letter

With due respect to Jon Dale (whose writing we’ve enjoyed and valued over the years) his RT105 Overground article ‘combinatorial challenges’ (p40) is pretty unfortunate, more a rant than review. Jon caricatures the Overground curatorial process and skews an important discussion to support some inchoate conclusions.

That the broad negativity of ‘combinatorial challenges’ also extends to ignoring 80 of Overground’s more than 100 performers with a line as pithy as “The remaining hours of Overground, sadly, offered little of merit” is to put it mildly, a major bummer for both participants and readers, and ultimately, a sloppy way of blanking what was in fact the vast majority of the event.

Regardless of the personal impression made by specific artists (and there have been plenty of divergent opinions on each act), the characterization of the combinatorial process as “unguided, ‘pick-a-name-out-of-the-hat’” is spurious, meant to sting, rather than provide reasonable critique. The ‘new collaborations’ approach established at Overground 2010 (with clear historical precedent spanning events from Derek Bailey’s ‘Company’ (1976-1994) to Sydney’s NOW now) was generated thoughtfully in iterations, through ongoing discussion between the curators, and with participating artists, who were largely thrilled, or at least curious and challenged by the propositions. Tony Conrad’s duet with Chris Abrahams, described in the article as a “dumb mathematical equation” came about at Conrad’s suggestion (as a long time admirer of Abrahams work) and was described by Abrahams as a “massive honour and challenge.” We reject Jon’s portrayal of the curatorial process at Overground.

The discussion around ‘roamers’ and ‘intervention’ is more complex and highlights real and interesting tensions. ‘Roamers’ were invited to activate ‘unofficial’ spaces within Melbourne Town Hall, outside the bounds of the formal schedule. There were also specific restrictions, principally to avoid direct disruption of the other acts, especially very quiet ensembles. Managing the dynamic between roaming and scheduled artists is obviously difficult, it’s a nuanced situation requiring sensitivity from everyone. The arrangement was navigated brilliantly without regulation by about 20 disparate performers on the day. However, when ‘roamer’ Kusum Normoyle, crossing the “invisible psychic line,” as Jon excitedly put it, unexpectedly blasted harsh noise into the space of a particularly quiet group halfway through a set watched by about 300 people in the main hall, it was pretty obvious there’d be reaction, in this case an attempt to protect the less robust work from being destroyed. The decision to halt Kusum’s performance was made on principal, intuitively, in response to her own ‘switching off’ of another work, intentional or not. It felt justified at the time, and in effect fitting to the kamikaze-like logic of her own interventionist action. There are legitimate questions that come out of this event (we’d be interested to know what Jon is essentially advocating, where his “psychic line” is) but the characterisation of a repressive “official festival culture” bent on silencing the “feverish creativity of the underground” is facetious. It also ignores the fact that the Overground organisers are all active participants in that very underground.

Joel Stern
Overground Co-curator
Email Nov 30, 2011

RealTime issue #106 Dec-Jan 2011 pg. 41

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

13 December 2011