|artwork by Andres Busrianto, Malaysian premiere of Beastly, Tutti Arts & Stepping Stone, 2015|
photo courtesy Tutti Arts
Founded in 1997 by playwright and composer Pat Rix as a choir for people with intellectual disabilities, Tutti has developed into a multi-art form organisation with performance, visual art, digital design and music programs accessible to artists of mixed abilities. In the 2015 OzAsia Festival the company presented Shedding Light, the result of a two-year cultural exchange with two Yogyakarta-based artists, writer-activist Khairani Barokka and visual artist Moelyono. Drawing on the traditional kaki lima food carts and neon-lit sepeda lampu (pedal-powered cars) that are a common sight in Indonesia’s big cities, Shedding Light aimed to expose OzAsia’s international audience to the art practice and lived experiences of performers with disabilities through a series of one-on-one exchanges across Adelaide’s Dunstan Playhouse and Riverdeck precinct.
An Indonesian-Malaysian-Australian collaboration
The site, currently the subject of a major redevelopment, will accommodate a similarly diverse and multicultural group of Tutti members and guest artists at this year’s OzAsia Festival, when the fruits of another two-year collaboration with Indonesian artists, titled Beastly, are revealed. Led by Andres Busrianto, renowned street artist and currently Director of the annual Geneng Street Art Festival in Java, the work is an exploration of humanity’s relationship with animals across cultures. As with Shedding Light, Beastly will be both large-scale and intimate, situating a series of one-on-one encounters with artists with disabilities within an “alternative experimental zone” featuring Busrianto’s stencil-based street art and interactive installations by artists from Tutti and Stepping Stone, a work and arts training centre for people with disabilities based in Penang (Beastly premiered there in July, at this year’s George Town Festival).
Identifying with animals
I met Pat Rix, Tutti Artistic Director, and Julian Jaensch, Beastly’s performance director, at the Tutti hub, the cottage-style Lady Galway building located amid the sprawling Minda Disability Care Services site in the coastal suburb of Brighton, south of Adelaide. My first question was about the work’s conceptual origins. “If you look inside yourself,” Rix told me, “what animals do you identify with? What is your strongest sense? Are you nocturnal or diurnal? What is your diet? We began by asking these questions of our performers and creative team. That led us into explorations which took a long time really, of things like Aboriginal and Native American totems and the mythologies of Java. And from there we looked at how hard it is for animals to survive in a world that is being overdeveloped.”
|artwork Andres Busrianto, Malaysian premiere of Beastly, Tutti Arts & Stepping Stone, 2015|
photo courtesy Tutti Arts
Encounter beasts in pods
These conversations led Rix and Patricia Wozniak, Tutti’s visual arts coordinator, to conceive of three “pods,” intimate, tent-like spaces that would each house a different, three-minute performance by a member of Tutti’s performing arts ensemble. To arrive at a pod, audience members will first be escorted by Tutti and Stepping Stone guides through the “village” where they’ll be able to have their photographs taken with interactive artworks and alongside Busrianto’s half-human, half-animal street art figures. They’ll then engage with one of three performances: the beast, the bowerbird or the collector. Each one, according to Rix, offers a distinctive aesthetic and experience: “There is a cardboard beast pod which contains a performance drawn from actor Lorcan Hopper’s interest in wolves; the bowerbird pod, made of bamboo, is about both the lengths bowerbirds have to go to in order to attract a suitable mate and the destruction of habitat; and finally the collector pod, which is made of clip-lock, a kind of lightweight metal that can be fitted together. Whereas the beast is quite intense and the bowerbird somewhat light-hearted, the collector is creepy. We use preserved animal body parts in jars—similar to our habit of pinning butterfly species onto corkboards—to project a future in which there is nobody left to collect anything.”
Rix explained that the pods will have substantially altered since their first appearance at the George Town Festival. “In Penang, the bowerbird pod was like this amazing chandelier that floated from the ceiling of the performance space, but it will be much more like a shrine in Adelaide, partly because we will be outdoors, and partly because we have involved different people with the design. Adelaide artist Nina Rupena, who is now based in Melbourne, was central to the work as it appeared in Penang, but now we also have Laura Wills and Indonesian visual artist Mawarini collaborating on different aspects of the pods.” Rix added that there would be a fifth installation, in addition to Busrianto’s street art and the three pods, led by visual artist Henry Jock Walker, whose work has traditionally been rooted in Australian surf culture. It’s just one more indication of the project’s ambitious scale and rich interchange of diverse cultural and artistic practices.
Shared art, shared concerns
“For our part,” Rix told me, “there’s a genuine dialogue starting between Tutti and these individuals and organisations in Malaysia and Indonesia. It’s easy both here and over there for artists to become overwhelmed by theory and policy discussions, but nothing compares to when you get a group of likeminded people working together on a project and everybody realises that, in among all the different bits of each other’s languages they’re picking up, there’s a commonality to the work we’re all doing. In this case, it’s our shared concern with the kind of environmental legacy that we are creating and how that will impact on the animal species we profess to care about. That we can communicate this through what will be, for many audience members, their most intimate encounter with a person who has a disability, is a really special thing, I think”.
RealTime issue #134 Aug-Sept 2016 pg.
© Ben Brooker; for permission to reproduce apply to firstname.lastname@example.org