It’s been six weeks since our Pilot Regional Engagement Project started and with two weekends of workshops behind us, it’s an interesting time to reflect on what we’ve learnt so far.
The invisible hours are the most important
Working with teenagers and in a community you’re not usually part of, there’s always a risk that no one will show up.
All nine of our participants did show up (and on time…) and despite not all knowing each other, they were quick acknowledged the uniqueness of the opportunity, which made for an immediately supportive group environment.
This couldn’t have happened without the many invisible hours we spent in regular communication with them, their parents, their teachers and the team at the Cultural Centre in the lead up to the first weekend. Maintaining that communication has so far ensured the retention and investment of everyone involved.
Don’t assume anything
We had asked the participants to submit an introductory form outlining what they hoped to get from the experience so we knew before we arrived that most had little or no knowledge of performance art, contemporary art or Marina Abramovic.
So, the first day was dedicated to exploring what performance art is; what forms it can take and how it’s anything but theatre. We showed a selection of works from artists including Abramovic, Yoko Ono and Tehching Hseih and with each work asked the same three questions:
What do we think are the artist’s intentions?
What role does the audience play?
How successful is it?
Day two focused on autobiography, perception and identity construction. Activities included creating abstract self-portraits that were then analysed by the group and an exercise in response to Glenn Ligon’s series Runaways exploring how others see us and make judgements accordingly.
We had hoped that as a group they might be interested in creating works that explored the experience of being a teenager in regional Australia but discussing this particular experience only led to moaning about Dubbo. Eventually a more nuanced perception was negotiated but it reminded us not to assume anything. Especially when it comes to teenagers.
Amazing things can be achieved with trust
One of the risks in working with performance art is that its process of creation involves a lot of introspection, critical thinking and honesty. Which in turn, can generate the need for significant pastoral care.
Prior to the workshops we had been made aware of some existing mental health, sexuality and self-esteem issues, and while this didn’t alter the workshop activities we ran, it remains an on-going point of consideration in managing discussions and presenting ideas.
Several participants have since chosen to explore some of these issues directly through their work, which is a testimony to the level of trust we have built. It’s going to make for important, memorable performances – for the participants and the viewers.
Work with brilliant people
Theatre Director Imara Savage spends a lot of time with the group taking them through basic ensemble training: how to be present, how to be aware of your body and its movement, how to listen to the energy of the group, how to avoid fidgeting and giggling and breaking focus.
Artist Lottie Consalvo, one of the 12 residency artists living on-site at Pier 2/3, joined us for the second weekend, and devised workshops that focused on the process of creation.
Amongst other activities, the group had to stare at themselves in a mirror for 20 minutes: they had to respond emotionally not descriptively, to a series of objects handed to them while blindfolded, and they had to sit and squeeze an orange for one minute while the rest of the group looked on.
Both Imara and Lottie listened to the group, respected them as individuals and earned their trust. This allowed us to push them out of their comfort zone, ask critical questions and importantly, give critical feedback.
At this stage in the project, many participants already have a sense of the work they want to create. That most of the group got to this point relatively easily reflects the importance of working with people whose personal skills as well as professional expertise best fit the audience.
‘Be’ there, even when you’re not
One of the issues with a regional pilot program is that there often weeks between workshops when nothing happens. To partially fill the void, we created a Tumblr page to document the project and to distribute material between visits.
Initially we hoped that the participants would also submit their own research, work, and ideas but so far that hasn’t been the case. See Point 2.
Regardless, it remains a useful way to share resources and images with the group, and to be present and available to the participants remotely.
You can see the blog here: www.kaldorpublicartprojects.tumblr.com
Connect – don’t exist in isolation
In every conversation about this pilot we’ve made a point to situate it within the wider context of Kaldor’s education and public programs but also specifically this current project with Marina Abramovic.
And so on Friday 3 July at 2,30pm, as part of the Upstairs Public Program at Pier 2/3, the participants will join Kent Buchanan, Curator from Western Plains Cultural Centre, in a discussion on contemporary performance art within a regional context.
This Sydney visit is a key moment in the project and an important public facing moment before we return to Dubbo for our next two weekends and the final presentation on 26 July.
This article was written for Museums and Galleries New South Wales in my capacity as Regional Engagement Coordinator for Kaldor Public Art Projects and originally published on 23 June 2015. http://mgnsw.org.au/sector/news/lessons-learnt-kaldor-progress-report/
- Oct 29, 2018 Announcement of Churchill Fellowship 2018 Oct 29, 2018
- Sep 30, 2018 Frida Kahlo at the Victoria & Albert Museum Sep 30, 2018
- Sep 7, 2018 Elizabeth Willing profile for Art Collector magazine Sep 7, 2018
- Aug 2, 2018 Beyond Community Engagement: Transforming Dialogues in Art, Education and the Cultural Sphere Aug 2, 2018
- Jul 26, 2017 Te Tuhi Talks Jul 26, 2017
- Apr 2, 2017 New role: Museum of Contemporary Art Australia Apr 2, 2017
- Jan 19, 2017 Louise Paramor profile for Art Collector magazine, issue 78 Jan 19, 2017
- Dec 1, 2016 Craft Council UK – Make:Shift conference, Manchester, 10-11 Nov, 2016 Dec 1, 2016
- Oct 30, 2016 Alison Croggon on the arts funding crisis and the importance of criticism Oct 30, 2016
- Apr 27, 2016 Lottie Consalvo: mid-fall, Alaska Projects Apr 27, 2016
- Mar 18, 2016 20th Biennale of Sydney: The future is here it's just not evenly distributed Mar 18, 2016
- Nov 22, 2015 Celeste Boursier-Mougenot at the NGV Nov 22, 2015
- Sep 22, 2015 Educating People Like Us Sep 22, 2015
- Aug 2, 2015 What It Means to be Me, Western Plains Cultural Centre, Dubbo, 26 July 2015 Aug 2, 2015
- Jul 12, 2015 More Marina Magic Jul 12, 2015
- Jul 12, 2015 Art Collector cover story Jul 12, 2015
- Jun 25, 2015 Lessons learnt: Kaldor regional progress report Jun 25, 2015
- May 5, 2015 Kaldor pilots regional engagement project May 5, 2015
- Aug 21, 2014 Melbourne Art Fair 2014 Aug 21, 2014
- Jun 24, 2014 Fresh Faces Symposium: Art Gallery of New South Wales Jun 24, 2014
- May 24, 2014 REVIEW: Sleepers Awake, MCA C3West Project, Bungaribee May 24, 2014
- Feb 20, 2014 Kevin Chin profile for Art Collector magazine Feb 20, 2014
- Feb 9, 2014 Artlink review: 21st Century Portraits Feb 9, 2014
- Jan 12, 2014 REVIEW: Christian Boltanski, Chance, Carriageworks Jan 12, 2014
- Sep 20, 2013 The problem with 'Australia' Sep 20, 2013
- Sep 4, 2013 Margate: An away day and a visit to Turner Contemporary Sep 4, 2013
- Jul 28, 2013 A round-up: Miles Aldridge, Somerset House; Katharina Fritsch, Fourth Plinth, Trafalgar Square; Michael Landy, ‘Saints Alive’, National Gallery Jul 28, 2013
- Jul 21, 2013 Peckham weekends Jul 21, 2013
- Jul 11, 2013 Harpa Concert Hall, Reykjavik Jul 11, 2013
- Jun 4, 2013 St Paul-de-Vence Jun 4, 2013
- May 30, 2013 A visit to Paul Cezanne's studio May 30, 2013
- Oct 30, 2012 REVIEW: dOCUMENTA 13, Kassel, Germany Oct 30, 2012
- Oct 28, 2012 Tino Sehgal, These Associations, Tate Modern, London Oct 28, 2012
- Aug 4, 2012 Jeremy Deller, Sacrilege, Burgess Park, London Aug 4, 2012
- Apr 14, 2012 REVIEW: Martin Creed, Sketch Nightclub, London Apr 14, 2012
- Jul 19, 2010 Christian Boltanski, Les archives du coeur, Serpentine Gallery, London Jul 19, 2010
- Jul 9, 2010 REVIEW: 1:1 Architects Build Small Spaces, Victoria & Albert Museum, London Jul 9, 2010
- Jul 5, 2010 REVIEW: EXPOSED: Voyeurism, Surveillance & the Camera, Tate Modern, London Jul 5, 2010
- Jun 21, 2010 REVIEW: Sean Scully New Work, Timothy Taylor Gallery, London Jun 21, 2010
- Jun 14, 2010 Yinka Shonibare MBE, “Nelson’s Ship in a Bottle”, Fourth Plinth, Trafalgar Square Jun 14, 2010
- May 20, 2010 REVIEW: Céleste Boursier-Mougenot, Barbican Centre, London May 20, 2010
- May 16, 2010 REVIEW: Decode: Digital Design Sensation, Victoria & Albert Museum, London May 16, 2010
- May 9, 2010 REVIEW: Olafur Eliasson: Take Your Time, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney May 9, 2010
- Sep 17, 2008 REVIEW: Suzanne Treister, ALCHEMY, Annely Juda Fine Art Sep 17, 2008