Beyond the Self: Contemporary Portraiture from Asia embraces the fact that confusion, conformity and confidence are transnational experiences. NPG Director Louise Doyle has congratulated the efforts of curator Christine Clark who has brought together artists from across South East Asia for the first time as a collective.
Atul Bhalla’s photography distills identity as a reflection of how we care for others. In Submerged again, 2005, he thumbs the idea of water as a commodity, as wasted or polluted. Consumption and environment seem to be a hot topic in the first room. A tangle of pipes used to provide heat climb the wall to form S Teddy D’s self portrait, the medium is a metaphor for the distribution of resources and ultimately, power.
Chinese-Indonesian artist FX Harsono literally tears himself apart, in the print Open your mouth, 2002. The image shows the artist’s face excluding his eye cavities, nostrils and mouth. Combined with an image of a lotus the work’s angst is balanced as the flower represents the osmosis of life, death and regeneration.
Alwin Reamilo, an artist from the Philippines explores the dangers of building a national identity in Reliquary by Arnulfo Tikb-ang, 2011. The artist uses the image of José Rizal as well as a larger than life matchbox to show how the leader sparked a revolution of thought and action, while at the same time inspiring a cult of personality. Nationalism undoubtedly changes a population; the building of a national identity demands we forgo a little of our own.
Silent Sound, 2009, made up of white fiberglass body parts that melt into the white walls of the gallery suggests that the absence of identity goes a way to understanding it. The work by Alwar Balasubramaniam has been described as being between the thresholds of two worlds, a feeling not uncommon to most people.
A major mural of Rivera proportions by Augus Suwage, from Indonesia, tackles similar themes of disenfranchisement that the Mexican heavyweight addressed. Man of the year#4, 2011 is ornamented with skulls and imagery of decay, yet the central face is grinning maniacally. This is intended to highlight the lack of sincerity in the burgeoning contemporary art world, which can view creativity as disposable.
Mrs. Sujatha Singh, the High Commissioner of India opened the show saying she was moved by the ability of the works to demonstrate how the body can be considered ephemeral once we come to see the soul as permanent. The individuality of South East Asia is strong in the exhibition. Many of the exhibitors use the past to make sense of themselves in the present because, as Rizal famously said, “why independence, if the slaves of today will be the tyrants of tomorrow?”
Imagine yourself in the future, entering a long abandoned museum exhibition about humanity’s past (and our near future). It’s an interactive exhibit, allowing you to explore parallel, potential realities. That’s the premise of the new work by Last Man to Die, best described as a hybrid arts collective, made up of actress Hanna Cormick, visual artist Benjamin Forster and musician/percussionist Charles Martin. Together with writer Peter Butz, they’ve created LAST MAN TO DIE: INSTALLED a non-linear installation performance.
If it all sounds a bit confusing, that’s okay. Last Man to Die sets out to ask the big questions in life and you’ll be thinking about it long afterwards. If it helps, think of it as a ‘Choose your own adventure’ book, where you as an audience member play an interactive role. “It’s genuinely audience controlled – there is no behind the scenes magic. When an audience member scans a ticket, the coding is read, and based on what has played before, a new sequence begins,” Hanna Cormick explains.
It’s an exploration, and in some cases, speculation, but it’s not about science education. Despite a shared interest, none of the performers are scientists. And unlike other tech-based hybrid performances, it’s not about technology itself. The group uses technology as a way to explore concepts, and build a lot of their own equipment to do so.
“Technology isn’t inherently good or bad – it’s what we do with it. And that’s what we see in the scenes as they play out,” Cormick says. The name comes from the idea that, in the scarily not-too-distant future, humans will have harnessed technology to slow down the ageing process and unlock the potential for human immortality. What then are the implications for society? Think about the last person to die a natural death – when those around them have benefited from technology. What would it be like to die, knowing that after you, death is... well, dead?
This performance may be the last opportunity for the team to perform together in the same city. Forster has been studying in Perth, Martin in Sweden and Cormick will soon be moving to Paris, but thanks to technology, the project is at no risk of dying anytime soon.
“It’s good that the work is so technologically based because the distance doesn’t become an issue; we can still communicate and perform together,” Cormick says.
Later this year the show will tour to This Is Not Art in Newcastle without her, instead, using recordings of her performance to simulate what would happen if she was there.
“So I’ll still have a direct imprint on the work even though I won’t be physically there.”
Last Man to Die will be showing on Monday August 22 and Tuesday August 23 at the Street Theatre, as part of National Science Week. Tickets are free, but bookings are encouraged, and can be made through thestreet.org.au .
What is home? Is it a place, or a state of mind? Do you find a home, or do you make it? And what if you leave your home – can you find another? These are questions posed, but not necessarily answered, by the artists behind DESTINATION HOME, a performance-by-conversation coming to the Street Theatre from August 23 to 28.
Destination Home is the work of four performers known as the Threads Collective: Camilla Blunden, Liliana Bogatko, Raoul Craemer, and Noonee Doronila. Each is in their own way a migrant, yet each calls Canberra home. Blunden is originally from Cornwall, while Craemer grew up in Germany and India and lived in England before migrating to Australia. Bogatko and Doronila both fled their home countries, Poland and the Philippines, making their way to Australia as refugees. From verbatim conversations originally held two years back, Threads have devised a show that seeks to make a personal connection between the performers and the audience on issues of home, memory, and cultural difference.
Through three distinct sections – revolving around first impressions, search for identity, and finding home – the performers meditate upon their own experience while connecting with the experiences of the audience. Everyone’s idea of home is different – and it’s through its focus on conversation, on connection, and on dialogue with its audience that Destination Home aims to show just how individual and personal home is. It’s the diversity of these stories that makes the show, says director barb barnett: “while all four are migrants, it’s not the be-all and end-all of their existence.”
The show could not be more timely, following closely as it does the announcement of the 2011 Multicultural Policy. Destination Home offers the experiences and insight of four ‘new’ Australians on what it means to live in Australia and to be ‘Australian’. These are insights born of conversations between each one, and shaped over the course of two years as part of the Street Theatre’s Hive program, with dramaturgy from Peter Matheson and barnett’s directorial eye lending a shaping hand.
The show is “a conversation with an audience” says barnett. It seeks to show “similarities and disparities” between the performers’ experience and those of the audience. While questions of home and belonging – particularly when it comes to migration and refugees – are hotly debated by pundits and extremists on left and right, barnett says that the show has not been devised as a soapbox. Instead, each performer offers insight of a personal, individual nature, opening up the possibility for intimacy and connection with the audience. “Sometimes in a sea of faceless migrants the individual stories are lost,” says barnett. Destination Home seeks to place the individual experience at the heart of the show’s conversation about home and belonging.
But how performative can a conversation be? And how conversational can a performance be? These are central concerns within the show, says barnett, who has sought to create an experiential totality for the audience, dismantling the traditional divide between audience and performer. Before the show the audience and actors mingle in the foyer, before being separated and guided in groups by a performer whose entry into The Street Two space is influenced by their character and experiences: some will be let in immediately, while some will have to wait. Some will get in through the outside doors, while some will be left stranded by their performer.
Audience and actor will likewise share a sensory experience in the space, which is being transformed by designer Gillian Schwab. Schwab and barnett have worked together several times now, looking for ways to transform the performance space from the usual black box into a new environment. Their collaboration on 2008’s oceans all boiled into sky showed just what could be done in Street Two’s intimate studio space – for that show, the duo turned the space into a lounge-den-radio-listening-party, with cushions and sofas crowding around a post-apocalyptic radio-play set.
For Destination Home – a show far removed from such baroque stylistics – Schwab has “Christo-wrapped” Street Two, says barnett, creating an installation that mimics the inside of a packing case, built of recycled card, paper, and old travel materials. The idea is one that echoes the provisional nature of recent migrant experience, Schwab suggests: “using what you’ve got […], cobbling together your environment.” Not just the stage but the walls, windows, and doors of Street Two will be covered, creating the impression of being packed inside, stashed with the actors’ memories alongside trinkets and mementos. There are also hints of transition, with lounges that call up ideas of airports and bus stations.
“It’s half packing box, half arrivals-departure lounge,” says Schwab, who has conceived the set as a remaking of the idea of home that is both literal and figurative. Similarly, “intricate, suggestive” sound design by ex-Canberran Nick McCorriston supports and interweaves with the performers’ stories, foreshadowing and accentuating the experience of arriving in a foreign place and remembering a lost home.
In this way Destination Home isn’t simply a play about migration, or a didactic issues-based performance, though it deals with those issues. Instead, its focus is “the stories, and the humanness” of the experience of home. It’s a conversation, which allows “spaces for exchange” about what it means to live in and belong to a community.
Destination Home will perform at Street Two, The Street Theatre, from Tuesday-Sunday August 23-28. For information and bookings call 6247 1223 or head to thestreet.org.au .
The untamed expanses of the Australian landscape have long inspired artists. A new exhibition at the National Gallery of Australia celebrates the work of one the finest landscape painters our country has produced – Fred Williams. In the first major retrospective of the abstract artist’s work in 25 years, the exhibition FRED WILLIAMS: INFINITE HORIZONSpresents more than 100 of his finest paintings to a new generation of Australians.
The retrospective highlights Williams’ unique aesthetic vision. This vision has been celebrated since Williams first gained national attention in the early ‘60s for his radical abstract landscapes that captured Williams’ wonder of his homeland. Interest in Williams’ art soon spread offshore, with the artist becoming the first Australian to have a solo exhibition at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in 1977. Although Williams is a figure whose work is synonymous with the arid Australian landscape, exhibition Curator Deborah Hart hopes that the retrospective will highlight “the diversity of his approach to painting”. The spectrum of the exhibition includes depictions of waterfalls and creeks as well as a number of portraits of friends and family; subjects not normally associated with the artist’s repertoire.
The stunning exhibition was born from Hart’s desire to celebrate the legacy of one of Australia’s finest artists. Infinite Horizons is the culmination of what the curator describes as “a long journey” that began some three years ago. Aided by the artist’s widow, Lyn Williams, Hart has selected key paintings from the large body of work Williams’ produced before his sudden death in 1982 (at the age of 55), to present a comprehensive and diverse view of his art. Although Williams is also acclaimed for his skill as a printmaker, the exhibition is limited to his oil paintings and gouaches. Hart considers this emphasis enables “an opportunity to focus on Williams’ paintings”, with the exhibition including a number of works that have never been seen before.
Infinite Horizons highlights Williams’ role as an artist who changed the way the Australian landscape is viewed. For Hart, the variety of subjects included in the retrospective offer “different ways of looking” at Williams’ art, reflecting the artist’s unique way of viewing the landscapes and people his paintings depict. Although aware of the rich tradition of Australian landscape painting, Williams’ was determined to present an original vision of Australia when he began painting landscapes in the early ‘60s, after having previously focussed on portraiture. He did this by adopting multiple viewpoints and employing abstract painterly techniques to emphasise his personal response to his subject matter. Infinite Horizons unquestionably affirms the success of the artist, who, as National Gallery of Australia Director Ron Radford remarks, “revitalised the venerable Australian landscape tradition.” Indeed, visitors to the exhibition are sure to be inspired by the originality Williams’ art, which remains as unique and impressive as it was in the artist’s lifetime.
Fred Williams: Infinite Horizons is showing at the National Gallery of Australia from 12 August 2011 until 6 November 2011. Tickets are $15 for adults, $10 for member/ concession. Children 16 and under are free. Check out nga.gov.au for more information.
Bangarra Dance Theatre has never shied away from confronting difficult questions and issues faced by Aboriginal people in Australia in the current era. The company's latest production, BELONG is no different, exhibiting two new works from Stephen Page and Elma Kris that seek to address the place of Aboriginal people in Australian society, and in particular what it means to be Aboriginal in the 21st century.
Canberra local Daniel Riley, who made his choreographic debut for Bangarra with his work Riley from last year's acclaimed of earth & sky has returned to perform in Belong. He explains his personal experience with retracing his bloodline and connecting with his traditional culture, the issues that Stephen Page draws out in his work ID.
"One of the main reasons I wanted to join Bangarra was to connect with my heritage and learn about my culture," he says. "I knew I had Aboriginal blood and heritage when I was younger, but I was too young to fully comprehend what it meant. It's one thing to say 'yes I am an Aboriginal', but it's another to feel it from the inside out, rather than the outside in. And that's something that comes with time, acceptance and maturity."
In a similar vein, Torres Strait Islander Elma Kris, in his work About explores the stories, customs and sense of identity that are passed down through families and generations. It's these stories and customs, Riley explains, that go a long way to explaining what it means to be Aboriginal in the 21st century.
"Personally, I think it's a sense of belonging, and connection to something much larger than yourself. I enjoy being a medium to pass on the old stories to the audience and I feel responsibility in making sure the culture and stories aren't lost in this modern, 21st century high-tech world."
Amongst his extensive international touring with both Bangarra Dance Theatre and the Australian Ballet, Riley remembers in particular a visit to Ottawa, Canada, in 2008, where he held a workshop for local indigenous kids.
"They absolutely blew me away with their passion for their culture. It was great to see them be so involved in traditional practices from their country," he says.
It's this sense of awareness, pride, and honour, that Riley also sees as being the most important message that Belong conveys, and crucial to the building and continuation of Aboriginal history, culture and understanding in Australia.
"Belong portrays that as Indigenous people, we are proud of our heritage, no matter how dark or fair our skin colour, no matter where we grew up. It's about who you decide to be and what you decide to connect to and how you do it, not what other people label you as."
Belong will play at the Canberra Theatre on Friday September 2 and Saturday September 3. Tickets are from $39, from The Canberra Theatre Centre.