Things written for saying look weird when put down for reading. Like little deflated balloons. But I’m sure you’ve all got theatrical imaginations, so here is my speech from the 2012 Next Wave Festival launch on Thursday night. It was a totally excellent party and if we’re starting as we mean to finish, it should be tops!
I started this festival with a challenge, not a theme. I wanted to ask questions and stir thoughts. I wanted our artists to articulate how they were navigating their world.
This was at the end of 2010.
It was clear to me then, that the next generation of artists had a different – and difficult – relationship with politics as it appeared on the nightly news. A generation who have known only the harsh absolutes of John Howard; and the hesitations of Labor. A generation who have grown up as the Internet has grown up. Who assume access to information, are comfortable with multiple meanings and know it’s tremendously more powerful to talk, not tell.
I offered a provocation that queried whether art could be both beautiful, and effective. We titled it “the space between us wants to sing.” Art that was needed now, and required less ego and more empathy.
We did all of this before 2011 turned up. An unexpectedly dramatic year. We made our Festival in that context – while millions took to the streets, in more and more countries, seeking out change without knowing how to articulate it yet. It wasn’t united; it wasn’t consistent; it wasn’t a movement. It was a moment. A feeling. That something needed to be different.
Now – good artists understand their context. And so the strange shifts of 2011 influenced us deeply. To me: these times, and these politics, represent the very best environment for us to be making art. Because art has the ability to articulate things we don’t understand yet. The things that words will misconstrue, that actions will obstruct.
The 2012 Festival presents art that reinterprets our social, political and civic humanity, using a range of new and unexpected tools. This is art that draws upon the arsenal of the subconscious to reveal what it is to be more human, humans. This is art that makes arguments for difference without resorting to the structures that previously existed. This is art that exists outside and above tribalism and tradition, while tackling those topics head-on.
These artists ask questions, but not like a journalist. They investigate matter, but not like a scientist. They tell stories, but not like a historian. They expose inconsistency, but not like a Judge.
Over the past two years, our artists have made their works in collaboration with:
- Religious leaders, for their views on marriage and ritual
- Birders, for their understanding of migration patterns
- Dairy Farmers, for their knowledge of culture and the good life
- Nail Salon workers, for their perspectives on setting up a new life here
- Scientists, for their facts on the pressures we place on the Antarctic
- Flood and bushfire survivors, for their experiences of destroyed collections and misplaced objects
- And architects, for insight into the urban planning failures that threaten beautiful old buildings just like this one.
An unbridled curiosity about the real world is not new. But for this Festival, I think we have found an extension of what John Cage was doing when he created 4’33. In composing that work he didn’t want people to listen to silence. He wanted us to give the world the same attention that we would usually reserve for art. He made the very ordinary – wonderfully extraordinary.
And that’s what the next wave of contemporary art is about.
This is a festival where you eat breakfast, get your nails done, go to a wedding, attend a dinner party, visit the Queen Vic Market, shoot an episode of a crime TV drama and take a museum tour through the end of the world.
This is a festival where your thoughts on climate change are reconsidered via a sweet ride in a dinghy down the Yarra. Where your thoughts on feminism are ignited by our memories of our first computers.
It’s a festival in which people who really don’t appear in contemporary dialogue gain a voice; people who have strange imaginations and protracted fantasies. Where the capacity of all of our senses comes under deep analysis: how our eyes deceive us, our tastebuds are mocked, our ears become lazy with old forms of sound.
The centrepiece of our explorations in generosity and urgency is our keynote project, Wake up and wait for the sun to rise; 500 methods for a new beginning. Part exhibition, part club, part theatre, this will be your home base throughout the Festival – situated at the wonderful Westspace, on Bourke St. We chose five very exciting collectives: Lucky PDF, Applespiel, Tape Projects, Claire Finneran and Hossein Ghaemi, and Tully Arnot and Charles Dennington. Between them they represent every possible artform you can and can’t imagine. In a residency prior to the Festival they’ll be creating new works designed to bring us together. So you can imagine parties, protests, dinners, shows, workshops, television broadcasts and more. There’s one more twist though: as you have now come to understand – this is a Festival driven by a curiosity for new people, new places and new ideas. So to inspire these artists we asked 100 of the most interesting people we could find to each give us five methods for a new beginning.
One of the great advantages of being a biennial Festival is that you have time. The time you need to look at how things are done, and see if there’s a way they can be done better. The time young artists’ need, to create the most extraordinary, most complex, most wonderful piece of work they’ve ever made. The time to rally your community and find the most exciting set of donors, sponsors and supporters – who really get you, who understand why this is worth it.
The result is that we’re doing a few things quite differently this year.
This is not a festival where you flip through a glossy guide and head along to three shows over the three weeks. Where you visit a gallery during the day, and see a theatre show at night. Australian festivals have been offering that experience for over fifty years; surely we are ready for something new.
In 2012, Next Wave invites you to take part in whole-day journeys into the next culture of new ideas. We want to hold your hand. We want to show you just how current artistic practice has busted open genres – and we want to create an experience that’s appropriate for this kind of bold, interdisciplinary work. So you begin at Breakfast Club at the Wheeler Centre, discussing how the world and art collide; then, led by an informed and passionate guide, you’ll venture through a cross-section of visual art, performance, dance, live art, audio works, installations, public art and more – with plenty of stop-overs for food, drinks and discussion.
I think it will be so exciting to go from an exhibition exploring iconic feminists, onto a boat down the Maribyrnong infused with new instruments, to a faux Pan-Asian Embassy, that plays with every possible Asian-Australian stereotype to look critically at what it means to grow up here with mixed heritage. It’s a hypercharged version of how we move through life and how we encounter the biggest ideas. A balance of provocation and openness; good friends and new perspectives.
We’ve also changed how we’re communicating with you. We really think we can get better at talking about art. It’s hard to articulate the unknowables; but if you have the privilege of working within your passion, then I reckon you have to try.
So we haven’t made a Festival Guide. We’ve created the very first Next Wave Magazine. With the guidance of Editor Alice Gage, we created a publication that introduces a new collection of people. That doesn’t try to sell you something. That doesn’t assume that you should know these artists – of course you don’t, they’re the next wave! Our magazine has our artists explain why they make art, how they’re coming to understand generosity, why what they have been making feels urgent. I am really proud of it and so grateful to KIN, the wonderful designers who collaborated with us to realise this wacky idea. We’re putting the info you need most in the place you will most likely seek to find it. So a magazine is for reading. And online, where we do nearly all of our research these days, is where you’ll find the detail, planning and sharing of experiences.
Thirdly, we reconsidered our international position. For the sustainability of the environment and also the sustainability of our own artistic practice, every international discussion we’re having this year is premised on the principles of long-term exchange, deep mutual interest, collaboration and more time spent in a place. We’re excited to work with Arts House to co-commission the next generation of Castelluccis in Dewey Dell, collaborating with the next Leigh Bowery, Sydney artist Justin Shoulder. These artists will begin working alongside each other in 2012, and over the coming years will build a sympathetic and collaborative body of work. Similarly, we’ve begun a wonderful three-year collaboration with the Fierce Festival in Birmingham. This partnership involves artist exchanges, producer exchanges and by 2014, a joint commission that will manifest in both cities. And finally, in the spirit of new beginnings, we’ve invited 10 of the most interesting emerging curators and festivals directors from across the planet to do a residency in the Festival. Their primary purpose is to get to know our context – to understand this community. Again, we reckon this is something done best on the dance floor or over a meal.
Finally: the last piece of the puzzle is a new project titled Preview 2014. Expressing our wishes for the next Next Wave, this special commission features the first stage of a new collaboration. The inaugural work will support the expansion of cutting-edge contemporary arts practice by young artists with a disability. We’re doing this to ensure that a genuine diversity of people apply to be part of Kickstart 2013. Our first Preview project is the development of a solo dance work by Paul Matley.
So that’s a taste of our beautiful, wondrous Festival. I’m incredibly proud of it. I’d like to thank our artists: what’s so very special about this festival is there is a shared statement of faith. Our artists are trusting us to experiment with festivals, with communication and for me, to direct my first Festival. Likewise, we put our faith in their complex bravery and extraordinary minds. I think that alone is a significant contribution to how we live this life. I’d also like to thank Paul Gurney, our Executive Director. He’s a fantastic collaborator and from the first time we sat down together we’ve always been incredibly honest with each other, and not afraid. I value this deeply. Finally, thanks to the Next Wave Board and our brilliant Chair, Janenne Willis – they are a truly rigorous group of people who devote a huge amount of their hearts and great intellect to our cause. Thank you, friends.
FINALLY. This may all sound over-the-top – and I know that I can too much sometimes – so you can definitely buy just one ticket. You can go online and see the details, and find the intricacy of that one beautiful project. You can make your own way through this Festival, immersing yourself in our artists’ bravery.
But what I hope will feel most different about this Festival is how much we have thought about you, our community. Festivals are political. They insist we’re better together than we are on our own. That a series of experiences are better than isolated encounters. So I would love you, our people, to help us create that charged temporary space. Together, in that condensed humanity, we will find the radical new.