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melbourne international arts festival


jailbreak

tony reck: outside the theatre at the melbourne festival


The Meaning of Moorabin is Open for Inspection The Meaning of Moorabin is Open for Inspection
photo Michael Williams
ANY WORK OF ART IS A WORLD UNTO ITSELF; ONE THAT ALSO ATTEMPTS TO COMMUNICATE TO OTHERS ITS OWN IDIOSYNCRATIC CULTURE. IN RECENT TIMES THIS LINE OF COMMUNICATION HAS MOSTLY RESIDED WITHIN AN HIERARCHICAL FRAMEWORK. THAT IS, THE DISTINCTION BETWEEN PERFORMER AND AUDIENCE HAS OCCURRED AS A STRICT PROTOCOL BETWEEN THOSE BEING OBSERVED AND THOSE DOING THE OBSERVING. THREE RECENT WORKS AT THE MELBOURNE INTERNATIONAL ARTS FESTIVAL AIMED TO CORRUPT THIS PROTOCOL. IRONIC, ECCENTRIC, AND AT TIMES QUIETLY DEVASTATING, THEY SET A FRESH BREEZE BLOWING THROUGH THE MELBOURNE PERFORMANCE SCENE.

nyid: the meaning of moorabin...

I’m sitting in a freshly upholstered mini-bus with two punters from Perth when our driver Lydia loads a disc into the CD player. The gently mocking voice of concept creator David Pledger of NYID (Not Yet It’s Difficult) announces four less than salubrious Melbourne landmarks as we make our way to Moorabin, and invites us to consider our journey to this inconspicuous south eastern suburb alongside some classic Australian rock anthems. The Angels’ Doc Neeson rails against suburban oppression in the band’s rendition of “We gotta get out of this place” while Dave Warner from the Suburbs reminds us that he was indeed from the suburbs, in his cheeky pop mock tune “I’m just a suburban boy.” “Warner’s from Perth”, pipes up one of the punters from the most isolated city on the planet, while I’m successfully reminded of a boozy night spent in Moorabin’s South Side Six Hotel some 35 years earlier. Yes, the meaning of Moorabin is open for inspection, as we both begin to dissect memories from our respective lower middle-class pasts.

Arriving at a house that NYID Real Estate will eventually mock sell during a ‘public’ auction is at once novel and savage. Each room within this house, as well as spaces defined by the presence of wardrobes and bare mattresses in bedrooms, shirts and an ironing board in a sunroom, film projected upon a venetian blind in the lounge room and the obligatory incomplete white Holden panel van lurking in a masculine bound and sexually charged garage, have as their foundation text Gaston Bachelard’s 1958 seminal work The Poetics of Space. In search of inspiration, artists need look no further than the spaces contained within a domestic dwelling, and the labyrinth of the unconscious that these spaces of memory, mind and imagination inspire. With this work though, NYID have upped the ante. In 2008, a participatory culture is also one in which the commodification of intimate experience has become an explicit characteristic of artistic practice. Regardless of the quiet tragedy of a life lived in the suburbs, the meaning of Moorabin, like black gold, is now a marketable commodity and indeed, open for inspection.

“The successful bidder will receive a visual documentation of The Making of the Meaning of Moorabin including excerpts of selected video artworks and selected footage of interviews with potential buyers and associated research subjects which will have been uploaded onto the company’s project website during the presentation and viewing of the property. The successful bid will be donated to charity.” http://themeaningofmoorabbin.com.au

Panther, Exercises in Happiness Panther, Exercises in Happiness
photo Alison Bennett
panther: exercises in happiness

Climbing a narrow stairwell to a first floor space situated above a tyre repair business, I’m immediately handed a scorecard. Co-creator Madeleine Hodge then fires off a series of questions meant to test my suitability for Exercises in Happiness. Yes, I live alone. No, I’m not involved in a permanent relationship... And on the questions go until, thoroughly qualified by an increasing sense of isolation, I go to the top of the class and am permitted to explore Panther’s eclectic environment.

As I investigate each exhibit and attempt to rate each on a happiness scale of 1-5, I become unhappy. If NYID commodified intimacy, Panther requires we assess subjective experience via techniques of market research. There’s “Things to do before I Die”, which induces a fine sense of melancholia, not because of a fear of annihilation, but because the majority of answers scrawled on a white wall in lead pencil avoid the question. Over by the north wall resides “The Garden Wilderness” comprising miniature human figurines placed within and alongside king-sized pot plants and other insurmountable and arbitrary greenery. Nature’s devastating indifference and our narcissistic inability to recognise this makes me sigh, then want to cry, and throw myself face down on the floor and die...But this is not to be; Panther’s other half, Sarah Rodigari, has other ideas.

As if trying to sell me a vacuum cleaner, Rodigari corrals me toward the “Piñata Shot.” We share a hit of tequila amidst a mutual concern for the state of our speckled livers, then like some humiliated and blustering town idiot I’m blindfolded, given a big stick, spun three times in order to accentuate the rush of 30 proof alcohol to my pallid brain and prompted to strike a papier mache donkey that hangs somewhere in the turbulent darkness. By the end of it all I have acquired an exhilarating sense of despair. That fast fading idea of the recuperative power of art has been put through the mincer, and so have I. Forced to participate in an ironic dissection of my own pithy understanding of what art has become, I am bundled back down the stairs and out onto the street as a marketable commodity; fully researched and ready for my chosen demographic, all prepared to spread the word and commodify.

Joseph O’Farrell, Newsboys, Lone Twin & The Suitcase Royale Joseph O’Farrell, Newsboys, Lone Twin & The Suitcase Royale
photo Tom Supple
lone twin & the suitcase royale: newsboys

This commodification of the individual achieved catharsis in Newsboys. A humble show, it nevertheless, in retrospect, provided the previous two with a progressive through-line that, all three combined, became a caustic comment on the state of the art during a global economic meltdown.

As a former paperboy myself, I was empathetic while watching members of The Suitcase Royale attempt to give away copies of a broadsheet titled The News during peak hour on Federation Square. Dressed like characters from Oliver Twist—floppy caps, grandpa shirts and knickerbockers—they were largely ignored by a crowd preoccupied with i-Pods and 3G mobile phones. Yet this intervention of an archaic form of communication into a culture largely unconcerned with its history was also a wry commentary upon the desperate status of the artist in the 21st century.

Selling newspapers was a performative act, as those of you who can remember the rhetorical rendition of a newspaper’s title—registered by pubescent vendors on city streets—as being a primal scream for commercial means. If you did not perform you did not sell, and many a paperboy succumbed to the fear that accompanied being forced to scream in public at peak hour. And so it is for the artist in the 21st century. Intervening in a cultural flow and criticising the conventions that govern our lives is an act of courage that often goes unnoticed. And so it was in Fed Square when I approached a member of The Suitcase Royale and requested a copy of The News. “Thanks mate”, he said, and his appreciation was heartfelt. Later, when reading the broadsheet, it became clear that its stories were private anecdotes of people interviewed for the project. One headline read: EVERYBODY’S OUT OF JAIL. Like The News, these performances by NYID, Panther and The Suitcase Royale that cast a critical eye over the commodification of the individual were free of charge, part of MIAF artistic director Kirsty Edmunds’ broad agenda to encourage audience participation in the festival. Freedom from the trite constraints of commodification is a necessary component of any participatory culture.


The Meaning of Moorabin is Open for Inspection, concept/creation David Pledger, project coordinator Lydia Teychenne, sound Lawrence Harvey, lighting Niklas Pajanti, website designer Alex Gibson, online Video Artist Jarrod Factor, photography Michael Williams, film editors Greg Ferris, Mark Atkins, Moorabin, Oct 9-25, http://themeaningofmoorabbin.com.au/; Exercises in Happiness, Panther & Tape Projects, creators Sarah Rodigari & Madeleine Hodge, Tape Space, Oct 11-25; Lone Twin & The Suitcase Royale, Newsboys, Federation Square, Oct 8-13, Melbourne International Arts Festival, October 9-25, www.melbournefestival.com.au

RealTime issue #88 Dec-Jan 2008 pg. 6

© Tony Reck; for permission to reproduce apply to realtime@realtimearts.net

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