LESS TALK, MORE ART! METRO ARTS AND A GEOMETRY OF ECHOES

LESS TALK, MORE ART! METRO ARTS AND A GEOMETRY OF ECHOES

Over the last three weeks our creative team have interviewed 40 people who were either integral to the development of Metro Arts or in some way connected to its artistic output over the last 40 years. The idea is to use this content to create a 40-channel video installation called Ephemera which will be located on the first level of 109 Edward Street; Metro Arts home for the past 40 years. At the time of writing, I only have a vague sense of what the final installation might be, but I know what I am searching for: firstly, to uncover stories from a small, yet broad cross section of people who have been connected with Metro Arts, and second, to understand more about the impact our activities have on a specific place and the impact places can have on us.

But how does this transfer into a video installation; an aesthetic form; a conscious arrangement of the given stimuli in space and time? Integral to answering this question is a desire for the final form of the installation to emerge as a direct result of the content of the interviews; a form that requires a type of sensuous understanding from the audience. This involves discovering ‘aesthetic attributes’ during the creation process – visual or sound-based characteristics of the artwork that directly correspond, resemble or relate to the content and ideas being explored. The approach is inspired by Metro Arts itself: a place where walls and stories and meanings are layered.

At the time of writing, the aesthetic attributes of the installation are emerging: some of the 40 TV screens that make up the installation will be leaning against walls and lying flat on the ground – an arrangement with attributes consistent with moving house, packing up or being in transit. We filmed the videos so they would be life-size and we’ve also shot in super high quality so the presence of the subject is as direct as possible, even occasionally ghostlike in their actualisation in the room. To add to this ‘presence’, many of the screens will be located at the average eyeline of the audience. We’ll also play with effects like adjusting the transparency of the images or transforming color, fading individuals in and out of screens and separating spoken words from the moving images of the subjects. These attributes seek to evoke a sense of time past and the multiple histories of the building – apparitions of people that once created there. I am interested in a polyphonic remembering; an intricate weaving of stories shared in both a verbal and non-verbal way.

As a result of this process the audience will hear ideas spoken by the subjects and then experience those ideas repeated multiple times through images, effects and sounds. The goal is to create layers of meaning, communicating with both the intellectual and sensual perception of the audience. Complimenting this approach is sound designer Lawrence English who is working on a bank of sound assets which draw out the internal sounds of the building, using them as elements to create the sound field – an externalisation of the interiority of the building.

Having a methodology for creation doesn’t necessarily lead to good art, but my hope is that the installation is felt as much as it is consciously understood. There is a sense of information overload with a place like Metro Arts, where any type of documentation, or capturing of experience, needs to succumb to the gaps, the imperfections, the biases and the ephemeral nature of ideas and memories. By transforming 40 interviews into aesthetic form perhaps we can stimulate the imagination of the audience and edge toward a deeper understanding of what a place like Metro Arts has meant, or could mean.

 

Benjamin Knapton
December 2019

Ephemera will be presented as part of Metro Arts, with love from 1 – 15 February 2020. 

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A SHIFT AT A BAR AT THE FOLIES-BERGERE

A SHIFT AT A BAR AT THE FOLIES-BERGERE

I know what boys like I know what guys want I know what boys like I’ve got what boys like

Suzon sang absent-mindedly to herself as she wiped the maybe clean probably dirty bar in front of her. Why the fuck are we selling oranges now? She thought, while plucking one from the bowl. She pierced it with her fingernail, releasing a fine citrus mist into the air. God Henri is such a dick, oranges at a bar, how fucking pointless. She returned the orange to its bowl.

I know what boys like I know what guys want I see them looking I make them want me

Suzon was coming up to the end of her fourteen-hour shift. Her feet were fucking killing her, she reeked of stale beer, and she wasn’t sure if her period had started or if her pussy was just really sweaty. It had been a fairly blah shift, although she’d had some real shits through. Some guy claiming to be a famous author had called her a vendor of drink and love and had not once managed to lift his gaze to her face while ordering his fucking Aperol Spritz. She’d had to cut some dickhead off and they’d literally called her a commodity similar in shape and objective appearance to the bottle on the counter. Which like … makes no sense. Makes about as much sense as selling fucking oranges in a fucking bar.

I like to tease them they want to touch me I never let them

A man approached the bar, staggering slightly. She pretended she didn’t notice him for as long as she could possibly justify, then looked up from her wiping. Hihowsitgoingwhatareyouafter? She asked. How about your phone number? Suzon grimaced but managed not to roll her eyes. Geez love, take a joke. Two pints of IPA, and pour them properly, I’m not paying for half a pint of bloody head. She poured the pints and brought them to him. Good job sweetheart he said, putting his money down on the bar, right into a puddle of beer he’d just spilled.

I know what boys like I know what guys want

Jeanne had told her today that Édouard, one of the local barflies, had contracted syphillus. Well that’s just karma for his terrible tips Suzon had joked. Too far! Jeanne had screeched, swatting her, and then laughing soundlessly with her mouth so wide open Suzon could see her fillings. Suzon didn’t actively want Édouard to die, she just didn’t care if it happened; he was a handsy drunk and she wouldn’t mind not having to serve him anymore. Even though he would just be replaced with a different handsy drunk, in theory.

I know what boys like boys like boys like me

When the hell did I hear this song today? Suzon wondered, as she grabbed her shit from the staff room and charged for the door; militantly avoiding eye contact with all the people she’d just spent her day serving. See you tomorrow! she yelled over her shoulder, giving a sort of jolting wave salute back toward the bar. Yeah see you tomorrow babe! Jeanne called out. Back in the fray!

Georgia Banks
November 2019

Interested in seeing Georgia Banks’ work The Waitress? Showing in our gallery 13 – 30 November – FREE for all! 

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NORMAL. WHAT IS NORMAL?

NORMAL. WHAT IS NORMAL?

Normal. What is normal? This is one of the questions we’ve been asking repeatedly during our creative development at Metro Arts. We’ve placed it under a microscope and held it in our bodies, we’ve all related to and not related to certain elements of this. Normal. Can this construct also be a celebration?

I suppose at one point in time it was a useful term and distinction. But, it has become part of a shared language and social code that we’ve found, is something we want to shrug off more than hold close. Is it a word we want to use anymore, given its weight and baggage, its bias and exclusivity, its dependency on societal trends and outdated use in medical practices? Is it normal just because it’s dominant? Is it normal because it’s the majority? Is it abnormal because it’s not familiar, not understood or feared?

Explain Normal is a collaboration between artists from Aha Ensemble, Phluxus2 Dance Collective and myself. All have strong feelings, experiences and opinions to share on how we relate to “normalcy”. And they should too, as many of the artists involved in this work have experienced extreme exclusion from society for being different. In fact, by subsections of society (the arts sector being one of them). One of the performing artists involved in this work has described experiences of being turned away from multiple dance schools, because of her visible disability.

The development of  Explain Normal is a culmination of two years creative collaboration (give or take). Explain Normal unpacks the concept of “normal” as both survival mechanism and death making, as myth, as someone else’s truth, as a potent provocation for perspectives on society and difference, and how we value “otherness”.

Explain Normal has been incredibly important to make for a number of reasons, one of those is that people with disability are too often under represented, misrepresented, invisible or too visible (not by choice). Assistant Director and Performing Artist, Ruby Donohoe says “there’s a fine line between visibility and exposure” when talking about her experience as an artist living with epilepsy. How do we make artistic work that speaks to these kinds of issues, how do we collaborate with artists and communities that require different communication and creative processes? How do we do so without exoticism or overexposure as Ruby suggests? How do we ensure that inclusive practices are not merely assimilation into able bodied methodologies?

This work has provided desperately sought after industry-level professional development opportunities and performance-making training for artists who identify with disability and impairment. It has also been an exciting collaborative exchange for both collectives of artists (Aha Ensemble & Phluxus2) with a unique opportunity for a diversification of choreographic methodologies and practices. This work values the input and creative practice of artists with disability as active collaborators and leading artists within the creative process – which in itself, is not the “norm” across many mainstream arts practices and projects. It is about centralising these voices and embracing these bodies on our stages.

It is as much about changing perspectives of what is normal, as it is, changing perspectives and outdated ideologies that people with disability are less than or other than. Some of the methodologies and devising techniques have been informed by my recent training and formal mentorship in inclusive theatre making with Kate Sulan (Artistic Director, Rawcus) and attending Unlimited Symposium (UK) a disability-led arts conference and festival.

What I think we’ve learned in this development, is that there’s a whole spectrum of “normal” and normal behaviour and it’s interesting to notice who and how what is normal is decided. This show is about celebrating the parts of normalcy that we find difficult to reconcile with as well as celebrating our own “normalcy”. In this show, we get to decide.

 

Daniele Constance
October 2019

Interested in seeing Explain NormalBook tickets to see it HERE

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HOW WE LIVE HERE CAME TO BE

HOW WE LIVE HERE CAME TO BE

As General Manager of Hummingbird House, and a Director on the Board for Metro Arts, it is my privilege to talk about the relationship I have developed over the years with Metro Arts and Jo Thomas. Jo and I met through The Winston Churchill Memorial Trust – we are fellow Fellows! Jo’s work, life experience and skills are a world away from mine and I greatly admire the creativity, passion and spontaneity of Jo and the entire MA team.

Around 7 years ago, I and Associate Professor Sarah Winch had a cunning plan. We wanted to do ‘something’ arts-based to increase death literacy within the community. We are both very passionate about living and dying well. It was then that I invited Jo to have dinner and chat about this slightly off-centre idea. Jo embraced it and wrote copious notes with a pink-feathered pen into the world’s smallest notepad. From this, Deathfest was born. This was followed by its sibling Deathfest 2.0: A duel with death in 2018. I’d also like to take this opportunity to congratulate Jo on the success of Deathfest. She has curated two festivals which contain challenging, fascinating and beautiful programs dealing with one of the most difficult of subjects.

2016 was a busy year for me. Not only did I witness the creation of Deathfest, I also took on the role of General Manager for Hummingbird House. Hummingbird House, Queensland’s only children’s hospice is a joint initiative of Wesley Mission Queensland and Hummingbird House Foundation. We specialise in caring for children who are likely to die within hours, days, weeks, months, or years. We support families who live with and love a child with a life-limiting condition. Hummingbird House is a place where kids can be kids, families can reconnect, and precious memories can be made. Hummingbird House is a place where parents and carers can be just mum or dad; not their child’s nurse, doctor, pharmacist, or physio. Just mum or dad. It’s a place filled with moments. It’s a place where moments become memories.

Jo has stood beside me as Hummingbird House developed, and was always interested and appreciating what we do. It was a natural next step for her to see the creative opportunities. Her work with We Live Here shows the extraordinary depth of her talent. We Live Here is an important milestone for us at HH, Metro Arts and Flipside Circus. Flipside Circus is dedicated to pushing youth arts and circus arts practice. Circus is multi-modal and thrives on collaboration, experimentation, and risk taking; the perfect vehicle to engage and empower young artists and to blur the lines between participation, collaboration, creation, and presentation.

We Live Here is about sharing stories and moments. Flipside Circus were invited into Hummingbird House and entrusted with stories from guests, families, the community, and staff. Making We Live Here was a collaborative process with young artists from Flipside Circus’ performance troupe and professional artists working together to find ways to translate some of these stories and moments onto the stage.

We Live Here started through a conversation of how the arts could contribute to the great work done at the House, and perhaps how peer to peer (child to child) training could reach children at end of life or their siblings. Flipside Circus were the natural choice to collaborate with in this way. The show honours the families, the staff and of course the children but it has been the process that has offered so much more to all of us involved. I am grateful to everyone who took a leap of faith and agreed to work on this project. There have been tears but also much joy.

This 3 way collaboration between us all has meant that HH has been able to stay true to its heart as that of a community health care facility specialising in caring for children who are likely to die within hours, days, weeks, or years; Metro Arts has stepped bravely into the realm of not just palliative care, but children’s palliative care; and Flipside Circus has taken our lives, our memories and the work we have done and turned it into something beautiful. By bringing circus into a children’s hospice, We Live Here shines a light on what we do and shows that HH is not a place where kids go to die, rather it is a place where kids can be kids, families can reconnect and precious memories can be made. Jo was the initiator of this work.

Robert Kronk, Dramaturg and collaborator and Executive Producer of Flipside Circus; Natano Fa’anana and Bridget Boyle, Directors and collaborators; performers: Mia Hughes, Amy Stuart, Skip Walker-Milne, Luke Whitefield, and Indra Garvey; and all the Metro Arts team have created We Live Here.

In developing this work, Robert, Natano, and Bridget have listened with their ears and their hearts to what Hummingbird House does. They stepped gently and respectfully into Hummingbird House and the lives of families who use our service. This has meant what they have created has an authenticity and a reverence that I, as General Manager, could not have dreamed of. Thank you for showing courage to stand beside and with families whose child is at end of life, for engaging warmly with children who have a life-limiting illness and bringing joy into how they live. For truly seeing that they are living. I for one am deeply grateful.

Dr Fiona Hawthorne
September 2019

Interested in seeing We Live Here? Book tickets to see it as part of Brisbane Festival HERE

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HEY PARENTS AND LEADERS OUT THERE: THE PERSONAL AND RICOCHET EFFECT OF SUPPORTING EARLY STARTERS IN THE ARTS

HEY PARENTS AND LEADERS OUT THERE: THE PERSONAL AND RICOCHET EFFECT OF SUPPORTING EARLY STARTERS IN THE ARTS

I have been a corporate leader for several decades and am still a parent (no “have been” here!) of four children and one grandchild. I have been travelling with the arts all my adult life. I have been associated with Metro Arts for 30 years, where I have witnessed the emergence of countless artists in all disciplines, including the often-unrecognised creatives in the background, the technical team, the stage managers, the producers, the designers etc.

I have come to the conclusion that when we support young artists, we are also supporting ourselves:  sustaining our lifeblood, enhancing our conversations and enriching our learning within relationships. It goes to the very core of our wellness as individuals within our society.

I could go on and on making observations and telling stories of the immense power of the arts, of encouraging individuals to grow their stories through multi-modal artforms, and how these narratives provoke and inspire not only their audience but the storytellers themselves. Ah the ricochet effect of the arts.

I will confine myself to two observations.

  1. LET ME DISPEL A MYTH, one that I hear from so many parents:

Hey, why don’t you get a real job!

Of course, this means a well-paying job.

My message to parents is that our children will know when it may be time, or not, to focus on a well-paying job. Let them explore their passion. My offer is that in doing so, should they later decide to enter the “corporate” life or other structured workplaces, they will most likely come armed with a variety of highly developed skills learned experientially as independent artists, such as project management, team building, collaboration, communication, focus, work ethic, a developed emotional intelligence, leadership, time management, budgeting, developing and implementing a vision, mission, strategy, etc.

I have been astonished by observing these highly developed skills in so many artists. Yet because this is not observed, understood or recognised by the corporate sector, and often not by parents (I have had to remind myself of this as a parent), these skills are driven underground into the artists’ ‘unknown’, often fuelling a mood “I am not good enough” or “I know nothing about business”.

  1. THE RICOCHET EFFECT: let me tell a personal story.

I well remember the profound effect on me in my early 20s of the plays Sizwe Banzi Is Dead and The Island (by Athol Fugard in collaboration with John Kani and Winston Ntshona), projecting deep within me the effects of Apartheid. That evening I wrote in my diary about “the loneliness of suffering and victimisation of the other”. From that point on I became a regular theatre goer, always keen to grow my understanding. This and other plays (most recently Meyne Wyatt’s City of Gold at QT), set me on what I call my empathy revolution (borrowed from Roman Krznaric’s book), making me more aware, more compassionate and in turn a better parent, partner and leader. Just one example of the ricochet effect of theatre. I could mention many other examples fed not only by theatre, but also visual art, including Jackson Pollock’s Blue Poles at the NGA, where I sit for an extended time, reflecting and meditating on life, each time I visit Canberra, leaving refreshed.  

CALL TO ACTION: supporting young/emerging artists is an enormous and important investment in our own future, not just theirs. Through my own stories and observations, my offer is that

  • Art heals
  • Art strengthens
  • Art inspires
  • Art changes us

Bill Ash
August 2019

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LOVE, INFORMATION AND LEAVING THE NEST

LOVE, INFORMATION AND LEAVING THE NEST

In a filmed interview, photographer and architect Hiroshi Sugimoto gives some advice to the young: My advice is to look for some other jobs before trying to become an artist. At first, you should expose yourself to many experiences – because you must have a profound experience in life to be an artist. He goes on to say that there’s no need to become an artist when you’re young, and that: I didn’t really ask for advice from anyone- and I didn’t want to get any, either.

It is deliberately somewhat perverse ‘advice’, for what better time to create than when you’re young? When you have the energy, the stamina, and before both self and external limitations create the kind of boundaries that can limit possibilities. Though boundaries in art as in life are vital at a certain point: another one of the paradoxes of which the artistic life is full. But there is truth as well as provocation here. Young artists want and need pathways, mentors and opportunities; at the same time as demanding autonomy, the right to experiment and the need to revolutionize, to create “new forms”, to destroy the old order.

In Sue Rider’s ARTSPEAK discussion about pathways for emerging artists, Sue, among her other important insights and points, shares the observation of Aaron Dora, a young emerging artist, commenting on the pathways from university into industry. She says: But there remains the challenge of getting started in the first place, or, as Aaron puts it ‘[finding] your way into an industry that seems so hard to crack.’ Aaron rightly says that pathways from university are not clear, and that ‘you have to go beyond your studies to actually get the skills you need’. In fact, this is in many ways the nature of the industry.

Sue makes the important point that the theatre world and artistic life have few pathways: Let’s be frank: just as there are no clear pathways at the start, there are none throughout a theatre career. This can be daunting, but also liberating.

Liberating because you are free to discover your own path, daunting because the life of any kind of artist and of theatre artists in particular is a battle to survive, to “make it”; and luck, contacts, bloody-mindedness and perseverance have as much (or more) to do with ‘success’ as talent.

Of course luck or chance is not blind, connections even less so, and who gets a chance is often gendered, has to do with appearance, race, sexuality and class. New pathways for directors, actors, writers and theatre workers who had been previously automatically excluded based on identity are now being forged, and need to continue to be expanded and strengthened.

Apprenticeships, mentorships, help, advice, space, time and encouragement are what one generation can give to the next and what has always been given where cultural ecologies are strong. When this help is equitable, addresses systemic disadvantage, and questions power dynamics, both culture and the business of making art can flourish.

A bit about Robert The Cat

As full-time educators and freelance artists, as well as directors of Robert The Cat Collective, we are in the unique position to actually help to address this issue of the ‘not clear pathway from university into industry’ for our young theatre practitioners.

Robert The Cat (RTC) is our latest ‘pathway’ initiative. An alumni collective set up to provide our graduates of TAFE Queensland with a professional platform to continue their theatre practice, and to take their work, and ours as directors, out to the broader community. We have for the past 10 years at TAFE Queensland staged an annual season of work, plays and performance pieces from across our three student years for the general public in our black box theatre, recently renamed the Norman Price Theatre (NPT), after the passing of our colleague Norman, original co-founder of the acting program. However it has been difficult to attract industry to view the work. Perhaps because our program does not sit inside a large Queensland based university with decades of operation and lineage?

Our graduates however are very active in the industry, working in film, stage, writing, and most importantly developing and producing their own theatre work.  RTC provides us with the further opportunity to present their talent and skills to the broader community and industry under our directorial vision.

We have developed numerous initiatives in supporting our grads. After graduating they have access to rehearsal space, mentorship and the NPT to continue to develop and present their original work. This year a group of our young performers, formed the Switchboard Collective, and returned to produce and program the week long Brisbane Sci-Fi Theatre Festival in the NPT. The first ever Sci-Fi Theatre Festival in Australia! This will continue as an annual event, and the Collective hope to grow the festival and support and program new work from all over the area, and beyond.

It is only fitting that our current RTC actors have a voice here. This is some of what they have to say about their experience as emerging artists leaving the ‘nest’, words of ‘love’ and ‘information’:

Bridging the gap between student and professional actor has never been simple. However, there were a couple of things that our University course at TAFE Queensland made sure we had plenty of to ensure this transition into the professional acting world: gumption, a skill base that allowed us to create our own work, and a strong sense of community. In my experience, this has been the key into the industry. Only after I discovered a community of alumni that wanted to create work did I begin to feel like I was getting places! – Chelsea O’Brien

Walking out the doors after graduating in 2009, I thought I was ready. And I was, to act in a place like Berlin. Not Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. I was stoic, passionate, prepared. I was not prepared for people to look at me like a caged animal. Who is she? What is she doing? Why can’t she just act like a normal person? It took me a very long time to let go – while keeping close all the hidden gems taught to me by my father and mother of the arts, Norman Price and Lisa O’Neill – and start my own journey. I escaped the city of bridges (and the monkeys scratching each other’s backs) and saw the world. I fell in love. I watched people and learned from them. I relaxed, regathered my strength, and started reaching out to my peers to collaborate – to start fires! I started writing. My two big supporters in Brisbane, in terms of creating my own work, have been Metro Arts and Playlab. I will be forever grateful for every opportunity they have given me. They have helped me speak my truth and nurtured my passion for telling stories. – Katy Cotter

A bit about Love and Information by Caryl Churchill

Robert The Cat features graduate actors from across the years, the oldest having graduated exactly 10 years ago in 2009! So we also view our up and coming season of Love and Information at Metro Arts, as a 10th year anniversary celebration of our acting program.

Caryl Churchill’s remarkable play is a theatrical puzzle: in form it certainly mirrors our media saturated, information overloaded and attention deficit disordered world and media landscape. So far, so current: cue a production full of “media”, fast paced, chaotic colour and movement for the supposed short attention spans and shallow world view of ‘young people today’ – (but climate strikes, anyone?).

Yet when we look at the actual content of the scenes perhaps another approach is more appropriate. The play itself explores a surprisingly narrow range of experience: that of the “middle classes” from the low to the high ends. Form and content seem disjunct. As some reviewers have noted, there is little that is profound or even particularly original in any of the short scenes, though the conversation is observed and written with hyper-real accuracy. You want the play to describe the whole world, and at first, the range of experience seems so overwhelmingly large that it seems to do so. But on closer inspection the focus narrows to a band of characters that, no matter what the given circumstances one puts them in (and the play demands that one does that), are a very particular slice of a particular society. The society: our industrialized ‘First world’. The slice: the part that tends to go to the theatre; the reasonably well off who can afford it! And this despite all those important and ongoing efforts to attract different audiences: youth, the “underprivileged” the workers, efforts that don’t seem to be always entirely successful, the price of tickets of main-stage theatre and the convenience and increasing quality of TV being what they are.

So Churchill very deliberately holds up a mirror to her audience, the people likely to be at a play, and specifically at one of hers. She looks at them, their children, parents, their concerns and fears, at the seemingly banal surface of their lives. And at the ordinariness that sometimes conceals hidden depths of tragedy, of drama; or the ordinariness that achieves a tragic dimension by the context in which we, as members of a privileged society in the world find ourselves: victims and perpetrators at the same time, waiting for the other shoe to drop, and even more so now than in 2012 when the play was first written.

Churchill demands that actors and directors act as co-authors. We need to complete the work not simply as an exercise in creative collaboration or post dramatic technique, or to make theatrical sense of the text, but to make sense of and take a stand on our world, with its often invisible (to us at least) privileges and assumptions. That it will be so revealing not just of the audience but of its makers is what makes it both exciting and frightening.

Alongside the political aspect is another one too, and one that draws together Love and Information with a seemingly unlikely work: Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. Separated by nearly three quarters of a century, both are experimental, even post dramatic. They share a poignant feeling of the ineffable minutiae of life and its fragility, the million random events, words and feelings that make up a single human existence, as well as its absolute social dimension. For we literally cannot exist alone, we only make sense in society, in dialogue (and isn’t that what all plays affirm and explore?) And the fragile words we speak can have enormous though in the grand scheme of the universe, never lasting, effects.

A quote from Jeanette Winterson’s novel Frankissstein perfectly sums up Caryl Churchill’s play (and we hope the effect our production will have on the audience):

“Only in the living of it does life seem ordinary. In the telling of it we find ourselves strangers among the strange.”

Anatoly Frusin and Lisa O’Neill
July 2019

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Personal Artefacts of Pain and Power

Personal Artefacts of Pain and Power

I am drawn to items and articles that inform and that have directly affected my family and my trajectory that exists within the settler nation of ‘Australia’. This is evident in my previous artworks, and again in WE KOPPEL, WE DALA.

Many of these items represent, for my family, memories of pain and segregation, but also memories of love and community – the memories from both of these opposing, yet relative fields, have been shared with me since my birth in various forms. At times, such memories were kept from me so I would not know this part of my family’s life of pain and segregation experienced back in southern Africa. Simultaneously, I learned about love and my community in simple gestures, via visits, phone calls and my mother, who upon hearing a kaap accent would become very excited and make new best friends. But at times it also did not make sense. If we loved it so much, why were we not there?

“The practice of love offers no place of safety. We risk loss, hurt, pain. We risk being acted upon by forces outside our control.”[1] 

My practice is fueled by my obsession with identity: how it is constructed; why it is so often compacted to a point of singularity and categorisation; and how this is represented. As an artist, producing work in a public arena, I feel there is a social responsibility to the artworks I create, and why I am creating them. This is also purely because of the constructions and ideas that have been rendered to me through the various institutions that I have inhabited, which have been very irresponsible.

The research and artwork I do can lead to opening very traumatic and emotional places within me. However, it is also a process of learning to equip and empower myself, my communities and our identities, rejecting colonial constructions and writing one’s own narrative, of love, of representation, and of power.

I have come into contact with, and chosen to exhibit, four particular artefacts in my upcoming exhibition at Metro Arts. All of which I reject really, and which frustrate me, though one also reminds me of where I draw strength. They reflect the depths of the responsibility of encouraging love and empowerment in my community, to recover from the xenophobia, and learn to love our identity in all of its cultural complexities.

  • a 1 Rand coin of Hendrik Verwoerd
  • a Social Atlas Cartography study of the Metropolitan of Cape Town
  • a ‘Pass book’, also known as a ‘Dom Pass’
  • an identity card, with a K for Kleurling (Coloured)

These items serve as painful reminders of our past and present, reflecting systems that are still pertinent today, and of dangerous people in political positions of power.

Our community is diverse and rich with histories and identities of First Nations Khoi and San peoples, Cape Malay peoples, ‘brown’ and ‘black’ displaced peoples, that were reduced to the word ‘Coloured’, a difficult term, that I appropriate at times as Coloured™ as a strategy of reclamation. These communities have come together and have created a unique complex identity with a language that is often, in my opinion, mistaken as the coloniser’s language. The title of my exhibition at Metro Arts is in Afrikaans, WE KOPPEL, WE DALA. The exhibition hopes to centre acts of reclamation, reflecting on past histories that continue to inform present issues, struggles and memories and pathways of empowerment.

Roberta Rich
June 2019

[1] Bell Hooks, All About Love: New Visions. New York: Harper, 2000.

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PoC Barometer (or this is what I really think about the conversation we had at the gallery opening)

PoC Barometer (or this is what I really think about the conversation we had at the gallery opening)

We met at an opening last night; you were dressed in plain black (because you are so neutral and authoritative), and I was wearing a Thundercats shirt (admittedly a strange choice). Your blue eyes tended to look upwards—making me think you’re a dreamer—while your feet were pointing towards me, granting me your full attention. Some of your initial comments about safe white spaces implied that you confused me with Andy Butler but I don’t hold it against you: if you squint hard enough, I’m like Butler after a Comic-Con and a plastic surgery holiday in Tijuana. I had to politely let you know that I was that other, more obscure (male PoC) arts writer in Melbourne who dealt with vampires and monsters (although I’m not sure if you understood we are two different people). The wine in your glass looked cheap but it seems like you needed a drink to cope with the crowds. Water is a bit basic, I guess.

A sudden thought crossed my mind, “I bet their Instagram has a lot of pictures of plants”. I still don’t know your handle but something along the lines of @thetastemaker feels right. I diverged slightly and imagined myself as your psychologist, telling you to try bungee jumping: “life is about new experiences”. The truth is I was speculating on the kind of sounds you make during sex, perhaps you’re deceivingly perverted or a bit scary. I don’t know anything about astrology but my guess is that you’re an Aquarius because I say so; your Mars is surely on Saturn return and something stereotypically tragic is going on in your life—I don’t know, lower back pain? The reality is, I was bored and my mind went somewhere else. If this was a white cube version of Tinder, I’d have swiped left like, a hundred art movements ago. We wouldn’t have made it to Impressionism, let alone Cubism. You’re ‘nice’ but I rather have dinner with your cousin who manages insurance claims and denies global warming because at least, they make me laugh.

The thing is, you came across as boring and intensely forgettable. This might hit you hard, but I’m more likely to remember the lyrics to a Kings of Leon hit than your name.

Your social game could improve with some intercultural pointers though, which is why I drew you this cut-out of a barometer. I recommend you print it on cardboard and carry it with you for a few months, if you strike a conversation with a PoC just hand it to them and see where they place the arrow. Soon you will learn how to read people and more importantly, how they react to you. Plus, it’ll make you look a bit interesting (believe me, you desperately want this). Return the favor by passing it on to your friends, because I would rather watch a VHS of Harry & the Hendersons than spend another minute staring at everyone’s shoes and wondering how they would look with red laces.

Boring Zone:
Yes, I’m from Mexico. While this may sound interesting to you, it is a pretty banal fact for me. Once upon a time I smashed piñatas and ate intestines wrapped in carbs for breakfast—boring. Here’s all I can tell you about Mexico: burritos are like sandwiches, don’t serve them for dinner (unless you’re feeding an 8-year-old).

Tedious Zone:
Yes, I’m from Mexico and I’m in Australia, which is apparently the strangest thing in the room right now. This encounter is so repetitive I feel like I’m trapped in a replay of a customs training tape performed by Kurt Cobain and Morticia Addams. Your questions about why, how, when and where I crossed the Pacific Ocean for the first time are bumming me out. Spice it up a little and ask me something interesting, like my stand on the veracity of the Spear of Destiny held by the Vatican. 

Stimulating Zone:
Truth be told, I didn’t know anyone else at the opening so I stuck around. My safe space (or revenge fantasy) became the prospects of infiltrating Optus to slow down your internet to 0.31Mbps and keeping you on hold for a week with vague promises about the NBN. However, we rescued the moment when you literally just picked a flat thing in the room and asked for my opinion (yes, maybe I like art). My highlight is when you suddenly went on a rant about tumors that grow eyes and teeth—oh sorry, that was me talking at you about teratomas.

Entertainment Zone:
When you told me that sweet potatoes change their glycemic index depending on how they’re cooked, I was listening. My mind was fully present when we Googled Amazon book covers of werewolf erotica (granted, it was my idea). I giggled when you grabbed my palm and tried to read it because I’m superstitious. What began as a boring encounter, became somewhat entertaining. Hell, I think I even like you.    

Bonding Zone:
I don’t understand why you approached me with dull questions about Mexico when you could have had me at ‘hello’. The moment you mentioned that 16th century Bolognese sword fighting was your hobby, I felt a sense of connection. When you shared that you enjoy auditioning for amateur movie roles where you play a dead body, in order to fulfill a sinister psychological need, I desperately wanted to know your phone number. I suspect you also have a secret postgraduate degree on Demonology but perhaps I’m merely projecting my fantasies onto you. After all, I’ve been doing this all along because the reality is, I got bored answering questions about migration and made an excuse to leave (“sorry, I must urgently cross that door over there, or whatever”).

Diego Ramirez
May 2019

 

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David Finnigan shares his thoughts

David Finnigan shares his thoughts

I’m a playwright and theatre-maker who works with climate scientists. I do a lot of work around climate and systems science. I wrote a play called Kill Climate Deniers which is going on at Metro Arts in May 2019.

Here are some things.

The Wangan and Jagalingou Traditional Owners Council are the owners of the land in central Queensland where Adani are trying to get their mine up. Adani have been trying to bankrupt the council because they won’t shut up and go away. You can donate to help them out here.

I think this might be the most important thing you can do to help Australia right now in 2019.

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On a different tip, Seed is Australia’s first Indigenous youth climate network. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are leading the fight against climate change, and these young people are making good shit happen. Donate some money to help some badass young activists organise, mobilise and connect.

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Do we even have the headspace to begin thinking about the insanity that is Cubbie Station? A massive network of dams in south-west Queensland, the Chinese corporation-owned ‘biggest user of water in Australia’, swallowing vast amounts of the Murray-Darling river’s capacity at a time of extreme drought. Blow up those dams.

Helen Vivian’s SMH piece from last year provides a good overview of water mismanagement issues.

Destroy. Those. Dams.

————–

On, Aboriginal communities in NSW are running out of water. ‘In Walgett, Collarenebri and surrounds, water is being shipped in by Aboriginal organisations after supplies became undrinkable.’

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Write a letter to a politician. Read Bernard Keane’s always-useful guide to writing to ministers.

Here’s how I started one of mine:

Dear [minister’s name],

I’m writing as an ACT citizen and concerned taxpayer. I’m concerned and baffled that that the Coalition government has elected to loan a huge volume of Australian taxpayer’s money to support the construction of the Adani coalmine in Queensland.

Can you please advise me why we are loaning a billion of dollars to an Indian corporation, when there are other (Australian) infrastructure projects seeking funding?

And so on and so on. They all have email addresses on their websites. Send a letter or two, make some phone calls.

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This is S’Express – Theme From S’Express, aka the best thing to come out of 1987.

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Destroy the dams. Much love, yall, the heart is a muscle the size of yr fist keep fighting

 

David Finnigan
April 2019

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On Skimming Stones: Memories of ‘Home’ and 25 Down

On Skimming Stones: Memories of ‘Home’ and 25 Down

“The purpose of art…”

Oh dear. I’ve started with that old chestnut. Please don’t click away! This won’t be a dry essay, I promise. One little quote, and we’re done.

“The purpose of art,” Viktor Shklovsky wrote in 1917, “is to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived, and not as they are known. […] Art exists so that one may recover the sensation of life; it exists to make one feel things, to make the stone stony.” Russian Formalism may not be in vogue much these days, but for a playwright attempting to write about “home”, a stony stone isn’t a bad place to start.

Home, of course, is an ephemeral place. What used to look familiar can suddenly grow strange; what once seemed eternal can disappear overnight. Yet I suspect those of us who call Brisbane home are more attuned to this quality than most. Ours is a city that constantly forgets itself. From the true origins of the inner-city Boundary streets, to the Deen Brothers’ infamous wrecking ball; from the rollercoaster at Tops in the Myer Centre to that brief period in the 90s when South Bank had a canal running through it. Remember the old Greater Union building on Albert St? When Twister screened there in 1996, they installed a cyclone machine in the foyer. It felt important for some reason to tell you that. Remember “Amazons” in Jindalee? Or the old Suncorp theatre next to King George Square? What about the former David Jones building where Queens Plaza is now, where old men in bowties would work the elevators for you? I already sound 102 saying all of this, but the late 1990s may as well have been 102 years ago.

To look too closely at Brisbane can often feel like inspecting a photocopy of a photocopy: traces of the past exist, whole memories you’re certain took place, but can no longer point to with certainty. I’m sure the Inner City Bypass was a sporting field once. That bank over there was a skating rink, no? That office a doll hospital. And on that corner – where the shiny new apartment building stands – was a café where I first came out as gay, aged 21, to a kind Norwegian exchange student. (I guess you had to be there).

It’s a running gag in my family that I remember everything, right down to specific years. And yet often I’ll look at an old photograph and be astounded by the details I’ve forgotten. We did used to have yellow wallpaper. I did used to wear jeans and sneakers together. There did used to be an indoor garden where the pantry is now. If home is memory, and memory is unreliable, then what is left for a writer to put into words?

Lewis Treston’s charming article about writing Reagan Kelly took me back to a very specific writing memory of my own: a small apartment in Clapham Junction, London, in the summer of 2007. At the time I was working at the Daily Telegraph newspaper, in a complaints department that was euphemistically called “Reader Relations”. It was the best day job I ever had. From 9-5 I would answer letters and emails about mistakes in the crosswords, leaving my evenings free to write. In the space of one week I had written the first four scenes of what would eventually become my first major play, 25 Down, yet something was blocking me from developing the scenes further. I had a general sense of the plot and the themes, as well as a set of characters, but they were floating around aimlessly, set nowhere in particular. To truly ground this story, I had to think much more deeply about the world of the play, which meant thinking more deeply about my own world: the people and the places that had shaped who I was. I had to set the play in Brisbane.

And so, throughout 2007 I began developing those scenes further within a Brisbane context. This led me to some interesting surprises. I recall a group of actors in an East London workshop learning with horror that homosexuality had only been decriminalised in Queensland in 1991. And I remember scenes set at Sporties and the Wickham getting big laughs from the audience during the play’s staged reading at the Royal Court Theatre. In Brisbane we think nothing of seeing plays set in London or New York, but to see the reverse happen was oddly exciting. A “home” I’d thought was so specific now felt more universal than I’d realised.

25 Down premiered on 8 June, 2009, at Queensland Theatre’s Bille Brown Studio (itself now a completely different venue since extensive renovations last year). Like all playwrights, I had been a nervous wreck for months leading up to Opening Night, and was making changes to the script right up to the final preview. To my complete relief and delight, I was blessed with an amazing director, cast, and crew, and the show was a success: good reviews, strong audiences, even awards. Somehow, miraculously, I had survived. It was the biggest event of my life up until that point, and I had poured everything into it – but then, just like that, it was over.

As Lewis’s article (quite fairly) observes, 25 Down has now faded into memory, which is the lot of most playwrights in this country, aside from a lucky few. But to learn that the play had an impact on Lewis – a playwright a generation below me – and better yet, had stayed with him, moved me more than I can say. And suddenly I was reminded of all the plays that had moved me in my youth, in venues and in productions all over Brisbane that have also been largely forgotten, except for those of us who were there.

I wrote earlier that home is memory, and memory unreliable, but perhaps this only applies to facts and figures. In terms of emotion, memory is real. It is felt in the body, it is experienced, it is vividly recalled, and it affects how we live in the present day. Someone writes a play and it lives on in me; I write a play and it lives on in someone else. We’re all of us grasping towards that ephemeral thing, trying to capture it before it disappears.

I think, instinctively, all playwrights understand this, which is why we write for the artform that we do. A photograph, a film, a book: these are all tangible objects, frozen in time. But “home”, a memory, a play from long ago: these things can never be seen. Only felt.

As for that Twister machine at Greater Union – you’ll just have to trust me on that one.

Dr Richard Jordan
April 2019

 

Richard Jordan is an award-winning playwright from Brisbane. His plays have garnered several awards and honours, including the Queensland Premier’s Drama Award (25 Down, 2009), the Lord Mayor’s Award for Best New Australian Work (Machina, 2015), three Matilda awards (2009; 2015), and a Creative Fellowship at the MacDowell Colony, New Hampshire (2013). He currently lives in Armidale, NSW where he lectures in Theatre Studies at the University of New England.

 

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BRISBANE ON STAGE: Six Years Living With Reagan Kelly

BRISBANE ON STAGE: Six Years Living With Reagan Kelly

“It’s sort of about the fragility of love” Stephen Sewell narrowed his gaze and flared his nostrils like a swine who had just caught the scent of buried truffles, “which is strange because you’re such a bastard”, which was of course followed by his distinctive bellowing laugh.

It was 2013 and I had just finished reading aloud the first draft of a play that was then [jokingly] titled ‘Lewis’ Play’ – funny right …? Despite the blasé title I was a complete mess throughout the reading. My body involuntarily contracted itself into a web of tightly knotted limbs, as I read the first draft aloud to my cohort, bursting into tears at some point in the second act, and somehow I managed to pull a muscle in my neck, which felt sore for weeks after. Up to this point in time I had made no comment about what I had been writing, which might sound strange, but like many writerly types I am an expert at dodging that much loathed question: “so, what’s it about?”

A few days before this ordeal, back in Brisbane, I was sitting in a friend’s living room floor with hundreds of individually cut up pieces of dialogue spread across the carpet when it dawned on me, like the certainty of death, that when I returned to NIDA I would experience nothing except humiliation, shame, and, if I was lucky, maybe some mercy. Perhaps Stephen Sewell would lovingly pull me aside, put his hand on my shoulder, guide me to the exit and gently release me back into the real world, back to Brisbane, back to the heat, back to the humidity, back to delirious nights out in The Valley.

Prior to arriving at NIDA I had been in a toxic, but not entirely unpleasant, chemically dependent long-term relationship with Brisbane for roughly five years. At NIDA I was writing completely out of instinct but I am sure some part of my brain understood that I was attempting to dramatise those goon-guzzling years, alongside the general sense of unease I was feeling in my personal and family life at that time. Yet, in saying that, the play is only incidentally autobiographical and mostly those instances are used in the pursuit of a laugh. Common practice among us “funny people”. More to the point, there is often a moment during the writing process where the story takes over and the person who claims to be the writer just tries to hang on. That was absolutely the case in this circumstance.

Things did not go the way I imagined they would. In fact, the first draft was received glowingly, as was the public reading at the end of the year, and to my great surprise the show, now titled ‘Reagan Kelly’, was the first play written by a graduating playwright to be programmed as a part of NIDA’s student production season … To be fair, the previous writing cohorts were never required to write a full-length play as a part of the course, so despite “making history” it has more in common with Steven Bradbury than William Shakespeare. In amongst all the hyperbolic and excitable feedback I was receiving at that time, I kept hearing one particular piece of critique which was both delightful and perplexing: “it’s just so Brisbane.”

There were very few examples of Brisbane onstage or in literature that I was exposed to prior to writing Reagan Kelly, with the very powerful exception of Richard Jordan’s remarkable early play ‘25 Down’ that premiered at Queensland Theatre Company in 2009. In many ways Richard’s play motivated me to really start trying to write in the first place. As is the case with most new plays 25 Down seems to have disappeared from people’s memory but to this day it remains one of the literary constellations that I navigate from. There’s a lot to be admired about 25 Down but what seems to linger for me is how Richard Jordan was able to realise a story so filled with blistering humour, deep pain and genuinely complex ideas, whilst still evoking the particularities of Brisbane with such love and detail. It still takes me by surprise how profoundly the specifics of place can evoke such strong feelings inside of me. I suspect this effect is only compounded by the fact that very generally speaking theatre and especially non-theatre going Australian audiences so rarely see the specifics of their worlds reflected back at them with any nuance, insight and understanding. But obviously Richard Jordan is not the first writer to find inspiration in the city Brisbane. Novelists like Nick Earls and Rebecca Sparrow similarly conjure tragicomic visions of Brisbane in ‘Zig Zag Street’ and ‘The Girl Most Likely’ respectively. Both these books though seem to orbit around David Malouf’s now seminal Brisbane classic ‘Johnno’.

In 2015 I attended Jim Sharman’s NIDA production of ‘The Tempest’. As fate would have it I was seated next to David Malouf but of course I was unaware of this at the time. Jim, the dedicated mentor that he is, pulled himself away from one of his pre-show cigarettes and ducked and weaved through the seating banks to introduce us. “David, I’d like you to meet Lewis Treston, a young playwright who I’ve been mentoring. Both Queenslanders”, then with a Cheshire Cat grin he vanished, leaving me alone with the David Malouf. Now, I need to confess something here, at this point in time I had not read a single book by David Malouf but I knew the name and that name was very intimidating. If I had my time again I might have asked him about the fraught, complex and damaged relationships a lot of artists seem to have with Brisbane. A relationship that seems to be equal parts affection and contempt. “Tell me David!”, I might have begged, “can the creative soul survive in Brisbane or is it doomed to be slowly eradicated by the city’s unbearable ordinariness?!” Was there any hope? Had David Malouf found a deeper wisdom since he wrote those famous passages in Johnno in which he tore Brisbane a new one …

“Brisbane is so sleepy, so slatternly, so sprawlingly unlovely … It is simply the most ordinary place in the world … A place where poetry could never occur.”

But obviously I was never able to ask these questions because I hadn’t read the book yet. And, perhaps David would not have approved of my intense line of questioning, so maybe it all worked out for the best? Whatever the case I’m sure Reagan shares the same feelings that David Malouf’s semi-autobiographical protagonist in Johnno felt towards his hometown.

A few months after my awkward encounter with David Malouf Reagan Kelly premiered at NIDA and the following morning I enjoyed breakfast with director and fellow Brissy-boy Benjamin Schostakowski and his wife Myfanwy in their aesthetically charged kitchen. Benjamin sipped his morning coffee as the emails rolled in. The faculty at NIDA loved the show, as did the students, maybe more so, the agents were big fans, some guy from Channel Seven said it was the best thing he saw all year, and rumour had it that an artistic director was changing their flights to check the production out. I know now that this would all amount to nothing, which is often the case, but at the time Ben and I, along with the cast, crew and designers felt pretty good about ourselves. Maybe too good? Regardless of how each of us felt, all of this was a new experience to me and I had my doubts. “Darling”, I said to Ben in this demented Broadway starlet voice that we exchanged all serious information with throughout the production, “is this all just a lot of silly-billy-business or are they serious?”. “Baby”, he replied in the same voice, “trust me; if they don’t like it, you don’t get the email.”

Later in the season the then new Artistic Director of the Queensland Theatre Company (as it was still called at the time) came to see the show. I lined up for my handshake post-show and fortified by two glasses of champagne I suggested: “You know they’d enjoy it in Queensland Sam”, which remains one of my most daring of foyer-talk manoeuvres to date. Needless to say my plan didn’t work.

But would they enjoy it in Queensland? That’s the question I am still asking myself. The age old green room wisdom suggests that Brisbane will always turn its back on Brisbane. Apparently audiences don’t show up in droves to see their city realised on its stages. But is that just another theatre myth like not saying “good luck” on opening night?

In more recent years Brisbane’s leading theatre companies, Queensland Theatre and LaBoite do seem to be casting their net a little wider and embracing stories based in North Queensland (‘The Longest Minute’ by DeBase), Gold Coast (‘Hedda’ by Melissa Bubnic) and the Sunshine Coast (‘Single Asian Female’ by Michelle Law). But there are a few distinctly Brisbane stories that have bubbled to the surface, like the hugely successful ‘Prize Fighter’, which in large part takes place in a West End boxing gym (but admittedly it’s the scenes in Congo that linger in my memory) and ‘Brisbane’ by Matthew Ryan set in the 1940s exploring tensions between Australian soldiers and allied US troops. I can’t account for every production that has taken place in Brisbane in recent history, especially in the independent sector, but the number of plays produced on a main stage level that have a distinctly Queensland, let alone a Brisbane focus, is surprisingly limited. But, that’s the economics of theatre, isn’t it? And I’m sure someone out there is gearing up to argue that work can possess a “Queensland-ness” without necessarily being contextualised within a Queensland setting, and in part I agree with this imaginary person so long as the theatre companies are employing Queensland artists, but even with these concessions my hunger for the specifics of place goes unabated.

The end of certain chapters in your life can arrive from the most obscure of circumstances. In  early 2018 I went to see the wonderful Greta Gerwig coming of age film ‘LadyBird’ with my sister. I had long since put Reagan Kelly to bed and was happily working on a number of other projects. However there’s a moment towards the end of the film (spoiler alert) in which LadyBird speaks with the kindly school nun, which answered a question I didn’t even know I had been asking …

Sister Sarah Joan: You clearly love Sacramento. 
Christine ‘Lady Bird’ McPherson: I do?
Sister Sarah Joan: You write about Sacramento so affectionately and with such care.
Christine ‘Lady Bird’ McPherson: I was just describing it.
Sister Sarah Joan: Well it comes across as love.
Christine ‘Lady Bird’ McPherson: Sure, I guess I pay attention.
Sister Sarah Joan: Don’t you think maybe they are the same thing? Love and attention?

I almost fell out of my chair because everything I had written finally made sense. And, with that, I knew I had to find a way to make ‘Reagan Kelly’ happen in Brisbane.

 As a matter of principle I try to avoid even suggesting what any other artist should do with their talents. That’s their business and I expect the same respect and privacy in return. So it’s entirely counter-intuitive of me to it get ideological about the importance of putting Brisbane or at least Queensland on our local stages. But, let me just say, that’s what I have attempted to do in some of my writing and I hope others will attempt to do the same in their arts practice. Because despite the city’s heat, despite its stifling ordinariness, despite Clive Palmer, despite its infuriating ideas about so many things, despite my aspirations to live in a chic townhouse in some glamorous part of the world with a poodle named Coco, even despite myself, I love this part of the world. I spent some of the most important years of my life living in Brisbane and it only seemed right that I should contribute to the artistic conversation that helps define this city. As an audience member I look forward to the diverse, colourful and emotionally conflicted stories about Brisbane that are to come. Reagan Kelly is just one take on what is an incredibly remarkable city once you pull back the first layer of skin. There are interesting stories in every bar, every bus stop, every street corner. Brisbane is worth seeing on stage.

Lewis Treston
March 2019

METRO ON THE MOVE

METRO ON THE MOVE

The announcement last week of the news of Metro’s future felt monumental.  To me. To the Metro Board and staff. And I suspect to many who heard or have since read the news.  Change is challenging to say the least, but I know we can’t see what’s over the hill if we simply stand still.

So, we are on the move.

I was going to write about future ideas and potential visions for the future, but I know it takes time to digest the information and to heal first.  I’ve decided instead to share some of my process – how I arrived at the point where I am comfortable with selling our Old Broad. Late last year, for the Performance Space LiveWorks Conference in Sydney, I was asked to speak about something that was keeping me up at night and something I was passionate about.  This speech reflects the rawness I was feeling at that time, and the struggle to find a way through for all of us now and into the next 40 years.

In January this year when I launched the 2017 Metro Arts program I said the following:

“I’ve thought a lot about our 2017 program – the works we’re creating and presenting and the artists we’re collaborating with….  They are a reflection of the world we’re living in, of the changes and challenges we see all around us. Artists are here to witness, to testify but also to challenge, to question, to console, to empathize, to inspire…  to produce ideas that make new ways of seeing, thinking and feeling possible! This is the driving vision behind Metro Arts as a cultural organisation and I suggest behind the artists and art you see in the building. Nothing here is safe or gently snuggling up to the status quo – that’s not our job!  Our job is contemporary art, live and living art, challenging and experimental and diverse art and in a time where not much is making sense in the world I believe these artforms are the ones to articulate a new understanding, and a new way forward.

2017 is a very big year with a very big program offering more support than ever to independent artists and we have done this as a deliberate response to the funding cut-backs made specifically to the small-to-medium sector and to independents.  We are here at Metro Arts to support and collaborate, to witness and to testify – to make sure unique independent voices are not lost in our cultural landscape.”

Ten months later I’m looking backwards and reflecting on a really tough year.

I have long been an advocate for independent and experimental artists, the cultural value of their work, and the important role artists play in the sociological landscape as provocateurs, as feeders, experimenters, those who challenge and push…

But I’ve been thinking about inequity of access, lack of diversity in stories and on stages and walls, the plight of our First Nations peoples, the constant reduction of funding, the invisible arts and culture policy in Australia as a nation, the struggling artists and arts-workers who constantly prop up the industry, mental health and self-care concerns, homelessness, the effect of the NDIS on service organisations for differently abled artists and audiences…. these are all cultural issues for me and I suggest cultural failings.

Someone very dear to me recently suffered a severe psychosis.  During a moment of lucidity we talked about creative thinking and new ways of looking at the world and how to find a better way forward.  She talked about ‘the solution’. She talked about how she felt she had to solve everything, fix everything, be great at everything and the pressure that overwhelmed her.  She said she was listening to Beethoven before she ‘went crazy’ (her words)… Beethoven. An artist – one might even say an independent artist of his time. Someone who saw the world differently and offered a response.

Now, more than ever the world needs cultural solutions, connection to art, beauty, truth, authentic expression……My friend reminded me that I had always had an artistic mind, a way of working that sat outside the norm….

And so

…after all of these musings, all of these critical, crucial and large issues, I look closer to home, I look intimately at myself, as an artist, and a woman, a cultural ‘leader’ and a mind, body, heart and soul, as one who has given and tried to find cultural solutions and offer something.  But right here, right now, I feel defeated and burnt out and angry.

I do not feel I have been able to do enough for our artists, I do not see a shift in thinking or support or policy, I have not been able to solve some extreme problems for the nearly 40-year-old small arts organisation I love and have been associated with in one way or another since 1999.

I reflect…as an arts and culture leader when is it time to say enough?  We have tried and succeeded and tried and failed and tried again. Is it enough?  I don’t want to quit. I don’t want to be angry and defeatist but… Everything dies, from grandparents to goldfish.  Sometimes organisations, programs, companies also have to stop….

In order to truly shake the status quo, and hopefully to renew and start again.

And so, I will return to the art and artists…to look for hope and inspiration… I am proud of the work we are making and presenting in Queensland.  Highlights for me this year include Warraba Weatherall’s stunning inaugural solo exhibition exploring deaths in custody of our Indigenous people, 30 years after the Royal Commission and nothing has changed;

And finally, I offer you some words from a Canadian-Australian group, Too Close to the Sun, who presented their work, Bluebird Mechanicals, a few months ago at Metro Arts. This monologue spoke to me – it made me sit up and listen.  It was beautiful, poignant, poetic and urgent work by independent artists. Due to the difficulty of gaining sufficient ongoing support to create new work, over three years the artists sought assistance from each of the following:  The Australia Council for the Arts, The Banff Centre, Canada’s National Arts Centre English Theatre, Arts NSW, the Council of the Arts in Quebec, the Rex Cramphorn Studio’s Artists-in-Residence Program at the University of Sydney, HotHouse Theatre’s A Month in the Country, Playwrights’ Workshop Montreal and Metro Arts.

A thank you and acknowledgement to Talya Rubin (and her collaborator Nick James) for allowing me to use these words….

Everyone wants a drink, I know.  I know, I know you all want one.

You have escaped the humdrum, the ho-hum.  You have escaped your own mind, you’ve escaped your own head, your own soul, your own thoughts.  You’ve escaped. It’s OK now.

You don’t have to worry about pretence or pretentiousness or keeping up appearances cause we are all doing that together all the time, so drop the mask, and put on your face.  It’s OK now, we are no longer on solid ground. That means everything is shifting and whatever you’re thinking, feeling, experiencing is acceptable…. as long as you keep it to yourself and shut up.

God only knows what you people do.  You disgust me, each and every one of you with your fat smiles and your big red lips and your engorged mouths swallowing constantly – you can’t even see your flaws……

Well it’s been delightful speaking with you.  I will be back later on to announce the entertainment services and meal times and menus.

So stay tuned.

Jo Thomas
Metro Arts’ Creative Director & CEO
December 2018

CAN THEATRE MAKE YOU LIVE LONGER?

CAN THEATRE MAKE YOU LIVE LONGER?

I have exhausted one third of my probable life expectancy. So says a website that offers death predictions based on health and demographic data. I found this estimate a couple of years ago and recorded milestones in my calendar so that I would know exactly how I was tracking. The one-third mark was last year, Friday the 29th of September at 2:55pm. I didn’t really celebrate.

This year I had another date in my calendar. The 16th of June – this was my ten thousandth day on earth. That morning to mark the occasion I tried to take a dramatic photo of myself looking weary. Anyone who has been around for a bit longer might disagree and roll their eyes, but look – lately I’m feeling old.

Time seems to be rushing along, disappearing at a quickening rate. And maybe in the middle of Deathfest, now might be as good a time as ever to reflect on our collective mortality.

I often feel that theatre has a lot to do with mortality. Unlike other art forms, theatre depends on us giving over units of our own lives in order to participate. When it works, theatre transforms those pieces, amplifying our experience of being alive and heightening our awareness beyond that of the everyday. But of course, anyone who has seen enough theatre will agree that the opposite can be true – bad theatre can suck away at your life force, intensifying the feeling that by the act of living you are also slowly dying…

Andrew Upton (former artistic director of Sydney Theatre Company) claims that performance is bound by the same constraints as life itself. It takes place within units of time and space, and so we experience theatre in the same way that we encounter reality. As fictional as it might be, our time spent in theatrical worlds is still an application of our own reality.

I’ve become a bit obsessed with these ideas in my own practice. I don’t want to waste any part of someone’s life! The work is here & now. So how can it be very here and very now?

In my postgrad research, I went down a rabbit hole of neuroscience to try and address these impulses. For example, now becomes a different kind of challenge when you realise that humans do not actually perceive the present. Neuroscientist David Eagleman explains that our senses are not actually a live feed to the world. Rather, our brain has to laboriously construct its perception of reality using data from a range of delayed feeds. Our eyes don’t process information at the same speed as our ears, and our nerves transport information slower than the speed of a car on the motorway. The result is that our brain has to carefully synchronise all of this data to give us a retrospective understanding of what has happened in our immediate surroundings.

It can take up to a tenth of a second for the brain to reach its conclusions. So in fact our lived experiences are all about a tenth of a second behind the reality of their circumstances. We don’t perceive this delay because we don’t know any better – our brain self-corrects, and this becomes what we understand as the present, even though we are caught in a lag.

Considering that we are therefore all caught in the past, now becomes something that we can’t necessarily exploit, but rather have to construct. The feeling of now. Alan Burdick explains that we do not perceive empty time until it contains something. An empty moment simply doesn’t register to us until it contains an event for reference – even if that event is the movement of a clock’s second hand, or someone declaring the word now.

“Look up into a clear blue sky: how far away is one hundred feet? How far is a mile? With no landmarks for reference, one can’t say. It’s the same with time. If we perceive time’s passage it’s because we perceive change, and for us to perceive change, the time must be somehow filled; an empty duration alone won’t stimulate our awareness. So what fills it?”

- Alan Burdick quoting William James

Theatre is an elaborate declaration of now. An ambition to fill our empty time with something significant, so that it might be recognised. To give more resonance to this unit of our life than what we otherwise might have had.

But here’s the interesting part – that tenth of a second processing time is relative depending on what we fill a moment with. Eagleman found that when the brain took in extra information, the processing time increased and the moment expanded.

For instance, if I were to swing a golf club towards your face, or if the balcony on which you were standing were to suddenly collapse – in those threatening moments, your brain would kick into overdrive. The amygdala would commandeer excess resources so that your brain would become intensely focused on capturing and understanding the circumstances at-hand. The resulting data would take longer to reconcile.

After this heightened experience, your memory of it would move in slow motion. The richness of your data would also mean that your senses were more vivid. You would feel as though you had lived for longer in that moment.

Eagleman uses this same principle to explain why time seems to speed up as we get older. In the same way that our perception of time can expand by ingesting more detail, so too can our time be rushed by an inattentive lack of detail. The more familiar we get with the experience of living, the less data we tend to capture. Whether due to routine or disinterest, we have less curiosity and therefore less inclination to observe intensely.

“This may be why time seems to speed up as you age: you develop more compressed representations of events, and the memories to be read out are correspondingly impoverished. When you are a child, and everything is novel, the richness of the memory gives the impression of increased time passage—for example, when looking back at the end of a childhood summer.”

– David Eagleman

The author Carleton Noyes described how the world around us closes in as we grow up and lose our childish curiosity. In this transition, “imagination surrenders to the intellect; emotion gives place to knowledge,” and so we cease to play.

But perhaps this is our obligation as artists. To stimulate newfound curiosity. To defamiliarise the familiar. To heighten experiences so that our brains are prompted to ingest more data once again!

This is why I revolt against tradition. Why I find repetition and routine so draining. Experimentation is urgent. Form needs to be reinvented, ruptured, re-birthed. With my life in your hands, show me something new. Something now. Something so unexpected that my brain can’t fill in all of the gaps.

I’m not about to swing a golf club at your face, I promise. But I’d certainly like to heighten your present.  Counterpilot projects are all about transforming the familiar. We like to find surprising combinations of things we recognise, and subvert them using rich design or gameplay.

The result, if we are to believe Eagleman, is an expanded duration of experience. With such art, we can stave off our own mortality. Kind of.

Can theatre make you live longer? Not really. Not if measured in units of time. But considering that our perception of time is not constant, maybe it shouldn’t be about measuring the minutes.

Theatre declares our now in a bolder way than our everyday life might be able to. It is a mode for our reality that transcends what we expect from what is real.  In perception and memory, a life regularly stimulated by intrigue and curiosity would feel as though it had lasted longer.

If you don’t believe that theatre can save lives, then at least believe it can do this.

Nathan Sibthorpe

November 2018

OPEN LETTER TO EMERGING ARTISTS

OPEN LETTER TO EMERGING ARTISTS

When I read Aaron Dora’s blogpost (Art Speak #7) about pathways for emerging artists, I felt the urge to express my support for his positive approach. Jo Thomas suggested I might like to expand this into an open letter, so here I am!

My original message:

Hi Aaron, I don’t usually connect with people I don’t know, but I have just read your piece on the Metro Arts website about pathways for moving into the industry, and I admire the way you are setting out to negotiate this tricky journey. One of my passions has long been to nurture the Brisbane industry by doing what I can to encourage opportunities for young and emerging theatre-makers. You clearly have the drive to initiate projects, and, importantly, to take others with you. It is people like you who are our future. I wish you all the best with the [Fresh Blood] festival, and with all your projects. I hope we get to meet some time.

It turns out that we had indeed met (sort of) when Aaron attended an open rehearsal of ‘2 Guys in a Box’, the show I co-wrote with Andrew Cory for Bris Fest last year. (Shameless plug – we’re following that up with ‘A Coupla Dogs’ this year.) That viewing came about because Sean Mee was directing and he invited his students to a run-through. A win-win situation. The students got to see a professional work in progress and as artists we were able to pick the bright lively minds of future theatre-makers.

It is just this kind of exchange that enables our industry to develop. Sam Strong recently wrote about artist pathways from his position as Artistic Director of a State Theatre company (’10 things theatre companies can provide to artists’, ArtsHub 14 August 2018), citing a comprehensive list from tickets and space through access to decision-making and makers, to cooperation and hospitality. It was an example of what can be achieved with a responsible outlook, an attitude of generosity and – let’s not be naive – an awareness of what the company itself needs if it is to develop and thrive. Win-win.

But there remains the challenge of getting started in the first place, or, as Aaron puts it ‘[finding] your way into an industry that seems so hard to crack.’ Aaron rightly says that pathways from university are not clear, and that ‘you have to go beyond your studies to actually get the skills you need’. In fact, this is in many ways the nature of the industry.

Let’s be frank: just as there are no clear pathways at the start, there are none throughout a theatre career. This can be daunting, but also liberating.

It is easy as an emerging artist to perceive the industry as fixed and established. But the wonderful thing about theatre is that it is not fixed. Companies come and go. Who now remembers the vibrant work of TN! or Kooemba Jdarra? Who remembers that La Boite was once on the point of collapse and clawed its way back from the brink? The industry shifts shape as different theatre-makers make their mark and move on. I’ve been an active member of the industry long enough to have seen several generations of artists emerge. Some quickly submerge and disappear without trace. Others re-emerge if they’re lucky. But some find their feet and stay afloat (to mix my metaphors). One way is to crack into the existing industry. Another is to do your own thing and let the industry expand to include you.

We are all shape-shifters. If the pathways are not clear, then it is up to us to create them. I remember an enthusiatic trio of young graduates harnessing support to do just that, and in October this year Bridget Boyle, Robert Kronk and Liz Skitch are celebrating the 20th anniversary of Debase Theatre! The Dead Puppet Society are another group who started small and have changed our industry. Circa emerged out of Rock’n’Roll Circus. Imaginary changed our way of making theatre for children and The Good Room continue to challenge our preconceptions of theatre-making with and for all ages. And so on.

Through a mix of passion, skills, drive and pragmatism, these shape-shifters have put in the work to turn their artistic vision into reality. No doubt they have compromised, had disappointments, probably had to work Muggle jobs along the way. But they have built their resilience, played to their strengths, taken risks and made a commitment. And the industry is healthier and more exciting as a result.

So, to all you emerging artists, I say play to your strengths, take a risk and commit. Create your own pathways and don’t be afraid to ask for help along the way. Resilience is key. Seize the opportunities presented by such organisations as Backbone, Metro Arts, Brisbane Powerhouse. Investigate the range of paid work you can take which is related to the performing arts, even if it’s not central to your interest (ushering, box office, admin, teaching, etc.). Seek out individuals as mentors – be cheeky, just ask! We all started out once, and we need you to succeed.

Sue Rider

September 2018

IN CONVERSATION (LIKE A CASUAL CHAT)

IN CONVERSATION (LIKE A CASUAL CHAT)

Mel: Oi, I’m sick of people thinking this show is just two obnoxious women being like “OOOOO REMEMBER WHEN WE WERE SLUTS, MEN ARE TRASH.”

Lia: Anything but… (That’s what I say to my boyfriend, zing)

Mel:  Yeah, I always think about when our dear friend Aleea said to us, after the first season in 2016, “What would this show be like if it wasn’t two hot women?” or something along those lines.

Lia: Then Matt, our producer, said “Oi, what if all the f**kbois got together and wrote a play about you?”

Mel: Yeah, well, my ego would f**king love it.

Lia: And I would welcome ANYONE talking about real feelings on stage, that shit is juicy!

Mel: I think that’s where the power of this works sits. In the honesty and vulnerability of what we are saying.

Lia: I had a lot of qualms about being this honest on stage. Will people think we are interesting?

Mel: It’s also super challenging when the people you have written about may show up.

Lia: Which they have done, but we just keep on keeping on.

Mel: Anyway, I digress, what’s with boys following me on instagram the morning after? Like literally, just after they’ve left my house.

Lia: What is that?! Boys do this thing, where they follow me on social media when we haven’t even matched on tinder, and I find that really creepy. Invasion of privacy, not taking a “no, we haven’t matched for a reason” as an actual “no, i don’t want to talk to you.” I hate it. Makes me mad.

Mel: Oi, I read a really good bio on tinder he other day: “Class struggle in the streets, comrade snuggle in the sheets.” I messaged him “omfg too good” and he never replied.

Lia: To digress yet again, I am a big fan of a man who is openly into cuddling. Could fang a cuddle ASAP.

Mel: I’m really into ‘the modern new age man’, offering to brush the sex knots outta my hair, it feels very intimate to me. But also I’m like “no, you don’t know how to do it”.

Lia: I will never know this pleasure, because even BEFORE the sex, I have the tousled hair of lion. Which is funny, because I also think men don’t know how to grab my hair, the fro, like “Is it a loofah? How do I hold it?” It presents a funny conundrum in the boudoir.

Mel: I think there’s a lot of things that men don’t know how to do.

Lia: And if we’re on this train, there’s a lot I don’t know how to do!

Mel: Sometimes, I think people assume we think we are experts on sex and intimacy and all things love, because we wrote this show. But ya couldn’t be more wrong. I guess this show is our way of trying to understand and process this stuff.

Lia: I’m just trying to live my life and be an ethical slut.

Mel: I think I’m past my slut days, my misspent youth.

Lia: Not what you said last night!

Mel: Don’t you dare write that!

Lia: I think the dumbest thing I’ve ever done, was break up with someone three days before my birthday.

Mel: I cry every birthday. I think there’s a lot of pressure on days when you’re meant to have fun.

Lia: Can confirm. It was probably the loneliest birthday ever.

Mel: I’ve never celebrated Valentine’s with someone before.

Lia: But again, I feel like that’s the power of the show. I feel like every performance we come together as a group and feel connected, I feel the comradery with a group of strangers. It always just feels like I’m gasbagging with some friends over a vino, or seven.

Mel: I feel like we could have used this time to go deep on theory and talk about #metoo movement and the culture in Australia in the wake of Eurydice Dixon, but sometimes, you don’t need theory, you just need some girlfriends to have a debrief with, and I guess, that’s a mood this show tries to cultivate.

Not with Love,

Wightman and Stark

August 2018

THE IMPORTANCE OF PRACTICAL PATHWAYS FOR EMERGING ARTISTS

THE IMPORTANCE OF PRACTICAL PATHWAYS FOR EMERGING ARTISTS

So I’ve been asked to get up on my soap box and write a little spiel about pathways for emerging artists in Brisbane. How do you find your way into an industry that seems so hard to crack?

As an emerging director and producer, I feel there doesn’t seem to be any clear pathways to paid work. Maybe that seems bleak, and maybe it’s the angst of a person just about to graduate an arts degree, but it seems to be a truth for many in my position. A degree doesn’t magically grant you a career in the arts. You need to work hard to find hands-on experiences. These opportunities are the pathways – the ones you create for yourself by making your own work.

In the past three years of my bachelor studies, most of my learning has come not from being in a lecture chair, but from being at rehearsals outside of university. The practical experiences in my degree seem to be getting less and less like the “real world”. Everywhere a three-hour tutorial can be turned into a two-hour tutorial, it is. Our teaching team are outstanding sources of knowledge. Why is it that our rehearsals that are supposed to be like professional experiences for us seem to be bubble wrapped taste testers where we all go through the motions for a score on a scale from 1 to 7? I’m not sure.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m very thankful for having the opportunity to attend university. It’s important to be able to discuss art and art making with knowledge in a shared language. (I also love the fact that I can impress my parents by talking about postmodernism or the importance of cultural democracy.) However, the truth is that the pathways from university into the industry aren’t clear, and you have to go beyond your studies to actually get the skills you need.

It’s places like Metro Arts that support artists in making this first step. Just this year I’ve worked on three projects at Metro, each in different capacities from digital media designer to assistant producer. I’ve also been working with Metro all year to try to create pathways for others. If you didn’t already know, Vena Cava Productions is QUT’s student theatre company, run completely by students for students. I’m lucky enough to be at the helm as Artistic Director in 2018. This year Metro Arts have welcomed us as Student Company in Residence 2018. I can’t stress enough how fantastic this is.

We’ve been working alongside Metro to present an entire festival dedicated to creating pathways for emerging artists. It’s called Fresh Blood Festival. All sorts of live performances have been created, bound only by the fact that the works have never been seen before, and that they have been created completely by students. We’ll be having a dramaturge in residence to give feedback on the shows, and an industry panel discussion on theatre making in Brisbane. It’s a place for learning, experimentation, connecting experienced artists with emerging artists and for showcasing some the future of Brisbane’s arts scene. I’m so glad to have been part of this, and it makes me hopeful that pathways for emerging artists will continue to become more prominent through initiatives such as this.

Aaron Dora

Artistic Director, Vena Cava Productions

July 2018

SISYPHUS COULD BE SMILING

SISYPHUS COULD BE SMILING

Imagining Futurity in Aishla Manning’s Soft Blow 2018

The leaf blower, through its own efforts, only meets dull thuds. All it can do is blow, or not blow. Do, or not do. These are its only choices. When not blowing it dangles limply, in isolation, bungee cord and pillow strapped around its midsection, waiting (?), tame in its parameters (?), complacent (?), in the crude MDF box clamped by clamps together at the top corners. We can see the makeshift pseudo integrity of these joins, but it’s the same thud to the leaf blower when it chooses its only agency, the pillow ill-situated to soften any blow.

The leaf blower is a symbol of capital’s conquer of the “natural” environment, a last little frill of unnecessity (because what symbolises rule better than unnecessity?). It is the tool of the one who decides where the leaves shall not be, not on the lawn, not on the driveway. I have a friend whose job is to blow the leaves off the lawns at University of Queensland every single day(1). Things have to be natural in the right way. What then of this tool of the system that naturalises? What then of this apparatus when it enacts upon itself? Well, it takes turns flying about like a christmas beetle under fluoros, banging into the walls of its pen, then succumbing to idle suspension.

Sisyphus comes to mind, for obvious reasons. The leaf blower is both him and his boulder, blowing forth (backward?) only to ricochet back (forward?). And it seems so damn sad! Then Albert Camus was like, “but who says Sisyphus isn’t smiling? Who says he is in torment just cause his work like obtains no production, gains no ground, is technically an eternal punishment, and is, like, essentially meaningless? Y’know, maybe he found some meaning in it.”(2) Haven’t we all, at one point or another, arrived at the meaningless conclusion about our lives, or life in general? And then continually make our best efforts to dull that knife on carving our own meanings, and stabbing at bits of joy, that knife that sharpens persistently on the whetstone of our disappointments and depressions? Hmm, sounds a lot like Sisyphus. Following Camus’ logic, perhaps the leaf blower could be smiling too? I mean, the scene is kinda funny, in its absurdity, and in a slapsticky way. Appreciation of absurdity requires a step back perspective, it takes us out of the game for a while. Here, we’re given a two-fold reprieve- through comedy, and through the distancing this perspective affords us. We laugh at it because otherwise we’d cry for ourselves. Otherwise, it’s too real.

But this situated distinction (us/it) fades pretty fast, and ohh no, here comes the empathising… Y’know, I feel a lot like the leaf blower. [begin scene] I try and I try and I try and sometimes, no matter fuckin what I do, I’m brought thudding back on my arse, in one way or another. *throws arms up in indignation* And I know that doing nothing at all won’t help either. So all I can do is try right? And just hope that one day, it’ll be the system that gives way, not me! [end scene] I wonder if Sisyphus ever thought that one day the boulder would not roll back down the hill, but he’d manage to get it to the top. And then what? Have a bit of a breather and just push it back down the other side of the hill? Isn’t that the same thing? Maybe he saw that, this hill, or that hill, he couldn’t escape the meaninglessness. Besides, he gets to be outside right? And he enjoys listening to the bird calls and the insects’ songs as he toils, and at least he’s not condemned eternally to office work! Those poor chumps, he thinks, they sure are alienated from their labour! I can at least keep physically fit and breathe fresh air, and listen to interesting podcasts, he says to himself as he works on his Positive Mental Attitude. I always thought Sisyphus was doomed, and then I learnt that I am him, except I have more variation in my day-to-day. And now it appears that Sisyphus could be smiling.

Okay, so let’s say the leaf blower has also worked on its PMA and carved some strivable life meaning out for itself and it is hard at work trying to bring down the closed system of the clamped MDF pen it finds itself in. Clamps upon clamps seems to me an apt metaphor for the structures that hold the given world together. They’re not permanent fixings, not preordained truths, it’s not “just the way things are”, they’re just clamped there. Maybe the leaf blower is trying to huff and puff and blow those naturalising parameters down from the inside! If they were clamped there at some point, then they can be unclamped, right!? Maybe that’s what the leaf blower is hoping, although, for all my anthropomorphising, I just can’t seem to see its hope, just its futility. Maybe that is because (through my humancentric lens) it is a tool, a doing thing, that has a use. And on this occasion, its doing is rendered void, useless, pathetic. The tool out of the hands of the leaf oppressor lacks direction, it blows back, it backfires. I guess tools just aren’t supposed to work on their own. But hang on, perhaps I am doing this leaf blower a hypocritical disservice. On one hand I humanise it to represent me through metaphor in my humanny struggles, because at my distance I can relate safely, I can laugh, not cry, and enjoy the artistic gesture. Yet, on the other hand, I deny it any hope and therefore, perhaps, any futurity outside of this situation. And I’ll admit, in a conversation after the show a friend said that they want to see the leaf blower break apart the walls, and I said “I don’t!” Because, like if Sisyphus got his boulder to the top of the hill, what then for the leaf blower? It no longer has to bang its arse around against those walls – cool, but it’d still be swinging around aimlessly in isolation under a rental house in Highgate Hill. Y’know, as Bob Dylan said (ergh I can’t believe I’m quoting Bob Dylan), “are birds free from the chains of the skyway?”(3)

In saying all this, am I also doing myself a disservice? Am I denying myself hope and futurity in a bargain to temporarily soothe my feelings of futility and meaningless through this dissociated solidarity with the leaf blower? An existential crutch which only remains in tact in its closed sisyphean loop? Is it easier to just externalise an apprehension of harsh reality, and distance myself from it through a critique of the systems of domination? Than to like, imagine otherwise? Donna Haraway reckons that critique alone is idiotic because it doesn’t imagine other ways of being.(4) And I reckon my friend was right.(5) Against this “tools just aren’t supposed to” business, and beyond this “it’s all the same meaninglessness anyway” dejected rhetoric, I need to be imagining other possibilities. Maybe I need to imagine those clamps losing grip, and those walls clamouring down and, after that, I need to imagine another way of being (or means of becoming) for the leaf blower and for myself, and I guess while I’m at it, for me smilin’ mate, Sisyphus, too.

Aishla Manning Soft Blow (2018).
Exhibited at Kunstbunker Artist Run Initiative, Brisbane, 2018.
Image Credit: Naomi O’Reilly.

Kinly Grey

June 2018

I ONLY BECAME AN ARTIST SO THAT I WOULD BE CRITICISED

I ONLY BECAME AN ARTIST SO THAT I WOULD BE CRITICISED

Attendance figures dictate our livelihood and means of production. We rely on the numbers gleaned from door counts, ticket sales and surveys and are held hostage by the ebb and flow of patrons through the thresholds of our galleries. Sadly, the echo chamber that constitutes a large part of audiences at small-to-medium art venues is often not sizable enough to warrant an exchange of money from the wallet of the government into the hands and pockets of artists and art workers. This places us in a position where we have to defend the relevance and value of cultural affects that have such little reach.

So, we turn to the general public and ask them to sample our wares.

The public doesn’t always like us, and, why should they? It’s not as though we provide a service for free, expose the inner most parts of ourselves as a form of entertainment or deliver experiences or ideas that have been the product of years of consideration… except we do, and we offer this invitation to share in our domain while asking for little in return.

Who in our industry hasn’t heard the phrase “I don’t get it,” or been on the receiving end of an unsolicited sermon denouncing ‘conceptual art,’ as elitist because curators and artists are out of touch art wankers?  In accordance with these verbal jousts, art must be visually appealing, its lone significance is how good it looks on the wall. Emerging from this is a mistaken belief in a conspiracy of anti-aestheticism that is continuously being unpacked by artists and writers.

These opinions are typically parroted from the mouths of people who seem deeply personally offended that they “don’t get it.” As though artists and arts workers are inconveniencing them simply by creating something that doesn’t fit neatly within their narrow definition of art. This criticism of contemporary art as elitist is a thinly veiled form of anti-intellectualism disguised as inclusivity.

The public feels alienated, while artists, authors, organisations and funding bodies go to great, unsuccessful lengths to reach them.

Should art be accessible? Yes, absolutely. But who is to say those of us making it are the ones creating barriers. Art civilians do not need protecting from dangerous or challenging ideas. Yet as artists and art workers, we are constantly negotiating how the public perceive us. What this says to me is that the voices of the people speaking, the artists, are not worth being heard – that our narratives are not credible enough because they aren’t consumable enough.

While I truly believe that art is an open dialogue, sometimes it feels like we’re just yelling into an abyss from our ivory towers.

Caity Reynolds

May 2018

MANDY QUADRIO MOVES OUT OF THE GALLERY FOR MAIWAR FESTIVAL

MANDY QUADRIO MOVES OUT OF THE GALLERY FOR MAIWAR FESTIVAL

Under an Indigenous curatorial premise of ‘interconnectedness’, my sculptural work Continuing Connections 2018, will feature as part of a collective of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists invited to participate in the 2018 annual Brisbane festival of ‘Maiwar’.

The Maiwar festival (a local Aboriginal word for the Brisbane River) acknowledges and celebrates Brisbane’s main waterway and honours stories about change, adaptability and endurance – referencing both Indigenous and non-Indigenous engagements with the watercourse. Maiwar provides a platform for the telling of Indigenous people’s stories outside of the institution and the gallery where they are brought into visibility and into the public domain. On building walls, laneways, bridges and random Brisbane city spaces, artists bring a wide range of artistic styles and media to represent the diverse range of experiences from contemporary black Australia. Often embedded with socio-political content and layered historical references and narrative, these works validate and strengthen our cultural continuity, community networks and exchange, and our enduring sense of pride in our identity.

At a time when racist commentary is still very present in the media and popular culture and our Indigenous identity is under constant attack it is imperative that we continue to make artistic and cultural representations that provide a counter-narrative to fictional Western discourses and justifications of colonisation. Increased Indigenous curatorship will ensure Indigenous stories and lived experiences are foregrounded and acknowledged, and provide appropriate environments where our ideas are centred and not historically embedded in Western canons. Skilful curatorial direction and tactical approaches can provide a challenge for Western institutions to take on Indigenous ways of knowing, teaching and being, and strategically enact positive social change in the wider society.

As a palawa woman from tebrakunna (North-East Tasmania) living in Brisbane and a contributor to Maiwar 2018, I bring my Indigenous worldview to the premise of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander interconnectedness. I have reflected and contemplated on ageless stories and more contemporary urban histories. My response to these contemplations has been to develop three-dimensional, sculptural works entitled Continuing Connections 2018, that connect our mutual and diverse cultural water stories. Using materials that invite curiosity such as rusting steel wool along with fresh and decaying Tasmanian bull kelp, I have developed work that celebrates and emphasises our cultural heritage, identity and resilience as well as metaphorically referencing colonial history, encounter and memory. These ephemeral works have been installed in two glass, boxed vitrines, centrally located within Brisbane city streets.

The cessation of the three month long Maiwar festival will see my sculptural works removed from the contained and confining spaces of the enclosed, public vitrines. This departure point will provide an opportunity to expand upon and continue socio-political dialogues around my changing and transforming work as I move forms into the Metro Arts Gallery space where I will be Speaking beyond the vitrine.

Mandy Quadrio

April 2018

MAKING LIVE ABSURDIST ART IN AN ABSURD CONTEMPORARY DIGITAL WORLD

MAKING LIVE ABSURDIST ART IN AN ABSURD CONTEMPORARY DIGITAL WORLD

Director Heidi Manché writes for Art Speak about making live absurdist art in an absurd contemporary digital world.

Our communication in the digital age has indeed taken an absurd turn. We are inundated by hyper-sexualisation, curated images, the meme, the troll, stalking and the inward gaze as we curl into our smartphones.

One of the results of this is an increased anxiety about interacting with the real world. This is the experience of the orphans in The Eisteddfod. Playing out their adult longings and anxieties through curated roles enables them to both avoid the real world and understand the strange world which they have come to inhabit.

After the accidental death of their parents when they were young, the now adult children, Abalone and Gerture, spend their days in child-like games, acting out memories of their parents and other relationships. They remove themselves from the outside world and live among rising decay in a suburban room. The orphaned pair live out their days on the blurred edge of fantasy and reality.

The Eisteddfod is their story. They explore past trauma through role playing in a bid to understand and release it. The playwright herself, appears in the play and interacts with her characters – a comment on the act of creation and its role in helping the writer explore her own sufferings.

This tale is otherworldly, dreamlike, driven by the subconscious. It depicts both the absurd lure of cruelty and the need for protection from our own delusions. There are questions of love and loss, yearning and ambition – logic and a linear narrative fall short of expressing these experiences. In The Eisteddfod, the imagination, metaphors of agoraphobia and magical realism express a truth that our everyday communication simply cannot.

These characters are stuck in space and time, struggling to free themselves. Does the digital world create a similar sense of agoraphobia? Our need to feel connected and liked remains the same, however our methods of doing so are perhaps increasing our sense of isolation.

Art and imagination are a way to make sense of this bizarre world.  If digital communication is our most efficient and prevalent mode of communication then art, especially unorthodox in presentation, can present an alternative to this. A moment to reflect, feel and converse with real people in real time. Perhaps that is why we have congregated around fires, churches, arenas, theatres for millennia.

As absurd as this tale is, it is a critical observation of tomorrow’s world. It’s a contemporary tale and yet the oldest yarn in the world.

Heidi Manché

March 2018

FEMALE LEADERS UNITE!

FEMALE LEADERS UNITE!

Brisbane Arts organisations came together to empower future female leaders at the 2017 Matilda Awards.

Elise Greig, Chair of the awards, writes for Art Speak about the new award added for 2018 Emerging Female Leader and why it matters.

When Penny asked me to write a blog post I jumped at the chance.  Having sat in the auditorium of the Powerhouse Theatre the night before, watching the 2017 Matilda Awards ceremony, I was inspired, moved and empowered to witness six women I admire (Katherine Hoepper, Jo Thomas, Sandra Willis, Fiona Maxell, Paige Rattray and Kate Fell) announce the new Matilda Award category for Emerging Female Leader. They are personally financing this award as a sign of their commitment to the inclusion of women as leaders within the theatre sector.  Putting their money where their mouths are. Backing their words with deeds. A wealth of feminist literature tells us that recognition, attribution, acknowledgement, inclusion and respect are issues women have fought for throughout history. What a relief to see action addressing these issues.

The landscape is changing and there’s a palpable feeling that we are right in the middle of a milestone moment, not only in the arts, but in the broader community.  The goings on in Hollywood, the ructions closer to home, the #metoo and #timesup campaigns and the reactions, responses and resistances to these events are shaping the zeitgeist.  As I reflect on these issues as a middle-aged, middle-class white woman who is the mother of a daughter and two sons; a daughter herself; a wife; a sister; a human being and an artist, I’m drawn time and again to the central idea of change needing a balance of deeds and words.  The words come through conversation, written reflections, blogs, facebook posts, articles, personal letters, plays, song lyrics, journals, diaries, books, you name it. The deeds come through actions, opportunities created, sought, seized up and demanded. That’s what I saw last night.  That’s what sent shivers down my spine. Action. A group of women reaching into their pockets, so they can reach out and help the next generation to find their way more easily by recognising, not only merit, but also potential. This award contributes to the pathways available to women. How, when and why women walk these pathways is up to them, but without the pathways it’s so much harder for the journey to begin, and indeed to continue.  Having sat on the sidelines of the industry for the last decade while I raise my children, I’ve had time to reflect and renew my commitment to contributing in meaningful ways to my chosen art form as an actor/writer and also, now, in a leadership role as the Chair of the judging committee for the Matilda Awards. Yes, we need words, but we also need deeds. A good deed was done last night.

Elise Greig

February 2018

#METOO AND MORE

#METOO AND MORE

Metro Arts artist and performer Brian Lucas discusses the ongoing potency of art, empowerment and despair in the age of celebrity sex scandals in the first of our regular series of blog posts ART SPEAK.

When we first began the process of transforming Oscar Wilde’s “De Profundis” into a performance piece – over four years ago – the issue of marriage equality was only just beginning to gain prominence in the Australian public sphere. The political, social and personal questions asked by the text, and the concerns about social justice, fairness and equity that it raised, became increasingly relevant over the two years it took to bring the work to life, and paralleled much of the debate that was occurring in our political and social spheres.

Since the premiere season of “De Profundis” in 2015, we have witnessed not only the unnecessarily difficult resolution of the marriage equality issue, but also a period of intense and often bitter public and political debate centred on questions of morality, humanity and identity. Sadly, while this debate has had many, many affirming and positive benefits for LGBTQI Australians, it has also uncovered a vein of toxic homophobia which it seems had been lying dormant just below the surface of our culture. Even with the eventual legislation of marriage equality, this homophobia has achieved a stronger voice and has unfortunately been somewhat normalised and empowered by some of our politicians and our media.

Wilde’s “De Profundis” has undoubtedly maintained its relevance and immediacy since the very moment it poured forth from Oscar’s brain, gut and heart. It is a text of universal scope and incredible individual intensity, and one that has maintained a sense of insight, intellectual power, brutal honesty and social importance for over a hundred years. To have worked on the development of the piece, and to have been able to share it with audiences throughout this time has been a remarkable experience.

Now we find that the work has taken on even more relevance to our current social climate and an even greater sense of immediacy. As we re-rehearse the piece for its latest season, the world around us is undergoing a period of massive social upheaval. Neo-conservatism is on the rise, fundamentalist religions of all stripes are again asserting their desire for control and influence over our lives, and our political and media spheres are becoming even more toxic and unsettled. In particular, we are re-birthing the piece into a world in which sexuality and sexual behaviour is being debated and contested in a way that we haven’t witnessed for some time. The advent of the Weinstein scandals, subsequent revelations and numerous accusations of sexual assault, and the powerful rise of the #MeToo hashtag are signs of a newly heated and volatile atmosphere.

It is into this atmosphere that we bring Wilde’s “De Profundis”. It is indeed a prescient work, detailing in almost painful clarity the poisonous ways in which celebrity, power, sexuality, scandal, media, public opinion, and political opportunism can combine to provide toxic outcomes. Wilde’s case was indeed the first celebrity sex scandal of the modern era, and so many of his experiences and insights have an intensely contemporary feel.

Ultimately though, “De Profundis” is also a redemptive work, redolent with truths about love and humanity, and infused with optimism, hope and a sense of redemption. It is also a profoundly moving expression of the individual’s need for clarity, purpose, passion and love, and of the necessity for each of us to find our own sense of strength and empowerment.

Brian Lucas

January 2018

Year in reflection

Year in reflection

In January this year when I launched the 2017 Metro Arts program I said the following:

“I’ve thought a lot about our 2017 program – the works we’re creating and presenting and the artists we’re collaborating with….  They are a reflection of the world we’re living in, of the changes and challenges we see all around us. Artists are here to witness, to testify but also to challenge, to question, to console, to empathize, to inspire…  to produce ideas that make new ways of seeing, thinking and feeling possible! This is the driving vision behind Metro Arts as a cultural organisation and I suggest behind the artists and art you see in the building.  Nothing here is safe or gently snuggling up to the status quo – that’s not our job!  Our job is contemporary art, live and living art, challenging and experimental and diverse art and in a time where not much is making sense in the world I believe theseartforms are the ones to articulate a new understanding, and a new way forward.

2017 is a very big year with a very big program offering more support than ever to independent artists and we have done this as a deliberate response to the funding cut-backs made specifically to the small-to-medium sector and to independents.  We are here at Metro Arts to support and collaborate, to witness and to testify – to make sure unique independent voices are not lost in our cultural landscape.”

Ten months later I’m looking backwards and reflecting on a really tough year.

I have long been an advocate for independent and experimental artists, the cultural value of their work, and the important role artists play in the sociological landscape as provocateurs, as feeders, experimenters, those who challenge and push…

But I’ve been thinking about inequity of access, lack of diversity in stories and on stages and walls, the plight of our First Nations peoples, the constant reduction of funding, the invisible arts and culture policy in Australia as a nation, the struggling artists and arts-workers who constantly prop up the industry, mental health and self-care concerns, homelessness, the effect of the NDIS on service organisations for differently abled artists and audiences…. these are all cultural issues for me and I suggest cultural failings.

Someone very dear to me recently suffered a severe psychosis.  During a moment of lucidity we talked about creative thinking and new ways of looking at the world and how to find a better way forward.  She talked about ‘the solution’.  She talked about how she felt she had to solve everything, fix everything, be great at everything and the pressure that overwhelmed her.  She said she was listening to Beethoven before she ‘went crazy’ (her words)… Beethoven.  An artist – one might even say an independent artist of his time.  Someone who saw the world differently and offered a response.

Now, more than ever the world needs cultural solutions, connection to art, beauty, truth, authentic expression……My friend reminded me that I had always had an artistic mind, a way of working that sat outside the norm….

And so

…after all of these musings, all of these critical, crucial and large issues, I look closer to home, I look intimately at myself, as an artist, and a woman, a cultural ‘leader’ and a mind, body, heart and soul, as one who has given and tried to find cultural solutions and offer something.  But right here, right now, I feel defeated and burnt out and angry.

I do not feel I have been able to do enough for our artists, I do not see a shift in thinking or support or policy, I have not been able to solve some extreme problems for the nearly 40-year-old small arts organisation I love and have been associated with in one way or another since 1999.

I reflect…as an arts and culture leader when is it time to say enough?  We have tried and succeeded and tried and failed and tried again.  Is it enough?  I don’t want to quit. I don’t want to be angry and defeatist but… Everything dies, from grandparents to goldfish.  Sometimes organisations, programs, companies also have to stop….

In order to truly shake the status quo, and hopefully to renew and start again.

And so, I will return to the art and artists…to look for hope and inspiration… I am proud of the work we are making and presenting in Queensland.  Highlights for me this year include Warraba Weatherall’s stunning inaugural solo exhibition exploring deaths in custody of our Indigenous people, 30 years after the Royal Commission and nothing has changed;

And finally, I offer you some words from a Canadian-Australian group, Too Close to the Sun, who presented their work, Bluebird Mechanicals, a few months ago at Metro Arts. This monologue spoke to me – it made me sit up and listen.  It was beautiful, poignant, poetic and urgent work by independent artists.  Due to the difficulty of gaining sufficient ongoing support to create new work, over three years the artists sought assistance from each of the following:  The Australia Council for the Arts, The Banff Centre, Canada’s National Arts Centre English Theatre, Arts NSW, the Council of the Arts in Quebec, the Rex Cramphorn Studio’s Artists-in-Residence Program at the University of Sydney, HotHouse Theatre’s A Month in the Country, Playwrights’ Workshop Montreal and Metro Arts.

A thank you and acknowledgement to Talya Rubin (and her collaborator Nick James) for allowing me to use these words….

 Everyone wants a drink, I know.  I know, I know you all want one. 

 You have escaped the humdrum, the ho-hum.  You have escaped your own mind, you’ve escaped your own head, your own soul, your own thoughts.  You’ve escaped.  It’s OK now.

You don’t have to worry about pretence or pretentiousness or keeping up appearances cause we are all doing that together all the time, so drop the mask, and put on your face.  It’s OK now, we are no longer on solid ground.  That means everything is shifting and whatever you’re thinking, feeling, experiencing is acceptable…. as long as you keep it to yourself and shut up.

 God only knows what you people do.  You disgust me, each and every one of you with your fat smiles and your big red lips and your engorged mouths swallowing constantly – you can’t even see your flaws……

 Well it’s been delightful speaking with you.  I will be back later on to announce the entertainment services and meal times and menus.

 So stay tuned.