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The greening of performance

Emma Webb, Arts House, Going Nowhere

Emma Webb, Creative Producer at Vitalstatistix, South Australia, is currently producing a five-year (2014-2018) climate change project, Climate Century.

Tanja Beer, Nick Roux, The People’s Weather Report Tanja Beer, Nick Roux, The People’s Weather Report
photo Ponch Hawkes
Under the leadership of creative producer Angharad Wynne-Jones, Arts House has been at the forefront of a growing engagement by artists and the arts sector with environmental sustainability and the global condition of climate change.

Initiatives such as their Greenie-in-Residence program are helping to implement changes to the internal practices of arts organisations, encompassing areas from recycling regimes, hospitality choices and technical and production upgrades, to different approaches to touring and travel. Other events, such as the biennial Going Nowhere program, are focused on commissioning new work, providing platforms for responses to climate change by artists and exploring more sustainable modes of artistic exchange.

The three-day festival presented four commissioned projects seeded from the first iteration of Going Nowhere in 2012: 360°, Dan Koop with Andy Field and Nathan Street; nowhere, one step at a time like this with Helen Cole and Alex Bradley; Reach Out Touch Faith, Sarah Rodigari with Joshua Sofaer; and The Second Before, Willoh S Weiland with Julian Crotti and Fritz Hauser.

These new works were developed as exchanges between Australian and international artists in a partnership with Cambridge Junction (UK). Most will be presented again at a Julie’s Bicycle event at Wysing Arts Centre, Cambridge, in January, with 360° to be presented again in May. Each of the works was made through collaborative processes across hemispheres without anyone actually getting on a fuel-guzzling plane. An additional ‘rule’ for each commission was that artists not purchase anything new in making their works.

The experiences created ranged from joyfully camp to deeply meditative; perhaps unsurprisingly given a reliance on email and skype in the creative development process, one of the strongest qualities of the pieces I saw was beautiful text in each, whether an audio-tour, promenade performance or performed lecture.

Reach Out Touch Faith, Sarah Rodigari with Joshua Sofaer Reach Out Touch Faith, Sarah Rodigari with Joshua Sofaer
photo Ponch Hawkes
Sarah Rodigari’s Reach Out Touch Faith tackled the heart of Going Nowhere head-on: how to create a live performance without travelling when the artist’s presence is so crucial. Her collaborator, UK artist and psychologist Joshua Sofaer used online Relational Dynamics coaching sessions with Rodigari to explore this question and the outsourcing of both performance and authenticity.

We are presented with a compelling performance lecture, delivered on behalf of Rodigari by performer Emma Hall wearing a Lufthansa air blanket fashioned as a poncho, accompanied by the artist’s spirit animal, a goat. While the monologue questions the personal ramifications of sustainability and survival as an artist, the fear of missing out if not present and making real personal sacrifices in order to reduce one’s carbon footprint (which for many artists means travelling less), the goat crunches on hay, moves around the small stage, eyeballs members of the audience and shits at remarkably perfect moments.

Two other commissioned works added to the overall flavour of Going Nowhere. The People’s Weather Report was a stunning installation created by eco-designer Tanja Beer and sound designer Nick Roux. Beer’s gorgeous recyclable, compostable kokedama plant installation held many voices: weather reports sourced from people around the world, with further contributions added live throughout the weekend. Selections of the reports can also be downloaded at ABC RN’s Soundproof and Radiotonic.

Tristan Meecham’s live art work The Everyday Imaginarium created a space for the utopian and fantastical alongside the everyday. Meecham curated nine sages and storytellers who, over the course of the weekend, became a kind of intimate community fair under a shaded balcony at North Melbourne Town Hall designed by Yetti Turnball. With glasses of Pimms in hand, audience-participants were gently encouraged to choose from a menu of one-on-one conversational experiences. Popular choices were environmental Tarot reading with Sylvie Leber and life drawing sessions with Marjorie Barnett and her pet chicken Blackberry. Both Leber and Barnett are members of the Council on the Aging (Victoria) Green Sages program; the Green Sages were involved in a number of Going Nowhere projects.

I participated in a highly amusing and personal audit of my carbon footprint with Sam Hoffman (while at 230 points my footprint is less than the average 300, a sustainable footprint is 100 points; according to Hoffman, like many arts-workers I need to reduce my flights and eating/drinking out. Unfortunately, I flew from Adelaide to Melbourne and back for Going Nowhere).

Most delightful was my conversation with Stephen Mushin, artist and industrial designer, who is developing an illustrated book and exhibition—Now If What Then—of wildly satirical yet seemingly feasible designs for radical solutions to climate change, such as the Ethical Polar Bear Burger and Hoodie Factory Farm: Sustainable Post-Arctic Polar Bears. Clever, whimsical, affirming, The Everyday Imaginarium was one of the highlights of the weekend for me.

Going Nowhere was bookended by two activist events. The weekend began with a PechaKucha Melbourne evening, themed as Maiden Speeches for a New Parliament (with the Victorian State election a week away at the time).

Some speakers took on this provocation with gusto, while others used the opportunity to promote their entrepreneurial successes with very little critical reflection. The event highlighted the many divergent and contradictory political strategies inherent in the ways we tackle climate change and sustainability within capitalism (Q: can we?) and how we might speak beyond our own inner-city ghettos. Highlights included Sally Wills, director of Small Change Design and Construction, whose vision is to address Victoria’s housing crisis through the growing small house design movement; journalist Janak Rogers, who explored how we receive stories; and writer and commentator Van Badham, whose polemic lifted the room and attempted to answer the question above (A: no, it’s very likely we can’t).

On the final day, Arts House and TippingPoint Australia presented Game On!, a day-long workshop billed as part forum, part game, part action planning. During the morning, a range of artists, producers and activists took part in an exercise called the State of Emergency game—an illuminating if somewhat frustrating experience—developed by game-maker Harry Lee. In the afternoon we were asked to consider how we (specifically and pointedly those in the room) could contribute to a cultural shift around climate change. An Open Space Technology process facilitated by Greenie-in-Residence Matt Wicking and Angharad Wynne-Jones generated over 20 new project ideas, at least some of which are sure to see further life, creatively documented live by the Aphids team as part of their Post Impossible online archiving project.

Going Nowhere was a weekend of collaborations, ideas, participation, difficult propositions, illuminating and frustrating conversations, and artists grappling with all of them. With the last two events linked through the development of key international exchanges that culminated in November and early this year, it’ll be exciting to see where in coming years this important development program and sustainability event will head.

Going Nowhere, Arts House, Melbourne, 21-23 Nov, 2014

Emma Webb, Creative Producer at Vitalstatistix, South Australia, is currently producing a five-year (2014-2018) climate change project, Climate Century.

RealTime issue #125 Feb-March 2015 pg. 4

© Emma Webb; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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