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Alien and other states of being

Keith Gallasch, exist-ence 5

Henrik Hedinge, courtesy the artist Henrik Hedinge, courtesy the artist
Exist-ence, founded by Rebecca Clunn in 2008 and co-curated by Clunn, Nicola Morton in 2013, describes itself as “a festival of live art, performance art and action art.” Although by no means alone as Arts House, Punctum, Performance Space and others nurture live art, it is certainly a unique festival in terms of ambition, continuity and growing national and international scope.

Entranced by Labanna Babalon’s (US) new age-punk-booty-popping online personality? You’ll be wanting to meet her in the flesh at exist-ence 5 where attendees might well be “sucked in by my venus flytrap booty popping and get a new perspective on life, aliens and why we’re all here (interview,” Curator Morton, who first met the artist in 2008, says that Babalon’s performances can be quiet, candle-lit occasions. She certainly has an agenda: “You gotta put it in perspective of everything turning upside-down. Like, super right wing Christians almost seem like Satanists. Man becomes woman, woman becomes man. The Whore of Babylon becomes Jesus. All this stuff flips in order for us to graduate into 5D. Relaxed duality, the holy hermaphrodite embodying both of these things.”

Babalon’s overdrive new ageism and aura of sexual excess is an amusing mix of indulgence and critique, fantasy and realism; she’s like a logical extension of the hip Jessa in Lena Dunham’s Girls. “I have all sorts of idealistic and crazy fantasies, and I could also let go of them all and fall in love with one man and have a baby and hope the apocalypse doesn’t happen. But also, I wouldn’t mind having a Whoreship mansion filled with all my girlfriends and a whole floor of bathtubs and doing crazy love meditations that eventually cleanse the earth.” Morton tells me that Babalon’s Brisbane performance will be focused on “channelling her muse,” the subject of a rambling video currently online.

Boyish, long-haired Henrik Hedinge (Sweden) appears on Vimeo conducting odd tasks—walking on a row of wheat grain biscuits and making crude gloves for passersby with cabbage leaves and a stapler. But there are more visually striking, even disturbing instances of his work. Morton says that Hedlinge is currently focused on “morphing the body into the environment.” In recent work he has camouflaged himself in a room full of balloons, merged with foliage and now, “by strapping machine-like apparatuses to his body,” is becoming one with industrial society.

Other overseas artists in the program include Peter Baren (Holland) and John G Boehme (Canada/Australia). Baren’s work has been described as “multi-sensory…(his) ARK performances include fog, cling-plastic-wrapped performers, circling satellites, orphaned whisperings, molasses, written and spoken texts, boomerangs and more… to evoke a disquieting sense of primordial mystery, public yearning, fear and cultural reformation” (Lance Blomgren, LIVE2005 performance, Vancouver). Boehme, who now teaches full-time at Camosun College and is a seasonal lecturer at University of Victoria, has created many performances, including an edible spa (the artist bathing in and covered with food) and Canine Freestyle dancing with a small dog. A “trans-disciplinary artist, he writes, “I see Labour, Leisure and Sport as facets of the same unconsidered compulsion to fulfil societal expectations” ( Also on the program is Sari TM Kivinen, an Australian/Finnish artist based in Helsinki who uses writing, role-play and “fragmentation” to tackle identity.

Nicola Morton says of Rebecca Clunn’s vision, “It’s always been her ambition to bring great international live artists to Brisbane because local artists and audiences have such rare opportunities to see them. It’s great to see how well we have all responded to her vision.” For exist-ence 5, the conference keynote speaker will be Jill Orr ( a leading Australian performance artist whose first works appeared in 1978.

Interstate Australian artists in the festival include Nathaniel Pyewacket, Julie Vulcan (see SPILL) and Jade Boyd, while Eric Rossi, James Cunningham, Bonnie Hart, Robert Millett and emerging artists Alrey Batol, Karike Ashworth, Anna Carluccio and Holly Childs number among Queensland artists who are well represented in the performance program as well as at the conference.

The two-day conference,”Performance, the Body and Time in the 21st century,” curated by Clunn and Tara Heffernan features 30 speakers, including some streamed overseas contributors. The conference will be followed by the three-day performance festival in June. Artists will then perform in July at A is for Atlas & Fehily Contemporary in Melbourne and Sydney’s PACT Centre for Emerging Artists.

Rebecca Clunn tells me via email that “the Live Art National Network (, using Google Map) will grow this event through our friends and colleagues in other states. The streaming app, Crystal—developed in collaboration with software engineer and EXIST contributor Kerstin Haustein—will allow participants to live stream performance directly onto the web. We hope the practice will reach a whole new audience; no matter where you are, you will be able to access the work digitally.”

Morton says that EXIST, the artist run initiative behind the exist-ence festival, aims to develop a live art audience in Brisbane and “much needed dialogue that goes beyond the cursory ‘what is live art?’ question.” She says that the standing of live art in Brisbane is improving with IMA (Institute of Modern Art) programming live art and especially with the support of Joel Stern and Danni Zuvela’s Otherfilm Festival, which “is bridging the gap between cinema and more figurational body practices.”

Exist-ence 5 will doubtless offer surprises, challenges and exhilaration, and the meeting of minds in bodies willed into uneasy states on the edge of the conventions of performance and the everyday. Let’s welcome that strangeness: “[I’ve] been doing social experimentation on Facebook, trying to communicate with aliens by putting out weird messages” (Labanna Babalona).

exist-ence 5, festival of live art, performance art and action art, QCA Project Gallery, Brisbane, 17-30 June; A is for Atlas & Fehily Contemporary, Melbourne, 10-13 July; PACT Centre for Emerging Artists, Sydney, 15-17 July

RealTime issue #115 June-July 2013 pg. 23

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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