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Georgie Meagher Georgie Meagher
photo Kailana Sommer
Georgie Meagher is firing, exhilarated by and optimistic about her choice of works by emerging artists for Next Wave. Her background in visual arts—as artist, writer, curator and director—and performance—from an MCA in Performance from the University of Wollongong to presenting her works at ANTI Festival in Finland and You and Your Work Festival at Arnolfini, Bristol—make her an ideal Next Wave artistic director, one with considerable breadth and depth of experience, practice and a commitment to contemporary art. I spoke by phone with Georgie shortly after the launch of her program.

How did you go about the process of programing and what was your time-frame?
I started in this role in September 2014 and from about week two or three we were going out and having artist meetings and travelling to capital cities and sitting down with as many artists as we could, getting recommendations from friends and colleagues in different cities, as well as past artists and just letting it be known that we’d be in town and open to meeting with any emerging artist or curator we had time to see. We go out with guns blazing at the beginning to meet as many people as possible. Then there were a series of open calls for proposals.

Talking about works is one thing. What about experiencing work? For emerging artists it’s often difficult to get attention. What are the experiential things you’re looking for? Are you looking at images of works, recordings…What else goes on beyond talking?

We definitely trying to look at recordings or preferably the real thing, as much as possible. One thing I’ve repeated to many artists is if you’re a performance artist you need to send video of your work. You can’t assess performance through still imagery. But [we look at] the Fringe Festival down here and visit artist-run spaces that provide lots of good context and real experience of artista’ works. We also have a big network and opinions that we trust.

What’s the age range of Next Wave artists?
Next Wave has gone through a shift from the early days as a youth-focused organisation to one focusing more on emerging artists and we are continuing that trend. We have quite a broad age range this festival and that’s because we haven’t actually set an age limit, particularly for our key learning program, Kickstart. That’s because we think you can be emerging and over-30 and there are lots of things that might affect when an artist is able to start developing their practice in earnest. These can include having children or not being able to afford it. These things, of course, disproportionately affect women and people from lower socio-economic sectors. We didn’t want to exclude them. The youngest artist is 23 and most, if not all are under 35. So it’s still mostly in that younger range but we’re thinking more about where people are in their careers rather than anchoring it to, you know, five years out of university or under-30 or something like that.

Tell us a bit about Kickstart and how much is invested in it.

Kickstart is the major development program that we run. Artists are selected at the end of 2014 and begin their development from a residential intensive which happened in March 2015 followed by a series of other intensives in Melbourne where we bring the whole group together to speak about the development of their work but also about issues that are important to them, that concern their practice more generally—in the first instance, issues of identity and representation, which are often concerns for emerging artists. [There] are also issues of cultural diversity and seeing that reflected in programing as well as the ethics of engaging on many different levels with communities and audiences and participants. These were among many meaty topics that came up in that first intensive and really showed us where we needed to be providing support.

This, I suppose, would relate in particular to the significant number of Indigenous artists you have in the program.
Yes, although a lot of artists are thinking about these issues, whether or not it comes through in the content of their work.

How many artists or works are supported as part of Kickstart?
We had 14 projects this time.

That’s a lot and presumably quite labour intensive?
Absolutely. Each of the projects is supported by an Associate Producer, which is a model that Next Wave has worked with for quite a long time. They are often artists in their own right and this year all three producers are artists who understand the artistic process and have empathy for it.

Katie Dennis, Decolonist, Next Wave 2016 Katie Dennis, Decolonist, Next Wave 2016
photo Matt Sav
Let’s talk about some of the works in the program. Decolonist, for example.
Katie West’s exhibition Decolonist is on at West Space. I met Katie at Artsource Studios in Fremantle. She was incredibly shy and hadn’t exhibited much publicly. She applied to us with a project that investigated the merging of Indigenous and non-indigenous world views into a kind of third space—a kind of meeting of the two. She wanted to create an installation that was an image of what this third space could be. [In the process of] her research and development throughout the year, as often happens, the project completely shifted as you will have noticed from the title, Decolonist. She had quite a personal realization, along with an artistic and creative one, that informed the work—that the merging of these two world views was actually perhaps impossible and that the Indigenous world view needed to be [made prominent], placed at the centre, focused on and cared for and cultivated in a unique way. The way that non-indigenous world views can sneak in, seep through the corners of all parts of practice and of identity is something she began to notice in many different aspects of her life and practice.

I think conversations within the Kickstart group were quite important to Katie. When we talked in Fremantle, she spoke about how jealous she was of the community in Brisbane, where there are groups like the Indigenous artists collective ProppaNOW. Hannah Bronte, another Kickstart artist, was assistant to Richard Bell and had moved in those circles when she was growing up and going through art school and Katie really didn’t have anything like that. So I think bringing that conversation into the room at Kickstart where there were a lot of very politically engaged people, whether Indigenous or not, was important for her.

And what kind of work is this?
It’s an installation with video and sculptures made from natural materials. Katie does very delicate woven textile work but with found leaves, flowers and string. She encourages audiences to touch the work and to understand the feeling of it, which will essentially destroy it over the course of the exhibition and take it back to the earth in some way. She shows these sculptures alongside videos of herself. She’s developed meditation videos that show breathing in and breathing out in a ‘decolonised’ state of mind. This process of meditation she’s developed over the 12 months is demonstrated in these videos.

As well as your own performance work, you have a strong background in visual art. Is this a strong element in this Next Wave?
There are some really incredible exhibitions that I’m excited about. We’re also working with a number of new partners for our Emerging Curators Program including Arts Projects Australia, which works with artists with intellectual disabilities, and Liquid Architecture, an interdisciplinary organisation centred in sound. Thinking about visual arts practice but also curatorial practice in a more expansive sense is something I’ve tried to do this festival, seeing curation as more than choosing things to put on walls in an exhibition. There are a number of significant visual art works. One of them is by Eva Abbinga whose work is titled Arrival of the Rajah. Eva is another Kickstart artist and this work has been made with a community of quilters in Melbourne and Geelong. It’s a large textile sculpture that is made in response to the Rajah Quilt, one of the most precious textile art works in Australia. It’s in the NGA collection and it was made a group of convict women who were travelling on the ship called The Rajah to Australia in the early 1800s. This quilt provides an alternative colonial narrative from a feminist perspective. The original work is incredible, so meticulously detailed, an amazingly beautiful image of female collaboration and collective work.

Is this a recreation of that work?
Eva’s made a quilt that is about 12 metres wide, but it’s a large circular sculpture. She has told the story of The Rajah Quilt to many different women and asked them all to contribute different pieces to what is basically an homage or a response to it. It’s quite different aesthetically because Eva’s used natural dyed materials. It’s not mainstream quilting. The project took on a life of its own with Eva mailing out small squares to women and having them mail the completed pieces back to her and then bringing this large sculpture together through a long term process of exchange.

There’s a strong dance and performance component. What were you looking for in dance?
I’m not sure I had a specific thing in mind. The Melbourne dance scene and community is quite tightly interwoven and so we definitely wanted to make sure we were looking both within and outside of that. Two of the artists we’re working with—Angela Goh (Desert Body Creep) and Geoffrey Watson (Camel)—are both very inter-disciplinary in their practices as artists and in their collaborations. Geoffrey is into design, costume and fashion and Angela into visual arts. And that’s quite interesting to me about their practice and what it brings to their choreography and their projects. Really, we were just trying to look at—and this is the case across the board—who’s making work, who has ideas that we really want to see.

Within the dance program there’s some intriguing collaborations, for example Amrita Hepi (Bundjalung NSW/Ngapuhi NZ) and Jahra Wasasala’s (NZ) Passing, a collaboration in hip hop and contemporary dance with costumes styled by installation artist Honey Long and music by Lavern Lee.

The work’s still in progress, so I don’t want to lock anything down about it, [involves] design, installation work and amazing costumes. [Another kind of collaboration] is Emma Fishwick from WA working with composer Kynan Tan to bring a really strong audio-visual and sound component to her practice of writing and photography.

The Indigenous scope of your program looks very strong: BlaaQ Catt (Maurial Spearim), Blaksland and Lawless (Lorna Munro, Merindah Donnelly & Tjanara Talbot), Decolonist (Katie West), Thomas ES Kelly, Hannah Bronte and
Amrita Hesp and Jahra Wasasala whom we’ve just mentioned.

That’s something we’re committed to in an ongoing way. One thing I’m thrilled about is that there are also Indigenous artists in two of the curatorial projects. And Indigenous voices are coming through in various publications and events. We’re trying to embed Indigenous presence in everything we do, ensuring those voices are being heard.

Angela Goh, Desert Body Creep Angela Goh, Desert Body Creep
image courtesy the artist and Next Wave
Going back to the dance program, is there an example of a dance work and its evolution in the Kickstart program you can describe?
Angela Goh came through the Kickstart program. Her work, Desert Body Creep, will be performed by herself and an over-sized Gummy Worm. Angela is very interested in the line between reality and fiction. She began at the outset of Kickstart thinking about Yvonne Rainer’s Dance is Hard to See and looking at everything being dance and everyone potentially being a choreographer. She’s opening that out and asking questions about it. Through her research, she came across the Devil Worm, which is found in prehistoric groundwater a number of kilometres towards the centre of the Earth. [Its discovery] completely changed the way people thought about what sort of conditions are necessary to sustain life as we know it. It’s one of those moments that completely shakes the ground upon which we all stand, theoretically speaking, in terms of what we know and don’t know. This idea of mystery Angela takes to the next step, looking at intuition and almost going to magic. Angela’s work in development— which I’m sure has changed a lot since I last saw it—is remarkably funny in a way that I didn’t expect at all. She’s incredibly intelligent and articulate in the way she speaks about her ideas and her work but also can come across as a very serious person. I have to say it was quite surprising, and hilarious, when she commenced animating a large Gummy Worm with a broomstick during a work-in-progress showing.

Another of the dance projects I’m really excited about is Under My Skin. I can’t wait to see how it unfolds. The Delta Project (VIC) is a group of both hearing and deaf dancers. Their choreography weaves Auslan into the movement. There will be parts that only deaf audiences will understand and there will be text and sounds at other times that only hearing audiences will understand. And the artists have created the work with these parallel experiences completely in mind.

What do you think you’ve brought to Next Wave?
I think this festival has been made in collaboration with the artists who are part of the festival, and particularly the Kickstart artists. The conversations that began in that first Kickstart intensive really drove the direction of what we knew we needed to think about and talk about in the festival itself. Keeping myself open to those conversations is the reason I didn’t set a theme for the festival this year. [More crucial] is to be able to be responsive to what is urgent and important to those artists we’re working with and particularly to artists who may be Indigenous or TSI or culturally diverse or who might have disability.

What happens, of course, is that regardless of the absence of a theme, some big shared ideas will doubtless emerge.

That will definitely happen but I’m leaving out the one single lens through which to look at everything. That allows more openness and for different types of connections to form between projects that I might not have thought about, which I think is much more exciting.

2016 Next Wave, Melbourne, 5-22 May

RealTime issue #132 April-May 2016 pg.

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

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