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interactive bicycle-power lighting installation in the Long Gallery, Frog Peck and Bluebottle interactive bicycle-power lighting installation in the Long Gallery, Frog Peck and Bluebottle
photo Craig Opie
THE BIG WEEKEND CELEBRATIONS OF THE 35TH YEAR OF OPERATION FOR SALAMANCA ARTS CENTRE OFFERED A POTENTIAL OVERLOAD OF EXPERIENCES. THE EVENT WAS TRULY A HYDRA; ONE COULD BE TREATED TO A WONDERFUL PARADE-PAGEANT THAT TRUNCATED 35 YEARS INTO A PERFORMANCE BY EVENT PRODUCER IAN PIDD, OR TO A VERY OBNOXIOUS BUT EXCITING ANTI-ART PROTEST BY THE WELCOME PARTY, WHICH ALSO DUG INTO THE HISTORY OF THE BUILDING THAT NOW HOUSES THE ARTS CENTRE, OR YOU COULD READ LETTERS FROM HOBART EX-PATS EXPLAINING WHY THEY NO LONGER LIVE IN THE PLACE.

The idea that somehow, somewhere, the piss was pretty actively being taken loomed large over the events in and around the centre on the final weekend of March. It was ostensibly an anniversary, and while it qualifies as a milestone, who celebrates a 35th? Still, it had been five years since the last celebratory shindig, Dream Masons, and it did seem about time for a different kind of party and this is what Hobart got: a series of events that seemed to wish to quibble with the notion of what an event in an art centre might be.

The Big Weekend also aimed to give the Arts Centre something of an overhaul, to turn it inside out and have a good look at its innards and secret bits. Being a heritage building and a warehouse has given the actual structure a design that seems chaotic at worst and can charitably be described as eccentric—there are stairs and corridors and tiny rooms and quite enormous spaces all hidden away around corners and in roofs. The well-known spots, like the Peacock Theatre, The Long Gallery and the Courtyard where musicians busk every Friday evening (elaborate busking indeed, but busking it is) are familiar to all and were used but avoided: the thrills and intrigue were to be found elsewhere.

Friday night launched proceedings with a big mob of bands playing up and down and around Kelly’s Steps. The bands on the steps squeezed into the corner as the usual slightly bemused Salamanca diners and drinkers wandered past. The bands further up, in a garden, rocked right on with people risking life and limb, bouncing off the sandstone. No harm was done to flesh or masonry although a few got minor neck injuries from watching bands two storeys above Kelly’s Garden for too long, but this didn’t deter the revelling.

 Dirt Cheap Dirt Cheap
photo Allana Blizzard Jones
Salamanca Market, itself an institution that has developed along with the Arts Centre, has, to all and sundry, grown somewhat staid: there are still, and will always be, great stalls there, but there are a few too many generic stalls selling ‘World’s Best Dad’ T-shirts. The opportunity this afforded for satire was not missed by the Big Weekend crew: phantom stalls appeared, mostly created by artist Elizabeth Woods. These hybrid works were almost the pick of the entire event: one stall sold sample bags of Genuine Tasmanian Dirt, with proper labels, priced according to rarity. You could pick up a precious handful of red-brown grit from the legendary Queenstown gravel footy oval. Across the way was the tap water stall—again, professionally labelled and presented. Tap Water from more affluent Hobart suburbs cost extra, and given the looming introduction of water meters—something very new in Hobart—the comment could not have been better timed. Capping it was a carefully labelled “Useless Object” stall with exactly the sort of packaging one encounters in a great many craft shops the country over. The straight-faced presentation carried it off, and gossip suggests ‘regular’ stall holders were annoyed indeed. Good work Elizabeth Woods.

Saturday evening presented the focus event of the weekend, Space Invaders. There were performances all through the centre, far too many for any one person to take in, which had the effect of creating enigmas and excited gossip. Some queued with determination to ride Tristan Stoward’s bicycle around the Long Gallery space in the dark (the bike had a light, powered by effort—the harder you pedalled, the more it glowed). Others concentrated on seeing various burlesque acts. You could get lost in the rather wonderful John Bowling Memorial 70s Techno room. This was a great spot, filled with artefacts like really old, nostalgia inducing gaming machines, vinyl players made of that dreadful fake wood veneer stuff and a slide project, which produced a cascade of historical images from the Arts Centre’s archives. Almost unnoticed throughout the evening were tiny touches that noted what had been going on in this diverse space for the last 35 years. There was a lot to see and a lot to miss, but this was the real achievement of the event: it was truly a chance to choose your own adventure.

A subtle presentation, The Occupant by Briony Kidd and Jane Longhurst, was a standout. A small audience was led deep into a storage area and towards an encounter with—well, it’s hard to say, but the character in question (expertly created by Longhurst) appeared to be an elderly bag lady living amidst hoarded items deep within a closet. Sinister and yet harmless, this small performance was perfectly formed, quiet, intense and very memorable—creepy but not too seriously.

Also worth mentioning is the exuberant Luke George. Clad in vibrant orange, he emerged from beneath a vast pile of beanbags in the Salamanca Arts Centre Courtyard, dancing with vacuum cleaners and leading the audience in a sun worshipping all-in dance routine. This bold experimental dancer takes quite bizarre work to the masses with a bravery that could be confronting if it wasn’t so funny. There’s a lot to say about what Roberts does, but the key to his Big Weekend moment was his ability to hold a crowd in what was a chaotic mess made of history, rumour and a bit of satire. If the point was to invite people to look at the building itself and see its potential, the Big Weekend was a success; but if you just wanted a fun event filled with some really odd and thrilling moments, you could have that too. Never has the cliché “something for everyone” been quite so well realised, and subverted.something wild for everyone


Salamanca Arts Centre: SAC35—The Big Weekend, programmers Martyn Coutts, Ian Pidd, Sam Routledge; Hobart, March 30-April 1

RealTime issue #109 June-July 2012 pg. 27

© Andrew Harper; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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