#Edgelands: One


Well. Today was absolutely excellent. The best thing you could do would be to have a listen here, which is an online sound record of all the provocations and ideas. I’ll post some reflections once they settle in, but in the meantime here’s the text of my response to Artists. Audiences. How can we do this better?

Hello Empire. It’s your dear colony. Chances are you are probably aware that amongst the wonderful things we owe you for – a parliamentary system, tea, Wate and Kills – what we also have is a massively insecure national identity, which often manifests in stunted race relations. More than anything exists a shameful and crushing relationship with the original owners of our land, Australia’s Indigenous people. I would like to believe otherwise, but realistically when and if the rest of the globe pays attention to my country, it’s often for issues that are radically separate from what I believe is good.

Within that context, last week I witnessed a moment of profound, startling and exciting exchange between a (mostly) white audience, and a (mostly) Indigenous cast. There’s an important Australian company called Big hArt, and their most recent production Namatjira, an exploration of the life of our most famous Indigenous painter, Albert Namatjira, is currently playing at the Malthouse Theatre in Melbourne.

In the title role, Trevor Jamieson is a phenomenon. His performance is incredibly generous, whilst remaining politically charged. When the lights came up after the show last Saturday night – and bear in mind that it ends with Albert’s premature passing – the audience were so profoundly engaged with the work they actually stormed the stage. It was AMAZING. The audience HAD to be inside that space in which something vital had occurred; they NEEDED to feel its resonance. I’ve never seen that in the theatre; I’ve only ever seen that on a football field.

For the past year or so, I have been asking my artists to explore the twin concepts of generosity and urgency in their practice. My theory – and up until last week it was only that – was that insisting upon genuine, heartfelt and passionate curiosity about other human beings might result in work that was properly relevant to a world where relentless individualism, constant competition and tumultuous indecision pervades. I keep trying to articulate this generosity in art not really as kind, warm-fuzzy – nor as an introverted rehash of relational aesthetics; but rather as something that has a strong political edge; that involves a sacrifice of the self; that is noble. It’s not about giving away shit for free. It’s about not assuming you’re the most interesting thing in the room. It is about demanding the hearts and minds of all who are present, whether they be artists or audiences, and constantly asking: who’s not here?

Three more thoughts:

  1. How can we put in place structures that ensure the ideas, feelings, concepts,  motivations of work is what is discussed and shared, over and above the “is it good? Did you like it?”
  2. ‘Gathering’ is one of our most vital, dynamic and contentious actions as arts-makers. We’ve got to break this down to its core principles and re-examine what it means: online, in public space and in the focused traditional contexts we’ve used for centuries and will continue to use
  3. I’d tentatively suggest spontaneity, disruption, intervention into public space on artistic terms is more crucial than ever before.

OK, so anyone who’s been reading this blog closely may have noticed that this was a slight rehash – but hey! These Britons don’t know me! And I do believe it!


8 thoughts on “#Edgelands: One

  1. Really thinking hard about the role social networks can play in relation to your three thoughts. I can imagine a place, wikipedia like, which allows multiple contradictory readings of work, which challenges responses to go further than ‘is it good’ and at the same time, is harvesting (or gathering) the reactions and responses (the more contentious the better). The idea of a collective intellectual commune instead of a property. This project is a pretty interesting – tracking newspaper articles across the web: http://nytlabs.com/projects/cascade.html

  2. Wow, thanks Asher. I’ve never had anyone comment on the blog before and yours are fantastic! You’re right, it would be amazing if our responses to work could operate like Wikipedia, always able to be updated and modified (and probably, far better archived).

    Did you happen to attend Robert Pacitti’s SPILL Festival this year? I had a long chat with fellow Melburnian Leisa Shelton about their “Surround” program – they placed as much if not more emphasis on the resonance of the works as they did on the program itself. There were lots of writers commissioned, as well as new projects designed to encourage a diversity of views to the work, that were conceived and made during the Festival. I think this is such a great approach.

    1. Sounds like I’ve got some reading to do! And thank you. It’s the first time I’ve commented on a blog, too, so thank you for your kind response. I have to admit the world wide web fills me with dread – I hate having my words ‘out there’ – but I’m trying to be bold and live up to my ideal to create a more democratic conversation about art. I think a lot of other people share my fear about being told they’re wrong, and I think this is stopping them making the next step towards asking questions and making answers. I didn’t see the SPILL festival (I’ve been hiding under a rock for bit) but that sounds really fantastic. Resonance is a really apt description; I’ve had the little line Alison Croggon wrote about Namatjira in my head and it’s spinning and spinning: ‘a sudden generosity of possibility’. I think the amazing work festivals do sometimes gets swept aside in the rush towards the next thing, or perhaps each next wave washes the beach clean… which suggest to me a maudlin metaphor: it’s the sand we need to be thinking about, constantly reforming, supporting each now thing to be breaking down again. But it stays there. There isn’t as much focus on the line through, the response, the right of reply and the resonance among participants and audience – it also has implications for a sustainable (and productive) art practice. The surround program sounds brilliant, so thanks for the lead – I’m off on some google adventures…

  3. That metaphor is terrific, I don’t think it’s maudlin! It’s a far more poetic way of articulating something I have also thought about: my work is focused on emerging artists and commissioning/supporting the emergence of the new. But it can’t just be a conveyor belt, devoid of context or history – as you say, we need to consider the sand. I articulated it as “obsessed with the new / adamant about context” but I prefer your metaphor!

  4. Also: I’m very new to blogging and I totally agree the committed publicness (hence the title…) of it all can be intimidating. But the more I do it the easier it becomes, and it feels far less problematic than giving over all my thoughts/content/ideas to Facebook…

  5. It does get easier the more you practice, I feel like I’ve been at the brain gym, my lobe aches but its awesome. I think being adamant about context is a much better phrase, because it just doesn’t unpack itself easily. It’s far further reaching – and challenging, because it has the scope to be critical of the hand that feeds it. In a side note – I wrote my honours thesis on facebook, and am convinced it is a work of evil genius.

  6. I hadn’t heard of the Epiphanator. It’s my kind of machine, I respect the work and craft in making ending – you need a whole story just to have an ending. I did read the Gladwell article – and I came to the same sort of conclusions when I was studying Facebook. I was trying to use theatre studies to formally analyse Facebook, and I ended up really bummed. It was theatre – and the most interesting part of Facebook (and social media in general) is the way that the performer/audience is so fluid and permeable, you just jump on stage when you feel like it, and you jump off when you don’t, however due to the nature of it’s immense speed and brevity, it just created meaningless, boring, bad theatre. That was before Twitter – I didn’t think it could get smaller and faster.

    I do love reading about how they break up societies – I love Paul Virilio and his writing about how we are bunkered by technology – it breaks up our storytelling culture, it breaks down the formalities and the rituals which have served a purpose (and I think still do). Facebook and Twitter also increase our status anxiety and fracture our personas. However, I’ve been reading a lot about the counterculture and avant-garde art in the 50’s and 60’s and I’m beginning to have some new thoughts on the matter – perhaps the very boringness is it’s downfall, or a critical blow to the algorithm.

    Reading about the Living Theatre and the connect to Jazz and drugs – there was a lot of work in the 50’s and 60’s made to be deliberately boring. John Cage, (and Erik Satie years before) droned on or made no sound at all – and the very act of not acting, to entertain was a deliberate attempt to undermine and challenge the dominant culture, which was all hyper-satisfying, never ending drama (one could say the epiphanator at its prime, spitting out ideologies). At the very least, it frustrated the hell out of many critics, who sat through hours of performed (or real) drug induced stupor and boredom.

    So – I’m thinking today, why not flood the machine, the analytic beast with more than it can cope with? I will approach Facebook with banality in mind now, the more boring the better. People might switch off. The worst possible outcome is that the advertising directed to me is a bit less soul crushingly accurate in needling my economic libido…

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