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OCCUPY... reflections post 'fifteen' at Next Wave Festival

June 3, 2012

fifteen at Next Wavefifteen at Next Wavefifteen at Next Wave

I write this blog post at the conclusion of the first season of 'fifteen' at Next Wave Festival. I was so incredibly grateful to be presenting my work alongside the incredible artists that the festival attracted...it was truly inspiring to experience a range of innovative work that was so brave in trying new things and asking difficult questions. I recommend reading this blog post by Alison Croggon to hear more about the festival itself.

For this post I wanted to reflect on the time my creatives and I spent in our performance space 'Flagstaff station'. Working in public space is challenging; finding permission, permits, constant negotiations, relationship building and dealing with the thousands of pedestrians that bring their present energies, moods, stresses and personalities to the space. I feel I have become quite attracted to the political undertone that is evident when creating art in public space!

Flagstaff station is only open Monday to Friday and caters for the 'black suit' business men and women that work around that area. Within in this thoroughfare we chose to work in the space that channels commuters from the ticket gate to their platform. In brief, the work ‘fifteen’ was a social experiment that tested the unwritten rules of how we are to behave in public space: what does it take for a person to remove themselves from social conformity and show a sense of humanity.

The reflections I would like to share, however relate more to the creative process (and subsequently the Next Wave Festival theme 'the space between us wants to sing').

My creatives and I spent 3 weeks (from first rehearsal to final performance) rehearsing and performing daily in Flagstaff station. This allowed for us to get used to the space and for the space to get used to us. It was quite incredible to see how our presence caused a gentle shift in the space itself. The first week we were unfamiliar and the general public were quite 'stand offish'; the second week the general public became more accustomed the fact that we going to be a part of their daily commute; and the third week the general public were able to recognise that we were not a threat and as a result some chose to talk to us, ask what we are doing, ask to listen to the music or even chose to take a later train to watch us perform.

The gradual acceptance of artists occupying this busy thoroughfare made me reflect a lot on the recent occupy movement and the mode in which we occupy space... the difference between forceful protest and gentle (but persistent) resistance. Within three weeks it was evident that (regardless of commuters feelings) artists had become a part of the fabric of the environment, we were just as much a part of Flagstaff Station as the Newsstand man, the MX distributers, the staff and the pedestrians themselves.

The subtle shift was actually quite incredible: isn’t it amazing how quickly as humans we adapt to changes in our environment? Admittedly, I actually found the experience profoundly moving and I am sad now to have had to leave the space, where no doubt it will quickly change back into what it was before we had arrived.

The experiment was fascinating and I thought I would take the time to share some interactions, conversations, tweets and comments we had from the season itself… and hopefully I will be able to share the next version of 'fifteen' with you soon too. :)

General public comments:

  • (lawyer to a performer): 'you guys have been the talk of our office!!'
  • (a young girl who was unaware of the performers performing beside them): 'there were these four people doing this dance thing here the other day'
  • 'do they have a permit to do this?'
  • 'oh, we will miss having you here' (Flagstaff staff member)
  • 'just get out of my fucking way'
  • 'fuck off faggot' (directed to a man standing performing minimal movement with his eyes closed)
  • 'I have seen you guys each day and have been curious... can I have a listen?'
  • and the countless interactions between the WONDERFUL Flagstaff staff members: from conversations about the harsh behaviour of the pedestrians to suggestions on what costumes we should wear!

Blogs and reviews:

'As the audience overlooks the busy concourse, Mike Willmett's soundscape is delivered via headphones, lending beauty to the ant-like action of the commuters and enhancing the actions of the performers. Thoughtfully devised and well executed, fifteen embodies the festival theme, "The space between us wants to sing".' (Chloe Smethurst, The Age).
'fifteen's work carried a potent message about how we relate to one another or don't relate as the case may be. A mix of contemporary dance and shadowing commuters, fifteen was moving and at time highly amusing. While it was interesting to observe commuters reactions to the four, it was equally fascinating to observe their reaction to us...As the observes we inadvertently became an artwork. 'fifteen' was a beautiful performance.' (Naomi Gall, the near and the elsewhere)

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