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:
- 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?”
- ‘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
- 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!