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Artists on the road, into the unknown

Malcolm Whittaker: Time_Place_Space:Nomad

TimePlaceSpace TimePlaceSpace
photo courtesy Performance Space

Despite numerous debriefings with participating artists in the weeks since, however, there’s a difficulty in articulating what the experience means.

By virtue of the democratic structure and Open Space philosophy that governed our time together, the lab possessed a genuine responsiveness that allowed everything to be adaptable according to the desires of the 20 diverse artists present, as well as the facilitators and provocateurs. This included everything from how and where we lived together, to how we should work together, and on what exactly we should work. Working time (there was an incredibly vocational attitude taken by all involved) was split between collaborative making between artists within the specificity of the locale and situation, and artists running workshops.

Workshops were not about teaching per se, but about sharing and responding, about seeing how different practices and outlooks speak to your own, and how yours speak back. The true value of the trip can perhaps be located within this conviviality, in the self-reflexivity the time provoked in us as individuals and as a temporary community. Away from normality and everyday lives (including the internet, which was sadly a significant factor), we were away from a knowingness of our methodologies. In this space we were able to shine light on the unknown unknowns of our own and others’ practices.

These unknown unknowns began to become transparent in an exercise early in the laboratory with provocateur Karen Therese. Karen’s exercise was itself a throwback to the very first Time_Place_Space that she participated in as an artist in 2002. We shared with each other our individual artistic manifestos and then commenced quick-fire performed manifestations of these there in the bush with each other. How was the work we were making out here different and how was it the same? What does this work reveal and not reveal about us as artists, and about the world today? How do we decide what to do and what not to do?

What we were doing was symbolically epitomized a few nights later when artist Megan Cope undertook a “toponymic intervention,” projecting the Indigenous name for the land on a rockface of the Cudgegong River, Ganguddy. It was inspiring, not just in terms of reclaiming Australia’s geographical places, but also in terms of what this trip was about. We were not traveling to colonise, but to decolonise. We were decolonising our own practices. We were peeling back layers of methodology and understanding established over time.

Time_Place_Space: Nomad was about having a look at what it is we really do, with all known frameworks stripped away. We were decolonising time, place, space and the act of thinking for each other, and were doing so through our work. We were also doing this for the members of the public we encountered on the trip, through sharing and collaboration on what we were up to. A Xanadu Swamp processional-art-rave at Ganguddy/Dunn’s Swamp was followed by a number of events and exchanges in and around the Narrandera showgrounds the following week.

It feels fair to say that this process created a degree of doubt in all who participated—the sort of doubt that takes place before the self-examination that leads to transformation. A safe space to raise such doubts and such self-examination is certainly a good thing, even if it is a struggle to articulate what that good thing actually is. No wonder then that it has been difficult to articulate the outcomes, for the outcomes are incredibly personal and shifting revelations of personal traits and dispositions.

Performer and video, sound and installation artist Zoe Scoglio wrote of “a shifting of my axis, a broadening of my points of reference, an exciting newness that I’m eager to see unfold in my practice…re-affirming the importance of aligning one’s way of living with one’s artistic ideology.” Artist Mish Grigor (performer and member of post) found a similar fascination in “the way that the lines between art and life became increasingly blurry” across the laboratory, noting “by the end we were a nebulous cult society, where every meal had a conceptual framework.” These meals included Fluxus “Identical Lunches” by TPS provocateur Song-Ming Ang (a Singaporean live artist/ musician) and a dinner led by cross-disciplinary artist Tessa Zettel made entirely of food bartered for, foraged and found. Mish too wrote of an enthusiasm for the more concrete outcomes of the lab, without knowing what or when they might be: “[TPS] required serious consideration of every moment’s possibilities. It will be interesting to see what repercussions it has for the structures, communities and artworks that we operate within over the next couple of years.”

Weeds advocate, forager and artist Diego Bonetto offered a spirited provocation towards realising the outcomes of the lab: “Fuck manifestos! Fuck channelled visions, however well-meaning and educated they might be. Fuck defined, preconceived and goal-oriented efforts. Humanity needs to be much more fluid than that, adapting and fast moving, unpredictable and crafty, ever changing, finding communal visions and driven by constant questioning.”

It was this constant questioning that drove our decolonising. It drove our composting and sambal, our drones and rock sundials, our tyvek bubbleheads and twilight choreographies, our evacuation procedures and boguing, our hammock time and bird watching, our mobius spiralling and silent walks, our wombat poo necklaces and shadow play, our nature dying and heavy drinking. It was our constant questioning that drove more questions to arise—about climate change and how we live, as much as any about artistic practice.

A communal vision was found in Time_Place_Space: Nomad that exemplified the connections and culture that can be made in a relatively short amount of time when privileging process, which doesn’t happen this way in metropolitan contexts. We realized this decolonised vision together, as artists, researchers, zealots and playful children. Special mention must be made of co-curators Bec Dean and Angharad Wynne-Jones for making it happen. In the end, we all drank the kool aid together and returned to our respective versions of the ‘real world.’ Changed, somehow. Nascent projects and processes latent for action. The answers to most questions are still TBA, possibly forever. Not least for me: What do you really mean when you use the word ‘amazing’? And, how exactly do you find an ending?

Time_Place_Space: Nomad is an Australia Council initiative to invigorate interdisciplinary and experimental arts practice in Australia, with an emphasis on collaborative performance-making, site-specificity and artistic resilience. The first six laboratories were managed by Performance Space, 2002-09.
Australia Council for the Arts, Time_Place_Space: Nomad, co-production Performance Space, Sydney, Arts House, Melbourne, participating artists Connie Anthes, Diego Bonetto, Megan Cope, Mish Grigor, Sophea Lerner, Jamie Lewis, Jessica Miley, Fee Plumley, Greg Pritchard, Bhenji Ra, Zoe Scoglio, Ria Soemardjo, Latai Taumoepeau, Nathan Thompson, Jade Dewi Tyas Tunggal, Malcolm Whittaker, Tessa Zettel, Julia Carr, Joshua Jackson, Helen Yung; provocateurs Song-Ming Ang, Lee-Ann Buckskin, Karen Therese, Lee Wilson; facilitators Bec Dean, Angharad Wynne-Jones, Richard Manner, Michael Petchkovsky, Sophie Kitson, Kate Brown, 26 Sept-12 Oct

RealTime issue #124 Dec-Jan 2014 pg. 39

© Malcolm Whittaker; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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