Time_Place_Space: weapons of mass distraction

David Williams

We are 19 artists from around the country. We have entered ART CAMP—a hothouse in a cold place, an engagement with strange new processes and eccentric new people, shacking up in buildings so identical that they could only have been built by the military.

We are in Wagga Wagga. (So good they named it twice, a joke Andrew Morrish told at least twice every day. Only he could pull that off and still be funny.) We declare interests in hybridity and collaboration. Aided and abetted by 6 artist/facilitators, several project staff and a regular flow of visitors we pursue the game plan: operate in close quarters, exploit provided equipment and stir like crazy.

There’s a 20-minute walk from the accommodation to the studio spaces. Distance makes surprising things possible. There are conversations to be had, alliances to make, happenings to plot, dinner and drinks to contemplate, hangovers to nurse, people to meet and places to imagine. There wasn’t enough time in today’s workshop to debrief, to regroup, and to imagine beyond the scope of that last exercise. What happens next? Can anyone suggest what can be done with 3 balaclavas, 4 walkie-talkies, a couple of video cameras, and an explicit body or 2? Let’s make a show, quick and dirty. It’s not such a big ask, and there’s no pressure, but as she leant on the bar one night, co-curator Sarah Miller firmly requested a revolution. Our time starts now.

For the first week Melbourne dancer Ivan Thorley and I watch the late news every night, waiting for a declaration of war on Iraq, waiting for World War 3, wondering what will happen here in Wagga Wagga in response. Will this elite artist think-tank come up with an effective intervention strategy—a performative weapon of mass distraction?

Week 1: We get into workshop mode for a few days. Technical and technology workshops (hardware and software) and performance workshops offered in response to our developing interests. A grab bag of ideas, exercises and ordeals, introductions into the aesthetics and personalities of the facilitators—the exquisitely rambling improvisations of Morrish, the laconic wit and DIY approach to projection of Margie Medlin, and the strategically timed eccentric pronouncements and lateral speculations of Derek Kreckler with his ever present camera. In these early days we meet the other artist/inmates on the floor in a controlled environment, steered towards new options to stock up the performative toolbox.

The performance workshops asked difficult questions—interrogate everything you think you know. Why do you do what you do? You have 60 seconds. You’re not convincing enough. Why is what you do important? What would you die for? Face the provocation and terror of the impossible task and HAVE A RESPONSE. Face the fear and make it constructive; turn it into art. Get rid of all of that prepared statement, it’s rubbish. It doesn’t mean anything here and now. Be honest. Be real. What would you die for (how do I address this question in the performance act)? Find a better answer. You have 10 minutes. Your time starts now.

Under the interrogating eyes of Robert Pacitti, Helen Paris and Leslie Hill (RT51, p21) the first week’s workshops weren’t always pretty or fun. It was intense, and sometimes I wasn’t sure it was constructive to face these demons. What sustains us? Are we building a culture of sustainable practice? A different question, equally difficult to answer: are we building alliances here, or are we scoping out the competition?

This intensity needed an outlet. The night of the balaclavas—trouble that was itching to happen. We needed to slip out of the reach of the helpful guiding hands, go crazy and meet in the space that only madness makes possible. It was sweaty, wild and stupid and signalled a turning point in hybrid performance. At least I think that’s what the signal meant—there was no peripheral vision through the balaclava eyeholes, and the walkie-talkie people were speaking in code. Or maybe it was gibberish. There’s a fine line—is this a performance about stupidity, or are we just being stupid? In this late night drunken performance art event gone wrong I gathered a partial view of art making practices across the country. It was exciting, unexpected, and dangerous. This was new territory. The opposition was smart, organised and focused. They obviously know how to secure funding, how to play the game to win. They were up against the drunken individualists, few of whom were playing the same game. The diversion (a beautiful performance by Paul Gazzola) drew us far beyond the point of sense, to the place at the collapse of language; to the question—is this still a game? Meanwhile, saboteurs from the other team rearranged home base—a performance re-installation, an act of domestic deconstruction. An aside—what does it mean that we bonded through enacting a terrorist scenario? What stories were we telling ourselves about ourselves here? Were we filtering the zeitgeist so literally?

Week 2: There’s not much time—make as much as you can. Go crazy. Go beyond what is possible. And we did. This event was not product-orientated, but we had several nights of showings, sometimes 4 or 5 pieces of collaborative work per night. Overload. Breathless debriefs and late night alcohol-fuelled critiques. We needed to stop and reflect. (This was after all, a space outside of the production necessities that destroy the possibilities of reflection, a space for fuelling up, taking stock and projecting into the future, something we didn’t often allow ourselves time for). But with the results of 20 artist collaborations and experiments to experience, time for discussion outside of the informal was impossible. The hybrid practice we stopped talking about after the first few days finally arrived. No one saw it coming, but suddenly it was here—the difference engine was fuelled up and ready for a test drive. Is this hybrid performance—the point at which aesthetic difference is transformed from an obstacle to be surmounted into something important and necessary—difference as a site for investigation, difference as the engine that drives the work, that makes this investigation not just possible but vital? Is hybrid performance always this unexpected, this strange, this unnameable?

Suddenly the last drop of wine has left the bottle and it’s time to hit the long road home. One last shared meal at a restaurant for the condemned and we disperse across the country like a virus, taking with us the seeds for hundreds of potential projects, a network of future collaborators and a support network par excellence. I’m ready. I’m ready like I’ve never been to begin the serious work. We’ve just arrived at the important bit of the conversations. We’ve got past the first names, past the need for politeness. This is the juicy stuff. Something worth fighting for, and yes, if necessary, dying for. We’re still waiting for the war, and we’ll facilitate the revolution slowly. We’re stocking up new ammunition as I write. This is a beginning.

Time_Place_Space 1, Facilitators: curious.com (Leslie Hill and Helen Paris), Derek Kreckler, Margie Medlin, Andrew Morrish, Robert Pacitti; participants: Keith Armstrong, Steve Bull, Mick Byrne, Anna Davis, Leon Ewing, Ruth Fleishman, Brian Fuata, Paul Gazzola, Scott Howie, Catherine Jones, Kelli McCluskey, Russell Milledge, Jason Sweeney, Karen Therese, Ivan Thorley, Chi Vu, Julie Vulcan, David Williams, Rebecca Youdell; co-curators: Sarah Miller (PICA), Julianne Pierce (ANAT), Fiona Winning (Performance Space); Project Manager: Jacqueline Bosscher; Technical support: Simon Wise; Wagga Wagga, September 15-28, 2002 www.performancespace.com.au

RealTime issue #53 Feb-March 2003 pg. 32

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

1 February 2003