The Festival of Live Art started this week. It covers multiple art forms, takes place in venues as diverse as theatres, hotel suites and car washes and features dozens of performers.
We spoke to three very different performers about their big ideas, their approaches to theatre, and finding ideas in strange places.
Give Me a Reason to Live – Claire Cunningham
Being born with osteoporosis has never been a hindrance to Claire Cunningham’s dance career. Her new show Give me a Reason to Live uses her physical restrictions – and her crutches – as tools for experimental dance that addresses the place of disability in the world, using medieval painter Hieronymus Bosch as inspiration to create an aesthetic entirely her own.
Cunningham says: Give Me a Reason to Live was created by an invitation to be part of a Europe-wide project marking the 500th anniversary of Hieronymus Bosch’s death. I was one of several performers asked to create a work based on spending a week travelling around Europe and looking at Bosch’s work, learning about the time he was working in, and listening to experts and academics. All of us were exposed to the same stuff but came out with five very different works.
My work was triggered by Bosch’s tendency to show all cripples as beggars. I suppose that was the career option at the time. I was fascinated by an academic’s suggestion that his depiction of cripples might symbolise sin.
That idea is coming around again now, certainly in the UK. There’s a real shift from the media and the government towards marginalising these sectors of society again. People are looking for people to blame for the economic crisis, and whenever money is tight, the unemployed, refugees and the disabled are all blamed. There’s this idea that people getting government money are beggars, and they don’t deserve it.
The show is quite emotionally hard on an audience. For me, it’s physically hard. It’s sheer physical exploration, and I don’t want to tell people what to think. I leave the space clear for people to feel how they need to feel. It’s very stark. Bosch’s work was commissioned by the church to promote the idea of empathy, which interested me. What is it to watch a body push itself to the limits? Can you provoke empathy, and when does it differ from sympathy? Can you ever connect with another human being who is seen as different?
Give Me a Reason to Live is at North Melbourne Town Hall from March 9–11.
Crush – Sam Routledge and Dylan Sheridan
One of several Live Art events to break free of the theatre space, Sam Routledge and Dylan Sheridan’s Crush takes place entirely inside a carwash. Routledge and Sheridan want to draw attention to our relationships with everyday robots by augmenting the experience with music and lighting.
Routledge says: I’ve worked in puppetry for about 15 years. I’m really interested in things that are close to puppets, and car washes fit that. A car wash is quite a complex robot that’s been operating in our daily lives for a long time. We all have pretty robust memories of going through a car wash as a child. You’re inside, but also outside. There’s water, but you’re not getting wet. A machine is moving all around you, but it’s quite safe. I was interested in how we could use that experience.
Dylan and I worked together during the Next Wave festival in 2014. He’s a very dedicated and particular composer, and his attention to detail perfectly suits this. So I approached him and we developed the show together – but the sound is the real hero of the work. Dylan performs the work live every time. While you’re in the car wash, we’re hiding in a van, and Dylan is literally looking out the back window with his laptop and sequencer, playing live in sync with the carwash robot. There’s a radio transmitter on top of the van, which sends an FM signal to the car radio.
Our show ritualises quite an ordinary, everyday experience by transforming it. Rituals are right at the heart of what it is to be human. What are the new rituals that our increased dependency on machines might bring about?
Crush is at Expresso Car Wash in Fitzroy from March 1–5 and 7–8.
Portraits in Motion – Volker Gerling
German artist Volker Gerling has been wandering around the world collecting stories and turning them into flipbooks for over a decade. He uses the medium to tell miniature stories, and then shows them on stage, adding context and anecdotes into the mix. It’s perhaps best understood through the German word for the flipbook, “daumenkino”. Literal translation: “thumb cinema”.
Gerling says: To be honest, this show wasn’t my idea. I made my first flipbook in 2003, and my work featured in exhibitions in galleries. And then two years later, someone asked me to present my work on stage. I went up with no rehearsal, projected my flipbooks and told the stories behind each book, and it worked from the beginning. The show has changed a lot, but that’s how it started.
I started photographing when I was a child, then eventually I became more fascinated with moving images. But film isn’t right for me – it’s expensive and complicated, and I wanted to work on my own. I’m very curious about people, personalities. Flipbooks are the perfect medium to capture moving portraits of people, and you can also tell stories.
I find my stories when I go out on my walks. A young woman asked me for directions to buy an electrical socket. An old man named Alfred invited me into his home to show me his colourful suits. I photograph these encounters, but they’re quite rare. I only find something I want to keep once every week or so. I’m not going out walking all the time anymore, because I have children now, and I tour around doing these performances. But I still do it because I feel the show needs to keep changing.
Portraits in Motion is at Theatre Works, St Kilda until March 6.
Festival of Live Art is on now until March 13. See the full program here. Art House Town Hall tickets are available here, which let you curate your own adventure through over 15 artworks, across seven Festival of Live Art sessions. Each six-hour session includes both seated performances and interactive exhibitions you can explore.