When I ask about the theme of this year’s Big West festival – “home”, artistic director Marcia Ferguson doesn’t hesitate to correct me. “It’s not actually ‘home’,” she points out, “it’s ‘house’.” And there is a difference. A house is a far more humble and essential thing than a home. “The idea came out of the level of gentrification hitting Footscray. Communities are being broken up.”

“It particularly affects non-English speakers, so it has a big impact on social cohesion,” Ferguson tells me. So this year, Big West is tackling the issue head on. Every single work in the festival responds to that theme in its own way. But how is completely up to the artist. Take these four, for example:

The festival begins at the temporary festival hub on the corner of Paisley and French Streets, which is, quite literally, a house. A new prototype for a low-cost house, in fact, designed based on the needs and wants of people who’ve been without one, and realised by TAFE pre-apprentice students and architecture students. “All this has come together through the project’s architect, Nigel Bertram from NMBW Architecture Studio,” says Ferguson. “He brought together all the needs and wishes of women who had been homeless, asking them what they would consider a quality house.”
House is open November 21–28.

Dwelling is an immersive performance piece that will take over the festival hub, throwing together animation, performance and live music. Conceived and directed by Jessica Wilson, it’s based on stories of homelessness, seeking shelter and, as Ferguson puts it, “The feeling of being homeless in your own home.” Around 18 women were interviewed about displacement and abuse, and these extreme emotions are represented by extreme weather conditions being replicated indoors. “It’s one of the major works in the festival,” says Ferguson, “involving dozens of performers and a grand metaphorical narrative.”
Dwelling runs November 20–22.

It’s no secret Footscray has been home to many waves of migrants and refugees. Photographer Greg Giannis has been collecting photographs of new arrivals outside their houses for years, and Celebration is a slide show of those found memories. “It’s not just about photographs of people he’s collected. It’s also about his family,” says Ferguson. “Giannis grew up in Footscray, and his family arrived as refugees. So this is his story as well.”
Celebration runs November 21–28.

Artists Kerensa Diball and Yuhui Ng-Rodriguez have taken the intimacy of getting to know your neighbours and turned it into a performance. Neighbours is literally a morning of taking an audience through strangers’ homes to explore private spaces and experience the increasingly rare act of crossing the threshold of a stranger’s home. “It’s a completely uncategorisable work,” says Ferguson. “Part guided walk, part performance, part installation, part real-time face-to-face conversation with real people. It’s the most beautiful outcome of a two-year project, and it’s as personal as it is artistic.”
Neighbours runs November 20–22.

Big West runs from November 20–28 at various locations around Footscray.