company Motus’ whose piece Too Late! (Antigone) Contest #2 is a re-interpretation of the Sophocles classic. And the provocative Glaswegian performance artist Nic Green explores her relationship with her father and her native Scotland in Fatherland.

Coney, Early Days (Of a Better Nation), IBT13

Coney, Early Days (Of a Better Nation), IBT13

Coney, Early Days (Of a Better Nation), IBT13

Looking particularly enigmatic is Early Days (Of a Better Nation) by performance group Coney, which invites the audience in as players in a large-scale interactive video performance exploring what happens now after the heady optimism of the people-led upheavals of the Arab Spring and the Occupy movements has settled.

No live art festival is complete without a one-on-one performance, and here it is provided by IBT Associate Artist Jo Bannon with Dead Line, in which you are invited to have a private phone conversation confronting your own mortality. Nor should a festival be without a workshop; for IBT13 it is literally that—in Worktable, Kate McIntosh invites visitors to don goggles and wield tools to make something new from something broken.

There’s also an exhibition at Arnolfini titled Version Control which explores performance not “solely as a ‘live’ activity” but as a method of “making the past present” (program). The exhibition features Amalia Pica, Tim Etchells, Felix Gmelin, Andy Holden, Rabih Mroué and includes video, painting, drawing and sculpture with performative interventions. The opening night of the exhibition will feature Tim Etchell’s Untitled (After Violent Incident) in which he recreates Bruce Nauman’s 12-screen installation Violent Incident using a combination of texts on screens with footage of dancer Wendy Houstoun reenacting the slapstick content. Houston will also perform live on the opening night.

And of course there’s much more, including pavements of gold (Pete Barrett), peripheral visions (Alex Bradley) and fireworks (festival director Helen Cole) and a horsey themed final party which is rumored to involve 5000 My Little Ponies. But if you can’t make it to Bristol, don’t despair. RealTime will be offering up meaty coverage by Tim Atack, Osunwunmi and Niki Russell, alumni of our 2006 IBT writer workshop, as part of our RT114 “festivals” edition.

In Between Time 13: International Festival of Performance, produced by IBT in association with Arnolfini, director Helen Cole; Bristol, various venues; Feb 14-17, 2013, exhibition Feb 2-April 14; http://ibt13.co.uk/

previous in between festival coverage in rt

ibt2010
http://www.realtimearts.net/feature_contents/Inbetween_Time_2010

ibt2006
(including onsite intensive writing workshop) http://www.realtimearts.net/feature_contents/Inbetween_Time_2006

RealTime issue #112 Dec-Jan 2012 pg. web

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

Alice Giles in Antarctica

Alice Giles in Antarctica

Alice Giles in Antarctica

australian antarctic arts fellowship

Applications are open for the 2013-2014 Australian Antarctic Arts fellowship which provides travel via ship or plane to Antarctica and logistical support, food, accommodation and transport while in situ. Previous recipients include Philip Samartzis (see RT review of Liquid Architecture 2012) and Alice Giles (see profile in RT104), and is open to all artforms.
Applications due March 30, 2013; http://www.antarctica.gov.au/media/news/2013/arts-fellowship-applications-open

brisbane festival, independent performance works

Festival director Noel Staunton has announced David Berthold as the independent performance curator for the 2013 Brisbane Festival. Berthold has issued a callout for independent productions including installation and site-specific works. Funding from $1,000-$10,000 will be allocated to the chosen works.
Applications due March 8, 2013; http://www.brisbanefestival.com.au/

2013 icmc, edith cowan university

The International Computer Music Conference for 2013 will be hosted by Edith Cowan University (WA) incorporating the Australasian Computer Music Conference and taking place simultaneously with TURA’s Totally Huge Music Festival. The theme for this year’s conference is International Developments in ElectroAcoustics (IDEA). Submissions are now open for papers, demonstrations, studio reports performances and more.
Deadline for papers & works Feb 11, 2013; ICMC Aug 12-16, 2013; http://icmc2013.com.au/

bayside artists-in-residence

Bayside City Council in Melbourne’s southern suburbs is offering four 12-month residencies in the historic Billilla Mansion in Brighton. The residencies are open to visual artists, writers, composers and multimedia artists.
Applications close March 29 2013;
http://www.bayside.vic.gov.au/arts_artist_in_residence_program.htm

chippendale new world art prize

Chippendale Creative Precinct (CCP) has announced a new art prize/residency to the value of $10,000, one awarded each year for the next 10 years (thanks to a very generous private donor). The residency is at the Red Gate Gallery in Beijing, July-September 2013, with the resulting work exhibited at the NG Art Gallery, Chippendale in 2014. Each year the prize will have a different theme: for 2013 it’s ‘revitalisation.’
Applications close April 16, 2013;
http://chippendalecreative.com/art-prize/

western australia contemporary dance initiative

Now in its second year the Australia Council Dance Board’s three-year Western Australia Contemporary Dance Initiative seeks to “develop the contemporary dance sector in Western Australia. It aims to build on existing activity and funding in the sector and to encourage artists to take time to develop a work through its life cycle” (website). Open to individuals and companies in WA applications can include one or more development stages of a work. Funding can be up to $50,000.
Applications due Feb 8, 2013; http://www.australiacouncil.gov.au/grants/2013/western-australian-contemporary-dance-initiative

horror filmmaking bootcamp, hobart

For Tasmanian locals and those inclined to boldly travel to the apple isle there’s a weekend Horror Filmmaking Bootcamp taking place in Hobart, Feb 2-3. You’ll be able to learn make-up special effects, the basics of screen acting and a little bit about music and sound for horror. This is all particularly useful if you are thinking of entering the 48hour Tasploitation Challenge the following weekend where you can try your hand at whipping up your own splatter masterpiece. A selection of the best films will then be screened at the Stranger with my Face Horror Film festival in March.
Bootcamp, Feb 2-3, http://strangerwithmyface.com/48hour/horror-filmmaking-boot-camp; 48Hr Tasploitation Challenge, Feb 8-10; http://strangerwithmyface.com/48hour/; Stranger with My Face Festival, March 7-10, http://strangerwithmyface.com/

borough of queenscliffe’s 150th anniversary art awards

The Borough of Queenscliffe is an hour and half’s drive south west of Melbourne on the Bellarine Peninsula. To celebrate 150 years of settlement the council is offering several art prizes: an Open Art Acquisitive Award of $5,000; a Print Making Award of $500; and a People’s Choice Award of $500. The prizes are open to artists from across Australia and shortlisted works will be exhibited in local galleries Salt Contemporary Art, Seaview Gallery and Tussock Upstairs in May.
Entries close March 13, 2013; http://www.queenscliffe.vic.gov.au/boq_150th_anniversary.php

RealTime issue #112 Dec-Jan 2012 pg. web

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

Keith Gallasch talks with Matthew Whittet who wrote and performed in Windmill Theatre’s School Dance (directed by Rosemary Myers) presented at the Sydney Theatre Company in association with Sydney Festival.

School dance 2013 tour

Sydney: January 10-February 3, 2013
Sydney Theatre Company and Sydney Festival
Wollongong: February 7-9, 2013
Merrigong Theatre Company, Illawarra Performing Arts Centre

Melbourne: April 10-20, 2013
Arts Centre Melbourne

Brisbane: July 31-August 3, 2013
Brisbane Powerhouse

www.windmill.org.au/

RealTime issue #112 Dec-Jan 2012

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

THE NEW DIGITAL TECHNOLOGIES MAY HAVE MADE FILMMAKING MORE ACCESSIBLE AND ECONOMICAL, BUT IT’S STILL A COSTLY AND COMPLEX PROCESS. HOWEVER, NOW THAT A FILM OR NEW MEDIA WORK CAN BE SUBMITTED AS THE PRINCIPAL MEANS OF ASSESSMENT IN THE PRACTICE-LED POSTGRADUATE DEGREES OFFERED AT UNIVERSITIES WITH SCREEN PRODUCTION COURSES, THIS HAS BECOME NOT ONLY A PRACTICAL WAY OF MAKING A FILM OR A MEDIA PROJECT, BUT ONE WITH OTHER ADVANTAGES.

Producing work in this way gives the maker the time to do substantial research, to think and to rethink a work, and even to change the concept completely. It provides facilities and technology to experiment with new formats and practices and to fine-tune technical aspects of the work. And most of all it provides space and a stimulating and supportive environment. The range and diversity of projects coming out of universities nationally is impressive: here are just a few.

myorchestra: real time music game

My Orchestra, director Pru Montin

My Orchestra, director Pru Montin

Pru Montin’s Master of Screen Arts project, which she is making at AFTRS, is myOrchestra, a real time music game demonstrating how physical gestures can create music. It’s mainly designed for children, but she believes that it could have other applications such as aiding filmmakers in working out the sort of music they want for a film: “It should be the perfect tool to see if the music is working for the film.”

On the screen is a concert hall and orchestra: the player, taking the role of conductor and/or composer, gestures to the screen to choose the players and their instruments and create the music. The idea came after a group of children in her music class surprised her with an impromptu performance with their own orchestra made up of toys and pots and pans. “Children really relate to music and love to explore the sounds of different instruments; they’re fascinated by and really good at performance. They relate so physically to music, love to stand behind the conductor and wave their arms around. But who can afford an actual orchestra?” she asked herself, and then reasoned that Kinect, where you can control things by just waving your hands, provided a perfect way to give children access to an orchestra and its instruments. Through research and experimentation she created the game, writing the music while developing the programming code and the look of the user experience.

“We’ve got 36 pieces of music, from short, sharp stabs to longer chords, which can be used to explore the characteristics of the different instruments, demonstrating by exploiting each particular phrase in each instrument how you achieve their distinctive sounds. It features what the instruments do well. We’re still testing, ironing out bugs in the software. We need to make it foolproof before we really show it off, “ she says.

After completing her first degree at Monash, Montin came to AFTRS and did her Graduate Diploma in Screen Music. She believes that “AFTRS is the only place where you can explore music for film in a really practical way, especially because you can work with other filmmakers at the same level; the students’ films that I worked on in the Grad Dip are still doing the festival circuit.”

johnny ghost: feature film & thesis

Johnny Ghost, director Donna MacRae

Johnny Ghost, director Donna MacRae

Johnny Ghost, director Donna MacRae

Donna MacRae has recently finished her PhD at Monash University in Melbourne, as part of which she made a feature film, Johnny Ghost, which is having a successful run on the alternate festival circuit, picking up awards, including Best Feature at the South Texas Underground Film Festival and Film with Most Heart at the PollyGrind FIlm Festival in Las Vegas. She believes “the PhD film heralds a new mode of production, offering filmmakers a rich tapestry of ideas in which to make their work.”

Having studied film at VCA, gone on to do a Masters of Fine Art at Monash “for more visual understanding,” MacRae realised that if she did her postgrad degree in the Faculty of Art and Design at Monash, “I could meet the requirements with a 30,000 word thesis and some practice. So I decided to make a film, blending the intellectual rigour of writing with the visual creativeness of filmmaking. It was the first time anyone had done it there, but I’ve gained my doctorate and the film has gained some critical recognition.” Because Monash has no film production facilities, she used a very small but professional film crew on a fast and streamlined shoot; the university offered locations, paperwork and the financial support of her scholarship. Through the PhD she had a position lecturing undergraduate students, and many of them worked as extras on the film.

Her thesis, “Projecting Phantasy—The Spectre in Cinema,” is on ghosts in film, a subject that’s always interested her. She found the academic research and the interaction with other students really stimulating: interest in ghosts crosses over into different areas, and “there’s so much writing, not only on ghosts in film, but on cinema as a ghost itself.” In Johnny Ghost, Millicent, a professional musician, lectures in music, is popular with the students and loves her job. But when she decides to have an old tattoo removed from her shoulder, shadows from her past won’t let her move on so easily—her ghost is one she has carried with her. MacRae chose “to shoot the film in long takes and black and white to give it an otherworldly, real time feel. I wanted to give the audience time to feel Millicent’s grief and also to experience unease.” And she hasn’t quite finished with ghosts: her next project will be a ghost western.

island home: documentary & doctorate

Jeni Thornley’s Island Home Country is a 52-minute documentary, a poetic cine-essay about race and Australia’s colonised history and how it impacts on the present, exploring various ways of dealing with the legacies of British colonialism and its race-based policies. It was made through a very consultative process, with Respecting Cultures (Tasmanian Aboriginal Protocols), and suggests an evolving shift in Australian historical narratives, from the frontier wars to one of diverse peoples working through historical trauma in a process of de-colonisation.

Jeni Thornley is a filmmaker of many years’ standing (her short film Maidens won a Greater Union Award at the 1978 Sydney Film Festival), a teacher and writer. It was while she was teaching a course on Issues in Documentary at UTS that something about teaching the subject “triggered my own awareness of the connection between theory and practice. Some of the thinking I was doing in teaching the course made me think of a different way to make a film (within the university). I got a scholarship, facilities and supervision. In fact Sarah Gibson (Senior Lecturer, Creative Practices Group, UTS) was not only my principal supervisor but offered a creative alliance; she was a measured and thoughtful supervisor and has been like a creative consulting producer, nurturing the project.”

Thornley’s Doctorate (DCA) took seven years; the film took four years to make. “I did try and get a TV pre-sale and some support from Screen Australia, but I got knocked back, but I get spurred on by rejection,” she comments, adding that she “embraced the university as a home and a working environment. When you make a film in this way, later in a career, there’s a certain maturity—you go into it with an acute consciousness of combining your early work and the reading and writing that went into that, to achieve a creative fertilisation between theory and practice. That’s something the industry doesn’t support—doesn’t even recognise, really. And at the university I found a community of scholars that was enormously nourishing. One of my fellow students was writing on and researching [Indian filmmaker] Satyajit Ray, and I learnt so much reading her work and spending time with her. Someone else was researching Chinese documentary and held regular screenings—the potential for such interdisciplinary connections is great and the environment is tremendously invigorating and exciting.”

As well as filmmaking and teaching, Thornley finds being an independent scholar, delivering papers at conferences, writing chapters for books, all very rewarding. Her film was bought by the ABC and screened in 2009 and 2010, and has been to a number of festivals. She and the film have just returned from the Anthro Film Festival (Vietnam Institute of Culture & Arts Studies) in Ho Chi Minh City, an international anthropological festival screening works by filmmakers from Vietnam and other Asian countries, with a few by Western filmmakers (see Thornley’s report in RealTime 113, Feb-March, 2013).

notes for walking: locative artwork

Notes for Walking, Megan Heyward, DCA, UTS Sydney

Notes for Walking, Megan Heyward, DCA, UTS Sydney

Notes for Walking, Megan Heyward, DCA, UTS Sydney

Megan Heyward is an award-winning Australian digital media writer, artist and educator whose work is at the intersection of storytelling and new technologies. For interactive media and different screens she creates innovative projects to reconfigure narrative, and her works have been widely exhibited in Australia and internationally. She was an academic at UTS when she decided to create a new project as part of her Doctorate in Creative Arts, and believes that making such a project as part of her DCA allowed her to be more experimental, to spend more time and develop her ideas on a project that really had no funding.

Notes for Walking is the result; it’s an innovative locative artwork situated at Middle Head National Park and Mosman Art Gallery as part of the Festival of Sydney next January. Visitors will use their mobile phones to discover a set of short video ‘notes’ electronically tagged to actual locations and features of landscape as they explore the old naval fortifications at Middle Head. Working “with the spectacular intersection of land, sea and sky at Middle Head, and the emerging capacities of augmented reality and location-based technologies, Notes for Walking will provide an intriguing exploration of a remarkable landscape,” a combination of artwork and treasure hunt. Visitors will be encouraged to take photos and submit their own messages and responses as they explore the locale. A mixed media installation involving video and audio will be encountered in The Cube media space in Mosman Art Gallery, including photos and texts sent electronically from Middle Head by visitors.

It’s clear that these works and many more have come through a process that offers not only a new mode of production, but one that offers time for research, experimentation and rumination, a stimulating, supportive environment and some very different forms of assistance. It’s an exciting development, and one that should result in innovative and thoughtful new work in many different forms.

RealTime issue #112 Dec-Jan 2012 pg. 20

© Tina Kaufman; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Hillel Schwartz, Making Noise: From Babel to the Big Bang & Beyond, Zone Books, New York, 2011

Hillel Schwartz, Making Noise: From Babel to the Big Bang & Beyond, Zone Books, New York, 2011

IT’S AN ALL TOO COMMON MISTAKE. SCHOLARS, SCRIBBLERS AND UNDERGRADUATES ROUTINELY GIVE BACK TO FINNEGANS WAKE AN APOSTROPHE IT DOESN’T REQUIRE. JOYCE’S PUNMANSHIP CONTINUES TO BEGUILE. IT WAS UNDECIDABLE, IMPLYING, RATHER THAN CHOOSING BETWEEN, THE PLURAL TENSE AND THE SINGULAR POSSESSIVE. UNLIKE THE LETTERS ‘S’ OR ‘Y,’ THAT APOSTROPHE DOESN’T HAVE A SOUND (CHEEKILY IRONIC, OF COURSE, IN RELATION TO A BOOK ALL ABOUT SOUND, WITH ITS BABBLING, CHATTERING AND HUNDRED-LETTER THUNDER WORDS).

Hillel Schwartz’s prefatory remarks to Making Noise contain one of the most poetic and beautiful accounts ever written of John Cage’s mythic 1951 visit to Harvard University’s silent, anechoic chamber and the aleatory composer’s wonder at hearing the sounds of his own body. It’s expected, then, to find an account of 1920s radio static and ‘stray’ sounds in Finnegan’s Wake (sic), but surprising to encounter such an elementary spelling mistake by the indefatigable author of The Culture of the Copy (1996). But further, Schwartz neglects to include the surfeit apostrophe before Alfred Jarry’s ‘pataphysics, a bogus, diacritical pomp that, while symbolic rather than sonic, is nonetheless accepted as bibliographic convention. On the other hand the grave accent is correctly placed in musique concrète, in this instance adding appropriate sonic weight and inflection to the pronunciation (Schwartz happily also loses the Austrian-flavoured umlaut often and incorrectly placed over the o in English derivations of Schoenberg).

It would indeed be churlish to spend too much time on such frippery in relation to Making Noise’s extraordinary scholarship and exquisite writing, wit and intelligence, its labour and love. While this suprasegmental detail sounds decidedly bookish it is far from pretentious or fustian. The very notion of the unnecessary, in this instance incorrect marks and “unwanted sound,” of “noise rarely indexed but often hidden,” is unavoidable. This sense of uncontrollable excess, of sound being surplus to need, of the inescapable weight of noise in the world from the beginning of time to the continuous present tense, is what Schwartz’s remarkable book is all about. The blurb (itself a form of noise) on the dust-jacket (of which I’ll say more directly) is succinct: “From the uproarious junior gods of Babylonian epic to crying infants heard over baby monitors, from doubly mythic Echo to loudspeaker feedback, Making Noise follows ‘unwanted sound’ on its paths through terrains domestic and industrial, legal and religious, musical and medical, poetic and scientific.” For a book two decades in the making, we should expect nothing less.

By the age of six, Schwartz tells us, “a child has spent more than 20,000 hours listening to the world and can recognise 10,000 complex sequences of syllables.” This connection between anthropology, sociology and biology, audition and grammar, reinforces Schwartz’s fascination with the human condition as essentially sonic rather than visual. In this, Making Noise daringly flies in the face of a generation of theorists for whom “typographic man” emerged from the Enlightenment as the literate product of the alphabet, dusting off the phonetic savagery of oral cultures along the way. Marshall McLuhan and Walter Ong are barely mentioned, Ted Carpenter and Jack Goody fail to detain the indexer. Put simply, Schwartz tells us that to be alive, “joyfully alive, or deeply troubled, or floating under the spell of a hypnotist” is to be “noiseful.” The Enlightenment has much to answer for, as has been demonstrated by more than 50 years of agonistic cultural criticism and literary theory. Schwartz caps off this counter-critique simply and pithily: being noiseful is evidence, personal as well as impartial, of the “fall of noise into nature.” Jorge Luis Borges taught us in his ficciones that there is something demiurgic about astounding scholarship. Reading this book realistically underlines that fabulatory astonishment.

Apart from the long history of noise and its affinities with culture, this book, if it is about anything that we can tidily name, is about the sounds of modernity. Note not the sound of modernity, since that it is far too monumental and inclusive. Schwartz portrays the emergence of the modern world as the empire of the ear, as a phenomenon that will always elude the anti-noisites and the trans-historical war on noise. Urbanisation, population growth, mass transport systems, stress etc may be things, but they all make sound. Like Joyce before him Schwartz identifies the inventory as one of the decisive techniques of modernity, the capacity to collate the sheer excess of the world into exhaustive lists. Accordingly, some of the sounds and noises of being modern that pepper the book’s pages include: machinery, street sellers, car alarms, primal scream, tinnitus, black noise, white noise, orange noise, pink noise, mufflers, sneezing, sniffing, noseblowing, traffic, toilets, farting, tittering, muttering, mobile phones, jackhammers, muzak, tutting, ventilation, brakes, television, radio. And so it goes. Silencing the noise from the business of being modern, Schwartz emphasises, would be impossible. For good measure he says it again in case we didn’t hear it the first time—“Let’s be blunt: impossible.”

At over 900 pages of text (including index) and 349 of endnotes (as downloadable pdf) Schwartz is no friend of parsimony. But forget for a minute that any words in this text, unlike sound and noise, are surplus to need, extraneous or padding. Schwartz is a writer’s writer, meaning that he is a sublime stylist, can turn a phrase you’ll never forget and knows he is being read by, inter alia, other writers. Which brings me to the dust jacket. I confess that I covet dust jackets and value paper more than cloth binding. On receiving my copy of Making Noise the first thing I did was remove the jacket for safe-keeping. In doing so I realise I had already taken Schwartz’s point before I had even read a word. For the paper cover is secondary, disposable, removable and ultimately unwanted. It is, after Philip K Dick, kipple, stuff that protects and otherwise clutters the real thing. It is an allegory, in other words, of Making Noise itself. As Schwartz says, there is no escaping noise since it is everywhere and all the time and without it, he advises, “we would not be in the world.”

RealTime issue #112 Dec-Jan 2012 pg. 37

© Darren Tofts; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Spin, director Max Hattler

Spin, director Max Hattler

THE PENDULUM SWUNG BETWEEN WHIMSY AND TRAGEDY IN THE INTERNATIONAL PROGRAM OF SHORT FILMS AT THIS YEAR’S UTS SYDNEY INTERNATIONAL ANIMATION FESTIVAL CURATED BY ANIMATORS (AND UTS LECTURERS) DEBORAH SZAPIRO AND DAMIAN GASCOIGNE.

With a couple of exceptions, this was a strong selection of films, and one which encompassed a great variety of techniques, including drawn animation, glass painting, stop-motion, 2D digital animation and CGI. Despite the stylistic diversity, certain common themes emerged. Most work was narrative-based (other programs in the festival concentrated on abstraction), though some films depended more on mood than story. Three out of the four French shorts had an anti-war message, while several films explored isolation. The idea of escape ran through films both bleak and upbeat. What better medium, after all, to illustrate the concept of escape than animation—a medium in which objects and scenes transform with the greatest of ease.

Journey to Cape Verde (Portugal, 2010) explores the popular escape sought through travel, following a harried city worker who leaves for the unsullied splendour of Cape Verde, an archipelago off the west coast of Africa. Senses dazzled, the viewer is pulled into the world of the solitary traveller as he moves through striking terrain, experiences local hospitality and is generally exposed to the small discomforts and larger rewards of the journey. Mainly employing simplified silhouettes of intense colour, deliberately redolent of African painting, the film is one of several in the program to create textural variety through a mixture of animation styles, including drawn sketchbook images that occasionally ‘come alive.’ It’s a testament to director Jose Miguel Ribeiro’s skill that he conveys such a strong sense of place in this work, as well as reminding us of travel’s capacity to broaden our horizons, literally and figuratively.

La Detente, directors Pierre Ducos, Bertrand Bey

La Detente, directors Pierre Ducos, Bertrand Bey

Most of the films exploring the escape theme were darker than this, however, their versions exploring the escape offered by imagination in the face of unpalatable reality. In La Detente (France, 2011) a soldier in the trenches of WWI dreams up a marvellous fairground battlefield populated by toy soldiers led by his own alter ego. This is expertly depicted in full-blown Pixar-style 3D animation which moves with relentless jollity. There are shades of The Wizard of Oz as the diminutive toy hero enters a giant head-shaped fortress, at which point the narrative takes a darker turn. It’s interesting to see this wide-eyed, cute-as-a-button imagery employed in a film about death and destruction, though directors Pierre Ducos and Bertrand Bey over-egg the pudding somewhat, their fantasy world a little too incompatible with the ‘real’ world of the soldier.

Being Bradford Dillman (UK, 2011) sees a small girl summon up an imaginary friend, who is also an alter ego of sorts, in response to a spiteful joke made by her mother. Molly Flowers, the young protagonist, is lonely: neglected by her alcoholic mum and teased by the neighbourhood kids. The film creates a child’s view of the world through cutout animation suggestive of children’s book illustrations, with the top of the mother’s head never seen. Its big-headed, enormous-eyed characters are more haunted than cute, however, and as if to reflect the lack of real joy in this child’s world, the colours are pallid and washed out. Being Bradford Dillman is wryly funny, but ultimately rather bleak.

The same can be said of Moxie (UK, 2011), which documents the last days of a psychopathic, suicidal bear. The creation of idiosyncratic animator Stephen Irwin, the film possesses the smudged black and white quality of an ancient crime scene photograph. It’s a tragicomic perversion of children’s animation narrated (by Ragga Gudrun) in a gentle Icelandic accent. Intriguing in some ways, it feels at the same time rather conceptually facile. Sharing the darker end of the spectrum, The Backwater Gospel (Denmark, 2011) is an atmospheric Gothic Western about the increasingly murderous paranoia which envelops the grizzled denizens of a desert hamlet. The creation of eight students at Denmark’s Animation Workshop, it’s as richly delineated as a classic superhero graphic novel—a celebration of genre rather than an attempt to break new ground. But the film to tackle death and destruction most succinctly was Spin (France, 2011). Simpler and more cogent than La Detente, its fellow French anti-war film, Spin offers up intricate patterns of digitised toy soldiers, presented Busby Berkeley-style. This frivolous dance of death mesmerises, emphasising through obscene parody the production line character of war.

Animation excels at mucking around with reality and delighting in the impossible. Several films played most successfully with this aspect of the medium. Luminaris, (Argentina, 2011) is a whimsically picturesque short in the vein of Amélie (2001), where real-life actors move in Chaplinesque stop-motion as they go about creating a wondrous new energy source. Da Haus (Germany, 2011) is an absurdist elaboration on the idea of creating one’s world from the ground up—an apt metaphor for the animation process itself, and one that was also explored in The Back Room (Austria, 2011). Yonalure: Moment to Moment (Japan, 2011), in which the moon takes a curious stroll through a slumbering town, shares something of Da Haus’s absurdist quality as well as its use of simplified shapes. In a dreamlike sequence that plays with notions of scale, the moon alternately grows and shrinks, pulling all objects towards it as it explores this new environment—only to wind up dissolving in a bottle of soft drink.

A Morning Stroll, director Grant Orchard

A Morning Stroll, director Grant Orchard

It seems fitting to conclude with a film that pays sophisticated homage to the animation medium itself. Inspired by a New Yorker story, A Morning Stroll (UK, 2011) begins in 1950s New York, which is rendered in the economical lines characteristic of cartoons from the famous literary magazine. It presents us with a mystery: a chicken walks unconcernedly along the city street, mounts the steps of a brownstone, pecks at the door and is let in by an unknown person, all to the bemusement of a passerby. Jumping forward 50 years, we’re taken through an almost identical scenario, this time in vividly coloured 2D digital animation. A young witness tries to document the chicken’s behaviour on his cellphone but, distracted by a zombie app, misses his opportunity. This leads us into the post-apocalyptic final instalment, a scene of desolation depicted in immersive 3D, where the passerby is a zombie and the stroll becomes a frenzied pursuit. For its wit and technical dexterity in charting the evolution of animation styles, A Morning Stroll was my pick of the bunch.

I would hazard a guess that for many adults, animation is inextricably linked to childhood. Most films in the International Program seemed to acknowledge this, either through playfulness, anthropomorphism or the telling of children’s stories. They used these signifiers, however, to express an often disturbing, adult sensibility.

UTS Sydney International Animation Festival: International Program, Sydney, Oct 13-14

RealTime issue #112 Dec-Jan 2012 pg. 21

© Katerina Sakkas; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

 Ensemble Offspring recording SILVA at the ABC Studios, Sydney

Ensemble Offspring recording SILVA at the ABC Studios, Sydney

Ensemble Offspring recording SILVA at the ABC Studios, Sydney

TRISTAN MURAIL’S GARRIGUE (2008, FOR FLUTE, VIOLA, CELLO AND PERCUSSION), NAMED AFTER “A TYPE OF SHRUB-LIKE VEGETATION (INCLUDING WILD THYME, ROSEMARY, JUNIPER) OFTEN FOUND IN MEDITERRANEAN FRANCE” (PROGRAM NOTE) WAS AN IDEAL OPENER FOR ENSEMBLE OFFSPRING’S SILVA: NATURAL MUSIC CONCERT, GENERATING UNEXPECTED SOUND WORLDS FROM ACOUSTIC INSTRUMENTS. THE PROGRAM INCLUDED FOUR WORKS FROM THREE FEMALE AUSTRALIAN COMPOSERS—MARY FINSTERER, ROSALIND PAGE, MELODY EÖTVÖS—WHO LIKEWISE INTRIGUED AND THRILLED US WITH APPROACHES AT ONCE FORMAL AND EXPERIMENTAL.

Garrigue has all the buzz, hum and shimmer you’d expect of a wild landscape and from the pioneer of Spectralism. With its moments of agitation, plangency, woodblock jigging and richly textured resonances (gong and vibes) it is a work of more than sonic beauty; finely shaped, it ends in sudden silence (as if someone has shut a door on nature) but not before the emergence of an entrancing melody.

Mary Finsterer’s Circadian Tale 7.1 (2009/2012) aims to evoke “the dreams we hold for ourselves and our children” beyond the everyday rhythms of our lives (composer quoted in program note). It’s a radiant work of individual and coupled utterances: the piano offers and sustains an opening thought; other instruments make lucid, complementary but independent utterances; the cello mutters then sings; violin, piano and vibes merge in a crystalline dream; and finally flute and soulful clarinet leave us suspended in reverie. The responsive audience waits until silence truly arrives before applauding. Finsterer has successfully evoked something that is quite natural to us.

The “knotted melodic plait” of Iannis Xenakis’ Plekto (1993) evokes nature as sound (“the collision of hail or rain with hard surfaces, or the songs of cicadas in a summer field,” writes the composer) and as biology (Xenakis’ musical application of mathematical rules akin to natural growth). Never sounding at all like a field recording, Plekto is full of passion and drama—a pounding piano, a soaring flute riding high above choralling viola and clarinet, a fascinatingly strange percussion passage, a piano and drum dialogue, a climaxing wave of movement physical and sonic and an eerie final keening collectively make for another otherworldly, but of the world, experience.

The title of Rosalind Page’s Being and Time 1: Lacrimae rerum (2012) comes in part from an Imants Tillers’ painting Lacrimae rerum, which in turn is drawn from a line in Virgil’s Aeneid regarding the “tears of matters” that relate to the emotional demands of mortality. Page was also taken with the fragments from a Thomas Bernhard poem in the painting. Despite the power of love, the poet is overcome with a sense of transience and grief—of entering a “land beyond goodbye” (program). Melancholy rather than mournful, Being and Time 1 is dramatic early on with stabbing cello and piano; the flute soars over a moody cello line which is then extended with almost romantic intensity, supported by full-bodied piano and drum. After a thoughtful piano passage the work moves moodily to its conclusion, the cello sad, deep, vibrato-rich and then plucked while the flute suggests a distant ethereal realm. The piano sounds our exit from contemplation. Although least identifiable with the concert’s nature theme, Time and Being 1 nonetheless shares a passion evident in the other works on the program for generating unusual structures; here dice are listed as instruments along with piano, cello, flutes and wind gong. Page explains on the Ensemble Offspring website, “I chose to cast the dice as a performative gesture to create present moments that cannot be predicted with certainty, a scattering of pitch-rhythm, a meeting of elements within and beyond my subjective composer control—and question if this gesture abolishes or indeed generates pure chance, amidst a garden of otherwise consciously signalled decisions” (http://ensembleoffspring.com/media/news/rosalind-page-musical-q-a/).

US-based Australian composer Melody Eötvös’ Leafcutter (2012) is a tribute to the female ants of the Leafcutter species. Those that do not attain queen status nonetheless adopt another function in their society—”rather than being eaten or driven out.” True to the complexity of ant social organisation Leafcutter is a tightly woven, dynamic work, sometimes quite jaunty (not least in a pairing of vibes and clarinet) and rich in escalating, brisk note runs, richly evoking insect life and its complexity.

SILVA (Latin for forest) was commissioned by Ensemble Offspring in honour of Mary Finsterer’s 50th birthday. The composer spoke eloquently to us of her love for Modernist music, of the pleasure of working from a small palette of choices and of those who have inspired her—Stravinsky, her teacher Louis Andriessen and the makers of early European music. Finsterer is taken by the notion of the forest as a place of the imagination but also as a metaphor for the act of composition in its shape and detail. SILVA initially evokes the space of the forest, almost sombrely but enlivened by small bristlings, warbling flute and clarinet and is then enlarged by gong, emphatic wind playing and cello and vibes, the latter then on their own, reverberant and briefly evoking Asian idioms. Suddenly our perspective shifts, from open space to something more internal, dark and primal powerfully conjured by percussion alone with heavy motifs and evocative detail. The other instruments enter, thickening the ‘forest’ air, the piano fast and ‘minimal,’ before a high rippling bell and bowed vibes finally lead us out.

Of course, Ensemble Offspring delivered superb performances of all these works, not least the three world premieres by female composers in yet another impressive concert nurturing new works that will enrich and expand the Australian musical landscape.

Ensemble Offspring, SILVA: Natural Music, violin, viola Graeme Jennings, cello Geoffrey Gartner, flute Lamorna Nightingale, clarinet Jason Noble, percussion Claire Edwardes, piano Zubin Kanga; Utzon Room, Sydney Opera House, Oct 23

See the RealTime TV interview with Claire Edwardes and Damien Ricketson

RealTime issue #112 Dec-Jan 2012 pg. 37

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

unwanted xmas gifts
for refugees—temporary bridging visas
for 800 TAFE NSW arts staff—the sack
for schoolchildren—NAPLAN
for babies—business plans
for nsw national parks—guns & horses
for 40% australian workforce—insecurity
for queenslanders—austerity packages
for actors—american film stars in oz films
for single parents—newstart
for the disabled—unfunded disability insurance
for literati—the poems of gina rinehart
for eastern states—a good fracking
for murray-darling basin—drought
for artists—more grant applications for less money

But cheer up! It’s the thought that counts.
We’ve survived 2012 and we look forward to keeping you afloat in 2013 thanks to the regenerative power of art etc etc.
With thanks and best wishes to our writers, readers and supporters.
The RealTime team

RealTime issue #112 Dec-Jan 2012 pg. 1

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

Sleight of Hand, director Michael Cusack

Sleight of Hand, director Michael Cusack

OPPORTUNITIES TO SEE NEW AUSTRALIAN ANIMATED FILMS ARE FEW—AUSTRALIA’S INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVALS, FLICKERFEST AND ITS ILK AND THE MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL ANIMATION FESTIVAL AND ITS SMALLER SYDNEY COUSIN SCREEN WORKS ANNUALLY, BUT THE AUDIENCE REACH BEYOND THAT IS LIMITED.

However, online delivery is changing that for some works, free on YouTube, Ozanimate or for sale on producer sites in high definition. Whether this phenomenon is any more or less economically viable for animators than in the past is yet to be determined. In the meantime it is good to know that dedicated animators continue to make excellent films, as demonstrated in the 2012 UTS Sydney International Animation Festival.

the sea turtle and the osprey

The Sea Turtle and the Osprey is one of eight 10-minute animations that belong to the Yanyuwa-speaking Wurdaliya people of the South West Gulf of Carpentaria in the Northern Territory. These songline stories map out the land in terms of the movements of ancestral animals and provide new Wurdaliya generations with narratives that relate to ceremony, law, kinship and country. In terms of cultural meaning, motivation and causality in particular, the stories can be difficult at first for outsiders. This is compensated for with 3D computer generation of vivid widescreen land and seascapes and the mimicking of sweeping camera work as the osprey occupies his territory, slaughtering the sea turtles that pass through his realm. The sleek 3D animation by Brent D McKew and collaborators ranges from relatively simple to finely detailed, for example when the osprey bloodily guts several turtles. There were gasps of alarm from children, and adults, in the audience—sounds, I guess, less likely to be heard from Wurdaliya children familiar with turtle harvesting. The online version is prefaced by “Warning: Animated Violence” (www.infotech.monash.edu.au, go to Monash Country Lives Archive, Animation).

the last photo

In Lissa Pascale’s The Last Photo, a young girl photographs her red-scarfed soldier father at a railway station as he sets out for an unspecified war. Later, with her camera, she seeks him out amid battlefield ruins, pursuing the scarf that dances away from her and finding herself in turn pursued in a snowy landscape by long, looping coppery tentacles that threaten to immobilise her and seize her camera. For all its attractiveness and the cute realisation of its large-eyed protagonist, The Last Photo is distinctively spooky—a bloody mist swirls through the ruins, a looming, gas-masked soldier almost shoots the girl and the steam-punkish entwining tentacles are symbolically opaque, and perhaps all the more scary for it. Although admiring its fine detail, dynamic movement and elegant, neat picture book style, I wasn’t swept up into The Last Photo’s nightmare; the film’s abstract sense of context and curious symbolism kept me at a distance. But there’s no doubting Pascale’s skill.

paris lakes

This is the second time I’ve seen Robert Stephenson’s Paris Lakes, a bitterly caustic, gritty 2D animation of an imagined promotion for a grotesque new housing estate, tarted up with signage the likes of Notre Dame Place, characterised by the utter destruction of nature and the implementation of universal bad taste—which the film enjoys grossing out on as much as it disapproves. Filthy fun.

the money go round: ya ya ya

The only obviously experimental animation in the program is a surprisingly consistent work for one tied to a rock song, Ya Ya Ya by Sydney indie band The Money Go Round. Out of dark space, concentric circles rush out towards us, followed by ‘line-drawn’ jellyfish, elk, cannon, wolves, pylons, splitting and multiplying until there are only stars (born of cascading fireworks). After this mad evolutionary rush, the universe implodes, sucking objects and creatures back into nothingness. This bracing work is available on YouTube, looking much better on computer than on a large cinema screen.

predator!!

Jilli Rose’s Predator!! is a finely crafted take on both Pixar animation (depth of field and nice character touches albeit with a vibrant, more traditional handpainted quality) and nature documentaries (someone is going to get eaten). A small, round, one-eyed, feathered pink sea creature is at leisure. Meanwhile a long red and white striped worm wafting through a coral forest encounters one of the creature’s feathers and goes in search of prey. The pink ball accidentally impales itself on a coral branch. It bleeds. Close-up of its eye. A tear. Doomed. Suddenly we share the creature’s point of view as the worm races at us. Blackout. There’s an apt quotation on the animator’s website: “It was just like Pixar…until the blood started.” Perhaps a slightly more ambitious narrative or a touch of irony might have made Predator a more satisfying experience—as three-dimensional as its imagery—unless the final image of the bloated worm part sunk in sand suggested the indigestible, and defeat.

gristle

In Jamie Clennent’s Gristle, two old men, oblivious to their plight, chat in a white-tiled abattoir while hanging from meat hooks, their naked bodies marked out for butchery cuts. “How was Sydney? “The pies are shit….God knows what they put in them.” “Jenkins has gone. They must be working their way up the street.” “They won’t get me without a fight.” The men fall silent; the camera backs discreetly away. Spare dialogue, the occasional creak of meathooks, unfussy animation (the men are cutouts, the background three-dimensional), careful pacing, good voice casting and a neatly ironic script combine to make for a grimly satisfying animation. You can see Gristle on YouTube.

dukes of broxstonia—tomatoes

One of an ABCTV cartoon series built (oddly) around a middle European band, the Dukes of Broxstonia, this Tomatoes episode (number 10 of 13 on YouTube for ABC3) focuses on the drummer’s overwhelming passion for tomato sauce. Addiction consumes him, he hides tomato sauce bottles in the toilet and his undies, sprays sauce over fellow band members and audience, loses his job, grovels for sauce packs and…reforms. It’s bouncy, briskly done, richly coloured, vocally guttural and pretty well word-free, and lightly moral…and funny.

sumo lake

Gorgeously animated with pencil and paper, veteran animator Greg Holdfield’s Sumo Lake evokes Swan Lake framed as Sumo wrestling. Initially a lone wrestler plays with a wind-up sumo wrestler but then kicks the toy away. It appears to land in water out of which springs a fully formed wrestler en pointe. The new arrival ceremonially stamps his feet Sumo-style and the two men face off. Furious wrestling rapidly transforms into a pas de deux before the second wrestler returns to his watery origins. A return match is interrupted by the stamp of a giant foot belonging to a towering balletic Godzilla prancing about as if straight out of the alligator corps de ballet in Disney’s Fantasia before sizzling one of the wrestlers with his fiery breath. What follows is very laterally conceived indeed—with the return of the Sumo toy and an underwater wrestling match— but well worth seeking out on Vimeo or YouTube’s Future Shorts channel. The spare line drawing is excellent, hugely evocative in its minimalism and the sound design is marvellously apt. It’s good to see traditional craft in such fine fettle.

jack and jones

Walpiri man Jason Japalijarri Woods’ stop-animation is a simple tale, narrated in language and subtitled in English, about two Indigenous men, friends from childhood. As boys they inadvertantly kill a bush turkey with a slingshot, the first food they’ve provided for their families; they meet their wives-to-be while playing basketball; go shooting kangaroos to feed their new families; and decide on a night out in Alice Springs, drink too much alcohol and fight in the street. On the way home they hit a bush turkey, reconcile and, in the final shot, we see the friends with their families sitting by a fire in which the bird is cooked. The animation is straightforward, nicely textured with ample detailing and excellent sets, and the moral is transparent.

the maker

The Maker, directors Christopher and Christine Kezelos

The Maker, directors Christopher and Christine Kezelos

A complex stop-animation, and copious international award winner, is Christopher and Christine Kezelos’ The Maker (which can be seen at www.themakerfilm.com, or purchased there in high-definition). Like the filmmakers’ ambitious Zero (2010), The Maker is expertly crafted, cinematically adroit (not least in its editing) and strange. Zero was hopeful—a low caste couple of zeros parented an infinity, which liberated them from an oppressive, numerically ranked society. The Maker, at half the length and on a smaller scale (with a large production crew), is more focused and brilliantly miserable. A rabbit with violin f-holes punched into his forehead, agitatedly constructs and dresses a female rabbit, plays her to life with his violin and…but you should see it for yourself. It has a grim ending, an exhilarating sting in the tail—like an Edwardian horror story (as is the setting). The Kezelos’ stop-animation technique in The Maker does not focus on elaborate physical movement or naturalistic physiology (as in Zero, their characters are toy-like) but suggests movement dextrously through camera positioning and editing, making the most of intensive design (a single room as opposed to the numerous locations in Zero) and evocative, subtly-lit close-ups.

sleight of hand

The most accomplished film in the Australian program came from frequent award winner writer-director Michael Cusack, producer Richard Chataway and their experienced collaborators at Anifex. The film is described on the South Australian Film Corporation website as “a love letter to the stop-motion technique which is presently under siege from the sexy renderings of computer graphics. While stop-motion is not as smooth as CGI, part of its appeal is the very obvious human manipulation involved which lends a kind of magical appeal to the process.” Hence the title, Sleight of Hand—at least in part. Unlike Kezelos’ relatively economical The Maker, a great deal of naturalistic physical movement is masterfully stop-animated. A filmmaker is at work in a room in a rather desolate, desert-like location meticulously manufacturing a version of himself—a stop-animation creation. In a grimly ironic reversal, wonderfully framed within a crane shot, the filmmaker discovers that his world is merely a set and that he himself is an assemblage of replaceable parts. With its wealth of wit and inventiveness, Sleight of Hand might well be a love letter to stop-animation but it equally engenders existential anxiety, not only in its protagonist but likewise in its audience. This is serious filmmaking, if in a long tradition of animation that ‘steps out of the frame’ but with its own idiosyncratic vision. Sleight of Hand is competing with The Maker (which has its own dark take on creation) and two other films for the 2013 AACTA (Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts) Award for Best animation.

The Sea Turtle and the Osprey, directors John Bradley, Dinah Norman Marrngawi, Jemima Miller Wuwarlu, Mavis Muluwamara, animator Brent D McKew, 2011, 10'00″; The Last Photo, director Lissa Pascale, 2011, 7'30″; Paris Lakes, director Robert Stephenson, 2011, 5'00″; The Money Go Round: Ya Ya Ya, director Dale Anderson, 2011, 3'00″; Predator!!, director Jilli Rose, 2012, 8'50″; Gristle, director Jamie Clennett, writer, producer Jonathon auf der Heide, 2011, 3'30″; Dukes of Broxstonia—Tomatoes, director Suren Perera, producers Stu Connolly, Jane Schneider, 2011, 3'00″; Sumo Lake, director Greg Holfeld, 2011, 3'00″; Jack and Jones, director Jason Japalijarri Woods, 2012, 4'00″; The Maker, writer, director Christopher Kezelos, 2011, 5'17″; Sleight of hand, writer-director Michael Cusack, 2012, 9'48″; Australian Showcase, UTS Sydney International Animation Festival, UTS, Sydney, Oct 13; www.siaf.uts.edu.au

RealTime issue #112 Dec-Jan 2012 pg. 22

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

The Minotaur Trilogy, Chamber Made

The Minotaur Trilogy, Chamber Made

The Minotaur Trilogy, Chamber Made

JOURNEY IS SUCH A HACKNEYED TERM, THOUGH WHEN WE ARE TALKING ABOUT A THREE-HOUR EPIC, YOU MIGHT BEAR WITH ME. THE MINOTAUR TRILOGY TAKES YOU TO ANCIENT GREECE, VIA A LOST MONTEVERDI OPERA AND SOMETHING LIKE A SURREALIST BIRTHDAY PARTY. IN THREE HEFTY 50-MINUTE ACTS THIS UNORTHODOX WORK FROM CHAMBER MADE OPERA IS A CRUCIBLE OF MYTH, MINIMALISM AND CREATIVE RUSH.

It’s not an easy work; at times you might wish Ariadne had given you a ball of thread to navigate the dark corners of this particular labyrinth. At other times, you can let go of plot expectations and see The Minotaur for what it is—a meditation on creativity. It’s as challenging for its pace and length as it is extraordinary for unabashedly roaring headlong into the new with the scale and emotion befitting opera. Likewise, the Minotaur, born of a bizarre creative act, is a beast defying easy classification: Pasiphaë had a wooden cow constructed, her lust compelling her to climb inside it in order to copulate with a beautiful bull. It was this act that led to the birth and exile of the man-eating Minotaur.

There begins the first act, The Island, set on Naxos, where Theseus jilts lovelorn Ariadne after she has helped him escape the labyrinth. Any lavishness you might expect from an opera is instead a soft pencil sketch—the music is mostly improvised from performance cues. A double bass (often down-tuned), a harpischord and percussion (often eccentric—any object might be struck or rubbed) make up the orchestra. In the first and third part, the singing is performed with heart-aching clarity, breathing with loss and sea mist. It includes the remaining aria from Monteverdi’s lost opera on the subject of Ariadne and Theseus, Lamento d’Arianna.

Using the sensitive acoustics of the Recital Hall’s Salon, the music borders on a sound art experiment. Even the opening of a wooden box, its contents rearranged, is integral to the musical score. Similarly the set is built from minimal elements such as an old spire that becomes everything from a weapon to a hill to climb. The performers wear sheath-like dresses and handbags on their heads that, worn lengthways, resemble medieval women’s caul headdresses. The Minotaur makes an appearance, pawing at the ground in thick wedged heels, dressed like a frightening dominatrix.

The Minotaur Trilogy fleshes out the emotional content between the lines of the myth. Fear of the Minotaur and Theseus’ escape from becoming a human sacrifice are rendered through visual clues. As I was beginning to grasp symbols such as a large basket becoming a ship’s hull, harpsichordist Anastasia Russell-Head walked on in a baroque red velvet dress and an enormous seagull head. The audience is steered across the terrain of the story with elements that are unexpected and unsettling.

Nowhere is this more true than in the second part, The Labyrinth. The most stripped back of the three parts, it nonetheless has a near intoxicating effect. In almost total darkness you wait for several long minutes. Only small lamps guide performers to make costume changes. A long chant begins in the dark. Then a bright light reveals a series of striking, surreal tableaux vivants against a plain canvas backdrop. A performer might have a stockinged face, be naked or carry a grass catcher—there is a palpable sense of anticipation as we await the next eerie, richly evocative ‘painting’ made briefly visible. The performance is felt as much as seen. Eyes adjust from darkness to light and time slows in the long, dark minutes of silence. It’s as though we are walking through a labyrinth flicking a lighter. All manner of creature, costumed and bizarre, may be encountered here.

The closing act, The Boats, stepped away from the sonic minimalism of the second part. The improvised music included jazz elements lead by Mark Cauvin who bashed out some bigger rhythms before flipping his double bass upside-down and scratching the floor with the scroll. The six performers this time wore beige shoes on their heads, topped off with white feathers—like small boats. As in a feverish dream or in a half-forgotten myth, The Minotaur operates on its own rules and symbols. It boils down the bones of this epic monster, replating its emotions for a contemporary audience. The Minotaur Trilogy, performed with unwavering conviction by the cast, is a fearless creative act full of imagination and unforgettable imagery.

See Matthew Lorenzon’s review of the first part of the trilogy, Minotaur the Island, performed in Western Sydney’s Aurora Festival of Living Music in May: www.realtimearts.net/article/issue109/10711.

Melbourne International Arts Festival: The Minotaur Trilogy, creators Margaret Cameron, David Young, performers Deborah Kayser, Caroline Lee, Hellen Sky, double bass Mark Cauvin, percussion Matthias Schack-Arnott, harpsichord Anastasia Russell-Head, architect Michael Roper, lighting Yasmin Santoso; Salon, Melbourne Recital Centre, Oct 18-21

RealTime issue #112 Dec-Jan 2012 pg. 40

© Varia Karipoff; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

WE COULD HAVE DONE WITHOUT THE FREQUENT REPRISING OF WHITNEY HOUSTON’S UBIQUITOUS ANTHEM, BUT WERE WELL AND TRULY COMPENSATED WITH THE SHEER INVENTIVENESS OF THE VARIATIONS ON HER THEME IN THIS EVENT CRAFTED BY CAMPBELLTOWN ART CENTRE’S DANCE CURATOR EMMA SAUNDERS OVER TWO YEARS INTO A PROGRAM OF DIVERSITY, SKILL AND AMBITION.

wetubelive

WeTube Live, Ben Speth, Oh I Wanna Dance With Somebody

WeTube Live, Ben Speth, Oh I Wanna Dance With Somebody

WeTube Live, Ben Speth, Oh I Wanna Dance With Somebody

For the event’s Friday night opening, the stately Tea-Dance project involving ballroom dancers from the community segued, with the parting of a theatrical red curtain, to an explosion of divergent dance forms in Ben Speth’s WeTubeLIVE—“50 solos ripped from the internet” interpreted and performed by a wildly diverse group of professional and amateur performers. There was a great sense of community engagement as sensuous hula shimmied alongside boot scooting and hysterical dummy-spit met cute kitty. We first became aware of Speth’s WeTubeLIVE when it was sighted at the Junction Festival in Launceston in 2010 (RT99) and it was great to finally see it in action. Each performer is confined to a metre or so of space while a wall clock dictates the timing. At a designated signal, everyone stops as if summoned: a woman reading to a group of children nods off mid-tale; a Grey Nomad ceases uploading her holiday snaps, wondering if anyone will actually sight them. They start up again: an Indian dancer is absorbed in her ancient ritual while the adjacent room with its cast of drooling vampires and obsessive compulsives feels like the set of Marat/Sade. We are definitely feeling the heat.

narelle benjamin, anandavalli & parvathy baul

In the a.m. Andrew Morrish, with his philosophical improvisations on the here-and-there and the in-between, prepares us in the best possible way for Saturday’s full program. Thankfully, the here and now rings with the soulful sounds of singer and poet Parvathy Baul from West Bengal, a mystic minstrel in the Baul tradition invited as part of the OIWDWS project to work with contemporary dance exponent Narelle Benjamin and Sri Lankan-born Sydney-based dancer Anandavalli, herself skilled in the Bharatha Natyam and Kuchipudi traditions of Indian dance. Together they present Kaal, the result of their collaboration, over what must have been a remarkable two weeks, focusing on the goddess Kali “whose name may be translated as the feminine form of time and transformation.” In this three-part performance Parvathy Baul’s presence is central. She moves amid the dancers, while centre stage, Anandavalli responds with intense and highly coded physical and facial gestures that are not literal interpretations of Parvathy’s songs but abstracted and symbolic. Benjamin’s movements meanwhile are discernibly more fluid and expansive. At times, bodies entwine, performers working fluidly together in a meticulous investigation of forms.

phil blackman & martin del amo

Phil Blackman, Martin del Amo, Songs Not to Dance To, Oh I Want to Dance with Somebody

Phil Blackman, Martin del Amo, Songs Not to Dance To, Oh I Want to Dance with Somebody

Phil Blackman, Martin del Amo, Songs Not to Dance To, Oh I Want to Dance with Somebody

Phil Blackman, a dancer from Lismore, was introduced to Martin del Amo by Emma Saunders identifying “two men of similar disposition, at different points in their careers.” Together they create Songs Not to Dance To in which dance confronts musical overstatement. The songs are iconic or cheesy and the challenge of the premise designed to highlight some of the connections and disconnections the two dancers faced in their exchange. They begin with symmetry in a mechanical duet. In synch, they make eye contact only at the end. The song, ABBA’s “The Way Old Friends Do,” suggests the comforts of togetherness while the movement remains determinedly unromantic.

Next up, del Amo takes on the big one, “I Will Always Love You.” He runs from a number of key points on the stage, the light expanding with him, stops and starts again. He mirrors the singer’s vibrato in shuddering movements. He sweeps through the space—if there were scenery, he’d eat it. He makes one last attempt to deal with the swelling score with a sweeping dash around the space but inspiration deserts him. He finishes centre stage, with that same convulsive movement—spent. Music/dance: one-all.

The two well-matched dancers are restrained as the airwaves fill with that orgy of self-affirmation, Christine Aguilera’s “Beautiful.” This time, movement comes from the diaphragm. Unlike the calculated stiffness of the first piece, here the dance is angular, ungainly and then fluid; the performers working in close proximity developing a distinct weave of bodies, nearly entwining, almost but never quite intimate. Words won’t bring them down.

Blackman’s final piece begins in silence till Jimmy Barnes’ “Working Class Man” kicks in. (Dance/music degree of difficulty: 9/10.) Blackman swats at the air. He moves in a strange crawl, looking up; he responds to the chorus with a series of leaps and then stumbles. He listens for something then falls hard. Blackman tells us later that in this collaboration with Del Amo he has detoured from more literal interpretation. His movement becomes increasingly abject and diametrically opposed to the triumphalist tone of the song. This is no parody, more an attempt at resistance against oppression that in the end defeats him. In this collaboration between region and city we experience another fulfilling engagement between two different but simpatico dancing bodies.

elizabeth ryan & romance was born

Elizabeth Ryan with dress by Romance Was Born, Oh I Want to Dance with Somebody

Elizabeth Ryan with dress by Romance Was Born, Oh I Want to Dance with Somebody

Elizabeth Ryan with dress by Romance Was Born, Oh I Want to Dance with Somebody

Vivaldi’s Magnificat! Elizabeth Ryan appears in flesh-coloured underwear behind a microphone on a stand. Alongside her a dressmaker’s dummy displays an elaborate Edwardian-style dress with colourful, tiered flounces and a long skirt. Such is the power of this garment that it has its own microphone. What follows is a series of imaginings on the dancer’s body and the costume that threatens to define it. We observe Ryan assessing whether she has the measure of this garment. Can she carry it off? She’s an easy performer, projecting a sense of unconscious display. Her movements are elegant, not showy, simultaneously self-absorbed and conjuring a state of being—a state of undress perhaps. Occasionally her hands flutter bird-like at her throat or draw attention to her feet. She slips into blue stilettos, uneasily at first and then commanding the space as she adapts to her heightened status. She approaches the dress, moves downstage with her microphone (though she never speaks), placing the dress closer to us so we can appreciate its opulence and detail. Finally envisaging herself in it and fulfilling our desire, thwarted till now, to see the dress on the woman, she whips the garment off the dummy and zips it up. The ease of this action is another surprise. We have watched Ryan’s gradual transformation over a short but intense time, the symmetrical relationship between woman and outfit. I Was Made For Loving You is a little gem of a performance, the result of yet another clever collaboration arranged by the OIWDWS project, this time between Elizabeth Ryan and the design team from Romance Was Born (Anna Plunkett and Luke Sales) who used “fabrications and elements from their new Autumn/Winter Collection: Little Lord Fauntleroy.” For Ryan there was inspiration aplenty in the relationship: “a weaving of my movement investigations with their world of materials, form, design and desirability” (program note), and it shows.

anton & david capra

David Capra, Anton, DURAK, Oh I Wanna Dance With Somebody

David Capra, Anton, DURAK, Oh I Wanna Dance With Somebody

David Capra, Anton, DURAK, Oh I Wanna Dance With Somebody

For something completely different, we couldn’t have wished for better than the very lateral and funny hyper dance work DURAK. Dancer/choreographer Anton and visual artist David Capra, both of Ukrainian heritage but distinctly varying stature, team up to explore something of the myriad shapes of Eastern European masculinity in movement derived according to the program “from the European folk dance the Hopak and the Ballet Russes.” Anton set non-dancer Capra no easy choreographic task, but he appeared to wholeheartedly embrace the challenge. Two budding dictators from another era, one in a white shirt, one in black, sporting arched smiles, matching sashes and epaulettes, posture to a tinny recording of the Volga Boatmen. At one point Anton has his face pressed into the gallery wall, while Capra stands close behind him attempting to copy his erratic arm waving gestures. We get a rear view of the increasing frustrations of demagoguery. The education of the young despot continues with chest slapping, balalaika music and unison thigh slapping. The horrors of fascism and its cheery folkloric connections makes great material, hilarious at times. The work culminates in a virtuosic seated Cossack dance in which everything gets The Slap before the two march out of sight. As well as fashioning the costumes together, the two shared family memories along with “intergenerational trauma and how it can be found in the framework of their bodies” to create this seriously entertaining work.

jochen roller and nadia cusimano

Yet another lateral take on the form came from The Dance Tourist, a somewhat amorphous comparison between the Campbelltown we were in and another, a fishing village in Scotland. Compiled by multi-disciplinary artists Jochen Roller and Nadia Cusimano, the installation built on the physical sense of disjuncture felt by Roller when he first came to Campbelltown. “When I entered the tourist information centre, I felt like I was in another place that I knew in Europe.” A series of comparative sightings (stark renderings of people in malls, public utilities) are presented in colour photographs as well as a set of postcards. There’s a memory game with the cards and a mysteriously symbolic cake ceremony. The two also created a set of quirky souvenirs for sale in the gallery shop.

paul gazzola & paul granjon

EBEMU, Paul Granjon, Paul Gazzola; Oh I Wanna Dance With Somebody

EBEMU, Paul Granjon, Paul Gazzola; Oh I Wanna Dance With Somebody

EBEMU, Paul Granjon, Paul Gazzola; Oh I Wanna Dance With Somebody

The weekend concluded with a parade devised by the Experimental Body Extension Manufacturing Unit (EBEMU http://ebemu.com) another project running over a number of weeks at the Centre in which local people were encouraged to volunteer ideas on using recycled materials to create prosthetic devices to solve everyday problems. There was no shortage of ideas and when we visited in the afternoon, the EBEMU workshop (Paul Gazzola, Paul Granjon) was working furiously to finish off a number of prototypes, among them, a video antenna to allow an introverted person to walk through a crowd without having to face anyone; a vehicle to carry shopping up 13 steps for a wheelchairbound woman and a video periscope to check the tops of cupboards.

For the evening’s Parade, MC Granjon wore a “twinset” of self-illuminating hat and plywood slippers. The introvert looked like he might draw a different kind of attention, resembling an aardvark in his coffin-shaped headgear with video camera and aerial attached to provide his desired third person POV. I’ve put in an order for a couple of the Personal Space Activators, a skirt-like arrangement made from bicycle spokes with lights that you can flare outwards to delineate your preferred distance for personal space. Meanwhile, The Connector made use of a multi-use arm plate to send paper planes into the crowd containing messages such as “Am I lonely tonight?” Paul Gazzola modelled the Backpack Recliner, which unfolds so you can lean back and check your map. The Bruiser Butler, an automated trolley for serving refreshments, looked distinctly dangerous. The EBEMU reps explained that it was a young work—only a week old—and not quite house-trained.

Andrew Morrish saw us out, riffing for a time on the connections between the works we had witnessed over this magical weekend and then, unusually for a born improviser who “has so many problems, it makes his work easy,” was momentarily lost for words (“Listening to people too much”). Not that we minded. By then we had no place for words, replete as we were with all that dancing.

Oh I Want to Dance with Somebody, Curator Contemporary Dance Emma Saunders, Project Director, Michael Dagostino, Campbelltown Arts Centre, October 19-21

RealTime issue #112 Dec-Jan 2012 pg. 2-3

© Virginia Baxter; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Katie Turnbull’s Modern Vanitas, (2012)

Katie Turnbull’s Modern Vanitas, (2012)

Katie Turnbull’s Modern Vanitas, (2012)

HOW SHOULD AN ANDROID SOUND? THE HUMANOID SHAPE IS UNCOMFORTABLY PLIANT, SMOOTH. IT’S UNNERVING, CARTOON-LIKE, BUT I’M PRETTY SURE THE INTRIGUED AND SPOOKED ALIKE AT THE OPENING OF EXPERIMENTA’S SPEAK TO ME AREN’T THINKING CASPER THE FRIENDLY GHOST WHEN THEY SÉANCE WITH IT.

As I hold it on my lap we speak to each other. It tells me in a distinctly ocker accent its name is Yvonne. The artist smiles amusedly. I can’t get it off my lap quickly enough. Hiroshi Ishiguro’s Telenoid (2010) is a work suggestive of Speak to Me’s overall theme, articulated by curator Abigail Moncrieff as the “invitation to consider what it means, at this time, to be together.” The answer is “squashed,” if the opening night crowd is anything to go by. And as it’s not a flash mob it doesn’t count as art. But this anonymous crowd is there to see, hear and touch art that is about how contemporary media bring people together, enable networks of difference and cajole intimacy out of remoteness.

There are some drawbacks to sense-dropping on anonymous others we will never meet. Hearing the faintest whimper of a defeated New York street sweeper during the ‘mother of all storms’ in October this year speaks of the global mediation of anything-anywhere-anytime. Speak to Me seeks to explore this micro familiarity in terms of the intimate apparel of technology that we can’t seem to do without. These works are suggestive of the mediation of the eye (Wade Marynowsky’s Acconci Robot, 2012), mobile screen (Meiro Koizumi’s My Voice Would Reach You, 2009), touch (Scenocosme, Lights Contacts, 2010) and voice (Kate Murphy’s The Appointment, 2009). Sure we can transcend the aloofness of distance, but the intimacy of technology and flesh in this exhibition, unwittingly or otherwise, concentrates on big media’s rapacious need to eavesdrop simply because it’s what we do now.

This theme in 2012, though, is decidedly not that interesting in itself since tele-intimacy is so pervasive and taken for granted. The currency of the term “social media” was the final imprimatur needed to render the ambience of presence at a distance banal. Facebook and Twitter are not an apotheosis of some utilitarian dream but merely the contemporary bullhorns of instantaneous blurting, just for the sake of it. Natalie Bookchin’s Mass Ornament (2009) is a case in point. In synchronising hundreds of YouTube clips of people dancing, at times erotically, at others embarrassingly, it is as the curatorial notes astutely assert “a perfect expression of our age” in its public display of privacy. Less interesting is Sylvie Blocher’s 10 Minutes of Freedom 2 (2010), a large-scale vertical projection of people wearing T-shirts with printed, Tweet-like secrets they have only ever thought but never spoken, like “I live every day as if it was the last” or “Life hangs by a thread, so, I won’t jump.” Before I move on to the next paragraph I should say that my telephone just rang.

Speak to Me reveals how varied the technological mediation of art is in 2012, such as Archie Moore’s electronic billboard-inspired Kinelexic Tokyo (2012), the interactive projection of Yandell Walton’s Human Effect (2012) and Katie Turnbull’s Modern Vanitas (2012), a homage to one of the earliest forms of experimental media art, the phenakiscope. This work, commissioned by Experimenta, cheekily plays with the convergent vibe of Speak to Me, whether it knows it or not. In its use of turntables and a movable, stylus-mounted digital camera as an interface it introduces interactivity into the kinetic, analogue art of persistence of vision. This is what the theory pundits call remediation.

But this exhibition is revealing of the history of Experimenta itself. On the verge of Experimenta Media Art’s 20th anniversary in 2013, it emphatically demonstrates how it has changed with and reflected the times it seeks to capture. Experimenta, with its pedigree in moving image culture (the Super 8 Group and the Modern Image Makers Association), grew up with the very term ‘media art,’ from the distinctly interactive work of the 1990s to the comfortable mix of time-based and participatory work today. The interactive fatigue that succeeded the art of cyberculture revealed that computer-based interaction would always be a temporary novelty. Let’s face it once and for all, interactive feedback in electronic and experimental art existed before Pong (1972), Myst (1993) or User Unfriendly Interface (1997). Even with the presence of interaction Speak to Me evidences the predominance of the video screen. This is different from video art, which is featured in a looped program, Narrative Threads, curated by Jared Davis, which features work by, among others, Dominic Redfern and Soda_Jerk. The mise en screen at this event couldn’t have been more different from the striking assemblages of grey, look-alike computers at Experimenta Media Art’s 1996 festival at the Lonsdale Street Powerhouse in Melbourne, or Mike Leggett’s and Linda Michael’s Burning the Interface: International Artists CD-ROM (1996) at the MCA in Sydney. A didactic panel at Burning the Interface reassured punters that it was okay to play with the work. Times have certainly changed.

The deliciously odd workout in this eclectic mix was Shih Chieh Huang’s interactive environment of otherworldly junk sculptures Slide to Unlock (2012). Echoing the intelligent ecosystems of a different time, it occupies an entire gallery of its own. A cross between mutated jellyfish swarm, electronica and rave, this phosphorescent world uncannily garners the unapologetic whimsy that has always been present in experimental art. Coming together doesn’t have to only mean people with other people.

Philip Brophy’s Kissed (2008) is arguably the most iconic and sonic engagement with the biennial’s theme of intimacy. Brophy composed a score to accompany Andy Warhol’s compilation of short films of the Factory demimonde kissing. Kiss (1964) is a silent film whose sonic vacuity also invites an act of coupling, of coming together. Brophy orchestrated a suite of prepared scores or “sexualised throbbings” that give erogenous voice to the 53 minutes of the film. With mouths occupied, Warhol’s rakes and wannabe starlets can only speak to each other with their eyes.

The national tour of Speak to Me will commence at ISEA 2013 in Sydney, June 7-16

Speak to Me, Experimenta 5th International Biennial of Media Art, RMIT, Melbourne, Sept 14-Nov 17; www.experimenta.org

RealTime issue #112 Dec-Jan 2012 pg. 23

© Darren Tofts; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

James Crabb

James Crabb

James Crabb

THE ACCORDION IS A MUCH MALIGNED INSTRUMENT. OFTEN ASSOCIATED WITH AGING FOLKIES, KITSCH MIDDLE EUROPEAN MUSIC AND DISTANT RELATIVES, FEW LIKE TO ADMIT THAT THEY ENJOY ITS MUSIC. THAT IS UNTIL THEY HEAR JAMES CRABB PLAYING AND HIS INFORMATIVE TALK ON THE INSTRUMENT’S HISTORY AND MANY GUISES. AT CAMPBELLTOWN ARTS CENTRE, CRABB REVEALED UNFAMILIAR FACES OF THE ACCORDION WITH HUMOUR AND CLARITY, AND ONLY POPPED THREE BUTTONS IN THE PROCESS.

Crabb’s program delivered a wonderful balance of convention, innovation, adaptation and piracy. Opening with a work to immediately reconfigure audience expectations, Crabb shared with us De Profundis, Sofia Gubaidulina’s 1978 masterpiece for accordion. Apparently this work has reshaped the direction of composition for accordion, inviting more composers to experiment with the until-recently untapped sound worlds of the instrument. Gubaidulina treats sounds as living things. They shimmer and, as Crabb explains, “do the breathing.” The work has an underlying narrative based on a psalm about forgiveness. You hear of trials and ascension. But for me the most spectacular thing was the careful use of diminuendo. The singing accordion exhales unwaveringly, but as the airspeed decreases the pitch does not drop. It keeps realigning. Listening, it’s as though you had spun around on the spot so many times that you’d fallen to the floor and were watching the room revolve around you, all the while knowing that the ceiling is fixed and your perception lies. This is how pitch whirled as the accordion grew quieter: spinning, continuous and stationary.

Crowd-pleasing Piazzolla tangos punctuated this and the next meaty contemporary work. These were played with incredible sensitivity, and all the subtlety of tango dancers. Next was the world premiere of Campbelltown City Council’s commission from Peter McNamara, Der Ost-Westspiegel, composed for Crabb this year in a collaborative exchange between the two. McNamara had never composed for accordion before so was grateful to Crabb for providing a 20-page manual the musician had written years before on the idiomatic traits and advantages of his chosen instrument.

Der Ost-Westspiegel plays with various contrasts between East and West. Intentionally oblique associations are drawn between East and Western Sydney, East and West Germany, occidental and oriental thought and philosophy. The theme extended also to geographic contrasts, poverty and development. Western Sydney-based composer McNamara explained in the pre-concert talk how these themes related to the work’s musical material, with which he explored extreme contrasts in register and character of sound. How these sounds are arranged follows recognisable patterns too, for example some phrases are mirror images of one another. McNamara has chosen this approach to re-personalise the listener’s perspective believing that East and West will see different reflections in the mirror depending on their circumstances.

McNamara explained, “There certainly aren’t any tunes, that’s for sure…I’m more interested in textures, combinations.” He sees the accordion as a sort of mini-chamber organ, one that can play very widely spaced chords. This is particular to the accordion as players are not limited by their hand spans the way they are when playing a conventional piano keyboard. Don’t be fooled into thinking an accordion has a keyboard on only one side. That instrument is actually a piano accordion, a mutt according to Crabb. Accordions in their purest form have buttons on both sides.

After this premiere we jumped back 300 years to France for three short harpsichord pieces by Baroque composer Rameau. To my surprise, these translated beautifully to the accordion, retaining something of the timbral authenticity of French Baroque dance music. On occasion I could hear the hautbois, cor anglais, flutes and voices amid the memory of the keyboard.

To wind up, Crabb offered a quirky 1985 work by John Zorn called Road Runner. Named after the swift desert hen and its persistently failing pursuer, Wile E Coyote, this romp gave Crabb the chance to act, stomp and holler. It’s an homage to the renowned composer of cartoon music, Carl Stalling, who has conditioned children of many generations to associate sound effects with cartoon character blunders and moments of victory. Quotations surface and subside faster than you can recognise them and then transform. It’s a race. There’s a gasp, a close call, an uneasy stillness. “Is that a tune I know?” Meep meep.

James Crabb, The Classical Accordion, Campbelltown Arts Centre, Campbelltown, NSW, Oct 28

RealTime issue #112 Dec-Jan 2012 pg. 41

© Felicity Clark; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Raimund Hoghe, Lorenzo de Brabandere, The Rite of Spring

Raimund Hoghe, Lorenzo de Brabandere, The Rite of Spring

Raimund Hoghe, Lorenzo de Brabandere, The Rite of Spring

RAIMUND HOGHE’S COMMITMENT TO THROWING LIGHT ON THOSE OFTEN MARGINALISED BY SOCIETY—THE SICK, THE DISPLACED, THE PERSECUTED—AND SERIOUSLY INTERVENING IN ASSUMPTIONS REGARDING THE IDEAL DANCING BODY, IS PERFORMED THROUGH HIS OWN PHYSICALITY.

“My body is not the usual body; you don’t see this kind of body often onstage. I have a hunchback. I’m not very tall” (in Bonnie Marranca, “Dancing the sublime,” PAJ, May, 2010). Born in post-war Germany, Hoghe has remarked that he is lucky to have just missed the persecution of the physically imperfect by the Nazis. Perhaps it is this brush with fate that has made him a quietly political artist, highlighting injustices of all kinds. He asserts, “I don’t believe in nations, I believe in human beings.”

It misrepresents Hoghe to suggest that his work is weighted down with commentary on sinister social ills; his choreographies are as often light and humorous as they are dark and tragic. But his underlying political commitment to inclusion and diversity began in written portraits published in the German newspaper Die Zeit. This interest in individual lives continues, either through choreographed portraits of his heroes such as Maria Callas (36, Avenue Georges Mandel [2007]) and Jewish soprano Joseph Schmidt (Meinwärts [1994]) or in dialogue with other dancers who often provide both inspiration and act as a physical counterpoint.

I spoke to Raimund Hoghe 10 days after the premiere of a new piece, Cantata, about an earlier work, Sacre—The Rite of Spring (2004), which has a season in Sydney Festival 2013. I first saw Hoghe perform Dialogue with Charlotte (1998) in 1999, a duet with performer Charlotte Engelkes that played on the contrast between Hoghe and the tall, glamorous woman. One image that still circulates from this work shows Hoghe lying across Engelkes’ lap pretending to swim. This ‘danced dialogue’ format also applies to Sacre—The Rite of Spring. The piece is a duet with dancer Lorenzo De Brabandere whom Hoghe first met when working on Young People, Old Voices (2002) with a group of 12 young performers. Hoghe says, “Lorenzo was 18 and not trained as a dancer but had this incredible youth and energy—and I am the opposite.” As Arnd Wesemenn has put it, “Difference is his theme” (The biography of the hump: Raimund Hoghe, 1999).

Another strong thread in Hoghe’s work is music—there are the already mentioned portraits of music stars but also Hoghe’s repeated mantra: “Just listen to the music. It will tell you what to do.” Igor Stravinsky’s The Rite Of Spring (1913) featured in Young People, Old Voices and a dedicated work for De Brabandere and Hoghe emerged out of the younger dancer’s affinity with the score:

“From the very first meeting when I played the music Lorenzo didn’t really know, he was performing like he knew the music already, like it was in his body already which was very strange to see. From the first moment he felt very close to the music.”

Hoghe says that the duet is normally performed to a recording of Leonard Bernstein performing Stravinsky’s piano score (for the Sydney Festival the music will be performed live by Alain Franco and Guy Vandromme), and that Bernstein had said that “the music is really about the sexual awakening and energy of young people.” It is Hoghe’s ability to filter such deeply personal points of reference with an intense formalism that has seen him pioneer both the ‘conceptual’ dance genre (followed by Boris Charmatz, Xavier Le Roy and Jérôme Bel) and the ‘historical turn’ so pronounced in contemporary dance currently. It is his history as dramaturg for Pina Bausch from 1979 to 1989 that appears to have developed his sharp eye for a compressed choreographic structure. He says:

“For me the subject comes during the process. I watched the performance of Cantata on video and was very surprised at how clear it was, very clear and simple. I like to see very clear images, a stage without decoration, to see the personality of the dancers, the music is there, the light is there—very simple but good lighting. There are not 20 lighting cues. So then you understand something through simplicity—maybe you don’t need much more…I try to create my universe with simple things. With Sacre it’s a bucket of water and a plant in the back.”

This follows Bausch’s intention to spotlight not the movement itself, but the forces that produce movement. The question here is not ‘what dance’ but ‘why dance.’ Hoghe’s aesthetic of reduction also spotlights how little you need to evoke a world of ideas around a moving body. Simple walking patterns and repeated gestural motifs are the main substance of his dances and more often than not last the length of a song.

Regarding his interest in the history of 20th century dance, he says, “something in contemporary dance is lost or missed and I wanted to remember something of this dance history.” This is inextricably tied to his interest in music. He speaks of music as a trigger for cultural and collective memory.

“It was important for me to put [Sacre—The Rite of Spring] into the context of Stravinsky and his statements about the work and how the people reacted. They couldn’t hear the music anymore because people were shouting. So I put the work in the context of the history of the music as I have done with [Debussy’s] Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune, [Ravel’s] Bolero and [Stravinsky’s] The Firebird. Music connects directly with the memory of [choreographers such as] Nijinsky, Bausch and Béjart. So I work with this context of history—not to repeat but to follow something before.”

Elsewhere I have described Raimund Hoghe’s work as “highly formalist…where humanity seeps from the body” (RT105). And his body is at the centre as a rich starting point that commands attention in a very different way from the virtuosic moves of highly trained dancers. He has often cited singers as a point of reference for his movement, finding that the most iconic singers often have one movement for each song that forms a gestural motif. In a series of afternoon talks at Montpellier Danse 2011, Hoghe showed footage of Edith Piaf, European pop star Dalida and Callas, asking us to watch them as dancers. Part of his process is to share these performances with his dancers.

“It’s also about the dancers having a strong personality. They can do very little things and it’s interesting. You don’t have to jump or do spectacular things to impress people. It’s about their ability to connect to the music. This is something very strong for me; that they all peform with the music. They don’t do it for me, they don’t do it for the audience, they do it for the music only, for the art. They are fantastic people and I love to work with them. I am very surprised that little things can express so much, connected with personality and simplicity. This is the same with my writing—it is very simple. I like Anton Chekov very much. His writing is very clear and simple. Reduction is very important, so you arrive at the important things. In Chekov there is no decoration.”

My final question to Hoghe is about the easy mobility of his work, not only practically, due to his minimal approach to design, but conceptually and aesthetically—the invitation to enter into and engage with a work through familiarity with music and gesture, but also the easy step in his work from the simple to the profound.

“It’s not money that makes a performance strong…It’s important to not be dependent on the materials of set design but on honesty, form and the music. Music is so strong—I want to share this with people, that finally we don’t need so many different things.”

Raimund Hoghe, Sacre—The Rite of Spring, Carriageworks, Sydney, Jan 5-9; Sydney Festival 2013, Jan 5-27;
www.sydneyfestival.org.au

* * *

other sydney festival highlights

Legs on the Wall presents Symphony, commissioned and recently premiered by NORPA in Lismore, performed to a live electric guitar rendition of Beethoven’s 7th Symphony (see review). Branch Nebula corrall skateboarders and BMX bikers in a suburban skateboard park in Concrete and Bones Sessions (see the RealTime TV video interview). The great maker of theatre as magical installation, Heiner Goebbels, will stage Eraritjaritjaka with French actor André Wilms, live video by Belgian filmmaker Bruno Deville, Amsterdam’s Mondrian String Quartet and Goebbel’s own design. See Janice Muller’s 2004 interview with the artist in RealTime 63, p8 about Eraritjaritjaka, its theme (isolation and language) and surprising devices. From the Perth creators of The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer there’s It’s Dark Outside (RT110). Ludger Engel’s Semele Walk, a substantially pared-back 80-minute version of Handel’s opera, will be staged as a catwalk parade costumed by Vivienne Westwood. This curious crossover will doubtless attract much attention. Handel fans though are well-used to radically dressed but musically faithful accounts of his operas over the last two decades. There’s a huge music program of all kinds and a promising performance program over a long weekend at Carriageworks with 45 showings by nine groups, some ticketed, some free—a great opportunity to enjoy a live-in festival event. Not to be missed will be Sydney-based visual theatre group Erth’s Murder. Using puppets and performers it’s inspired by Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds’ Murder Ballads, directed by Scott Wright, written by Raimondo Cortese and choreographed by Kate Champion. RT

RealTime issue #112 Dec-Jan 2012 pg. 4

© Erin Brannigan; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Samuel L Jackson, Wake the Fuck Up

Samuel L Jackson, Wake the Fuck Up

GIVEN ORSON WELLES’ INVENTIVE BACKGROUND IN BROADCAST RADIO DRAMA, IT’S SURPRISING HOW LITTLE HIS FIRST FILM CITIZEN KANE (1941) IS ACKNOWLEDGED FOR ITS USE OF VOICE AS ITS PRIMARY DRAMATURGICAL TOOL. IT TELLS THE STORY OF CHARLES FOSTER KANE (PLAYED BY WELLES) WHO ATTEMPTS TO BECOME THE VOICE OF AMERICA, SPREADING HIS WORD THROUGH SYNDICATED NEWSPAPERS, RADIO OUTLETS AND ELECTION RALLIES.

There is hardly a single image in the film which is not predicated on an imaginative consideration of how to visualise voice—of how to depict the means by which political figures picture themselves and project themselves in the act of declaring their principles and selling their platform. It’s not a simple matter of symbolism: Welles employed multiple microphones to map his staged spaces and allow his actors to dramatically shift space while being captured with clear fidelity by multiple microphones. Actor, orator and narrator, Welles thought radio to make cinema.

In the lead-up to the 2012 US Presidential Election, the Presidential Debate functioned as an old world ‘oratorium,’ a gladiatorial battle staged with words. Like all debates—especially broadcast ones—it’s like martial arts in extreme slow motion. The opposite of any contact sport, the debate deploys words in place of swords. Instead of armour or insignia, the participants project themselves as opposing types. Obama gestures with sleeves rolled up, often poised as if sitting on an imaginary brownstone stoop uptown. Romney hovers around, pacing the floor like a Baptist preacher, feigning exhaustion and exasperation. Whether or not their body language or their occupancy of space is a calculated manoeuvre, the semiotics remain. They cast themselves as characters on the political stage, dressing their words in performative garb.

The mediasphere is transformed into a political sound cloud around the time of elections. It’s a dense field of vocal noise. Sound waves criss-cross to form cross-hatched patterns of agitated energy. Much of this sound cloud is formed by repetition, which only adds to its permeation and congestion by looping views. To cut through it takes the kind of imagination Welles exhibited in his scripting and direction of Citizen Kane: he used voice as the material for his construction of a perspective on the topic of voice.

 

wake the fuck up!

Such an approach is taken in a television advertisement for the Obama Campaign of 2012, produced and paid for by the Jewish Council for Education and Research. It features Samuel L Jackson and is titled Wake The Fuck Up!. Inspired by his audiobook reading of Adam Mansbach’s Go The Fuck To Sleep (2011), it’s styled like a children’s tale in rhyming couplets. It tells the story of Little Susie who is concerned that her family—parents, siblings and grandparents—have become desensitised and apathetic, disengaging from the local political landscape as the presidential election looms. She urges them to wake up to their situation, noting clearly how their individual lives and needs will be directly impacted should Obama not win the election due to Romney’s negative platform of cuts and obstructions to a wide range of social services.

Irrespective of the political bias, it’s an hilarious advertisement. When Susie’s family fobs her off with dismissives such as “All politicians are the same,” Samuel Jackson suddenly appears from behind furniture, grabs the family member and retorts vehemently in their face. He demolishes their lazy logic—their unthinking reiteration of responses born of the political sound cloud which wears down peoples’ critical thinking. He does so by first repeating back to them their own line (“All politicians are the same?!?!”), emphasising with incredulity how stupid their response is. Jackson adds a few rhyming lines which pose a counter-argument, finishing with the tag line, “Wake the fuck up!”

 

perfect casting

Once this advertisement was posted online, numerous pro-Romney/anti-Obama ‘video responses’ were mounted, most admonishing Samuel Jackson to “wake the fuck up.” None of them, though, had the power of a comeback line. All the responses seemed incognisant of the core of the Jackson advertisement: here was a black man mystically invading the heartland of lazy, unregistered non-voting white America. His expletive tag line is a self-parody of white perception of African-American vulgar argot. It’s like Eddie Murphy gate-crashing a Martha Stewart cooking demonstration. Jackson’s visual materialisation within the family’s domestic domain symbolises how unfitting his occupancy is, yet how fitting is the presence of his voice.

 

whassup?: beer & politics

The precursor to this type of playful political commercial is the remake of the famous “Whassup?” advertisement for Budweiser Beer. The original 1999 ad spearheaded a radical campaign by Budweiser—then mostly consumed by a white demographic—to target African-Americans. The ad relies on a riotous collapse of language, showing five young black males calling each other on the phone in their shared apartment. One rings up another, saying only “whassup?” which is then repeated by another, who gets a third on the phone’s party-line, until all five are screaming “whassup?” simultaneously. Exhausted, they each proceed to have a Budweiser.

But in the lead-up to the Presidential Election of 2008, an unofficial campaign endorsement was mounted as a short film using all the black actors from the original Miller advertisement. Actually, those actors had all appeared in an even earlier short film, True (1998), directed by and starring Charles Stone III and friends. Stone was then contracted to direct the Budweiser ad. His 2008 ‘remake’ is a re-voicing of his original short film. The characters look older and sound wiser: they certainly weren’t having a good time drinking Buds in the Bush administration years. References are pointedly made to Iraq, the bank loan collapse, Hurricane Katrina, unprotected unemployment and debilitated health care. Instead of saying “whassup” to each other, they chime in with a chorus of screaming and wailing.

 

a single word

It’s funny, but it also rings with the painful truth of the plight which demographically defines the ‘black market’ originally targeted by Budweiser. Their collapse of language is now made to symbolise the failure of the Republican system under which they suffer. It concludes again with them all exhausted; but this time Stone takes a breath and answers the question. He looks at a television set on which Obama waves before a convention crowd. With drooped eyes, he manages a soft smile: “Change.” Three minutes of wailing and a single word. A poetic reduction of visualised voice, tracing the trajectory which marked Obama’s shift to occupy the Oval Office. It’s not far removed from a portentous movie hinged on the utterance of a single word, “Rosebud.”

Watch Wake the Fuck Up on YouTube

RealTime issue #112 Dec-Jan 2012 pg. 24

© Philip Brophy; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

 In a Silent Way, CAST

In a Silent Way, CAST

In a Silent Way, CAST

SOUND ART THAT ATTEMPTS TO ENGAGE WITH SILENCE MAY SEEM DOOMED TO INCONGRUITY IF NOT OUTRIGHT FAILURE, BUT WITH THE STEADY HAND OF CURATOR MATT WARREN ON THE RUDDER A COLLECTION OF THESE DELIBERATELY QUIET WORKS, FILLED WITH SPACE, CAME TOGETHER WELL.

Warren’s best known as a sound and installation-based artist, with this being his first major effort as a curator. What surprised me on first encounter was how easily the work of disparate sound artists came together to produce an exhibition that also sat well with the curator’s own arts practice.

Warren has long traded in the subtle; even when the volume has been intensely loud, or subsonically disturbing, there has always been a strong interest in the quiet and empty spaces between. In conversation around In A Silent Way, Warren noted that the notion of absence is a driving idea in his work. He looks, and listens for that which is not there, discovering that you can miss something—its very absence can create a presence. It’s a hard thing to evoke, and is what has made his work to date seem haunted and emotionally powerful.

In recruiting people who work with sound to create In A Silent Way, Warren gave out a very simple brief: make sound works that investigate silence. This is technically impossible, for silence itself can never truly exist, as John Cage discovered when he visited an anechoic chamber in 1951 and heard the sounds of his own body. Silence is a literal utopia; a poetic idea that occurs only in the imagination. Given this actuality, listening as active became an important focus for the premise of the show—what is it that we hear if we really listen, extending into quiet spaces to seek small occurrences and moments? The curated works became compositions that exist to be played quietly, at the edge of hearing. However, the expectation of focused listening was turned on its head: there were no headphones, instead a dim room lit with the red, green and blue light—from which all colour is constructed for camera, video and television. This delicate hint to mix and create for oneself was certainly inviting.

Most of the works were constructed especially for the exhibition. All were extremely effective as individual investigations of the curatorial theme, and it’s hard to say, given the presentation decisions, if any really emerge as stand-outs. Indeed, that would really work against the intent of the show. What stood out were the moments that occurred organically as sounds interacted. I realised that the blending of Joel Stern’s echoing bells with Gail Priest’s moaning sine waves just as Darren Cook’s slightly woozy playing of a Howlin’ Wolf track lurched into digital shudders, was unlikely to be heard again, given the varying lengths of the looping works. I became quite engrossed at the possibility that only I would ever hear quite that moment. The demand for active engagement was well rewarded.

Nevertheless, the peculiar and obsessive creation that went into UK artist Nicholas Bullen’s work warrants a mention: he recorded a day’s worth of noise from his own house while he was elsewhere. Cherry-picking the recording, he processed and constructed a remarkable sound work that is genuinely creepy.

Potent as well was the responsive performance from the show’s opening event, where Laura Altman and Monica Brooks sat at opposing points in the gallery, gently responding live to the extant sounds, then slowly to each other. Improvising to a moving palette of sound art in a room full of whispering people is a challenge, but the time the two players described with sound hung together with a brittle elegance. People who seem to know their instruments well enough not to demonstrate their skill make fascinating players.

In A Silent Way was a step out of the ordinary for a show based around sound works. I felt as if the installed sounds were a musical instrument and a dance was waiting to happen. The works of varying lengths looped, creating constant change as the sounds intermingled, generating a palpable atmosphere and encouraging me to circle and cross the space again and again, moving to and from sets of speakers attached to the wall like tiny altars. One could be quite deluded at times as to where sound emerged from, given the quiet bleed of the works. The consideration given to the actual install was very precise, and it showed.

After a time another effect became noticeable as I sat on the floor in the space’s centre; the room took on the peculiar feel of a sacred or spiritual place. There’s a moment of secular ecstasy that can sometimes occur with works of art, something like the overpowering feeling generated by the famous Rothko Chapel. While not every work aims to produce transcendence, it is strange and memorable on those very rare occasions one encounters it. This is something that Matt Warren, while not remotely religious, reaches for in his work and achieved with his sensitive curation. The individual works came together as a whole, filling CAST with a cascade of moments that had the peculiar effect of seeming to distort time.

In a Silent Way asked me to question my own notions of sound art, and how much time anyone needs to spend with a work of any kind, time-based or not. Miles Davis, from whom Warren borrowed the exhibition’s title, would likely have approved, given that greatest of players’ command of the rich moment of silence.

All sound works are available as a limited edition CD from CAST. Also visit roomofsilencerecords.bandcamp.com.

In a silent way, curator Matt Warren [2012 CAST Curatorial Mentorship], sound works by Laura Altman, Monica Brooks, Nicholas Bullen, Darren Cook, Lawrence English, Samaan Feick, Gail Priest, Joel Stern, CAST Gallery, Hobart, July 28-Aug 26

RealTime issue #112 Dec-Jan 2012 pg. 43

© Andrew Harper; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Laurie Anderson & Kronos Quartet, (l-r) Hank Dutt, Jeffrey Zeigler, Laurie Anderson, John Sherba, David Harrington

Laurie Anderson & Kronos Quartet, (l-r) Hank Dutt, Jeffrey Zeigler, Laurie Anderson, John Sherba, David Harrington

Laurie Anderson & Kronos Quartet, (l-r) Hank Dutt, Jeffrey Zeigler, Laurie Anderson, John Sherba, David Harrington

IT SEEMS THE 1986 ADELAIDE FESTIVAL WAS RATHER MIND-BLOWING FOR MANY AUSTRALIAN ARTISTS. THIS IS HARDLY SURPRISING GIVEN THAT THE FESTIVAL, DIRECTED BY ANTHONY STEEL, FEATURED SOME OF THE MOST INFLUENTIAL ARTISTS OF LATE 20TH CENTURY: PHILIP GLASS, THE WOOSTER GROUP, JAN FABRE AND LAURIE ANDERSON.

For me, coming into the performance scene in the early 1990s, Anderson’s multimedia concert at that festival had become legendary and while she has since appeared in Australia (at least four times in Sydney), none of these concerts has been able to match the scale, whether real or apocryphal, of that 1986 event. (Of course at Vivid 2010, we did get the live-in experience of Anderson as co-festival director with Lou Reed, appearing in several concert manifestations). Nonetheless, Anderson has still impressed many of us in the next generation, mainly via recordings, with her idiosyncratic compositional style but most particularly her unique brand of whimsical profundity—everyday observations, personal stories and reconfigurations of philosophy that she can deftly turn into serious insights into life and mortality, or incisive criticism of American proselytising, warmongering and the toll of unchecked capitalism.

Adelaide Festival comes to the rescue again. In 2013 Australian fans will enjoy perhaps the most comprehensive picture to date of Anderson’s oeuvre, not just as a poet/musician, but as a truly multimedia and multimodal artist via three quite different events. Anderson will present the results of her musical collaboration with the Kronos Quartet; she will perform her latest spoken word piece, Dirtday! and also exhibit a selection of installation and visual art pieces from various stages of her career at the Anne & Gordon Samstag Museum.

I had the privilege of speaking via phone with Laurie Anderson who was in Los Angeles rehearsing with Kronos Quartet on their new, as yet untitled work.

kronos collaboration

You’re certainly making the long haul trip worthwhile, presenting three works in Adelaide. Can you tell us about the Kronos collaboration?

This is the third time that we’ve gotten together to work on it and it’s pretty inspiring. These people can really play. For example, some of the sounds that will be in it come from a keyboard that has a lot of information stored on optical discs. It sounds very lo-fi and very sort of sad, like some kind of old ice skating rink from 30 years ago. Playing with sounds that have a quality like that—of scratchiness and eerie otherworldliness—is something that they can do in their sleep. It’s really amazing how they can adjust their playing into that world.

So the piece uses text and stories but it’s triggered by their playing?

Yes it’s some software that I wrote. Imagine superfast subtitling that’s triggered by sound—and different aspects of sound, the note you’re playing or how loudly you’re playing it. You’re listening and reading things and you suddenly realise that you can read 10 times faster than you thought. Which is really kind of exhilarating. Also new alphabets suddenly get introduced and you realise you can read these new alphabets also…

The meaning of a work of art is wrapped in colours and sounds and whatever material the art is made of and the audience looks at it or listens to it and unwraps the meaning from those works—aha there it is! In this case it’s really about that search…I’m hesitating because it sounds really pompous to say it, but we really are meaning machines. Walking down the street we are always trying to look for a resonance or look for things that mean something. And so this is about that act itself. Suddenly you catch yourself looking for how systems work and then you realise that you can read this certain kind of code.

So is it all text on screen?

No there’s spoken text as well. For example, imagine you are listening to somebody speaking and the words that you are hearing are the words that you’re seeing and that works for a while and gradually other kinds of icons start invading the written text. For example the graphics sign for ‘staircase’ starts becoming the word ‘snake’ and you realise very quickly that you can read that. I’ve always wanted to actually design an alphabet. It’s weirdly about different kinds of music notation too because some of the alphabets really begin to look like music…So it’s really an interesting system to be working with. I’ve never tried anything like this before.

dirtday!

I understand Dirtday! was inspired by the Occupy movement. I’ve heard you mention that you were trying to make a music-driven piece and that the words took over. How do you negotiate your need to make music and your need to write words?

It’s always a bit of a fight. I’m not sure why one begins to dominate but I’ve never done a piece in which there’s the complete balance between music and text. I think this is also because I really like the relationship of spoken words to music as opposed to lyrics or rhymed words which I find are usually kind of static. There’s the ‘moon in June’ rhyming and after that it becomes kind of almost silly. When I hear really wonderful lyrics that have really strange rhymes I like it very much, but I’m not very good at it myself. So I don’t do that very much.

Dirtday! is based on quite a political topic. Do you feel like the times are forcing you to become more forthright with your messages?

Sometimes things are very explicit. I usually shy away from that because I’m so afraid of being preachy, but once in a while it’s just too tempting not to comment specifically on what’s going on.

Does this have visual material as well as your spoken and performed music?

A very little bit. Basically it’s one very long mental movie and I find working in that way just really exhilarating. When you hear a story you really begin to build up a visual world, and it’s your own world in the way that your dream world is your own world. I’m just using words to do it so it’s very much a collaboration with the audience in that way.

the language of the future?

Laurie Anderson, Duets On Ice (1976)

Laurie Anderson, Duets On Ice (1976)

Laurie Anderson, Duets On Ice (1976)

You’ve always managed to maintain such a high-level of experimentation but at the same time your work is incredibly accessible. Is that a conscious choice or is it just the way your experimentation plays out?

For a long time I really didn’t want to repeat things. That of course became impossible and exhausting. As soon as you’d invent something you’d have to invent something else and that just seemed like a completely artificial way of treating material and it meant that also you wouldn’t be able to get very good at presenting it. So eventually I got over that very strict way of looking at the world. I was like that because I didn’t like the concept of theatre, it seemed too mannered, so I decided to experiment with every work. That’s changed over the years but I still tend never to do old things. I’ve maybe done two tours in my life in which I played old material. It was great fun to do that and I’m not sure why I don’t do that more often. Maybe I’m just talking myself into doing one right now.

Is the exhibition The Language of the Future something of ‘greatest hits’ show?

It’s not a retrospective, it’s a few chosen works. One will be a very old work from the 70s when we did music in really old broken-down warehouses using equipment that was just falling apart [The Electric Chair see video]. Then there’s going to be a visual piece that has a funny resonance because it looks like that sound piece but it’s serene and purely visual. And then there’s some story pieces as well and some installations and some photo works.

You’ll even be performing your famous early work Duets on Ice.

Yeah, that’s going to be fun. That’s from 1975 and it was a show that was done outside on the street using the violin that I made that played by itself. There were speakers inside and you would play duets with it live. Because it was the kind of show that could theoretically go on forever—it didn’t have a beginning or an end, it was just a loop—I thought what’s the clock here? When is the show over? So I set a kind of time mechanism: I wore some ice-skates with their blades frozen into blocks of ice so that when the ice melts and you lose your balance the concert’s over. Sometimes that took a very long time. What’s the weather like in Adelaide?

Adelaide is notoriously hot and dry.

Well, it’ll be a short show!

* * *

other adelaide festival highlights

Sylvie Guillem, 600 Miles Away

Sylvie Guillem, 600 Miles Away

Sylvie Guillem, 600 Miles Away

The 2013 Adelaide Festival program looks like it might come close to the mind-blowing status accorded to the 1986 program. Other highlights include 6000 Miles Away with Sylvie Guillem choreographed by Mats Ek, William Forsythe and Jirí Kylián (RT106); Hotel Modern’s confronting Kamp (RT96); several interactive works by Ontroerend Goed whose The Smile Off Your Face is a quiet classic (RT89); Wim Vandekeybus and Ultima Vez’s What the Body Does Not Remember (Vandekeybus was possibly in Jan Fabre’s work at the 1986 festival); a concert by renowned US music producer Van Dyke Parks; and three nights of experimental audiovisual works presented by the Unsound Festival (Krakow/New York) including Ben Frost and Daniel Bjarnason’s Solaris with film manipulations by Brian Eno and Nick Robertson (RT103). There’s a healthy quota of Australian companies such as Erth, Brink, The State Theatre Company, The Black Lung Theatre and Whaling Firm (see RT111) and a new work from Adelaide choreographer Larissa McGowan.

Adelaide Festival: Laurie Anderson with the Kronos Quartet, Adelaide Festival Theatre, March 2; Dirtday!, Dunstan Playhouse, March 3; The Language of the Future, Anne & Gordon Samstag Museum of Art, March 1-April 19; www.adelaidefestival.com.au

Laurie Anderson and the Kronos Quartet will also be performing their collaboration at the Perth International Art Festival, Feb 27. See also Keith Gallasch’s interview with Perth Festival guest, US media artist Jim Campbell; www.perthfestival.com.au

RealTime issue #112 Dec-Jan 2012 pg. 5

© Gail Priest; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Captain Successor from the Captain Forever series by Farbs

Captain Successor from the Captain Forever series by Farbs

IN THE PAST DECADES, VIDEOGAMES HAVE MOVED INEXORABLY FROM THE ARCADE TO THE GALLERY, FROM BENEATH THE TELEVISION TO THE BACK POCKET, FROM THE NICHE TO THE MAINSTREAM, EVOLVING ALONG THE WAY TO—AS THE INDUSTRY LOVES TO TELL US—A MULTI-BILLION DOLLAR ENTERPRISE THAT IS BIGGER THAN HOLLYWOOD.

Australia has always been part of that change, with the arc of local evolution reflecting and responding to the international eddies of the entertainment industries, technology and culture in its own particular way.

innovative beginnings

In the early years of videogame development, Australia was home to experimental developers and publishers who created influential and genre-defining games like The Hobbit or Way of the Exploding Fist. This became the foundation for the 90s when the texture of local development settled into a mix of original games such as Dark Reign or Powerslide and those based on movies or comics, a mix which reflected wider trends—do the license work to bring in money, use the money to make something original. It was a model that worked well creating a stable industry, but during the first decade of this century the focus of developers tipped in favour of the licensed titles and the mainstream of Australian development became defined by work-for-hire movie or cartoon titles.

crisis time

This local focus made Australian development particularly vulnerable in the early years of the new decade as seismic shifts in development priorities and audience interest—catalysed by the GFC—changed the shape of mainstream game development around the world as publishers began to focus on known big budget blockbusters and smaller digitally distributed titles becoming less interested in mid-tier licensed titles. A shock wave went through studios, closing some and shrinking others, leaving many people wondering what to do next.

a new australian mainstream

Those best placed to ride this change out had adapted or were in the process of adapting to the rising ubiquity of smartphones and digital distribution platforms like the App Store and, in doing so, they created a new Australian mainstream—one focused on mobile, digital distribution, bite-sized arcade gameplay, and in recent years the possibilities of freemium and in-app purchases. Mythologies grew up around companies like Firemint (now Firemonkeys through a purchase from behemoth publisher EA and merger with another local company, Iron Monkey), creators of Flight Control, and Halfbrick, whose Fruit Ninja has had 300 million downloads. Many people, new to games or answering their own questions of what to do next, followed their lead, hewing to the mobile, arcade, freemium lines that seemed to indicate the best chance for success.

But this is only one story of the creation of videogames, and a particularly industrial one. These same changes in technology, in culture, in audiences, and in distribution that all moved games to a wider audience also left a gap, and in that gap, what was once the province of all videogame makers—space for the outsider—shifted and changed. A new mainstream was created, but so too was an evolving fringe of new voices, new makers and new ideas.

Expand, Christopher Johnson, Christopher Larkin, Best Audio in Game runner up, Freeplay 2012

Expand, Christopher Johnson, Christopher Larkin, Best Audio in Game runner up, Freeplay 2012

reclaim the game

In her book, Rise of the Videogame Zinesters: How Freaks, Normals, Amateurs, Artists, Dreamers, Dropouts, Queers, Housewives, and People Like You are Taking Back an Art Form, author and game developer Anna Anthropy calls for people to embrace the potential of games and take them back from this industrial mainstream, likening the possibilities of videogames now to the easy creation and distribution of zines. Anthropy writes about her own creations, like Calamity Annie and Lesbian Spider-Queens of Mars, along with the work of others like Stephen Lavelle, whose website increpare includes a multitude of experimental games and mechanics; Christine Love whose period piece Digital: A Love Story explores young love mediated via technology; and Bennet Foddy, creator of GIRP, QWOP and Pole Fighters.

australian outsiders

Similar outsiders exist much closer-to-home, and each, in their own way, tell unique stories which are defined by the international story of game development, but also the closer to home changes which have directly impacted on them.

Game developer Farbs used to be part of the mainstream, working in the Australian arm of international publishers/developers 2K before quitting, famously, through the unique means of creating a playable game. His work is vibrant, potent and compelling in its focus on a pared-back ideal. Running the range from the arcade mash-up ROM CHECK FAIL, which fuses classic games, mechanics and glitches in a strangely functional, emergent experience to the austere exploring, crafting, shooting of Captain Forever or the bleep-happy rainbow explosion of Cumulo Nimblers, these are games which feel like they’re designed for an audience of one, but which through their sheer force of personality connect with many more people than that.

Glenn Forester says on his website that the only thing he does is make games, and looking at his output, it’s easy to believe that to be the case. A mix of mashup, jam, and rapid experiments, they’re sometimes unpolished, frequently very strange, but in all cases interesting and personal, drawing from the mainstream by co-opting games like Mario, Doom, Minecraft or Tetris and turning them into something new.

Finally, Harry Lee is representative of a new generation of developers who have never been part of the Australian studio system, and whose projects seem more interested in the exploration of ideas through systems, interactions and technology. His notable project, Midas, takes the story of a king whose touch turns everything into gold and converts it into a clear and compelling set of mechanics, which is a hallmark of his other titles Stickets and Impasse.

The emergence of these new makers—both here and overseas—shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone. Other creative forms have their independents, their outsiders, evolving as greater numbers engage with the mainstream and as the means of production and distribution become democratised. Not everything these makers do will be great, not all of it will even be good, but it will be unique, and it will be personal, and it will add to the volume of the voices of artists who make games, telling new stories which have far more to say and will resonate in ways that the mainstream—whether globally or locally— simply isn’t interested in.

RealTime issue #112 Dec-Jan 2012 pg. 25

© Paul Callaghan; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Driving to the Centre of the Earth (detail), silent HD video, Erin Coates, Yonder, PICA

Driving to the Centre of the Earth (detail), silent HD video, Erin Coates, Yonder, PICA

Driving to the Centre of the Earth (detail), silent HD video, Erin Coates, Yonder, PICA

THE IDEA OF YONDER AS A PLACE WAS ONCE CONCEIVED AS A SPIRITUAL REALM, A HEAVENLY PLACE, WHERE ULTIMATE AND ETERNAL VALUES WOULD BE FULLY AND IDEALLY REALISED. FOR EINSTEIN IT WAS A SUBSTITUTE FOR A RELIGIOUS HEAVEN AND THE GOAL OF THE PURSUIT OF YONDER IN LIFE WAS A SOURCE OF INNER FREEDOM.

An ‘over there’ which might be heaven, enlightenment, utopia or paradise, is forsaken in Yonder, an exhibition curated by Jasmin Stephens, for an interpretation resonant with the contemporaneity of a globalised 21st century world. The yonder here is political, pragmatic, virtual, actual and magical; it is about the movement of bodies and information, the incongruity of borders and the quest to revive personal memories and forgotten fragments of history. While there might be a spiritual undercurrent, its voice is overwhelmed in an exhibition where yonder as a destination appears full yet fragmented.

At the doorway to the Westend Gallery a lighting fixture (Untitled, 2012) by Jurek Wybraniec hangs from the ceiling, barely noticeable unless you look up. The lights are triggered as you enter the gallery space and again, barely noticeable unless you look back. Light shines on an empty floor, an opportunity promising a moment in the spotlight missed in the blink of an eye; yonder is elusive. Yonder is also a destination that triggers desire, to be elsewhere. This state of yearning for otherness is especially familiar to science fiction and expressed in Erin Coates’ Driving to the Centre of the Earth. To the right of the Westend gallery entrance a smelly little silicon hole escapes into the subcutaneous layers of the Gallery and tunnels toward a video of the artist in her car driving to the Earth’s core. This is a gem of a work that is subtle in its subversion of popular sci-fi scenarios; rather than evoking the gung-ho thrill of such an adventure, it appears rather banal—there is no sense of wonder and instead the burning yonder is approached with indifference.

Many of the works literally, if not metaphorically, extend beyond their physical manifestation in the gallery space into the world at large. Using the symbol of the shy albatross, Perdita Phillips presents Shy (dissolution + exchange) (2012-13), a work in the classic genre of mail art to picture the slow attenuation of a photocopy of said bird as it is repeatedly copied at numerous global locations around the southern rim. Phillips reels in collaborators worldwide, the resulting A4 sheets forming a grid on the wall: wedged within them is a monitor with an animation detailing the slow degradation of the image. In this work, the art is a stand-in traveller for the artist who stays at home, imagining the far flung places the albatross roams—from across the road to Africa and back home again.

Simon Faithfull, Limbo: An Expanding Atlas of Subjectivity, 2012, digital drawing, pictured with Renae Coles, Yonder, PICA

Simon Faithfull, Limbo: An Expanding Atlas of Subjectivity, 2012, digital drawing, pictured with Renae Coles, Yonder, PICA

Simon Faithfull, Limbo: An Expanding Atlas of Subjectivity, 2012, digital drawing, pictured with Renae Coles, Yonder, PICA

The theme of mobility is core to the exhibition; to get to yonder it is necessary to travel—by proxy, mentally, virtually or physically. For humans, movement all too easily lends itself to mapping and Simon Faithfull in Limbo: An Expanding Atlas of Subjectivity (2012) presents a map of drawn moments encountered in his daily life, which happens to be in Berlin for the duration of the exhibition. Faithful holds claim to being one of the first artists to work with a custom-designed mobile app. The drawings are created using a PalmPilot and DAGI stylus or finger and can be delivered by website, Twitter, Facebook, RSS and iPhone. In the context of PICA they crawl out of a printer to be pinned to a vinyl map of Berlin. The cartographic symbolism of the map is overlayed with a more personal, idiosyncratic language, consisting of sundry everyday observations from afar.

The ultimate yonder with no return that we are all faced with but all too easily in denial of, at least in Western societies, is death. Questions of life and death are approached with humility in The Sound of Your Own Breathing (2010), a trio of animated shorts by Richard Lewer. Simple charcoal drawings are animated alongside the breathless voice-over of rope-skipping characters telling stories of the loss of loved ones to a boat accident, to terminal illness and a bank robbery. In a deadpan manner this series tackles the fickleness of life with the threshold to death so easily crossed.

Stories also drive the work of Heman Chong, in the form of a series of short vinyl text works, Walking Long and Hard (2004) describing walks and personal and angst-ridden existential moments in places including Berlin, Melbourne, Beijing, Linz and New Orleans. Chong has not been to all of these places. This work therefore presents a slippery play between fact and fiction, past and future, action and imagination. Being a contemporary artist today is about responding to and living within a global culture. There is little room for parochialism and this work situates itself within a world context in an elegant, succinct and evocative manner.

There is no guarantee that yonder is a satisfying destination; even though we often assume that the grass is greener, we never really know what lies over the hill if we’ve never been there. Both the potentially sinister and more delightful notions of yonder are addressed within this show, if not so much the spiritual or religious. The works present abstracted and uniquely contemporary, conceptual and subjective responses to the concept. The show is also notable for its diversity of media; print, animation, photography, video, painting, sculpture, mail art, drawing, custom electronics and text. Despite today’s so called ‘post-media’ condition, perhaps this diverse selection is part of the reason for the initial sense of aesthetic dissonance. Beyond first impressions, however, close attention to the individual works does make for unique, surprising and revealing journeys to that place ‘over there.’

PICA: Yonder, curator Jasmin Stephens, artists Andy Best, Erin Coates, Heman Chong, Simon Faithfull, Benjamin Forster, Tony Garifalakis and Richard Lewer, Charles Lim Yi Yong, Clare Peake, Perdita Phillips, Helen Smith, Kai Syng Tan, Warren Vance, Jurek Wybraniec; Westend Gallery, Perth, Sept 8-Oct 21

RealTime issue #112 Dec-Jan 2012 pg. 44

© Laetitia Wilson; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Scattered Light, Jim Campbell

Scattered Light, Jim Campbell

Scattered Light, Jim Campbell

SAN FRANCISCO-BASED PIONEERING MEDIA ARTIST JIM CAMPBELL, RENOWNED FOR HIS CUSTOMISED ELECTRONICS AND UNIQUE LIGHT SCULPTURES, IS FEATURED IN THE 2012 PERTH INTERNATIONAL ARTS FESTIVAL WITH HIS MUCH LAUDED INSTALLATION, SCATTERED LIGHT. PHOTOGRAPHS AND VIDEO REVEAL VERY LITTLE ABOUT THE ACTUAL EXPERIENCE OF APPROACHING A STARRY WALL OF LIGHTS IN A PUBLIC PARK AT NIGHT AND, DRAWING CLOSE, DISCOVERING SOME 1,800 TRADITIONAL LIGHT BULBS SUSPENDED AT VARIOUS HEIGHTS IN THREE-DIMENSIONAL SPACE.

As well, at a distance you might notice human shadows hurrying across the light field, as if on a screen, but up close these movements are abstract—the nature of the artwork has changed, and your experience of it. Doubtless, as your senses adjust, questions spring to mind. Whose shadows? Why light bulbs? Why the perceptual shift?

Campbell, with degrees from MIT in Electrical Engineering and Mathematics, has since the late 1980s combined technological know-how with art to create interactive and other works exhibited around the world in galleries and public spaces. His latest creation, Exploded Views (2011), suspended in the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s atrium (until October 23 this year), uses 3,000 LED lights that comprise a “gigantic three-dimensional ‘monitor’” on which are ‘screened’ four films (each shown over a two-month period) of contemporary dancers, a flock of birds, pedestrians and boxers.

Scattered Light is not as complex as Exploded Views but works from similar principles in the creation of the shadowy figures generated by the flickering lights.

Campbell, an experienced filmmaker, videos pedestrians, maximises the contrast to eliminate intrusive detail and downloads the images to his customised (and patented) computer circuitry which controls the on/off position of each light bulb, thus impressionistically reproducing human movement. The mass of lights effectively becomes a three-dimensional LED screen.

I asked Campbell how he came to focus on perception. He explained that “it happened almost by accident years ago with a grant that [allowed me] to look at exploring low resolution imagery as an experiment. I was pleasantly surprised that there were a lot of interesting things about low resolution that I hadn’t seen or thought about before. And so it’s taken over my art thinking over the last 12-13 years.”

What did he learn about low-resolution imagery? “How rich something can be when you take most of it away. I became interested in what was left when you take away all the details and the colour we’re used to for defining an image. You take them away and there’s a lot left. Even more profoundly, what’s left is masked by all the other information that’s there. With a moving image of a person walking, your brain is trying to figure things out, looking at the colour, the edges, analysing that information. When you eliminate the details, all the sharpness, the high resolution, your brain doesn’t really analyse any more, it just takes it in, in what I would call a more primal way, and that makes sense because what is left is rhythm movement. With peripheral vision, which I’m also interested in, you’re only paying attention to movement. There’s an evolutionary reason for that—survival. I like creating images that are experienced more primally.”

I asked Campbell how this notion connected with the actual making of a work like Scattered Light. “I start with a video that’s very simple. If the background’s too complicated you can’t tell what you’re looking at—too much ‘noise.’ So I look for simple backgrounds and very big contrasts. In Scattered Light most people are wearing black but there are people walking past in white shirts; they’re not all shadow figures. In Grand Central Station most people were wearing black or dark colours. The background is the floor—I shot from above at an angle—so you’ll see white shirts against it.”

Why focus on walking? “It goes back to the primal. It’s such simple movement so we automatically understand it—we have an intuitive relationship with it— and it works best in low resolution.”

Scattered Light, Jim Campbell

Scattered Light, Jim Campbell

Scattered Light, Jim Campbell

What’s the difference between Exploded Views and Scattered Light? “Conceptually they’re the same but Exploded Views has more resolution—nearly 3,000 pixels and twice the resolution and in a more controlled environment where there wasn’t wind. I didn’t necessarily know what I was going to do with Exploded Views—it was a kind of experiment. For 12 years I’ve been looking for a certain kind of imagery that would work with my technology. So I was very excited by designing the image and working with a choreographer. We created an image in a studio rather than me wandering around with a tripod for a week. The boxing we did in a gym with control of the background, shot it with five or six different cameras, but ultimately only using the one that worked by far the best.”

A striking characteristic of Scattered Light up close is its multitudinous light globes. Sometimes described as an homage to the traditional globe, the work is also a critique. The pleasing shape is contradicted by the device’s enormous power usage. Campbell was looking for low resolution and low wattage: “My assistants took an electric hacksaw to 2,000 light globes. They removed the tungsten filaments and replaced them with LEDs.” So the whole work then is a 3D LED display? “Right.” And a comment on this period of transition in our use of electricity? “Right.”

As an aside, Campbell, the engineer, reveals his disappointment with the new generation of domestic lights: “Ironically, LEDs have a very different quality than tungsten filaments and it has to do with the way heat is given off from the LEDs—it’s conducted rather than radiated, so [new generation] light bulbs should be designed completely differently from the old model. But because of the existing fixtures of the last 100 years the new lights now imitate the old bulbs. For Scattered Light we created a hybrid.”

Campbell’s work in the late 80s and 90s was notable for its digital interactivity. I wondered if it still played a role in his work. He said that it had been very important in the first 10 years of his practice but then he had become more interested in perception. However, the notion of interactivity remains embedded in his work of the last decade: “Scattered Light is extremely interactive because it will look abstract from 90% of the places you view it from and it will only resolve in certain areas. So you’re constantly moving to and away to change your perception of it—moreso than for a typical image or painting. It’s a different kind of interactivity.”

tenebrae et lux

Campbell’s technical prowess will be demonstrated in another Perth Festival work, an installation-cum-concert, Tenebrae et Lux (Darkness and Light) by pioneering French interactive video artist Benjamin Bergery who will responsively light the University of Perth’s Winthrop Hall for a performance of Carlo Gesualdo’s intrinsically dramatic, 400-year-old Tenebrae Responoria as performed by the St George’s Cathedral Consort singing acapella. The Bergery work is a Perth Festival commission.

Originally, as they had in Paris and the US, Campbell and Bergery were to collaborate on Tenebrae et Lux, but Campbell’s workload prevents it on this occasion. Bergery will instead work with a Campbell system using lighting controllers software that can modulate the lighting according to certain rhythms.

What’s keeping Campbell at a distance from Tenebrae et Lux is a major commission from San Diego Airport due for completion in 2013 as part of their Green Build: Public Art program. Campbell describes it as a 600 foot long, six feet wide sculpture—an undulating ribbon of light suspended over the walker and with an image that stays with you as you travel the concourse. He admits having to face some considerable challenges because of the scale of the work: “It’s made like Scattered Light and Exploded Views, but there are 35,000 pixels, each individually hung. It’s out of my realm how to do it. There’ll be a lot of subcontracting.” But the end result should be magical, maybe relaxing or strangely distracting.

other perth festival highlights

Chinese artist and activist Ai Weiwei is the designer for The Truth 25 Times a Second for Belgian choreographer Frédéric Flamand and the very contemporary Ballet National de Marseille. In 3G (Trois Générations) Idiosyncratic French choreographer Jean-Claude Gallotta collaborates with STRUT Dance and three generations of Perth performers—“innocent,” “professional,” “mature”—each responding to the same musical score as three discrete works. Robert Wilson’s production of Brecht’s The Threepenny Opera (1928) for the Berliner Ensemble is a must-see, with Wilson directing, designing and lighting. New York’s The TEAM in Mission Drift tackles 400 years of American capitalism using the tools of the musical. Great Australian pianist Sally Whitewell has her own recital but also joins Philip Glass and Maki Namekawa to perform all the Glass Etudes. Fans of contemporary music theatre will want to see Heinz Carl Gruber’s Frankenstein and Thomas Ades’ Living Toys in an outdoor concert titled Soft soft Loud: the Antihero Suite. For younger audiences Barking Gecko will stage, with a live orchestra, an adaptation of Wolf Erlbruch’s Duck, Death and the Tulip in which a duck and Death become friends. Melbourne’s Arena Theatre, in a co-commission with the festival, has invented The House of Dreaming, a hands-on house with robotics and projections and characters, directed by the ever inventive Chris Kohn. There are also six screenings of the award-winning Caesar Must Die by octogenarian filmmakers Paolo and Vittorio Taviani in a strong film program.

Perth International Arts Festival, Feb 8-March 2; www.perthfestival.com.au

RealTime issue #112 Dec-Jan 2012 pg. 6

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Deanne Butterworth, Twinships

Deanne Butterworth, Twinships

Deanne Butterworth, Twinships

DEANNE BUTTERWORTH’S TWINSHIPS IS A HYBRID CREATURE THAT MELDS DANCE WITH INSTALLATION, WITH A DOSE OF WELL-CURATED SOUND RECORDINGS FOR GOOD MEASURE. THE INSTALLATION COMPONENT CONSISTS OF COLOURED LINES MARKING OUT THE PARQUET FLOOR. WE COULD BE INSIDE A SPORTS HALL; A CURVED LINE RESEMBLES THE THREE-POINT ARC OF A BASKETBALL COURT.

Three mirrors are joined together in a frame contraption and are set at different angles to reflect projections across two walls, a sliver of a triangle on one wall and a bigger slice of moving image on the back wall. Themes of nature, emotional states and a final video of a streetscape through a window create a mood background for the dance.

When we enter Westspace, a smoke haze fills the room. Amid the sound of cicadas and wind blowing, a large paper scroll is unfurled by assistants. A dancer soon appears behind it. Butterworth’s figure casts shadows across the paper and, as she moves alongside it, she briefly seems to be painting. As in Japanese calligraphic art, her body becomes the honshi, the centrepiece artwork. Bending down and bringing her arms down to the ground, Butterworth’s silhouette becomes an inky mountain. From my angle her feet, which are visible beneath the scroll, are about two inches left of her shadow. While her body is graceful on paper with balletic control, her exposed feet with quivering tendons, show the effort in such grace.

The projections cast on the wall via the mirrors provide mood cues during the performance. While interesting sculpturally, the mirrors themselves have only a subtle effect on the projection and their presence is quickly forgotten. There are five chapters to this dance that the projections help to define by colour. In the second part of the dance, red dominates the projection as Butterworth moves like a boxer, swaying and shifting her weight from foot to foot. Repetition and her stance evoke sports training or a controlled fight. Meanwhile the projected video footage becomes choppy—a red sky with scratching tree branches has a schlocky horror film look. The red gives way to green and a recording of a science lecture plays, signalling a return to rationality and control. Butterworth repeats the same step-by-step movements on the spot, tense arms folding and reaching forward as though she is practicing her moves. She then turns on the spot like a cog. Her arms chop the air like windmills before she dissolves into more fluid movements, also reflected in the projection with a close up of tidal waters.

The lines on the floor work in several ways, first in referencing the moments of sport and practice. Butterworth frequently travels in the direction of the lines across the floor, usually running. The arc provides a path for a repeated series of movements with which she measures out space with her hands before falling backwards. They also create visual interest and act to record the dance in a way, as if she is marking the floor. Butterworth becomes the centrepiece of the dance floor and by extension, the gallery space, as she explores twin themes of nature and science, art and sport.

Twinships, installation & performance; performer, choreographer Deanne Butterworth, sound design Michael Munson, lighting design Rose Connors, set construction Jim Stenson, video Michael Munson, Deanne Butterworth, Westspace, Melbourne, Oct 18-Nov 10

RealTime issue #112 Dec-Jan 2012 pg. 28

© Varia Karipoff; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Heidelberg Project, Detroit

Heidelberg Project, Detroit

Heidelberg Project, Detroit

IN MAY 2012 REBECCA CONROY EMBARKED ON A FOUR-MONTH TOUR OF NORTH AMERICAN ARTIST-LED SPACES AND INITIATIVES ACROSS 14 CITIES. THIS IS THE SECOND IN A TWO-PART SERIES. IN THE FIRST SHE VISITED CHICAGO; HERE SHE’S MOVED ON TO DETROIT AND THEN MINNEAPOLIS AND ST PAUL IN MINNESOTA.

detroit

Detroit is a spectacular story, as large as the infrastructure and the grand architectural gestures that it left behind in the wake of race riots, white tax flight and the free market destruction of the auto industry. Some attribute the demise to those 1967 race riots, the largest and most devastating in US history, when cops busted a blind pig [an unlicensed bar. Eds], disrupting a gathering of black servicemen just returned from Vietnam. Colour is certainly a key narrative in the story of Detroit. But related threads, such as the GFC and continued off-shoring of labour to China, have undeniably contributed to weakening the city; as has the crazy tax base, which has allowed large companies to operate from the city but pay their (minimal) taxes to the predominantly white outer-lying suburbs beyond the 8 mile. Yep, the one that Eminem sings about.

But the past decade has seen the once grand Motown, or Motor City, slowly re-emerge as an urban farming oasis; and many artists are pricking up their ears. The combined allure of cheap houses and the urban-pioneering potential of a place that has been all but abandoned have rendered Detroit a veritable artist beacon. Its arts community also appears to be benefiting from a healthy lack of artist ego, free from the banal prescriptions of an art market. If you can move beyond the ruin porn, there is a bounty of narratives to get your head around. One well known character is Phil Cooley. You couldn’t have written a better script if you tried: young man walks off catwalk in Europe, returns to his native Detroit and, with the help of his real estate agent parents, buys large warehouse to turn into a creative playspace, while running an award-winning restaurant business on the side. The space is called PonyRide, a multi-purpose, artist business incubator space consisting of a dozen different ventures including a hip hop dance studio, a social enterprise and textiles project for homeless people, a letterpress and a recording studio. Kaija Wuolett climbed on board the Cooley wagon as an architect fresh out of grad school. She described the familiar DIY artist-run warehouse fit-out as an organic process of designing and building as they went along, including reusing their own materials and salvaging other materials from abandoned houses. The next lot of plans involves setting up an artist residency program, which they hope to launch in 2013.

In a city with a combined acreage of vacant lots as large as the area of Manhattan, projects connected to housing and buildings have naturally driven a number of artist-led ventures. Design99 is the work of designer and architect duo Gina Reichert and Mitch Cope who “investigate new models of contemporary art and architectural practice”. They have been living and working in the neighbourhood of Hamtramck for the past 10 years, and in 2009 started Power House Productions as a not-for-profit to specifically support their community anchored projects. This year Power House was awarded a lucrative $250,000 ArtPlace grant to continue with three projects, one of which includes the Ride On Skate Park, and another which is a collaboration with the hinterlands, a performance company who relocated to Detroit from Chicago in late 2010. My introduction to Detroit was in fact hearing about the $100 house that another artist couple, Jon Brumit and Sarah Wagner, had decided to purchase after encouragement from their friends Gina and Mitch, and which they have since turned into an artist residency space called Dflux.

There’s also the Heidelberg Project, 3600 Heidelberg Street which has just celebrated 25 years. It started as a protest by artist Tyree Guthrie and his father Sam Mackey when they gathered toys and other domestic debris left over from abandoned houses and used them to make large-scale installation works—as big as houses. The site, having grown several blocks in size, is now recognised internationally as an outdoor sculpture park, having survived two attempts by the Mayor’s office to bulldoze it.

minneapolis/st paul

On the west side of the Mid West spectrum, the state of Minnesota and the twin cities of Minneapolis/St Paul are considered progressive by American standards, benefiting from healthy tax contributions to the arts and cultural life. Works Progress is an artist-led public design studio led by collaborative duo Colin Kloecker and Shannai Matteson. Previously they ran a space called the West Bank Social Centre, whose byline, “Unpredictable things are happening,” was largely due to the precariousness of the space and its associated responsive programming. Works Progress sees itself as an artist-led platform, producing publications, workshops and events, such as the very fun live-action arts magazine Salon Saloon and large scale gigs such as the Mississippi Megalops [“big fish”], a boat ride down the Mississippi, which functions like a “floating Chautauqua.” A Chautauqua is a term for the adult education movement that started in 1874 by Lake Chautauqua near New York. It usually featured lectures, plays and musicals, typically in farming or ranching communities.

For these events and others, Works Progress collaborates with many, including the intelligent and delightful Andy Sturdevant. An artist, writer, presenter and arts administrator, Andy runs quirky and deeply informative tours of the city with his collaborator, Sergio Vucci, through Common Room in association with a contemporary art space, the Soap Factory in North Minneapolis. I was fortunate to attend a genuinely fascinating tour of the Mall of America, apparently the largest in the Northern Hemisphere (America would probably say the Universe).

Minneapolis is also home to Red76, an occasional collaboration of associated artists conducted by Samuel Gould. They publish the Journal of Radical Shimming and create responsive works, which function among other things as a framework for ‘public inquiries.’ Previously Red76 were based in Portland Oregon, which has been a formative influence on their methodologies and approaches to public dialogues, social histories, gatherings and collaborative research. Across the river in St Paul is Public Artist in Residence for the city Marcus Young, who describes himself as a behavioural artist. Grace Minnesota is the platform for his collaborative and solo works, one of which, Pacific Avenue, is a city and traffic calming initiative. The project, which he describes as lifelong, involves Marcus walking very slowly along iconic streets, taking three to four hours to complete a seven-minute stroll. For this occasion the rather tall and slender Asian-American dresses in traditional Asian attire and sports a parasol. Minneapolis is also home to 24/7, a car service run by artists and musicians. Similar to another in Brooklyn, this service operates by word of mouth and is designed to provide a flexible income for artists and a taxi service for those working late night gigs or attending events. The car fleet is owned cooperatively and uses a limousine license, which means bookings are essential and drivers are not obliged to pick up anyone from the street. And it’s a very nice ride!

local postscript

Since I returned to Sydney in mid September, Bill+George, our artist-run space, was subjected to an unlawful rent hike, which unfortunately resulted in eviction at the end of October. Pabrik Productions, the incorporated association which produces the ARI, will continue to operate with a number of off-site projects into 2013. As the Sydney real estate bubble continues to expand, Detroit is looking more and more attractive by the hour.

See also part 1 focusing on Chicago and Rebecca Conroy’s Detroit RT Traveller

RealTime issue #112 Dec-Jan 2012 pg. 44

© Rebecca Conroy; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

- ruangrupa (Indonesia), THE KUDA: The Untold Story of Indonesian Underground Music in the 70s 2012,  Band artwork

– ruangrupa (Indonesia), THE KUDA: The Untold Story of Indonesian Underground Music in the 70s 2012, Band artwork

– ruangrupa (Indonesia), THE KUDA: The Untold Story of Indonesian Underground Music in the 70s 2012, Band artwork

HAVING LONG ANTICIPATED THE “ASIAN CENTURY,” THE ASIA PACIFIC TRIENNIAL OF CONTEMPORARY ART (APT) HAS FIRMLY ESTABLISHED ITSELF AS ONE OF THE GREAT AUSTRALIAN ART EVENTS, OPENING OUR SENSES AND INTELLECTS TO THE CULTURAL WEALTH OF THE REGION THROUGH PAINTING, SCULPTURE, INSTALLATION, FILM, VIDEO AND POWERFUL PERFORMANCES. THE PHRASE “CONTEMPORARY ART” IN THE TITLE BELIES THE TRIENNIAL’S INCLUSION OF STRIKING TRADITIONAL PRACTICES NOT ONLY FOR THEIR ARTISTRY BUT FOR THE CONTEXT AND INSPIRATION THEY OFFER NEW GENERATIONS OF ARTISTS. THERE IS NOTHING LIKE AN APT.

Russell Storer, Head of Asian and Pacific Art at the Queensland Art Gallery, tells me that a multitude of APT7 works engage with video, music, animation and a variety of performance modes. Six young artists from Jogjakarta “with a strong element of street culture” and working collectively, as ruangrupa, across music and video address “the crazy competitive scene in that country at the moment, and histories using archival photographs and reworking them.” For THE KUDA: The Untold Story of Indonesian Underground Music in the 70s (one of a number of APT7 commissions), Storer says the group “has been researching 70s rock during the Suharto era and finding resonances with the Brisbane music scene in the Bjelke-Petersen period. Working with graffiti artists and musicians they’re creating a narrative around a fictive Indonesian band that had a presence in Brisbane in the 70s.”

In The secret life of objects, another young Indonesian artist collective, Tromarama, uses comic stop-motion animation and video featuring everyday objects. In the APT catalogue Fiona Neill describes their practice as indicative of a flourishing DIY aesthetic in Indonesia which has grown from the necessity to ‘make do’ with the materials and technology at hand.” In a music video format, the possessions (shoes, handbags) of the well-to-do young bicker and bully in an increasingly consumerist society.

Yuan Goang-Ming, Taiwanese artist and influential new media art teacher, says in an interview in the APT catalogue, “In 2009, four months after the birth of my first child, my father died of stomach cancer. For those four months I faced the incompatibility of a new and a fading life, while imagining my child’s future and retracing my father’s past” (interviewer Amanda Slack-Smith, July 2012, APT7 catalogue). Storer describes the panoramic three-channel video work, Disappearing Landscapes, as “reflecting on cycles of life and death using extraordinary pans and zooms underwater, through drains and through the home.” Yuan Goang-Ming sees himself as having “experimented with a form of image-making between cinema, documentary and video art, in an attempt to accurately express my thoughts at the time.” The video includes “the reconstruction of my father’s study, which is a surrealist dreamscape for me.” It’s an eerily beautiful and sometimes spectacular work which can be glimpsed on YouTube.

From India, Raqs Media Collective, “formed in 1992 by Jeebesh Bagchi, Monica Narula and Shuddhabrata Sengupta to explore urban geography, epistemology and creativity through emerging media technologies” will bring an archival installation of documents, books and films to APT7. Raqs members are well-known to Australian media artists as participants in the founding of Sarai, “the New Delhi-based research centre and archive dedicated to critical discussion on urban experience.” Apparently the collective’s name describes the ecstatic state entered by whirling dervishes; it could simply refer to dance or be an acronym for ‘rarely asked questions’” (Reuben Keehan).

reaching out to western asia

Parastou Forouhar (Iran/Germany), Written room 1999-ongoing, Stadtgalerie Saarbruecken, Germany 2011

Parastou Forouhar (Iran/Germany), Written room 1999-ongoing, Stadtgalerie Saarbruecken, Germany 2011

Parastou Forouhar (Iran/Germany), Written room 1999-ongoing, Stadtgalerie Saarbruecken, Germany 2011

For the first time APT is geographically expanding its reach to include western Asia, all the way to Istanbul. Iranian artist Parastou Forouhar (Iran/Germany), working with calligraphy, will ‘write’ a room in which she will then perform with musicians. She says, “What emerges again and again in my works is a tension between apparently harmless surfaces and what is actually represented by the content” (interview Bree Richards, July, 2012). Turkish artist Inci Eviner, says Storer, looks at Europe from a feminist Turkish perspective, at times absurd and bawdy. Her work has three video channels titled Demonstrations, Violence and Immigrants which include political marches—the banner texts created by the artist— and belly dancing, sports day movement (“a series of leg movements seeming like an ungendered can-can”), burning fields out of which arise new buildings, and images pertaining to the plight of refugees. “The crisis created by the refugee pushed me towards the re-discovery of the body. It was important to catch the traces of totalitarian regimes in bodily gestures; it opened a venue for exploration beyond rationality” (Kathryn Weir, interview with Eviner, September 2012).

In Rulers and Rhythm Studies, music and sound artist Cevdet Erek, from Turkey, works with rulers to measure out personal, political and musical chronologies, determined for example by the incidence and duration of coups. In A Piece of the Middle East, an American-Jordanian artist, Oraib Toukan, has set up a fictional real estate agency with which to sell off the troublesome Middle East. In a series of video works inspired by Amin Malouf’s The Crusades through Arab Eyes (1983), Egyptian artist Wael Shawky recreates the history of the Crusades from new perspectives. He transforms predictable historicising by having children play all the roles. In the catalogue interview he told Russell Storer, “the most important part of using kids in all my work [is] because they don’t have this dramatic memory about anything…It doesn’t leave the value of the work to the skills of the actor. The historical event becomes the main issue.” In other works on the same subject, Shawky uses finely crafted ceramic marionettes and elaborate sets, focusing, says one writer, in a Brechtian manner on political rather than religious motivations (excerpts can be seen on YouTube).

Almagul Menlibayeva, (Kazakhstan/Germany), Kurchatov 22 (stills) 2012

Almagul Menlibayeva, (Kazakhstan/Germany), Kurchatov 22 (stills) 2012

Almagul Menlibayeva, (Kazakhstan/Germany), Kurchatov 22 (stills) 2012

Almagul Mellibayeva’s new work, the five-channel video work The Ground Recalls (Kazakhstan/Germany), says Storer, will resonate with Australian viewers. It’s set in Kurchatov in north-west Kazakhstan in the former Soviet Union, near the centre of 40 years of nuclear testing, that left a legacy of toxic residue. The work is part documentary, part symbolic fiction (“dramatised scenes of women performing strange gestures in degraded landscapes”). In the APT catalogue Jose Da Silva writes, “Through her videos and photographs, Menlibayeva has explored the idea of developing a new contemporary mythology for Central Asia, one that engages with what she has termed ‘Romantic Punk Shamanism’ to reflect a rebellious celebration of nature and the spiritual aspects of Kazakhstan’s nomadic heritage and shamanistic, pre-Islamic religious traditions.”

closer to home

In (disarmed) imagining a Pacific Archive, Torika BOLATAGICI (Australia/Fiji), Mat HUNKIN (New Zealand/Samoa), Teresia TEAIWA (United States of America/Kiribati/New Zealand), will focus on the militarisation of the Pacific, while Aboriginal Australian artists, Daniel Boyd, Lorraine Connelly-Northey, Michael Cook, Timothy Cook and Shirley Macnamara will deploy a variety of media to reflect on a sense of place—personal and collective.

True to the enduring spirit of the APT and QAG there will be 13 works for children, including a massive 30 metre ephemeral, architectural work outside the gallery. The Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art has long been a great playground for adults too, displaying an abundance of colour and political directness Australians are mostly not used to. The Australian Government, with its Australia in the Asian Century White Paper, looks like it’s going to attempt, at long last to catch up with the Asia Pacific Triennial.

7th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (APT7), Queensland Art Gallery & Gallery of Modern Art, Dec 8 2012-April 14 2013, free; www.qagoma.qld.gov.au

RealTime issue #112 Dec-Jan 2012 pg. 8

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

PRIME:ORDERLY, Dean Walsh

PRIME:ORDERLY, Dean Walsh

PRIME:ORDERLY, Dean Walsh

ON THE DAY THAT DEAN WALSH FIRST SPOKE TO ME ABOUT HIS RESEARCH FELLOWSHIP WITH THE AUSTRALIA COUNCIL, I WENT HOME AND WROTE FURIOUSLY ABOUT ALL THE IDEAS IT BROUGHT UP FOR ME. HEARING HIS THOUGHTS ON MARINE BIOLOGY, SCUBA EMBODIMENT AND SOCIETY’S PROBLEMATIC RELATIONSHIP WITH THE OCEAN, WAS AN INTENSELY IMAGINATIVE EXPERIENCE. THE CHOREOGRAPHIC WORK THAT TRANSPIRED FROM THIS RESEARCH, WALSH’S RECENTLY PERFORMED PRIME:ORDERLY, TURNED OUT TO BE A SENSUOUS AND TRANCE-LIKE EXPLORATION, BOTH ATMOSPHERICALLY AND CONCEPTUALLY ARRESTING.

Presented in two acts, the first performed by Walsh and the second also featuring Natalie Ayton and Kathryn Puie, PRIME:ORDERLY progresses from an exploration of the inky, otherworldly velvet of the bottom of the ocean to the sunlit groan and bubble of a shallow reef.

A thick weave of digital sound swallows me up. After some searching in the blue dimness, I spot a moving body. Then another; then another. The sightings are haunting, like that growing awareness of another intelligence in the room that has presumably been there, and aware of you, for some time.

A body clad from head to toe in blue velvet makes its way into fuller light. The limbs are now straight, now rounded; the body now fluid, now rigid. Its movement verges on looking daft: not human, but intelligent. After some time the soundtrack shifts and the body collapses into a sort of bliss, spreading itself out luxuriantly on the floor and slipping into movement that is no longer halting, but entirely fluid.

I do not recognise the groaning and creaking that accompany the opening of act two as the sounds of the reef until a friend leans over and tells me so. For me the sounds evoke the gentle snores of an enormous, sleeping creature. Upon this reef I lose track of time, escorted onwards by the breath and buoyancy of the diver/dancers.

At first through balloon-like appendages and then into microphones suspended low over the floor, the dancers shape the aural backdrop with their constant, slow breathing. They play, they tumble, float, come to hovering stillness together. They couple up, triple up and repeatedly reach to cradle each others’ heads with their hands.

This wordless play is broken up by conversation when the trio rise to their feet and chat, striding swiftly back and forth across the stage. They crash through three mounds of silver foil that have, until now, sat like small glaciers on the floor. The mounds shatter. I gather that dancers are divers: they talk excitedly about their excursion out to sea and make small talk. The chatter is both unexpected and humorous. Personalities and social nuances emerge for the first time. One at a time, the dancers duck out of the conversation for a quick ‘dive.’ Their exits into muteness, weightlessness and horizontality are clear and sudden.

The performers’ conversation doesn’t disturb my sense of being in a state of suspension. On the contrary, it adds to the overall surreality of the piece, which climaxes when all three dancers hit the back wall, causing it to light up as though it were made of gold. Time stands still as the three drift, stare blankly, and perhaps live out in slowed-down verticality what they had lived out on the floor not long before. Conversation is not external to Dean Walsh’s work. It suggests that he understands not only the political importance of human/ocean dialogues, but also their capacity to build aesthetic experience.

Act two closes as the dancers gather up the pieces of silver foil that now litter the stage. This gesture might symbolise human responsibility towards the marine environment—one that is essential, primordial and increasingly at risk.

Form Dance Projects and Riverside: PRIME:ORDERLY, choreographer Dean Walsh, performers Dean Walsh, Natalie Ayton, Kathryn Puie, lighting Mikey Rice, designer sound recorder, mixer Dean Walsh; Riverside Theatres, Parramatta, Sydney, Oct 25-27

RealTime issue #112 Dec-Jan 2012 pg. 28

© Cleo Mees; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Ruark Lewis and Jonathan Jones, Homeland Illuminations, 1997

Ruark Lewis and Jonathan Jones, Homeland Illuminations, 1997

Ruark Lewis and Jonathan Jones, Homeland Illuminations, 1997

FOR AN ARTIST WHO DEFIES CATEGORISATION, THE PRESENTATION OF A CAREER SURVEY PRESENTS SOME UNIQUE CHALLENGES. NOT ONLY DOES RUARK LEWIS’ THREE DECADES OF PRACTICE CROSS DISCIPLINARY BOUNDARIES, MOVING SEAMLESSLY BETWEEN DRAWING, TEXT-BASED WORKS, INSTALLATIONS, CIVIC INTERVENTIONS, PERFORMANCE, VIDEO AND AUDIO, BUT IT ALSO RAISES A BROAD ARRAY OF CONCEPTUAL CONCERNS.

Frequently with long gestating periods, these concerns have deepened in complexity over time. How then to steer the viewer through such a labyrinthine practice in ways that are legible, accessible and engaging?

In an interview I conducted with Lewis prior to the launch of the first installment of his two-part survey beginning at Hazelhurst Regional Gallery in late September (see RT111), it was clear that the artist had given much thought to such a question. He explained his intention to create a certain formality within the main gallery space while activating the outdoor areas in a more informal fashion to encourage visitor interactivity and hands-on engagement. Walking through the installed exhibition a month later, expertly curated by Dr James Paull, I sensed immediately that this approach had paid off. As I paced the open and airy expanse of the Federation Room gallery, there was a sense of elegant restraint in its pared-back organisation, which encouraged visitors to move slowly through its delicately choreographed space and to trace links and discover correspondences between works.

At the eastern end of the gallery, the focal point was the alluring juxtaposition of light and language in Homeland Illuminations (2007). A collaboration between Lewis and urban Indigenous artist Jonathan Jones (with whom Lewis has worked on a number of projects), the floor installation presented fragments of quotations from an oral history belonging to Jones’ grandfather. A Waradjuri man who worked as a wool-classer in western New South Wales in the 1930s and 1940s, his words were stencilled in industrial lettering onto two parallel grids of painted wooden boards. Propped beneath the boards was a network of white fluorescent light tubes emitting a haunting aura around the text. As it simultaneously conveyed a complex economy of relationships and exchange while resisting the fixing of the oral history into a museum object by relaying it in coded form, the installation manifested an intriguing tension between concealment and revelation.

Ruark Lewis, Water Drawings, 1997

Ruark Lewis, Water Drawings, 1997

Ruark Lewis, Water Drawings, 1997

This practice of ‘disguisement’ of narratives through the strategic insertion of voids and ellipses or the layering of elements is a defining characteristic of Lewis’ highly reflexive engagement with text and language. This reflexivity also extends to his responses to the works of authors and poets (see RT 87, p50). Particularly memorable were those works which originated from an enduring dialogue with the works of French novelist, playwright and essayist Nathalie Sarraute (1900-1997). The austere minimalism of the artist book installation Just for Nothing (1997), for example, resonated with the psychological tautness of the play which it translated, Pour un oui ou pour un non, and revealed an early example of Lewis’ use of colour coding as a design principle. A decade later, such principles were extended in the 2007 mixed media installation, An Index of Silence. Featuring abject statements drawn from Sarraute’s play Silence stencilled onto 36 black and red cotton flags, the circumvention of easily graspable slogans with oblique literary phrases produced a displacing reading experience that shifted the viewer onto uncertain ground.

 Ruark Lewis, Red Water Drawing, 1997, detail

Ruark Lewis, Red Water Drawing, 1997, detail

Ruark Lewis, Red Water Drawing, 1997, detail

As I understand it, during their exhibition at Post-Museum in Singapore the flags had functioned as a score for a moveable vocal performance by Lewis. At Hazelhurst, traces of the readings, performances, live actions, audio compositions and dance interpretations which frequently form vital components of Lewis’ installations were fairly discreet. Yet this edited approach to performance documentation lent greater impact to the selected examples. The screening of Lewis’ blackly humorous public performance made for video, Euphemisms for the Riotous Suburbs (2007), presented audiences with an opportunity to reflect upon the events of the 2005 Cronulla riots. Two live collaborative performances in the gallery space were also programmed. On the closing day of the exhibition, an attentive crowd gathered in the gallery to watch movement artist Alan Schacher interpret Lewis’s reading of Directions, an epigrammatic poem by the anarchist philosopher poet of the 60s Sydney PUSH movement, Harry Hooton. As he interacted with and animated the objects in the space Schacher brought their agitprop dimensions to life and gave tangible expression to Hooton’s humanistic pronouncements.

Other installed works showcased the sophistication of Lewis’ uniquely devised method of transcription drawing. Among the highlights were the Water Drawings (1997), initially created as accompaniments to Lewis’ renowned modular wooden beam installation, RAFT (1995), which was absent from the survey, perhaps for practical reasons given its imposing scale. The Water Drawings, however, poetically developed its thought lines in their rendering of an Aboriginal rain song cycle, transcribed from sources in German, English and Arrente, across three horizontal scroll-like canvases and deploying modest oil crayons to work up extraordinarily layered palimpsests. Following an accretive logic, there was a visceral beauty in the textured surfaces of the “language paintings,” while their varying degrees of legibility provoked meditation upon the collisions and confusions of knowledge which occur in acts of translation.

Stepping outside into the gardens, the increasingly civic dimension of Lewis’s recent practice was apparent in the new and reprised installation pieces and audio poem. The suburban tranquility of Hazelhurst changed the context for a piece like Banalities for the Perfect House (2007), which previously presented a confronting force when installed on a busy street in Redfern. Here, the striking black-and-white wall of aphoristic phrases worked more subtly to question the ideology of suburbia. The protean nature of Lewis’ engagement with the notion of home was likewise observable in the new Star Shelters (2012) scattered across the lawns. This series of nomadic wooden shelters evolved from a series of prismatic graphite drawings that Lewis made in response to ideas of Aboriginal astronomy during a prolonged stay in a Darwin hospital. Having cut and folded the drawings like origami and then scaled them up into three-dimensional forms, the shelters blended a functional purpose with an angular and asymmetrical sculptural aesthetic, inflecting a high modernist formalism with local geographical and cultural touchstones.

Early next year, Macquarie University Gallery will host the second part of Lewis’ survey and I imagine it will be less a repeat than a reconfiguration involving a process of addition and subtraction in response to the site. At Hazelhurst, the many facets of this unique community venue were thoughtfully incorporated to enact a journey across a significant and conceptually rigorous practice which has only grown richer, more nuanced and exploratory with the progress of time.

Ruark Lewis Survey 1982-2012, Part 1, curator Dr James Paull, Hazelhurst Regional Arts Gallery, 29 Sept-Nov 11; Part 2, Macquarie University Art Gallery, Feb 6-March 13, 2013; http://www.mq.edu.au/about/events/view/ruark-lewissurvey-part-ii/

See also Ella Mudie’s interview with Lewis in RT111

RealTime issue #112 Dec-Jan 2012 pg. 47

© Ella Mudie; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

CATHERINE DE ZEGHER AND GERALD MCMASTER, THE CO-CURATORS OF Postcommodity, Do You Remember When, 2009

Postcommodity, Do You Remember When, 2009

Postcommodity, Do You Remember When, 2009

THE 2012 BIENNALE OF SYDNEY, SET THEMSELVES AN AMBITIOUS AGENDA. SUBTITLING THE EVENT ‘ALL OUR RELATIONS,’ THEY ADDRESS THE WAY IN WHICH PEOPLE INTERRELATE—WITH EACH OTHER AND WITH THE WORLD GENERALLY. THEY SUGGEST THAT WESTERN CULTURE HAS HITHERTO REINFORCED OPPOSITION AND FRAGMENTATION BUT THERE IS NOW A NEW AWARENESS OF OUR TRUE INTERCONNECTEDNESS, AND THIS AWARENESS IS REFLECTED IN CONTEMPORARY ART.

The Biennale itself is posited as a gesamkunstwerk produced collectively. De Zegher considers it is necessary to “attend to connection and coherence; to build new narrative structures…The democratic significance of the 18th Biennale of Sydney is of exchange, mutuality and accessibility” (Catherine de Zegher and Gerald McMaster, All Our Relations, Biennale of Sydney, 2012).

Their approach recalls the concept of relational art and aesthetics, where the artists are models or catalysts of cooperative action and the audience is a community connected with the artists and each other actively and intersubjectively. Although de Zegher suggests they did not start with a preconceived theme, it appears that much of the art assembled for the BoS is characteristically relational, emphasising interactive processes over the production of aesthetic objects.

The concept of relational art is not especially new, having been identified in the 1990s. But presenting it on the scale of a biennale provides an updated survey of such art practice and creates an immersive experience that tests the hypothesis that collective, relational activity is becoming the dominant operational paradigm not only in art but in society generally, a paradigm that potentially addresses significant social, political and environmental issues. De Zegher suggests that, “In a way, this Biennale may be described as an act of consciousness interrogating consciousness itself. Its mission is different from the proliferation of biennales as thematic compendia.”

The selected art involves relational interaction of various forms: Lee Mingwei mends clothes brought in by audience members, Nadia Myre invites the audience to create representations of their scars and the audience participates in Eva Kot’àtkovà’s performances. Lyndal Jones’ performance involves pairs of blindfolded people entering an ark. Some art is produced cooperatively, for example that of Monika Grzymala working with the Euraba artists and papermakers. Some art represents a community, such as that of Dorothy Napangardi. Bouchra Khalili presents the stories of refugees. By contrast, Judy Watson, Hassan Sharif, Sarah Vanagt and Katrine Vermeire, Juan Manuel Echavarria and Jananne Al-Ani variously examine communities, histories or events archaeologically. Yun-Fei Ji depicts in Chinese classical-style painting a village community’s forced migration in the face of the Three Gorges Dam project. The telling of stories is a characteristic of much of the work. But it is difficult to establish conclusively whether the selected art typifies contemporary practice or demonstrates increased social interconnectedness.

The centrepiece of the BoS is perhaps Postcommodity’s Do You Remember When? in the basement of the AGNSW—a hole cut in the concrete floor of the gallery revealing the earth beneath in a political act of reclamation of the culture of the original inhabitants, displayed with the excised slab and an audio recording documenting the installation process. It’s as if the entire Biennale emerged from beneath the gallery’s floor, challenging the AGNSW as emblematic of western thinking. Ironically, institutionalising such a work within the BoS defuses its iconoclastic power. The floor will duly be restored.

Throughout BoS, art historian Moira Roth’s blog facilitated audience and artist interconnection, extending the Biennale’s function as a relational artwork. The 400-page catalogue can also be seen as a relational artwork. Its format enables the reader to pair images of the artworks, each pairing creating a unique synthesis (literally embodying the well-known idea of the birth of the reader). The numerous essays by thinkers and artists range across the economic, philosophical and psychological aspects of relationship and cooperative activity, making the catalogue a parallel dialogue and equal partner with the art. Given its size, only committed readers will plumb its depths; similarly with the art, which demands close analysis. The effort required to come to terms with both the art and the catalogue is, however, well rewarded, but each work also needs to be appreciated for its individual merits outside the institutionalising context of the BoS.

The pivotal essay is French philosopher Bruno Latour’s Attempt at a Compositionist Manifesto, in which he argues against oppositional critique and proposes compromise as a more productive and realistic alternative. He suggests, “For a compositionist, nothing is beyond dispute. And yet, closure has to be achieved. But it is only achieved through the slow process of composition and compromise…” Including Latour’s essay offers compositionism as the philosophical ground for relational art and positions the curators as compositionists. Whether such thinking has any impact beyond art remains to be seen, but the shift from a critical to a compositionist stance entails at least the temporary suspension of disbelief. Curating is a critical as well as a compositionist endeavour.

Gao Rong, The Static Eternity

Gao Rong, The Static Eternity

Gao Rong, The Static Eternity

The artwork I kept marvelling at was The Static Eternity, Mongolian-born artist Gao Rong’s replica of the interior of her grandparents’ house. On close inspection, we see that every surface and every object in the house is covered in cloth embroidered to replicate the authentic surface: painted timber complete with scratches and chips, stained walls, the bricks on the floor, even the stove are all rendered with startling accuracy in embroidered cloth of typical colours. Evidently, this massive embroidering project was undertaken cooperatively by the local community (thus satisfying that criterion for relational art) and in part is intended to retrieve the traditions of embroidery. Appearing as the physical manifestation of a memory of, or a desire for, home, it invites us to rethink our familial and community connections. And it prompts consideration of what the minimum of material comforts necessary for survival might be.

The Static Eternity also speaks about the forms and media of visual representation and about the deceptive nature of appearances, and thus has a strongly conceptual character. My response is alternately subjective and objective—I’m an actor in a play, I’m immersing myself in someone’s story and I’m rethinking my own relationships. Simultaneously, I detachedly critique it as an art object, consider sociologically the phenomenon of its creation and ponder the art of embroidery.

Contemporary art, and audience engagement with it, can be seen as a reflexive aggregation of social practices. The huge and diverse audience for the BoS, including family groups, seems comfortable meandering among art of all kinds, conceptual and relational. The question is whether the audience, in person and online, will be influenced in their thinking and behaviour or will instead remember the BoS as another saturating wave thrown up by the ocean of global culture lapping their doorsteps. While it might identify traditions and histories that would otherwise disappear, assembling art from many cultures must inevitably accelerate cultural and artistic evolution and, by rendering the BoS as a sociological museum and us as flaneurs, heighten our sense of detachment from our own traditions.

Ultimately, our future rests on the production and consumption patterns of seven-plus billion people who are generally expected to act in their own interests and only cooperate for immediate advantage. We can’t predict the future except to acknowledge that the world will soon be unrecognisably different and the transition will be uncomfortable. Relational art can show us, archaeologically, what we will lose. It might also be used to facilitate dialogue and to recalibrate our values and beliefs.

18th Biennale of Sydney, 2012, All Our Relations, Curators Catherine de Zegher and Gerald McMaster, Art Gallery of NSW, Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, Pier 2/3, Cockatoo Island, Carriageworks, June 27-Sept 16

RealTime issue #112 Dec-Jan 2012 pg. 10

© Chris Reid; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Meredith Penman, Persona

Meredith Penman, Persona

Meredith Penman, Persona

A BOY OF ABOUT EIGHT OR NINE CAUTIOUSLY MAKES HIS WAY ACROSS THE EMPTY STAGE. HIS MOVEMENTS HAVE THAT COY SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS PECULIAR TO CHILDREN. HE HAS A HEALTHFUL COMPLEXION AND A HAPPY IF SOMEWHAT MISCHIEVOUS AIR, A CONTRAST TO THE ESSENTIAL WHITE CURTAINS AND WHITE FLOOR OF THE SET. AFTER SITTING DOWN AND READING A BOOK IN SILENCE FOR A FEW MOMENTS, HE BRIEFLY EXAMINES THE AUDIENCE THROUGH A PAIR OF BINOCULARS, THEN LEAVES.

Although director Adena Jacobs makes no attempt to find a stage analogue for the rest of Bergman’s modernist cinematic montage, the famous visual poem that opens Persona (1966), she has nonetheless retained this strange prelude figure, the child-psychopomp, who in both the film and this current adaptation leads the audience from its present reality into the next.

Between stage and screen, however, the nature of that next reality must be radically different, and it is the way this difference is articulated by Fraught Outfit, Jacob’s company, that accounts for so much of the remarkable power in this unlikely adaptation.

Elisabet Vogler (Meredith Penman), a well-known stage actress, suddenly falls silent during her performance in the title role of Sophocles’ Electra. Although she eventually continues the performance, the next day she refuses to speak at all. The head doctor at the hospital where she is admitted for psychiatric treatment—in this production a disembodied voiceover (Jane Montgomery Griffiths)—suggests that Elisabet spend some time at an isolated seaside cottage with one of the hospital nurses, Alma (Karen Sibbing), where the doctor thinks she might rediscover the will to communicate. Although Elisabet seems immediately to relax in the cottage, she remains silent. Alma has a naturally lively personality and responds to her patient’s silence with a steady stream of small talk. As Elisabet’s silence seems to deepen, so too Alma’s conversation becomes more personal. When Alma reads a letter written by Elisabet to the head doctor in which she makes light of Alma’s revelations, it becomes too much for the nurse, leading to an intense series of psychic encounters between the two.

Although there is a tradition of producing Bergman’s films for the stage that goes back almost 50 years, and notwithstanding a recent vogue for adaptations of his more affectedly cerebral films, Persona represents an outrageous challenge for theatre makers. So much of its popular significance—its very status as a masterpiece—depends on the medium in which it was produced. It is self-reflexive to the point of incoherence, consistently disrupting narrative clarity and sabotaging authoritative communication by exposing the processes and materials of its own construction. In the words of Bergman, whose own preferred title for the film was Cinematography:

“Today I feel that in Persona—and later in Cries and Whispers—I had gone as far as I could go. And that in these two instances when working in total freedom, I touched wordless secrets that only the cinema can discover.”

Meredith Penman, Persona

Meredith Penman, Persona

Meredith Penman, Persona

There is an engrossing and enduring ambiguity in this well-known quotation. He “had gone as far as he could” toward what? The mystery of this question lies in the face—the face as both the principal motif of Bergman’s film and the medium of film itself, the “black hole and white wall, screen and camera.” What Bergman touches on is the truth about the face, and also about cinema: its mesmeric inhumanity and the regime of deception it enforces.

Or, rather, he touches on the ineffable implication of that truth—that peculiar feeling of revulsion at seeing Alma’s and Elisabet’s faces merge at the film’s climax, for example.

“The inhuman in human beings: that is what the face is from the start. It is by nature a close-up, with its inanimate white surfaces, its shining black holes, its emptiness and boredom. Bunker-face. To the point that if human beings have a destiny, it is rather to escape the face, to dismantle the face and facialisation.” (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 1980)

In order to escape the cinema-face and rise above a mere capitulation of doubtful events, Persona must be de-faced for the stage. It must discover, to use the vocabulary of Deleuze and Guattari, quoted above, the ancient “volume-cavity system” of the theatre, or the theatre-body.

At the very back of the deeply set stage, some 10 to 15 metres from the audience, we see the interior of a single room in the head doctor’s holiday cottage. A white curtain can be drawn across this facade, while another is used occasionally to shorten the stage and bring the action forward. This doesn’t so much reproduce the various camera shots, close-up and landscape, as emphasise the divisibility of the shared space.

The extensive use of curtains also suggests that we are all sharing a single chamber, performers and audience, while also underlining the theatrical tradition into which the story has been imported. As the size of the chamber changes, so too does our sense of intimacy with the performers and their secret magnetism. Indeed, intimacy, or the attempt to discover a sense of intimacy that goes behind the face, becomes the thematic core of this adaptation, displacing Bergman’s obsession with the fragility of self-constructed identity.

The effect of this displacement is clear, for example, in the scene where Elisabet’s husband (Daniel Schlusser) mistakes Alma for his wife. Bergman’s tragic eroticism, the hypnotic layering of the three faces, becomes a comic, though still poignant, collision of bodies, an awkward striving to get past the misapprehension of the face. It is this clumsy honesty of bodies that distinguishes Fraught Outfit’s involving dramaturgy, revealing something that Bergman’s faces, sliding gracefully across and into the landscape, otherwise obscure, something typified by Karen Sibbing, for example, as she appears in the latter half of the production, distraught, a chunky bandage on her hand, hair dishevelled and in every way miserably present.

In contrast with other recent Bergman adaptations, including both Jenny Worton’s Through a Glass Darkly (Almeida Theatre, 2010) and Simon Stone and Andrew Upton’s Face to Face (STC, 2012), Jacobs resists the allure of Bergman’s “juicy dream” dramaturgy. When we are at last released from the drama, it is not the enchanted island of Bergman’s Faro that we leave, with its population of demon hypnotists and Strindbergian somnambulists, but the firm, multi-dimensional embrace of the theatre-body. Thus, where Bergman’s film is fundamentally a critique—a demonic critique—of art, artists and civilised life in general, Fraught Outfit’s adaptation is essentially a more positive exercise, an attempt to generate the conditions of intimacy and even perhaps community.

See an interview with Simon Stone about his adaptation of Face to Face (RT110) and the review of the production (RT111).

Fraught Outfit, Persona, from the film by Ingmar Bergman, translator Keith Bradfield, conceived and adapted by Adena Jacobs, Dayna Morrissey, Danny Pettingill, director Adena Jacobs, performers Meredith Penman, Daniel Schlusser, Karen Sibbing; Theatre Works, Melbourne May 18-27, 2012; Belvoir, July 24-Aug 8, 2013

RealTime issue #112 Dec-Jan 2012 pg. 30

© Andrew Fuhrmann; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Ai Weiwei, Never Sorry, Madman DVD

Dan Edwards writes in this edition (p19) “Never Sorry [is] the debut documentary of US director Alison Klayman and the first sustained look at this crucial figure in contemporary Chinese culture.” The film places the work of this internationally acclaimed visual artist in context. While providing glimpses of the artist’s early years and his life now “Never Sorry’s main interest is Ai’s place within an increasingly fractious domestic debate about China’s future and the need for greater transparency….The man may be caged, but his humour, defiance and sense of play remain strong.”

6 copies courtesy of Madman Entertainment

The Sapphires, Hopscotch DVD

Directed by Wayne Blair from an adaptation of the Tony Briggs’ stage musical, The Sapphires has been a huge popular success in Australia. Four young women from a remote Aboriginal mission are forged by an enterprising manager into a powerhouse quartet who entertain American troops in Vietnam in the late 60s. The combination of ‘true story,’ comedy, romance and drama, realised by fine performers, plus audience curiosity about a rarely addressed, complex period of Australian history has proved a winner. As well, the high calibre of Aboriginal-directed films (Beneath Clouds, Samson & Delilah, Stone Bros, Here I Am, Bran Nue Dae, Toomelah) has guaranteed continued interest in films about the lives of our fellow Australians. The film stars Deborah Mailman, Jessica Mauboy, Miranda Tapsell, Shari Sebbens and Chris O’Dowd.

6 copies courtesy of Hopscotch Films

Aki Kaurismaki’s Le Havre, Madman DVD

Finland’s Aki Kaurismaki is one of cinema’s great directors, idiosyncratic and consistently inventive. His humorous-sad vision of humanity, sometimes bordering on pessimism or exuding an aura of deadpan optimism (or elsewhere just funny, as in his Leningrad Cowboy films) has created in Le Havre an empathetic fable about the plight of refugees in which a small African boy is rescued by an ageing shoeshine man in the northern port of Le Havre. If you don’t know Kaurismaki’s films, Le Havre is an excellent starting point. The film received the prize for best film at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival and, Laiki, the dog featured in Le Havre, won the Special Jury Palm Dog Award. What more recommendation do you need?

6 copies courtesy of Madman Entertainment

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RealTime issue #112 Dec-Jan 2012 pg. 48

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

 If There Was A Colour Darker Than Black I’d Wear It by Rising Damp Youth Theatre & Illuminart

If There Was A Colour Darker Than Black I’d Wear It by Rising Damp Youth Theatre & Illuminart

If There Was A Colour Darker Than Black I’d Wear It by Rising Damp Youth Theatre & Illuminart

IN OCTOBER, COUNTRY ARTS SA HOSTED THE 2012 NATIONAL REGIONAL ARTS CONFERENCE, KUMUWUKI/BIG WAVE, IN GOOLWA, SOUTH AUSTRALIA (SEE THE INTERVIEW WITH DIRECTOR STEVE MAYHEW IN RT 110, P12). ANNE THOMPSON, FOR REALTIME, CAUGHT AS MUCH AS SHE COULD OF THE INNOVATIVE, COMMUNITY-FOCUSED LIVE ART AND PERFORMANCE PROGRAM.

the coriolis effect

This event is the outcome of a professional and creative development program for 10 artists exploring regionally based live art collaborations. Country Arts SA and central Victoria’s Punctum worked together on the program supported by a grant from the Theatre Board Cultural Leadership Program. Artists from Central Australia, Victoria, Tasmania and South Australia participated.

In physics, the Coriolis effect is a deflection of moving objects when they are viewed in a rotating reference frame [Wikipedia]. In this Coriolis Effect an audience on bikes becomes the rotating frame of reference. Armed with maps and orange vests for visibility we rode to and between five sites. First, a short ride to the wharf where artist Ben Fox unloads a van. He shows me a picture taken 99 years ago near Hindmarsh Island just across from where we are. It’s of a boat in the 1913 Goolwa Regatta decorated with flowers and swastikas. He has a set-piece boat, costumes, beach chairs, plastic flower garlands, costumes, props and symbols crafted by a group of artists in Indonesia. Our job is to set up and be in a photo using the boat and any other material. The source photo is soon forgotten in the flurry and fun of dressing up and posing, people coming and going.

Then a 15-minute bike ride to a bird hide set amongst the reeds on the River Murray. We are met at the start of the boardwalk to the hide by a woman (Susie Skinner) in 60s dress, coat, red wig and court shoes. Is this Giuliana (Monica Vitti) from Michelangelo Antonioni’s 1964 film, Red Desert? Speaking with an Irish accent, she hands out books with photos of the bird hide and the words “In Loving Memory Yarluwar—Ruwe (Sea Country) and the Murray River.” We are at a wake for the River Murray. Standing in the road, she recites a poem, an invocation to turn away from material consumption. She walks towards the hide and we follow her. Sitting inside on wooden benches, we can see the river from our place of hiding. The Adelaide roots/alt country duo the Yearlings (Robyn Chalklen and Chris Parkinson) along with Jacques Soddell and Jamie Brown accompany Skinner. A number of songs are sung, songs of loss and being lost. She then offers us a whisky to toast the river. I am being led through a ritual that feels familiar and comforting. I like being there just as I can like sitting in a church. Other things can happen that I didn’t plan, like finding myself still amid the world; like thinking about a river.

I ride into a head wind to The Palace of Nothing. Franca Barraclough has worked with locals Kate Toone, Andrew Bray and Marike Oliphant to create this palace. The site is a derelict milk shed. The interventions do nothing to mask this. Leaving my bike in ‘the black hole,’ a painted circle on the weeds out front, I am guided to some children’s chairs and books. Inside the front cover of every book is a mud map of the site. The voice of a young woman plays through speakers, describing what it’s like being young and living in Goolwa. She paints a picture of boredom and time filling, of treasured childhood pursuits no longer possible, with nothing new existing to fill the gaps. I climb the stairs to the milk shed. The door is boarded up but I can see through a gap. A film of the view out of a car window driving around Goolwa plays on a loop. A miniature model of the township with matchbox cars fills the veranda space. There’s not much here. I guess that’s the point.

Back into town to visit the Goolwa library. I am met by Michael, a tall, affable man in his 70s who asks me why I have come to Goolwa and whether I have been here before. What have been my impressions? He takes notes in pencil on an index card. We chat about the Wooden Boat Festival and about places to go rowing. Just as I go to leave, Katerina (Kokkinos Kennedy) grabs me and asks me to describe my experience of Goolwa. I find myself saying something unexpected. She’s a member of Triage Live Art Collective which “creates intimate and social live art events that allow strangers to encounter one another in disarming, playful and sometimes confronting ways.” The starting premise for this event called Snapshot is the fact that the history of a place is full of holes so people have been invited to bring to the library a story, email or object to be archived for the future.

Just round the corner on open ground I meet Tamara Marwood unknotting some string. She tells me that in 1928 the mayor of Goolwa, Percy Wells, failed to get support for a state of the art cinema so he went ahead and built it at his own expense and ran it successfully for 30 years. It is now the Civic Centre. There are kit bags and some tent-like structures dotted around a central table. Marwood invites me to build my own structure for civic gatherings using one of the kits: a large sail, tent pegs, poles, string. I lay the sail out. It rains briefly and I shelter under it. I decide I want it to form a roof. There will be no walls, just a flapping sail roof. I worry about my ability to achieve this idea. Then Steve, Antonietta and Craig turn up. Craig organises poles, guy ropes and pegs and in no time there’s an open structure with a sail roof about 1.5 metres off the ground. I’m both grateful and disappointed I didn’t get to work it out. Marwood films the process on her phone.

mcmansions, shacks, fries & a coke

I board a coach. Our tour guide is architect Steve Grieve. Over 10 years ago he bought a house on Goolwa’s outskirts, liked it so much he purchased another down the road, renovated this one, sold it, then demolished the first and built a new one on the property. This is his subjective tour of Goolwa. We see stone cottages and Norfolk pines in Little Scotland and simple shacks built in the 60s: one storey shacks, two storey shacks and A-frame shacks on properties with a native tree or bush or two. No formal gardens or fences here. We drive past a number of eccentric homes. Then we travel across the bridge to Hindmarsh Island. We hear the story of the building of the bridge from Grieve’s perspective. We disembark to visit a one-room shack on the island. We travel through farming land. Most of the island has been cleared. We then arrive at the Mariner and drive past two-storey ‘mansions,’ their style appearing in housing estates across the land. We stop at one particular house and Grieve explains the glorious mishmash of architectural features in evidence. He awards it a finial [a sculptured ornament, often in the shape of a leaf or flower, at the top of a gable, pinnacle, or similar structure. Eds], planting one near the letter box. Complimentary cocktails at his house conclude the trip. He’s a wry and engaged commentator with an axe to grind about beach homes needing to reflect the simple human impulse to have shelter near the water and in a landscape.

i met goolwa

The Australian Bureau of Worthiness (theatre makers Tessa Leong and Emma Beech with visual artist James Dodd) has spent a week in Goolwa asking people “What makes your day worth it?” Goolwa is the fourth place they have surveyed; the others are Port Road in Adelaide, Geelong in Victoria and Viborg in Denmark. From the experiences of the week the Bureau has organised a low-tech presentation. This one included Beech telling stories and impersonating people, James Dodd showing his drawings of Goolwa using an overhead projector and some sound grabs of music and recorded interviews orchestrated by Leong. Having experienced a number of raffles during the week, the Bureau ran one themselves and in a nice turn of the table, the winner got to ask any member of the Bureau any question and they had to answer. A picture formed of the people of Goolwa and the Bureau, the sum of the parts. I found myself appreciating the care in this project—for community per se, for this community in particular and for us in the sharing of what was unearthed in living in and talking to the people of Goolwa.

if there was a colour darker than black i’d wear it

We meet at a bus stop for If There Was A Colour Darker Than Black I’d Wear It by Rising Damp Youth Theatre and Adelaide-based projection specialist Illuminart. We are introduced to Ado through projection: a figure in a hoodie on a shed wall, spray paint can in hand. We text a mobile number and our message appears as graffiti across the wall. It’s a fun game. We board the bus. It’s dark outside. On a screen next to the driver we watch YouTube-style clips of Ado, his mates and girlfriend mucking around, talking to camera. We pull up at a house to be greeted by two performers, Ado’s parents. It is his 21st. Their performance is heightened, grotesque. We visit the party but Ado never turns up. There is punch, signing the card, Twister and stylised interactions between the parents. Things go awry. Ado’s dad hits Ado’s mum. He chaperones us out. Ado’s mum is last seen out the back banging her head against the glass patio doors. Back on the bus we receive texts from Ado over the next hour: “Home soon Mum. Please don’t embarrass me in front of my friends. Do you need me to bring anything? A.” And “Mum if you are going to hack my Facebook page at least log out afterwards,” and “Sorry I swore at you. Didn’t mean to make you cry. A,” and “Love you mum. X Adrian.”

Ado’s Facebook page appears on the screen. Past posts are shown. Audience members post new messages. Then the bus pulls up at a football oval. We pile into the club rooms—inspirational notes, lockers, footy boots and then a video plays above the door showing the coach in close-up revving us up for the game. We file out. On the field we see Ado in footy garb, an opposition player and the coach. Their breath steams in the cold night air. We get grabs of a game as floodlights turn on and off. But these figures exist like ghosts outside of time since there are no other players, or crowd or noise. Then we climb stairs and enter the clubroom set up for an awards night. The coach wanders amid the tables, sits and eats a sandwich, puts money into the jukebox and stares out the window. The sounds and speeches of an awards night can be heard but there are no players.

Back on the bus an eerie noise pervades while on the screen video footage taken from the driver’s seat of a car repeats, headlights lighting up a bend. We pull in somewhere to see a car on fire; a closer look reveals the flames as projections. My mood has changed from intrigue and anticipation to dread. After some time in the dark we arrive at a hall. It is empty. Home movies of Ado and the ocean play over each other on the walls. We walk through a small room with sympathy cards, remnants of a wake, serviettes, mugs and an urn unplugged. Back outside, we hear the messages on Ado’s answer machine, people looking for him, waiting for him, as we watch him walk away from us and disappear, a projection on a stone wall.

By now I felt completely interpolated into the drama and felt sick to my stomach in the bus once I realised Ado was about to die or was dead or had disappeared. The piece also worked retrospectively. On the way home I reconsidered the video footage and scenes we had witnessed, seeing them as after-images of the disappearance rather than as present time images leading to it. The experience lingered for days.

Kumuwuki, Regional Arts Australia National Conference, Goolwa, SA, Oct 18-21

RealTime issue #112 Dec-Jan 2012 pg. 12

© Anne Thompson; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Infinite Jest, 24 Hours through the Utopian West, Hebbel am Ufer

Infinite Jest, 24 Hours through the Utopian West, Hebbel am Ufer

Infinite Jest, 24 Hours through the Utopian West, Hebbel am Ufer

THE BENJAMIN FRANKLIN INSTITUT FUR MIKROBIOLOGIE UND HYGIENE IS A MENACING BRUTALIST MONSTER. FOR THE NEXT HOUR IT’S THE DAVID FOSTER WALLACE CENTRE. LARGE BANNERS FEATURING A BANDANA-BEDECKED AND BESPECTACLED DFW COVER ITS FAÇADE AND INTERIOR RECEPTION RECEPTACLES. IT’S LIKE SOME NUREMBERG/BOOK WORM CULT OF PERSONALITY CONVENTION HYBRID. A RANGE OF DFW GROUPIE T-SHIRTS ARE FOR SALE. PARTY PACK TOTE BAGS ARE DISTRIBUTED THAT INCLUDE SUSPECT SACHETS OF GLUCOSE POWDER TO HELP YOU STAY AWAKE.

Arriving with expectations of Matthias Lilienthal’s 24-hour (10am to 10am) theatre adaptation of Infinite Jest as high as a recent arrival at the Ennet House Drug and Alcohol Recovery Centre, eventually I needed the long-range stamina of the youthful Aryan Internationale elite of the Enfield Tennis Academy to make it through the 24 hours of the production.

Moving through the walled-off West Berlin of another age, the 150-strong audience was carried in a convoy of double-decker buses to eight futuristic buildings constructed mostly during the 60s and 70s—a period of intensely competitive East-West Berlin development. This was the architectural equivalent of the space race and it led to some truly cosmic monuments to Late Modernist weirdness that today speak of derelict dreams and dystopia. What better arena to stage the seemingly impossible—a theatre adaptation of one of the most sprawling, improbable, dark and densely curious novels of the 20th century.

With Infinite Jest, David Foster Wallace re-wrote the rule book on writing the literary rule book. With Unendlicher Spaß—24 Stunden durch den Utopischen Westen (Infinite Jest—24 Hours through the Utopian West), Matthias Lilienthal presented his penultimate production after a decade as director of the Hebbel am Ufer (HAU) theatre. Over this time he not only established HAU1, HAU2 and HAU3 but housed a startling array of the who’s who of international contemporary performance in these interlinked spaces and beyond, creating a genre-busting program of cross-societal as much as cross-artform collaborations.

Lilienthal assembled his favourite directors, companies and artists from across the globe for this, his last production with the HAU and the world’s first attempt at Infinite Jest live. Germany, the UK, Poland, Australia, Argentina, the US and France were present across the 12 participating groups handed a slice of the Infinite pie and a spot on the magical mystery tour.

Given a freeform chance to explore and experiment with key passages and concepts from the 1,079 pages and 388 footnotes of the postmodern magnum opus with its 200+ characters and multiple interwoven and interleaved micro-narratives, the contributors ran with the opportunity in an array of wildly different directions. Coherence was obviously not the order of the day.

Underground reservoir used as a wave motion engineering facility, Infinite Jest, 24 Hours through the Utopian West, Hebbel am Ufer

Underground reservoir used as a wave motion engineering facility, Infinite Jest, 24 Hours through the Utopian West, Hebbel am Ufer

Underground reservoir used as a wave motion engineering facility, Infinite Jest, 24 Hours through the Utopian West, Hebbel am Ufer

By the time we visited a Fritz Langesque 1930s state radio station it was starting to get late. My expectation high had peaked and was starting to crash. Herded into a live sound recording studio, we encountered Madame Psychosis broadcasting her voice-modulated monologue in veiled silhouette from behind the screens of a glass control box in the corner. It was mesmerising… until she broke a fundamental directorial rule and left the booth… trailing a very long piece of tulle… exiting through a brightly lit door as a somewhat stupid metaphor for her untimely demise. It wasn’t the first time surprisingly clumsy direction had undermined the tension and potency of a moment that felt authentically Infinite Jest. I was starting to get frustrated.

This fantastically ambitious production had the largesse and logistic precision of modern warfare, which is always impressive. For the DFW fanatic, it was intriguing, but inevitably disappointing as it kept somehow missing the mark. For the uninitiated, it was obviously an impenetrable nightmare. They were peeling off from the tour and hailing taxis in increasing numbers over the 24 hours.

‘Anti-theatre’ of this ilk at its best, is the best. At its worst, it’s arbitrary avant garde style-over-substance too-smart-for-its-own-good self-indulgence that loses sight of the dramatic potential of its material and enters the terrain of tedium. This production featured both ends of the spectrum, and perhaps that was the point. Infinite Jest is, at its core, difficult, dense, depressing and at times incredibly boring. It’s also quintessentially 90s in style, so why shouldn’t the production be difficult to digest, with large tracts of dull, and feel somewhat dated?

The title, Infinite Jest, is not only a wry reference to a line from Hamlet’s soliloquy to the skull of Yorick, it’s the title of the very last ‘apres-garde’ film made by James Incandenza, a mostly absent character in the novel and around whom many of its narratives swirl. Infinite Jest is a film so captivating it literally entertains you to death. It’s Capital-E entertainment that incapacitates and renders you senseless—a central metaphor for the mindless pleasures of the overbearing culture of consumption that the book surreally portrays.

Rooftop gathering of wheelchair assasins, US Office of Unspecified Services, Infinite Jest, 4 Hours through the Utopian West, Hebbel am Ufer

Rooftop gathering of wheelchair assasins, US Office of Unspecified Services, Infinite Jest, 4 Hours through the Utopian West, Hebbel am Ufer

Rooftop gathering of wheelchair assasins, US Office of Unspecified Services, Infinite Jest, 4 Hours through the Utopian West, Hebbel am Ufer

It’s both poignant and ironic that the not too distant future described in the 1996 novel is now. Somehow it made the art-cool, cerebral distance of much of the direction of the ‘episodes’ feel like they’d missed the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to kick all of the blatantly ambitious experimental goals set for this production, while also entertaining the crap out of the audience.

I for one was expecting more gratuitous visceral enjoyment and a lot more laughs. It’s what I love about the book. It’s horrifically funny in ways that make you question your own mental health. No one belly-guffawed once during the tour I was on, and I for one never felt my sanity threatened in the slightest, apart from mild sleep deprivation.

The production’s consistent redemption was the genius of its locations: the Steffi-Graf-Stadium as the Enfield Tennis Academy; the 60s cultural complex ripped straight out of Clockwork Orange where the 5am AA meeting was held under brutal fluorescent lighting amid walls of primary colours; the surreal Teutonic version of a white-trash underground American Western Saloon; the derelict remains of Buckminster Fuller geodesic domes at a CIA monitoring station perched on top of an artificial mountain built from Hitler’s rubble; a vast underground reservoir used as a wave motion engineering testing facility, entered through a building with a monumental intestinal pink fibreglass tube curling through its exterior skin; the glorious 70s Reinickendorf tax office turned into US Office of Unspecified Services where the final manic episodes occurred, culminating on the rooftop at dawn where we all donned happy face banana bandana masks and sat in wheelchairs arranged in rows to become members of the notorious Québecois terrorist cell, the Wheelchair Assassins. There were moments such as these where it all came together and packed the desired punch. I just left wanting more of them in return for 24 hours of endurance. If nothing else, as a tour of West Berlin’s architectural underbelly of bizarre anomalies, the production was endlessly enthralling.

Perhaps this was always going to be a production that looked, and looks, better on paper—destined more for historical traction in the realms of contemporary performance academia due to the literary importance of Infinite Jest, the status of the artists involved and the lofty aspirations of the production, backed up by its densely researched and sexy-as-all-hell reader.

It certainly wasn’t designed to entertain the masses. After all, only eight performances, with half the crowd bailing each night equates to about 500 peeps in total experiencing the entire marathon. With over 100 individuals involved in the production and a lot of development behind it, that’s a gloriously decadent application of German Federal Cultural Foundation resources that would have equivalent artists and companies in Australia drooling at the potential.

Matthias Lilienthal is quoted in the reader as having once said “I was always at my best…when things got really tough.” If this was his best, I for one didn’t think it was good enough. Perhaps ‘things’ should have got tougher.

Hebbel am Ufer, Infinite Jest—24 Hours through the Utopian West: director Matthias Lilienthal, artists Biancchi/Macras, Gob Squad, Peter Kastenmüller, Jan Klata, Chris Kondek, Anna Sophie Mahler, Richard Maxwell, Mariano Pensotti, Philippe Quesne, She She Pop, Anna Viebrock, Jeremy Wade; video animation My best Thing by Frances Stark; Berlin. Berlin, June 2-27

RealTime issue #112 Dec-Jan 2012 pg. 31

© Marcus Canning; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Gary Warner installs his Geodesic dome

Gary Warner installs his Geodesic dome

Gary Warner installs his Geodesic dome

SITEWORKS IS ALL ABOUT THE BUNDANON ESTATE AS A SITE FOR INVESTIGATION AND CONVERSATION ACROSS DISCIPLINE BOUNDARIES. SINCE 2008, WHEN BUNDANON INITIATED AN ENVIRONMENT/ART PARTNERSHIP WITH THE UNIVERSITY OF WOLLONGONG’S SCHOOL OF EARTH AND ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCES AND SCHOOL OF CREATIVE ARTS, THERE HAVE BEEN ANNUAL OPPORTUNITIES TO UNDERTAKE SITE-BASED RESEARCH AND INTERDISCIPLINARY DISCUSSION, EACH ONE WITH A SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT EMPHASIS.

The prototype for Siteworks was the creative development residency called Ten Trenches in 2009. Led by the Cohen brothers, creative producer and artist, Michael and scientist, Tim, this project saw auger holes drilled, and ten slot trenches dug, in order to examine the flood behaviour of the river from up to 8,000 years ago. The purpose was to reach the Pleistocene period when the sea was about a metre higher than present—a level which is predicted to reoccur within the next 100 years. The project culminated in the night-time performance, Site by Night animating the trenches, illuminating the flood plain and generating a sense of the extraordinary regenerative potential of our planet.

In 2010 and 2011, extended residencies by artists and thinkers saw a number of commissioned artworks and performances, creative laboratories and an increasing number of collaborations between local residents, artists and thinkers taking place with the public outcomes presented over a weekend each Spring. This has led to a growing understanding of the land from cultural and scientific perspectives, encompassing both Indigenous and non-Indigenous histories of place, and inevitably, considerations of land usage and discussions around the future of food and water.

I’ve been privileged to be an audience member at successive Siteworks which have involved some truly wonderful performances and artworks as well as important conversations around the compelling and urgent issues of our time. I’ve planted trees and whacked weeds, wandered the river at dusk and heard the echoes of voices past and present ricocheting across the water and off the hillside. I’ve eaten weed pie, local black fish, freshly slaughtered beef and seaweed salad. I’ve watched the construction of an iron bark canoe and a geodesic dome, and listened to birdcalls both live and recorded. I’ve seen more kangaroos, wallabies and wombats in one place than just about anywhere else in Australia, and I’ve stood in deep trenches and marvelled at the layers of earth, rock and clay dating back ten thousand years.

As each Siteworks rolls into the next, the conversations continue and deepen. Of course the fact that Bundanon is a working farm, makes the topic of food and water particularly pressing, and provides a relevant context. For instance, an exemplary presentation by Professor Lesley Head, Director of the Australian Centre for Cultural Environmental Research (AUSCCER) on the cultural ecology of wheat in 2010 articulated the “perspectives on human-plant interactions by tracing and connecting the cultural, economic and ecological networks in which wheat is embedded from production to consumption.” Taken in tandem with Diego Bonetto’s social tactics with weeds, an understanding of human-plant relationships has been enabled in new and compelling ways for participants.

being there

Weed Whacking; Siteworks

Weed Whacking; Siteworks

Weed Whacking; Siteworks

To arrive at the Bundanon Homestead on a glorious Spring day is to pretty much arrive in heaven. The rolling green pastures, the rich perfume of the cottage garden in flower, the beautiful colonial homestead housing an extraordinary collection of art including several new commissions; a band—Paul Greene and the other colours—playing under the coral trees; fresh produce by local market gardeners, a fantastic coffee experience and happy families everywhere. Somewhere out in a paddock, Gary Warner is constructing a Geodesic dome. There are 100s of young seedlings to plant and lots of fireweed to pull out. Two of Brooke Andrews’ caravans from his Sydney Festival project, Travelling Colony, house videos documenting artists’ projects: Cross (X) Species Adventure Club: Australian Safari by Natalie Jeremijenko and Food for Thought by Tom Rivard, Jodie McNeilly and Michael Lewarne. It’s cosy viewing squished into a caravan watching the adventures of artists and cultural activists.

performance by Robyn Backen & Plank, Siteworks

performance by Robyn Backen & Plank, Siteworks

performance by Robyn Backen & Plank, Siteworks

In the lushly chintz music room of the Boyd’s family homestead, Nigel Helyer’s 8-track sound installation, Milk and Honey, references the biblical book of Exodus whose poetic language is in stark contrast to the prosaic diary entries written by colonial settlers in the 1880s. The murmuring of voices, the humming of the bees, the sound of waves lapping against a bow, transports listeners into a poignant and resonant sonic space. In the evening we all wander down to the riverbank and, as night falls, listen to the voices of Robyn Backen’s performers (Plank) echoing across the river, reporting the weather from a century and a half ago. Flickering torchlight occasionally illuminates the scrubby hillside, throwing up strange shadows, as a ghostly procession of performers climbs the hill, to disappear mysteriously into the blackness.

postcards from the future

Punctuating these bucolic experiences were two key conversations. The first, Postcards from the Future, was facilitated by Fiona Winning. The brief was to imagine, optimistically, what the brave new world of future food might be in 2032. I suspect that it was the optimism that each speaker found most challenging…Chris Presland, from the Southern Rivers Catchment Management Authority (CMA) and chair of the Greenbox Regional Food Cooperative, addressed a postcard to his granddaughter, imagining a world in which government and community finally recognise the fundamental necessity of prioritising a healthy natural environment, as well as the need to make conscious choices about food. Artist Barbara Campbell’s postcard to her niece, on the occasion of the Spring Equinox Festival, was a celebration of all the things that connect us, cultural and plant diversity and the importance of planting seeds both conceptual and physical. Shane Norrish from Landcare Australia, writing to his partner Rosemary, celebrated the achievement of sufficient water on tap in Kenya, allowing him to note that 40% of the world’s populations live in river basins currently suffering severe water stress. Chris Andrew from Greening Australia talked about the importance of ‘joined-up thinking,’ of the need to break out of discipline silos to address the pressing and profoundly connected issues of energy, food and water.

eating animals

Lunch was pretty awesome. Prepared by Dank St Deport chef Jared Ingersoll chef and an extraordinary team of helpers, the feasting offered an optimistic view of what the future might hold, if only we tend to our environment, harvest wisely and eat what is grown, produced and marketed locally. On the menu was local blackfish with seaweed salad, cultured and harvested by Aquatic Scientist, Pia Winberg; organic chicken with weed salad and, of course, a vegetarian option. Undoubtedly the most confronting item on the menu, however, was the Bundanon Beast (numbered RT-106), an Angus mixed with Black Simmental steer, slaughtered for the Siteworks feast at the request of property manager Henry Goodall. The project was contentious, even for Bundanon staff, but in the end Henry’s argument about the importance of making the connection between the actual animal in the pasture and the food on our plate was an essential one.

In order for participants and eaters to more fully understand the relationship we have with the animals we eat, Goodall worked with filmmaker Mike Leggett on a video called RT-106: The Beast of Bundanon. It was screened in one of the upstairs rooms at the homestead, and just to make sure that we all got the point, we sat watching the video with our feet on the tanned hide of RT-106. As Jonathan Safran Foer wrote in Eating Animals (2009): “Perhaps there is no meat. Perhaps there is this animal, raised on this farm, slaughtered at this plant, sold in this way, and eaten by this person…”

These are not the shockingly, brutal images of a Four Corners program; the abattoir is clean, the workers efficient and there is no gratuitous brutality. The moment of slaughter is not shown, but the hung cadaver of a large steer skinned, gutted and then butchered, is in striking contrast to the images of that same, wet-nosed young steer sniffing the air from the back of a truck on its way to the abattoir, or the big eyes of cows and their calves in Bundanon’s paddocks gazing into the camera. There is respect and poignancy, but no sentimentality. We are eating animal.

postprandial conversation: future food

Cleverly facilitated by Gretel Killeen, this conversation involved chef Jared Ingersoll, an outspoken advocate of sustainable, ethical eating; Ingrid Just, media spokesperson for Choice; futurist Mike McCallum; dairy farmer Lynne Strong; Professor John Crawford, who holds the Judith and David Coffey Chair of Sustainable Agriculture at the University of Sydney; and Jodi Newcombe, environmental engineer and economist.

The point was compellingly made that our future food system must take us beyond a merely economic relationship with land, and move to smaller, more distributed networks of food production. The cost of food and food production was a recurrent trope with Jared Ingersoll making the point that we seem to want obesity and poor health delivered to us at bargain prices. Mike McCallum followed up by pointing out that governments need to make decisions about food quality; currently economic incentives make it easy to eat badly. Food typically represents 10% of the average household’s income, meaning that it’s never been cheaper. Food is now bred for quantity rather than quality; there has been a 50% decline in nutritional density from f50 years ago. Ingrid Just on the other hand, argued that Siteworks attendees were middleclass and out of touch with the realities of the average suburban household, where shopping is predicated on cost and convenience, while making a compelling point about packaging by dumping in front of us the rubbish she picked up from junk food wrapping on a stretch of roadside just outside Nowra.

Dairy farmer Lynne Strong had some good things to say but telling us that organic farming is more environmentally costly than factory farming was not one of them. John Anderson made the chilling point that no-one is thinking about the global rate at which we are losing top soil; apparently we have about 60 years of top soil left, while McCallum further commented that cities are consuming the best arable land. Strong told us that less than 6% of land in Australia is arable. Anderson also argued that the next 10-15 years would see major conflicts associated with water shortages. “Hungry people,” he said, “are angry people.”

One of the great things about the curated conversations at Siteworks is the bringing together of people from very different lived experiences and perspectives. This is not a scenario where everyone sits around agreeing with each other. Instead the inevitable paradoxes, contradictions, vested interests and passionate engagements come into fruitful but sometimes frustrating interaction. One of the particularly interesting things about putting ‘experts’ into conversation with regular punters is that they/we sometimes have to unpack some of our most treasured tenets, adopted practically as items of faith, while experts can assume that punters know nothing and having nothing valid to contribute.

where to next?

It’s clear that information is one part of the story. We can’t talk about food security without talking about health. We can’t talk about health without talking about the environment. We can’t talk about the environment without talking about culture. Growing ideas is as important as growing food. Ultimately, however, the challenge is not only to envision the future, but also to map it, and get on track. We know what we need to do. The future is in our hands.

Bundanon Trust, Siteworks, Future Food Feast, Bundanon, NSW, Sept 29; https://www.bundanon.com.au/siteworks

RealTime issue #112 Dec-Jan 2012 pg.

© Sarah Miller; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Amy Macpherson, Matt Cornell, Symphony, NORPA, Legs on The Wall

Amy Macpherson, Matt Cornell, Symphony, NORPA, Legs on The Wall

Amy Macpherson, Matt Cornell, Symphony, NORPA, Legs on The Wall

ACKNOWLEDGING THE SHEER RHYTHMIC EXUBERANCE AND MASTERY OF BEETHOVEN’S SEVENTH, WAGNER FAMOUSLY DESCRIBED THE SYMPHONY AS THE “APOTHEOSIS OF THE DANCE.” ALL BUT 200 YEARS AFTER ITS PREMIERE IN 1813, SYDNEY PHYSICAL THEATRE COMPANY LEGS ON THE WALL WRAPS ITSELF AROUND STEFAN GREGORY’S SUPERB ELECTRIC-GUITAR RENDITION OF THE SEVENTH AS THE HUB OF ITS EVOCATIVE NEW WORK, SYMPHONY.

Commissioned by NORPA as part of its Generator program, director Patrick Nolan’s largely dance creation is, at once, a homage to the structure and dynamic of Beethoven’s original and an extended meditation on “the dance of self and other.”

Symphony is structured around the four movements of the Seventh. There are four performers, one featured in each movement. The first begins with the blast of a loud, sharp chord. The lights reveal a singular figure (Rhiannon Spratling) on an open stage. Like a child alone at play, her rhythmic, repetitive dance builds with the ebb and flow of the guitar. Again and again, she throws herself wildly across the stage. Three performers (Matt Cornell, Amy McPherson and Joshua Thomson) bring on rectangular metre-high boxes impeding her dance. The boxes line up in four orderly rows, suggesting a landscape encroached on by the grid of suburb or city. The number ‘one’ projected on a box signifies the first movement. Dancer and performers begin playing together. In their exuberance, they knock all the boxes over until they lie chaotically about. The dancer is distressed by the chaos. She carries a box upstage as the movement comes to its close. The performers follow suit and begin building a wall as the lights fade to black and a long silence ensues. With the sombre refrain that introduces the second movement the performers complete the wall with four ‘windows.’

Symphony, NORPA Generator, Legs on the Wall

Symphony, NORPA Generator, Legs on the Wall

Symphony, NORPA Generator, Legs on the Wall

The wall becomes a potent image and device in Symphony. At the end of the first movement, it seems to represent the alienation of the dancers from each other. Over the next three movements, it will be a wall we look through, like peering through someone’s window. It will become the canvas on which video artist Andrew Wholley projects his wonderful imagery—brick wall, cityscape, circuit board, orbiting moon. It will become the space against which the performers dance, their own forms projected onto their bodies. Its four windows will come to represent both the four movements of the symphony and the four performers. In this regard, designer Alice Babidge has made the right choice to leave the performers in rehearsal clothes. Fnally, the wall will be smashed down and rebuilt as four separate structures.

Symphony then is a ‘self-conscious’ reflection on its own evolution and creation. Its imagery sparks reverberant thoughts without offering the relative certainty of meaning inherent in narrative. Music, dance and image are yoked together to produce a deeply intimate experience. Symphony is a subjective, impressionistic piece; it takes place in the mind of the beholder. Not unlike ‘the dance’ of life really. I would have paid the admission price just to hear Stefan Gregory’s masterly reworking of Beethoven!

NORPA Generator: Legs on the Wall, Symphony, director Patrick Nolan, composer Stefan Gregory, performers Matt Cornell, Amy McPherson, Rhiannon Spratling, Joshua Thomson, designer Alice Babidge, video Andrew Wholley, lighting Matt Cox; Lismore City Hall, Lismore, NSW, Nov 16, 17

RealTime issue #112 Dec-Jan 2012 pg. 32

© Peter Barclay; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

An Act of Now, Chunky Move

An Act of Now, Chunky Move

An Act of Now, Chunky Move

THERE’S A LINGERING WHIFF OF THE CULTURAL CRINGE TO THAT OFT-EMPLOYED PHRASE, ‘WORLD CLASS.’ IT’S SLAPPED ON NEW ARCHITECTURE AND RESTAURANTS, BUT EQUALLY BESTOWED AS A KIND OF HONORIFIC ON CULTURAL ARTEFACTS. IN A PAROCHIAL SENSE, IT SUGGESTS THAT SOMETHING ISN’T JUST GOOD, BUT GOOD ENOUGH FOR ELSEWHERE, WHERE STANDARDS ARE PRESUMABLY HIGHER. IT’S A TERM OF PRAISE THAT CAN ALSO BELITTLE. NOT ALWAYS, OF COURSE.

There’s a realm in which ‘world class theatre’ is a very accurate descriptor—that space occupied by works that consciously seek a diasporic status, and that often address internationalism on both a thematic and contextual basis. Think of Ariane Mnouchkine’s touring productions, or those of the Roberts Lepage and Wilson. These situate themselves in a floating world that may touch down on earth here and there, but never take firm root. They travel well, but sometimes at the expense of a profound engagement with the local.

All of this is a way of thinking through the dilemma of the international arts festival in Australia today. The works that are brought here must strike that balance between the exotic and the universal, be indicators of elsewhere while still speaking to the familiar, and admit of a plurality without losing intelligibility. At the same time, new Australian work presented in a festival context will be (perhaps unconsciously) viewed with a comparative eye—is this of the same quality or kind as its visiting brethren? Is it too Australian? Not Australian enough?

These are usually unhelpful questions, but we ask them. I don’t know how well the range of new Australian work at this year’s Melbourne Festival would travel, but its relationship to the burgeoning economy of global cultural exchange is certainly worth examining.

 

chunky move, an act of now

Anouk van Dijk’s first production as head of Melbourne’s Chunky Move was a must-see for several reasons. Appropriately titled An Act of Now, it’s a dazzling, immediate production that negotiates continuity and change. An exploration of group dynamics, exploitation, surveillance and the madness of crowds, it makes great demands on its dancers and achieves equally thrilling results.

It’s also an urgent work in the way it manages the expectations of its audiences. Chunky Move is one of the country’s flagship dance companies, and has been pivotal in the incremental development of performance styles that are both distinctive and influential. How these would fare under the stewardship of an incoming choreographer from the Netherlands was always going to be a matter of intrigue. An Act of Now suggests that van Dijk will have an admirable creative impact on the next generation of Australian dance, since the work features much that is strikingly different from the story we’ve seen thus far.

The dancers are locked in a large glass box, greenhouse-like, which is filled with rolling pillows of smoke and lit by invisible sources. They strike poses in sharp silhouette, distinguishable only by things that hint at character—a pair of sunglasses, high heels or brawny broad shoulders. They appear for a moment then melt into invisibility. They’re insubstantial but iconic, unreal but instantly recognisable. It’s a fitting beginning. The next hour or so will demonstrate how the reduction of the individual to an image, so common in the contemporary mediascape, is both dangerous and seductive.

The obvious parallel here is that of a Big Brother house, in both an Orwellian and reality TV sense. The relationships that form between dancers are always made desperate by our scrutiny. Bonds form briefly, but are forever threatened by the lack of control the situation demands. The group turns on a member, pairs isolate themselves, attempt to escape or find some solitude, upset the precarious social balance of the hothouse ecosystem. The audience, meanwhile, exercises its voyeuristic gaze over the proceedings while remaining ultimately disconnected from the interior worlds that are denied us. The transmission of the score via individual headphones also subtly furthers this, separating us from our fellow viewers and the real sounds occurring outside.

If it’s an indicative work, van Dijk’s arrival will prove a positive force in the evolution of Australian dance. The piece is ‘international’ in a sense, since it would fare well in cities across the globe, but that could be said of most of Chunky Move’s previous productions. More interesting is the way it seems aware of the international market without particularly caring about it one way or another—its goals are aesthetically driven, first and foremost.

 

the rabble, orlando

Mary Helen Sassman, Dana Miltins, Orlando, The Rabble

Mary Helen Sassman, Dana Miltins, Orlando, The Rabble

Mary Helen Sassman, Dana Miltins, Orlando, The Rabble

The same can be said of The Rabble’s startling adaptation of Virginia Woolf’s Orlando. Its visual language evinces a consciousness of recent trends in post-dramatic theatre around the world, but its impact is utterly of its own voice. The closest referent might be Daniel Schlusser’s gripping eviscerations of classic texts (and Schlusser has worked with the company in the past), but even that comparison diminishes the brave originality on display here.

This is most definitely not Woolf’s Orlando. Where the original tale of a youth who switches gender, lives for centuries and seems unaffected by time’s decay is a love letter that bursts with pleasures and a kind of uncontainable joy, this production does a terrible violence to its source. Both are powerfully feminist visions, but where one celebrates possibility, the other introduces the most monstrous elements of patriarchy into a system that imagined alternatives. Here Orlando is not liberated when she attains her female form, but instead finds herself on the wrong side of a system of oppression to which she herself had previously contributed. This Orlando is rapist, perhaps murderer, victim, mother, hysteric, dunce, clown and much more. Indeed, all of Woolf’s characters are made into carnivalesque grotesques, or robbed of voice, or drawn in mere outline—there is no way of interpreting them in a realist manner, and equally the thicker meanings of this production will be debated by audiences who may each feel they’ve witnessed a different work.

There’s a sculptural quality to the palette—the alabaster surfaces of both set and players could make them marbles stolen from some older culture, but in their whiteness the cast are equally the colonials doing the thieving. There’s also a Catholic dichotomy between the strict and repressive atmosphere and the perverse fascination with an iconography of morbidity and excess.

Like An Act of Now, this Orlando is less remarkable for the way it speaks to its predecessors than for what it points to ahead. The Rabble has been a company to watch for some years, but the daring and acuity of this work is of the sort that indicates a giant stride has been taken, one which other companies will be well-advised to take notice of.

 

polyglot theatre, how high the sky

Polyglot Theatre’s recent years have been just as compelling. The company has had to adapt to survive, and in this case that’s meant developing a strong touring presence with a travel itinerary that is quite astonishing. I don’t know whether this has anything to do with the sheer level of confidence that must have allowed a work like How High the Sky to even be conceived of, but it’s the kind of so-crazy-it-just-might-work thing that few might even consider attempting.

The production is pitched at three very distinct audiences: babies under a year old, their carers, and a third group of onlookers. To create something that will speak to each of these, who will all have very different investments in the ongoings, is more challenging than may be obvious. To provide engagement with the perceptual psychology of an infant demands a carefully thought-out kind of immersive spectacle, but how compelling will this be for an adult sitting to one side? And what of the parent who is both onlooker and participant?

I don’t profess to any great understanding of babies’ mental worlds, but the youngest audience for How High the Sky gave out a sense of wonder that any work of theatre should be admired for producing. The space is an unfolding sea of balloons big and small, streamers, shifting sound and lightscapes. There’s an undersea aspect to it all, a fluidity and weightlessness. Puppeteers discreetly manipulate the environment and the kids are free to handle their way around the space. Carers are initially seated with the babies, but after some time are invited to move to the sidelines and most surprising of all is the way that the children are by this time so involved with their surrounds that there’s no real sense of separation anxiety.

For the third party onlookers, the responses of the babies are themselves undoubtedly the ‘show’ here, but it’s not some creepy Anne Geddes-style objectification of infants. The babies are not performers, but an audience we’re allowed the privilege of seeing. If anything, the looks on the faces of the children here were a reminder of how rare an aesthetic experience of sheer wonder is for an adult. It’s saddening, but also heartening to be offered a moment of pre-linguistic engagement, if only by proxy.

 

lucy guerin inc, weather

Weather, Lucy Guerin Inc

Weather, Lucy Guerin Inc

Weather, Lucy Guerin Inc

While Lucy Guerin has often employed spoken words in her work, it too often seems to occur in a space outside of language. Rather, sounds produced by vocal mechanics are just another extension of the body itself—the sense of their employment here is not that of reason and discourse but of the physical being of the noises we make. At the same time, Guerin’s choreographic interests have straddled a line between that immanent physicality and cooler, more cerebral constructs that exist almost purely as abstractions.

So while it’s possible to say a lot about things such as climate change, the invisible forces of nature or the effects of the environment on the human form when thinking about Guerin’s Weather, it’s not right to imagine that the work says anything about these concepts. The hundreds of plastic bags that make up the set might allow thoughts of the destructiveness of human waste-making; the hydraulic breathing of an arresting opening solo might suggest our fragile dependence on our atmosphere; but this thinking occurs after the fact, outside of the condition Guerin has created for us. More than most of her peers, I would argue, Guerin works intensely to efface any literalism from her choreography, and to equally subtract a sense of definitive authorial intention through which the dance can be ‘decoded.’

But despite her long and reckonable career, Guerin shares something in common with new and emerging choreographers. There are only a few tiny moments in Weather that gesture to her earlier work; more often it seems that she is trying to find new modes of expression. She’s not one to focus on developing a signature, a consistent style that carries across her body of work. But as with many of her contemporaries, this creates a kind of permanent crisis of creativity. Making it new is easy when you haven’t yet made much to speak of, but attempting not to settle back into familiar routines is a much trickier imperative to artists with decades of experience.

Weather isn’t a showy work, but there are brief sequences that rise up and make an attestable impact. Perhaps the finest impress most because of their simplicity: with the playing space entirely covered in the gently drifting plastic bags, the six dancers lie upon their backs in a row, link arms and slide the length of the stage like a snow plough, shoring up everything in its wake. Again, it doesn’t say anything. Indeed, it doesn’t really create many conscious associations. But it’s a movement that seems to emerge from nowhere, and disappears just as quickly.

Melbourne International Arts Festival: Chunky Move, An Act of Now, concept, choreography Anouk van Dijk, composer, sound designer Marcel Wierckx, costumes Anna Cordingley, lighting Niklas Pajanti, performers Peter Cseri, Leif Helland, Stephanie Lake, Lauren Langlois, Paea Leach, Alya Manzart, James Pham, Nina Wollny, Sidney Myer Music Bowl, Oct 18-27; The Rabble, Orlando, after Virginia Woolf, creators Emma Valente, Kate Davis, direction, lighting Emma Valente, design Kate Davis, performers Syd Brisbane, Dana Miltins, Mary Helen Sassman, Malthouse Theatre, Oct 12-27; Polyglot Theatre, How High the Sky, concept Sue Giles, Jessica Wilson, Anna Tregloan, directors Sue Giles, Jessica Wilson, design Anna Tregloan, composer, sound designer David Franzke, lighting Andrew Livingston/Bluebottle3, Arts Centre, Melbourne, Oct 24-28; Weather, director Lucy Guerin, choreography Lucy Guerin with the dancers Talitha Maslin, Alisdair Macindoe, Kirstie McCracken, Harriet Ritchie, Lee Serle, Lilian Steiner, design Robert Cousins, lighting Benjamin Cisterne, composer Oren Ambarchi, costumes Shio Otani, Malthouse, Oct 18-21

RealTime issue #112 Dec-Jan 2012 pg. 15-16

© John Bailey; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Matt Prest, Lee Wilson, Whelping Box

Matt Prest, Lee Wilson, Whelping Box

Matt Prest, Lee Wilson, Whelping Box

WHELPING BOX, PART OF PERFORMANCE SPACE’S SEXES SEASON, WAS A LONG-AWAITED REMINDER OF HOW VISCERAL, PROVOCATIVE AND INTELLIGENT CONTEMPORARY PERFORMANCE CAN BE.

The product of intensive team work, overlapping responsibilities and a range of skills, four artists, working without writer or director, put paid to the notion, once again in the ascendancy, that theatre is foremost the realm of writers—as argued by David Williamson in the STUDIO cable TV series Raising the Curtain, as well as letters-to-the-editor writers hostile to the recent cut-and-pasting of classics by young male directors.

Certainly the great achievements in writing for the stage over thousands of years can never be undervalued, even if it’s not at all clear that we are enjoying such greatness in our own era. Some of the most potent authorship across the last decade in Australia has come in the form of adaptations of classic (and some not so enduring) works by Kosky, Wright, Andrews, Strong, Lutton and others in a tradition that goes back at least to the 1970s; I recall my surprise, and delight, at encountering Charles Marowitz’s “free translations” of plays by Shakespeare at London’s Open Space Theatre in the mid-1970s. Marowitz has been a critic, a collaborator with Peter Brook (another provocative adaptor) at the Royal Shakespeare Company, the co-founder of Encore Magazine, director and playwright. He was part of that 60s and 70s explosion of performative experimentation that opened theatre up to new possibilities—many of them now well-integrated into the mainstream.

Of course, not all contemporary performance works are models of radical cogency, just as many stage plays fail to meaningfully cohere though abiding by the well-thumbed rulebook of tradition. Equally, ‘deconstructed’ classics offer little if they don’t tell us something about the original as much as about ourselves.

The fear among playwrights and the directors who support and often nurture them, is that writer-free (in fact, that’s not always the case) contemporary performance and the emergence of a so-called ‘directors’ theatre’ have reduced the opportunities for good, new plays to emerge in an already small market. Justifiable paranoia, you might think. Meanwhile theatre, in the broadest terms, from the mainstream to burgeoning live art and digital ventures (see review of Kumuwuki), continues to mutate in fascinating and sometimes worrying ways—for example a skill-less DIY dimension in some live art. The debate about the status of the playwright is beyond resolution. Meanwhile cable television has opened up remarkable opportunities for some of the same writers, not a few who’ve become co-producers of their own material. But the screen is not the stage.

performance space, whelping box

Matt Prest, Lee Wilson, Whelping Box

Matt Prest, Lee Wilson, Whelping Box

Matt Prest, Lee Wilson, Whelping Box

Two men, heads masked with tightly bound packing tap bound aggressively towards each other, restrained by sprung leashes that pull them back at the point where skulls might crack. This violent image of humans behaving like fighting dogs in training is central to Whelping Box, the creation of Lee Wilson and Mirabelle Wouters of Branch Nebula and fellow contemporary performance makers Matt Prest and Clare Britton, performed by Wilson and Prest with ruthless vigour and wit.

Prior bouts of training include exercises in which one or other of the men is taught to endure pain (a ‘massage’ with a rusty shovel), to trust his teacher while blindfolded or, critically, not trust at all. The irony is that this all takes place in a large whelping box—a device used for the nurturing of puppies—the audience lining its internal perimeter. Although care seems to be taken, nurture ranks low and our proximity to the performers induces anxiety for them and, at times, ourselves.

The box is cleverly designed to be at once wall, platform and resonant chamber. The two men breach it, running and leaping simian and dog-like around and above us, at one stage naked, thrusting pelvises defiantly at each other, cocking legs as if to mark out territory. The miked box amplifies the thump and skid of bodies, scarily enlarging our sense of their power. The box cannot contain this raw masculine energy which is also clearly cultivated for violence. This tension is a key to the show’s dialectical dynamic—a mix of manipulation and exuberance, risk and play, grim comment and literal and quite lateral parody.

Whelping Box commences with Wilson wielding a long pole with a light at its end which Prest puppyishly pursues, running furiously in circles and then finally joining his master in a war-like dance. After the mid-show leap into anarchy, which includes the spraying of biscuit rewards over the audience, a passage ensues in which the men tie themselves to each other with a long twisted strand of clear tape that is bound around waists and thighs (men in the audience reached nervously to safely cup their genitals). A fearsome tug of war follows, actual competition, a display of strength which is almost sculptural in its moments of taut stasis and near snapping point.

The final stage of the show transforms into idiosyncratic mythmaking—fantasies of the masculine self. In an inversion of the opening scene, Prest as a glittering magician with an almost feminine aura leads a feral dandy Wilson with the tip of his bliss-inducing wand, accompanied by a bee-like buzz and a soaring, wordless soprano sound score. But this moment of transcendence is mere respite before the testosterone finally kicks in again and loud, joyful and thankfully harmless chaos ensues.

In its celebration of masculine physicality, Whelping Box breathtakingly delineates the pleasures, pain and contradictions of play, initiation, bonding, competition, risk and self-mythologising. Within a carefully choreographed framework, Wilson and Prest repeatedly push themselves to the limit, testing their bodies in sustained acts of endurance, living out the very condition they have committed to celebrate and critique.

Like the stage design, Jack Prest’s sound score is enveloping, eerily punctuating and pumping up the action in a quite non-literal manner. A curious design element is a large illuminated square (like an inverted light box) hovering over the action, morphing from one colour to another and slowly descending to the floor where it finally appears to take the two men with it. Did it indicate not so much the demise of masculinity per se, but the condition’s endurance to the end of light and time? What remains so vividly in my consciousness is Whelping Box’s vivid evocation of the complexities of intimate male behaviour (if barely homoerotic) built around physical drive, even at a time when that behaviour can no longer be ascribed to men alone and when the demise of the male of the species is the subject of random sci-fi-ish speculation. (See RealTime TV interview with Wilson and Prest, including footage from the show.)

belvoir, private lives

Zahra Newman, Toby Schmitz, Private Lives, Belvoir

Zahra Newman, Toby Schmitz, Private Lives, Belvoir

Zahra Newman, Toby Schmitz, Private Lives, Belvoir

Noel Coward’s Private Lives (1927), which American theatre writer John Lahr once described “as perfect as an art deco curve,” is given a right rumpling in Ralph Myers’ contemporary rendering. The setting is a style-less hotel room-cum-patio-cum-foyer space (with oddly scaled elevator access) of the bleak modern variety. Muzak and Phil Collins (“In the air tonight”) ominously supplant the genteel music of the 20s. Elegance in gesture and fashion are pretty much absent and Amanda (Jamaican-born Zahra Newman) is played, with tough, energetic verve. The French maid is brutally rude rather than snooty (a very funny Mish Grigor). Precious British accents give way to unmannered voices if too often at the expense of the inherent rhythms of Coward’s dialogue. Languid, sensual intimacy abounds but so too does palpable physical violence, such that the play’s forgiving ending cannot atone for Elyot’s misogyny—verbal and physical. But he is forgiven because Private Lives is a fable of redemption born of accepting difficult love; it’s a genteel farce with heart and a handful of psychological insights and a happy ending. An attempt to turn it into something more serious on the one hand, and more physically funny and far less genteel on the other, is risky but very interesting.

While some have seen Myer’s Private Lives as a worthy, vigorous, very Australian response to a rarely seen theatre classic, I felt that, short on style, it hadn’t found the right contemporary idiom or setting with which to do this comedy of manners justice. It was often obtuse at the expense of subtlety, although the extreme decline of Toby Schmitz’s Elyot into extreme dishabille and abjection compensated somewhat for his underlined sinning. In sync with our reality TV times the lives in this production didn’t seem private at all. With feelings overtly and often very physically expressed, the sense of an inherently repressed culture out of which Coward’s wit and sarcasm erupted to the surface without doing too much damage goes missing. The deco curve is broken in Myer’s nonetheless bold attempt to introduce new generations to an enduring work, albeit one tied more than many to its era, as is often the case with comedies of manners.

sydney theatre company, signs of life

Aaron Pedersen, Heather Mitchell, Signs of Life, Sydney Theatre Company, Black Swan Theatre Company

Aaron Pedersen, Heather Mitchell, Signs of Life, Sydney Theatre Company, Black Swan Theatre Company

Aaron Pedersen, Heather Mitchell, Signs of Life, Sydney Theatre Company, Black Swan Theatre Company

Tim Winton’s Signs of Life is set in an isolated, drought-ruined property, home to Georgie (Heather Mitchell), an elegant middle-aged woman living with the ghost of her recently deceased husband—an apparently ne’er do well but loved hippie. Two other isolates, an Aboriginal brother (Aaron Pedersen) and sister (Pauline Whyman), turn up in the night when their car breaks down. They contrive to stay on, seeking a place by the now empty river where their late, silent father once stayed. In a rare moment of openness, he had revealed to them an affinity with that country although not belonging to it.

Like their father, the siblings are rootless. The brother, Bender, angrily declares that they are without stories, clan or place. “I’m put together from spare parts,” he says. He is an itinerant worker who has removed his sister, Mona (suffering the effects of foetal alcohol syndrome), from an institution where she had been incarcerated for killing her child while drunk. He’s intelligent and funny, quick with the killer quip; the sister blunt and unpredictable; each exudes a peculiar energy, part threat, part determination, indicators too of potential, but not dramatically developed in Winton’s writing.

Initially Georgie entertains no hope for the future of the property, symbolised in a failed olive orchard and the empty river, but by the play’s end she has let go of her husband’s hapless ghost and offered to share the property (which she has no real evidence of owning) with the siblings. Given that there’s little intimacy between the woman and the pair, beyond having heard each other’s stories, and given the absence of rain, the ending is irritatingly sentimental.

Signs of Life is theatrically naive. It’s partly and incompletely narrated by the central female character; it’s awkwardly constructed and directed (not least in the underdeveloped exchanges with the walk-on, walk-off ghost); and the dialogue, laden with exposition, is at times uncomfortably literary. Aaron Pedersen gives a vibrant performance as the brother, although coming close in the writing to yet another quick-witted oppressed Aboriginal, and Whyman brings a rawness to her role that suggests palpable danger—which makes her sudden sense of well-being at the end less than believable.

Performance Space, Whelping Box, co-creator Branch Nebula (Lee Wilson, Mirabelle Wouters), Matt Prest & Clare Britton, sound Jack Prest, producer Performing Lines, Carriageworks, Oct 25-Nov 3; Belvoir, Private Lives, writer Noël Coward, director, designer, performers Mish Grigor, Eloise Mignon, Zahra Newman, Toby Schmitz, Toby Truslove, costumes Alice Babidge, lighting Damien Cooper, composer, sound Stefan Gregory, Belvoir Upstairs, Sept 26-Nov 11; Sydney Theatre Company, Signs of Life, writer Tim Winton, director Kate Cherry, performers Heather Mitchell, Aaron Pedersen, George Shevtsov, Pauline Whyman, designer Zoe Atkinson, lighting Jon Buswell, composer, sound Ben Collins, Drama Theatre, Sydney Opera House, Nov 7-Dec 22

RealTime issue #112 Dec-Jan 2012 pg. 33

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

After All This, Elbow Room, Under the Radar

After All This, Elbow Room, Under the Radar

After All This, Elbow Room, Under the Radar

THIS YEAR THE BRISBANE FRINGE FESTIVAL GOT PERSONAL. UNDER THE RADAR WAS DOMINATED BY INTIMATE, LANGUAGE-DRENCHED WORKS EXPLORING INTERIORITY, GRIEF AND MEMORY. UNDER THE RADAR WAS ESTABLISHED BY THE BRISBANE FESTIVAL IN 2008 TO CUT THROUGH TRADITIONS OF BREEZY, SUB-TROPICAL SPECTACLE WITH A PROGRAM OF CURATED, EXPERIMENTAL WORK.

As Virginia Baxter noted (RT110 online), the differences between the two festivals are now harder to discern as Under the Radar delivers a diverse and sophisticated program of local talent, ‘hit’ shows from the national Fringe circuit and a smattering of international work.

berlin nevada: still night

My Under the Radar voyage began with European duo Berlin Nevada and their new work: Still Night. This adaptation of Italo Calvino’s iconic Invisible Cities was performed in a ubiquitous inner-city apartment/hotel. Ushered into a curtained convention room, we were greeted by Silvia Mercuriali delivering a lecture in a fantastical nonsense language. Her topic, a fabulist Brisbane, Huoz, where maps of the city were woven into an enchanted tale about her quest to go ‘down’ through the cracks of the pavement into an imagined, underground Brisbane. This intoxicating premise echoed Calvino’s Scheherazade plot, where Kubla Khan was entranced by improbable tales of imagined cities.

Then we were given headphones and listened to a velvet-voiced man reading excerpts from Calvino’s novel and instructing us to breathe, open our eyes and close them again as we watched the two women re-create the cities onstage for our delectation. Alas, the sound cut out and without the voice-over the delicate, child-like pact of the performance dissolved. Technical glitches aside, the reliance on the headphones shifted the work from an imaginative translation of Calvino into literal quotation. Despite the reaching and sensual intellect in the piece, it was a lesson in the limits of selecting such a counter-theatrical performance form.

isthisyours?, best we forget

Fascinatingly, the next show was also a lecture, this time delivered by three appealing young women about the psychological, personal and cultural aspects of memory. Developed by Adelaide-based theatre company isthisyours?, Best We Forget was an inventive and discursive lecture but as a performance suffered from the same inherent limitations as Still Night. When the performers reached across the lecture format and transformed it for us, when they made us believe the convention desk was a karaoke stage, when the two presenters became characters in their own action movies, the work exploded into life. These moments demonstrated the intellect, flair and pop culture chops of the creators, but somehow did not add up to a cogent performance experience for the audience. The novelty of the idea, the co-option of the lecture, couldn’t replace the resonant depths of a fully interrogated theatrical world.

elbow room, after all this

Indeed, the standout show for the 2012 Under the Radar took the meme about the borders between presentation/performance and information/story and injected it with a fully fleshed theatricality. After All This by Melbourne-based Elbow Room was an exploration of the nature of belief, the afterlife and grief. The piece was divided into three installations, with the audience walking between each. The first was a short, almost naturalistic scene, where two bewildered siblings reconciled themselves to a newly acquired stepfather who was a Creationist.

The second installation was, again, a lecture, which eventually morphed into a short performance piece that recreated the life of American mathematician George Price (1922-75). After developing a theorem for morality and natural selection, he abruptly converted to evangelical Christianity before finally committing suicide. The third installation, and the most successful, corralled the audience into the last moments of the American Heaven’s Gate cult. We watched them die in their matching tracksuits, then rise up and lead us, singing, through the tunnels and byways of the Brisbane Powerhouse. We emerged, blinking, many of us crying. The cynical distance with which we approached the discussion of religion, the convictions of science and the experience of spectatorship had been disarmed by the eloquent barrage of words, the surprising and tangential changes in form and most powerfully, the simple experience of walking in the dark surrounded by voices in harmony.

other adventures

There were many more adventures to be had from the remaining Under the Radar program including the naked, white-boy ennui of MC Matt O’Neil’s hip-hop set Envoyé ://: Fragmenté, about erectile disfunction, global aid and love. There was the reptilian, witty, anti-capitalist contemporary dance from Slovenia, Capital, which saw each audience member provided with a bound book of junk mail to sit on as we watched the performers ape the excesses of consumption and demand money to finish their performance at the 27 minute mark. There was the delicate, subtle choreography of Leisel Zink’s dance piece Fifteen set amidst the commuter traffic of the Queen Street Mall; and the charming but naïve play about grief, The Things I’d Say to You by the newly minted local collective, Fixate.

hermione merry & henriette kassay-schuster, heaven :: himmell

The final work, though, that had real substance and power was the screen-based installation Heaven :: Himmell. This intriguing collaboration between Australian Hermoine Merry and German Henriette Kassay Schuster was deeply evocative and elusive. You stepped into a half-lit space, surrounded with screens of lush greenery, text and mirrors. In the centre of the room was an installation featuring a car with rear view mirrors. Out of the corner of your eye you could see a girl in a blue frock. Like Alice Through the Looking Glass you followed her around a corner where she made a series of hand gestures with detached but child-like intensity. It was like walking into your own half-forgotten memories of riding home at night as a child while your parents talk and you fight sleep; or playing spotlight, I found you, I know where you are, on a hot night while adults drink.

While I confess to some nostalgia for the intensity of earlier years, when we crammed into Metro Arts, the Brisbane Festival should be applauded for growing Under the Radar into a large-scale event that has become a credible part of the national and international touring landscape.

Under the Radar, Brisbane Festival, Brisbane, Sept 8-29; www.brisbanefestival.com.au/events/under-the-radar

RealTime issue #112 Dec-Jan 2012 pg. 16

© Kathryn Kelly; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Emma J Hawkins, Take Up Thy Bed & Walk, Gaelle Mellis & Vitalstatistix

Emma J Hawkins, Take Up Thy Bed & Walk, Gaelle Mellis & Vitalstatistix

Emma J Hawkins, Take Up Thy Bed & Walk, Gaelle Mellis & Vitalstatistix

LOIS KEITH, IN HER BOOK TAKE UP THY BED AND WALK, CHARACTERISED VICTORIAN ATTITUDES TO DISABILITY IN FIVE WAYS: “(1) THERE IS NOTHING GOOD ABOUT BEING DISABLED; (2) DISABLED PEOPLE HAVE TO LEARN THE SAME QUALITIES OF SUBMISSIVE BEHAVIOUR THAT WOMEN HAVE ALWAYS HAD TO LEARN: PATIENCE, CHEERFULNESS AND MAKING THE BEST OF THINGS; (3) IMPAIRMENT CAN BE A PUNISHMENT FOR BAD BEHAVIOUR, FOR EVIL THOUGHTS, FOR NOT BEING A GOOD ENOUGH PERSON; (4) ALTHOUGH DISABLED PEOPLE SHOULD BE PITIED RATHER THAN PUNISHED, THEY CAN NEVER BE ACCEPTED; AND (5) THE IMPAIRMENT IS CURABLE. IF YOU WANT TO ENOUGH, IF YOU LOVE YOURSELF ENOUGH (BUT NOT MORE THAN YOU LOVE OTHERS), IF YOU BELIEVE IN GOD ENOUGH, YOU WILL BE CURED.”

Keith’s book was one of the main jumping-off points for the Vitalstatistix performance of the same name, conceived and created by artist Gaelle Mellis, who has a disability herself. Take Up Thy Bed & Walk is infused with interrogations of Victorian fear and loathing of the disabled. Adelaide has a rich history of works and performance groups (including Restless Dance Theatre and No Strings Attached Theatre of Disability) who have countered traditional narratives of disability, but Take Up Thy Bed & Walk is an attempt to push disabled arts practice beyond critique and towards advocacy and inclusivity. Its aim is an ambitious one: to embed accessibility within the dramaturgy and form of the work itself, by means of the incorporation of Auslan interpretation, projected dialogue and audio description.

Before the show, the audience is invited to explore the set and given handcrafted lanterns to navigate through the near-darkness. We steer ourselves around five cast-iron beds—one each for performers Emma J Hawkins, Kyra Kimpton, Michelle Ryan, Jo Dunbar and Gerry Shearim—and eerie reminders of other ages: a dolls’ house, a caged scorpion, battered Bibles. We seem to be in a Victorian institution for women, a notion strengthened by the clinical/penal costumes the performers wear as they mingle with us. After a time, we abandon our lanterns and are seated.

Jo Dunbar, Take Up Thy Bed & Walk, Gaelle Mellis & Vitalstatistix

Jo Dunbar, Take Up Thy Bed & Walk, Gaelle Mellis & Vitalstatistix

Jo Dunbar, Take Up Thy Bed & Walk, Gaelle Mellis & Vitalstatistix

What follows is a shifting, heavily mediatised exploration of both how the able-bodied view the disabled, and how the disabled view themselves. The five performers play with Keith’s tenets in critical and ironic ways, using angular, sometimes frenzied choreography and spare, bold dialogue to draw together the Victorian intolerance of physical difference and the still-subordinating discourses around disability in our own age. There is rage and cheekiness—and a great deal of self-deprecating humour—in the narrative fragments which emerge, each one shot through with a punkish spirit of defiance: a bride told she must be ‘cured’ in time for her wedding day, a woman whose walking stick becomes a weapon, a karaoke singer who can do nothing but scream into the microphone.

The effect of all this though is, ultimately, to under- rather than overwhelm. It’s not hard to laud Take Up Thy Bed & Walk’s agenda, but its uneven shape and formal inconsistencies make for a frustrating experience. There is a struggle, never fully resolved, between the Victorian narrative strongly established in the beginning and the post-modern fragmentariness that defines the bulk of the show. I was left wondering whether a more disciplined dramaturgy might have more convincingly revealed the implications of Keith’s book, and made the ending—which seeks to bring the able-bodied and the disabled together in anticipation of a new, celebratory narrative—feel less contrived than it does.

Vitalstatistix: Take Up Thy Bed & Walk, creator, designer Gaelle Mellis, co-director Ingrid Voorendt, writer Hilary Bell, performers Jo Dunbar, Emma J Hawkins, Kyra Kimpton, Michelle Ryan, Gary Shearim, lighting design Geoff Cobham, sound design, music Zoë Barry, Jed Palmer, video production Heath Britton, Jennifer Greer Holmes, animation Heath Britton; Waterside, Port Adelaide, Oct 24-Nov 10

RealTime issue #112 Dec-Jan 2012 pg. 34

© Ben Brooker; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

300el x50el x30el, FC Bergman

300el x50el x30el, FC Bergman

300el x50el x30el, FC Bergman

FOREIGN AFFAIRS, A NEW FESTIVAL AMID THE BERLINER FESTSPIELE, STARTED THIS YEAR UNDER THE ARTISTIC LEADERSHIP OF FRIE LEYSEN, INITIATOR OF BRUSSELS’ KUNSTENFESTIVALDESARTES. IT WAS GREETED AS THE FIRST LARGE, INTERNATIONALLY ORIENTED FESTIVAL FOR THE CITY.

Even though German theatre is of high quality, it is less exposed to global winds than one might think and it has developed a culture, a way of doing. German stages set the bar for theatre globally, yes, but the eagerness with which the main stages have absorbed innovation has left no outsiders out in the cold to eventually gang up and invent renegade movements. The corollary, in simple and gentle terms, is that Foreign Affairs, despite intentions, was bold and inventive in the normal qualities of German ‘theatre theatre’—set design and philosophical narratives—but almost in equal measure poor in theatrical explorations that experimental performance has pursued over the past two decades: the audience-performer relationship, spatial and temporal poetics of performance, the nature of theatrical illusion. We sat and watched a lot of goings-on under the proscenium arch, so to speak.

rodrigo garcia, golgota picnic

Almost every production I saw suffered from triteness of stage imagery, as if the great wealth of experiment from the previous two decades has suddenly run dry, and left European theatre with a vast hope chest of increasingly tired pictures. The standout productions were heterogeneously so. Rodrigo Garcia’s Golgota Picnic was mid-1990s postmodern eclecticism in almost every aspect, and tiresomely so: a long text in a stage poem about the crucifixion of Christ delivered to a rotating spectacle of vaginas, hamburger buns, vomit, all readily recast by the wandering video camera. However, Garcia’s search for the imagery of crucifixion in Western art ended in a full-length performance of Haydn’s Seven Last Words of Christ on the Cross. Annoyance and discontent could be palpably sensed in the audience, many of whom clearly did not know what to do with their eyes while the stage sat still. But this shift of focus from visual to auditory image of pain, demanding a recalibration of one’s attention and focus, was uncompromising, rewarding and, in a certain sense, courageous.

fc bergman, 300el x50el x30el

300el x50el x30el, FC Bergman

300el x50el x30el, FC Bergman

300el x50el x30el, FC Bergman

FC Bergman, an up-and-coming young Belgian theatre collective, presented probably the most satisfying work of the festival, 300el x50el x30el. The set is a realistic-looking clearing in a Nordic forest: a semicircle of huts, in the centre a waterhole, at it a seated man, behind him a forest. Right until the end, almost nothing happens on stage, only inside the huts, and we are confined to observing private dramas on the video screen appended above the stage.

There is a naïve, clumsy freshness to FC Bergman, who have clearly seen more television than theatre (one of the main aesthetic inspirations for 300el x50el x30el is clearly Scooby Doo). However, the steadily circling camera reveals an array of rather ordinarily imagined bourgeois troubles. Even when the images descend into surrealism, the purported critique does not surmount its own conservatism: the women are asexual, the men are uncontrollable in both violence and sexuality, the children are pure, and classical music stands for repression. And yet, the final 10 minutes of the production turn this set-up around, disarmingly, exhilaratingly and ultimately redeemingly. FC Bergman dispense with filmed representation for the raw catharsis of mass movement—the stage explodes in music and dancing—and deliver salvation for these pathetic petits bourgeois, not through a story, but through the gut.

fabian hinrich, die zeit schlägt dich tot

The most visually entertaining performance came in the form of Die Zeit schlägt dich tot (Time Beats You to Death) by Fabian Hinrichs, actor and regular collaborator with the Volksbuehne-based great director Rene Pollesch. Pollesch’s work dispenses with narrative and illusion in favour of theoretical discourses, simultaneously interrogating both philosophical ideas and theatrical illusion, and reconfiguring theatre as a place of social encounter, as an agora. Hinrichs authored his first one-man-show in a copy of Pollesch’s work, but without reaching the same philosophical depths or directorial heights. Still, throughout his somewhat trite essay on the impossibility of community or individuality in the city, many wonderful, Polleschian things happened: having to watch an exercise ball with ME written on it slowly deflate; a minute of silence, with Hinrichs on stage, peacefully reading a book; or being asked to tell our seating neighbour, “You look good.”

romeo castellucci, the four seasons restaurant

The Four Seasons. Romeo Castellucci

The Four Seasons. Romeo Castellucci

The Four Seasons. Romeo Castellucci

Romeo Castellucci’s The Four Seasons Restaurant closed the festival with a difficult attempt to dramatise the death of image and the self-annihilation of the artist. The title refers to Mark Rothko’s controversial withdrawal from a commission for paintings for the Four Seasons, a luxurious New York restaurant. Castellucci attempts to go beyond image by opening in complete darkness, submerging us in the deep, bone-crushing murmur of a black hole (digitalised by NASA) and finishing with a swarmy, chaotic picture of…the same? In between, a flock of Amish-looking women cut their tongues out and then perform Hölderlin’s dramatic poem about the suicide of Empedocles (another self-silencing hero). The poem’s terrifically heightened language is matched by the women’s terrifically static poses: they continuously form classical tableaux, many recognisable from classical paintings—it is as if the history of art flashed before one’s eyes. Their voices are gradually replaced by a recording, their lip-sync gradually worsens.

Whether or not this two-halved production succeeds in portraying the tragedy of self-abnegation, or is too didactic and aestheticising, remains an open question for more than one critic. However, I was mesmerised by the (possibly unconscious) way in which Castellucci’s production mirrored Vegard Vinge’s John Gabriel Borkman (RT110). Entire scenes, through their employment of heightened slowness, of repetition, of overdubbing, of mass nudity, of extreme artificiality of representation, could have been direct high-art parodies of the splatterpunk Borkman.

More than any other, this production revealed a sense of humour in Castellucci’s poetics. But it also brought the entire festival to a satisfactory conclusion. There was no need for Castellucci to declare the death of image: Foreign Affairs was already, in its visual repetitiveness, a requiem to the stage image of a certain declamatory, distant, representational kind. Through Castellucci’s drawing and quartering of his own approach, what emerged was less Sturm und Drang, NASA sounds and swarms, than a new way of making theatrical realism: layered, ironic, dense, funny, visceral, deeply fascinated by abjection and already alive in the work of the younger generation. If only they had been invited to Foreign Affairs.

Foreign Affairs: Gólgota Picnic, author Rodrigo Garcia, Oct 16-17; FC Bergman 300elx50elx30el, Oct 9-10; Fabian Hinrichs, Die Zeit schlägt dich tot, Oct 20-22; The Four Seasons Restaurant, direction, design, costumes Romeo Castellucci, Oct 25-26; Haus der Berliner Festspiele, Berlin, Sept 28-Oct 26

RealTime issue #112 Dec-Jan 2012 pg. 17

© Jana Perkovic; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

OVERWHELMED BY THE VAST NUMBER OF SHOWS PLAYING ACROSS SYDNEY IN SEPTEMBER, I MANAGED TO TAKE IN ONLY TWO PRODUCTIONS IN THE SYDNEY FRINGE 2012, BOTH AT PACT THEATRE. ANNABELLE MCMILLAN’S PORPHYRIA’S SLUMBER AND MATRIARK ART THEATRE’S ALARUM MELDED A VARIETY OF FORMS IN HYBRID WORKS THAT REVEALED THE ADVANTAGES OF SUCH AN APPROACH, BUT ALSO THE RISKS.

McMillan disturbingly conflates Robert Browning’s Porphyria’s Lover, that grimly sensual Victorian poem of murderous love, with PL Travers’ Edwardian fantasy for children, Mary Poppins. The performer’s persona appears to be trapped between earth and sky: the floor invites prostration, vegetables are prepared and shared and, at the end, an umbrella will not take flight, leaving McLennan huffing and puffing. In between there’s a superfluity of imagery (despite a program note announcing the work as “an exercise in minimalism”), including a video longueur of a young man (perhaps embodying the narrator of the poem) and an unrevealing list of what the artist imagines when she thinks of Browning—an old piano, crumpled sheets, dust, pollen etc. McMillan is an engaging performer when not overplaying, her material has potential but its realisation is unwieldy and too often opaque.

Writer-director Robert den Engelsman’s Alarum, for Matriark Art Theatre, likewise evinces a futile desire to escape gravity—”I want to fly with Pegasus…but our wings have to be clipped”—and, for what is declared to be a love story, similarly suggests fatal disconnection. The central male character Samuel’s ennui (“my soul is long dead”) pervades the production, with his partner Gabriel struggling to understand his pain. A third figure, the stranger Ahasuerus (eventually revealed as some form of the resurrected Egyptian god Osiris) is a complicating child/adult intruder into the couple’s hopeless relationship, perhaps as Samuel’s doppelganger. Some simple, entwining movement over and around a tabletop evokes their possible oneness. The work’s fatalism is intensified by the use of finely crafted, if not expertly deployed, puppet skeletons (in the style of the Mexican Day of the Dead), allowing the characters to express their plight more passionately, and cosmologically. The director’s writing is awkward, the sometimes American delivery odd (given the absence of any context) and the symbolism overwrought. But there’s no doubting the commitment of the performers to their material.

PACT, Sydney Fringe 2012: Porphyria’s Slumber, devisor, performer Annabelle McMillan, director, dramaturg Danielle Maas, producer Holly Orkin, designer Alice Harvey, lighting Amber Silk; Matriark Art Theatre, Alarum, writer, director Robert den Engelsman, director, movement coach Scott Parker, performers Chase Burnett, Kit Bennett, Michael Smith, dramaturg Kathryn Roberts, designer Aleisa Jelbart, video +Harvest (Mathew Harvey), lighting Vanessa Hall, sound design Tim Fitz; PACT Theatre, Sept 7-29

RealTime issue #112 Dec-Jan 2012 pg. 34

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Frances Barret, Kelly Doley, Kate Blackmore, Di Smith, Mass Action, Brown Council, for Performance Space’s Halls for Hire

Frances Barret, Kelly Doley, Kate Blackmore, Di Smith, Mass Action, Brown Council, for Performance Space’s Halls for Hire

Frances Barret, Kelly Doley, Kate Blackmore, Di Smith, Mass Action, Brown Council, for Performance Space’s Halls for Hire

RECENTLY I WAS GIVEN A CATALOGUE FROM THE LANDMARK 1977 EXHIBITION THE WOMEN’S SHOW, ORGANISED BY THE WOMEN’S ART MOVEMENT IN ADELAIDE. LOOKING THROUGH THE GRAINY BLACK AND WHITE PHOTOS OF WOMEN IN JEANS AND SKIVVIES SITTING AROUND TABLES ENGROSSED IN DISCUSSION, I HAD A RUSH OF NOSTALGIA. GIVEN I WASN’T BORN UNTIL 1981, IT’S HARD TO TELL IF THIS YEARNING FOR THE PAST WAS JUSTIFIED, OR WHETHER I WAS JUST ROMANTICISING A MYTHOLOGISED ERA OF FEMINIST ACTIVISM AND AFFIRMATIVE ACTION.

It seems like there’s been a rise in blatant sexism lately, and bewilderment as to how to respond to it. From Alan Jones’ ‘wrecking the joint’ proclamation to the shamelessly gendered attacks on Julia Gillard, through to the ‘binders full of women’ and rape apologist comments of Mitt Romney and the American Right, sexism appears to be rampant. Now more than ever, we need a better understanding of how feminist cultural output might respond to the overt assault on women’s voices in the public sphere.

Bonita Ely, one of the influential artists who emerged from The Women’s Show, commented in a recent interview, “often art leads the way.” Certainly, in the past decade we have seen a series of major exhibitions, conferences and publications focused on ‘women’s art’ and the legacy of feminism and its relevance today. These include WACK! Art and the Feminist Revolution (MoCA, Los Angeles), Global Feminisms (Brooklyn Museum, New York), Modern Women (MoMA, New York) and in Australia our very own Contemporary Australia: Women (GOMA, Brisbane). As well as these large survey shows there has been a hive of local activity such as Performance Space’s SEXES program and Serial Space’s sessions on women and technology as part of the Time Machine festival in Sydney.

Amid what seems to be a Zeitgeist of reviving debates about gender, cultural participation and political activism, I wondered if other women were nostalgic for an era of 1970s collectivism. I began by asking fellow Brown Council member Kelly Doley, who recently presented The Learning Centre: Two Feminists at West Space, in which 16 people gave her lessons on feminism in exchange for a painted portrait. She agrees there was a “surge of interest” among our peer group “within the past year or so.” She also feels that the revived interest was “inspired by increased recent international and localised activity of women’s collectives, exhibitions, feminist articles and panels.” She continues:

“It seemed that we all suddenly started talking about the ‘F’ word, like waking up from a deep sleep. Prior to this feminism was a term to be avoided, cringed at or considered as ‘boxing in’ our artistic practice. But in the past year or so the mood has changed.”

Kelly Doley, The Learning Centre: Two Feminists (The CoUNTess), performance documentation, Westspace Melbourne, 2012

Kelly Doley, The Learning Centre: Two Feminists (The CoUNTess), performance documentation, Westspace Melbourne, 2012

Kelly Doley, The Learning Centre: Two Feminists (The CoUNTess), performance documentation, Westspace Melbourne, 2012

Doley suggests there has been a “call to arms” and a desire to re-visit the perceived unity of 1970s feminist creative practice, reflecting on our joint work: “This focus on feminism in my work came out of an increased engagement with feminist art history, aesthetics and politics in my daily life. Working with Brown Council in particular, as four women we started to investigate this stuff and became very interested in the history of feminist activism in the 1970s.”

As joint members of Brown Council, it’s hard to tell how much our ideas overlap, so I was interested in garnering the opinions of others whose experience is less directly attached to my own. I contacted Brisbane artist Alice Laing, who established the female-run and focused artist-run initiative LEVEL with Courtney Coombs and Rachael Haynes in 2010. Laing and Coombs recently presented Food For Thought, a project that brought together a range of women over the dinner table at the 2012 Next Wave Festival. Discussing their work, Laing comments: “Building connections between early career and more established female visual artists has been an ongoing goal of LEVEL. Food For Thought provided an opportunity for us to branch out and generate a national discussion that involved past generations and to tap into that wealth of knowledge and experience.”

Like Doley, Laing believes the revived interest in feminist art and activism is brought about by “the rise of political conservatism that has occurred globally and recent events within Australia such as the election of our first female prime minister.” She concludes, “It’s harder to be complacent about sexism when it’s right in your face.”

Monster Body, Atlanta Eke, Next Wave Festival 2012

Monster Body, Atlanta Eke, Next Wave Festival 2012

Monster Body, Atlanta Eke, Next Wave Festival 2012

Contemporary dance artist, Atlanta Eke, has a different perspective. Eke presented the acclaimed Monster Body at the 2012 Next Wave festival. Asked about her relationship to the traditions of feminism, she comments, “I do not consider feminism as a tradition and definitely not an aesthetical art practice.” She continues: “Being categorical is reductive; historically labeling art ‘feminist’ has been an easy option for art institutions to throw a lot of significant female artists into one bag. From my position today, the feminisms of the past have not worked.”

Eke’s comments made me wonder about the impact of feminism and whether I was romanticising an era that looks good in the faded pages of an old catalogue but had no lasting legacy.

So far I’d only asked women in my own age group. I wondered what the perception was among women who’d been personally involved in an era I was perhaps unjustifiably mythologising. I decided to ask UNSW College of Fine Arts [COFA] artist and lecturer Bonita Ely for her reflections on The Women’s Show, its legacy and whether she thought things had altered since 1977. On the changes of the past 35 years, she comments, “I imagine there is, not so much affirmative action, but mindfulness that women must be included, not in a tokenistic way but on an equal footing in events and opportunities.”

Notably, she feels that there are more women, and a greater acceptance of women’s voices, within the public sphere and within art schools. While they may not be occupying the directorships or major public office positions, she notes that: “The changed demographic regarding the large number of women role models and mentors is very significant. I think we take this for granted, that there are women who [have provided] precedents, who have proved it can be done, who understand the sensibilities, the concerns, the background female students are coming from…”

Ely concludes, however, that the gains of feminism were often unglamorous and taken for granted: “The intergenerational dialogue happens on a daily basis for many female arts students, so perhaps it is taken for granted and its value is overlooked. Imagine if all your lecturers were male, that you knew few women artists and information about women artists was scant, [you were] operating in a vacuum…In the 1970s the majority of women artists were unknown, invisible.”

Ely’s comments made me realise that while I may be yearning for an era of skivvies, jeans and feminist affirmative action, the reality is the revolution is more complex. As Ely notes, what took place was a series of smaller achievements that have afforded me certain privileges that women in previous generations didn’t have. Laing made a comment that our generation grew up with “feminism in the water.” I think this is an apt observation, given the elusive and diffused nature of feminism, the influence of which is often overlooked. It seems to me that what is important for the future is an acknowledgement of the past and a sense of dialogue and exchange between generations. We need to build on the legacy of feminism, rather than continually try to invent it, so that we don’t forget how far we’ve come and how much further we have to go.

Diana Smith is a Sydney artist and member of the artistic collaboration Brown Council. She is currently completing her PhD at the College of Fine Arts, University of New South Wales.

RealTime issue #112 Dec-Jan 2012 pg. 18

© Diana Smith; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

The Making of the Flag: Give Us Back Our Unions, Sussi Porsborg, Performance Space, Halls for Hire

The Making of the Flag: Give Us Back Our Unions, Sussi Porsborg, Performance Space, Halls for Hire

The Making of the Flag: Give Us Back Our Unions, Sussi Porsborg, Performance Space, Halls for Hire

A VIDEO, COMMISSIONED BY PERTH ARTIST SUSSI PORSBORG AND SCREENED AS PART OF HER EXHIBITION AND WORKSHOP AT TRADES HALL IN SYDNEY, WAS SWITCHED OFF BY THE BUILDING MANAGER. HE EXPLAINED HE HAD RECEIVED COMPLAINTS FROM PEOPLE IN THE BUILDING BUT WAS UNWILLING TO SAY FROM WHOM, OR INDEED THE NATURE OF THE COMPLAINTS.

The video was part of an exhibition and workshop, The Making of the Flag: Give us Back Our Unions, presented by Performance Space as part of their Halls for Hire season: “Steeped in a rich history of Australian Trade Unionism, the Sydney Trades Hall is the perfect setting for this politically-charged flag-making workshop. Expanding the notions of participatory democracy in unexpected ways, Sussi Porsborg will take attendees on a live sewing performance that doubles as an educational conversation on the intersection of radical art, nationalism, politics and labour rights.”

The video, The Right to Represent, which can be seen on YouTube, http://youtube/nemJMfBVjqU, had been recently shot in Perth with the artist interviewing veteran trade union organiser Kevin Reynolds (former WA State Secretary of the CFMEU). He recounts the struggles of the movement from the 1960s through to the 80s in the days when the police were in the pockets of the government and employers—like Senator Rocher (Liberal Party, WA), who ran the Trident Building Company. As Reynolds tells his stories large captions appear under the images to emphasise the history, its rhetoric and the opinions of unionists: Taking the Fight Up; Rank and File; No Ticket No Start; Third Wave Campaign; Won the Fight; Retain What We’ve Got; We Can’t Rely on Governments; Intimidate Workers; 457 Visa; Workers Aren’t Getting a Share.

These captions are echoed in the other part of the exhibition and workshop where visitors are invited to heat-seal a slogan of their invention onto a flag or banner using cut out letters provided, already pre-cut from alphabetically arranged piles.

This is an opportunity for visitors, many arriving as invited groups from varied backgrounds, to become immersed in a tradition resonant with history. So what is it that upset the anonymous Trades Hall complainants so much? Is it Reynolds’ outspoken views on contemporary politics and unionism? Is it his recalling the confrontational days of yore? Is it the fact that the artist, a trade unionist herself, has used her imaginative and forthright approach to remind younger generations—the ‘virgins’ to whom Reynolds refers—that the conditions they enjoy in the workplace today are based on the struggles of previous generations, and that vigilance is needed. These conditions are being eroded, as both the artist and Reynolds propose, by the cozy agreements currently in place between the unions, government and industry.

Following an appeal to the general secretary of Unions NSW, the building manager appeared again, not to re-instate the video (now hung with banners made by the artist saying Freedom of Association, Freedom of Expression), but to remove it entirely from the exhibition space.

Why are we seeing such underhand censorship of an artist’s exhibition over content that had been previously agreed to on a handshake? Is freedom of expression and freedom of association really too much for some to take in a building originally dedicated to such principles?

Performance Space, Halls for Hire: The Making of the Flag: Give Us Back Our Unions; Sydney Trades Hall, Oct 2-7

RealTime issue #112 Dec-Jan 2012 pg. 35

© Mike Leggett; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

 Alison Klayman, Ai Weiwei

Alison Klayman, Ai Weiwei

Alison Klayman, Ai Weiwei

AI WEIWEI HAS BEEN ACCUSED OF BIGAMY, CHARGED WITH TAX EVASION, CONDEMNED AS A SUBVERSIVE AND DISMISSED AS A CLOWN. ALTHOUGH INFAMOUS AS THE ARTIST THE CHINESE AUTHORITIES LOVE TO HATE, HIS CRITICS ARE BY NO MEANS ONLY FROM GOVERNMENT RANKS.

Yet for all the headlines he’s generated, it can be difficult to cut through Ai’s prankster image and the government name-calling to form any real impression of the man and his beliefs. Enter Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, the debut documentary of US director Alison Klayman, and the first sustained look at this crucial figure in contemporary Chinese culture.

“In our first year of filming, I would read pieces that were done about him and he was already being called a ‘dissident artist’ or things like that,” says Klayman of the often two-dimensional image presented of Ai in Western media. “It felt not quite right—like trying to fit him into a mould. I always thought the whole point of my project was to show who he really is—to not just slap on some labels and make it easily digestible.”

The first iconoclastic surprise is Ai’s calm and philosophical manner, a contrast to his combative public persona. The documentary opens with Ai recounting a whimsical tale of his cats, loaded with political symbolism. “We have a lot of dogs and cats,” he says of his Beijing studio. “Out of the 40 cats, one knows how to open doors. Where did this intelligence come from? All the other cats watch us open the door.” Amusingly, we then see the feline leap up and deftly open the entrance to Ai’s studio.

Klayman’s camera follows Ai across four frenetic years from 2008 to 2011, a period that saw the artist’s actions and rhetoric become increasingly confrontational. The devastating Sichuan Earthquake of May 2008 occurred shortly after Klayman commenced filming, and was to prove a watershed for Ai’s art and activism. Shoddily built public schools, fatally undermined by the siphoning-off of funds through corruption, collapsed across the quake zone and left thousands of one-child families bereft. When discussion of this scandal was suppressed within China, Ai worked with volunteers to record the names of the dead children. After one volunteer was arrested, Ai travelled to Sichuan to testify on his behalf, but the artist was beaten and detained in his hotel room to prevent his appearance in court. The volunteer was sentenced to five years in jail. The widespread disgust at the scandal and Ai’s opposition to the subsequent cover-up established the artist as a truly public figure in China for the first time.

 Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry (still)

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry (still)

Never Sorry explores how Ai wove these experiences into his work over the following years, hanging 9,000 school backpacks outside Munich’s Haus der Kunst in 2009 in a poignant memorial to the Sichuan dead. On the second anniversary of the quake he asked volunteers across China to each read one of the 5,212 names of deceased schoolchildren his team had recorded in a stunning interactive memorial. It’s this intertwining of art and activism, a demand for truth and a space for subjective memory free from political imperatives, that is the essence of Ai Weiwei’s practice. Crucially, the documentary contextualises work often dismissed as sensationalist by those only familiar with Ai’s more outlandish antics, through its mix of contemporary footage of Ai and wider events in China with archival footage sketching the artist’s early years.

Interwoven into these public scenes are some of the film’s most affecting moments, depicting Ai in private, playing with his baby son or reassuring his mother about his personal safety. Klayman says that getting behind the artist’s public persona was one of the most difficult parts of the project. “He isn’t a particularly sentimental individual,” she explains. “He would much rather talk about the power of the internet than how he feels about being a father.”

Ai’s relationship with his young son is perhaps the film’s most unexpected revelation, since even many of his keenest followers would be unaware of the child’s existence. The mother of the child is not Ai’s wife, and in several amusing scenes we see journalists straining to garner details without offending the artist. “I never sought out his son or his son’s mother without him, because I felt like the point was to show Weiwei as a father, and not necessarily to go too far down the line of what the arrangement is and how everybody feels,” says Klayman of the delicate situation. The scenes between the bearlike Ai and the tiny boy reveal a warmth in Ai’s character not necessarily obvious in his more public interactions. At the same time, the situation highlights that Ai is no saint. Indeed, one of the strengths of Never Sorry is that it paints a sympathetic portrait without ever airbrushing Ai’s foibles.

For all the personal insights, however, Never Sorry’s main interest is Ai’s place within an increasingly fractious domestic debate about China’s future and the need for greater transparency. Although Klayman carefully avoids a sensationalist tone, it is hard to cast the Chinese authorities in a flattering light when they are viewed through the lens of the artist’s experiences. A blow to Ai’s head from a Chinese policeman—administered after officers had kicked open his hotel room door at 3am—caused a cerebral haemorrhage that almost ended his life in 2009. As Klayman was finishing her edit of Never Sorry in New York last year, Ai was arrested at Beijing airport and disappeared. Nobody knew when—or if—he would ever resurface.

Fortunately, Never Sorry was spared the weight of becoming a memorial for a vanished figure when Ai Weiwei suddenly reappeared June 22, 2011 after 81 days in detention. The footage of the bedraggled, subdued artist on the night of his release provides one of the film’s saddest moments, a sobering reminder of what an unyielding state can do to even its most high profile critics. Ai has gradually edged back into public life, but he remains under permanent surveillance and is unable to leave Beijing.

When authorities slapped Ai with a punitive US$2.4 million tax bill following his release, donations poured in from around the country. Never Sorry ends with Ai’s video of thanks to his supporters, featuring the rotund artist incongruously bouncing around singing the Smurfs’ theme song, adapted to convey a rather pointed message to the authorities—essentially “Fuck your mother.” The man may be caged, but his humour, defiance and sense of play remain as strong as ever.

Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry, director Alison Klayman, producers Alison Klayman, Adam Schlesinger, United Expression Media, USA, 2011; distributed in Australia on DVD by Madman.

courtesy of Madman Entertainment we have giveaway copies of Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry. Click here.

RealTime issue #112 Dec-Jan 2012 pg. 19

© Dan Edwards; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

 Pierre-Yves Macé

Pierre-Yves Macé

Pierre-Yves Macé

THERE IS BARELY AN INTERNATIONAL ARTS FESTIVAL TODAY THAT DOES NOT INCLUDE A COUPLE OF ACTS THAT DEFY A CLEAR ART- OR POPULAR-MUSIC LABEL. QUIRKY STRING SECTIONS AND FIVE-MINUTE MUSIQUE CONCRÈTE INTROS ARE COMMONPLACE IN POPULAR RECORDINGS. EVERY CLASSICAL MUSIC STUDENT IS URGED TO “DIVERSIFY THEIR PORTFOLIO,” WHICH NEVER MEANS “ENGAGE IN MANUSCRIPT STUDY OF THE FLEMISH MASTERS.”

Why, then, if it is a part of everyday musical life, are we so quick to dismiss the “crossover” title? I’d like to ask exactly what crossed over in some semi-popular, semi-art music concerts from 2012 and draw a musical geography of the term. Ultimately, crossover music is the thawing of boundaries that only froze up 50 years ago, but as we reconfigure these imaginary boundaries there are real stakes to be considered.

composing crossovers

One form of crossover is to bring the melodies, rhythms and articulations of popular music into an art music context. An excellent example of this genre of crossover appeared at Paris’ Festival d’Automne this year. Pierre-Yves Macé’s Song Recital is an arrangement of “tubes” (songs covered a cappella by fans on YouTube) for soprano, flute, oboe, clarinet, percussion, electric guitar, harp, Rhodes piano, violin, viola, cello and double bass. The piece is based on Macé’s earlier work, Song Recycle, for tape and piano. His formation in musique concrète, to which he dedicated a musicological doctoral thesis, is put to masterful use here. Each tube is ingeniously remixed to retain the abstracted character of the original song’s melodies, rhythms and articulations while leaving barely a single word intelligible. The tape is no glitch-pop mashup, but a convincing reconstruction of the original musical material that translates beautifully into the live vocal part of Song Recital.

Song Recital was premiered by soprano Natalie Raybould amid the crumbling interior of Paris’ Théâtre de La Chappelle. Barely a detail was not communicated from the original tape part to the live vocal part, including breathy articulations, finger clicks, peaking microphone artefacts and awkward ‘asides.’ Raybould’s performance was more than a transcription of the tape part, but brought each character to life, interacting with the rest of the ensemble as they imitated and accompanied her.

The piece made me think of another work programmed at the Festival d’Automne, Guillaume de Machaut’s 14th century “Tant doucement me sens emprisonnes.” Included for its rhythmic sophistication next to the complex metric superpositions of the medieval Codex Chantilly and a première by the contemporary complexist composer Brian Ferneyhough, the Machaut rondeau could have appeared just as comfortably next to Macé’s work as an example of a medieval composer using art music methods on a popular song form.

One wonders what the reaction of the original YouTube soloists would be to Raybould and Macé’s interpretation of their covers. Would they recognise themselves in Raybould’s contortions or Macé’s abstracted rhythms? Would they think that Macé’s arrangement added value to the original songs? Despite the piece seeming entirely serious (apart from a children’s song fittingly accompanied in Song Recycle by rhythmic piano-lid tapping), would they think it was a bad joke?

an instrumental divide

This year’s Vivid Live festival at the Sydney Opera House invited a host of ‘indie classical’ bands and solo artists to collaborate with Sydney’s art music ensembles. Some of these projects demonstrated the opposite exchange to Macé: from art music into popular music. Where Macé bridged the popular-art music divide using compositional processes, the acts of the Vivid Live festival crossed the divide using instrumentation. But is classical music instrumentation enough to identify a work has ‘crossed over’ from one type of music to another? Even before performing with string sections, Florence and the Machine, a highlight of the festival, seemed to slip into the ‘indie classical’ category simply by virtue of their resident harpist. Their use of harp is purely decorative, limited to glissandi and (out of time) arpeggiated ostinati. Compare the use of harp by Florence and the Machine with that of Joanna Newsom (who was, unfortunately, not at the festival), where the harp is front and centre, as much a part of the song as Newsom’s voice.

Perhaps an instrument from the opposite ‘camp’ has to be an important part of the composition process to justify a ‘cross over’ between genres. Efterklang, whose album Piramida was spurred into existence by the invitation to perform with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra at the Vivid Live festival, have remarked in interviews on the immediate feedback a live instrument provides that a synthesised version may not. Even though they had worked on Piramida for 10 months, they could hear instantly what worked and what did not work when they entered the concert hall with the SSO.

crossing contexts

Yet another way of crossing over between popular and classical music is to present classical music in popular music contexts and vice versa. Sydney’s Ensemble Offspring have worked to break down the sit-down-shut-up concert setting, marketing themselves as a lively group of music entrepreneurs presenting new music to crowds in bars as well as traditional concert halls. Their program at the Petersham Bowls Club this year presented contemporary art music alongside folk and electronica. Melbourne’s new ensemble 3 Shades of Black debuted at the Melbourne Fringe Festival with a program featuring Renaissance vocal music and Terry Riley’s In C, performing in a hall furnished with bean-bags and serving mulled wine.

We have seen the inverse option (dressing up popular music and sticking it in a concert hall in front of a seated audience) more times than we can count. Theatre orchestras provided galas of operetta overtures, military marches and popular songs from the end of the 19th century to the 1960s. We have seen a renaissance of this sort of programming, with this year’s Australian orchestral programs abounding with concerts dedicated to film medleys (the modern operetta overture), Beatles covers and arrangements of indie classics.

an opportunity

Instead of rejecting the term, our awareness of crossover music on the level of individual bands and musicians should extend to an awareness of how our musical palettes and contexts are also becoming increasingly blurred. I am particularly excited about the third form of crossover presented here: that of presenting art music in casual environments. Such concerts invite creative programming to show the lines of connection between seemingly diverse art forms, showing how little musical distance there might be between a New York minimalist composer from the 1960s, a 12th century Parisian choir master and a contemporary Icelandic indie band. While the term may be enabling in terms of programming, the ‘crossover’ label can also be too easily applied where there is only a superficial exchange of styles. The label should be a signal for us to think critically about what exactly is crossing over.

Festival d’Automne à Paris: Pierre Yves Macé, Natalie Raybould, Ensemble L’Instant Donné Théâtre des Bouffes du Nord, Paris Nov 5

RealTime issue #112 Dec-Jan 2012 pg. 36

© Matthew Lorenzon; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Tura, Shothole stage, Sounds Outback (... to Reef), Exmouth, WA

Tura, Shothole stage, Sounds Outback (… to Reef), Exmouth, WA

Tura, Shothole stage, Sounds Outback (… to Reef), Exmouth, WA

IT IS NO EXAGGERATION TO SAY THAT TURA NEW MUSIC PUTS PERTH ON THE MUSICAL MAP, NOT JUST FROM A NATIONAL PERSPECTIVE BUT ALSO INTERNATIONALLY. FOR 25 YEARS, WITH TOS MAHONEY AT THE HELM, THE ORGANISATION HAS PRODUCED VAST NUMBERS OF CONCERTS, HOSTED RESIDENCIES AND GENERALLY ADVOCATED FOR THE ROLE OF NEW AND EXPERIMENTAL MUSIC, NOT JUST FROM WESTERN AUSTRALIA BUT FROM ACROSS THE NATION.

For a very small organisation, the output has always been ambitious with projects including the appropriately titled Totally Huge New Music festival (see the archive of RealTime coverage below) which takes place biennially and brings renowned international artists to Perth along with some of Australia’s leading composers and ensembles. Every other year Tura hosts the Sounds Outback Festival, the first four held at Wogarno Station with this year’s program moving to the glorious Ningaloo Coast. Add to this a Regional Touring Program and a range of country and city-based residencies and this is before we even get to the concert program. Scale Variable features concerts by small ensembles and Club Zho offers a regular, more casual gig format. Then there’s the Commissioning Program and a Young and Emerging Artists Program. Tura has also recently undertaken the mammoth task, in collaboration with The Academy of Performing Arts at Edith Cowan University, the State Library of Western Australia, the Australian Broadcasting Commission and the National Library of Australia, to create an archive of Western Australian music covering the last 40 years.

Tura, shearing shed percussion, Sounds Outback (... to Reef), Exmouth, WA

Tura, shearing shed percussion, Sounds Outback (… to Reef), Exmouth, WA

Tura, shearing shed percussion, Sounds Outback (… to Reef), Exmouth, WA

The 25th birthday celebrations continue Tura’s agenda of promoting both local talent and interstate artists and comprise four concerts and a Club Zho bash. Before the formal concerts there’s also a rather swish fundraising event titled the Next 25 at an undisclosed private residence on the Swan River. Along with fine wine and food, it will feature performances by Ensemble Offspring. The first concert will also be by Ensemble Offspring who will perform celebratory compositions from Australian composers such as Matthew Schlomowitz and Marcus Whale alongside works by international composers Thierry de Mey, Larry Polansky and Karlheinz Stockhausen.

Concert 2 exemplifies the broad scope of Tura’s agenda featuring Melbourne audiovisual artist Robin Fox with Perth emerging artist Kynan Tan. Fox, renowned for his works with sound and lasers, will be presenting some of his new experiments with synchronators which take sound and translate it, according to frequency, into the colours of the spectrum. Tan, who has been mentored by Fox as part of the Jump program (http://jump.australiacouncil.gov.au/about/), will present his new work, multiplicity, which explores “tiered levels of interaction between the sonic and visual, in the form of computer-generated sound and imagery, manipulated brain data and complex data visualizations” (program).

Decibel, performing The Talking Board at Totally Huge New Music Festival 2011

Decibel, performing The Talking Board at Totally Huge New Music Festival 2011

Decibel, performing The Talking Board at Totally Huge New Music Festival 2011

Perth ensemble Decibel will take charge of the third concert to explore the acoustic properties of the Hackett Hall Gallery at the Western Australian Museum, focusing on how the space responds to genres such as jazz, indie, music concrete, minimalism and glitch. The concert will feature compositions by Australian composers Erik Griswold, Mace Francis, Chris Cobilis and Decibel members Cat Hope and Lindsay Vickery, as well as pieces by international composers Lionel Marchetti, Roger Smalley, Tristan Murail and an arrangement by Decibel of Lalo Schifrin’s In the Floodlights.

The final concert will also feature Erik Griswold with Vanessa Tomlinson as Clocked Out Duo exploring the recent proposition by physicist Frank Wilczek of the existence of “time crystals…perpetually moving structures that repeat periodically in the fourth dimension” (program). On piano and percussion the duo will use patterning and poetic interpretations of perpetual motion and crystalline structures. Sounds like a fascinating composition most fitting for a time-based celebration.

No birthday is complete without a party which will be manifested as Club Zho’s 100th gig. It will feature an array of local artist who’ve participated in Tura over the last 25 years, all of whom have helped make Perth the vibrant musical city it is today.

Tura 25th Birthday Celebrations, artistic director Tos Mahoney, various venues, Perth, Nov 21-Dec 6 2012; www.tura.com.au

Jon Rose, Totally Huge 2001

Jon Rose, Totally Huge 2001

Jon Rose, Totally Huge 2001

tura archive highlight

RealTime has been around for 18 of Tura’s 25 years. Below is a selection of some of our coverage of the Totally Huge Festivals and other Tura presentations.

totally huge new music festival
2011

totally huge new music festival 2011—onsite coverage
RT’s Associate Editor Gail Priest was joined by local writers Sam Gillies and Henry Andersen to deliver daily reviews of concerts, installations and events across the 10-day festival. There are 14 reviews plus video interviews with Marina Rosenfeld and Speak Percussion’s Eugene Ughetti.
Online feature September, 2011

2009
machine age new music
jonathan marshall: decibel, tape it!, totally huge new music festival 2009
RealTime issue #94 Dec-Jan 2009 p49

2007
vertiginous pleasures of disconnection
jonathan marshall at the totally huge new music festival 2007
RealTime issue #79 June-July 2007 p40

media multiplies opera
jonathan marshall talks to michel van der aa, totally huge new music festival
RealTime issue #78 April-May 2007 p41

2005
totally huge: knots and flames
gail priest: totally huge new music festival 2005
RealTime issue #70 Dec-Jan 2005 p15

2003
totally huge contemporary chamber music
sarah combes: totally huge new music festival 2003
RealTime issue #55 June-July 2003 p31

tura events & presentations
sharing sound with painters
jasmin stephens: philip samartzis, desert, east kimberley, tura residency
RealTime issue #106 Dec-Jan 2011 p40

head music, hard splatter
jonathan marshall at club zho
RealTime issue #73 June-July 2006 p38

unexpected musics
andrew beck & bryce moore: drums in the outback, wogarno station
RealTime issue #49 June-July 2002 p34

lindsay vickery: running up an opera noir
andrew beck: rendez-vous—an opera noir
RealTime issue #46 Dec-Jan 2001 p33

tos mahoney: programming new music
andrew beck
RealTime issue #41 Feb-March 2001 p32

RealTime issue #111 Oct-Nov 2012 pg. web

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

Daniel Matej and ensemble,  Graphic Scores, Soundstream New Music Festival 2012

Daniel Matej and ensemble, Graphic Scores, Soundstream New Music Festival 2012

Daniel Matej and ensemble, Graphic Scores, Soundstream New Music Festival 2012

DANIEL MATEJ IS A COMMANDING FIGURE IN CONTEMPORARY MUSIC AND THE DANIEL MATEJ IN PERSPECTIVE RECITAL AND GRAPHIC SCORES CONCERTS IN THE 2012 SOUNDSTREAM NEW MUSIC FESTIVAL PAINTED AN INTRIGUING PICTURE OF THIS SLOVAKIAN COMPOSER’S UNIQUE COMPOSITIONAL SENSIBILITY.

For the three works of the Graphic Scores concert, Matej conducted the Matej Ensemble—University of Adelaide Conservatorium students assembled for this event and performing on strings, wind, brass, percussion, keyboards, voice and electronics—with violinist Jon Rose soloing in the second item. The first piece was Polish composer Zygmunt Krauze’s Voices for Ensemble (1968/1972). Inspired by the ‘unistic’ abstract art of Wladyslaw Strzeminski, Krauze’s subtle music avoids drama and tension, the listener’s awareness drawn instead to compositional nuances, timbre, texture, choice of instrumentation and the perception of time. A dreamy clarinet line threads through this absorbing music, which is punctuated by pauses, long enough for audience members to notice ambient sound and reflect on their listening.

This teasing opener readies us for Matej’s Structures, Pages (…and Improvisations) (2010-2012). Here Matej gives each performer a printed chart listing five different hand gestures he will use while conducting, the movements correlating to specified musical material, dynamics and tempi. The material itself is drawn from other composers’ manuscripts including US composer Earl Brown’s December 1952 (from FOLIO; 1954), a seminal graphic score work using the simplest notation: horizontal and vertical lines of varying lengths and thicknesses. As the piece unfolds Matej gestures what to play, building the sound like a painter mixing paint directly on the canvas. Matej’s conducting responded to soloist Rose’s unique playing, resulting in a vibrant, heavily layered, multi-voiced orchestration of contrasting tone-colours, timbres and intensities. Matej cites Rose as a significant influence in his work.

Jon Rose, Graphic Scores, Soundstream New Music Festival 2012

Jon Rose, Graphic Scores, Soundstream New Music Festival 2012

Jon Rose, Graphic Scores, Soundstream New Music Festival 2012

In spontaneously shaping the ensemble’s responses to fragments of other manuscripts into the overall sound, Matej expands the concept of the graphic score to encompass his own improvisation. The result is compelling conceptually as well as musically, acknowledging and extending Brown’s achievements.

The Graphic Scores concert concluded with Four6 (1992), one of John Cage’s last works, 30 minutes of enthralling sound in which this energetic ensemble, arranged around the perimeter of the auditorium, used time-brackets to structure their performance.

The Daniel Matej in Perspective recital, comprising works by Matej principally for solo piano, further revealed the extraordinary character and complexity of his composition, the music ranging from exquisite romanticism to comic buffoonery. The recital opened with Fragile (2009), subtitled With Prelude in E minor by Chopin, a fragment of which emerges late in the score. For prepared piano, it begins slowly and softly, the preparation muting some lower notes, building in intensity through repeated figures. There is a poignant moment when the Chopin passage reaches and then ends on the muted notes, as if Chopin himself is being muted and then paused. Perhaps Matej is lamenting the passing of pianism’s great era. The program booklet indicates that the work is dedicated to a friend’s family, and the pitch material is based on anagrams of their names and those of Chopin, Webern and Feldman (whose musical styles are all evident). This complex conceptualisation appears typical of Matej, but the result, in the romantically attuned hands of pianist Marianna Grynchuk, is enchanting.

Daniel Matej and pianist Marianna Grynchuk, Daniel Matej in Perspective, Soundstream New Music Festival 2012

Daniel Matej and pianist Marianna Grynchuk, Daniel Matej in Perspective, Soundstream New Music Festival 2012

Daniel Matej and pianist Marianna Grynchuk, Daniel Matej in Perspective, Soundstream New Music Festival 2012

Grynchuk excels again in Matej’s dramatic I Tried Them All and They Were Rotten (1995) inspired by Satie, and his wistful (Two) Lullabies (1995). The spell is then broken in Believe it, or Not! (from (three) Songs and Refrains), in which Matej jumps up and sings, accompanied by the piano, bawling out “Jesus loves you, oh he loves you…” to a rock beat, comically parodying religious zeal, the work evidently a response to fundamentalist evangelism.

Following two more dramatic solo piano works, Matej interrupts the pianist in his (when I’m) FIFTY (1997) by blowing across the necks of water bottles to produce resonant notes, playfully challenging the cultural authority of the piano recital. He then begins to whistle as Grynchuk plays, finally drawing her into whistling with him as she concludes the piece. In the final work, Bargain Happiness (2000), based on a Bach prelude, Matej again sings boisterously over the piano, and Rose, at the back of the auditorium, interrupts, firstly with his violin and then with his own comic song. Grynchuk is outstanding throughout in realising Matej’s challenging music.

The influence of the Dada movement seems to be present to some degree in many of Matej’s works, yet there is a powerfully seductive musicality throughout, with moments of great beauty and sensitivity. His acute awareness of musical history permeates his work and, although he appears to be repudiating musical traditions, he is creating new and interesting music that is built on them. This raises the general question of where composition is headed, but, in Matej’s hands, it is musical, conceptually challenging and great fun.

The piano was central to this year’s Soundstream New Music Festival, which also included an enthralling concert for two pianos (Paul Grabowsky and Gabriella Smart) featuring Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, and the landmark Piano Phasing concert, where 60 pianists simultaneously played 30 pianos and which featured a commissioned work from Elena Kats-Chernin.

Soundstream New Music Festival 2012: Graphic Scores, Matej Ensemble conducted by Daniel Matej, violin Jon Rose; Daniel Matej in Perspective, piano Marianna Grynchuk, violin Jon Rose, plastic bottles & voice Daniel Matej; Madley Performance Space, University of Adelaide, Oct 12 & 13; http://www.soundstream.org.au/

This article first appeared in RT’s online e-dition Nov 20

RealTime issue #112 Dec-Jan 2012 pg. 39

© Chris Reid; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Scott Marcus, Tom Conroy, The Share

Scott Marcus, Tom Conroy, The Share

Scott Marcus, Tom Conroy, The Share

five.point.one is a young company based in Adelaide currently making their Sydney debut with The Share, as part of the Seymour Centre’s Reginald season of independent theatre.

The Share, by playwright Daniel Keene, renowned for his dark, gritty and poetic works, is the story of two young men, friends since childhood, unemployed and on the streets. In a chance meeting with a one-eyed kid they hear about an opportunity to make some quick cash after which their lives unravel.

Directed by Corey McMahon, the play features Scott Marcus, Tom Conroy and Tim Spencer. The 2010 production won the Best Drama, Professional award in The Adelaide Theatre Guide Awards.

Courtesy of the Seymour Centre, RealTime has three double passes to give away for The Share on Saturday 24 November at 8pm.

Email onlinegiveaways@realtimearts.net with your name, contact number and address, by COB November 22, for a chance to receive a double pass.
NB: This is a Sydney event.

Seymour Centre, Peter Gahan and five.point.one present The Share, The Reginald Theatre, Seymour Centre, Nov 21- Dec 8, 2012; http://www.seymourcentre.com/events/event/the-share/

RealTime issue #111 Oct-Nov 2012 pg. web

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

Katarzyna Sitarz, 2011 Tanja Liedtke Fellow

Katarzyna Sitarz, 2011 Tanja Liedtke Fellow

Katarzyna Sitarz, 2011 Tanja Liedtke Fellow

tanja liedtke fellowship

Offered biennially, the Tanja Liedtke Fellowship seeks to honour the memory and continue the legacy of choreographer and dancer Tanja Liedtke whose life was tragically cut short in 2007. The fellowship seeks to support contemporary dance artists and encourage Australian/European connections. The 2013 program is quite specific and offers the successful fellow a structured program of events in Berlin and Frankfurt in August-September 2013. Firstly they will receive studio time at ada Studios in Berlin to undertake a three-week creative development process on a project of their own devising. Simultaneously they will be able to attend many of the events of Berlin’s major dance festival Tanz im August. They will then move to Frankfurt to take part in the Tanzlabor_21 International Summer Lab which will bring together postgraduate students and emerging artists for intensive workshops and forums. The fellow will also be able to attend accompanying performance events at the contemporary arts venue Künstlerhaus Mousonturm. Applications are open for Australian dancers/choreographers between the ages of 20 and 35.
Applications due Dec 14, 2012; see website for more information http://www.tanja-liedtke-foundation.org/current-projects/fellowship-2013.html

aphids indigenous mentoring program

Applications are now open for Aphids Mentoring program aimed specifically at emerging Australian Indigenous artists. Taking place between February and November 2013, the program offers the successful mentee financial and infrastructure support to work with a mentor of their choice developing a project that “expands strategies, skills and networks for creating interdisciplinary artwork” (website). The emerging artists may already have experience in interdisciplinary work or commencing explorations in this area.
Applications are due Dec 3, see website for more information http://aphids.net/residencies-and-mentoring/Aphids_Indigenous_Mentoring_Program

vivid light 2013

The Vivid Festival, while only a few years young has had a significant impact on Sydney’s cultural and tourism calendar. While a lot of the festival aims at large-scale spectacle with the Opera House becoming the equivalent of a giant disco glitterball, there’s also the opportunity for some more intimate, on the ground discoveries via Vivid Light, the installation wing of the festival. Vivid Light is now calling for proposals. If you are a projection artist, lighting designer or sculptor with new ideas for public installations and light manifestations you have until December 3 to lodge your expression of interest. For more information see http://www.vividsydney.com/expression-of-interest-vivid-light-2013/

creative partnerships with asia, australia council

The Australia Council has recently announced a new initiative seeking to strengthen cultural connections between Australia and Asia. The Creative Partnerships with Asia program will offer grants of up to $40,000 for projects that involve a two-way exchange between Australia and an Asian country (defined for the initiative as Japan, China, Korea, India, South and South East Asia). The initiative covers all artforms and the projects must involve a significant presentation of a work developed through this project in both countries as well as artistic exchange workshops. Deadline for expressions of interest is Jan 31, 2013 with invitation only applications closing date April 8, 2013. See website for more information http://www.australiacouncil.gov.au/grants/grants/2012/creative-partnerships-with-asia-initiative

RealTime issue #111 Oct-Nov 2012 pg.

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

encoded, stalker

We’ve come to expect something a little bit spectacular from David Clarkson’s work with Stalker over the company’s 20-plus year history. Generally this has been the result of the raw physicality and daring, his shows frequently involving vertiginous acrobatic stilt walking—and even a giant catapult. However for his latest work, Encoded, Clarkson has gone totally high-tech.

Encoded explores how the body effects space and space effects the body. Projected environments respond specifically to the movement of dancers and aerialists, triggered by infrared tracking. In addition the dancers wear digital costumes—self-mounted laser projectors that bathe the performer in ever-shifting designs. Clarkson has enlisted an impressive design team to create this vision including Alejandro Rolandi, whose recent production Return to Trees at Carriageworks was an impressive physical theatre piece in itself; Andrew Johnston, an interactive design specialist and co-director of the Creativity and Cognition Studios at UTS; and Sam Clarkson, an award winning game designer and “world leader in photo?real graphics research, development and implementation” (press release). Clarkson has also enlisted Paul Selwyn Norton, longtime dancer with William Forsythe’s Ballet Frankfurt, as choreographer. See the video above and book your tickets for Encoded’s short season.

Stalker, Encoded, director David Clarkson, Carriageworks Nov 28-Dec 1; http://www.carriageworks.com.au/; http://www.stalker.com.au/
on loop, ensemble offspring

James Crabb

James Crabb

James Crabb

Ensemble Offspring have presented an ambitious and innovative program in 2012. Their last concert for the year, to be performed in both Sydney and Melbourne, looks to be no exception (see our realtime tv video interview and also the preview of Tura’s 25th birthday celebrations). In Sydney they will take over both the theatre (Bay 20) and the vast foyer of Carriageworks to present On Loop. Featured performers include the Australian turntablist Martin Ng and Scottish accordionist James Crabb (see a review of his Campbelltown Arts Centre concert in RealTime 112). UK composer Matthew Wright, whose work spans both dots-on-paper composition and turntablism, will also be in the country to present his new work, Totem for Sydney. Amsterdam-based pianist Cor Fuhler is no stranger to Australia, but is more often found in the improv scene. He will present a new composition, When Snoopy Met Boop. Other works in the concert include Memo by Dutch composer Michel van de Aa (see interview in RT78) and Gavin Bryar’s famous tape-loop work Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet. There’ll also be an installation in the foyer of ‘old school’ tape loops.
Ensemble Offspring, On Loop; Carriageworks, Sydney, Dec 1;
Melbourne Melbourne Recital Centre, Dec 6; http://ensembleoffspring.com/
(TIP: In Sydney you can make a night of it and see the matinee of Encoded followed by On Loop!)

international space time concerto competition

The finalists in the International Space Time Concerto Competition will be presenting their works in Newcastle, NSW at the end of the month. (For a handy primer on the concerto form by Matthew Lorenzon see our preview of the competition in our May 22 e-dition.) On November 30 the finalists in the Networked Music Performance category—Cat Hope (WA), Greg Schiemer (NSW) and Chow Jun Yan (Singapore)—will present their works via link-ups between performers in Newcastle, Austria, Singapore, China and New Zealand. The works factor in the inevitable latencies (repeat the mantra “bring on the NBN!”) and range from concertos written for pipe organ to string orchestra and an iPhone ensemble. (You can see a realtime tv interview with Cat Hope here; and read about Greg Schiemer’s phone music here.)

The final concert on December 2 at the University of Newcastle’s Harold Lobb Concert Hall presents historic symphonies by composers such as Dvo?ák, Schumann, Prokofiev and Preston performed by finalists in the solo instrumentalists category. These traditional concertos will be combined with the works by finalists in the innovation category such as Orbis Tertius (ACT) who will present Trial of the Ignorant Truth Concerto (2012) which explores equal temperament using instruments such as the erhu, the saz, a musical saw and a microtonal guitar. Also from ACT, John Burgess will present his Concerto (2012) for adapted electric double bass. Getting more physical, Mary Mainsbridge (NSW) will perform her Code-centric Motion (2012) for voice, gesturally controlled digital instrument and orchestra. Perhaps the most genre-bending contribution comes from Robert Jarvis (Vic) who will perform his Concerto for Light Sculpture (2012) using a digital interface called a Monome that allows light and sound to played in tight synchronisation. There is an overall prize pool of $50,000 divided between the category winners.
International Space Time Concerto Competition presented by University of Newcastle in collaboration with Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music, Singapore, Central Conservatory of Music, Beijing, Waikato University, New Zealand and Ars Electronica, Austria; Newcastle Conservatorium, Nov 30; University of Newcastle’s Harold Lobb Concert Hall, Dec 2; http://www.spacetimeconcerto.com

body fluid—the seven cycles, john a douglas

John A Douglas, Body Fluid, Saline Ascent (video still)

John A Douglas, Body Fluid, Saline Ascent (video still)

John A Douglas, Body Fluid, Saline Ascent (video still)

In RT106 Ella Mudie wrote about John A Douglas’ 10-hour durational performance at Performance Space: “In a surreal setting melding the chintzy glamour of a lo-fi science fiction film set with the sparse interior of a hospital room, the artist began by lying prostrate on the floor while hooked up to a peritoneal dialysis machine, plastic tube protruding from his rotund Buddha belly. Dressed in a tight, shiny, gold bodysuit that covered eyes, nostrils and mouth, there was a wry humour in its resemblance to both submissive bondage attire and a Hollywood superhero costume gone awry.” (See full review.)

The video backdrop to this performance featured Douglas, in the same gold costume, appearing and disappearing in the distance around a salt lake, in a reference to Nicolas Roeg’s science fiction classic The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976). Douglas will present the continuation of this work at Chalkhorse Gallery from November 22, with photographic and video works of this mysterious golden man wandering the Mallee Country and the Snowy Mountains. Douglas says, “in these mediated figurative landscape works, the imaginary golden figure takes on powers of levitation and flight through the replenishment of bodily fluids within the Australian landscape.” Douglas is currently the inaugural artist-in-residence at the Museum of Human Disease, UNSW, thanks to an Australia Council AIR grant.
Body Fluid—The Seven Cycles, John A Douglas, Chalkhorse Gallery; open Nov 22; http://www.chalkhorse.com.au/

241 years, morrish, osborne, jeyens, rorhrig

Some of us in Sydney had the rare pleasure to spend time embroiled in the circular thoughts and profound whimsy of improvisor Andrew Morrish during Campbelltown Art Centre’s Oh I Wanna Dance With Somebody (to be reviewed in RT112). Fear not if you missed it, there’s more to come. He has teamed up with long time collaborator Tony Osborne as well as two other seasoned improvisers Kevin Jeynes and John Rohrig, to present a touring show called 241 years. We are told that this number is the sum total of the improvisors’ ages. The team has already blasted through Brisbane, will briefly be taking on Dancehouse in Melbourne, and will end their tour in Sydney at Marrickville’s Sidetrack Theatre. (The Sydney season is a double bill with youMove Company’s tenofus which will present solos by Narelle Benjamin, Tony Osborne, Vicki Van Hout, Anton and Angela French.) Who knows what to expect, but from previous outings, the moments of failure are even more intriguing than the moments that succeed.
241 years, Andrew Morrish, Tony Osborne, Kevin Jeynes, John Rohrig; Dancehouse, Melbourne, Nov 21-22, www.dancehouse.com.au ); with youMove Company’s tenofus, Sidetrack Theatre, Sydney, Nov 23-24; http://www.sidetrack.com.au/; http://youmovedance.com.au/

the conversation, jon mark oldmeadow, claudio tocco

The Conversation, Jon Mark Oldmeadow, Claudio Tocco

The Conversation, Jon Mark Oldmeadow, Claudio Tocco

The Conversation, Jon Mark Oldmeadow, Claudio Tocco

Putting a new spin on multi-channel video installation is Jon Mark Oldmeadow and Claudio Tocco’s The Conversation. The installation features three participants who have migrated from Peru, Germany and Sri Lanka sharing memories of their home countries. However, rather than each screen having a fixed and dedicated soundtrack, the audience is supplied with wireless headphones thus receiving different aspects of the soundtrack according to their position in the gallery space. This allows the viewer the freedom to construct their own sense of these stories. Jon Mark Oldmeadow was previously involved in the Safari Team art collective that presented the ambitious Molto Morte and Evolution at the 2008 and 2010 Next Wave festivals respectively.
The Conversation, Jon Mark Oldmeadow, Claudio Tocco, Seventh Gallery, 155 Gertrude Street, Fitzroy; til Dec 1; http://seventhgallery.org/

upraw online gallery

As most things move to virtual platforms, it makes sense that galleries do too, and UpRaw is a prime example. It is a new initiative from the art investment company Art Equity with a focus on selling the work of young and emerging artists, with some rather reasonable price tags ranging from $170 to $2000. There’s a stable of 20 artists with works ranging from the street stencil style of Doug Bartlett to the dusky detailed prints of Kate Piekutowski and the moody Crewdson-esque staged photography of Jack Condon. While the gallery is generally virtual it will have a physical ‘pop-up’ home for two weeks at 174 Crown Street Darlinghurst.
UpRaw, exhibtion 174 Crown Street Darlinghurst, opens Nov 28; http://www.upraw.com.au/

RealTime issue #111 Oct-Nov 2012 pg.

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

Takahiko Iimura, Observer/Observed/Observer

Takahiko Iimura, Observer/Observed/Observer

Takahiko Iimura, Observer/Observed/Observer

THE OTHERFILM FESTIVAL HAS ALWAYS BEEN, WELL, ‘OTHER.’ AT THE HEIGHT OF NEW MEDIA HYPE THE TEAM OF SALLY GOLDING, JOEL STERN AND DANNI ZUVELA DECIDED TO LAUNCH A FESTIVAL THAT WAS ALL ABOUT OLD MEDIA, EXPLORING EXPANDED CINEMA WITH ROOTS IN THE 1960S.

Eight years on and new media as a term and genre has lost some of its glamour, integrated as it is into everyday life, and it seems the OtherFilm Festival curators are questioning their ties to the old forms. Their festival 2012 curatorial statement reads: “…for us, privileging film has become problematic. While initially our commitment to film allowed us to develop critical tools and assert our distinct interests, we are now pressing up against the limitations of our critique…As an organisation, we no longer consider it prudent to fetishise film—but nor do we consent to indiscriminate platform promiscuity. We want to deal with mediums in more nuanced, less dogmatic, ways. We are moving on.”

So in 2012 Otherfilm moves on to include a range of ‘other’ media-driven performances, but there is still a familiar air of historicity, not to mention a strong waft of theoretical rumination in the selection of works. For example one of the special international guests is Takahiko Iimura who has been working in the area of conceptual video and performance since the 1960s. The Video Semiology screening is a retrospective of his works focusing on a range of his experiments into identity, speech and the phenomological loop formed by video.

Bruce McLure

Bruce McLure

Bruce McLure

On the opposite end of the scale but with no less rigour is the work of Bruce McClure who will be performing his work The Fiercer the Fire the Longer the Spoon comprising several smaller recent pieces. McLure works with a 16mm projector but a seemingly blank frame, exploring the very mechanism of the apparatus to create an audiovisual assault of strobing light and manipulated sound artifacts; however the curators assure us that the “performances expand and extend from the initial blast into long-form investigations of spatial and temporal re-orientation” (program).

Peter Burr, Future TV

Peter Burr, Future TV

Peter Burr, Future TV

Third international guest Pete Burr will present a kind of live cartoon show, showing works from his network of US underground animators and cartoonists but interacting with the works, appearing in them as a live host using green screen technology. While the format sounds laugh-a-minute, all of the animations are inspired by the Zone in Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1971 sci-fi film Stalker, suggesting a more contemplative experience than a cartoon caper.

Co-curator Sally Golding will return from the UK where she has been experimenting with darkroom techniques: “printing, reprinting and manipulating waveform images on the optical soundtrack of 16mm celluloid take her work to a new level of photo-chemical nonsensitude” (program).

It’s an ambitious program that will take manifest in various combinations in several cities. In Brisbane the bulk of the festival resides at the Institute of Modern Art (IMA) which is also a key presenting partner, but the opening night will take place on an old naval ship, the HMAS Diamantina, moored at the Queensland Maritime Museum. The ship will be filled with audiovisual and performative experiments from a range of national artists such as Danny Wild, Audrey Lam and Caitlin Franzman, Sarah Byrne, Jason, Bonnie Hart, Vijay Thillamullu, Joe Musgrove and Patrick King.

In Melbourne, New Low, a relatively recent artist-run-space will play host and the international guests will be complemented by local artists Richard Tuohy and Matthew Brown, Jarrod Factor, Kit Webster, Marcia Jane and gallery founder Tara Cook. Then there’s an all nighter at the Meredith Music Festival (a three-day event in rural Victoria) where the psychedelic nature of many of these performances should be well appreciated. The festival wraps up with a one-night-only show in Adelaide in partnership with Lost City at the Tuxedo Cat!

Otherfilm 2012 presented by OtherFilm, IMA, Screen Queensland: curators Sally Golding, Joel Stern, Danni Zuvela, Brisbane: Queensland Maritime Museum and Institute of Modern Art, Nov 29-Dec 1; Melbourne: New Low Gallery, Dec 5-6; Meredith: Ecoplex Cinema, Dec 7-8; Adelaide: Lost City, Dec 10; http://otherfilm.org/

RealTime issue #111 Oct-Nov 2012 pg. web

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

Lee Wilson and Matt Prest discuss the making of Whelping Box exploring ideas of freedom, male bonding, masculinity and myth-making, as well as their collaborative process with co-creators Mirabelle Wouters and Clare Britton.
Interviewed by Keith Gallasch.

Whelping Box
Co-creators: Branch Nebula (Lee Wilson & Mirabelle Wouters), Matt Prest & Clare Britton
Sound: Jack Prest
Produced by Katy Green Loughrey & Viv Rosman, Performing Lines
Video documentation: Dennis Beaubois
Whelping Box premiered at (and was co-produced by) Performance Space Oct 25 – Nov 3, 2012 as part of SEXES.
Interview: Keith Gallasch, Nov 1, 2012
realtime tv production: Gail Priest

For more on Branch Nebula see our realtime tv interview about Concrete and Bone Sessions in the Sydney Festival, and our Branch Nebula archive highlight.

RealTime issue #111 Oct-Nov 2012

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

Co-directors of Branch Nebula Lee Wilson and Mirabelle Wouters discuss their upcoming project Concrete and Bone Sessions which will be part of the 2013 Sydney Festival, their future planes and their working relationship.
Interviewed by Keith Gallasch.

Concrete and Bone Sessions
Branch Nebula (Lee Wilson & Mirabelle Wouters)
Sydney Festival 2013
Previews: January 9, 10 at 7pm
Season: January 11 & 12, 14-19 at 7pm
Jack Shanahan Reserve (Dulwich Hill Skate Park)
http://www.sydneyfestival.org.au/2013/Dance/Concrete-and-Bone-Sessions/

Creative development showing
Performers: Bboy Blond, April Caslick, Roland Chlouk
Cloé Fournier, Alexandra Harrison, Ali Kadhim
Simon O’Brien, Chris O’Donnell, Kathryn Puie
Music: Bob Scott
Video footage: Dennis Beaubois & Ali Kadhim
Produced by Performing Lines.
Branch Nebula is supported by Managing and Producing Services (MAPS) NSW, managed by Performing Lines.

For more on Branch Nebula see our realtime tv interview with Lee Wilson and Matt Prest about Whelping Box, and our Branch Nebula archive highlight.

RealTime issue #111 Oct-Nov 2012

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

Gareth Hart, Ellipsis

Gareth Hart, Ellipsis

Gareth Hart, Ellipsis

ENTERING A SMALL DARK ROOM IN ARTS HOUSE, WE ARE OFFERED A SMALL CUP OF GREEN TEA AND HANDED WIRELESS HEADPHONES. THIS IS NOT THE FIRST TIME I’VE WORN HEADPHONES AT A PERFORMANCE; THEY SEEM TO BE AS UBIQUITOUS AS 3D GLASSES AT CINEMAS. IN ELLIPSIS WE SEE HOW THEY CREATE AN INTIMATE SPACE BETWEEN VIEWER AND THE PERFORMER.

Microphones pick up the most minute details of Gareth Hart’s solo dance—his foot scraping across the floor or, at the end of his performance, a long moment when he catches his breath before speaking. The headphones create aural cocoons and fill them with gentle compositions and ambient noise, such as the clatter and laughter from another show downstairs.

Fine red threads are woven and suspended from a frame not dissimilar to hospital curtain rails. Apart from that detail, the set is minimal and dimly lit. Hart could be in a cage, the red web containing his movements as he explores the language of his body and the movements it prefers. He explores these quirks in the way a musician works with the unique timbre of a violin. Playing on his physical appearance—his longish hair almost like a rooster’s comb—Hart moves like a bird, or man as bird. With a bent back he paws the ground with his bare feet and flicks his wrists as he turns on his foot and slides back from the red gossamer of his confines. We wonder if he is trapped—though he seems resigned to it—like a caged bird still fluttering as far as it can. His lack of expression and eye contact hint at sideshow voyeurism; the darkness and our containing headsets add to the feeling of illicitness.

Gareth Hart, Ellipsis

Gareth Hart, Ellipsis

Gareth Hart, Ellipsis

In the second half of the performance fans gently blow the red threads creating a chance for interaction. Weaving in and out and exploring the filaments, Hart’s movements are at times robotic, then fast and frantic with rigid arms. These moments are then reined in with long smooth strides and control again. A loud chortle from a comedy show downstairs is jumped on—Hart laughs in return. In that instance, the performance bursts beyond the small room, the dancer’s web and our headsets.

Hart seems to point to the dichotomy in dance—that it has the propensity for showing truth but is open-ended. Some years ago he left theatre for dance and choreography; in a YouTube video he talks about the falsity he felt in playing characters. The deliberate eschewal of facial expression allows Hart’s body to flesh out veracity and he proves himself to be an adept storyteller. Certainly the awkward bending of his back with knees jutting forward is not frequently seen in dance. He conveys pathos through repetition and more anxious movements show a wariness of the boundaries of the installation. The audience is left with an understanding of Hart’s strings, how his body is strung to play, to dance—its physical truths and limits.

Gareth Hart, Ellipsis

Gareth Hart, Ellipsis

Gareth Hart, Ellipsis

In a monologue at the show’s conclusion that teases out some of the threads of the performance, Gareth Hart tells us that the red lights of our headphones look to him like eyes in the dark. Then, cutting the tension and breaking the spell, he wryly suggests that we’re mulling over the show and thinking, “It’s all a little weird.”

2012 Melbourne Fringe Festival, Ellipsis, choreographer, performer Gareth Hart, composers E Willoughby, W Lynch, A van Schothorst; Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall, Melbourne, Oct 9-13

This article originally appeared as part of RT’s online e-dition Nov 6

RealTime issue #112 Dec-Jan 2012 pg. 27

© Varia Karipoff; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

 The Martial Arts Trilogy, Tan Dun

The Martial Arts Trilogy, Tan Dun

The Martial Arts Trilogy, Tan Dun

ADELAIDE’S ANNUAL OZASIA GENERATES SIGNIFICANT CROSS-CULTURAL AND CROSS-GENRE ARTISTIC DEVELOPMENT. THE FEATURE MUSICAL EVENT IN OZASIA 2012 WAS THE MARTIAL ARTS TRILOGY CONCERT, IN WHICH RENOWNED CHINESE COMPOSER TAN DUN DIRECTED THE ADELAIDE SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA IN RENDITIONS OF HIS SOUNDTRACKS FOR THREE MAJOR FILMS: HERO (2002, DIRECTOR ZHANG YIMOU), CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON (2000, ANG LEE) AND THE BANQUET (2006, FENG XIAOGANG). FILM MUSIC IS JUST ONE ELEMENT OF TAN DUN’S WIDE COMPOSITIONAL RANGE.

In this concert, the music was performed in front of a screen showing excerpts from the films blended with live camera close-ups of the soloists and Tan Dun as conductor, forming a unique visual backdrop for the orchestra. In cinema, sound generally supports the action and is often considered a subsidiary element, but in the Martial Arts Trilogy concert the visual material supports the musical performance, giving visual embodiment to the drama within the music. There’s a moment where a shot from the film of a guqin being played coincides with a sublime guqin solo. And there are many slow-motion martial arts scenes, with warriors flying magically through the air, that create a ballet to the music, as if choreographed to the musical line.

The Martial Arts Trilogy, Tan Dun

The Martial Arts Trilogy, Tan Dun

The Martial Arts Trilogy, Tan Dun

Tan Dun’s scores for these films are orchestrated as a set of concerti, each work featuring a soloist. ASO concertmaster Natsuko Yoshimoto was outstanding as the violin soloist in the performance of music from Hero, establishing a dialogue with Xiaoxia Zhao’s guqing and articulating the tension between the film’s leading characters. The guqing sound blended beautifully with the violin and orchestra, setting traditional Chinese music within a Western musical framework. Li-Wei, the cello soloist for the music from Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, and Jiayi Sun, the piano soloist in the music from The Banquet, gave excellent performances. Tan Dun’s writing for them is magnificent, requiring the highest level of execution and supported by theatrical but highly musical orchestration that characterises the narrative but is not dependant on the visual material for its effect.

Tan Dun has refreshed the traditional violin/piano/cello concerto concept by melding it with cinematic material and multimedia presentation, and bringing it to a significantly wider audience by allying it with cinema. The Martial Arts Trilogy concert embodies a significant artistic development, where film, live video and live music merge into a distinct form.

Kailash Kher

Kailash Kher

Kailash Kher

Another feature OzAsia performer was star Indian singer Kailash Kher, a household name in Indian communities, and it was fitting that in a festival intended to bring Indian cultural exchange to a local audience, he and his band Kailasa would have a central role. His concert at the Festival Centre drew a packed house of ardent fans, many singing along and dancing in the aisles. He sings his joyous songs in a soaring voice, the backing music drawing on traditional Indian forms, jazz fusion and Bollywood pop. Much of the material is devotional, and he is often compared with the late qawwali singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan. The recasting of devotional music in a pop format transmits it to an audience that has grown up with a popular music sensibility. Kailash Kher’s music is seductive on many levels, and carries great spiritual weight.

Sandy Evans’ Indian Project has established a highly individual and powerful musical form, its mix of styles fitting well into the OzAsia Festival context. Legendary Australian jazz saxophonist Evans has been exploring Indian musical traditions for many years, and one of her teachers, Sri Lankan sitarist and singer Sarangan Sriranganathan, performs with her in this ensemble. Evans and Sriranganathan create an hypnotic fusion blending western jazz with Carnatic and Hindustani music, to which the expressive, mellifluous sax, paired with the sitar, is ideally suited.

The concert featured Evans’ Seven Stories of Dreams, a performance involving a degree of improvisation. The composer states in the program note that when she composes for improvisers, her main inspiration comes from the musicians she is writing for. This hybrid music’s character and strength lie in the hands of the musicians as they perform, their traditional material transforming itself and evolving as they play. It requires musicians who have mastered their respective genres to the point where they can adapt them spontaneously. One performer develops a melodic line and then the others respond to it, resulting in a delightful musical conversation. When two follow the same melodic line simultaneously, wonderful timbral effects are created. Seductive, swaying rhythms flow through every piece. This is music of much thought, development and rehearsal, highly refined and superbly delivered.

In the Crouching Tigers concert, an ensemble of members from the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra joined Xiaoxia Zhao to present new short works by five emerging Australian composers invited to write pieces exploring cross-cultural composition. Each composer was asked to include the guqin in the ensemble, and the resulting compositions were workshopped with Tan Dun. The composers variously explored the guqin’s unique sonic properties and character, developing all kinds of effects when allied with violin, cello, clarinet, trumpet, bassoon and percussion. The work that made the most eloquent use of the guqin was Annie Hui-Hsin Hsieh’s beautiful Threading Through Fumes, in which the guqin and the string and wind instruments’ lines intertwine to evoke curling incense smoke trails. Xiaoxia’s hands caress the guqin and, to conclude the work, she drops small pieces of foam rubber onto the strings to create wispy, barely audible sounds. Commissions for such events inspire exciting developments. This music was more cerebral than spiritual or visceral, but it cast a very special spell.

There is the question as to whether the re-invention of traditional music through hybridisation dilutes or undermines the strength of those traditions. But the process of hybridisation is itself well established and no culture can remain static for long. The OzAsia Festival’s musical programming demonstrates how cultural interaction can stimulate rapid musical evolution while honouring the music’s cultural lineage.

Adelaide Festival Centre, Ozasia 2012: Martial Arts Trilogy, Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, conductor Tan Dun, violin Natsuko Yoshimoto, guqing Xiaoxia Zhao, cello Li-Wei, piano Jiayi Sun, Festival Theatre, Sept 23; Kailash Kher and Kailasa, Festival Theatre, Sept 29; Sandy Evans’ Indian Project, saxophones Sandy Evans, sitar and vocals Sarangan Sriranganathan, double bass Brett Hirst, tabla Maharshi Ravai, Space Theatre, Sept 22; Crouching Tigers, composers Tristan Coelho, Annie Hui-Hsin Hsieh, Christopher Larkin, Lachlan Skipworth, Timothy Tate, guqin Xiaoxia Zhao with members of the Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, Space Theatre, Adelaide, Sept 23; http://www.ozasiafestival.com.au/

This article fist appeared as part of RT’s online e-dition Nov 6

RealTime issue #112 Dec-Jan 2012 pg. 38

© Chris Reid; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Onnie Art,  exist@QCA Sept 2012: Live Art Intensive Residency

Onnie Art, [email protected] Sept 2012: Live Art Intensive Residency

Onnie Art, [email protected] Sept 2012: Live Art Intensive Residency

DIMANCHE ROUGE IS A PARIS-BASED ARTIST COLLECTIVE (QUITE A LARGE ONE IF THE CONTACTS PAGE IS ANYTHING TO GO BY) FORMED IN FEBRUARY 2011 TO PRESENT A MONTHLY EXPERIMENTAL PERFORMANCE FESTIVAL. THEY PLACE STRONG EMPHASIS ON INTERNATIONAL CONNECTIONS AND ON NOVEMBER 18 WILL BE PRESENTING AN AUSTRALIAN COLLABORATION VIA THE WONDERS OF THE INTERNET.

They will team up with artist spaces/collectives in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane and, in addition to the Paris program, will stream an hour of experimental performance to and from each venue. Nicola Morton from the Exist collective will be curating the Brisbane hour at Metro Arts; Zoe Scoglio has put together the program for Tape Projects in Melbourne (see RT111 for review or her receent show Shifting Ground); and Sari Kivinen an ex-pat Australian who runs Ptarmigan, an artist collective in Helsinki, Finland and Taalin, Estonia, will be in Sydney curating an hour of performance taking place at Alaska Projects.

There’s a lot on in the four hours but highlights might (depending on your proclivities) include Leena Riethmuller’s Saliva (Absorption) as part of the Brisbane program which will involve the artist grooming herself from a pool of her own pre-collected saliva. In Melbourne you can get up close and personal with Hannah Raisin’s Contact in which the artist will wrap herself in bubble wrap and you are invited to undertake the ever-so-satisfying task of popping the bubbles.

In Sydney, in the carpark that is Alaska Projects, Janet Meany will present Journey. Leaving white footsteps in bright yellow tumeric, she will trace a mandala-like circle in order to explore “the ephemerality of our naming and marking making as we journey through the cycle of life” (email from Sari Kivinen). Also in Sydney, Liam Benson (whose glamourous, glittery photos are currently on display as part of Sexes at Performance Space see RT111) will present a vocal performance using the acoustics of the carpark to explore his relationship with masculinity. There’s a synchroncity between this and Onnie Art’s Yasi in Brisbane, a duet for male and female voices and bodies symbolising “an elemental transmutation from female to male, water to fire” (press release).

Ane Lan, Persona, Dimanche Rouge

Ane Lan, Persona, Dimanche Rouge

Ane Lan, Persona, Dimanche Rouge

The Paris iteration offers two performances. Ismael Ogando from the Dominican Republic will use elements of ancient African voodoo rituals—oil, powder and fire—to turn his African body in to a caucasian one in the performance Rite of West. While Norwegian artist Ane Lan will explore ideas around stage charisma and the cult of personality in contemporary media with reference to feminist theories, significant female artists and Ingmar Bergman’s Persona in her performance of the same name. The downside for Parisians is they have to get out of bed to see these performances, but the upside is they’ll enjoy a complimentary breakfast and a Norwegian brunch.

Michaela Davies

Michaela Davies

Michaela Davies

Interestingly many of the performances move away from analogue body art/live art mode to incorporate a high level of mediation. For example in Brisbane there will be a performance by Botbog (see RT89), renowned for their parasitic audiovisual link-ups creating psychedelic synaethesic experiences. The Melbourne program features Michaela Davies’ Involuntary Duet in which Davies will convert one of her compositions into electrical muscle stimulation data, which she will then inflict on herself and bassist Sam Pettigrew—their involuntary spasming will then re-interpret the composition. (A recent outing of this process at the Musicircus celebrating John Cage’s centenary at the Sydney Opera House produced an entertaining if sometimes alarming performance.)

Head to the venue near you to get the full stream (and hope Australian broadband can cope).

Dimanche Rouge #21, in co-operation with Exist, curator Nicola Morton, artists Botborg, Leif Arwen Gifford, Onnie Art, Leena Riethmuller, Velvet Pesu, Jamie Hume and Ben H, Makeshift Dance Collective, Unique Oil Free Air, Marisa Allen, 459, Metro Arts, Brisbane; Tape Projects, curator Zoe Scoglio, artists Michaela Davies & Sam Pettigrew, Deanne Butterworth & Michael Munson, TR Carter & Arie Rain Glorie, Hannah Beth Raisin, Scratch Ensemble, Tape Projects, Melbourne; Ptarmigan, curator Sari Kivinen, artists tbc, Alaska Projects, Sydney; Dimanche Rouge, Ismael Ogando, Ane Lan, Le Dansoir Karine Saporta, Paris; November 18, 6-11pm; http://www.dimancherouge.org/; http://existenceperformanceart.wordpress.com/; http://tapeprojects.org/; http://home.alaskaprojects.com/

RealTime issue #111 Oct-Nov 2012 pg. web

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

Maisie Parrngurr, Phone Booth, We don't  need a map

Maisie Parrngurr, Phone Booth, We don’t need a map

Maisie Parrngurr, Phone Booth, We don’t need a map

THE MARTU ARE THE ORIGINAL INHABITANTS OF OVER 20 MILLION HECTARES OF THE WESTERN DESERT AREA OF AUSTRALIA WHICH INCLUDES PERCIVAL LAKES AND THE PILBARA. THE EXHIBITION TITLED WE DON’T NEED A MAP AIMS NOT ONLY TO PRESENT ARTWORK FROM THE REGION BUT ALSO TO INVOKE A TANGIBLE SENSE OF THE PLACE AS WELL AS ITS PEOPLE, THEIR STORIES AND RICH TRADITIONS.

The exhibition is produced by Fremantle Arts Centre in collaboration with Martumili Arts, a cultural hub instrumental in arranging the commercial sale of works which sustain the Martu community. The centrepiece of the exhibition is a five-by-three metre painting created by sisters Lily Long and Amy French which offers an intricate and highly detailed record of stories, sites, spirits and animals. This is complemented by over 40 paintings and works-on-paper by other artists in the region using a variety of techniques to depict daily life and ancient traditions.

Yunkurra Billy Atkins working on Cannibal Story, We don't need a map

Yunkurra Billy Atkins working on Cannibal Story, We don’t need a map

Yunkurra Billy Atkins working on Cannibal Story, We don’t need a map

The curators Gabrielle Sullivan from Martumili Arts, Kathleen Sorensen, a Martu artist and cultural consultant, and Erin Coates from FAC have also commissioned collaborative media-based works which bring together Martu and non-Martu artists. The Phone Booth Project sees Martu filmmaker Curtis Taylor and Melbourne visual artist Lily Hibberd collaborating on a video installation that explores the role of the public phone booth in these remote communities. In Cannibal Story, senior Martu artist Yunkurra Billy Atkins teams up with animator Sohan Ariel Hayes to bring to life Atkins’ images depicting the stories associated with Kumpupirntily (Lake Disappointment). Lynette Wallworth and her collaborator Peter Brundle have also travelled to Martu country and conferred with the local community to make a multi-channel video work titled Still Walking Country which explores the intricate connection between land and place as experienced via the perspective of newcomers to the area.

Lynette Wallworth, Kumbayah, Still Walking Country, We don't need a map

Lynette Wallworth, Kumbayah, Still Walking Country, We don’t need a map

Lynette Wallworth, Kumbayah, Still Walking Country, We don’t need a map

The exhibition also involves a collaboration with Kanyirninpa Jukurrpa (KJ), a Martu controlled organisation that “seeks to build strong, sustainable communities based on Martu culture and knowledge” (press release). KJ’s ranger teams combine traditional land practices and environmental monitoring to assist with management of the area. They have provided interpretative information for the exhibition “linking the knowledge embodied in the paintings with sites, species, stories and landforms” (press release) and will be running Cultural Awareness Workshops.

And last but by no means least, the Pilbara will literally be coming to the FAC doorstep with 22 tonnes of soil being shifted to the front garden of the gallery in order to plant flora from the region.

FAC, Kanyirninpa Jukurrpa and Martumili Artists: We don’t need a map—a Martu experience of the Western Desert; Fremantle Arts Centre; Nov 17, 2012-Jan 20 2013 http://www.fac.org.au/;http://wedontneedamap.com.au/

RealTime issue #111 Oct-Nov 2012 pg. web

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

lady electronica showcase, judith wright centre

Donna Hewitt with eMic, Lady Electronica

Donna Hewitt with eMic, Lady Electronica

Donna Hewitt with eMic, Lady Electronica

Lady Electronica is a coalition of Queensland-based female artists working in the broad area of electronic music production embracing a range of genres from pop to ambient electronica to experimental instrument building and new interfaces. Four dynamic women “in command of technology” (website) will present a showcase of their work at the Judith Wright Centre. Anise, also known as Carly Dickenson, will launch her new single featuring vocals and progressive beats, utilising specially designed MIDI-gloves to activate a range of effects and samples. Rose Carrousel, aka Heidi Millington, will perform her take on folktronica and will premiere her NaturTron, a light-sound filtering device. Donna Hewitt continues the explorations of her eMic, the interface she has been developing over the last 10 years, allowing the vocalist to loop and effect her voice using sensors and controls on a specially designed microphone stand. Hewitt has recently been collaborating with dancers and for this performance will be joined by Lizzie and Zaimon Vilmanis. Finally Michelle Xen, who works across music and visual art, will also be launching her debut EP and multiplatform project SYNAESTHESIAC. The evening will be accompanied by audiovisual wonders from Wade Marynowsky who is presumably an honorary lady for the evening.
Ladytronica Showcase, Judith Wright Centre, Nov 9 & 10; http://www.judithwrightcentre.com/02_cal/details.asp?ID=1134

cloudy sensoria, bundoora homestead

Chris Cottrell, Study for Cloud Sound  2012

Chris Cottrell, Study for Cloud Sound 2012

Chris Cottrell, Study for Cloud Sound 2012

Heritage sites in Australia are increasingly becoming hotbeds of creativity and Bundoora Homestead is no exception. Located 16kms north of Melbourne’s CBD the homestead was built in 1899 in Federation Queen Anne style. It was originally home to an aristocratic racing family but in 1920 was sold and became an institution for traumatised and disfigured returned service men. After WWII it became a general “mental repatriation” facility where Dr John Cade made the groundbreaking discovery of lithium, the first effective medication for mental illness. The building remained a psychiatric facility until 1993; the main house was restored to become a cultural centre in 2001.

The current exhibition, Cloudy Sensoria, curated by sound artist Cara-Anne Simpson (see RT Studio) and Malte Wagenfeld (part of RMIT’s Urban Interior research group) taps into the site’s charged history. The works in the exhibition use light, sound and “qualities of smell, the dispersal of air in space” to challenge the gallery visitor to go beyond the idea of ‘seeing’ as a visual experience, in order to take in the full perceptual spectrum. Works include Cloud Sound by New Zealand artist Chris Cottrell using a camera obscura to project the sky from outside the homestead onto a wall in a darkened room. Accompanying fragments of sound and data gathered from the surrounding site are combined to form an aural cloud. Co-curator Malte Walgenfeld whose speciality is the “Aesthetics of Air,” has created an odiferous trail around the homestead in his work Scent Spheres. The gallery visitor may stumble upon a variety of smells associated with the history of the site: “a waft of fresh-cut hay conjures its life as a glamorous horse stud; a pungent whiff of Cresolene disinfectant reminds of its time as a repatriation hospital” (artist statement). Cara-Anne Simpson’s work requires you to put your head up one of the homestead’s many chimneys to experience her visual collage of the then-and-now view of the property along with an audio record of the space. The exhibition also features work by Jason Parmington and Georgina Cue both of whom use architecture, real and simulated, to explore the resonances of the house. There will also be a talk by the curators, Sight…Sound…Smell, which will explore the “intangible nature of air, sensation and spectres” (website).
Cloudy Sensoria, co-curators and artists Cara-Ann Simpson, Malte Wagenfeld, artists Chris Cottrell, Georgina Cue, Jason Parmington, Bundoora Homestead, Oct 19-Dec 2; curators talk Thurs Nov 22, 2pm; http://www.bundoorahomestead.com/exhibition/cloudy-sensoria/

hail, amiel courtin-wilson, national release & exhibition

Daniel P Johnson, Leeanne Letch, Hail, Amiel Courtin-Wilson

Daniel P Johnson, Leeanne Letch, Hail, Amiel Courtin-Wilson

Daniel P Johnson, Leeanne Letch, Hail, Amiel Courtin-Wilson

Amiel Courtin-Wilson is perhaps best known for his documentary on Jack Charles titled Bastardy (review RT91). Hail follows a similar development process evolving out of a deep personal relationship with the protagonist, in this case Daniel P Johnson, but here documentary slips over into fiction. Hail draws on real life aspects of Johnsons’s life as he tries to go straight after being released from prison, but after an initial period of hope, inspired by love, things start to turn bad, ending messily. In a review of Hail at its Adelaide Film Festival premier Keith Gallasch wrote “Hail is a drama feature that deftly manages to fuse documentary immediacy (fluid hand-held camera work, raw dialogue) with carefully constructed scenography built around lyrical editing and richly textured and adroitly framed widescreen cinematography (Germain McMicking). It’s a big screen, immersive experience.” (RT102).

Hail won the Age Critics Award for Best Australian Feature at the Melbourne International Film Festival. The film has been screened at a range of international festivals such as the Venice Biennale and Sundance. It has had a limited national cinema release, and is currently still playing at the Nova Cinema, Melbourne and MONA Cinema in Hobart (but be quick!). Also just opened at The Brunswick Street Bookstore is an accompanying exhibition of evocative production stills by cinematographer Germain McMicking and photographer Glendyn Ivin.
For details on selected screenings see http://www.hailmovie.com/; Hail exhibition, The Brunswick Street Bookstore, 305 Brunswick Street, Fitzroy; http://germainmcmicking.com/; http://hoaxville.com/

accord with air: tjentiste, kusum normoyle

Kusum Normoyle, Accord with Air, Accord with Air: Tjentiste (2011-2012)

Kusum Normoyle, Accord with Air, Accord with Air: Tjentiste (2011-2012)

Kusum Normoyle, Accord with Air, Accord with Air: Tjentiste (2011-2012)

In an interview earlier this year for RT Studio Kusum Normoyle discussed ideas for the use of her performance documentation: “at the moment I feel like the presentation of documentation of the work is not really enough as an active or political act in the gallery, for example, and I’m becoming interested in exploring that space in perhaps a synthetic or theatrical way. Making adjustments to the video through effects or through layers that moderate the environment and turn it into a different place. Maybe make a building sing, or trying to unpack what sort of possible energetic things are going on in the environment. Maybe the building can sing, maybe it can vibrate—it is not as it seems.”

Her exhibition, Accord with Air: Tjentiste (2011-2012) coming up at Peloton exemplifies this development in her work as Normoyle explores her sonic and spatial relationship with the astounding Spomenik of Tjentiste, one of a number of imposing monuments erected across the former Yugoslavia commissioned by Tito to commemorate battles during World War II. Kusum visted the isolated site in 2011 and conducted one of her “screaming in the everyday” performances alone with the monument. She then manipulated the footage to enhance the audio and visual synergy of the space and the moment to vivifying effect.
Peloton, Kusum Normoyle, Accord with Air: Tjentiste (2011-2012), November 8-Dec 1; http://peloton.net.au/e/accord-with-air–tjentiste

liverpool biennale 2012: uninvited guest, fact liverpool, uk

Jemima Wyman, Collective Coverings, Communal Skin, Uninvited Guests, FACT

Jemima Wyman, Collective Coverings, Communal Skin, Uninvited Guests, FACT

Jemima Wyman, Collective Coverings, Communal Skin, Uninvited Guests, FACT

There’s still time for those in the UK to catch the 2012 Liverpool Biennale. Its theme “the uninvited guest” explores the idea of hospitality in a world where technology, immigration, violence and war are forcing “cultures of hospitality [to] confront one another as never before” (website). The Biennale involves over 60 artists across 19 venues including FACT, where Australian artist Jemima Wyman has been working (featured in our 2009 Induce coverage in Cairns). Wyman has been conducting workshops with local participants to create objects made from woven strips of camouflage fabric recycled from military and hunting wear which then redecorate the FACT atrium. Wyman says she is exploring the political power of the pattern, taking something that symbolises conflict and reconfiguring it to become soft and comforting. Through the communal nature of the construction process she is also exploring “role of fabric as social camouflage… a communal skin” (website).

Also at FACT are a series of works by Akram Zaatari (featured in dLux Media Arts D>art06, see interview). Zaatari often utilises found material such as his series of photographs of body builders which he has reproduced from damaged negatives taken by Lebanese photographer Hashem el Madani in 1948, the resulting images depicting both virility and decay. The centrepiece is Dance to the End of Love (2011), a four-screen collage of seemingly banal YouTube clips uploaded by people from Egypt, Yemen, Libya, Saudi-Arabia and Oman on the eve of the Arab Uprising. Together the fragments illustrate what we are told is a “symphony in five movements about the loneliness of the oppressed, about hundreds of thousands crushed and forgotten in their home countries, who choose to use their computer screens as sites to live out their collective, heroic dreams” (website).
Liverpool Biennale 2012, Uninvited Guest, Fact Liverpool, UK, Sept 15-Nov 25; http://www.fact.co.uk/projects/liverpool-biennial-2012-the-unexpected-guest/

things we’d like to see: rain room

RT managing editor Virginia Baxter spied this little gem. Random International’s Rain Room at the Barbican is a 100 square meter installation of falling water responsive to visitor movement—basically it stops raining around you—for a brief moment you control the weather; you are a god. For those in the UK go and have a play for us.
Random International: Rain Room Oct 4 – March 3, 2013, The Curve, The Barbicon, London UK; http://www.barbican.org.uk/artgallery/event-detail.asp?ID=13723

RealTime issue #111 Oct-Nov 2012 pg. web

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

Robyn Archer, Creative Director of the Centenary of Canberra 2013, talks with Keith Gallasch about the year long celebrations. There is a strong Indigenous focus with highlights including Blak by Bangarra with Stephen Page and Daniel Riley McKinley; Hit The Floor Together by QL2 also featuring McKinley; the massive collaborative project Kungkarangkalpa: the Seven Sisters Songline under the artistic direction of Wesley Enoch; and a new work by Big hART, Hip Bones Sticking Out. Other highlights include Monument by Garry Stewart in collaboration with the Australian Ballet; a new commission by Patricia Piccinini to make a giant hot air balloon; and a retrospective of the experimental performance group Splinters and more. www.canberra100.com.au/

RealTime issue #111 Oct-Nov 2012

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

Deanne Butterworth, Twinships

Deanne Butterworth, Twinships

Deanne Butterworth, Twinships

twinships, deanne butterworth

Testament to West Space Gallery’s innovative programming is the inclusion of choreographer Deanne Butterworth’s Twinships, an installation and dance performance in collaboration with sound designer Michael Munson and lighting designer Rose Connors Dance. The work originally evolved during Butterworth’s Housemates residency at Dancehouse in 2011 where in order to augment her solo explorations she would invite people into her workspace for what she called Group:Meetings. From this grew an interest in the creation of a “twinning” of worlds, primarily the sonic and the physical. The original 45-minute performance has been reconfigured to operate as a sound, light and video installation during gallery hours with the full performance presented on Thursday and Friday evenings. The trio impressed with their work Dual Repérage in Threes presented during Dance Massive 2011 and Twinships looks to be a similarly meticulous and immersive exploration. See the review in RealTime 112.
Twinships, Deanne Butterworth, Michael Munson, Rose Connors Dance, West Space, Melbourne, installation Oct 19-Nov 10, performances October 25-26, November 1-2, November 8-9, bookings@deannebutterworth.com? www.deannebutterworth.com; http://westspace.org.au/

winner, mish grigor, firstdraft

Firstdraft Gallery is also offering some adventurous performance programming with Mish Grigor’s Winner. A playful critique of the culture of art prizes and a comment on the overwhelming number of TV talent shows, Winner asks five artists to pitch for a $1,000 prize in front of a live audience. The artists will not be able to use any visual aids and thus must convince the audience and judges through the power of words alone. A few days following the judges will publicly present their thoughts on the performances nominating three shortlisted artists who will have to expand on their original pitch. In true drawn out TV style, eventually the winner will be decided upon and awarded the cash prize. The five artist/contestants are Bonita Bub, Bonnie Cairncross, Emily Hunt, Hannah Furmage, Lucy Hall, Michaela Gleave, Nick Briggs and Peter Nelson with the judging panel comprising Mark Feary (Artspace), Sebastion Goldspink (Alaska) and Susan Gibb (Society).
Winner, Mish Grigor, Firstdraft, Sydney, Oct 24, 26-28; http://firstdraftgallery.com/

take up thy bed & walk, gaelle mellis

Kyra Kimpton, Jo Dunbar, Michelle Ryan and Emma J Hawkins, Take Up Thy Bed and Walk, Gaelle Mellis

Kyra Kimpton, Jo Dunbar, Michelle Ryan and Emma J Hawkins, Take Up Thy Bed and Walk, Gaelle Mellis

Kyra Kimpton, Jo Dunbar, Michelle Ryan and Emma J Hawkins, Take Up Thy Bed and Walk, Gaelle Mellis

Australia Council Creative Fellow Gaelle Mellis is about to present her major project, Take Up Thy Bed and Walk, at Vitalstatistix in Port Adelaide. Mellis, who has a disability herself, has been a long time advocate for access and inclusion for people with disabilities and is perhaps best known for her work with Restless Dance Theatre. The new work is based on a book by Lois Keith titled Take Up Thy Bed and Walk: Death, Disability and Cure in Classic Fiction for Girls exploring the representation of women and disability in literature. Mellis says, “We all remember reading books like Heidi and Seven Little Australians, but what we may not remember is this literature’s obsession with the disabled body. Disability, female transgression and punishment were portrayed side by side. Unlike views about women, society’s understanding of disability has not changed greatly since these Victorian novels were penned” (press release). The work also includes reference to the Punk/New Wave icon Ian Drury (disabled after contracting polio as a child) and his song Spasticus Autisticus written in defiant response to the 1981 International Year of Disabled Persons and subsequently banned by the BBC. Mellis has gathered an impressive team to realise the work including Ingrid Voorendt as co-director (from Ladykillers of which Mellis was founding member), Hilary Bell as writer and performed by Jo Dunbar, Emma J Hawkins, Kyra Kimpton, Michelle Ryan and Gerry Shearim. Mellis aims to build accessible features such as Auslan sign language and audio description into the fabric of the work. See the review in RealTime 112.
Take Up Thy Bed and Walk, Gaelle Mellis, Vitalstatistix, Port Adelaide, Oct 24-Nov 10; http://www.vitalstatistixtheatrecompany.blogspot.com.au/

pica – first amongst equals (part ii)

Elizabeth McAlpine, Black Noise (detail) 2006, Installation view, First Amongst Equals (Part I), Gertrude Contemporary 2012

Elizabeth McAlpine, Black Noise (detail) 2006, Installation view, First Amongst Equals (Part I), Gertrude Contemporary 2012

Elizabeth McAlpine, Black Noise (detail) 2006, Installation view, First Amongst Equals (Part I), Gertrude Contemporary 2012

Curated by Leigh Robb, First Among Equals is an exhibition with two iterations, the first in August at Gertrude Contemporary in Melbourne and the second at the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts. It focuses on film, kinetics, colour, sound and time and features work made from 1936 to 2012. Playing with the concept of a group show, the exhibition is built around several pieces by UK artist Elizabeth McAlpine. Her website reveals that McAlpine’s practice spans film, photography and installation and the most impressive of her work involves neatly formal installations using Super 8 film projectors in which both projected image and projector-and-film-loop become a sculptural whole. At PICA she will be presenting a range of pieces including a two projector installation, a gramophone cast in plaster, a series of pinhole camera images and her collection of postcards of Big Ben—McAlpine seeking one card which displays every minute of the 12-hour clock. Her works are complemented by those from Christian Marclay who explores sound particularly in relation to records and phonography as well as moving image and time recently evidenced in his epic The Clock presented for the re-opening of the MCA in Sydney.

Similarly clear is the connection between McAlpine’s work and that of New Zealand artist Len Lye, one of the pioneers in scratch cinema involving direct manipulations of film (see RT92). The exhibition will also feature pieces by Australian artist Rebecca Bauman who explores kinetics and colour, and US artist Paul Pfieffer who works with video and the manipulation of media and found footage. The artworks are paired within the gallery space to create what the press release describes as “kaleidoscopic duets of colour, light, movement and sound.” McAlpine will also be collaborating with Perth architect Ariane Palassis to create an outdoor pavilion-for-one.
First Amongst Equals (Part II) curator Leigh Robb, PICA, November 3-Dec 30, http://www.pica.org.au

swedish for argument, uts gallery

Guy Ben-Ner, Stealing Beauty, 2007

Guy Ben-Ner, Stealing Beauty, 2007

Guy Ben-Ner, Stealing Beauty, 2007

At some stage, just about everyone has been pushed to near nervous breakdown during the construction of a flat-packed blond wood item using an Allen key. Personally, I can barely walk around IKEA without hyperventilating in anticipation of the stressful outcome. The latest exhibition at UTS Gallery, curated by Holly Williams, explores the IKEA phenomenon—its ubiquity (the press release says that 10% of current European children have been conceived on an IKEA bed), its models of production and its effect on global consumption. The exhibition features performance, video and installation with highlights including Guy Ben-Ner’s Stealing Beauty filmed without permission in an IKEA store where his family re-enact everyday home life (viewable on YouTube). In a performance for video, Tony Schwensen will compare Sweden’s historical dominance of Scandinavia with IKEA’s global retail share as the history of the company is read out loud simultaneously in Danish, Swedish and Norwegian and the artist attempts to construct an IKEA wardrobe without instructions. Also using performative video, Jess Olivieri with the Parachutes for Ladies will explore the choreography of moving through and against the flow of an IKEA store. Meanwhile Emma White has created reconfigurations of the iconic trademarked Allen key and Gary Carsley will redesign flat-pack furniture as an immersive installation. An artist talk and publication accompany the exhibition and there’s an IKEA Recovery Workshop to help us come to terms with anger-management issues,
Swedish for Argument, curator Holly Williams, UTS Gallery, Sydney, Oct 23-Nov 23; http://www.utsgallery.uts.edu.au/gallery/upcoming/swedishforargument.html

RealTime issue #111 Oct-Nov 2012 pg. web

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

spaced: art out of place 2013-15, iaska

Julia Davis, Headspace, spaced 2012

Julia Davis, Headspace, spaced 2012

Julia Davis, Headspace, spaced 2012

In February this year Fremantle Arts Centre hosted the inaugural IASKA spaced exhibition which showcased the results of 21 artist residencies in a range of communities in Western Australia. Response was enthusiastic with Sarah Miller writing in RT108, “The desire to foreground the experiences of not only the artists but also community members led to a rich and complex, often paradoxical and occasionally confronting, series of artworks, conversations and engagements that will surely resonate long after the individual projects have ended.”

The producing body IASKA is now calling for expressions of interest in the 2013-15 program. The curatorial focus for the second iteration is collective memory, considered here to be “the source of competing narratives through which we create new visions of our communal present and future” (press release). IASKA is seeking proposals from visual and media artists interested in creating works in negotiation and consultation with a WA regional community over the course of an 8-12 week residency. Communities include Geraldton, Derby, Mandurah, Kalgoorlie, Esperance and Albany and artists are also encouraged to suggest other options. Works will be exhibited in their original location and also in a final group exhibition in 2015, once again at the Fremantle Arts Centre. The exhibition will also tour 2015-17. Australian and international artists are encouraged to apply and successful applicants will receive artist fees, travel and production expenses.
Spaced: art out of place, IASKA, expressions of interest due Oct 29; http://www.iaska.com.au/

punctum: in-habit & seedpod

Punctum’s In-Habit offers Victorian artists travel and accommodation costs to undertake a residency in a regional area in an overseas country. Artists can organise their own host but Punctum has already established some very interesting relationships with international organisations such as Fontevraud Abbey, located in the Loire Valley, France which concentrates on animation, or Noirlac Abbey 40kms from Bourge which offers an arts research program around “pluridisciplinary” practices involving music, sonic arts and installation art. Also in France is Ambronay Abbey which focuses on “multi-disciplinary meetings between intellectuals and performing artists around its theme of ‘music and the sacred’” (website). Then there is Casa das Caldeiras in the Western Zone of Sao Paulo, Brazil, an art centre housed in a converted power generator offering residencies for artists whose practice concentrates on social and civic interaction. Finally there is the Mexican residency at the Centro Mexicano para la Música y Artes Sonoras in Morelia, “an avant-garde centre for music and technology unique in Latin-America” (website).

While In-Habit is only open to Victorian artists, Punctum also offers inhouse residencies at their headquarters in Castlemaine and the Old Fire Station in Bendigo, open to artists from all states. Through their Seedpod program they are currently calling for proposals from artists interested in being in residence to create live art, performance and installation works that “engage meaningfully with the environment, communities, culture, and audiences in which our incubator spaces are situated” (website). Artists receive workspace and a contribution to fees and production.
Both In-Habit and Seedpod applications are due Jan 18 2013; for more information see http://www.punctum.com.au

isea 2013, call for conference participation

The 2013 International Symposium on Electronic Art, now under the directorship of Jonathan Parsons (after Marcus Westbury recently stepped aside) is up to its final planning stages calling for participation in the conference program. The overall theme of the event, Resistance is Futile, is a comment on the ubiquity of digital technology in the world today, looking at the role of digital art in this normalization process. There’s also a range of subthemes including Resistance is fertile, Converging and diverging realities, Life…but not as we know it and Histories and Futures of Electronic Art. Artists and academics are invited to submit proposals for presentations in a range of formats from onsite discussion, online interactions, round-table debates and provocation sessions with a strong emphasis on thinking differently about the modes to presentation to ensure they are “engaging and dynamic” (oft repeated on the website). There will be no nodding off at this symposium!
Applications close Nov 16; for more information http://www.isea2013.org/conference

melbourne filmmaking summer school

Melbourne Filmmaking Summer School

Melbourne Filmmaking Summer School

Each year for the last 19, Screen Studies at the University of Melbourne has offered an intensive summer school through their public engagement program and registrations are now open for the 2013 installment. With a strong practical component the course offers tuition in screenwriting, cinematography, directing actors, production and sound design, editing, digital effects, film music, screen language and documentary filmmaking. You can choose from a range of day sessions run by leading practitioners, undertake an introductory intensive (13 days) or the full Script to Screen course (19 days). There’s also a Cinematography Intensive that can be taken separately or as part of the Script to Screen course and taught by Ellery Ryan who has worked on films such as Angel Baby and Dead Letter Office. There are also screenwriting days such as Writing Short Films, Adaptation for the Screen and Writing for Television and a two-day Documentary making intensive.
Melbourne Filmmaking Summer School, Jan 7-Feb 1, Trinity College, Melbourne University, enquiries summerfilmschool@me.com http://www.summerfilmschool.com/

sidney myer performing arts award

Nominations are now open for the Sidney Myer Performing Arts Awards which aim to recognise outstanding achievement and ongoing contribution by individuals and companies in the areas of dance, drama, comedy, music, opera, circus and puppetry. The Individual Award is $50,000, The Group Award $80,000, while The Facilitator’s Prize, shining a little light on the often neglected enablers, is $20,000. The awards are decided by a judging panel based on nominations which can now be made online here. Deadline for nominations is Nov 9; http://www.myerfoundation.org.au

RealTime issue #111 Oct-Nov 2012 pg. web

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

Edward Bennett, Leanne Rowe, Lovesong, Frantic Assembly

Edward Bennett, Leanne Rowe, Lovesong, Frantic Assembly

Edward Bennett, Leanne Rowe, Lovesong, Frantic Assembly

FOLLOWING ITS SUCCESSFUL DEBUT IN 2011, PAUSEFEST RETURNS TO MELBOURNE IN NOVEMBER AND THIS YEAR (PRESUMABLY EVERY YEAR?) IT’S ALL ABOUT THE FUTURE. PAUSEFEST IS THE BRAINCHILD OF GEORGE HEDON WHO AIMS TO SHOWCASE THE HIGH-END OF THE DIGITAL CREATIVE INDUSTRIES AS WELL AS INTRODUCING SOME OF OUR LOCAL GEEK GENIUSES (OR GENII).

For industry the centrepiece of the festival is the one-day professional development opportunity, PauseStage, which will bring together some of the leaders in commercial digital culture such as Rick Chen co-founder of Pozible, Jeremy Boxer from Vimeo and a range of speakers from cutting edge special effects production companies. There’s also a workshop series, PausePlayground, which looks particularly impressive, offering sessions in areas such as location-based tracking systems with Francesco Anselmo from ARUP and Aaron Tan from the University of Melbourne; and an insight into open frameworks and Kinect technology with Pierre Proske presented by Media Lab Melbourne. The PauseView sessions offer insights into some interesting interactive projects in development.

Maelstrom from Future Shorts

Maelstrom from Future Shorts

For those who are not so up with their C++ coding, there are 14 screening sessions featuring digital treats such as Forget The Film, Watch Titles 2005-10, a retrospective of film and TV titles; Best Animated Ads; PauseED, a showcase of student and graduate work; and Future Shorts, the best of future themed short films from 2012. There will also a be a special screening and Q&A session of Lovesong, a theatre work created by UK company Frantic Assembly and written by Abi Morgan, whose film and television credits include The Iron Lady, Shame and Birdsong and The Hour. The production explores a couple’s relationship at both the beginning and end of their lives together and is said to be a “visual and emotional feast” (press release). The filmed production is presented by Digital Theatre, the UK production house working in collaboration with a range of high profile British theatre companies and venues to make documentation of live works available online via streaming and downloading. (See our recent coverage of Random Dance’s iTunes download of Entity).

There’ll also be activities in Federation Square including an evening of DJs, interactive installations and a free screening of the Rest of Fest program, while MPULab’s Snake the Planet, an interactive street game (reviewed as part of the DorkBot Exhibition at Serial Space) will be roving around Melbourne’s CBD.

GIVEAWAY

Courtesy of PauseFest RealTime has:

2 x double passes to
Future Shorts (screening)

Fri Nov 9 9pm
ACMI – Cinema 1, Melbourne

2 x double passes to
Lovesong by Digital Theatre (screening)

Sun 11 Nov 11, 7pm
State Library of Victoria, Melbourne

Email onlinegiveaways@realtimearts.net with your name, address and contact number. Please indicate which screening you’d prefer.
Note this event is in Melbourne.

Pause Fest, various venues Melbourne, November 8-11; www.pausefest.com.au

RealTime issue #111 Oct-Nov 2012 pg. web

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

The Trouble with Asian Men

The Trouble with Asian Men

The Trouble with Asian Men

ONE OF THE GREAT CULTURAL INNOVATIONS IN RECENT YEARS IN SYDNEY HAS BEEN THE ESTABLISHMENT OF PARRAMASALA, A FESTIVAL OF SOUTH ASIAN CULTURE LOCATED IN PARRAMATTA IN SYDNEY’S WEST, FEATURING TRADITIONAL AND CONTEMPORARY MUSIC, DANCE, FILM AND THEATRE AND HYBRIDS OF THESE. FOOD AND RITUAL HAVE ALSO PLAYED A MARKED ROLE IN THE FESTIVAL’S GENERATION OF A SENSE OF OCCASION.

Parramasala is aimed not just at the South Asian population of the Western Sydney region—for whom it has become a significant event—but at a broad audience curious to engage with the art and cuisine of South Asia—the rich heritage of their suburban neighbours. Nor do the programmed works emanate only from India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka; they also come from wherever the South Asian diaspora has established itself around the world, including Australia.

It’s the third and final Parramasala for the festival’s first artistic director and CEO Philip Rolfe. The indefatigable Rolfe has long played a significant role in promoting Australian art internationally and bringing key works to Australia. He was Deputy Director of Arts and Entertainment for the Australian Bicentennial Authority’s national and international performing arts programs 1985-89. As an employee of the Australia Council for the Arts, 1989-2000, he developed its Audience and Market Development wing, set up and directed the Australian Performing Arts Market for six years, and established Hybrid Arts funding and later the New Media Arts Board. He was subsequently Executive Director and Associate Producer at Sydney Opera House 2000-2009, presenting and producing a wide-ranging innovative program including Brian Eno’s Luminous, the first Vivid music and light festival in 2009. Taking on the challenges of Parramasala is Rolfe’s latest contribution to expanding Australian consciousness of the cultural riches available to us from beyond and within, in this case, as he says, to “make something that [is] rigorous at looking at the global influence of South-Asian arts and cultures wherever they might have impact.”

I spoke with Rolfe about the components of his 2012 Parramasala program, commencing with a cluster of plays with overlapping themes and concerns.

One of the directors of the UK’s Tamasha Theatre Company, Kristine Landon-Smith has recently been appointed to NIDA as a lecturer in acting. How did you come in contact with her company?

I’ve seen some of their work in the past in England and they registered as one of an interesting bunch of theatre companies that were quite distinctive. I talked to Kristine years ago when she visited Sydney soon after Tamasha was set up. Strangely, the first piece they ever made was developed in Wollongong. I always remember it. It ended up being titled Strictly Dandia—Dandia is a Gujarati dance thing. Kristine is an Australian—she’s lived in England for 25 years or so—and she made the show with input from the Gujarati community which is the biggest Indian community in and around Wollongong. That piece which, I guess in those days had a connection to the Strictly Ballroom phenomenon, proved to be quite a success in England. It’s a big-scale, popular piece of theatre—not West End, but who knows, at some point it could well have made it into that scene. It toured regionally in England and it’s still in Tamasha’s repertoire. We reconnected a couple of years ago when I started to do Parramasala. And Kristine and I talked about doing something else—a verbatim piece called The Trouble with Asian Men.

It’s a small play and we wanted to find a nice venue for it. We’re turning the Jubilee Hall, the ancillary hall in Parramatta Town Hall, into a 100-seater. We’ll have The Trouble with Asian Men and Ansuya Nathan’s Long Live the King showing there back to back through the festival. They’re small works but really potent. The Trouble with Asian Men is very funny but it’s also got a lot of content, it’s not just poking fun at tradition.

Is it about traditional attitudes and contemporary masculinity?

Absolutely. It’s light and enjoyable, accessible. I wanted this year to have theatre again. Last year we had Curious Works [communities telling their own stories in inventive formats. EDS, see article], a very different experience. I wanted to bring theatre back in as a way of showing what you can do in a festival, the sorts of things that can work in short runs.

Is The Trouble with Asian Men focused on Asian masculinity in the UK?

There are two key people in it from the original cast coming from England and then there’s a third local person who joins as a guest for each performance. We’ve done a lot of research in and around Parramatta. (Actor-writer) Drew Fairley got involved and he and (Sri Lankan-born actor) Monroe Reimers did a whole lot of interviews under Kristine’s direction. So it’s been re-situated in an Australian context (combining) the English content along with some terrific local references.

Long Live the King is by Ansuya Nathan who I see is a NIDA graduate.
Ansuya Nathan, Long Live the King

Ansuya Nathan, Long Live the King

Ansuya Nathan, Long Live the King

She is a superb actor. She’s written and worked on it and it’s a piece that she completed with Guy Masterton who is one of the regulars in the Edinburgh Fringe. He’s an entrepreneurial director and has a whole string of productions, mostly English—but this is a very distinctly Australian piece. It’s done well in a bunch of contexts and it deserves putting on and it fits well with Trouble with Asian Men.

It’s about an Indian family who migrate and arrive in Adelaide on the day that Elvis dies. It’s a sort of parody I suppose but based on some autobiographical detail. They happen to be huge Elvis fans. So there’s this apparent contradiction of a traditional looking Indian family having that kind of obsession and what results from it. Again, it’s a very humorous piece but potent and it shows things about cultural identity or how it can be misunderstood. It’s about the juxtaposition between an Australian perception of what Indian culture is and what it’s really like, particularly if you go to India now.

I remember, the last time I was in India, in the middle of Rajasthan with this host who looked after me, taking me to his home for dinner with his family. A beautiful dinner was cooked and on this massive wide screen TV we watched Indian Idol. And this guy, Kuldeep Kothari, who has become quite a good friend runs a fantastic foundation, which is about restoring Rajasthani cultures and promoting them to the world. But on this night he was having a great time with his kids. There are those sorts of humanising things in Long Live the King. Ansuya Nathan is a standout solo performer, playing all the parts.

You also have Krishnan’s Dairy by the Indian Ink theatre company from New Zealand, who have been here before.
Krishnan's Dairy, Indian Ink theatre

Krishnan’s Dairy, Indian Ink theatre

Krishnan’s Dairy, Indian Ink theatre

Yes, they came in the first year of Parramasala with the premiere of a new play they’d just completed called The Guru of Chai. They’re a really good theatre company, hugely consistent. They’ve stuck to their guns over the years in not being enticed into other worlds but concentrating on a terrific form of storytelling. And they’re masterful at that. They work and work on their scripts to get them into superb shape. A lot of it revolves around the co-founder Jacob Rajan, whose heritage is Keralan but that’s a couple of generations ago. Excuse me, Jacob, if I misrepresent you, but my understanding in talking to him is that he doesn’t feel a huge connection with that identity but he’s beginning to rediscover it, I think, as people tend to do. Nitin Sawney was very similar—brought up in England, looking Indian and people expecting him to be a tabla player or something. He had no experience of India really until his 20s. So there is that sense of rediscovery that Jacob’s now getting into as well.

Krishnan’s Dairy is Indian Ink’s first ever play. It was made many years ago and it’s a piece that’s been seen in Sydney—in Penrith I think, for like a week and that’s it. I like this company a lot and last time we presented them they sold out. There’s a great rapport with their audience. The Sydney Indians were amazed and had a fantastic time at Guru of Chai, which is a beautiful, original piece about a kind of semi-mystic who lives on a railway station in Bangalore—a chai-seller who is full of philosophy and stories. Jacob has a great capacity to be 20 different characters within an hour, flipping back and forth. It’s traditional but I love that—when you see something where form is not the issue, it’s how he does it.

I read that the play juxtaposes a dairy with the Taj Mahal.

A dairy is a New Zealand term for a milk bar. The basis of the play is Indian migration into New Zealand—two people who start up a dairy business and are on their way to prosperity. What I like is that within the theatre program we’ve got three different forms and styles, really good quality, simple. If you’re going to do theatre in a festival in Parramatta, you’ve got to keep it simple. I’m not talking ‘simplistic’ by any means, but simple in terms of production. There are only so many venues and you can’t afford four-day set-ups—it doesn’t work. You’ve got to take care and pay attention in making it all happen.

This is your last Parramasala. What is its relationship with the community? Has the festival achieved some of the aims you hoped?

Well, Parramasala began at a time when there had been the student attacks in Melbourne mostly and there’d been some civil unrest in Western Sydney, particularly around Harris Park. There had been some big clashes between people from the Lebanese and Indian communities that had somehow been fuelled by racist behaviour. Ways of dealing with stuff like that (were being considered). I think in the Council’s perception, having a festival that reflected
on Indian culture was one possible tactic to help bring a community a little more together. But that wasn’t the overriding reason behind it.

Parramasala is set up as a festival reflecting on South-Asian arts, not just Indian because there are other communities developing out there—Sri Lankan, Bangladeshi and Pakastani. But there are lots of common themes. From my perspective it was seen as a way to do something unique—there isn’t anything quite like it in Australia. If you’re going to set up something like this and you want people to come, don’t just serve up what they can already get elsewhere. But it was never conceived as a community-based festival, you know, ‘by the community for the community.’ I think there were people who had their feathers ruffled by that approach, that it was going to be arts-specific and it was not going to just include people out in Western Sydney who felt it was about them.

But by and large, there are a lot of people who feel warmly towards it. That was my take on what to do—to actually make something that was rigorous at looking at the global influence of South-Asian arts and cultures wherever they might have impact. They can be in England, in Germany, in the US. Over time, we’ve had lots of artists and productions that have come from all around the world to the festival. I think that should continue. There’s a sense for me and, I hope, for South-Asian people in Western Sydney that it’s a really powerful thing, that cultures from their homeland have had impact all over the world.

You also have a film program, curated by Ravi Kambhoj, Is it well attended?

Yes. We did it for the first time last year and I think it will continue. There was a lot of pressure to do Bollywood movies, and we are screening one titled Sholay, a 1970s Bollywood blockbuster. We’re doing that outdoor one night. It’ll be great fun, a good night out. But the film program is made up of contemporary films from South-Asian filmmakers with one exception, which is a piece called Sunshine & Shade, a new documentary made in Sydney by a fantastic young filmmaker Ani Tiwary. She’s lived in America and made films there. She’s worked in the Bollywood industry in Mumbai. She’s a filmmaker-producer and she’s made this great documentary, which she’s been working on for three years. It’s about the trials and difficulties—and some good things—experienced by Indian students in Australia. That’s our premiere on the first night. It’s a great little piece, not all doom and gloom. It’s character driven and it follows the history of two students in particular, what they went through and where they are now. It’s a beaut piece!

And the music program?

I’ve always wanted a non-South-Asian audience to experience absolutely beautiful examples of classical work—at least one or two in a festival. So you can promote those to people who have not experienced them before. And I think that’s a really good thing to do. A festival like this can attract lots of people who wouldn’t ordinarily get involved in seeing Indian or South-Asian work, classical work particularly. But if you put it in the right context, I think you can promote it successfully.

In India, Hari Prasad Chaurasia is a household name. He’s as well known or better known than Ravi Shankar. He is of the highest level, a Pandit, the master of his form. He’s got 50-60 year’s experience as a performer. He worked with the Beatles, all the stuff that Ravi Shankar did. He’s a master of the bansuri, the classical Indian flute. We’re bringing him and his ensemble here and I think it will be one of those experiences. It’s full of wonderful, beautiful music. To do that in every festival, to have one or two examples of that kind of work, is critical.

We have a big Pakistani qawwali group, Asif Ali Khan and a nine-person ensemble from Lahore in Pakistan. They’ll do one free outdoor performance. To see not just small versions of qawwali but the full-on performance with the wonderful vocals and the music from those guys is gonna blow people away. Everyone knows the late Nusrat Fata Ali Khan from the world music circuit. Asif Ali Khan is his replacement in many ways. He learned with him. He’s up there as a contemporary qawwali master.

Soumik Datta, Bernhard Schimpelsberger

Soumik Datta, Bernhard Schimpelsberger

Soumik Datta, Bernhard Schimpelsberger

Then there is crossover music, from Soumik Datta, an amazing sarod player. Nitin Sawney pointed to him as a person who should be seen. It’s contemporary Indian music, and he’s a graduate of the Royal College of London. He’s stunning and the percussionist with him, Bernard Schimpelsberger, is also unbelievably good.

Susheela Raman is a mega musician, but not that well known here. She was brought up in Western Sydney. and is another amazingly good performer, with a powerful voice and her band is superb. She went to high school in Strathfield. Her parents were immigrants to Australia but she moved on to Europe as soon as she got out of school, I think. She’s lived and worked there and has developed this whole career.

So after three years of Parramasala, are you happy with how it’s gone?

It’s been a good thing to do. I’ve enjoyed it. It’s been bloody hard work. I was asked to do this when I left the Opera House, to set up a festival in Parramatta. I was asked to develop the concept and then to make it work for the first three years. So I’ve had a go and I feel really good to pass it on to someone [yet to be named. Eds].

Is there anything about the Parramasala program we’ve left out?

Good food. Amazing food. And a licensed bar. The food this year is going to be stunning. All carefully selected—no bain maries full of old curries!

Parramasala, International Contemporary Arts Festival, Parramatta, November 8-11, http://www.parramasala.com

RealTime issue #111 Oct-Nov 2012 pg. web

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Jon Rose in Tibooburra

Jon Rose in Tibooburra

Jon Rose in Tibooburra

FROM SEPTEMBER 3 TO 18 JON ROSE (VIOLIN & FENCES) AND HOLLIS TAYLOR (VIOLIN) INVITED EXPERIMENTAL MUSICIANS AND ARTISTS LUCAS ABELA (GLASS), LAURA ALTMAN (CLARINET), DALE GORFINKEL (VIBRAPHONE, MODIFIED TRUMPET & MOTORS), SAM PETTIGREW (FENCES, GUITAR & OBJECTS), KEG DE SOUZA (VISUAL ARTIST), JOEL STERN (FOOT PUMPS & FEEDBACK) AND ME (TROMBONE) TO TOUR CORNER COUNTRY IN FAR NORTH-WESTERN NSW AS PART OF SOUND CIRCUS. PERFORMANCES AND WORKSHOPS WERE HELD AT WHITE CLIFFS, MUTAWINTJI NATIONAL PARK, BROKEN HILL, MILPARINKA, TIBOOBURRA, WARRI GATE AND CAMERON CORNER.

*

The nagging question that followed me around on this tour was whether our aesthetics would change as we took our niche practices with us way out west.

*

September 15. The last performance date of the tour, Cameron Corner, is a pub/motel/campground/restaurant/golf course straddling the borders of New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia. Population: six. By the time we get there we all seem comfortable with our wide brimmed hats, body odours, dirty hands and tinnies of XXXX.

On a patch of hard orange dirt next to the road to the pub, Jon sets up his Ball Project: a two-metre high inflatable ball, which produces electronic sound in response to its movement via wireless technology and a portable PA system. At its last outing in Tibooburra some sort of malfunction occurred. It no longer produces any sound. Joel hooks up his mini-synth to the PA and replicates what he imagines to be the sounds created by the accelerometers inside the ball, as the performers and the publican run at, kick, head-butt, carry in the air, throw and drive cars at it.

As the sun sets over the golf course and desert, the giant ball rolls across the landscape alone except for a dog which tries to herd it. Over more tinnies, the publican offers to buy it. He wants to mount it on a giant tee as an advertisement for the golf course.

*

September 14. At some point our joking mimicry of a stereotypical outback drawl has become an unconscious accent we slip in out of, how blue we swear depending on who we’re talking to. Someone else’s words in my mouth.

*

September 13. Jon has been playing in the outback for many, many years. I think for him this turning towards the interior of the continent is a deeply considered political question of adaptation and reconciliation. The slow evolution of his music and the means of its production is an historical trajectory upon which at this point in time we have joined him. During the short time in which we’ve been playing in the outback I don’t think we can effectively measure how our movement across space has affected our aesthetics.

Having scratched the surface, today we argued about how we would organise Sound Circus next time—grand plans of lengthy residencies in remote communities where we would have more time to engage with people and the environment are bandied about as if adequate funding and available dates are already a concrete reality. Perhaps the desire to put ourselves in this position again is a sign of our musics slowly turning 180 degrees to the point where finally our backs will face the ocean.

September 12. Milparinka is a ghost town. As far as I can tell, its only residents are the two volunteers who live there temporarily to keep the tourism and heritage flame burning, and a house full of kangaroo hunters, who I never see or hear.

As the sun sets Laura, Sam, Dale, Joel and Jon play on the steps of the courthouse—a well maintained sandstone building housing historic artefacts, which doubles as our sleeping quarters for the night. Their improvisation is of a particular standard genre of gentle sounds and almost polite durations that allow space for other performers to contribute in a meaningful way. The music continues on this path until a very sudden and vicious swarm of mosquitoes descends on us in clouds, driving us into the courthouse, slapping at ourselves.

The move inside ends the improvisation and a new performance begins. Lucas, Jon and Joel play a louder improvisation, in different parts of the building, using sound to explore the resonance of the spaces. The simple placement of various vibrating apparatuses in specific points in the building creates a temporary architecture within the permanent architecture of the courthouse. I have to walk around the space in order to hear the piece in its entirety. Perhaps the inability to hear the other ensemble members encourages each performer to engage more with the space in which they play. Much later that night, Sam and I explore this idea further by locking ourselves in two adjoining police cells at the back of the courthouse and, with the lights out and a thick sandstone wall between us, improvise a piece to no audience other than a pair of microphones.

*

Milparinka

Milparinka

Milparinka

September 11. Jon tells us we only have an hour for all seven of us to perform at Broken Hill Art Gallery because they have hired someone to work late to keep it open for us. We collectively discuss this, and decide that despite the time restrictions and the pressure to rush, we should let our performances develop organically. Throughout the tour we have been arguing about how best to respect an audience that is completely foreign to us and quite likely, in some instances, openly hostile. In particular, does a longer duration of performance test the patience of the audience, and, self-reflexively, does even questioning the patience of the audience instantly mean that we are not giving them the same respect that we would if they lived in a city? Jon says that no matter what, we’re here to entertain.

Line up: duos—Sam & Dale, Laura & Joel, Laura & Dale; trio—Joel, Sam, myself; solos—Joel, Lucas; installations—igloo with tape machines.

Despite the shorter durations, all the sets sound the way they would if we were performing at home, just truncated. Perhaps it is the safety and familiarity of a gallery setting that doesn’t challenge any aspect of our music.

At the end of Lucas’ blistering noise performance, the last of the night, an older lady at the back of the gallery exclaims “Ah, thank goodness!” This is followed by a formal question and answer session. The questions revolve around how our modified and self-invented instruments work.

*

September 9. The ball performance on the White Cliffs tennis court is cancelled due to high winds. Instead, a Radio National journalist asks if she can interview us. The interview turns into a discussion in which we press Jon to explain his intentions in inviting us to the outback with him. He wants to show us what excites him about playing in the outback, which he hopes will inspire us to regularly play there.

I ask Jon whether playing in the outback for all these years has changed the way he plays the violin. He says the violin is an inside instrument, which gets lost without four walls around it, so he began to change his playing technique—“effectively de-Europing himself,” I propose—to the point of abandoning playing the violin outside and focusing instead on playing fences and self-built instruments more suited to the conditions.

After the discussion Dale, Laura, Sam and I play a game of tennis. Even in the wind, Dale is very good.

*

September 8. Sam, Laura, Joel, Dale: a typical small-i improvised set in a dry creek bed. Quite restrained and delicate. The White Cliffs locals seem to like it. I am the first to clap when the performance ends. The local nurse—a large bearded man in an Akubra hat and Ganesh T-shirt—asks me how the hell I knew it was over. “They did that close eyes, open eyes, look up thing.” He tells me, “The silences were really a part of the music.”

*

September 7. We rehearse in White Cliffs community hall for our performance the next night as part of the Underground Arts Festival launch. We’re framed as a Sound Circus, “which makes us Sound Clowns” somebody jokes. Jon wants us to individually play 30-second interrupting segments of strange sounds during his and Hollis’ performance of folk tunes on the piano and singing saw. The general circus/vaudeville structure imposes duration on us which is antithetical to the way we usually play. (The next day, a couple of hours before our vaudeville act is to begin, Jon asks us if we want to back out. We collectively say yes.)

*

September 6. Over breakfast there are some concerns around how people are going to react to us. Sam wonders, “Are we here to entertain?” I say, “We’re not entertainers.” Lucas disagrees, he’s experimental and entertaining.

*

September 5. We arrive in White Cliffs in the middle of the night after driving through almost invisible cows and suicidal kangaroos down a narrow country road. We pull into the only pub in town, where we befriend a professional hunter, who sings the praises of vegetarianism, and the local tour guide whose deaf dog understands sign language.

*

Before we began the tour, I had a nagging question as to whether our aesthetics would change as we crossed the continent, taking our niche practices with us way out west.

Jon Rose and Hollis Taylor, Sound Circus, with Dale Gorfinkel, Lucas Abela, Keg de Souza, Joel Stern, Laura Altman, Rishin Singh, Sam Pettigrew, Hollis Taylor, Jon Rose, Corner Country NSW, Aug 24-Sept 17; http://www.jonroseweb.com/f_projects_sound_circus.html

See Jon Rose’s account of the Sound Circus over at the Australian Music Centre’s Resonate Magazine.

See RealTime’s archive highlight of the NOW now

This article first appeared in RT’s online e-dition Oct 23

RealTime issue #112 Dec-Jan 2012 pg. 42

© Rishin Singh; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

En Atendant, Rosas

En Atendant, Rosas

En Atendant, Rosas

THANKS TO THE 2012 BIENNALE OF SYDNEY AND CARRIAGEWORKS SYDNEY AUDIENCES WERE BLESSED WITH PERFORMANCES OF TWO MAJOR, INTERCONNECTED WORKS BY ONE OF THE GREAT CONTEMPORARY CHOREOGRAPHERS, ANNE TERESA DE KEERSMAEKER, IN COLLABORATION WITH THE DANCERS OF HER BELGIAN COMPANY ROSAS AND MUSICIANS. EN ATENDANT, PERFORMED FIRST IN SYDNEY, EVOKES THE TRANSITION FROM TWILIGHT TO NIGHT, WHILE CESENA EMERGES FROM NEAR DARKNESS TO SUNRISE.

en atendant

Across the forestage is a thin line of what appears to be soil. To the right is a simple bench. A flautist (Michael Schmid) crosses the line, stands before us, head down, silent. He sighs deeply. He breathes into his instrument, gradually forming slowly rising notes of increasing purity against a low chord which pulses with raw escalating intensity. Even though the apparent breathlessness of the performance is enabled by cyclic breathing, we sense the demands of duration and the multi-planed playing. Relief comes suddenly when Schmid stops playing and bends deeply forward. We catch our breath as one. István Matuz’s composition for flute, L(ÉLEK)ZEM, has taken us into a new space, oddly at once contemplative and anxiety-inducing. But even that is subject to transformation as the flautist leaves and a soprano arrives, sits on the bench and, to deep, breathy recorder accompaniment, sings En Atendant Souffrir (While waiting I must suffer) by the 14th century composer of the Ars subtilior style, Filippo de Caserta. The composition’s plangency, the sombre voice of the recorder and the crystalline clarity of the singing evoke the Middle Ages, as if we have been suspended between our own time (the contemporary work for flute) and the past, but connected by breath.

Dancers appear in small numbers, alone or in groups, half bending at the knee, sliding, slipping, leaning, moving unpredictably. They form a line but are unable to cross the stage as one, breaking into their own walks or dance fragments. One man travels the breadth of the stage with a semi-urgent walk, followed by another whose pacing is not quite the same. They reverse direction. Others lead and follow. The rhythm, sometimes quite complex, suggests at once courtly dance and everyday walking. The motif of leading (for Cesena as well as En Atendant) has been established, largely embodied in a bearded male dancer whose style is distinctively casual.

En Atendant, Rosas

En Atendant, Rosas

En Atendant, Rosas

En Atendant oscillates between sudden groupings, scatterings and brief, exquisite duos and solos—sometimes realised amidst the crowd in a dynamic theatre of simultaneity enhanced by the dancers’ apparently intuitive capacity to find or avoid each other in moments of great fluidity (De Keersmaeker describes her strategies for this in my report of her post-show talk).

As a group the dancers reach out, half-raising their arms, not quite suppliant but nonetheless as if collectively wishing for resolution, blessing, grace in a world of waiting, as expressed in the words of En Atendant: “While waiting, I must suffer grievous pain/ and languishing live, such is my fate/ for I cannot reach the fountain/ so many are the rivers that surround it.” Here there is “the hope for a goodly life” but “the true way cannot be found/ so troubled and sullied is the water.” In movements that range from simple to complex and demanding, both individual and collective, the dancing expresses meditative, sustained angular balances and passionate attempts to break through the barriers to purity. A male lead-and-follow duet intensifies with the men tensely resting heads and necks against each other as if wrestling with their frustration. One of them performs an enthralling, extended dance of apparently angry release, kicking at the line of earth as if it epitomises the obstruction “to the true way.” Individuals spin backwards or convulse on the floor. One man dances jauntily until he crosses the line, stops and stares at us. Bodies sink to the floor or fall back, then leap up with surprising ease. The line of earth is increasingly transgressed.

The dancers fall as one, piled as a mass; they rest and then slowly rise to form a momentary tableau, suspended between inertia and quest before surging into individual trajectories, only to merge again, to fall and rise. Again as a mass, they slowly form into a vast rotating circle which spirals inwards. Among the final moments, a male performer dances naked, moving in large circles, at times fluently, at others jerkily, amplifying the sense of individual vulnerability and pain at the core of collective anxiety.

For all its passion En Atendant is a highly formal work, framed by the complexly ordered expressions of belief in the beautiful Mediaeval music of ensemble Cour et Coeur, designer Michel Francois’ simple line of earth across the stage and the diminishing light from the stark bars hovering above, the stillness between passages of movement and music, the role of breathing (often to the point of near exhaustion) and de Keersmaeker’s insistent dance motifs that offer coherence and meaning, realised formally and informally and enhanced by the great attentiveness and responsiveness of the dancers to each other. The sheer otherness of the world that is realised by design, structure and juxtaposition is made all the more transcendent by the idiosyncratic choreography, not least in its unexpectedness—a language strange and wonderful. We waited with En Atendant’s performers in their epic struggle for a moment of grace and drank with them at its fountain. Or entered fearfully into the dark.

cesena

Cesena, Rosas

Cesena, Rosas

Cesena, Rosas

In near dark a naked man stands immediately before us. Echoing the strenuous opening instrumental movement of En Atendant his breathing gradually vocalises into a repeated long cry that becomes an animal growl alternating with whistling, wrenching his body up and down from the waist. He breaks from this act of endurance into walking and then running fast in large circles and then wildly and randomly. The rest of the performers appear from out of the utter upstage darkness, moving into the large chalky circle that dominates the floor, scuffing and skidding across it and then drawing back like a wave, in and out of the dark, like an emergent organism. Subsequently singers and dancers draw apart into their own realms, singing to the dancing, dancing to the singing, then merging in a kind of march, and scattering as a dancer again goes wild, flopping onto and breaking the circle. These eruptions are more recurrent and desperate than anything in En Atendant. The lead dancer stops, looks up, and down, reminding us of the seeking in that work, and of Cesena’s opening and the work of breathing. Two more dancers repeat the pattern.

As more light is discerned individual and group flights of movement ensue, interrupted by freezes and collapses, forward and backward pulsing, arms raised, bodies swaying and sudden kicks. Someone walks, then races across the floor. A woman writhes. Another replaces her. The bearded man dances on the line of the circle, lowering himself into it. Singers and dancers manipulate each other’s bodies, dancers conduct the singing, multiple pietas are formed. As in En Atendant there are sudden massings—bodies pulled together, slumping as one and then appearing to be dragged en masse by an invisible force accompanied by loud bangs and crashes. Both works suggest a degree of involuntarism in such moments—the mass reveries and hysterias of the Middle Ages perhaps, or a drive beyond individual will towards the light.

In other large groupings all the men come together to sing or the performers link hand to shoulder in fast/turn/slow lines involving leaning in, then back and skipping. Communal behaviour becomes more complex with the circle, regardless of its bruising, providing a centrifugal force. With the centrality of the circle established and the light brightening, a man and woman, then two men and then others dance vigorously if lyrically at its centre. Large doors at the back of stage slide open, light floods in and the performers circle and weave. What has the circle been but a human representation of the Sun, awaited, celebrated, enacted, sung and gloriously welcomed.

Cesena, Rosas

Cesena, Rosas

Cesena, Rosas

As in En Atendant, the weave of individual, groups and sounds in Cesena offers a fascinating reverie if, on the one hand, less coherent and more opaque (another viewing would help gauge the significance of a number of solo and small group moments) but, on the other, thematically and aesthetically richer in its merging of dancers and musicians.

As Alex Ferguson reported about Cesena from the Festival TransAmériques 2012, Montreal: “The greatest vocal challenges are left to the singers, and the most difficult movement solos are left to the dancers; but for the most part the bodies all sing and move—to very high standard. Walking, turning, rolling and singing with collective intent, the performers form a community of initiates with a holy mission: to awaken the sun—or its proxy, electric light. They succeed.” (RT110)

De Keersmaeker also pointed out that her collaborator Bjorn Schmelzer, director of the grandelevoix choral group, had chosen the pieces of music but without any thematic rigidity. Opposing the “holy boxing and sterilising” of music from the past, she said “our bodies are more contemporary than anything else. We visit this old music with our bodies and the grain of the voice gives it a completeness.” De Keersmaeker made the point that Schmelzer did not aim for polished performances, nor did she. “My approach to movement is architectural.” She saw herself as realising a “materialised energy…a natural and complex richness” rooted in informal movement.

So it is that the companies of dancers and singers merge into one, sometimes significantly blurring their roles and amplifying the sense of community. A few dancers, said de Keersmaeker, could not sing, but in the case of a Serbian dancer, the music connected with his cultural background. Matej Kejzar performed a fragment of a Serbian epic poem dealing with loss, an angrily delivered lament, sung with raw passion. On the other side of the stage the rest of the company gathered in a circle, accompanying him contrapuntally with melancholy serenity. For de Keersmaeker, the song recalls the grieving over the three-day massacre of the citizens of Cesena in northern Italy ordered by the Pope during the schism within the empire, and more recently the Serbian-Bosnian war.

Asked in the post-show talk if ‘community’ was significant in her work de Keersmaeker answered, “it’s beautiful and political…a community of people and [each] person in all their complexity.” She declared, “dance makes me love people. These works were made with these people.”

In Cesena, de Keersmaeker wanted “only the body,” operating inside and out of “that most complete of forms, the circle.” The result: dancers who sing and singers who dance, one community, celebrating light, the body—at once “most ancient and contemporary”—and “most individual of all, the voice.” For de Keersmaeker, the sharing of music and movement is central to Cesena, such that she and her performers created “simple movements while doing complex singing.”

Another motivation for the creation of Cesena’s sole focus on the body, said de Keersmaeker, was a response to “the technicalised world post-WWII,” not least the dominance by speed that came with it and the technologies that negate the body.

De Keersmaeker’s En Atendant and Cesena are now embedded deep in our bodies and psyches. She leaves us feeling we have danced the dance, and sung it, with Rosas, graindelavoix and Cour et Coeur. As de Keersmaeker says of music, “[It] frames my basic nature…[it provides] order in the highest degree of chaos,” so do En Atendant and Cesena offer metaphysical and existential succour as we struggle on and celebrate from day to day.

Keith Gallasch’s account of Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker’s artist talk can be found at here.

Carriageworks & the 18th Biennale of Sydney: Rosas, En Atendant, Sept 11, 12; Rosas and graindelvoix, Cesena, Sept 14. 15; Carriageworks, Sydney; artist talk, Sept 14

This article first appeared as part of RT’s online e-dition Oct 23

RealTime issue #112 Dec-Jan 2012 pg. 26-27

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Richard Pyros, On the Misconception of Oedipus

Richard Pyros, On the Misconception of Oedipus

Richard Pyros, On the Misconception of Oedipus

INCORPORATING TRIANGULATED DESIRE AND BOUNDARY TRANSGRESSION, FATAL SON-FATHER ANTAGONISM AND SEXUAL POSSESSION OF A BY TURNS IDEALISED OR DEMONISED MOTHER FIGURE, THE OEDIPAL DYNAMIC IS DEEPLY EMBEDDED IN WESTERN CIVILISATION.

Sigmund Freud marshalled this cultural preoccupation to reveal a particular historical manifestation of the Oedipal configuration: the bourgeois family of the late 19th and early 20th century. Even those of us unacquainted with the details of Freud’s notion of the Oedipus Complex will be familiar with its various incarnations in popular culture (Star Wars, Harry Potter and Psycho to name a few).

On the Misconception of Oedipus, a co-devised work from director Matthew Lutton, writer Tom Wright and designer Zoë Atkinson, is a 21st century post-Freudian ‘prequel’ to one of the best known narratives on this pervasive myth, Sophocles’ 5th century BC play Oedipus Rex. Whilst absorbing in its depiction of familial dysfunction, this new production struggles to present a story of predestination within a contemporary secular frame of chaos and choice.

The action takes place in three acts within the confines of a stark, windowless box. A reel-to-reel recorder in the corner bears impartial witness to the revelations that unfold, signalling the myth’s endless recording and reproduction in the modern age. Zoë Atkinson’s stage design embodies entrapment while evoking places where confessions are extracted: a therapist’s room, a tribunal or even an interrogation chamber.

The play opens to a preppily dressed Oedipus delivering an account of his carefree and loving childhood. Despite his clean-cut appearance and jovial reminiscences, there is a taut, unnerving energy to Richard Pyros’ portrayal of Oedipus, which soon gives way to raging sadism. As he recounts the warning of the oracle which predicts his coveting of his mother, we see his psychological fabric rip and his darkly aggressive urges surge forth.

Natasha Herbert, Richard Pyros, On the Misconception of Oedipus

Natasha Herbert, Richard Pyros, On the Misconception of Oedipus

Natasha Herbert, Richard Pyros, On the Misconception of Oedipus

The second act turns to the story of his parents, Jocasta and Laius, who deliver a series of overlapping monologues exploring their emotional vicissitudes and the eventual conception of Oedipus. Natasha Herbert as Jocasta delivers middle-class restraint in the face of having her child taken away from her. This very restraint makes it hard to connect to her grief or believe her desire for motherhood in the first instance. This lack of maternal feeling is, perhaps, a very deliberate directorial choice to highlight the propensity for ‘blame’ projected on the mother figure in any Oedipal dynamic.

Daniel Schlusser’s Laius starts out with beguiling charm—even as his wife derides his propensity for cross-dressing and penchant for masochistic role-playing—which disintegrates into a fearful, angry force that eventually derails him. Schlusser creates a perturbed, protean figure who lingers in the mind long after his character’s demise.

In Freud’s theory, Oedipus’ ‘crime’ is his incomplete separation from his mother (manifest in their unwitting sexual consummation) which leads to his subsequently impossible relationship with his father (manifest in his inadvertent murder). Fuelled by this unresolved tension, Oedipus’ murder of Laius onstage appears pre-programmed: he bursts into the room and simply beats his father to death. It is an act of deviant excess that is presented without narrative justification. This seems to suggest that if his fate is predetermined then all vagaries of plot will ultimately lead to the same outcome.

At the same time, Oedipus’ actions appear as an extreme realisation of narrative agency whereby he shatters fundamental social boundaries, which he epitomises by stripping his father of his trousers, smothering him with them and then smashing his father’s head through a wall. This scene has an arresting visceral quality of systematic violence that appears predestined yet also calculated. Perhaps this is an attempt by the co-devisors to reconcile the conflicting narratives likely in any modern retelling of the Oedipal myth, by merging fatalism with the contingency of pure choice.

Tom Wright’s stylised prose of the first two acts is elegant, absorbing and immaculate. The final third of the play moves into hyperrealism, the dialogue taking on a heightened everyday quality, which is initially amusing in its flirtatious banter, but soon feels flaccid compared to the previous acts. With some fine tuning, the flippant dialogue could be a chilling juxtaposition with the scene’s significance: the naturalism of the mother and son’s flirtatious post-coital exchange becomes an attempt to normalise a reviled situation; it acts as an agent of denial to ensure that we then normalise it too. This leads to the viewer’s potential collusion in the moral quandary, making it that much more disturbing.

On The Misconception of Oedipus is a compelling and thoughtful work only let down by the prosaic treatment of the final act, which lacks incisiveness and merely dissolves into the ordinary. This intelligent, discomforting and complex exploration of the Oedipal myth is thematically consistent with Matthew Lutton’s previous works which have often explored men struggling with their nihilistic dispositions.

Perth Theatre Company and Malthouse Theatre: On The Misconception of Oedipus, devisors Zoë Atkinson, Matthew Lutton, Tom Wright, text Tom Wright, director Matthew Lutton, performers Natasha Herbert, Richard Pyros, Daniel Schlusser, design Zoë Atkinson, lighting Paul Jackson, composition, sound design Kelly Ryall; State Theatre Centre WA, Perth, Sept 5-15

This article first appeared as part of RT’s online e-dition Oct 23

RealTime issue #112 Dec-Jan 2012 pg. 32

© Astrid Francis; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

John Cage in Paris, 1981

John Cage in Paris, 1981

John Cage in Paris, 1981

The music world has pretty much thrown a year-long party for John Cage’s centenary. In Australia we’ve already seen significant celebrations by Clocked Out with The Cage in Us festival at the Judith Wright Centre in Brisbane (see preview and review). In Adelaide, composer Stephen Whittington presented a day-long celebration which included an eight-hour performance of ASLSP (As Slow As Possible) played on the Elder Hall pipe organ (see article), while Perth-based ensemble Decibel has, on several occasions, undertaken the massive challenge of performing all Cage’s Variations (see realtime tv interview with Cat Hope).

Now a major Sydney celebration will feature acclaimed US ensemble Bang on a Can All-Stars and our own Ensemble Offspring (see realtime tv interview). Presented by the Sydney Opera House as part of their Composer series (the first earlier in the year featuring Steve Reich), the mini-festival runs over two days, exploring Cage’s work and his legacy in four concerts and a lecture.

Bang on a Can All-Stars

Bang on a Can All-Stars

Bang on a Can All-Stars

The festival begins with John Cage and his American Descendants performed by Bang on a Can All-Stars featuring two of Cage’s seminal mid-career works, Indeterminacy and Variations 2. Following will be pieces composed by Bang on a Can founders Michael Gordon, David Lang and Julia Wolfe along with clarinetist-composer Florent Ghys, exploring the direct influence of Cage’s work on the ensemble.

The second concert The Music Of John Cage and Brian Eno will feature excerpts from Cage’s Improvisations, Sonatas & Interludes complemented by a special live arrangement of Brian Eno’s Music for Airports. Brian Eno, through his music, writing and cross-artform exploration is arguably one of the only contemporary composers to even come close to attaining the guru-like status granted Cage, so this juxtaposition seems apt.

In Permission Granted we will see Bang on a Can team up with Ensemble Offspring to further ride the ripple-effect of Cagean philosophy—beginning with the work that changed the world, Cage’s 4’33, which famously features three sections of non-playing, focusing on the actual sounds of the world around us with time as a framing device. After this aural cleansing the audience will be treated to works inspired by the kind of freedom 4’33 espouses, Dutch composer Louis Andriessen’s Workers Union, Australian composer (and student of Andriessen) Kate Moore’s Ridegway and US composer Terry Riley’s hypnotic minimalist classic In C.

No Cage celebration would be complete without a Musicircus, a cacophonous explosion of simultaneity and chance as multiple Cage pieces are performed together “on traditional and non-traditional instruments, with and without choreography” (press release), the actions dictated by the I-Ching, dice and coin tossing. This musical happening will be wrangled by Ensemble Offspring with a range of guest performers.

There is also a lecture and panel discussion led by Lyle Chan, a composer and musicologist (who is also, according to his website, a personal development coach and chrematist—someone who makes money via speculation and exchange rather than labour). In Lecture on Nothing, the title of one of Cage’s philosophical dissertations, Chan will explore “Cage’s conceptual practice, personal life and the way that they intertwined, influenced and created his creative legacy” (press release). Perhaps the talk could be followed by a screening of the Duchamp-Cage film excerpt Discs from the 1947 Hans Richter experimental feature Dreams That Money Can Buy?

The Composers 2: John Cage Centenary Celebration, Bang on a Can All-Stars, Ensemble Offspring, Sydney Opera House, Nov 2-3; http://www.sydneyoperahouse.com/

Bang on a Can All-Stars will also be performing in Melbourne presenting the Australian premiere of Field Recordings on November 5 and the Melbourne premieres of Eno’s Music for Airports plus David Lang’s sunray and Julia Wolfe’s Big Beautiful Dark and Scary on November 7. Field Recordings is Bang on a Can’s major new project, featuring nine newly commissioned works by Tyondai Braxton, Mira Calix, Florent Ghys, Michael Gordon, David Lang, Christian Marclay, Todd Reynolds, Julia Wolfe, and Nick Zammuto, formerly of The Books.

Melbourne Recital Centre – Elizabeth Murdoch Hall; Nov 5 & 7; www.melbournerecital.com.au

RealTime issue #111 Oct-Nov 2012 pg. web

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

Carl Polke, Ghenoa Gela (centre), Ania Reynolds, From the Ground Up, Circus Oz

Carl Polke, Ghenoa Gela (centre), Ania Reynolds, From the Ground Up, Circus Oz

Carl Polke, Ghenoa Gela (centre), Ania Reynolds, From the Ground Up, Circus Oz

HOW DO YOU TURN EXPERIENCE AS A DANCER AND COMPETITIVE AIR GUITARIST (GELA WAS QUEENSLAND FINALIST FOR TWO YEARS) INTO A CIRCUS ACT WITH ICONIC AUSTRALIAN COMPANY, CIRCUS OZ? A NEWCOMER TO CIRCUS, GELA IS THE MC IN CIRCUS OZ’S LATEST SHOW, FROM THE GROUND UP. SHE SPENDS A LOT OF TIME ON STAGE—IN DANCE NUMBERS, YARNING WITH THE CROWD, INTRODUCING ACTS AND FIRING UP THE AUDIENCE.

Gela plays down her role as MC. “Even though I am the MC, and the first person on the stage, it’s not hierarchical; I am just a thread throughout the story.”

A Torres Strait Islander from Rockhampton, Gela has a unique skill set. Along with working as an actor and dancer, she has learned cultural protocols and practices of the Torres Strait from her family. She reveals how she made the move from the dance stage and screen into the Big Top:

“It started with a conversation. I was involved in a dance show, Vicki Van Hout’s My Right Foot, Your Right Foot (2007), when Josh Bond—Artistic Associate and Indigenous Programs Coordinator for Circus Oz—approached me, saying I had comic timing, and I laughed it off. While training at NAISDA I had done some clowning and a little comedy, never circus.”

Bond persisted, and in early 2012 Gela joined a select group of performers for Circus Oz’s inaugural Blakrobatics Masterclass. Experienced in dance, comedy, acting, music, each participant had been personally recruited. A circus background wasn’t required, but a solid standing in their chosen field was. The program is a Circus Oz initiative overseen by Bond [see article] and designed to attract talented Indigenous performers to circus, introduce them to the skills required and see what develops.

Gela recalls, “The Blakrobatics workshop was massive! A whole mob of us in a mainstream organisation and we all had such diverse backgrounds. The workshops took place over a week. We did everything—table sliding, tumbling, pole dancing, juggling, diabolo, trapeze, and lyra (aerial ring). We had two specialist trainers. I found the trapeze and the tissu most challenging. I have a whole new respect for circus performers. They do these really difficult things and make them look so easy. You need so much core strength!”

While confessing to a big fear of heights, Gela confides that she is also an “adrenaline junky.” She felt exhilarated by the Masterclass.

At the end of the Masterclass week Gela and Dale Woodbridge (Gamilleroi) were selected for a follow-up program, the Blakrobatics Internship, which involved another 16 weeks of training with the Circus Oz cast and other specialist trainers in The Lab. This was a busy period of experimentation, tightening skills and devising acts for the show. Woodbridge, who has a gymnastics background, worked on his flying trapeze skills and fine-tuned his wicked baton twirling talents.

Carl Polke, Dale Woodbridge, from the Ground Up, Circus Oz

Carl Polke, Dale Woodbridge, from the Ground Up, Circus Oz

Carl Polke, Dale Woodbridge, from the Ground Up, Circus Oz

The process of developing the show’s content was a new experience for Gela: “In dance, it has a definite structure and you build within those walls to meet what the choreographer specifically wants. Here, at Oz, it’s different. We work very collaboratively, but we have more ownership of our individual pieces. Then you bring all those pieces together. I’ve never had this much freedom of creativity.”

Ghenoa Gela, From the Ground Up, Circus Oz

Ghenoa Gela, From the Ground Up, Circus Oz

Ghenoa Gela, From the Ground Up, Circus Oz

As MC, Gela performs a delicate balancing act. As the main ‘voice’ in the show she has a strong stage presence balanced by a friendly and personal approach. Gela is a dynamic and articulate guide to cultural and racial politics. But this isn’t a dry lesson—she shares funny, and at times uncomfortable, stories about being a proud Torres Strait Islander woman in contemporary Australia. She seems genuinely surprised that she still has trouble hailing a cab.

“Others might see me as a spokesperson, even when I don’t say anything. I am only myself up on stage. The political material is confronting for some. When I move off stage, some people can’t even look me in the eye. While I don’t feel that pressure of representation, what I can be is someone that the young ones can aspire to. That’s one of my mottos, ‘Aspire to inspire.’ It is about showing possibilities to young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. If I can, they can.”

Making her message both playful and memorable, Gela weaves her anecdotes into a riff on the virtues of fruit salad over smoothies. She describes how a fruit salad has lots of different colours, tastes and textures all mixed together into a treat enhanced by each item retaining its identity in the whole. This is done in such mouth-watering detail that Circus Oz might do well to offer fruit salad along with its usual popcorn.

Then, slightly mournfully, Gela relates how a smoothie takes all those different, luscious ingredients and blends them into an undifferentiated, mono-tinted mélange. She drives her point home by pointing to cast and band members, describing their unique abilities while revealing their diverse cultural backgrounds.

“You have to balance the politics, the skills, the music and the characters and aesthetics of the performance. Whatever the content, we all want it to be the best show possible.”

With such a big message, and such a big role, Gela is glad that a circus show is something that allows her to keep developing her character, skills and patter.

“The circus world is very different to the dance world that I’m familiar with. In dance, once you have your moves, that’s usually it for the season. But here, the show is still evolving and being tweaked while it is touring, sometimes even seconds before going on stage. That is definitely testing my abilities under pressure. It also gives me a chance to improve some of my new circus skills.”

Circus Oz’s history of mixing social justice issues with breathtaking skills, comedy and live music has made them one of Australia’s longstanding major performing arts groups. The decision to let Indigenous voices take centrestage, while framing their message with a dynamic and entertaining show, will hopefully open new conversations on what it means to be an Indie Genius Australian!

RealTime issue #111 Oct-Nov 2012 pg. 14

beautiful one day

The theatrical documentary Beautiful One Day (Belvoir, Nov 17-Dec 23) is a co-production between Belvoir, Ilbijerri Theatre Company and version 1.0: the three companies “came together in 2011 over a shared sense of outrage at the injustices surrounding a death in custody in 2004….[P]rompted by the Palm Island community, Beautiful One Day looks for a way to turn outrage into real understanding and new possibilities. At its heart is a determined struggle to understand the persistent heavy-handedness of white Australia.” The cast includes Rachael Maza and Kylee Doomadgee, with set and costumes by Ruby Langton-Batty (see p11).

coranderrk

Melbourne’s Ilbijjeri Theatre Company and Belvoir are co-producing the Sydney season of Coranderrk (RT107, p34) with a cast that includes Jack Charles and Kelton Pell. Written by Andrea James (see p4) and Giordano Nanni (who conceived the idea for the show) and directed by Isaac Drandric (see p23), Coranderrk draws on the records of a Victorian Parliamentary Inquiry in 1881 to tell the powerful story of the men and women of the Coranderrk Aboriginal Reserve who successfully challenged the Aboriginal Protection Board (Belvoir, Dec 2013).

meyne wyatt & peter pan

Image:  Meyne Wyatt,  Buried City, Urban Theatre Projects

Image: Meyne Wyatt, Buried City, Urban Theatre Projects

Image: Meyne Wyatt, Buried City, Urban Theatre Projects

Aboriginal theatre artists hit the mainstream in 2011-12 in collaborative works with white theatre workers tackling classic works. Meyne Wyatt, who trained in the Aboriginal Theatre Course at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts will appear for Belvoir in the title role in JM Barrie’s Peter Pan, directed by Ralph Myers (Jan-Feb, 2013). Wyatt won the best newcomer prize at last year’s Sydney Theatre Awards, was seen earlier this year in Urban Theatre Project’s Buried Cities and in Griffin’s Silent Disco, has a supporting role in The Sapphires and is in Bell Shakespeare’s currently touring production of Moliere’s School for Wives.

tom e lewis and king lear

Tom E Lewis and Michael Kantor are collaborating to create The Shadow King, based on Shakespeare tragedy’s, with Lewis as Lear in a cast that includes Jimi Bani; the associate director is Isaac Drandric and props and costumes are by Ruby Langton-Batty (Malthouse, Oct 7-28). The work has been developed in association with the Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth Festivals.

yirra yaakin & the cake man

The classic Aboriginal play, The Cake Man, by Robert J Merritt will receive a welcome production as part of Belvoir’s Downstairs program in a co-production with Perth’s Yirra Yaakin Theatre Company in November 2013. Yirra Yakkin Artistic Director Kyle J Morrison will direct. The cast includes actor and emerging filmmaker Irma Woods.

RealTime issue #111 Oct-Nov 2012 pg. 24

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

Head Full of Love, QTC

Head Full of Love, QTC

Head Full of Love, QTC

THE SUBJECT OF LOVE IS WELL-TRODDEN TERRAIN, BUT TWO NEW AUSTRALIAN WORKS FROM THE QUEENSLAND THEATRE COMPANY AND THE DANGER ENSEMBLE OFFER ORIGINAL APPROACHES TO EXPLORING PLATONIC LOVE AND FRIENDSHIP.

The QTC production of Alana Valentine’s Head Full of Love focuses on an unlikely friendship between two women: a white suburban housewife from Sydney and an Indigenous Elder from a remote community in the Northern Territory. The Danger Ensemble’s new work, Loco Maricon Amor, deconstructs the unconsummated and passionate friendship between playwright Federico García Lorca and painter Salvador Dalí.

Valentine is Australia’s premiere verbatim theatre playwright and Head Full of Love is a result of years of consultation with community in Central Australia, including the Purple House, a community renal dialysis unit, the Alice Springs Beanie Festival and the Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (NPY) Women’s Council. The work debuted at the Darwin Festival and has been revived as part of QTC’s transformation under Artistic Director Wesley Enoch.

Enoch’s gift to Australian theatre has been the creation of personal stories that seek to heal the seemingly intractable grief and shame that lie between black and white Australia. Head Full of Love has all of his trademark warmth and sense of pathos. Roxanne McDonald as Tilly and Collette Mann as Nessa are both irresistibly charming. Valentine deftly navigates cross-cultural clichés. Nessa moves from white anxiety, “Do I start with sorry,” and Tilly from black cynicism, “Are you a missionary, a mercenary or a misfit?” to a shared realisation that they are both disconnected from their families and exiled from their homes.

Although Head Full of Love is based on the interviews undertaken during creative development, the form is a gentle magic realism. The play slides from naturalism into a fantastical world, climaxing with a ritualistic presentation of knitted beanies placed reverentially on hip-high hat stands. The play closes with the death of Tilly, who entreats Nessa to take her identity and her family responsibilities in order to avoid her son returning her to psychiatric care. That this awkward plot device works is a tribute to the power of the production, as Head Full of Love left me with a sense of hope and continuity that lingered for days.

Loco Maricon Amor, The Danger Ensemble

Loco Maricon Amor, The Danger Ensemble

Loco Maricon Amor, The Danger Ensemble

Loco Maricon Amor shares with Head Full of Love an unashamed sense of purpose. Auteur director Steven Mitchell Wright reclaims ‘experimental’ as an avant-garde clarion call and dares his audience to “react.”

The putative sexual relationship between Lorca and Dalí has been a zeitgeist fetish since the Paul Morrison film Little Ashes in 2008. In Loco Maricon Amor an old and very ill Dalí taunts a plaintive young woman, recounting and re-enacting key moments of his relationship with his wife and muse Gala and the martyred playwright Lorca. The young woman is the moon, an observer of love and a witness to the unfolding disintegration of human passion, sex and emotion onstage.

Every detail of the piece is sharply planned, from the white pop art set to the cane with its rectangular gold hilt brandished by Gala. The encounters between the historical figures are interspersed with interrogations led by a chorus of three singers, belting out deconstructed standards from Doris Day to Beyoncé that lift the energy of the show into rock concert explosiveness.

The structure of the work is self-consciously circular with sequences that recycle and re-set, cribbed from the correspondence between Dalí and Lorca, symbols from surrealist art and Lorca’s theatrical masterworks. What drives the piece is the passionate intensity of the performers, who are brave and extraordinary. Every surface of their bodies is stripped, painted and exposed and they hold nothing back.

Loco Maricon Amor reads best as a choreographic poem, but it suffers from the ambition of its manifesto. Like the girl with the curl on her forehead, when it is good, it is really, really good. But, one awkward composition, one too many repetitions and the audience steps out of the pulsating action and the show is revealed to be merely a chorus of actors painting themselves and a white set with neon splashes of colour.

There are attempts to lighten the mood and pace through the personable character of the moon and short sequences that are replayed, mocking the intensity of the show, but they are not quite sufficient to leaven the earnestness. I have no doubt that the next iteration of the work will be tighter and more balanced. Experiencing Mitchell Wright’s obsessive mashing aesthetic is like eating too much chocolate in one sitting, an addictive overload, but one that always leaves you wanting more.

Queensland Theatre Company, Head Full of Love, writer Alana Valentine, director Wesley Enoch, performers Collette Man, Roxanne McDonald, designer Simone Romaniuk, lighting Ben Hughes, composer, sound Brett Collery; Cremorne Theatre, QPAC, Brisbane, July 7-Aug 11; The Danger Ensemble, Loco Maricon Amor, director, designer Steven Mitchell Wright, performers, co-devisors Chris Beckey, Caroline Dunphy, Thomas Hutchins, Lucy-Ann Langkilde, Polly Sara, Peta Ward, Bianca Zouppas, dramaturg Chris Beckey, lighting Ben Hughes, strings Lyndon Chester, co-designer Xani Kennedy, co-presented with Metro Arts; Sue Benner Theatre, Metro Arts, Brisbane, Aug 17-Sept 1

RealTime issue #111 Oct-Nov 2012 pg. 41

© Kathryn Kelly; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Sarah-Jane Norman, Bone Library

Sarah-Jane Norman, Bone Library

Sarah-Jane Norman, Bone Library

AS EDITOR OF REALBLAK, LIKE A BOWER BIRD, I HAVE BEEN COLLECTING SHINY ITEMS, AND NOW PROUDLY DISPLAY THEM IN THE FIRST EVER INDIGENOUS PERFORMING ARTS EDITION OF REALTIME. OUR BOWER CONTAINS JEWEL-LIKE STORIES OF ARTISTS’ PRACTICES, FROM THEIR OWN PERSPECTIVE, THAT THEY HAVE POLISHED AND FUSSED OVER AND MADE PRECIOUS. ALL DIFFERENT, BUT WITH COMMON ‘BASE METALS’—OF PASSION, COMMITMENT TO COMMUNITY, A SENSE OF HISTORY OR CONTINUANCE OF CULTURAL PRACTICES, YET FORWARD THINKING. EACH OF THE ARTICLES, IN MYRIAD SHADES AND TONES, CONVEYS THAT STORY.

The stories demonstrate that we don’t want to be typecast or described or documented, or marginalised or exoticised. Our cultural expressions are not static—we morph and weave and are porous to other influences, but we hold our values; our cultural core persists. We are resilient. We are not homogenous. How could we be? Here’s a glimpse; Blak queens chatting, blood and bread in performance art, running away to the circus and the issue of a Blak aesthetic.

what’s happening?

This editorial is from my ‘bird’s eye’ view as a playwright. The third National Indigenous Theatre Forum (NIFT) held in Cairns, in August, was exciting, and it glinted with optimism. Beginning with an impressive list of achievements from the previous year, it was inspiring to hear of the initiatives that have come out of our forums—the idea for this edition, for one, and the emerging producers initiative being another (see Louana Sainsbury). The event naturally generated lots of ideas: about peak bodies and pathways and training and the need for advocacy and protocols and…not much talk about writing (from a playwright’s point of view).

One discussion at NITF did turn to devised plays, and who owns them, particularly when the devising group is made up of Aboriginal actors and the assigned writer is non-Aboriginal. The debate then segued to the issue of community permissions and when they should be sought, reciprocity and royalties and ways to divide them up fairly to give back to community. Overall, protocols were a burning issue at the NITF and they also smoulder in many of our RealBlak articles. Contrast this with the mainstream world where anything is up for grabs (wanna write a story about Warnie? Sure! Wanna write a story about teenage lesbian kidnapping murderers, based on a real story? Sure! Backlash? Huh? But if there is backlash, then it makes for good publicity).

For us, as Indigenous writers, unless we are stuck in a mould of only writing our own stories (in my case, how boring) then we need to write other stories—other people’s, made up stories and community stories—and these do require a process to be undertaken—a process that involves great sensitivity, protocols and permissions. Telling Aboriginal stories comes with a responsibility that none of us takes lightly. I am always struck, whenever you get a mob of blackfellas together, that we are anxious to ‘do the right thing’ by our communities, beyond furthering our own careers or feathering our own nests. But protocols and permission seeking are not always straightforward. Differences occur in the way communities operate in different geographic areas too. In this discussion—and it needs to be had—we mustn’t lose sight of the purpose of protocols. Wouldn’t that be to ‘do no harm’? None of us wants to harm our communities, I would say. We live in them, we have to deal with the consequences. (Unlike whitefellas, who can usually walk away). Challenging stuff.

who’s writing our stories?

While we are trying to grapple with the complex stuff of protocols, a quiet stealthful revolution is happening. White writers have slipped right past us and have jammed their Aboriginal themed plays onto a stage near you. I know, they have always written our stories. Alexis Wright laments the fact that non-Aboriginal people write Aboriginal-themed literature: “our histories have been smudged, distorted and hidden…” And now, too, in theatre. What was a novelty has become a steady stream. It’s not even a question of can they, because, mostly, it appears that they can (with caveats). But should they? And why do they? And are they doing it better than us? It seems to me more Aboriginal stories by non-Aboriginal writers are being produced than those that are written by us. Audiences are seeing them. And loving them, I guess.

who controls storytelling?

That brings me to another theme discussed at NITF: “What is Aboriginal theatre?” Not as straightforward as one might think. Is it an ‘Aboriginal play’ if it has an Aboriginal theme, Aboriginal actors, a white writer and a white director? (Before you think I am against white directors please note that my last play was sensitively and skillfully directed by a white director. Nor am I against collaboration. Or colour-blind casting.) What about a devised play with Aboriginal actors but where no ‘writer’ is listed? My point is, who is in control of the storytelling? Who owns the story? (Legally, the writer holds the copyright). And what about plays that are more clear-cut? Plays written by white writers, directed by white directors, programmed by white artistic directors and yet with Aboriginal themes and Aboriginal actors, who often get ‘tasked’ with being instant cultural consultants (just add ochre) during the workshop or rehearsal period, despite obvious power imbalances in those relationships? The publicity for the play features a bright-eyed Aboriginal actor looking deadly. But is it an Aboriginal play? Is it important who writes the story? Why care? Well, I do.

One part of this mix is that there are only four Aboriginal theatre companies; they might have funding to do one major production per year. At most, that means four playwrights may be commissioned in any given year. Not a whole lot of wriggle-room there. So, we want to get our plays on to main stages. Okay, there’s a dozen or so theatre companies around the country, who might program one ‘Aboriginal’ themed play per year. So if non-Aboriginal playwrights are writing those plays, where are our opportunities? Maybe there should be a moratorium on ‘Aboriginal’ plays written by non-Aboriginal people—unless they have been approved by a suitably qualified Aboriginal advisory group? And then branded as such, like a ‘Heart Smart’ tick: what about an ‘Aboriginal Approved’ or ‘RealBlak’ tick? Cos shouldn’t they be subject to protocols, too? Radical? Think about it.

In response to a key priority identified at the second National Indigenous Theatre Forum held in Cairns 2011 of the need for a space in which Indigenous performance makers and workers can critically reflect on their practices or their sector, Liza-Mare Syron, Andrea James and Alison Murphy-Oates approached RealTime to host RealBlak and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Board to fund the venture.

I would like to thank all of the writers for their contributions and the RealBlak editorial committee for their wise council and encouragement; as well as the RealTime gurus Keith Gallasch and Virginia Baxter and team for their mentoring and support.

RealBlak is published with the support of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Board of the Australia Council for the Arts.

RealTime issue #111 Oct-Nov 2012 pg. 2

© Jane Harrison; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

The Chooky Dancers at the Forbidden City, Beijing (2010)

The Chooky Dancers at the Forbidden City, Beijing (2010)

The Chooky Dancers at the Forbidden City, Beijing (2010)

JOSH BOND CAN FLY THROUGH THE AIR ON A TRAPEZE. I RECALL IN HORROR SEEING HIM—LITERALLY—HAMMER A LARGE NAIL INTO HIS NASAL PASSAGE AS PART OF A CABARET ACT. NATIONAL INSTITUTE OF CIRCUS ARTS (NICA) TRAINED AND ONCE A DANCER, LATELY BOND HAS COME DOWN TO EARTH AND IS DOING TRICKS BEHIND THE SCENES, JUGGLING WORK WITH CIRCUS OZ, MANAGING AND DIRECTING THE CHOOKY DANCERS WHILE PULLING STRINGS ON BEHALF OF THE SNUFF PUPPETS (THREE PUNS IN ONE SENTENCE! A RECORD). HERE HE ELABORATES ON THE FANTABULISTIC WORLD OF ARTS MANAGEMENT.

What are you up to at the moment?

Well, the Chooky Dancers were recently in the Solomon Islands where they participated in the Festival of Pacific Arts. In their Prime Minister’s closing speech, he called the Chooky’s performance a highlight. It was their first tour for a while, since the tragedy before Christmas [where one member of the troupe was killed in a car accident].

I’m also Artistic Associate and Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Programs Officer with Circus Oz, responsible for developing the Blakrobatics Masterclasses, the first of which resulted in two Indigenous performers joining the current show From the Ground Up [see story]. Blakrobatics is happening again in 2013.

I have recently pitched a collaborative puppetry/Indigenous storytelling project with the Snuff Puppets…Hopefully the major festival circuit will come on board with the concept. I also managed part of the Body Armour tour. [Body Armour is a theatre/educational piece with a theme around hepatitis, developed by Ilbijerri Theatre Company, which has been touring across Australia, see p10].

Earlier this year Flying Fruit Fly Circus up in Albury asked me to help them recruit a couple of young Indigenous performers for their national training project. They are Australia’s leading organisation in the development of young circus performers, and initiatives such as these ensure realistic pathways to professional careers in the performing arts for our young people.

On top of that we’re working on an Indian/Australian co-produced feature film featuring The Chooky Dancers, which is giving me the opportunity to cut my teeth on the basics of film production.

How did you become involved with the Chooky Dancers?

Big Frank, the father of Chooky’s performer Lionel, is my manyi, my grandfather. My father and Big Frank worked together years ago on the Healthy Lifestyles Festival on Elcho Island, out of which the Chooky Dancers sprang. I grew up with those lads and I also worked with Big Frank with Saltwater Band. When the Chooky’s “Zorba the Greek” video went viral on YouTube, Big Frank contacted me, as he knew I had experience in arts management generally. The response to Zorba was sensational, there were offers from everywhere…They needed someone who could look after them in a way that respected their cultural, personal and financial integrity.

The Chooky Dancers toured to Beijing and Taiwan last year and were on national TV for Chinese New Year, which is watched by all of China—a quarter of the world’s population. They are amazing ambassadors.

What do audiences get out of seeing Chooky’s perform?

The Chooky Dancers are a blend of old culture and new culture. They are an authentic representation of traditional culture and also deliver contemporary forms of comedy and dance theatre. English is their 10th or 12th language or dialect. Traditional song and dance is an essential part of their lives. They have that integrity on a cultural level, so when they do traditional dances they do them with reverence, with respect and with permission from the cultural leaders of the community. If they didn’t, there would be repercussions in the community. They also do western contemporary numbers—like “Singing in the Rain”—which they do with total irreverence. When they are dressed in traditional costume and doing a Bollywood sequence it flips audience expectations.

Why are you doing management work?

I worked in mainstream circus for ten years …it was very ‘white.’ I had to get back to working with my family. The boys in the Chooky’s, for example, get more excited about performing for our bush communities than walking the red carpet at events. For example, we were invited to a mining community and I negotiated that they would also get to perform for the local community, 40ks away. Because the Chooky’s began as part of a Healthy Living program they are very grassroots, and they are keen to promote good physical and mental health to communities. The Roebourne Ngarluma Yindjibarndi Healthy Lifestyles Festival 2011 sprung from that, and we took John Butler, hip hop dancer Nikki Ashby, singer Shellie Morris and comedian Kevin Kropinerri up there to perform along with the Chooky’s. People came from communities everywhere! This kind of work changes lives…it is the best use of my time. I believe we can change the world but that change has to start in people’s hearts. Dance, music, comedy, theatre, books and poetry are some of the best ways to reach people’s hearts. Apart from that, when we’re on the road, there’s the biggest mob of us having biggest mob laughs.

What are some of the challenges of arts management?

I developed a thick skin over the years. Pitching to the major festivals can be intimidating—producers and presenters don’t tend to give you love (laughs). It can be a pretty cold process. Whether you are negotiating with a Chinese TV producer or the Department of Foreign Affairs, it is all about relationships…and how you maintain them.

Where do you see yourself in five or ten years?

My five year plan is to have a better idea about my 10 year plan! [Laughs] Who knows? In ten years I’ll be 40! Living back in the Northern Territory without a racist Intervention? I love performing. I’d like to further my music career. The highlight so far would be performing on Rockwiz with Kutcha Edwards in front of 40,000 people at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl. There’s nothing like it! Producing films? Watching Neighbours with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander actors starring! With all of my projects, I love the creation process the most. I love producing acts like The Chooky Dancers; it is one of the most effective way to implement change, to educate people, to change opinions, but also to bring audiences something unique and beautiful.

****

The day after this interview, Josh’s partner Vika gave birth to Maya.

RealTime issue #111 Oct-Nov 2012 pg. 15

© Jane Harrison; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

 I want to Dance Better at Parties, 2004, Chunky Move

I want to Dance Better at Parties, 2004, Chunky Move

I want to Dance Better at Parties, 2004, Chunky Move

AT A TIME WHEN ARTS FUNDING ACROSS THE COUNTRY IS UNDER DURESS, IT IS REFRESHING TO SEE A NEW POT OF MONEY EARMARKED SPECIFICALLY FOR CREATING AMBITIOUS ARTS-BASED FILMS. THE HIVE PRODUCTION FUND REFLECTS THE OVERLAPPING REMITS OF ITS FUNDERS: ABC ARTS AND ENTERTAINMENT, THE AUSTRALIA COUNCIL AND THE ADELAIDE FILM FESTIVAL, FOLLOWING ON FROM AN EXTENDED WORKSHOP COMPONENT IN EARLY 2011 WITH THOSE PARTNERS PLUS SCREEN AUSTRALIA AND THE SOUTH AUSTRALIAN FILM CORPORATION.

Encouraging multidisciplinary teams to collaborate on longer form projects that work on both a festival and prime time broadcast platform, The order of the day at HIVE is audacity of subject and bold production approach.

The slate of projects has a freshness in its blends of genre, format and team compilation, indicating that the investors have trusted proven talent at an early stage of a project’s life rather than weighing down the process by waiting for fully-formed material. Or, as producer Kath Shelper explains, “The great thing about the HIVE is that they have allowed us to be fairly loose in how we approach things…usually with film funding submissions you are required to be so explicit about what you’re making and why and how—’What are we going to see on screen?’”

A total of $670,000 has been secured by the following projects from the fund and they now have the momentum to meet their schedule to premiere at the Adelaide Film Festival in October 2013.

gideon obarzanek, i want to dance better at parties

I Want to Dance Better at Parties is a 30-minute hybrid film co-directed by Chunky Move founder Gideon Orbarzanek and Matt Bate (Shut Up Little Man! An Audio Misadventure, 2011, producer Bec Summerton; RT107 ). Stemming from an existing dance work from 2004 where Orbarzanek interviewed men about their relationship with dance then created eight pieces from the interviews, the film seeks to extend the story of one of these men. “[Orbarzanek] told me about one of the characters, a guy called Phillip Rose, and how he always wanted to expand [his story] into a bigger project,” says Bate. “We put this thing together not really knowing what it was… the dance piece had the outline of the story, but there was more going on, and that’s what we wanted to explore in our version.”

The story has a solid transformative arc. “[Phillip Rose] is a guy whose wife passed away, he’s got a daughter and an intellectually disabled son, he’s grieving, his life has been turned upside down. A few years later he goes to a party, and as he’s dancing he loses himself on this dance floor in the kitchen. He has fun but one of the women there says, ‘You’ve got to loosen up’…So the next day he joins this dance class, and the story’s about how he overcomes his grief, regains his confidence and gets his life back on track using dance.” At this stage the team is consolidating the best formal approach to bring the story to a half hour docudrama format.

lynette wallworth, tender

Esteemed media artist Lynette Wallworth also turns to documentary with Tender, a partnership with producer Kath Shelper (Samson and Delilah, 2009). The piece will follow Wallworth’s friend Jen (“our lives are bound together like seam in a rock”) who is starting a not for profit funeral company called Community Undertakings in Port Kembla. “In order to understand how she comes to be doing that I need to show you what has shaped her into the person she is now,” explains Wallworth. “The fearlessness of Jen is at the heart of the work.”

Wallworth and Shelper came together thanks to a combination of serendipity and networking at the lab component of the HIVE. Shelper explains, “I loved Lynette’s story…but I didn’t think about it much after [the lab]. Scroll forward a year and I was sitting at my desk putting the finishing touches to my first ever will, and Lynette walked into my office and asked me if I wanted to produce her film. I am terrified of death and I think I was doing my will as an insurance policy against dying too soon. I think now that it’s done hopefully it won’t need to be used for a while yet.”

Wallworth’s artistic practice will strongly inform her approach to the film. Following on directly from her interactive installation Evolution of Fearlessness (2008), she wants to create an immersive experience and give the viewer space to engage with the visually led narrative:

“I will work with disparate images and narration so that what we see on the screen is not a direct reflection of what we are hearing about but rather, in a more tangential way, resonant with the story, or else creates a disjuncture with the tone of that moment. In this way the emotional intimacy of the work can be maintained in a non-invasive way. We can hear Jen speak without having to see her. We have the space to imagine because the imagery will not be brutally accurate but spacious.”

michael kantor, the boy castaways

The Boy Castaways is an altogether different beast, a feature-length rock musical. Directed by former Malthouse artistic director Michael Kantor and produced by Jo Dyer (Lucky Miles, 2005) and Stephen Armstrong, it plays with themes of eternal life. “Four men are gathered in a theatre where they enact a twisted version of Peter Pan,” explains Kantor. “It becomes apparent that the men are engaged in a dangerous game with their own mortality…three of the men must experience what it is like to die, and for the other, the opposite.”

Kantor initiated the film after attending the HIVE Lab where he had the opportunity to explore the idea with others from the performing arts and other fields. “This was perfect timing for me, as I have long held a passion and deep desire to create filmed work, although I have never actually made any – not even a short film…The genesis for The Boy Castaways was an idea I had for a stage show that, after workshopping, I felt could not be told on a stage, as it was so much about the stage…The idea has grown into a script that I hope blends the innate, dangerous possibilities of the stage and the penetrating insight into the human, in this case male, character that is offered by the lens.”

The project draws together longtime Kantor collaborators with experienced film practitioners such as executive producer Rob Connolly (most recently director of Balibo, 2010), but “the script has been developed along a theatre-making model, with frequent readings and workshops allowing for a developing storyline and musical incorporation from the outset.”

RealTime will track these eclectic projects in 2013 as they mature.

2012 HIVE Lab, Melbourne International Arts Festival; www.thehivelabs.com.au

The second HIVE Lab is being held in October during the 2012 Melbourne International Arts Festival. The participants are arts and performance practitioners Bill Henson, Dr Brenda Croft, Eddie Perfect, Sam Haren, Daniel Koerner, Rachael Swain, Cat Jones, Lally Katz and Sean Riley; filmmakers Samantha Lang, Sophie Raymond, Sascha Ettinger Epstein, Paola Morabito, Nassiem Valamanesh, Eddie White, Natasha Pincus and Lucinda Clutterbuck; and visual artist and filmmaker John Gillies.

The mentors will be Lynette Wallworth, film producer Bridget Ikin, General Manager of Digital Business Development at ABC Commercial Robert Hutchinson, and playwright and screenwriter Andrew Bovell, along with composer Iain Grandage and theatre director Michael Kantor. The 2012 HIVE Lab is led by Wendy Levy, Executive Director of the US-based New Arts Axis, an organisation dedicated to facilitating creative innovation in art and culture.

RealTime issue #111 Oct-Nov 2012 pg. 25

© Sandy Cameron; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Arcade Assembly, Shopfront Contemporary Arts & Performance

Arcade Assembly, Shopfront Contemporary Arts & Performance

Arcade Assembly, Shopfront Contemporary Arts & Performance

MAZES GET A BAD RAP. PRACTICALLY SYNONYMOUS WITH ANY COMPLEX SYSTEM THROUGH WHICH AN UNSUSPECTING PARTICIPANT MUST NAVIGATE, THEY HAVE PROVIDED STRESS-PROVOKING OBSTACLES FOR EVERYONE FROM THESEUS, 18TH CENTURY ARISTOCRATS AND HARRY POTTER TO PRACTICALLY EVERYONE WHO’S EVER PLAYED A COMPUTER GAME. AS MANY OF THE LATTER WOULD PROBABLY ATTEST HOWEVER, THERE’S A PECULIAR SATISFACTION TO BE GLEANED IN SUCCESSFULLY COMPLETING A MAZE.

Indeed, the effect of pacing the path of a labyrinth (technically a maze has multiple paths and points of exits, while a labyrinth is linear and possesses only one of each) has been shown to be so calming that it is used as an aid at the Center for Pain and Palliative Care at the National Institute of Health in the United States.

Described by Event Director Caitlin Newton-Broad as creating “a common ground (a maze),” Shopfront’s major production for 2012, Arcade Assembly, fused these ideas in a rich mixture of performance, artwork, music and video to create an interactive labyrinth for all ages, or “a confidential cure for the world” as one contributor put it in Shopfront’s literature. A preoccupation with circuitous paths is perhaps unsurprising, given the importance of contributions from students at the Intensive English Centres at Beverly Hills and Fairfield High Schools, no strangers to the linguistic maze of the English language, not to mention the cultural and bureaucratic ones attendant in creating a life in a new country.

It was this influence that perhaps led the company to incorporate the idea of Avatars into the project, small figures made to represent absent loved ones. After registering with Shopfront staff, collecting a Score Card to keep track of which activities were subsequently completed and watching a short video of messages to family and friends overseas made by young people studying at Beverly Hills IEC, participants had a chance to make an Avatar of their own. “Picture someone you want to see,” came the suggestion as children, parents, grandparents and Shopfront contributors crowded around a craft table to assemble a figure from corks, glue, sticky tape, construction paper, wool, pipe-cleaners and glitter.

With the brightly coloured results safely ensconced on the prize table, participants were ushered around to the main Shopfront performance space, or at least a curtained corner of it. The analogy with computer games seemed increasingly appropriate as participants were given a tutorial by Space Boy, a hyperactive performer tangled within a three-dimensional maze of red string beneath a UV light. Instructed to “Stop, Look and Listen” within the Arcade, while being ready to make new friends or meet old ones, the curtains were then drawn back to reveal a plethora of possible activities.

Towering cardboard constructions dotted the cavernous space of the former dance hall, the ambient sounds and beats of Michael Moebus (aka meem) flickering from multiple directions at once. Then a whistle sounded, launching a dance-off between Zombies and Birds(!) to a pumping soundtrack in the aptly named Dance Zone. Such set performances were interspersed with the opportunity to explore the space and participate in the many mini-games: to play foosball on a table decorated with Avatars, or check out the ‘real life’ Space Invaders of Alien Catapult—throwing balls at dastardly cardboard critters—or play with the Shadow Meetings & Haunted Houses display, spotlights cast against a series of cardboard spinners throwing a variety of simple yet vividly evocative scenes in silhouette against the wall.

Arcade Assembly, Shopfront Contemporary Arts & Performance

Arcade Assembly, Shopfront Contemporary Arts & Performance

Arcade Assembly, Shopfront Contemporary Arts & Performance

Further exploration led to mazes within mazes, some participants guiding a ball through a super-sized cardboard box maze, others forced to take their shoes off, do seven push-ups (no more, no less), or pick their noses within a giant game of Snakes & Ladders overseen by a young gentleman attired in silk Japanese dressing gown and sombrero. Others aided a rabbit in completing a cardboard puzzle, much to the chagrin of an irascible cat (don’t ask). A staircase led to the Sims Oracle, where participants selected Tarot cards under the guidance of a woman with piled coils of blue hair, the instructions printed thereon being yelled through a cardboard cylinder to another performer who then acted accordingly–examples including “take a photo,” “shake hands,” “fart”—in an effort to elicit a smile from one bemused child participant.

Then it was “game over, thank you for playing,” everyone being ushered out into the late afternoon sunshine for the scores to be tallied, winners receiving an Avatar of their own. Not that it was really about the winning of course, it being clear that passing through Arcade Assembly’s thoughtfully structured mayhem with a smile intact was prize enough.

Shopfront Contemporary Arts & Performance, Arcade Assembly, director Caitlin Newton-Broad, Outreach director, video Sarah Emery, performed by members of Shopfront, sound Michael Moebus (Meem), lighting Blair Dutney, gadgets & AV Grant Moxom, design Katja Handt & Jessica Sinclair Martin and Outreach artists Howard Matthew and Kevin Ng in collaboration with St George Mental Health Service, Beverly Hills Intensive English Centre, Fairfield Intensive English Centre, Lomandra School in Campbelltown; Carlton, Sydney, August 22-26

RealTime issue #111 Oct-Nov 2012 pg. 42

© Oliver Downes; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Students from the Aboriginal Centre for the Performing Arts, Brisbane perform Stolen by Jane Harrison, directed by Leah Purcell

Students from the Aboriginal Centre for the Performing Arts, Brisbane perform Stolen by Jane Harrison, directed by Leah Purcell

Students from the Aboriginal Centre for the Performing Arts, Brisbane perform Stolen by Jane Harrison, directed by Leah Purcell

“I EXPECTED TO LEARN ABOUT THE BASIC ACTING SKILLS. I ALSO EXPECTED TO LEARN ABOUT ABORIGINAL HISTORY IN THE PERFORMING ARTS. I ALSO WANTED TO LEARN MORE ABOUT MY CULTURE AND MY PEOPLE IN GENERAL. BEING AN INDIGENOUS PERFORMER IT WAS IMPORTANT FOR ME TO LEARN MY HISTORY, THE ABORIGINAL HISTORY IN PERFORMING ARTS, AND THE PEOPLE WHO HAVE GONE BEFORE ME, MY ROLE MODELS. I BELIEVE THAT INDIGENOUS STORYTELLING AND PERFORMANCE IS A LOT DIFFERENT TO THE SO-CALLED MAINSTREAM PERFORMING ARTS PRACTICE.” SONNY DALLAS LAW, 2010

Many well-established Indigenous theatre practitioners insist that culture is at the heart of their practice. Where then are the opportunities for such an engagement with culture as part of vocational training? Also, insofar as such opportunities do exist, how can we account for the differences between the various professional training programs available to Indigenous actors?

culture, not content

Most Indigenous acting students begin their careers in an Aboriginal-identified actor-training program, with some going on to further training in a mainstream institution. Whatever institution they attend, the way in which Indigenous acting students experience, and make sense of, their training does not depend so much on the specific content or structure of classroom- and studio-based learning; rather, it is essentially defined by the much larger cultural and pedagogical frameworks within which these learning activities are embedded. One of the significant differences between Aboriginal-identified and mainstream actor-training contexts is in the acknowledgement, or not, of culture as meaningful to acting, performance and theatre-making practice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

where to train?

Apart from well known ‘professional’ mainstream actor-training programs at the National Institute of Dramatic Arts (NIDA), Victorian College of the Arts (VCA) and Western Australian Academy of the Performing Arts (WAAPA) there are also three Aboriginal-identified actor-training programs on offer: Eora College in Sydney, New South Wales, the Aboriginal Theatre Certificate IV course at WAAPA and the Aboriginal Centre for Performing Arts (ACPA) in Brisbane, Queensland. Other Indigenous performance-based programs also exist, like Michael Leslie Pilbara Performing Arts and Karratha Community Performing Arts, also in the Pilbara in northern Western Australia, and the Remote Outreach program of Carclew Youth Arts in Adelaide, South Australia. Such programs play a significant role in the actor-training sector because they have a rural and remote reach. More importantly, these programs often inform many of the practices of their city-based counterparts. However, these programs are generally project-based, target young people or are delivered as community development programs. They do not offer ongoing, specifically accredited acting programs for adults, which is the sector under review here.

In regard to the mainstream and Aboriginal-identified institutional actor training programs mentioned, there are many similarities between them, which are mostly more striking than the differences. Of far greater importance are the differences in the cultural context from one institution to another.

aboriginal-identified programs

The Aboriginal-identified programs and institutions are mostly based on the principles of self-determination and self-management. They emerged from Aboriginal community programs originally designed by and for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Their primary focus is the education of Indigenous students. These programs generally have core subjects in Aboriginal culture, history and/or values. Many are governed by an Indigenous board or closely monitored by an Aboriginal advisory body. They also employ a significant number of Indigenous teachers and lecturers, and compared to many mainstream programs have a significantly higher Indigenous student population.

culture, informally

Surprisingly, the way in which culture is delivered in an Aboriginal-identified training context is not always by way of structured culture subjects. In fact many of these programs struggle with the delivery of culture as an area of formal study. Instead, culture is mostly exchanged through informal interactions between Indigenous students and staff. Culture is also inherent in the delivery of Indigenous perspectives from Indigenous teachers and guest lecturers. Then, by way of performance, it is enacted, presented and exchanged. In an Aboriginal-identified actor-training program, for the most part, that exchange will take place between Indigenous peoples.

In an Aboriginal-identified actor-training context the culture being enacted, exchanged and experienced retains its integrity. For me the word ‘authentic’ represents a loaded concept; however, in an Aboriginal context, the idea of an authentic or common Aboriginal experience can be explored or experienced through the presence of other Indigenous students and staff.

Some Aboriginal programs also have non-Indigenous student populations and staff. This provides added opportunities for a multiplicity of cultural exchanges to take place. However there are fundamental issues that may arise under these conditions.

culture vs canon

Students from the Aboriginal Theatre ensemble, STRONG by Phillip Walley-Stack, WA Academy of Performing Arts, 2012

Students from the Aboriginal Theatre ensemble, STRONG by Phillip Walley-Stack, WA Academy of Performing Arts, 2012

Students from the Aboriginal Theatre ensemble, STRONG by Phillip Walley-Stack, WA Academy of Performing Arts, 2012

At mainstream actor-training sites, Indigenous students often, though not always, struggle to some extent to maintain their cultural identity against the dominance of mainstream or Western theatre practices. In this space mainstream programs struggle to know and understand Indigenous culture and its place in mainstream actor training. And for many Indigenous students who attend these programs, the knowable set of dominant theatre practices, mostly framed as ‘mainstream,’ will at some point come to direct the perceived value of their own practices as secondary to mainstream.

cultural specifics vs universals

The ambiguity of the cultural framework underpinning mainstream training contexts can also at times be unsettling for many Indigenous acting students. The idea of a universal acting practice that many mainstream training programs employ (although this is not always clearly articulated) challenges the very core of an Indigenous student’s identity, which is closely aligned with culture and community. Having, in many instances, moved away from family and community to study at a large institution in the big city, the practice of ‘stripping down’ or ‘laying bare’ (or building up) to achieve the ‘neutrality’ of an actor is perceived by some Indigenous students as an act of integration or indoctrination in Western theatre practices. When I asked an Aboriginal graduate from a mainstream training program, “what do the words’ actor training’ mean to you?” the response was:

“Training came to mean that it was a process—I guess assimilation is too much of a loaded term—but a process of being deconstructed and reconstructed into a particular model with a set of expectations that were unclear and changing.”

Both Aboriginal-identified and mainstream actor-training programs offer a range of pedagogical and cultural experiences. For the Indigenous student, these experiences can at times be challenging, and at other times liberating. With many Indigenous acting students beginning their careers in an Aboriginal-identified actor-training program, and with some going on to further training at a mainstream institute, invariably it will be these cultural experiences that define their future acting practice. However the underlying value of culture to that practice cannot be ignored.

looking for cultural engagement

After graduating from both the Eora acting program and from ACPA, Sonny Dallas Law did not go on to study at a mainstream actor training program; he may one day, or he may not. What is important to Sonny however is developing a theatre and performance practice that is meaningful to him, and this means having an approach that is informed by and connected to culture (see page 4). This is not the same for every Indigenous graduate from the Aboriginal-identified acting sector, but in scoping the career pathways of graduates from both mainstream and Aboriginal acting programs I have found that many will attest that they have at some point required some cultural engagement, and this will take the form of either working with other Indigenous people in the process of making theatre, in creating new work, or by portraying Indigenous characters and stories. Also, when Indigenous actors graduate, they are still Indigenous, and they will mostly be required to be so by the industry they graduate into, and by the family they return home to.

incorporating culture

While many Aboriginal-identified actor-training programs see culture as significant to the lives and expression of Indigenous students in general, there can also be improvements in the way culture is incorporated into these programs. This is already something the Indigenous dance-training sector has begun with the development of specific Indigenous dance techniques. There is also a push from ACPA to include voice, language and movement training for performance students based on specific techniques found in Indigenous cultural expression. These developments continue to influence the ever changing cultural landscape that many Indigenous students navigate during their training to be actors, and that will ultimately inform the future of Indigenous performance and theatre-making practices.

RealTime issue #111 Oct-Nov 2012 pg. 16

© Liza-Mare Syron; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

THE OFFICIAL THEME SONG FOR THE LONDON 2012 OLYMPIC GAMES WAS MUSE’S “SURVIVAL.” IT’S A TRULY STRANGE SONG, CHANNELLING SCOTT WALKER AT HIS MOST ATONALLY MELODRAMATIC, FED THROUGH A BOWIE/VISCONTI MOCK-ROCK-OPERA ARRANGEMENT, BLOSSOMING INTO A SPARKLING HOMAGE TO QUEEN THROUGH MATTHEW BELLAMY’S VOCAL HISTRIONICS AND HIS EMULATION OF A STRATOSPHERIC BRIAN MAY GUITAR SOLO. THINK “WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS” STAGED BY LATE-PERIOD SONDHEIM IN A POST-RADIOHEAD WORLD OF POP.

One of the 11 Worldwide Olympic Partners for the 2012 Olympics was Coca-Cola™. They produced their own corporate brand song and a promotional video which was shown extensively on television and cinemas in the lead-up to the Games. “Move To The Beat” was composed and produced by British DJ/producer Mark Ronson and features vocals by Katy B. The arrangement is built around a sluggish ‘de-Housed’ Pop-stomp dressed in banks of pre-set soft-synths emulating a quarter century of ironic/not-ironic string ensemble effects. ‘Sports audio specialist’ Dennis Baxter provided the sound effects of Olympians (sprinting, hurdling, shooting arrows, playing table-tennis and competing at taekwondo) which were sampled and edited into rudimentary loops to underscore the song’s rhythms. In its pale imitation of Kraftwerk’s “Tour De France” (1983), “Move To The Beat” is as frighteningly banal as Muse’s “Survival” is surprisingly progressive.

But might this be deliberate? For what is at stake when a multi-national corporation like Coca-Cola™ produces a theme song designed to exist simultaneously in all its global territories? “Move To The Beat” is not about content and effect; it’s all about context and placement. The chorus is tellingly droned by Katy B: “Everywhere in the wor-or-or-orld.” The paradigm is Warholian in its simplicity: if the Coca-Cola™ Corporation makes Pop, then that Pop will be like Coke™.

Coca-Cola™—early on tagged as a ‘taste sensation’—was one of the first ‘refreshing beverages’ to analyse not the physics of taste, but the physics of sensation. It’s what post-war advertising rhetoric famously referred to as selling “the sizzle, not the steak.” Coke™—a bizarre hybrid of effervescent coca, tannin-edged soda, sarsaparilla bite and caffeine aura—was targeted at the brain in the tongue. It sends in an invasion of nanobots of simulated flavourings working in hive-mind to territorialise the tongue’s bed of sensory readers. Its addictive crux lies as much in the way it contrasts the feeling of artificially induced taste against the procedures by which organic flavours work with the ‘tongue brain.’ After Coke™’s sizzle, biting into an apple becomes a sagging flavour event.

Replace ‘tongue’ with ‘ear’ and you have a version of how Pop music exists phenomenologically. Pop prides itself on sensation, and an awareness of that—not to mention a studious approach to craftsmanship—enables either strains or random instances of Pop music to be experienced as an exhilarating non-cerebral sonic art. It’s something that literary types will never comprehend, social theorists will always misapprehend and serious musicians spend their lives avoiding or suppressing.

“Move To The Beat” is no trail-blazer in the art of Pop—but this is because it’s essentially a trumped-up jingle pretending to be Pop music. The song signifies itself (the purpose of all ‘marketing’) as having everything it actually lacks. The rhythms are perfunctorily edited, the percussive textures lack bite, the synths hover like background scaffolding and Katy B’s vocals throw a congested blanket over the whole squirming mess. In contrast to the ways mainstream Pop recoups the pre-fab concentrates of Dubstep, Rave and R’n’B in oft-derided figures from Justin Timberlake to T-Pain to Skrillex and makes them sonically sizzle, “Move To The Beat” is perplexingly absent of any effervescence.

The cinema version of the video clip (and the official four-minute extended version) is filmed in one of those impressive outdoor stadiums with lighting like Albert Speer on crack. A massive audience has been assembled; a phalanx of roving cameras captures every micro-itch any living being makes; a wall of screens project rapid edits of Olympians soaring, posing, thrusting; and the whole show has been edited to such a degree that it implodes its own purpose. In fact, every shot of Katy B is out-of-synch with what she is actually singing on the track at that point. The subliminal effect is that the clip disregards its own music.

And this is precisely where Pop reveals itself in the clip’s audiovisual spectacle: the song is treated as transient fabric, insignificant textures, a meaningless apparition. In the hands of Coca-Cola™, the song is presented aurally as it is—dull and flat—while being presented visually as all it isn’t—flashy and exciting. Song-steak with video sizzle. The widescreen pizzazz of the clip (I saw it at one of Village’s full-digital cinema complexes) attempts to generate an ocular overload as if such a procedure pushes our perceptual limits. Instead, one can experience with clinical precision the ineffectiveness of such a spectacle.

Proof of how Pop music here is corralled into prancing around as a phantom of itself on the televisual stage lies in the way the clip suggests that these Olympians are actually ‘performing’ their sound effects live in this delusional circus of imploding Pop. At one point, the archer shoots an arrow from the back of the auditorium to a target on stage, and hits the mark—with perfect MIDI timing to boot. Of course it’s not intended to be believable, but it insists on theatricalising in the real space of the stadium an architectural logistical staging of how the sounds in the song are produced and mixed.

Mark Ronson appears on stage (dressed in red and white, following subliminal colour-coding 101) and conducts these ‘performers.’ His fey arm jerks are among the most limp-dicked conductor poses I’ve ever seen from a Pop performer. Ronson’s lack of physical prowess and Katy B’s stiff waddling and twirling are contrasted with Olympians being forced to perform like monkeys in drag, wildly flicking and bouncing on the stage and along special catwalks reaching into the audience. Frankly, no-one comes off well in this debacle. “Move To The Beat” is glaringly allowed to be the one thing Coke™ would never allow itself to be: flat.

This is the first in a series of columns exploring sound, vision and contemporary culture by Philip Brophy.

RealTime issue #111 Oct-Nov 2012 pg. 26

© Philip Brophy; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Top image credit © Coke-a-Cola

Zoe Scoglio, Shifting Ground

Zoe Scoglio, Shifting Ground

Zoe Scoglio, Shifting Ground

SEISMIC STABILITY IS SOMETHING WE (FINDING OURSELVES IN THE MIDDLE OF A TECTONIC PLATE) DON’T DWELL ON TOO OFTEN. IN SHIFTING GROUND, ZOE SCOGLIO SHINES A TORCH ON THE FISSURES IN THE PLASTER WALLS OF OUR HOMES, AS WELL AS IN OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH THE EARTH.

The performance opened bang on one month after a 5.2 magnitude earthquake sent Melbourne shuddering on June 19, sparking ‘online hysteria’ (at least in my Twitter feed). The earth, as Scoglio so magically describes it, is not inert. And to be reminded of that is to look at ourselves, our built structures as well as the earth’s mineral resources as finite.

A ceremonial glass of sencha tea awaited us as we piled into Meat Market’s Studio B where we were then asked to pick up a rock from a collection lined up against the wall. A round table stood in the centre of the darkened studio; an air of ritual prevailed. Cross-disciplinary artist, Zoe Scoglio is high priestess, but more often a conduit here; through her exploration of the sonic and physical space the audience makes new and rather philosophical connections. Our chosen rocks sit on the edge of the table, meaningless and static until they are picked up and transformed in her hands. Through gestural choreography they take on the shape of ice floes or moving continents. Crushed quartz is spilled onto the table creating a frozen landscape; the rocks perform a glacial dance, spinning and settling into place. The table is strung with piano wire inside, emitting vibrations as rocks journey across it. A sun-like spotlight joins in. Donning a miner’s torch, Scoglio becomes an explorer finding cracks and marks on the walls of the studio, evidence of the shifting earth below. The geological transformations that we witnessed earlier are not over.

An installation resembling a cave wall becomes the focus, the performer removing a part to get at a rock inside. In a playful way, Scoglio questions how inanimate objects arrive at their place and for what duration of time. In the spirit of William Blake, we see the world in a few grains of quartz and eternity in a 40-minute performance. Later a projection shows a rock spinning on a dark background, a foreboding meteorite; Scoglio’s own face briefly flashes across the wall, echoing her video Rock Bodies (made for Next Wave’s Timelapse program in 2009). In cultures that practice animism, natural forces, plants and animals are not regarded as lower than or separate from human beings. As Scoglio continues her inquiry, it begins to appear that the relationship between humans and earth is as much a spiritual question as any. This is imparted by her almost Gregorian-like chanting, which sets the rigged-up table to shake violently at the end of the performance, causing the quartz crystals to bounce off as if by magic. A machine sets the floorboards vibrating, reminding us again of the recent quake, and like the meteorite, of our own temporal nature. Scoglio’s performance is a finely cut gem, moving with perfect timing across landscapes and ideas.

Arts House: Shifting Ground, concept, performer, videographer Zoe Scoglio, sound design Nigel Brown, interaction design Chris Heywood, set & prop designer Zoe Stuart, human ecologist consultant Asha Bee Abraham; Arts House, Meat Market, Melbourne, July 19-22

RealTime issue #111 Oct-Nov 2012 pg. 43

© Varia Karipoff; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Rhoda Roberts

Rhoda Roberts

Rhoda Roberts

I AM SIMPLY PASSIONATE ABOUT FESTIVALS; THEY ARE ONE OF THE FEW PLATFORMS THAT ALLOW AND ENABLE FREEDOM FOR EXPRESSION IN ALL SHAPES AND FORMS, CATERING TO ALL DEMOGRAPHICS. THEY OFFER EXPERIENCES FILLED WITH MESMERISING MOMENTS OF AWE, SURPRISE, CELEBRATION, PERSONAL EMOTIONS AND INSPIRATION—DARE I SAY, THEY ARE EVEN LIFE-CHANGING FOR SOME.

“Is there room for one more?
We don’t want to see old people digging graves for young people
Old people crying for young people
Young people should cry for old people
They should be digging grave for old people
To see young people healthy and strong. That’s why we are doing this work.”
Gumatj Clan Leader & Healer, the late Mrs Yunupingu

I am proud to have founded The Dreaming (1995-2009), a festival which catered to so many artists, participants, community and audiences on an international and national scale. A festival is a time for all to gather and reflect; since time immemorial we have gathered on country to call, sing and dance. Over the years there has been much research regarding the necessity and sustainability of such cultural events and now it is evident that critical mass celebrations have widespread outcomes and long-term benefits and implications. There are many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander festivals that have been ongoing across country and we all know they are a healing tool, empowering our people to continue the ancient and the new, providing and encouraging discussion of those daily issues faced by many of our communities.

My experience on a personal level working with festivals across urban, rural and remote communities has been witnessing the profound effect they have on audiences. The well-being of our people through the arts sector for me is paramount so I was saddened to hear of The Dreaming festival’s demise. With global economic challenges across the sector we have to get more creative in our planning, structure and relationships when it comes to funding expensive undertakings such as festivals.

Perhaps the ancestors were indicating a time for change? Change allows us to reflect and consider new models and approaches to the structure of budgets and resources for varying festival models. We need to evaluate the relationship with land, consider the place of mining sponsorship along with the Commonwealth’s obligation to the festival sector, including its commitment and responsibility to support the maintenance of the oldest living and adapting culture on the planet. The corporate sector has developed partnerships with many arts companies, and should recognise that festivals represent a unique opportunity to foster community ownership, inclusion and basic relationships across differnt industries.

Is there room for yet another boutique festival with a niche market that not only provides entertainment but enables the wellbeing of my countrymen and women?

I strongly believe there is. And I am working towards a renamed and rebranded event, the Boomerang Festival, which aims to continue the spirit of The Dreaming festival. The event will be held at Byron Bay on the lands of the Bundjalung in October 2013, signalling a return to country for me in my role as volunteer artistic director. It’s been a hard slog, and sometimes I question how far we have come and whether different cultural voices are still viewed with suspicion. But we are fully committed to the festival and, beyond securing council approval, the challenge will be to garner further financial support that will allow us to re-establish an annual gathering that is sustainable and profitable.

Some 17 years ago, when I began developing my very first festival, I realised immediately that a successful festival only occurs when the team runs a like a precision engine. I needed to understand every facet and mechanism of the vehicle. The driver for that first festival was Karilyn Brown [the then Executive Director, Audience and Market Development, Australia Council for the Arts], and thank God for her. I am indebted to her persistence, guidance and nurturing. Success was her only option; there was simply no room in the dialogue for failure.

The road ahead was a complex one with many twists and turns and I was behind the wheel with my ‘P plates’ on. I recognised the enormous scale this opportunity presented: a rare chance to showcase our culture from a very different perspective. There was the responsibility and cultural obligation of ensuring the content was appropriate. There was the challenge of showcasing a diversity of country, language and the many artforms we practice—from ancient chants, the mesmerising balletic fusions of our dances, the ritual drone and the rhythm of our youth.

So I began my daily mantra of ensuring cultural authenticity and control. I paid attention to detail and process, I discussed industry standards and felt overwhelmed and completely out of my depth. My teachers and cultural guides were many; the voices of Oodgeroo Noonuccal, Justine Saunders, Vivien Walker and Brian Syron guided me through the rips. Their words and advice echoed daily on the wind, and I listened and watched. I was astounded as I saw the tide change as more and more cultural practices were given space for maintenance, rekindling and revitalising.

I embarked on travelling the breadth of country, seeking cultural knowledge from the Sweetwater of the Clarence River home of the Bundjalung to the escarpment lands west of the Kimberley, witnessing Bunggul on the Dhalinbuy homelands of the Yolngu and sitting on the red earth and hearing the Inma of the Seven Sisters, and then crossing the gulf country to the saltwaters of the Lardil. It was the beginning of a rich cultural education I had never dreamed possible. I am indebted to the many senior cultural custodians and lore men and women who were my mentors on so many levels.

When we launched my appointment as the Artistic Director, The Dreaming festival, back in 1995, there were rumblings of discontent from some members of the community; loud questions erupted regarding the name of the festival and the essence of the program. Some even suggested that this was exploitation of the oldest living race. It was a minefield and an educative process all rolled into one. I took the criticism personally, but I was buoyed by the support of my dearest colleague Lydia Miller [producer, performer, administrator and currently Executive Director Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts, Australia Council]. Had she not been there I would simply have given up.

The day of the launch was a warm one and I sweated in my suit as the media gathered at Djubagalle, under the sails of the Opera House. I silently paid my respects to her original inhabitant, Bennelong, wiped away the tears and prepared to face a very short career in the world of festivals.

Then the black men arrived; resplendent in their attire and with smiles gleaming they embraced me. Uncle Chicka Dixon and Gary Foley stood shoulder to shoulder with me as we faced the onslaught. “You’re a good community girl from a strong mob,” Uncle remarked. Those few words changed my world; with them he passed the mantle to me. The strength and power of that gesture gave me the courage to think big and create annual events that ensured intergenerational exchange and knowledge transmission.

RealTime issue #111 Oct-Nov 2012 pg. 17

© Rhoda Roberts; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Lucas Abela, Vinyl Rally Arcade

Lucas Abela, Vinyl Rally Arcade

Lucas Abela, Vinyl Rally Arcade

ART AND GAMES MAKE A KILLER COMBINATION. SOME OF THE MOST EXCITING EXPERIMENTAL ARTWORKS CREATED IN AUSTRALIA IN RECENT YEARS ARE DEEPLY EMBEDDED IN GAMING CULTURE. GIVEN THAT THE NEW GENERATION OF ART LOVERS GREW UP WITH GAMES AS A SIGNIFICANT COMPONENT OF THEIR LIVES, IT’S NO WONDER THERE IS SUCH A STRONG DESIRE AND SUPPORT FOR INTERACTIVE, PARTICIPATORY CULTURE.

When I was asked to present at a forum for the Game Masters exhibition at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) in June 2012 on art and game culture, the main questions I had to ask myself were around definitions. What do we mean when we talk about art and games? And what does the actual work that the Australia Council supports in this area (either directly or indirectly through organisations) look like?

That blurry line between conceptually driven art and game culture was also prominent in my mind, as was the language required to describe the work developing in Australia.

As I collected images and examples of recently funded projects, I started creating loose categories. These bleed into each other by necessity and are of course open for review. But they allow me to create a conversation around what I have termed Art and Games in which I suggest five sub-categories: Game Art; Art Videogames; Game-Like Art; Game Culture Interventions; and Game Culture Initiatives.

game art

PVI Collective, Deviator, 2012

PVI Collective, Deviator, 2012

Game art is art that integrates gaming rules, structured play and reward/fail systems into the artwork. Works such as You Are Here’s Pemulwuy Dream Team (2009) and PVI Collective’s Deviator (2011) are two examples that illustrate how art can integrate game structures into the core aspect of the work.

In Pemulwuy Dream Team, artists Zanny Begg and Keg de Souza worked with the Redfern Indigenous and non-Indigenous communities to develop a Wii-remote boxing game filmed in the local Tony Mundine Gym. With the help of software developer Andy Nicholson, the artists developed a game around the story of Pemulwuy, a member of the Bidjigal clan of the Eora people who led Indigenous resistance to the European invasion when the First Fleet arrived in 1788. To win the game you had to beat not only the drug dealers but also the developers. No easy task.

PVI Collective’s locative media project Deviator (2011) is also a game-based work, structured to encourage players to intervene in public spaces with rewards and achievements unlocked as the game progresses. Activities on offer range from pole dancing in public to running away from a scary, kissing clown. And all the while participants are running against the clock to get points to increase their position on the scoreboard.

In both these works there are strong interventionist tactics at play that engage and critique the dominant political, social and economic orders of the spaces in which they are presented. At the core of this type of game art there is still a strong sense of critical engagement and questioning of the social status quo.

art videogames

Anita  Fontaine, CuteXDoom II, 2008

Anita Fontaine, CuteXDoom II, 2008

Art videogames are electronic games that have been transformed into artworks or designed from scratch as pieces of contemporary art. These require artists to utilise game engine technologies to create the works.

Anita Fontaine’s CuteXdoom II (2008) is an example of an art videogame that explores the concept of hyper-consumerism through artistic interventions, with particular reference to Japanese otaku (obsession) and kawai (cuteness) subcultures.

On joining a consumerist ‘cult’ controlled by cute consumer objects, the first person player suddenly finds the cute objects turning violently aggressive, with the game spent trying to escape these creatures and return to non-consumerist calm. CuteXdoom II, the second installment of Fontaine’s work was exhibitied at Maxalot in partnership with Mike Pelletier (Champagne Valentine), where she used game engine technology from titles such as Unreal Tournament 3 to create artistic work in new game environments.

game-like art

Thea Baumann, Hologram Holiday part of Metaverse Makeover

Thea Baumann, Hologram Holiday part of Metaverse Makeover

Thea Baumann, Hologram Holiday part of Metaverse Makeover

Game-like arts uses gaming technology and virtual and augmented reality applications to create emerging forms of art through a range of new, often interactive work. Thea Baumann’s Hologram Holiday (2011) and Jimmy McGilchrist’s Curious Creatures (2011) are two examples of works that use playful, interactive, participatory, virtual and augmented reality work in a game-like capacity.

Hologram Holiday, part of a larger Live Art project managed by Baumann, titled Metaverse Makeover, involves a performative nail salon treatment, an experimental sound track, several ‘hologram hostesses’ assisting with new augmented reality nails and virtual reality applications. Nail technicians place special QR codes on clients’ fingernails, which when viewed through an application on a smart phone or mobile device, reveal three dimensional, virtual reality jewellery popping out of each nail. A cornucopia of virtual bling.

In McGilchrist’s Curious Creatures, game engine technology is used to generate 3D creatures projected onto fences. Each creature makes its own activity decisions based on the interaction of participants, created though ‘shadows’ generated with X-box Kinect technology tracking movements in front of each fence. An immersive, interactive jungle landscape is created with responsive AI inhabitants playing with punters.

Game-like art uses the tools of game engine and virtual reality technologies to invent new applications for both experimental arts practices and innovative community engagement.

game culture interventions

One of the more interesting recent developments is the evolution of artwork that critiques the cultural and social set-up of game culture itself. This is not a negative development—in fact it is a great sign that game culture plays a significant role in current cultural debate.

Work such as Computer Boy, a mixed reality performance by Blood Policy and Aphids, uses machinema and theatre to talk about issues of potential isolation for hyper-networked young people. The work also examines racial and gender stereotypes that are perpetuated in some of the games on the market at the moment. These works are not anti-gaming; they elevate game experiences to the same level as other cultural experiences and hold them accountable at that same level.

game culture initiatives

As well as funding the creation of art games, art video games, game-like art and game interventions, the Australia Council supports sector development initiatives that expand the capacity of artists working in virtual reality and game cultures. Two such initiatives include the Australian Centre for Virtual Art Laboratory (ACVA Lab) and the Interactive Media Innovation [imi] Project.

ACVA Lab, held in 2009, was a national gathering in Melbourne that explored the work of Australian artists and technologists using virtual and augmented reality platforms. As well as facilitating artistic networks and prototyping, ACVA curated and promoted Australian artists at the International Symposium of Electronic Art (ISEA) 2011 in Istanbul through Terra Virtualis, a nationally representative exhibition of new, virtual and augmented reality art. ACVA also supported Aroha Groves’ virtual world work Connections2, which was Highly Commended at the 2010 Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award.

The [imi] Project, supported through the Australia Council, the Australian Research Council, the Australian Film Television and Radio School (AFTRS) and the Queensland University of Technology, similarly champions national innovation in interactive design. It will place Australian artists in a number of Australia’s leading interactive media development companies, including Defiant Development, Halfbrick Studios (think Fruit Ninja), Hoodlum, Kennedy Miller Mitchell, League of Geeks, Mod Productions, the Project Factory and Tantalus Media.

60Sox’s Justin Brow and AFTRS’ Karen Pearlman will be liaising with the Australia Council to identify and place artists working with a range of artforms in these companies to cross-fertilise ideas and develop new concepts for emerging art and game projects.

the future

The Australia Council continues to support emerging and experimental practices for art and games through its general grant rounds and through special initiatives.

A major event coming up, where many of the works we have supported will be on display, is the ISEA 2013 in Sydney. This event will not only showcase key Australian and international electronic artworks of excellence, but also engage with innovative game culture art and its evolution as part of the program. I look forward to seeing the new work in development for ISEA 2013 and also being part of ongoing conversations on the role of art and games in Australia.

ACMI, Game Masters, Exhibition, Melbourne, June 28-Oct 28; forum, June 28

For enquires about the Interactive Media Innovation [imi] project go to www.imi-innovation.org

RealTime issue #111 Oct-Nov 2012 pg. 27

© Ricardo Peach; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Applelspiel Make a Band and Take on the Recording Industry

Applelspiel Make a Band and Take on the Recording Industry

Applelspiel Make a Band and Take on the Recording Industry

PERFORMANCE IN ALL ITS DIVERSITY GREETED ME IN THEATRES OVER RECENT MONTHS: A HORROR STORY IN WHICH A FATHER IS NEARLY DRIVEN TO MURDER HIS CHILD (PRESENTED AS A NASTY PUPPET); AN ADAPTATION OF AN INGMAR BERGMAN SCREENPLAY IN WHICH A PSYCHIATRIST, INCAPABLE OF SELF-ANALYSIS, SUFFERS A SEVERE NERVOUS BREAKDOWN; A YOUTH THEATRE PRODUCTION THAT ADDRESSES STRESSES AND CULPABILITIES IN GOSSIP CULTURE; AND, THANKFULLY LIGHTER, AN ENSEMBLE OF PERFORMERS FANTASISE A ROCK’N’ROLL CAREER FOR THEMSELVES. EACH OF THE WORKS RAISED DRAMATURGICAL ISSUES AROUND CONCEPTION AND EXECUTION.

appelspiel make a band…

Appelspiel’s ‘rockumentary,’ Applelspiel Make a Band and Take on the Recording Industry is an amiable satire on the popular music industry via video interviews, performances, video clip mockups, the tour saga and the pressures that can result in band breakup. It’s all too familiar territory but what gives this show an edge is the inclusion of local colour autobiographical material captured in onstage video interviews, the tracking of the construction of hoped-for hit songs, including different arrangements, and, at the work’s dramatic centre, an hilarious roundtable battle over royalties caught verité onscreen by a camera amid the performers.

What impresses is the precision and ease with which the creator-performers manage the constant juggling of cameras, microphones, musical instruments and scene setting. The band members are their own very efficient roadies. A pity then that the overall lighting lacks definition, frequently blurring the projected images on the large screen that dominates the stage. Handheld lights and clever camera work create some of the best effects including a very funny parody of a hip hop video clip which managed to transfer well to the screen.

Appelspiel Make a Band and Take on the Recording Industry is an inventive and very funny crowd pleaser. It deserves a return season with the opportunity to smooth out unevennesses in the singing and the otherwise admirably laidback performances, to improve the rather limp ending and to trim the number of songs. Appelspiel Make a Band…represents a quantum leap in the writing, structure and performance strengths of the group; promise of even better things to come.

 

atyp and version 1.0, the tender age

The Tender Age, ATYP & version 1.0

The Tender Age, ATYP & version 1.0

The inspiration for The Tender Age comes from an infamous radio broadcast in which a young teenager, quizzed about her sexuality on radio, reveals that she has been raped, and that her mother had refused to deal with it. That the girl was even being interviewed about her sexuality by radio hosts Kyle Sandilands and Jackie O using a lie detector was bad enough, but the role of her mother, who thought it would be good for the girl to be confronted about herself in a public arena, was more worrying. The mothers and other adult women in The Tender Age are, by the end of the performance, grotesques.

Against projections of images of a household interior on large screens, a very long period is spent establishing the mood of a group of teenagers, dancing, cuddling and playing games until a mobile phone image of one of the girls having sex is widely distributed. The young performers move in straight lines, breaking at right angles, rumour and judgments passing from one person to another. Screens fill with faces and keyboards. Abusive exchanges ensue. The radio interview is recreated verbatim: Jane Phegan plays the mum neutrally so it’s difficult to judge the woman’s tone and motives—but she’s the one who asks the lie detector questions. The radio hosts are immediately alarmed and apologetic. The scene is deftly realised; judgment left to the audience.

A woman appears, anxious about choosing the right image of herself for Facebook. A restrained teenager worries about kissing. A counsellor struggles to effect a meaningful apology from the student perpetrator of e-gossip. This is another strong scene, rich in tensions and contradictions, if too short-lived. The plethora of images and information in The Tender Age have by now evoked both the vulnerability and cruelty of teenagers, but evocation is rarely extended to anything more probing.

Images and episodes roll on. A witty ode to the smart phone is followed by a human tangle in which, among other things, the percentage of teenagers watching porn is detailed. A woman is outed online and loses her job for sleeping with her CEO. With a row of alco-pops before them, the adolescents express their anger at adult hypocrisy about alcohol consumption. Finally, drunken mothers turn against their children: “You’re a loser, just like your father,” “You ruined my life. I wish you didn’t exist.”

Where are the fathers? Or is this a single mother issue? The young people, whose material this is have, to a large degree, cast their net very wide resulting in an intermittently engaging show with some tantalisingly potent scenes and confusing disjunctions. On the other hand, the narrowness of the approach to adult females (anxious, vain, ineffectual, victimised, drunken and bitter) calls at the very least for a sustained scene depicting a mother-child relationship.

Fortunately the committed young actors perform convincingly and passionately under the co-direction of Fraser Corfield and David Williams, although some standard youth theatre gambits and the cut and paste construction of content is not what we expect, especially from version 1.0. Given the delicacy and the potency of the subject matter, The Tender Age warranted an experienced writer to help draw its young subjects further into the complexities of the issues they face in their lives. This is a very well-publicised production of scale in a major venue; its young performers deserve more. The Tender Age certainly holds up a mirror to the lives of a generation, but much more than reflection is needed.

 

stc: face to face

Face to Face, STC

Face to Face, STC

Face to Face, STC

Without having first seen Ingmar Bergman’s Face to Face (1976), director Simon Stone found the published screenplay and was entranced by its theatrical potential. Bergman was also a great director of the European stage, a ruthless adaptor (like Stone) of classics and, apparently, a not particularly successful playwright. It was, of course, in film that Bergman excelled as a writer, innovatively synthesising theatre and cinema into what he described when referring to Persona, The Silence and others as “chamber films.’

As a fan of Bergman’s films, Stone was aware of a problem, one that the filmmaker himself was constantly alert to (and had written about pre-production to the actors and crew for the Face to Face): how to represent dreams in film? Bergman regarded this film, one of his least favourite, as emotionally overwrought. The film is nonetheless absorbing, largely due to the raw power of Liv Ullman’s performance as Jenny, a psychiatrist suffering a nervous breakdown; but the extended dream sequences are indeed problematic—rather theatrically staged and too literally symbolic. However, Bergman gets it right in the smaller moments of psychological disintegration in Face to Face when the bleed from reality to hallucination appears frighteningly actual, a goal Bergman aspired to. These involve Jenny’s encounters with an elegant, elderly woman, dressed in black and missing one eye. That she is so disturbed by the woman, with whom she exchanges no words, is the first signal for Jenny that something is wrong. Later she will turn to a mirror and see not herself, but the one-eyed woman.

Co-adaptors Stone and Andrew Upton have elided the old woman, perhaps because her role is purely symbolic and too neatly frames both screenplay and film. In doing so they diminish, to a degree, Bergman’s Freudian preoccupations and focus on immediate social pressures—work, marriage, ageing relatives—and rape. This makes things awkward when, in the play’s second movement (there is no interval) in a psychiatric ward, the “repressed” fairly gushes out in an expository rush. It’s already a problem in the original and no less so here. What Stone and Upton do tolerably well, however, is realise a disturbing interplay of nightmare and reality in the ward.

Jenny’s hospital room is a wide, glaringly white box of a room behind glass with the actors’ voices cinematically amplified, lending the production the much needed chamber theatre quality it most certainly needs. Between moments of lucidity, Bergman’s screen nightmares are replaced by hallucinated characters from Jenny’s life who, confronting and demanding, wander into or race through her room. The success of these scenes, played out in a shifting palette of eerie pastel lighting that blurs the rational/irrational divide, highlights the weakness of the first movement of Face to Face.

Stone uses the full, bare stage of the Sydney Theatre for the first half of the play in which Jenny’s world disintegrates, placing performers at a great distance from the audience and each other. While Stone’s skill at stage choreography can never be doubted in the enforced intimacy of Belvoir Upstairs, here it appears, at turns, shapeless or over-determined. Voices are thin, furniture (including an embarrassingly voluminous hot tub) is clunkily hauled on and off. Perhaps Stone reckoned that this otherwise vast emptiness would amplify our sense of Jenny’s alienation from her world. The one moment of intense focus in the first movement comes when, after being raped, Jenny attends a musical concert. The actors sit in a row across the front of the stage, Jenny arriving late and sitting in the middle, her face alone is spotlit.

For Bergman, the still face in close-up was one of his principal filmmaking fascinations. In theatre, lighting aside, it’s the actor’s capacity physically and vocally to draw us to them with the aura that is their personal spotlight—witness Cate Blanchett’s Lotte in the opening monologue of STC’s Gross und Klein. But there’s little opportunity for that in the first rather disengaged first movement of Face to Face, save for moments of wry if incidental humour. However, in the end—as it should be—it’s the performances—if against the odds and principally in the second half—that make Face to Face memorable.

Kerry Fox’s down to earth Jenny is a superb realisation of a woman for whom every meaningful connection with the world is systematically severed. She plays the role with a lightness of touch, a kind of innocence tempered with touches of bluntness and detachment. But it is an innocence corrupted by denial. Without going to the physical extremes of Liv Ullman’s body-wrenching breakdown in the film Fox nonetheless conveys a palpable sense of total disturbance.

Having left a phone message for her husband, describing the vacuousness of her reality, and consumed copious sleeping tablets, Jenny slips into another world signalled by a column of light emanating from a vast ceiling descending from above and into which she disappears. After a short blackout we are with her in the nightmarish psychiatric hospital in the play’s second movement. The effect is theatrically monumental, possibly ironic, but oddly epic in proportion to the movements that frame it and certainly an unsubtle leap from the real into nightmare.

There are too many changes to the Bergman screenplay to warrant detailing, some are clever, some insightful, some wrongheaded. Bergman’s theatre metaphor is nicely accentuated. However, it’s quite noticeable that lines that work on screen in close-up can sometimes sound either bland or melodramatic when transferred wholesale to the stage, especially when juxtaposed with fresher additions from the co-adaptors. Mitchell Butel’s Thomas, a bisexual with whom Jenny has a brief affair and who supports her through her illness, is denied the mix of altruism and cynical resolution he exhibits in film and screenplay. It makes him too benign, undercutting Jenny’s return to strength and independence. Butel’s is a fine performance but deserving more complexity. Wendy Hughes and John Gaden as Jenny’s aunt and uncle are excellent and Humphrey Bower is aptly acerbic as a cynical fellow psychiatrist. Face to Face is partly successful, thanks mostly to Kerry Fox’s central performance, but the adaptation appears to have created more problems than it could solve.

 

stc: hilary bell, the splinter

The Splinter, STC

The Splinter, STC

The Splinter, STC

Hilary Bell’s The Splinter, the tale of a kidnapped child mysteriously returned to her parents, has the potential to unnerve its audience, but something appears to be awry in conception and execution.

The return should be the salvation of her parents’ difficult relationship but the father doubts the child is their own. His growing paranoia in which he hallucinates two sinister look-alike teenagers in cahoots with the imposter turns him against mother and child. What ensues is confusing narrative and theatrical overload.

In the tradition of the folk tale and ghost story, something very odd is happening, which even the wife momentarily experiences, but it doesn’t help the audience place the apparently evil twins, other than as ‘the others.’ The father sees them as manipulating his family. This is amplified by the others’ Bunraku-style handling of the child, presented as a puppet. Had the production invested more in the realisation of the child, given it a more palpable personality, as puppetry is perfectly capable of, and more engagement in the action, then the production might have offered Erik Thomson much more to work with. The child is absent for long stretches and her presence is diluted when she’s simply bundled about by the twins. I began to wish that the two were simply puppeteers (much to be learnt here from My Darling Patricia’s virtuosic Africa, RT101, p41) instead of being literalised and attention pulling. ‘The others’ should be felt and not seen. And the child should dominate the stage life of her parents.

Erik Thomson (ideally cast as a benign man pushed to the edge of madness and possibly the murder of his child) and Helen Thomson (a principally reactive role, but excellent in the moment where she grapples with her guilt) do their best under difficult circumstances. It’s a pity that The Splinter becomes so confusingly diffuse when it appears to have the potential to chill.

In RealTime 112, Andrew Fuhrmann will write about a Melbourne adaptation of Ingmar Bergman’s film Persona from Fraught Outfit and Theatre Works; it’s programmed for Belvoir in July-August, 2013. An interview with Simon Stone about Face to Face appeared in RealTime 110. An interview with Hilary Bell can be found here.

Performance Space, Show On: Appelspiel Make a Band and Take on the Recording Industry, creator-performers Simon Binns, Nathan Harrington, Nikki Kennedy, Emma McManus, Joseph Parro, Troy Reid, Rachel Roberts, Mark Rogers; Carriageworks, July 25-28; version 1.0 & Australian Theatre for Young People, The Tender Age, directors Fraser Corfield, David Williams, performers ATYP members, video artist Sean Bacon, lighting Christopher Page, sound design Gail Priest, Carriageworks, Aug 22-Sept 1; Sydney Theatre Company, Face to Face, A Film by Ingmar Bergman, director, adaptor Simon Stone, co-adaptor Andrew Upton, cast Humphrey Bower, Mitchell Butel, Kerry Fox, John Gaden, Wendy Hughes, Anna Martin, Jessica Nash, Queenie Van Zandt, Dylan Young, set and lighting Nick Schlieper, costumes Alice Babidge, composer, sound design Stefan Gregory, Sydney Theatre, opened Aug 11; Sydney Theatre Company, The Splinter, writer Hilary Bell, director Sarah Goodes, performers Julia Ohannessian, Erik Thomson, Helen Thomson, Kate Worsley, puppetry, movement director Alice Osborne, designer Renee Mulder, lighting Damien Cooper, composer Emily Maguire, sound design Steve Francis; Wharf 1, STC, Sydney, Aug 10-Sept 15

RealTime issue #111 Oct-Nov 2012 pg. 44-45

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Tiriki Onus with the Short Black Opera ensemble and Dhungala Children’s Choir, Pecan Summer

Tiriki Onus with the Short Black Opera ensemble and Dhungala Children’s Choir, Pecan Summer

Tiriki Onus with the Short Black Opera ensemble and Dhungala Children’s Choir, Pecan Summer

OPERA MIRRORS ABORIGINAL CULTURAL PRACTICES. INDEED, INDIGENOUS AUSTRALIANS HAVE BEEN TELLING THEIR STORIES THROUGH SONG AND DANCE, DRAMA AND COSTUME, FOR THOUSANDS OF YEARS. THE COMPARISON TO OPERA IS OBVIOUS AND YET FOR SO LONG WE HAVE BEEN UNDER REPRESENTED IN THIS WONDERFUL GENRE.

In July 2006, Pecan Summer was little more than a title. Ten years on from my autobiographical play White Baptist Abba Fan I knew it was time for my next major theatrical effort but what was it to be? After almost 20 years as a freelance soprano, I felt it was time to do something to encourage other Indigenous singers to consider a career in classical vocal music.

Opera has been my life; I have immersed myself in that world since the age of 14. I cannot imagine a world without it. The power of music to elevate a story beyond the spoken word has always captivated me.

Harold Blair paved the way for me. In 1949, a 25-year old Aboriginal tenor emerged from the cane fields of Queensland. After gaining his diploma at Melba Conservatorium, he began a career that was to span almost 30 years.

Harold was the first. It is never easy to be the first. He was a leader at a time when Australia wasn’t sure what to do with Aboriginal leadership. But with his voice and professionalism he well and truly transcended the status of Flora and Fauna imposed on Aboriginal people prior to 1967.

Developing a career in opera is a long, slow process. It is an elite pursuit. It is a demanding and all consuming profession with many, many layers of knowledge to acquire before a career can begin in a meaningful way. These points are NOT reason enough to prevent Indigenous men and women from taking this path, but the weight of low expectations could be. It is my goal to change expectations. When you change expectations you change outcomes.

In April 2007, after receiving an Australia Council Fellowship, I began a process researching the history behind Pecan Summer. I chose the story of the 1939 walk off from Cummeragunja NSW Mission/Station for its obvious dramatic content, the exodus of Yorta Yorta people from their homeland and the inevitable and unending search for identity. Much of my early research took place in the library of the Koorie Heritage Trust in Melbourne. I soon realised I needed to go to the source and speak to people who had lived the experience and most of whom are now in their late 70s.

I headed north to Shepparton where I knew of a Yorta Yorta Elder who had experienced the walk-off. Aunty Frances Mathyssen was just nine years old when she left Cummera along with her parents and 200 other men, women and children and yet could recount the events of that day in such vivid detail that I was immediately transported to that hot February morning.

Deborah Cheetham

Deborah Cheetham

Deborah Cheetham

In 1939 the men and women of Cummera took their destiny into their own hands. Leaders such as Bill Onus, Jack Patten and Geraldine Briggs, encouraged by the tireless efforts of William Cooper and Douglas Nichols, showed amazing courage to lead their people across the Dhungala (Murray River) into Victoria. It is an epic tale. One deserving of an opera.

It also became a personal story. During my conversations with Aunty Frances I made a startling discovery. The Aboriginal grandparents that I had never known were actually part of the story and were well known to the elderly people I was interviewing. Suddenly I had a family that stretched beyond the limitations of my knowledge. People were telling me how much I reminded them of my grandmother Francis and how she was a singer with a beautiful voice. Suddenly my past linked up with my present and my future, and I just happened to be writing an opera about it—what are the chances?

Pecan Summer is my first libretto, my first operatic score. It comes from a very deep place, from genetic memory, from life’s experiences. In 2010 we took the story home, to Mooroopna, near Shepparton, for the world premiere. We did this in honour of the men and women whose lives were shaped by the walk-off. In 2011 it had its Melbourne premiere in the iconic Arts Centre Playhouse. Both seasons were received with critical acclaim. In 2012 we shared our story with Western Australian audiences, on the ancient land of the Noongar people.

Like Harold Blair before me, I set out to create a pathway for Indigenous singers who wish to pursue a career in the intensely emotional world of classical vocal music. Australian Indigenous voices can and will become the new sound in opera around the world. With Short Black Opera developing artists the calibre of Yorta Yorta bass baritone Tiriki Onus and Wiradjuri soprano Shauntai Batzke the future is looking very bright.

RealTime issue #111 Oct-Nov 2012 pg. 18

© Deborah Cheetham; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Last Dance

Last Dance

LAST DANCE OPENS INNOCUOUSLY WITH MRS LIPPMANN (JULIA BLAKE) GOING ABOUT HER BUSINESS ON THE BUSY COMMERCIAL STRIP OF A SUBURB IN INNER-MELBOURNE. IT’S AN AREA WHICH, JUDGING FROM THE ABUNDANCE OF KIPPAS AND BEARDS (NOT TO MENTION THE ‘KOSHER SUSHI’ SHOP), DRAWS ITS CHARACTER FROM ITS JEWISH INHABITANTS, WHILE THE INDUSTRIOUS WIDOW SEEMS THE SORT OF LADY WHO IS FRIENDLY WITH EVERYONE, THOUGH INTIMATE ONLY WITH HER CAT. THEN THERE’S THE SOUND OF SIRENS, THE BUZZ OF PEOPLE EVAPORATES AND A TROUBLED MRS LIPPMANN IS LEFT TO MAKE HER WAY HOME.

Her puzzlement is soon explained when she returns to her brown-brick flat, where she is accosted by Sadiq (Firass Dirani), a Palestinian Islamic fundamentalist fleeing from the synagogue where a fellow-terrorist has just blown himself up. Bleeding from a shrapnel wound and unsure of what to do next, Sadiq takes Mrs Lippmann hostage, though as he makes clear to her, “killing you means nothing to me—it simply means ridding the world of one more Jew.”

Last Dance should be applauded for directly confronting the ongoing conflict in Israel and disenfranchisement of the Palestinian people, raising questions of moral responsibility within the relatively accessible format of the thriller. Though the initial scenes are painted a touch too heavy-handedly—must every extra be Orthodox?—the Melbourne setting is believable in that the story might play out anywhere in the Judaic diaspora. There are a few surprises: Mrs Lippmann, a Holocaust survivor, though initially repulsed by Sadiq’s hatred and the mindlessness of his indoctrination, is not unready to listen to his story—and when the power dynamic between the pair shifts halfway through the film, her choices are made believable by their shared experience of catastrophic loss.

Without the right performers, director David Pulbrook and co-screenwriter Terence Hammond’s script may well have lost much of its drive. Fortunately, both leads excel here. Dirani, whose roles in TV dramas such as Underbelly and The Straits seem to have prepared him perfectly for the big screen, is superb as the failed suicide bomber, a livewire of impulsive gesture and darkly challenging looks. His brooding energy is magnificently balanced by Blake, the worn planes of her face channelling a seemingly boundless empathy as she is forced to confront her assumptions about Israel and try to reason her way out of a labyrinth of equivocation.

The film is smoothly shot, Pulbrook wisely allowing the performers to carry the story, the camera to linger on their faces. His experience as an editor (Ground Zero, The Cup) ensures that the film maintains a look of smooth professionalism. However, although the performances cannot help but shine through, they are not aided by an obtrusive soundtrack and some of the more overwrought contrivances of the script. Indeed, the script may have benefited from being tested on a stage before being adapted to the screen, given the limitations of the setting. As it is, although Last Dance delves into powerfully emotive territory it veers dangerously close to melodrama, particularly in the third act, so the characters never really developing beyond the necessities of the concept.

Last Dance, director David Pulbrook, producer Antony Ginnane, screenplay David Pulbrook and Terence Hammond, director of photography Lee Pulbrook, Ulah Productions, Becker Group release

RealTime issue #111 Oct-Nov 2012 pg. 29

© Oliver Downes; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Atticus with Jon Rose (far right), Metapraxis

Atticus with Jon Rose (far right), Metapraxis

Atticus with Jon Rose (far right), Metapraxis

ATTICUS’ METAPRAXIS IS A PROGRAM OF WORKS THAT STRETCHES THE CONCEPT OF A STRING QUARTET IN EVERY DIRECTION. A TEAM OF ASSOCIATE ARTISTS CONTRIBUTED TO THE EVENT, WHICH MIGHT BEST BE DESCRIBED AS A SEASON FOR EXPANDED STRING QUARTET. BEGINNING EACH OF THEIR THREE PERFORMANCES WITH A DIFFERENT IMPROVISED MUSIC ‘SUPPORT ACT’ SEEMED APT AMONGST WORKS THAT WERE EQUALLY EXPLORATORY AND OF ‘THE NOW.’

On viola and reel-to-reel tape recorder, James Rushford and Joe Talia performed an improvised work of deft subtlety and stealth. Using a vocabulary of sounds that drew attention to subtle imperfections—scratches, whispers and glitches—this work maintained focus, despite its ephemeral gestures.

What was most impressive about Talia and Rushford’s performance was the sensitivity they shared toward the sounds they produced. Never at odds with each other, the music they created was free to move in any direction at any time—to lash out from its predominantly restrained state into moments of extreme violence and intensity.

On the second evening, the program opened with Jon Rose’s Palimpson—a solo act that conveyed a similar sense of exploration. Performed on what might be described as a ‘meta-violin’—the instrument expanded through four audio channels and employing a diverse palette of interactive, electronic effects—Rose’s work was unrelenting in its kinetic energy. Despite the intensity and complexity of the sounds produced through these electronic effects, Rose, as a performer, was never overwhelmed, always interacting physically with this complex onslaught of sound.

Anthony Pateras’ Crystalline, performed by Atticus as a string quartet, is a composition about stark contrasts and transitions. For the performers, this work was highly challenging, not only in its intricate and complex rhythms, but in the challenge to convey a structure that takes a series of unexpected turns. I found it difficult to engage with on its first performance, however on the second evening the energy of the performers and the work itself were more convincingly aligned.

Cat Hope’s Cruel and Usual Punishment, commissioned especially for this program, displays a fascination with frequency. It transforms the role of stringed instruments from the producers of ‘notes’ to frequencies, free to glide outside the chromatic spectrum. Although I felt that it could have evolved further, this work provided an ambience and spaciousness that offset more frenetic works on the program.

Rose’s The Long and Short of It, an emphatic statement on Australia’s cultural identity, seemed to resonate through the program as a whole. Taking audio and footage from The Great Fences of Australia project, in which Rose and partner Hollis Taylor perform on wire fences with violin bows, The Long and Short of It is a work that is overwhelmingly about place—about the vastness of our landscape, and a music that could not possibly come from anywhere else.

Using a series of cue cards, Rose directed a small ensemble of string players performing a series of quasi-improvised passages. A curious phenomenon occurs in Rose’s work; the more heavy-handed his approach to what seem to be crudely formed ideas, the greater their clarity. This was evident not only in The Long and Short of It, but in Palimpson as well. Traces of Rose’s influence can be heard in Hope’s and Pateras’ work—all three composers produce work that rails against the conservative mainstream, and that pushes its material to the utmost extreme.

Jani Christou’s Metapraxis provides a glimpse as to where this sentiment has its roots. This work is a commentary on the highly theatrical nature of concert music. There is a heightened sense of drama and urgency here, due not only to the frenetic, contrapuntal string writing that dominates, but in the way in which the composer dictates the physical mannerisms of the performers and directs them to various locations within the performance space.

Once again, Atticus drew on a team of associates to realise this work. There was a dream-like atmosphere to the performance—a surreality in which the work transcended musical performance, becoming an entirely new form of theatre.

Metapraxis embraces the experimental underground with an agenda to perform music that is deeply connected to our time and place. It challenges not only musicians to collectively expand the stylistic vocabulary of their work, but also asks us who we are as audiences and the kind of values we would like our music to reflect.

Arts House & Atticus: Metapraxis, artists Jon Rose, Biddy Connor, Phoebe Green, Judith Hamann, Anita Hustas, Charlotte Jacke, Zac Johnston, Andrea Keeble, Kevin CK Lo, Leigh Raymond, James Rushford, Joe Talia, Lizzy Welsh, Arts House, North Melbourne Town Hall, July 19-21

RealTime issue #111 Oct-Nov 2012 pg. 48

© Simon Charles; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

YELLAMUNDIE, THE NATIONAL ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER PLAYWRITING FESTIVAL, IS LONG OVERDUE. THE FIRST NATIONAL BLACK PLAYWRIGHTS’ CONFERENCE WAS HELD AT THE AUSTRALIAN NATIONAL UNIVERSITY IN CANBERRA IN JANUARY 1987, THE SECOND AT MACQUARIE UNIVERSITY, NORTH RYDE, IN JANUARY 1989, AND THE THIRD WAS HELD AS PART OF THE ADELAIDE FESTIVAL IN 2000.

It has been over 20 years since the last Indigenous Playwrights’ Conference occurred in Sydney and since then there have been significant developments in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander theatre across Australia.

As well as the emergence over recent decades of companies such as Yirra Yaakin, Ilbijerri, Kooemba Jdarra and Moogahlin there has been an explosion of new actors, directors and writers telling stories in a variety of different and exciting forms and styles. Audiences, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, have responded enthusiastically to these powerful stories.

Yellamundie—a Dharug word, from the north west region of Sydney, meaning storyteller—will be produced and presented by Moogahlin, the Redfern-based Aboriginal performing arts company, at Carriageworks as part of the 2013 Sydney Festival.

The idea for a new national playwriting conference or festival came out of the first National Indigenous Theatre Forum, held on Yidindji Gimuy Walubara Country in Cairns, Queensland in August 2010. The forum identified a need for a meeting place where new work could be developed and presented within a national Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander theatre community context:

“The Cairns Consensus recognises that Indigenous theatre is integral to our cultural identity and plays an important role to the broader artistic vibrancy of Australia…the forum agrees to progress a national approach to the development of the Indigenous theatre sector…the Cairns Consensus builds on the legacy of our storytellers, practitioners and Elders, past and present, and views this forum as a platform to secure the future of National Indigenous Theatre.”

Yellamundie is important because it provides the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander theatre community with a national reference point to gauge the ongoing development of the sector. It will allow us to discover and nurture new playwrights, support established playwrights, help writers to develop their profile within the industry and build long and sustained careers. The festival is a way to advocate on behalf of writers, not just within the Indigenous theatre community but by encouraging mainstream companies and producers to engage more with new and challenging material.

It’s also a way to survey how many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander playwrights are currently writing in Australia, what they are writing about, who they are writing for, and what issues or ideas appear regularly in the work despite or because of geographical and cultural distance or closeness.

When applications for the festival closed in August, Moogahlin was delighted to have received 16 plays from both the city and the bush. From these, six plays have been selected and the playwrights will be invited to Sydney to have their scripts workshopped: Cuz, Billy Mcpherson (NSW); The Lighthouse, Sermsah Bin Saad (WA); Dust, Suzanne (Jub) Clerk (WA); Weight, Jada Alberts (NSW); Crowbones and Carnivores, David Milroy (WA); and First Contact, Jane Harrison (VIC).

Three directors will work on two plays each, while there will be two dramaturgs who will work on three plays each. We are planning for a company of 10 actors of mixed ages and gender depending on the scripts and their casting requirements. All theatre artists working on the festival will be from the Moogahlin Performing Arts membership and will be paid for their contribution.

The first week will be closed to the public and will be spent in rehearsal/workshop with the writer working with the director, dramaturg and actors developing the script. The second week will consist of public readings of the plays presented to an audience of industry professionals, community and the public. Theatre companies, directors, producers and any potential supporters will be encouraged to attend. The natural outcome of the festival would be that one or any number of these plays would be picked for further creative development, or at best, production.

Even though Yellamundie is the first national writers’ event for many years it is hoped that it will become a regular part of the national Indigenous theatre calendar. As it grows in scale and importance so too will the opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander theatre in Australia.

Moogahlin Performing Arts: Yellamundie, National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Playwriting Festival, Carriageworks, Redfern, Sydney, Jan 28-Feb 9, 2013; supported by the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Arts Board of the Australia Council, Playwriting Australia, Performing Lines, Carriageworks and the Sydney Festival.

RealTime issue #111 Oct-Nov 2012 pg. 20

© Frederick Copperwaite; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

The Sapphires

The Sapphires

THE SAPPHIRES IS A STRANGE MIX. IT OFFERS A WARMLY IMAGINED AND EASILY ENJOYABLE PERSONAL DRAMA THAT EXPLICITLY CONFRONTS RACIAL INEQUALITY DURING ONE OF THE MOST TUMULTUOUS PERIODS OF THE ANGLOSPHERE’S 20TH CENTURY. ON THE OTHER HAND, IT ADHERES SO WELL TO THE CONVENTIONS OF THE HOLLYWOOD ROMANTIC DRAMA AS TO DROWN ANY NUANCE OF HISTORICAL COMPLEXITY IN A STEADY STREAM OF STEREOTYPE. THOUGH IT SUCCEEDS WONDERFULLY AT PROVIDING THE VIEWER WITH AN ENTERTAINING MEANS OF KILLING AN HOUR AND A HALF, IT RARELY PROVOKES MUCH DEEPER INSIGHT.

It’s 1958 and on Cummergunga Mission four young girls are putting on a show, singing for their community. Cut to 10 years later, and while folk elsewhere struggle for civil rights, land rights and either fight in or protest against the war in Vietnam, sisters Gail (Deborah Mailman), Cynthia (Miranda Tapsell) and Julie (Jessica Mauboy) are still living on the mission and still singing. Entering a talent contest at the local pub, they encounter Dave Lovelace (Chris O’Dowd) an itinerant Irish musician who, unlike the straightforwardly racist locals, immediately recognises their talent.

Scoring the women an audition to travel to Vietnam as entertainers for the troops, Lovelace convinces them to trade Country for Soul and sets about moulding the sisters, along with their cousin Kay (Shari Sebbens), into a girl group à la The Supremes. Not that they’re averse—as Gail drily comments, singing beats “being treated like dogs by the gubbas in town.” Narrative logic takes over as the women travel to Saigon, becoming a hit among the African American soldiery, the thrill at their success tempered by the reality of life inside a warzone. Passions, both romantic and antagonistic, flare amid the battlefields as the reasons for Gail’s hostility towards Kay, whose pale skin has allowed her to pass for white, draws the story back to the apparent innocence of the opening.

Adapted from his music theatre work written in collaboration with Keith Thompson, Tony Brigg’s story draws on his own family history—his mother, Laurel Robinson, and aunt, Lois Peeler, sang in Vietnam as young women. The film’s great strengths develop from this, in the relationships between the four women and in the music that unites them. The songs certainly sound fantastic, thanks in no small part to Jessica Mauboy as the sweetly determined Julie, while O’Dowd is similarly likeable as their drolly rumpled manager.

However in its relentless focus on the personal, the film cultivates a determined buoyancy that often seems at odds with the institutionalised racism arrayed against the majority of the characters and the vast historical violence unravelling around them. The reasons why a group of Aboriginal women should only be permitted to perform for the entertainment of African American troops remain carefully unremarked upon—indeed, watching the film it would be easy to falsely surmise that blacks accounted for a majority of Americans deployed in Vietnam.

Unwilling or unable to accommodate complexity the film falls back on cliche: white people are racist, unless they’re Irish, in which case they’re drunk and charmingly inept, while Aboriginal people are disenfranchised but have sassy mouths, big hearts and are generally deadly. Although The Sapphires is diverting enough, by so completely obscuring the difficult questions of power, class and racial violence raised by the story with the redemptive narratives of individual love and the ‘transcendental’ power of music, the filmmakers do their material a disservice.

The Sapphires, director Wayne Blair, screenplay Tony Briggs, Keith Thompson, director of photography Warwick Thornton, editor Dany Cooper, music Cezary Skubiszewski, production design Melinda Dorling, art direction Janie Parker; Goalpost Pictures, distributor Hopscotch Films

RealTime issue #111 Oct-Nov 2012 pg. 30

© Oliver Downes; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Alana Blackburn

Alana Blackburn

Alana Blackburn

DRAPED IN RED SATIN AND ACCOMPANIED BY JET ENGINE ROARS, A DOUBLE BILL FEATURING FANTASTIC YOUNG MUSICIANS CHARMED THE RED RATTLER IN SYDNEY’S MARRICKVILLE LAST MONTH. WITH PETER FARRAR DEMONSTRATING SAXOPHONE IMPROVISATION AND ALANA BLACKBURN OFFERING A VERY FINE INTERPRETATION OF CONTEMPORARY CLASSICAL MUSIC FOR RECORDER, NEW MUSIC NETWORK HAS ONCE AGAIN SUCCESSFULLY SHOWCASED INNOVATIVE MUSIC IN SYDNEY’S INNER WEST.

Farrar’s experimental alto saxophone set opened. He chose the floor in front of the stage rather than an elevated position for an exercise in sonic safari. His unassuming stance ensured we would meet him in his place of improvisation. Farrar popped a plastic water bottle in the bell of his sax and, presumably drawing on his experience in African scales practised with Ethiopian singer Dereb the Ambassador, sped into crowded marketplaces of sonic invention. He crossed genres and national borders. At times his notey flights could have come from bagpipes. Gasping for air after busy phrases he conveyed just how much information he was processing live for us. Then an abrupt stop. He casually sipped water from another plastic bottle and let silence annunciate just how much energy he had built with the vibrations and buzzing of his modified instrument.

Farrar’s second offering was a sound world in four breaths, or four movements. Each breath was longer than your average exhalation due to impressive cheek-puffed circular breathing. The bell of his horn now stuffed with water bottle and a loose plastic bag, the resultant sounds hissed like an old pinball machine. Multiphonics honked in and out as in a seismologist’s dream. His study in sound allowed time to move at its own speed, which felt both dilated and compressed.

Peter Farrar

Peter Farrar

Peter Farrar

Later when Farrar returned to a traditional sound, sans bag and bottle, the timbre of the instrument was so comparatively clean as to feel almost inadequate. He dextrously made up for this tonal simplicity with rapid arpeggiated passages. Then like a singer producing the same pitch using different vowels, Farrar pulsed on long notes bringing out subtleties in harmonics and overtones. This reaffirmed what seemed the message of his entire set, that we can expect more from a saxophone. When Farrar abruptly announced in a shy voice, “That’s the end of the set. Please get up and do stuff,” there was electricity in the air and a sense throughout the room that we could have lapped up more of his humble genius. Thankfully Alana Blackburn stepped in to fill that spot.

Blackburn is an expert in Renaissance, Baroque, Contemporary and Japanese repertoire for recorder. Her program featured two Japanese-inspired compositions, Kage (2000) by Dutch composer Roderick de Man and Et Døgn (2009) by Steve Adam. Norwegian for ‘one day,’ Et Døgn, for four different-sized recorders and computer, explored sounds mimicking nature including chirping birds and crickets. Enchanted Japanese forest meets late-night radio. Perhaps this music was too subtle as it left me asking, “Why do this live when it could be synthesised?” While Blackburn gave an excellent performance, there was a sense that the concept might be better honed to perfection in a studio, as the spontaneity of live performance didn’t seem a defining feature of the sound world.

Kage (2000), after the Japanese word for shadow or reflection, was a study in interaction between fixed media and improvisation. Blackburn imitated the electronics and at other times her scored part took the fore. Some of the accompanying material derived from recordings of Noh theatre including vocal exclamations and shakuhachi sounds. The Japanese elements of this work came across well, even with a pronounced Dutch accent.

All works in Blackburn’s set had been written since 2000, including a world premiere of a work by Anthony Leigh Dunstan. His piece, Tic, communicated musically the nervousness a performer feels. Dunstan’s aim had been to subvert the relationship between stimulus and gesture in the music-making process. He says a shy, nervous character is integral to the expression of this musical material because it prescribes the physical gestures that will then be transformed into musical phrases by the performer. Blackburn’s realisation of the nervous tic was highly involved and bordered on mania rather than self-consciousness. Her commitment to theatrics was impressive however and carried the weakest composition in the program through to hearty applause.

_derivations by local Ben Carey was perhaps the most progressive and refined work in the program. Sound technologist Carey was present to manipulate synthetic and live samples. Ever expanding a database of musical materials, a form of timbral matching was employed to build a conversation between musician and computer in true concord. Top job, new musos!

In varietate Concordia, presented by New Music Network, performers Peter Farrar (saxophone) and Alana Blackburn (recorders and electronics), Red Rattler Theatre, Marrickville, August 27

RealTime issue #111 Oct-Nov 2012 pg. 48

© Felicity Clark; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Trevor Jamieson, Ursula Yovich and David Milroy on guitar in his play Waltzing the Willara, Yirra Yaakin Theatre

Trevor Jamieson, Ursula Yovich and David Milroy on guitar in his play Waltzing the Willara, Yirra Yaakin Theatre

Trevor Jamieson, Ursula Yovich and David Milroy on guitar in his play Waltzing the Willara, Yirra Yaakin Theatre

THE FIRST PLAY DAVID MILROY WROTE WAS IN 1997. CALLED RUNUMUK, IT WAS FOR A NEWLY FOUNDED WESTERN AUSTRALIAN THEATRE COMPANY, YIRRA YAAKIN. DAVID, LYNETTE NARKLE (CURRENTLY SEEN AS THE MATRIARCH IN THE FILM THE SAPPHIRES) AND PAUL MCPHAILX, PROGRAMED YIRRI YAAKIN’S FIRST SEASON WITH PLAYS THAT HADN’T YET BEEN WRITTEN. AND THEN DAVID WROTE SOME OF THEM, CREATING A PLAYWRIGHT IN THE PROCESS. HERE, HE REFLECTS ON THE EVOLUTION OF ABORIGINAL THEATRE AND CURRENT ISSUES THAT HE FEELS NEED TO BE ADDRESSED.

In those early days Aboriginal plays were viewed with curiosity. They were ‘exotica.’ Of course there were people with a genuine interest in Aboriginal stories too. We had been written out of history and as a country we were late in catching up. In the 70s and 80s there was a lot of ignorance about our stories and history, and we weren’t that visible being such a small percentage of the population. There were no Aboriginal theatre companies other than the Redfern model so we had to play ‘catch-up theatre.’ Of the early plays, those of Jack Davis, Kevin Gilbert and Bobby Merritt were heavily based on the experiences of the writers and the people around them. The politics were quite strong.

fiction, non-fiction and ethics

Lately there have been more autobiographical plays—interesting works about interesting people—and they are very valid but, personally, I don’t do non-fiction shows any more. I am more interested in the craft of fiction. Non-fiction shows are also challenging to navigate in terms of permissions—the community, the extended family and the person you are writing about. You are pulling the lid off their life. That is a noble journey and for some, it can be very cathartic. You still have to be responsible to culture and community if you are writing fiction to keep it real and authentic.

writing for both audiences

I started off by writing shows with big casts and then, slowly, I wrote more ‘practically’ and the shows became more manageable in terms of cast numbers, to the point where I was just writing single handers. Now I just write what the show requires regardless of cast size or staging. It’s up to the powers that be if it gets a run. Audiences have also evolved since then. As Aboriginal writers we don’t have to spell everything out, post-”Sorry.” I write for both audiences: our own community and non-Aboriginal. For me, a play needs to be accessible to both, and each reacts differently—laughing and cringing at the same scene.

more than catch-up theatre

What has changed since I started in theatre? The styles of plays being written for one. Back then, the politics of the time were such that our theatre was about telling stories that had been erased from (public) discourse. But Aboriginal culture isn’t exclusively about ‘catch-up theatre’—having to educate audiences about our history and what really went on in this country. We have so much more to give. In terms of the future you can’t determine or predict what stories will emerge, that will happen organically. But it is exciting; there’s all sorts of energy around hybrid forms; theatre and music, theatre and multimedia, theatre and circus. It’s healthy. We have always adapted and evolved.

the next generation

Looking at where we are now, one of the burning issues for me concerns the next generation of artists coming through, and their training. When I began, yes, I was young and passionate but I fell into playwriting and I could have done with some guidance. I didn’t know the history of Aboriginal theatre and the politics of it. I didn’t know about genres of writing. I am not saying we have to slavishly follow western styles of playwriting but developing theatre would be easier if we knew what they were. I had no idea what a metaphor was! So, we need to focus on the next generation, to look at training pathways, and not just for actors and writers and directors but our stage managers, set, lighting designers etc. The major Indigenous training institutions—West Australian Academy of Performing Arts, the Aboriginal Centre for the Performing Arts in Queensland and the Eora Centre in Redfern—still struggle with inadequate funding. It will be great to put energy and resources into that.

room for optimism

Am I optimistic about the future for Aboriginal theatre? If you had asked me three years ago the answer would have been no. There were some great shows but less of them, companies were struggling or going under. We hadn’t had a black playwriting conference in years. I thought, “this is the end of black theatre—we will fade to the fringe.” It was a wakeup call. The National Indigenous Theatre Forum happened, and the Australia Council and others got to see that we had a united voice and some things changed such as the Yellamundie Playwriting Conference. Now I’m optimistic!

protocols & stories

There are other issues around how mainstream uses Aboriginal theatre content, how they engage with the community around protocols, and issues of more non-Aboriginal writers writing Aboriginal stories. We need to stay strong, and make our agenda clear to them. We’ve come a long way but there’s still a long way to go.

acknowledging theatre elders

I’d say my other burning issue is around acknowledging our theatre Elders, those living legends, and those who have passed on. We need a national event to acknowledge them and the role they have played, the strong foundation they have laid down for us to have a thriving industry and a pathway to the future.

This article has been edited from an interview with David Milroy conducted by RealBlak editor Jane Harrison.

RealTime issue #111 Oct-Nov 2012 pg. 21

© David Milroy; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Anouk van Dijk (second from right) and dancers in rehearsal for An Act of Now

Anouk van Dijk (second from right) and dancers in rehearsal for An Act of Now

Anouk van Dijk (second from right) and dancers in rehearsal for An Act of Now

A GRADUATE OF THE ROTTERDAM DANCE ACADEMY IN 1985, ANOUK VAN DIJK, THE ARTISTIC DIRECTOR OF MELBOURNE’S CHUNKY MOVE SPENT THE NEXT 10 YEARS AS A LEAD SOLOIST FOR ROTTERDAM DANCE COMPANY AND AMANDA MILLER’S PRETTY UGLY DANCE COMPANY. IN 1998 SHE FORMED ANOUKVANDIJK DC, HER OWN AMSTERDAM-BASED COMPANY WHICH HAS PERFORMED WORKS AROUND THE WORLD, OFTEN WITH A STRONG FOCUS ON EXPLORING THE AUDIENCE’S RELATIONSHIP TO THE DANCERS.

She has created works with German writer-director Falk Richter and has developed major site-specific works. For the 2012 Melbourne International Arts Festival she is creating An Act of Now, which will be performed in the Sidney Myer Music Bowl. Philipa Rothfield met van Dijk to discuss the choreographer’s Countertechnique methodology and its relationship to her work.

act one: the choreographic relation

I am interested in the different ways in which a choreographer works with her dancers. Susan Foster has written of “the body for hire,” a term usually associated with project-based work. The body for hire is seen to be already trained, already in possession of the requisite skills. It presumes that dancers are somehow prepped in technical terms. While every dancer has a history, a training background and performance experience which they bring to the situation, the work itself may provoke a mode of development on the part of the dancer.

Anouk van Dijk has developed a particular approach to movement, which she names Countertechnique, something she has been developing over 20-odd years. Countertechnique is movement methodology based upon Alexander technique, in particular its strategic invocation of directions in the moving body. While the Alexander lesson typically focuses on everyday activities such as sitting and standing, Countertechnique offers a range of perspectives upon a more dynamic palette of activities. It is a set of strategies which can be utilised by the dancer, offering multiple critical perspectives (“a toolbox” of options) to allow dancers to expand their field of possibility and enhance their corporeal agency. It is task-oriented. Dancers do things and observe how they move, invoking particular elements of the approach. Countertechnique is formulated to augment the dancer’s critical abilities, supplying a horizon of potential thoughts, ideas and anatomical insights.

To what extent is van Dijk offering this approach to those dancers who will perform in her upcoming work, An Act of Now? In response to my question, she takes me to the studio. She has brought with her a master teacher (Nina Wollny) and a senior teacher (Peter Cseri) to work with the dancers. Wollny has been working with van Dijk in performance and on Countertechnique for over 10 years. Van Dijk calls Wollny over and asks her what she is working on. She says that she is thinking about the distance between her sit bones and her heels, and is working on her back which is stiff from jet lag. Later I watch Wollny roll a dancer’s head around to give her a sense of the distinction between the skull and the neck. The dancer then tries to differentiate the spine and skull on her own. Taking on physical insights is easier said than done. The morning is a time of ritual and repetition. For those who work in a classical idiom such as ballet, the terms of engagement are clear. But if the work is about the production of difference in the body (new skills, new habits), strategies other than repetition are called for. Countertechnique is clearly on the table here. Teachers assist the dancers to work on the material. Van Dijk also speaks of the mix of people selected for this project, the younger ones learning from the more experienced dancers. So there are a number of senses in which the work itself offers a mode of development for the dancers. She wants to enhance the agency of the dancer in performance because “a dancer with no agency dies”.

act 2: between the idea and its action

I wonder about the relation between thought and action. What sort of thinking is at stake in this (and previous) work? One mode of thought has been raised above. It is about the ‘power of thought’ in the body, and is embedded within Countertechnique .There are two further lines at play in van Dijk’s thinking. One is historical and cultural. The way she puts it concerns the ways in which thought processes affect our bodies: what’s happening in the world and how does that affect me? For her generation, life was framed as a matter of choice. Feminism emphasised the importance of women’s careers. The 1960s opened out the sphere of possibility, in part a result of post-WWII prosperity, in part the result of 60s radicalism. Today the horizon is less rosy. We face a collapsing social system, a globalised network, a complex interplay between the self and the environment. A brainstorm ensues:

Stimulus: body-environment
Response: subjectivity, unconscious influence, warm spaces, cold spaces, open/closed, seductive, manipulative, culturally determined spaces, biased spaces, the space of doctrine, eg, religion
Stimulus: agency
Response: assumed consensus, habitual patterns in following, manipulation of language determining values, gender(less), need for control, loss of control, need for balance, breaking balance, assumed freedom, freedom within an historical context.

The question then is how these ideas translate into dance. For van Dijk the dance work is not a mere representation of issues nor is it a mirror of the social but is rather an attempt to physicalise thought. The social, cultural and historical is thus an impetus, an inspiration and not actual content. This leads her to pose the question: how do I translate that into a physical state? How do I shift this sense of the socio-historical into a movement-based language? An Act of Now is one such attempt to look at the body-environment relationship in physical terms. Is this dance or theatre I ask? For van Dijk, performance is always already theatrical in that it is expressive and is for an audience, but physicality is her medium, her art.

act 3: an act of now

If all performance is theatrical, what about the spectator? How does the audience relate to and experience the work? There is a tension here, between the spectator’s freedom to perceptually roam and the choreographer’s desire to direct attention. Van Dijk has in the past played with this tension, working the contrast between distance and proximity and selecting locations other than the void of the black box. Each site calls for a particular mode of attention. An Act of Now will be performed in the Sidney Myer Music Bowl, inside a glasshouse. While the audience is positioned outside that space, they will be supplied with headphones. The intention is to (virtually) locate the observer inside the glasshouse, through the intimacy of sound.

The idea of headphones in An Act of Now is to suck the audience into this constructed space, a glasshouse filled with smoke, to virtually enter its shifting play of actions, tasks, projects. The dancers are in rehearsal now. It is for them to negotiate the range of available choices, posed within the structure of the piece, the set, the time and space. Anouk van Dijk enters rehearsal aiming to aid the agency of the dancers, to affirm and enhance their options, yet steer them towards the qualities and possibilities she would like to see.

Melbourne International Arts Festival: Chunky Move, An Act of Now, concept, choreography Anouk van Dijk, performers Peter Cseri, Leif Helland, Stephanie Lake, Lauren Langlois, Alya Manzart, James Pham, Niharika Senapati, Nina Wollny; Sidney Myer Music Bowl, Melbourne, Oct 17-27

RealTime issue #111 Oct-Nov 2012 pg. 31

© Philipa Rothfield; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Tammy Brennan, Confined

Tammy Brennan, Confined

Tammy Brennan, Confined

WINTER IN CENTRAL AUSTRALIA IS BITTERLY COLD. HUDDLED IN THE LOW LIGHT OUTSIDE THE JAIL WE ARE WARNED OF THE STRONG AND EMOTIVE THEMES OF THE WORK: CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE, MADNESS, EMBODIED TRAUMA, DEATH.

Ducking to enter through a small iron hatch-like door, I am disoriented; white manicured roses are shadowed red and pale blue under spotlights as I hear, for the first time, the ratchet sound that will haunt me throughout the performance. Good god, I think to myself, what the hell have I got myself into this time?

Set against the whitewashed walls of the cellblocks of the old jail in Alice Springs, Confined fuses physical theatre, multimedia installation and opera to evoke the distressing dystopia of psychosis. Creator and lead performer, Tammy Brennan, uses the archetypes of Echo and Narcissus to embody the split personalities of an adult survivor of sexual assault and her child self. The libretto traces her journey through the bowels of madness and despair, with the score interlacing live soundscapes with macabre field samples.

The heart of the performance occurs in the claustrophobic corridors of two cellblocks. Here we are greeted by Echo, suspended from the ceiling in the moments after her death. Her long operatic howls ricochet through the corridor. The air is thick with sound and sweat as she is lowered to the ground to prowl amongst us, recalling gut-wrenching abuse in hyperbolic sprechstimme. Coloured lights emanate from closed cells, suggesting perverse peepshows of human grief. Across the hall a woman peers through the peephole into one of the cells. Compelled, I press my eye against one of the slits and spy a masked man, all protruding nose and sunken eyes. Later, the cell doors are flung open as Echo strides from room to room, oscillating between childish rage and sorrowful surrender as she encounters surrealist landscapes inhabited by live incarnations of her fragmented self. Another audience member brushes against me. My skin crawls. I am relieved when we are asked to move on.

Entering the second cellblock, the sense of confinement is overwhelming as masked figures claw their way across the fenced gangway above us. Echo descends headfirst into the audience, her voice unwavering as she swings amongst us.

The door opens. Suddenly, we are ejected into the crisp night air. The intensity of the cellblocks dissipates as we witness Echo’s ascent into another world. The spell is broken when we are herded into a small holding room to watch a gratuitous video interview with Echo recounting her abuse.

Confined is an intimate and immersive foray into the depths of the troubled mind. While so much work produced in the regions mirrors the geographical and cultural nuances of local areas, Brennan refuses to ghettoise trauma in the local, undertaking extensive primary and secondary research to create a work that speaks to the universality of human suffering. From the burning ghats of Varanasi to the Hearing Voices conference in Melbourne, she has undertaken countless studies of site and numerous interviews with survivors of mental illness, including acclaimed outsider artist Anthony Mannix.

Over a beer after the performance, a man confided that his brother had suicided during a psychotic episode, and that the show had been “a spot-on representation” of his brother’s world. By stepping outside the parameters of reality, Confined illuminates the profound terror of psychosis, that for some, is unbearably close to home.

Moodkiller Productions, Confined, created and performed by Tammy Brennan, composers Barton Staggs, Sophie Loizou, director Younes Bachir, dramaturg Gayelene Carbis; Old Alice Springs Jail, Alice Springs, June 16

RealTime issue #111 Oct-Nov 2012 pg. 49

© Kelly-Lee Hickey; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

At RealTime we’re proud to have been invited to host RealBlak, an initiative coming out of the 2011 National Indigenous Theatre Forum. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, guided by the editorship of Jane Harrison have written authoritatively and passionately about their engagement with the performing arts in terms of culture, protocols, personal ambitions and their relationship with white institutions and practices. We hope this initiative will further the wonderful work produced by Australian Indigenous artists in theatre, contemporary performance and dance by expanding the possibilities for writing critically about practice. Our thanks go to Liza-Mare Syron, Andrea James and Alison Murphy-Oates for inviting us to manage and publish RealBlak and for the opportunity to work so happily and collaboratively with Jane Harrison.

In this edition we welcome back Philip Brophy to the pages of RealTime as columnist with AudioVision, guaranteed to get you thinking twice about the unreal media reality that increasingly consumes us. Philip contributed extensively to RealTime in the 1990s and 2000s with his much-admired Cinesonic column about the relationship between image, music and sound design in film.

Vale Vikki Riley, who died recently in Darwin on her way to visit refugee detainees. Vikki’s memorably eccentric and perspicacious reviews of the dark edge of popular music had a strong following in RealTime in the 1990s. She is missed.

RealTime issue #111 Oct-Nov 2012 pg. 1

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

Aunty Rhonda Dixon-Grovenor, Lily Shearer, Michelle Blakeney, working on Posts in The Paddock, My Darling Patricia & Moogahlin Performing Arts

Aunty Rhonda Dixon-Grovenor, Lily Shearer, Michelle Blakeney, working on Posts in The Paddock, My Darling Patricia & Moogahlin Performing Arts

Aunty Rhonda Dixon-Grovenor, Lily Shearer, Michelle Blakeney, working on Posts in The Paddock, My Darling Patricia & Moogahlin Performing Arts

Currently I’m the General Manager of Gadigal Information Service Aboriginal Corporation (GIS), a leading Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander media/arts hub based in Redfern, Sydney.

GIS is the home of Indigenous community radio and also plays a leading role in developing and promoting the careers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander musicians, broadcasters, singers and songwriters. Its Young, Black & Deadly workshops support the creative aspirations of under-18s in performance and radio broadcasting. The Gadigal Music Label develops new and emerging talents and supports established performers through presenting a range of recording opportunities and distribution for our music. GIS’s annual Yabun event on 26 January is Australia’s largest one-day festival of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and its Klub Koori events are regularly held in various venues around Sydney.

Although busy with these projects, I also make time to undertake my own creative practice. After four long years of development, the performance work Posts in the Paddock had its premier showcase at Carriageworks in 2011 and a full spotlight at the Australian Performing Arts Market (APAM) in 2012. For Posts I was the cultural creative and ‘queen connector,’ which meant I connected up relatives and community who had an association with the material in the play. For This fella, my memory, a devised work, which has recently had a very successful reading for Moogahlin, I played one of the main characters, Aunty Toots. She’s a former country and western singer who left her homelands and thinks she knows all about culture but in the play it is clear that she has a lot to learn! I love the whole process of creating—working across the disciplines, acting, devising, creating, writing, connecting.

My next burning project will be to get the Moogahlin kids’ circus off the ground. And to get a production of This fella, my memory up at Carriageworks in 2013.

Lily Shearer is a Muruwaroi woman with over 30 years experience in Aboriginal Cultural Development, theatre and performance making. Since completing a Bachelor in Theatre Studies at the University of Western Sydney, Shearer has worked in Aboriginal community theatre in leadership roles on a remarkable number of performance projects. Her body of work in this field is unprecedented. Importantly, she has always worked for the betterment of Aboriginal communities and Aboriginal theatre and performance practitioners.

RealTime issue #111 Oct-Nov 2012 pg. 20

© Lily Shearer; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Julie-Anne Long, Something In The Way She Moves

Julie-Anne Long, Something In The Way She Moves

Julie-Anne Long, Something In The Way She Moves

FOR THE LAST FIVE YEARS, SYDNEY-BASED CHOREOGRAPHER AND DANCER JULIE-ANNE LONG HAS BEEN WORKING ON A BODY OF WORK ENTITLED THE INVISIBILITY PROJECT. IT WILL CONCLUDE WITH A FULL-LENGTH SOLO, SOMETHING IN THE WAY SHE MOVES, AT PERFORMANCE SPACE’S SEXES PROGRAM IN NOVEMBER (SEE INTERVIEW).

The Invisibility Project, according to Long, started life as a Fellowship proposal to the Australia Council Dance Board in 2007. The seed for the project was sown a couple of years earlier however. “I distinctly remember the day when this bunch of ideas that I was thinking about connected,” says Long. “I had this little eureka moment and thought, yeah, I could put that all together. And I went home and I wrote out this whole plan and it was called The Invisibility Project.”

So what exactly were the ideas that led Long to conceive The Invisibility Project? She explains: “Initially, it appeared to me that wherever I looked in the media, there were endless articles on the invisibility of middle-aged women, and it was all about the loss of whatever one ever had. It was quite noticeable how relentless the coverage was.” Even though Long didn’t agree with the tone of the reporting, the subject matter struck a chord with her: “It was something that I could identify with, not only in my everyday life but also as an ‘ageing dancer,’ a performer who is going to put herself, her body, on stage in front of people watching.”

The media coverage of the invisibility of middle-aged women might have served Long as a hook, as something she thought would be interesting to challenge as an issue. It didn’t, however, end up being the focus of her explorations once she received her fellowship and started to put her ideas into action. “I soon realised that I wasn’t really that interested in going down that track,” says Long. “Quite early on my interest shifted to all the great things that you can do when you are invisible.”

Long’s interest in exploring notions of middle-aged invisibility has extended far beyond the two-year period covered by the fellowship. In addition to working on the projects she initially proposed, in the following years she added new ones: for example, a series of solos as part of short works programs such as Campbelltown Arts Centre’s Folk Dancing (2009) and Performance Space’s NightTime: Everyday Hero (2010). She also showed work as part of Performance Space’s LiveWorks (2010) and Local Positioning System at the MCA (2012). As a result, two characters emerged that Long will be revisiting in her upcoming solo: Mumsy, an everyday mum in ill-fitting tracksuit pants and a T-shirt that has been washed a few too many times, and Val, The Invisible, a cleaning woman in a high-visibility safety vest which, curiously, renders her all but invisible.

 Julie-Anne Long, Val The Invisible, MCA, Local Positioning Systems, MCA & Performance Space

Julie-Anne Long, Val The Invisible, MCA, Local Positioning Systems, MCA & Performance Space

Julie-Anne Long, Val The Invisible, MCA, Local Positioning Systems, MCA & Performance Space

Some of Long’s Invisibility outings over the last few years have shown signs of the dancer’s signature style, mixing acerbic wit and an idiosyncratic movement language with a series of pop songs from yesteryear and an array of fabulous costumes. Anyone, though, who has witnessed Mumsy’s chilling dance, completely disfigured by a mesh orange bag over her head, and Val’s forlorn wanderings through the cavernous Carriageworks and MCA, will recognise that Long is exploring a dark streak in The Invisibility Project and is far from shying away from the project’s distinctly political dimension.

As for Something In the Way She Moves, the solo show in SEXES that will be the last instalment of The Invisibility Project, what can audiences expect? Long points out that the work is still evolving but that she thinks of it as a “short story collection. My aim is to bring together all the ideas I’ve explored in the various performances and events over the last few years and to reinvigorate that material.” The show, Long reveals, will consist of six episodes. True to its by-line, “everyday dances for an invisible woman,” each episode contains a number of dances alternating with versions of domestic task-based actions such as hanging out the washing, buttering bread and bringing in the shopping.

On stage with Long will be dance artist Narelle Benjamin as her sidekick, mini-mum, part production assistant, part target of both affection and disdain from some of Long’s characters. “She’s a bit like Dame Edna’s Madge,” says Long, laughing. And after a pause, “But hopefully not as hard done by.”

Performance Space, SEXES: Julie-Anne, Long, Something In The Way She Moves, Sydney, Nov 14-16; www.performancespace.com.au

RealTime issue #111 Oct-Nov 2012 pg. 32

© Martin del Amo; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

IMPROVISED ‘CONTEMPORARY CLASSICAL’ MUSIC IS NOT EASILY FOUND IN AUSTRALIA, ALTHOUGH MANY A COMPOSER THESE DAYS OFFERS MUSICIANS PASSAGES IN WHICH TO IMPROVISE, ALBEIT WITHIN STRICT PARAMETERS. SYDNEY, HOWEVER, HAS IN THE NOISE A FINE ENSEMBLE OF IMPROVISERS WHO ON THIS OCCASION SUPPORTED CLASSICAL AND JAZZ CLARINETTIST AND SAXOPHONIST PAUL CUTLAN TO REALISE THREE OF HIS SEMI-IMPROVISED COMPOSITIONS, WITH THE ASSISTANCE OF JAZZ BASSIST BRETT HURST.

The first work, Times Past, “evok(ing) a time when the viola da gamba ruled the earth” (program note), was immediately engaging, double bass-propelled (including some ravishing glides), the baritonal bass clarinet soaring over string quartet moodiness. The piece was a prelude to the main work in the first half of the concert, Cutlan’s Across the Top Suite, inspired by travelling to north-eastern Australia. The four-part suite evoked vast spaces with floating melodic passages, ethereal harmonics and shimmering strings, and hints of more foreign landscapes—African, Bulgarian—and musical modes, Baroque and 19th century classical (recurrent sweet pizzicato). The last movement, Reconcile, signalled order and resolution but ended rather darkly—a melancholic admission perhaps that Reconciliation is not easily achieved.

After interval, Off the Beaten Track comprised four role- and task-based improvisations in which a wider range of techniques was applied to the instruments, yielding varying degrees of magical cohesion and exciting digressions, with some dynamic forays from Cutlan, gripping group glissandi, fine cello and bass entanglements, an abrasive violin and chugging viola encounter and some embracing, motoristic ostinato big band moments—Cutlan and Hurst weaving in and out of the shifting textures created by The NOISE. The concert concluded with Cutlan’s Perhaps Next Time—latin jazz-inflected, smooth and orchestral; you could see it in the uniform swing of the musicians’ bodies. A very satisfying concert, above all in its assaying of semi-structured improvisation by virtuosic musicians working as a confident ensemble.

New Music Network, Cutloose meets The NOISE, Paul Cutlan, Brett Hurst, The NOISE (Veronique Serret, Skye McIntosh, James Eccles, Oliver Miller); Sydney Conservatorium of Music, Aug 2

RealTime issue #111 Oct-Nov 2012 pg. 49

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

uts international animation festival

A wide array of local and international animation will be on offer at the upcoming UTS Sydney International Animation Festival (Oct 12-14). Premiering this year are two contrasting independent features from France’s Bibo Bergeron and the Czech Republic’s Tomáš Lu?ák. Bergeron’s child-oriented, somewhat Americanised yet still wondrous A Monster in Paris is a visually lush steampunk adventure-romance which references King Kong and the early days of cinema. Lu?ák’s Alois Nebel, while no less visually impressive, is a decidedly adult film based on the Czech Republic’s first modern graphic novel. Beginning in 1989, the year during which Czechoslovakia’s Communist regime fell, it is a stark yet moving portrayal of one man’s personal struggle with nightmares past and present.

Another festival highlight, Dance of the Shadows, documents the life of Lotte Reiniger, the German film artist responsible for creating the first feature-length animated film in history. The festival will also show¬case animated documentaries, up-and-coming Japanese animators, promising local talent including Indigenous animator Jason Japaljarri Wood and some particularly strange fare during a “Late Night Bizarre” session, as well and discussion panels. Katerina Sakkas.
UTS Sydney International Animation Festival, Oct 12-14; http://www.siaf.uts.edu.au/

are we there yet?, uwa & the cruthers collection

Anne Newmarch, Self portrait, 1981, photo-etching

Anne Newmarch, Self portrait, 1981, photo-etching

Anne Newmarch, Self portrait, 1981, photo-etching

After a few years of relative quiet on the subject, feminism is once again a hot topic as women from generations Y & Z explore their connection to previous thought and the role of women in their own milieu. Recently Serial Space’s Time Machine dedicated a whole day of their festival to explore the role of women in media and technology-based art (see Dan Mackinlay’s account). Now the University of Western Australia, in collaboration with the Cruthers Art Foundation, has announced a two day symposium titled Are we there yet?.

The event accompanies the exhibition Look. Look again: the Cruthers Collection of Women’s Art, the first significant survey drawn from the collection featuring work by female Australian artists who have mostly slipped under the mainstream artworld radar. Including pieces from over the last century the works in the exhibition range from portraiture, domestic studies and still life to abstraction and political activism.

The Cruthers Collection of Women’s Art was donated by Sir James and Lady Sheila Cruthers to the University of Western Australia in 2007 and represents the largest collection of work by women in Australia. The symposium brings together curators, artists, historians and theorists to discuss the importance such a collection has to the future of female representation in the arts. Speakers will include Felicity Johnston, the curator of the Cruthers Collection, Leigh Robb, curator at PICA, Catriona Moore, lecturer, Art History and Film Studies at University of Sydney, Ted Snell Director, UWA Cultural Precinct and the CoUNTess who writes a blog exploring the uneven representation of women in Australian art (http://countesses.blogspot.com.au/) and is a participating artist in the Performance Space SEXES program (see article).
Are We There Yet? a two-day symposium on women’s art, Oct 20-21, registrations open until Oct 19, UWA, registration & info; Look. Look again: the Cruthers Collection of Women’s Art; Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery, UWA, Perth, Oct 20-Dec 15; http://www.lwgallery.uwa.edu.au/cruthers-collection-of-womens-art

lecture—improvlab with artists from the forsythe company

While Melbourne gets the Forsythe Company experience in full, Sydney doesn’t miss out entirely. Thanks to Shane Carroll and Meredith Brooks, company dramaturg Freya Vass-Rhee and dancer Riley Watts will be conducting a workshop and presenting a lecture at the Bangarra Studios.

Vass-Rhee and Watts will be in Sydney collaborating with cognitive scientist Kate Stevens on the Dance Engaging Science project which is part of the Forsythe Company’s Motion Bank activities. Motion Bank is a four-year project (2010-13) which involves the publication of digital dance scores created by guest choreographers including Deborah Hay, Bebe Miller and Jonathan Burrows and Matteo Fargion (see article). It involves research into how the “special qualities of computer-aided recording and design can be applied to the challenge of documenting, analysing, notating and presenting dance with the aim to extend and complement creative practice” (website).

Vass-Rhee will give a 65-minute lecture titled Performing Perception which will present some of her research into Forsythe company’s working methodologies. Riley Watts will then conduct a two-part practical workshop for 20 dancers exploring the movement and awareness practices employed in the company’s work.
Lecture—improvlab with artists from The Forsythe Company, Bangarra, Studios Sydney, Oct 20, lecture 1pm, workshops 2.15pm; for more information and bookings email shane.e.carroll@gmail.com; <a href="http://motionbank.org/en/" target=”_new”>http://motionbank.org/en/

RealTime issue #111 Oct-Nov 2012 pg. web

Dalisa Pigram, Gudirr Gudirr

Dalisa Pigram, Gudirr Gudirr

Dalisa Pigram, Gudirr Gudirr

I am working on a solo dance piece called Gudirr Gudirr for the Marrugeku company. The concept came from my grandfather Patrick Dodson. He spoke about Gudirr Gudirr or Guwayi (its proper Yawuru name), a small shore bird that calls out to warn you when the tide is about to turn. He related this bird to the work I do in my community keeping Yawuru language alive but also with how Marrugeku has been finding new ways of storytelling that ensure our culture survives. I have taken this idea as a starting point and have been exploring dance themes through animals that function as omens or warnings to the community. My story is influenced by my mixed heritage of Malay, Philipino and Indigenous Australian cultures, practices like Malaysian martial arts (Silat), gymnastics and memories of traditional movements.

When creating ideas for a work we sit and talk with Elders from the community and are culturally guided by appropriate people at every stage of development. As co-conceiver/dancer/choreographer of Gudirr Gudirr I will collaborate with Belgium-based director Koen Augustijnen. This collaboration has grown from a long-term commitment by Marrugeku to develop new possibilities for contemporary Indigenous dance artists. Gudirr Gudirr will premiere at Dance Massive in Melbourne in March next year followed by its Broome premiere at Shinju Matsuri in September 2013.

And I will continue to work at Cable Beach Primary School teaching Yawuru language to students there and enjoy time watching my three children grow.

Dalisa Pigram became Co-Artistic Director of Marrugeku in 2009 and is a founding member and core performer with the Broome and Sydney-based contemporary intercultural performance company. She has toured extensively both overseas and throughout Australia with shows Mimi (1997), Crying Baby (2000) and Burning Daylight (2006/9). Pigram comes from the Yawuru people of Broome in the Kimberley region of WA and Marrugeku’s recent work Buru was conceived, choreographed and co-directed by her. She is currently working on her solo piece Gudirr Gudirr, a work accompanied by video art by Vernon Ah Kee.

RealTime issue #111 Oct-Nov 2012 pg. 22

© Dalisa Pigram; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

WeTube LIVE, Stompin’ Youth, Junction Arts Festival 2010

WeTube LIVE, Stompin’ Youth, Junction Arts Festival 2010

WeTube LIVE, Stompin’ Youth, Junction Arts Festival 2010

WHEN I WAS CHILD, OTHER THAN FOR INTERMITTENT, SADISTIC OUTBREAKS OF ERSATZ FOLK DANCING (WHO WERE THESE FOLK?) IN AN OTHERWISE ART-POOR PRIMARY SCHOOL CURRICULUM, I THOUGHT DANCING WAS THE UNNATURAL EXTROVERSION PROMULGATED IN MGM MUSICALS AND THE NUMEROUS 60/40 (60% MODERN, 40% TRADITIONAL) GATHERINGS MY PARENTS FREQUENTED ACROSS THE 1940S AND 50S. THE DANCING WAS ACCESSIBLE, DILUTED BALLROOM. NOT INFREQUENTLY, I WOULD FIND MY FACE THRUST AGAINST THE TUMMY OF SOME HEAVILY CORSETED MATRON VIGOROUSLY TRIPPING THE LIGHT FANTASTIC.

Such events were wonderfully sociable, staged in a variety of halls in a wide range of nearby suburbs, organised by sports clubs, businesses and lodges and with quite a class mix (if not ethnic in the 50s). My mother’s disdain for Catholics partially evaporated when she discovered a local church held dances of a Sunday evening. A title like Oh! I Wanna Dance With Somebody conjures for me a time when dancers actually held each other, pre-Twist, pre-disco, as a matter of course in massive numbers for many hours across the globe. However, although the program for Oh! I Wanna Dance With Somebody features Tea Dancers, most of the partners in dance that we’ll see perform are engaged in quite some other intimacies.

In RealTime 109, in “New niches, new dance audiences,” Martin del Amo updated us on the burgeoning contemporary dance scene in Sydney’s west. One of the main forces in that thrust has been the perpetually innovative Campbelltown Arts Centre, its dance program curated by Emma Saunders, a member of Sydney’s famed The Fondue Set. As the culmination of three years developmental dance work, CAC is presenting Oh! I Wanna Dance With Somebody, programmed over three days in October and rich in community, cross-artform and intercultural engagement.

I spoke with the inimitable Saunders, a prodigious improviser, who volunteered a five-minute concentrated rendering of the program (she could do it), but I opted for a more leisurely drip-feed. Asked about the motivation for staging this dance fest, Saunders says, “The project has come out of my idea to house some of the outcomes of the dance programs of the Campbelltown Arts Centre over the last three years into one event. There were different models set up over this period, asking artists to work in different ways and with different structures—interdisciplinary projects where I might ask a dancer to work with an artist from a different field to make new work together. It might also be an intercultural commission as in the case of Narelle Benjamin and Anandavalli (Lingalayam Dance Company).”

Saunders explains that “these commissioned works are a mix of my own and Julie-Anne Long’s curatorial outlook; she was curator for a year while I was away having a baby. The works have had various stages of development over the past one to three years.”

However, she admits, “actually housing the outcomes is a bit trickier than just showing them in a theatre. For example Paul Gazzola and Paul Granjon are making a work called The Experimental Body Extensions Manufacturing Unit. They are working with communities around Campbelltown to create practical, physical projects that look at human body extensions, that locals can wear. It’s not a joke, although it has a humorous edge. Over a month, the artists will invite people into a kind of factory process and then stage a catwalk showing, or I should say, a product demonstration. I invited [Berlin-based] movement artist Paul Gazzola who in turn invited Welsh artist Paul Granjon, a specialist in robotics but who is also a performer, to work with him. The movement has come out of the project quite organically in that it’s people having a dialogue with their own bodies in terms of how they might develop these practical extensions. For example, someone has developed a Personal Space Activator, a skirt made of plywood, which, as you go to shake someone’s hand, flares up and prevents you from connecting. Therein lies the movement.”

Saunders cites “two other curatorial thoughts running behind the project. Oh! I Wanna Dance With Somebody looks loosely at where dance and community can intersect. It’s very ‘in’ to have community projects and I’m very interested to see what that means for artists—how does work connect with an audience, where does it start, finish, who are we dancing for, who’s dancing with us? That’s an ongoing dialogue I’m floating with each of the projects.

“The other idea is, ‘What would it be like to swap the black and white spaces of the theatrical and the visual arts and see what that does to a work?’ Lots of visual artists are making very performative work, which is really exciting: but how do they relate to each other and to community? So, the same work will be repeated in both spaces, gallery and theatre, and the audience might be able to see both versions when they plot their path across the day.” Although, in the end, says Saunders, it might not matter, it’s about the thing itself, the body. “It’s a fun and fresh way to see innovative new dance work.”

We chat about the partnerships which have been nurtured. Saunders tells me that “dancer Anton and visual artist David Capra are developing a dancing duo. They look similar, both are of Ukrainian origin and wear black-framed glasses. We put them in a room and a work has organically evolved over four weeks in two-week blocks. They’ve had a good, strong critical dialogue. And David is a good dancer and is a very physical visual artist and this gives Anton the opportunity to dance in a different way. They’ll present the finished work on the weekend.

“Narelle and Anandavalli will present an early showing of a work they’ve been commissioned to premiere here in 2013. They will be performing with a visiting Indian singer. Each presentation will run for about half an hour. Elizabeth Ryan (of the Fondue Set) is coupled with fashion designers Romance Was Born—I wanted to do an age-old thing in an innovative way, and fashion has been with dance at least from the Ballets Russes to Akira Isogawa working with the Sydney Dance Company. Elizabeth will be performing in a new gown by Romance Was Born’s Anna Plunkett Cole and Luke Sales who make amazing gear.”

There’s also a regional aspect to the CAC dance program, with Saunders setting up a dance exchange with NORPA in the Lismore region. “I’ve worked up there myself a number of times. Phil Blackman in Lismore is working with Martin del Amo in a residency at the moment. We’re sharing the love around our dance ecosystem so that not everything is city-based.”

As part of CAC’s international dance residency program, Saunders has invited German dance artist Jochen Roller to create a new work called the Dance Tourist, about being a tourist in Campbelltown. “It stemmed from him being in residence in Campbelltown in Kintyre, Scotland which will parallel the work he’s doing here. He’s looking at the social ‘fabric’ of Campbelltown. He’s been to the fabric shops and made some purchases and is making a series of objects to create a sense of how he sees Campbelltown. It’s a very beautiful work from a dance artist working in the visual arts! His presentation will be more like an exhibition. He’s working with dance theatre performer Nadia Cusimano. “

Julie-Anne Long is involved in the event on two fronts: “She’ll do our Whitney tribute, a dance marathon across the weekend. We’ve also commissioned her to make a film with Sam James of her work with local women from her Invisibility Project (see page 34). Titled Dancing in the Dark, it will screen across the event. It’s another aspect of how work is being commissioned here at Campbelltown Arts Centre.”

Readers might remember the excitement occasioned by Ben Speth and Stompin’ Youth’s WeTubeLIVE for the 2010 Junction Festival in Launceston (RT99). Saunders has invited Speth to realise a version of it for her dance event in which she will “fill the gallery spaces with 100 performers. This involves a great deal of work,” she admits. Saunders has been corralling dance groups, line dancers, Indian dancers and community members who have had something to do with CAC in recent years. “The performers each choose a favourite clip from YouTube and perform it forward and backwards at timed intervals in a one-metre square each.” The audience move among the performers.

For Oh! I Wanna Dance with Somebody, the galleries will be cleared of artworks, says Saunders, “so that the bodies are the art,” and the foyer will become more like a lounge.

WeTUBE will be performed on the opening Friday night. The dance partnerships will be on the Saturday from 10am-10pm with improviser par excellence Andrew Morrish commencing the day’s proceedings by anticipating what he thinks he will see and then, later, declaring precisely what he has witnessed. On Sunday there’ll be a forum with the artists, community leaders and audience with a performative curator’s introduction from Saunders. There’ll also be handouts about works, a publication down the track and a photographic record created by Heidrun Löhr. As we conclude our conversation, Emma Saunders finally mentions the Tea Dance Project performers who, on opening night, “will actually dance with each other.” Could make us all wanna dance.

Campbelltown Arts Centre, Oh! I Wanna Dance With Somebody, curator Emma Saunders, CAC, Oct 19, 20, 21; for program: www.campbelltown.nsw.gov.au/Dance; box office 02 4645 4100, 10am-4pm

RealTime issue #111 Oct-Nov 2012 pg. 33

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

GADAWULKWULK means SHELTER, 2009, Barayuwa Mununggurr & Ruark Lewis, Yarrinya

GADAWULKWULK means SHELTER, 2009, Barayuwa Mununggurr & Ruark Lewis, Yarrinya

GADAWULKWULK means SHELTER, 2009, Barayuwa Mununggurr & Ruark Lewis, Yarrinya

THERE’S A WORD THAT’S INCREASINGLY SURFACING IN DESCRIPTIONS OF RECENT WORKS BY RUARK LEWIS, ONE OF AUSTRALIA’S MOST ENDURING INTER-DISCIPLINARY ARTISTS WORKING WITHIN THE REALM OF CONCEPTUAL EXPLORATIONS OF LANGUAGE, AND THAT IS THE TERM “CIVIC.”

Whether referring to the artist’s signature agit-prop banners, collaborative illuminated Indigenous oral history installation, people’s poems or public art commissions, this expansion of Lewis’s practice into the civic realm is also a prominent feature of the artist’s first major mid-career survey. At Hazelhurst Regional Gallery in Sydney’s south, itself a uniquely modelled complex designed to maximise community engagement, Lewis is activating and inhabiting the space in ways that spill out beyond the architectural confines of the gallery’s white walls.

“I want to compose a certain formality within the gallery space itself,” Lewis explains. “Whereas I need a particular informality outside in the garden, interactive works that move and shift around, that kids can play with and audio in the garden as well as a people’s poem attached to the cottage.” Built in 1947 and later bequeathed to the local community (along with the surrounding 1.4 hectare estate), the Hazelhurst cottage is an early example of an architecturally designed house in the Sutherland Shire and certainly a resonant site for reprising Lewis’s striking black-and-white textual skin of aphoristic statements, Banalities for the Perfect House (2007).

When I meet Lewis in the lead-up to the survey, he is busy tending to the considerable administration that accompanies a survey across two locations (Macquarie University Art Gallery will host the second part early next year with some works shared between both galleries and others uniquely installed). Taking stock of the material output and the more ephemeral traces of three decades of a practice that spans painting, drawing and writing to performance, installation, sound art and live collaborative works and actions (see RT87), Lewis is also confronting the vagaries of time, inspecting old Polaroids retrieved from rusted canisters and discovering the freedom of studio space after pulling out some works for the first time in years. With a monograph publication also planned, Lewis cites finding an “advantage in bringing the larger works out and putting them in a new context and then having the chance of photographing them again. The book also demonstrates issues of mobility of objects. I’ve been interested in the opportunity to do things twice but the chance doesn’t really come up that regularly.”

Banalities for The Perfect House (2007), SLOT Gallery

Banalities for The Perfect House (2007), SLOT Gallery

Banalities for The Perfect House (2007), SLOT Gallery

For audiences, the survey provides a rare opportunity to view a significant body of Lewis’s work in one space alongside newer pieces. These works continue to reflect the artist’s talent for devising idiosyncratic methods of translating longstanding concerns in unconventional, and often deeply personal, ways. An earlier engagement with the paintings of the Yirrkala region which led to a memorialising suite of transcription drawings, for example, has assumed a new direction since Lewis met Yolngu artist Barayuwa Mununggurr in Sydney. In 2009, the pair commenced a creative exchange which has seen Lewis twice make the long journey to Mununggurr’s ancestral country on the east coast of Arnhem Land. During a visit to Yarrinya, at a saltwater location at Blue Mud Bay, Lewis became immersed in subjects related to Mununggurr’s paintings.

Here, Lewis photographed the technique of the assembly of a lightly installed shade shelter, filmed the details of the water currents and wave formations, and also the clouds, and made audio recordings of the water at night as well as later observing the building of a traditional bark shelter at the settlement of Yirrkala. The Arnhem Land research belongs to Mununggurr and Lewis’ ongoing project, Transcriptions for the Perfect House (2009-2012), in which explorations of ‘home’ connect their practices. Mununggurr’s bark paintings represent “contemporary expressions of the custodial ideal of place” while Lewis responds with “coincidental sculptural processes and an environmental graphism,” explains writer James Paull in the exhibition room brochure. As Lewis describes it, the project is “a reference, quite an elaborate one, to what’s happening in the Northern Territory with the Intervention and the anti-homelands movement that the federal government implemented and maintains—the idea of bringing all the people from the homelands into the settlements where medical facilities, education and the like are streamlined and economically disbursed. As I understand it, the NT Intervention isn’t a system the Yolngu aspire to.”

Ruark Lewis & Rainer Linz, Banalities for The Perfect House, 2005

Ruark Lewis & Rainer Linz, Banalities for The Perfect House, 2005

Ruark Lewis & Rainer Linz, Banalities for The Perfect House, 2005

For the survey exhibition, Lewis presents a set of newly constructed mobile shelters, functional yet ultimately sculptural works that visitors can test out for themselves in the Hazelhurst gardens. These nomadic architectural installations, titled Star Shelters (2012), stem both from Lewis’s concern for the thermal exposure crisis experienced by Sydney’s homeless people during wintertime and his desire to create a temporary housing solution for the Darwin homeless, the so-called “long-grassers,” Indigenous individuals and families who visit the city without a place to stay and who sleep rough outdoors. Lewis observed the long-grassers over a nine-week hospital stay in Darwin earlier this year. It was during his hospitalisation that he began the prismatic black-and-white graphite drawings, made to chance formulae but also responding to ideas of Aboriginal astronomy, which have since evolved into the shelter works.

“I took a set of my small drawings and began folding them to form three dimensional structures,” Lewis explains. “I scored along the lines and simply folded them like origami. These maquettes were scaled up and using plywood formed life-sized tent-like structures with openings on the side that permit people to get inside them.”

Site-specific works include two banners printed with the subtly ironic phrases GO HOME and HOMELESSNESS for one day at two major traffic entry and exit points at the threshold of the Shire. For Lewis, the introduction of elliptical text-based works into the civic realm allows the reader to “attach their own meaning to words, phrases and concepts. It’s a kind of esoteric form of public writing, a reductive form of writing expression, and one that percolates like salt or minerals rising up through the earth. These simple words signal and impart a social nutrient and I’ve found these ideas can easily flourish. It isn’t a bad thing if we can hold back from being singular authors some of the time and think more about the use of art in our society.”

If the chronological and classificatory logic of a survey reveals a tendency to freeze works as finite objects in space and time, Lewis is resisting this impulse toward stasis by using documentation to “bring into the audience’s perception that there’s also a lot of performance that goes on around the works.” Two live works in the gallery with dancers and choreographers Tess De Quincey and Alan Schacher are programmed, the latter involving Schacher’s response to Lewis speaking the 1943 version of the aphoristic text, Directions, by the largely forgotten Sydney poet of the PUSH movement, Harry Hooton. It’s this summoning spirit which similarly permeates so much of the art of Ruark Lewis. Recovering and illuminating the nuances of place, history and community without losing their critical force, Lewis skillfully translates enough of the strangeness in these manifold stories to keep their poetry alive.

Ruark Lewis: Survey 1982-2012, Hazelhurst Regional Gallery, Sept 29-Nov 11; Macquarie University Art Gallery, Jan 30-March 13 2013; Events at Hazelhurst: Oct 28, 11am artist talk with Ruark Lewis, 1pm performance, Tess De Quincey, Catscradleforsutherland; Nov 11, 1pm performance, Alan Schacher, Directions, www.hazelhurst.com.au

RealTime issue #111 Oct-Nov 2012 pg. 52

© Ella Mudie; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Sarah Jane Norman, Take This, For It Is My Body

Sarah Jane Norman, Take This, For It Is My Body

Sarah Jane Norman, Take This, For It Is My Body

BLOOD IS JUST SUCH CLEVER STUFF. AS A SUBSTANCE AND AS A METAPHOR; EVEN THE WORD ITSELF ON THE PAGE HAS A UNIQUELY RICH POETIC TONE. IN THE COURSE OF MAKING UNSETTLING SUITE, MY CURRENT BODY OF WORK, I HAVE BECOME DEEPLY INTIMATE WITH BLOOD IN ALL ITS FACETS.

In preparation for Bone Library, I’ve spent nearly a year, it seems, with blood permanently encrusted under my fingernails, the result of months spent cleaning animal bones, pushing out plugs of bloody marrow; and I’ve gradually learnt the best spots on my own body, with its recalcitrant veins, to draw blood, having trained myself via the many DIY hotel-room phlebotomies that have had to be discreetly performed for Take this, for it is my body. Materially, physiologically and symbolically, blood is an undoubtedly fascinating substance.

Unsettling Suite as it stands comprises three finished works and one in development: Take this, for it is my Body (2010; RT101); Corpus Nullius (2011); one as yet forthcoming/untitled; and finally the monumental Bone Library (2011-ongoing). For the purpose of this article I’ll be speaking through only one of these works, Take this, for it is my Body. First presented at InBetweenTime in Bristol in 2010, this work had been more than six years in the making. It was subsequently performed twice in Sydney, once at Performance Space, which has been a home venue for me throughout all the years of my growing practice, and once at Elizabeth Bay House for the NSW History Council.

Take this, for it is my Body has gone through multiple reconfigurations, from a one-to-one performance, to a performance for small groups, back to one-to-one again but with my own performing body replaced by my mother’s. Through all its permutations, the core action remains unchanged: in the work the audience sits at a table and is offered a slice of warm, homemade bread. They can choose to consume or otherwise, in full knowledge that the ingredients include 6mls of my blood.

My mother was of a generation in which Aboriginal people were classed, like cattle, according to a quantitative judgment of blood. In an era prior to the granting of basic citizenship to Aboriginal people, the question of how much ‘native blood’ a person had in their veins could determine a great deal about their circumstances.

Sarah-Jane Norman, Bone Library

Sarah-Jane Norman, Bone Library

Sarah-Jane Norman, Bone Library

It enrages me to be asked, as an Indigenous person, how much Aboriginal blood I have in me, or worse, when people blithely attempt to classify my identity in halves or quarters. I’ll field such questions diplomatically, because ignorance is not a crime. People ask not out of racism but out of genuine curiosity. It’s questions, and not the people themselves, that are racist. They represent a continuation of the same apartheid consciousness which atomised my family, which put my olive-skinned mother on one side of the line in the post office and my black Aunty Launa on the other. The truth of my blood and my family heritage is this: I was born in Sydney. My father is British and my mother is Aboriginal. Where I am truly from is a question to which I don’t, and never will have, a single answer. I am a proud Aboriginal Australian, of Wannarua and Wiradjuri heritage. I am also a citizen of Great Britain and a sometime resident of the European Union. Indigenous artists have walked this line for a very long time. There is a natural facility with the discourses of cultural hybridity among Indigenous peoples from which I daily draw strength. I’ve learnt to reside in these ambiguities of self as a gesture towards a cultural paradigm which no longer asserts the power of absolutes.

The idea for Take this… arrived, as most things do, as a puzzle. A collection of separate parts, which held within them the potential to interlock. During the work’s development I thought about a great many things. I remember hearing about a very old French folk lyric, about village women making bread. The women sing of kneading the dough between their thighs, of its softness and warmth, and of bringing themselves to collective orgasm through their labour. I thought about my grandmother, Aunty Biddy, working as a shearer’s cook on a station in outback NSW in the early 1960s, and wondered if, in making the damper or the scones for the Boss and the Missus and the men, she ever considered doing the same. I thought about the mesmeric, earthy fecundity of that gesture, and of its generational continuity: why it was that I, who grew up on Sunblest and Tiger loaves from the local Vietnamese bakery, could feel such an old, archetypal and robustly female energy animating that gesture? Why, in the process of kneading dough on my benchtop in Darlinghurst, I could feel another body, or bodies, spectrally taking possession of my own, that my grandmother’s blood and spirit were alive in my own flesh.

When I was 12 I thought about cutting my finger and bleeding into the ANZAC biscuits. Of course, I thought about the Holy Communion. I thought about the so-called Syncretic religions, the absorption of the saints and rituals of the (usually Catholic) colonial power into the Indigenous belief systems of the area: Haitian Voudoun is one such religion, and I wondered if the Aboriginal relationship with Christianity and increasingly, Islam, might not fall in similar territory. Last of all I thought about the poisoning of the flour rations that were sent to Aboriginal missions, and how this represents for me one of the most frightening truths of human atrocity; that the processes of genocide are manifold, that its most effective modes are frequently the subtlest. I thought broadly about the notions of ‘contamination’ and ‘assimilation’ and their resonance; gestures of absolution, and modes of defiance. I thought about that powerfully awful expression, “a lick of the tar brush,” and how I have heard it used, without irony, in reference to myself by supposedly educated and politically aware people, as though my culture and heritage were some kind of cheeky smear on my otherwise passable ‘whiteness.’ I thought about this notion of being of ‘mixed blood’ and what it might mean to reclaim this as a position of strength: where is its poetry, its power? Is there an image to hold it and carry it? I thought about a great many things, all of which eventually culminated in a simple offering, which continues to develop and resound.

Sarah-Jane Norman, Corpus Nullius/Blood Country (2011), part of the Unsettling Suite

Sarah-Jane Norman, Corpus Nullius/Blood Country (2011), part of the Unsettling Suite

Sarah-Jane Norman, Corpus Nullius/Blood Country (2011), part of the Unsettling Suite

Like most practitioners who move in that territory that might be broadly called performance (or Live Art, or Performance Art, or Contemporary Performance, or body-based or time-based art, depending on context and discursive vogue), I have come to my current location via multiple elsewheres. My background is varied: training in theatre, dance, visual arts and cultural studies have all shaped my practice.

My practice is transnational and inter-local by necessity. It was appropriate that the first performance of the Unsettling Suite cycle should be presented in Bristol, because Bristol was where the work was seeded. I moved there in 2006, by way of Tokyo and rural Devon. It was in Bristol, through the community of artists that I found there and with whom I still share close creative and personal bonds, that I first came into an awareness of what I now recognise to be one of the most significant gifts of artistic practice: connectivity, the potentiality of infinite, lateral movement through transnational communities, linked by common dialogues. I felt at home as an artist in England in a way that I didn’t as a human being. It was perhaps this tension that fostered the seed ideas for Unsettling Suite.

I feel confident in the assertion that Britain has not processed its history as a former colonial power to the extent that Australia, and certainly Aboriginal Australia, has had to interrogate its own history as a former colony. The brunt of the work, when it comes to unpicking the true meaning of this complex state we call “postcoloniality,” seems to fall more often than not on the former colonial territories. As an Aboriginal Australian artist it seems assumed that the business of interrogating postcoloniality falls squarely within my jurisdiction. That’s just the way it goes, I suppose. Postcoloniality is a shared state. We are all post-colonial: if there is one truly global dilemma that would have to be it. I feel privileged, as an Aboriginal artist, to be at the vanguard of rethinking that discourse.

Blood is such clever stuff: it has profound intelligence and a long memory. History is never history. It’s alive in the written and unwritten rules of our world. It’s alive in our language. It’s alive in the depths of our bodies. This is something that is traditionally understood by Aboriginal people; that our bodies are of the land and the land is of our ancestors. History is something to be understood viscerally. Perhaps the depth of grief that continues to haunt our culture/s is what fuels the necessity to tell and re-tell this history, and the articulation strikes home because of the sheer force of its necessity. Does grief make us eloquent? If every work of art is an exercise in cheating death, in defiance, in the re-ignition of the spirit, then yes, it does. I can’t be certain and I can’t speak collectively. Only through practice can I begin to grasp for insight.

RealTime issue #111 Oct-Nov 2012 pg. 3

© Sarah-Jane Norman; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Dallas Winmar

Dallas Winmar

My writing journey started when I was first approached by Yirra Yaakin Noongar Theatre to write Aliwa, a story of three sisters and their mother’s fight to keep them together. Aliwa premiered in Perth (2000). I was also commissioned by Kooemba Jdarra to write Skin Deep for their 2000 program.  

Aliwa was re-staged at Belvoir Street Theatre Sydney (2001) and is published by Currency Press. Yibiyung, my third play, premiered at Belvoir Street (2008) and played at Malthouse (2008). I have also written an episode for Series 2 of My Place—Before Time: Bunda (ABC TV and Australian Children’s Television Foundation). My writing awards include: Kate Challis Award 2012 for Yibiyung, Kate Challis RAKA award 2002 for Aliwa (shared with Jane Harrison for Stolen) and short-listing for the WA Premier’s Book Award and the Louis Esson Prize for Drama.  

I’m currently working on a stage adaptation of Kim Scott’s award winning novel That Deadman Dance with director Neil Armfield. The process of writing I guess is a madness. A journey drawing on personal experiences. Love the feeling you get when a character is given a voice, a personality, life. The magic that writing gives. Is it worth it?  Yes!  

Dallas Winmar (Yettung) was born in Perth, WA. She has worked in many different industries, balancing her full-time job with her love of the arts.

RealTime issue #111 Oct-Nov 2012 pg. 22

© Dallas Winmar (Yettung) ; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

Tasdance, A Human Calculation, Anna Smith

Tasdance, A Human Calculation, Anna Smith

Tasdance, A Human Calculation, Anna Smith

A MESH SCREEN RISES AT THE REAR OF THE STAGE REVEALING A SPACE BEYOND FORMED ENTIRELY FROM ‘THICK’ GREEN LIGHT. TWO MALE DANCERS WALK BACK INTO THE DEPTHS OF THE SPACE, SEEMING TO DISAPPEAR WITHIN ITS GLOW. WHILE THIS MOMENT OF THEATRE IS TECHNICALLY SIMPLE, THE ILLUSION IS COMPELLING IN ITS EXECUTION. I CATCH MY BREATH. IT IS JUST ONE OF MANY STRONG IMAGES IN A WORK CHOREOGRAPHED BY ANNA SMITH IN TASDANCE’S VOLTAGE SEASON.

Taking the idea of voltage as a starting point, choreographers Larissa McGowan and Anna Smith have each prepared a work for six dancers, titled Transducer and A Human Calculation respectively. McGowan has taken a more direct approach to the concept, by exploring the effect of energy on the body, the duo and the group, while Smith’s work reflects a fascination with the impact of technology on the human race.

Transducer opens with strobing light and each of the dancers silhouetted against a full height scrim forming a corner between the rear and side of stage. Both the set and the costumes are stripped back to basics, with the scrim a blank white, the dancers clothed in variations of loose or fitted orange lycra. It feels like an exploratory work that may have been developed entirely in collaboration with the dancers and composer. The ‘twitch’ of electricity is the link between really interesting solos or duets and more conventional group movement. I’m completely taken by a series of duets where one dancer appears to roar or scream at the other, mouth fully open, syncing exactly with the soundtrack of industrial noise, the other’s body moving involuntarily in response. I note that the two male dancers with their fierce, loose movements seem to portray this effect even more vehemently than their female mirror images.

Tasdance ensemble, Tranducer, Larissa McGowan

Tasdance ensemble, Tranducer, Larissa McGowan

Tasdance ensemble, Tranducer, Larissa McGowan

While McGowan’s reads as a workshopped piece, Smith conveys a sense that every detail has been considered and every image composed. She is playing with the apocalyptic idea (borrowed from Ray Kurzwell) that society will reach a point of “singularity” in 2045 when the speed of technological change causes a rupture in “…the fabric of human history” [when technological “superintelligences” will outstrip human intellectual abilities. Eds]. Her dancers appear lost in the afterglow of this moment, as though trying to reclaim a way to move or behave. A repeated movement throughout is of pulling forward and being drawn back, as though continually failing. The costumes, lighting and set pull together to form an intimate, moody work that is full of memorable, almost filmic images. Six dancers frozen in formless, laser-cut paper shifts, backlit like translucent lamps, provides one such moment.

Two-choreographer seasons have generally produced good results for Tasdance and obviously offer a productive challenge for their dancers. The works in Voltage are really interesting in themselves, but the double billing disadvantages choreographers clearly at different points in their careers. In this work McGowan is still evolving her choreographic language, while Smith appears at ease with the movement and is more focused on the developing the imagery of an idea. Consequently the more experimental work, Transducer, cannot hold its own against the more confidently shaped A Human Calculation.

Tasdance, Voltage, Transducer, choreographer Larissa McGowan, music Charlie Chan, A Human Calculation, choreographer Anna Smith, dancers Tobiath Booth Remmers, Ben Chapman, Sarah Fiddaman, Brianna Kell, Jenni Large, Tim Walsh, music Loscil, Scanner, Tim Hecker, Hauschka & Hildur Guðnadóttir, costumes Lexi George; design and lighting for both works Bluebottle–Frog Peck; Theatre Royal, Hobart, Aug 2- 3

RealTime issue #111 Oct-Nov 2012 pg. 34

© Judith Abell; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

The Plant, Chicago

The Plant, Chicago

The Plant, Chicago

IN MAY 2012 I EMBARKED ON A FOUR-MONTH TOUR OF NORTH AMERICAN ARTIST-LED SPACES AND INITIATIVES ACROSS 14 CITIES. BY CONNECTING WITH THESE SPACES AND CITIES, I HOPED TO LEARN ABOUT DIFFERENT MODELS AND THE CONTEXTS SHAPING THEM, AND TAKE A COMPARATIVE LOOK AT OUR OWN SITUATION IN AUSTRALIA, SPECIFICALLY SYDNEY.

The tour was also an opportunity to ponder the behaviour of cities, and the potential for artist-led activity to transform economies. As director of Bill+George, an ARI in Redfern, I also hoped to start a conversation with various spaces on a possible collaborative exchange project for 2014.

The artist-run initiative (ARI), the artist-run space, or the artist-run centre (ARC) as it is known in Canada, is a useful barometer for the health of the arts and the political economy in general. In Australia, the ARI can be considered an incubator for new ideas, with a reputation for risk and experimentation, and a drawcard for emerging artists in the first few years of their practice. Conventional definitions in Australia typically assume a predominantly visual art frame, with some kind of curatorial or exhibition activity.

definitions & ideologies

I have observed for a while the need for an expanded definition of the Artist-Run Initiative in Australia because current definitions omit a large swathe of artist-led activity which is actively contributing to and enhancing artistic output, and the capacity for artists to innovate new forms and ideas. Current discourse and definitions are narrow in reach, and tend to elide the substratum network of what all artist-led activity does, which is to connect at the creative level what everyone in the non-creative world does: manage, administer, make business decisions and produce and distribute resources in order to keep their enterprise going. In particular, scant attention is paid to the effects of autonomous decision-making on artistic endeavours, and the flow-on effects of self-organisation, which strengthen the artist’s political muscle in the broader economy.

Coming to America, I was intrigued by the ‘pulling yourself up by the bootstraps’ mentality and the entrepreneurial flag-waving which sit awkwardly alongside America’s difficult relationship to ‘big government’ and public funding. I was interested in how these ideologies were shaping artistic endeavour. Over the course of the journey my line of inquiry grew to include housing projects, publishing endeavours, libraries, urban farms, breweries, small manufacturers and even an artist-run limousine service.

building a hot list

My initial plan reflected a hot list of happening spaces and connected people. A great resource for building a list is the Phone Book, a solid listing of artist-run spaces and initiatives produced annually by Chicago artist-run gallery threewalls. In Canada, a comprehensive guide is the Directory of Artist-Run Centres published through Réseau Art Actuel by the Quebec-based regional association Le Regroupment des centres d’artistes autogeres du Quebec.

Time permitted a cursory drift through only a select number of regions, with this short review presenting a snapshot of three cities in the Mid West: Minneapolis/St Paul, Chicago and Detroit. In this edition I focus on Chicago.

chicago

My interest in exploring the USA was first ignited when I came across the Chicago-based venture Incubate. Describing itself as a research institute, the central thrust of Incubate is to explore new approaches to arts administration and funding, and to approach art administration much like a creative practice. Incubate is perhaps best known for Sunday Soup, a food-based micro-grant program which involves groups (artists or community) presenting short projects they want funded to a crowd who dine on soup cooked by volunteers. Audiences then vote on their favourite, with the winning project getting all the proceeds from the door. This concept has expanded internationally, and in January this year included Sydney’s favourite ARI, The Red Rattler, hosting one at their Marrickville venue.

In Chicago, artist-run spaces are plentiful in a city of more than 10 million, and a large number are havens for post-MFA artists looking for alternatives to the art market. Threewalls, an artist-run space located amongst a cluster of galleries in the arts district of Chicago’s West Loop, mixes a number of clever strategies. Mimicking the increasingly popular Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs across America, threewalls produces a twice yearly art subscription service of locally produced work, which they call Community Supported Art. Perhaps because of this, they are the only artist-run space invited to be part of the Expo, a Chicago Art Fair, presumably to help grease the trapdoor for emerging talent into the art market. Along with the Phone Book and initiatives across North America, threewalls also organises an annual conference called Hand in Glove which brings together artists from all over the country to talk about new ways of doing things with administration and project management.

Further south of the city in the Bridgeport neighbourhood, Co-prosperity Sphere takes up an impressive footprint in a still semi-industrial area with a receding reputation for seediness. Headed up by the affable enabler Ed Marszewski, Co-Prosperity is an exhibition space, a performance venue, a publishing arm, a festival platform, a craft beer maker and Small Manufacturing Alliance among many other things. It is also home to the annual Versionfest, an artist-run festival which basically remixes the neighbourhood, packing 60-plus events and happenings into 20 spaces for the month of May. Bringing together “cultural workers, community developers, urban entrepreneurs, artists, designers, foodies, public space hackers, urban planners, cultural geographers and dreamers” it presents the optimum conditions for expanding the artist-led realm.

 Rebecca Conroy with Daniel Tucker, AREA Chicago

Rebecca Conroy with Daniel Tucker, AREA Chicago

Rebecca Conroy with Daniel Tucker, AREA Chicago

Marszewski refers to Bridgeport and Co-prosperity as the “Community of the Future” and has been promoting its wares through a number of very nicely designed and printed publications. He considers the community newsletter to be an excellent instrument for building community and activating its histories. Similarly, histories and local archives drive the work of Chicago artist Daniel Tucker, a prolific maker of projects who has an extensive archive of Chicago art and community projects. He describes one such project, AREA Chicago, which he founded in 2005, as “a print publication, a web platform, an event series and a group learning experiment for adults who identify as artists, researchers, educators and activists living in the city of Chicago” (AREA Chicago, The First Five Years #12). AREA is published twice a year on a theme decided by the editorial team who often provisionally attach themselves to other organisations or sites to inform the curatorial and editorial process. This makes for a nimble publishing endeavour, engaging various communities through physical proximity.

Tucker is currently working with Rebecca Zorach on Never-the-Same.org, an online archive about social and political art in Chicago and a wonderful resource for those new to Chicago as much as it must be for those who share its history. Tucker is also involved in Compass, a loose alliance of artists, critical thinkers, researchers from an area they refer to as the Mid West Radical Culture Corridor, and who have just published a collection of work called Deep Routes: The Midwest in all Directions (White Wire, Wisconsin, 2012). The text pulls together a survey of regional encounters within the Midwest and beyond, highlighting knowledge production and the economic reality of communities from the perspective of specific locations and sites.

In Back of the Yards, another neighbourhood south of the city, The Plant is a vertical farm and sustainable food business inside a repurposed meatpacking facility measuring 45,000 square feet. Industrial artist and designer John Edel purchased the building in 2010 having previously run Bubbly Dynamics, an industrial arts and sustainable manufacturing centre. Operating as a social enterprise and not for profit organisation, The Plant is working towards zero net waste and zero net energy status. Here, as in many artist-led spaces and ventures, The Plant recognises the need for deep connection with local community; every two weeks it holds an open day and tour of the facility, promoting the practice of zero net waste and energy, as well as animating the place and bringing business to the enterprise.

Crucial to this project, and to many artist led projects across the States is access to affordable property. And although the familiar dirge of artist led gentrification shadows the artist run enterprise wherever it goes, the boom and bust cycle means it is currently straddling a fertile cusp. The call of the urban artist pioneer for renewing and revitalising is nigh. Detroit is a case in point, magnified to the power of a thousand, and in many ways provided an anchor to this trip, as you’ll read in RealTime 112.

In RealTime 112, Rebecca Conroy encounters unexpected artist-run initiatives in Detroit, Minneapolis and St Paul, including a car service, a traffic calming initiative and an artist business incubator.

See also Rebecca Conroy’s Detroit RT Traveller

RealTime issue #111 Oct-Nov 2012 pg. 53

© Rebecca Conroy; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net