erformance Space has been host to a plethora of experimental and interdisciplinary projects, with immense success in engaging audiences through the performance of gender. As Artistic Director, how do you consider the intricacies of contemporary gender diversity which clearly stretches beyond the male/female dichotomy? How does this translate to performance?
Performance Space has always championed artists who explore non-binary, feminist and queer takes on gender and sexuality. Often, this manifests in works which foreground the body and its potential as a site of subversion, resistance and fantasy. This Liveworks, for example, we’re presenting 2 works by the South Korean artist Geumhyung Jeong, whose performances take shape as highly-charged, risky interactions between the artist’s body and a series of bizarre yet carefully-chosen inanimate objects. These performances—7 Ways and Oil Pressure Vibrator—propose new kinds of sexuality and physicality. At the other end of the spectrum, Sydney’s own Justin Shoulder creates incredible sculptural costumes, that extend and transform his body, and modify its capacity for performance and movement. His work has developed in the context of Sydney’s vibrant queer clubbing scene, and it’s exciting to see it expand into a large-scale theatre space.
“Performance Space has always championed artists [whose work] manifests [and] foregrounds the body and its potential as a site of subversion, resistance and fantasy.”
ay for Night undoubtedly displays your interest in nurturing queer artists and developing strong queer voices as central to Australian contemporary art. Do you believe creating a platform for queer performance is integral in challenging traditional assumptions about gender and sexuality across a local landscape?
Absolutely. Australia has a phenomenal depth of talent in terms of queer artists, and it’s these artists who are transforming the way we see ourselves and our sexuality. At a time in Australian history when we are still fighting misogyny and homophobia, and where equality seems surprisingly further away than it should be, their work is so important. With Day for Night, we have created an annual event that merges the theatre space with the queer dance party—an important place of safety, experimentation and affirmation for queer communities. It’s a 12-hour event commissioning some of our most brilliant queer artists to create new performance works, that slowly builds into a huge dance party as day becomes night.
How did the consolidation of physicality, pain, history and gender influence your choices whilst curating SJ Norman’s Unsettling Suite in 2013?
Much of SJ Norman’s work explores how historical traumas – colonization, for example – manifest in individual bodies. Unsettling Suite is a series of installations that explore this physical state and exorcise or it through a series of durational and intimate performances by the artist. It was crucial to create a powerful space that could house all these works alongside each other, so working with SJ we constructed a kind of ghost house structure inside the gallery. Each room contained a different installation and performance in the Unsettling Suite series, and the exhibition guided audiences through each work room-by- room, to quite an intense and visceral effect.
Eisa Jocson – Economic Body
our collaboration with Bec Dean and Deborah Kelly on SEXES Festival in 2012 was an interdisciplinary approach that, in your words, “departed from predominantly binarised versions of gender that dominate discussion in Australian art”. What
influenced your collective choice to shift focus from queerness, masculinity and feminism and instead explore the performative multiplicity of gender?
SEXES was an opportunity for us to celebrate the multiplicity of perspectives that Australian artists bring to local and global conversations around gender and sexuality. It felt important for Deborah, Bec and I to explore as diverse a range of positions as we could, in order to really emphasize the unique contribution of Australian art to this field. The unique kinds of gender and sexuality that arise in Indigenous cultures, for example, and some of the particular ways in which our politics has been gendered in recent years. We see some of these themes reflected in this year’s Liveworks festival, with Indigenous artist Christian Thompson’s performance Tree of Knowledge, for example.
The upcoming Liveworks Festival 2017 is enticing us with an incredibly rich and fascinating foray into physicality, sexuality, queer performance and the body. Tell us a bit more about this.
Liveworks is our major annual showcase of experimental art from across Australia and the Asia Pacific. For 11 days, we take over the entire Carriageworks precinct and curate a really dynamic and exciting range of works across all the spaces. This year, we have 14 projects by artists from across Australia, Japan, Korea, the Philippines and New Zealand, as well as artist-in- conversation events, keynote lectures, workshops and more. This year’s festival includes ambitious works that tackle difficult social and political questions: LabAnino’s This Here. Land, for example, investigates the turbulence of recent political events in the Phillippines and Australia; while Justin Shoulder’s Carrion explores what humanity might look like in a future of catastrophic climate change. But in equal measure, there are many moments of lightness and connection – like Jen Jamieson’s gorgeous 1-on- 1 performance Let’s Make Love, and Mark Harvey’s absurd and engaging Helping Hand – which both encourage audiences to find humour and resilience in the absurdity and wonder of our lives.
“Our bodies are a direct product of our culture, and are shaped by the time and space we live in.”
ow do you successfully respond to the continuously transformative critical framework and dialogue of your artists in the face of Australia’s constantly shifting, contemporary art scene?
Curating a festival gives us a lot of room to be responsive to new developments in art and performance each year. Liveworks runs the gamut of experiences, from very large-scale works to intimate one-on- one performances, immersive installations and yet stranger things. So there is a flexibility around form and how we curate the works into the various spaces at Carriageworks – which range from black box theatre and gallery environments to large-scale industrial spaces and strange little corridors and nooks. At the same time, we’re very interested in how artists are responding to – and indeed, defining – the most urgent issues in contemporary culture. This means we are always having conversations with artists, always in research mode, and hopefully that keeps us open to new perspectives and practices.
How are our bodies shaped by the world around us? How much of this do we owe to performance art?
Our bodies are a direct product of our culture, and are shaped by the time and space we live in. Performance has an enormous power to disrupt our assumptions about who we are and how our bodies operate in the world. In doing so, performance offers us a critical opportunity to re-imagine our physicality—and therefore, our relationship to our world.