Asian performance artists at Liveworks, presented by Performance Space, Australia

Performance Space at Carriageworks presents Liveworks, a 10-day performance festival.

Art Radar looks at the origins of Performance Space and its Liveworks festival, as well as some of the Australian, East and Southeast Asian performance artists featured in the 2016 event from 27 October to 6 November.

Cho Ka Fai, 'Soft Machine: Rianto'. Image courtesy the artist.

Cho Ka Fai, ‘Soft Machine: Rianto’. Image courtesy the artist.

Australia’s Performance Space was established over 30 years ago to create an environment for artists to develop their practice, and has earned an enviable reputation as Australia’s home of experimental art practice. Based in Sydney’s Redfern, artists are supported through residencies, laboratories, workshops and public performance. Since moving to Carriageworks in 2007, audiences have more than doubled and the organisation has earned an international reputation.   While the structure and programming at Performance Space has changed remarkably over the years, through remaining responsive to the practice of artists the original intentions remain undiluted.

In an interview with Art Radar, Artistic Director Jeff Khan spoke about this commitment and the balance between running a viable arts organisation and responding to artist-led initiatives:

I think one of the essential factors in striking that balance is an unwavering support for creative development and new work. Despite the funding cuts of recent years, we made a strong decision to protect our Artist Development strand of programming as that is where artists truly need the resources and support to experiment and push the boundaries their practices. This is especially important in a national landscape where resources are increasingly scarce and funding is increasingly tied to outcomes that may or may not have anything to do with artistic development.

Jeff Khan. Image curtesy Performance Space.

Jeff Khan. Image curtesy Performance Space.

With artists’ practice at the organisation’s heart, it is not surprising Performance Space is constantly evolving. Since Khan was appointed in 2011 they have pursued new forms of interdisciplinary curatorship, developed site-specific programming in public and non-traditional spaces and created new partnerships with organisations such as Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art.

Diversity is a key pillar for the organisation, which is supported through privileging the work of Indigenous artists and those of diverse cultural backgrounds, and supporting discourse associated with sex and gender. Performances and exhibitions are accessible for those with disabilities, for example, Tactile Tours and Audio Described Performances are available for the vision impaired, and Auslan (sign language) Interpreted Performances for the hearing impaired.

Click here to watch a preview of Liveworks 2016 at Performance Space on Vimeo

In 2015, Performance Space announced a new annual programming model with a major festival, Liveworks, as the focus. This festival encompasses the extensive Carriageworks precinct, making the building “live”. The 2016 edition launches on 27 October and runs for ten days. A cornerstone of the festival is a commitment to long-term engagement with art and artists of the Asia-Pacific region.

The ambitious programming explores local and regional politics, gender and spectacle spanning the frontiers of theatre, dance, digital technology, visual arts, sound and beyond. Five of the works are commissioned by Performance Space. There is also a range of complementary programmes offered that foster artistic practice, including workshops for artists, educators and collaborators that focus on practical skills and theoretical understanding.

The centrepiece of this year’s festival is a kinetic installation by leading Brisbane-based artist Ross Manning, commissioned by Performance Space and Carriageworks. Long fascinated by the inner workings of machinery, the years Manning spent in Japan working as an English teacher were a great influence on his practice. Drawn to the local art scene and electronic stalls in Akihabara, he began to build his own musical instruments and begin his research into sound waves. This research expanded to encompass light waves.

Ross Manning, 'Melody Lines', 2016. Image courtesy the artist and Performance Space.

Ross Manning, ‘Melody Lines’, 2016. Image courtesy the artist and Performance Space.

Manning has become a master of additive colour mixing, whereby different coloured light beams overlap to produce new colours. Now an established assemblage artist, he combines everyday objects in unexpected ways. Fluorescent tubes, fans and components from broken electrical equipment combine to produce captivating compositions of sound, light and movement.

For Liveworks Ross Manning’s Melody Lines is a monumental installation that will animate Carriageworks’ vast public space. Numerous coloured pendants will float on an overhead conveyor system, similar to tracks used for assembly lines in a reference to the site’s manufacturing history. The ever-shifting array of coloured light and shadows will create a cinematic 3D drawing. Ross Manning is quoted in the press release:

The movement of the overlapping colours both overhead and on the floor will generate colour mixing and optical effects as the conveyor paths overlap and cross in front of each other. This installation is intended to fill your entire field of vision with a constant, regular motion of balanced form and colour: the movement of colour through space.

Stiff Gins, 'Spirit of Things: The Sound of Objects', 2016. Photo: Alex Da.

Stiff Gins, ‘Spirit of Things: The Sound of Objects’, 2016. Photo: Alex Da.

One of the most anticipated performances for Lifeworks 2016 is Stiff Gins’ Spirit of Things: The Sound of Objects. Working together since 1999, acoustic duo Nardi Simpson and Kaleena Briggs have developed a unique style of storytelling that combines song and spoken word. Drawing on their heritage, Yuwaalaraay and Wiradjuri / Yorta Yorta respectively, they explore personal and community memory in English and Aboriginal languages. They have performed their folk music internationally and received a number of prestigious awards.

Five years ago their practice shifted from performance and recording songs to an intense arts and cultural research project. Inspired by Aboriginal elder, Uncle Max Harrison who ignited an interest in the Aboriginal cultural materials held by institutions, the artists spent time in the archives of the Australian Museum. Their objective was to explore the intangible notion of the memories and stories embedded in objects. The time they spent with materials such as pearl shell necklaces from WA, spear throwers from Far North Queensland and boomerangs from Western NSW has permanently changed the direction of their practice.  In an ABC radio interview the artists said:

 We strongly believe memory is retained in a pair of clapsticks, or in a fishing net, because there are people we are directly connected to who have made that, from country that our bloodline runs through, and so we want to try and look at how we can release that.

Stiff Gins, 'Spirit of Things: The Sound of Objects', 2016. Image courtesy the artist and Performance Space.

Stiff Gins, ‘Spirit of Things: The Sound of Objects’, 2016. Image courtesy the artist and Performance Space.

Supported by Performance Space and a host of collaborating artists they have developed an interdisciplinary work that weaves together music, theatre, animation and storytelling. Their work will celebrate and breathe life into Indigenous cultural objects to reconnect them with their communities and creators.  This endeavour is part of an important Indigenous cultural renewal movement that involves connection with recorded history and cultural material, exemplified by projects such as Jonathan Jones’ “barrangal dyara” presented by Kaldor project in Sydney’s Royal Botanic Gardens.

A number of other programmes have been developed to complement the programming of Liveworks, with artists from East and Southeast Asia. The International Delegates programme will tour five leading producers, curators and presenters from key festivals and organisations across Asia: Artist Exchange Lab will bring together eight artists, four from Asia and four from Australia to share their practices in a collaborative research environment: Taiwanese Producer Exchange will invite a Taiwanese producer to immerse themselves in behind-the-scenes production of Liveworks, following which an Australian producer will travel to Taiwan to gain experience with the Taiwanese Performing Arts Alliance.

Click here to see Liveworks 2016: SoftMachine – Choy Ka Fai by Performance Space on Vimeno

Four of the major works in Liveworks 2016 are by East and Southeast Asian artists. Singaporean artist Choy Ka Fai began his career as a video artist before incorporating multimedia and theatre into his practice. He has become known for his ambitious collaborative projects that involve extensive research, integrating histories and theory his work reveals inevitable uncertainties in the future.

In 2012 he began a survey of contemporary dance in Asia. Collaborating with over 80 choreographers he identified the people who are shaping contemporary dance. In a series of poetic and intimate performances under the title of Soft Machine he combines live choreography with documentary film and spoken text to reveal the particular genius of the artist’s dance practice and the conditions that shape their life and work.  Two of these will be staged at Liveworks.

Cho Ka Fai, 'Soft Machine: XiaKe x ZiHan', Esplanade Theatre Studio, Singapore. Image courtesy the artist.

Cho Ka Fai, ‘Soft Machine: XiaKe x ZiHan’, Esplanade Theatre Studio, Singapore. Image courtesy the artist.

Through the extremes of bodily movement Shanghai-based artists XiaKe x ZiHan explore the social and political context of China. Their performance draws on their personal experience of cultural surveillance to investigate the boundaries of artist freedom.

Indonesian-born Rianto lives in Tokyo. A master of both traditional and contemporary Indonesian dance, he has received extensive training in Lengger, an erotic dance that crosses the boundaries of gender. His performance for Liveworks explores dichotomies of tradition and contemporary, rural and urban, masculine and feminine. Through eloquent gesture and precision of movement he highlights the complexity of these ideas in an increasingly globalised Asia.

Cho Ka Fai, "Soft Machine: Exhibition". Image courtesy the artist.

Cho Ka Fai, “Soft Machine: Exhibition”. Image courtesy the artist.

The Soft Machine performances will be accompanied by an exhibition from 27 to 30 October that presents an archive of Cho Ka Fai’s research. Over 80 photographic and video portraits explore experiences and influences on dance artists and choreographers. The practitioners discuss their own work with great candour revealing nuanced cultural relevance of dance across the breadth and diversity of Asia.

Taiwanese artist River Lim has an interest in the duality of the everyday and the ritualistic. He is known for his site-specific performance, live art, theatre and installations. His work has been presented at festivals and exhibitions in Europe and Asia. Lim is presenting two performances at Liveworks.

River Lim. Image courtesy the artist.

River Lim. Image courtesy the artist.

River Walk has been described as a performative painting. Developed through comparing the extremes of his own body’s movement with that of trained dancers, he takes walking as a point of departure to form a continuously flowing picture of the body. First performed at Month of Performance Art – Berlin, he was interviewed by Ai-Ch-Liu about River Walk:

 I started searching for a wide range of movements that a body can do. However this was not a superficial discovery on how or what a body can do, but rather a way of thinking about the body as a tool and material for performance art, whilst also possessing the meaning of flesh, from a philosophical point of view.

River Lim, 'Cleansing Service'. Image courtesy the artist.

River Lim, ‘Cleansing Service’. Image courtesy the artist.

His second performance is titled Cleansing Service. In a one-on-one encounter Lim will ask visitors to consider which parts of the body are unclean, both physically and emotionally. Through a shared act of purification, Lin transforms the medium of water – with its historical links to healing and cleansing rites – in a private, intimate and transcendent exchange. As these ablutions take place, Cleansing Service examines the relationship between the body and ritual, bridging the gap between the sacred and the everyday.

Belinda Piggott

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Related Topics: Southeast Asian artists, festivals, performance, events in Australia

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