In the wake of the exciting announcement that Tyrone Sheather‘s Giidanyba (Sky Beings) is part of the program for WOMADelaide 2017 we asked Tyrone to reflect on the project’s development and how it continues to evolve. It was originally conceived in 2013 at the first SITUATE Arts Lab and debuted last year as part of Dark Mofo in Hobart in June.
How has Giidanyba evolved since you first conceived of the project at the 2013 SITUATE Arts Lab and then presented it at Dark Mofo in 2015, and now leading into a new iteration for Womadelaide next March?
It’s become more of an immersion than a personal cultural journey. It’s more open, rather than it being an individual experience. It’s more mature. This is partly because of the new site and probably just because I’ve been undertaking more Gumbaynggirr cultural experiences. I have a better understanding of how to share that knowledge.
With Dark Mofo there were a few issues with deadlines but it was valuable experience. The lead-up to the festival was professional development. It was about, ‘Now you can actually do this to a professional standard.’
In Hobart it was in winter, at night, in the rain and it was very cold. In Adelaide it will be surrounded by people day and night and much warmer. That feeds into the thinking of it now being a cultural immersion or a celebration of Gumbaynggirr culture. Rather than taking that journey at night by yourself, you’re experiencing it with other people around.
Tell us about the opening of the work at the Botanical Gardens in Hobart. How did that feel for you, the honouring of Gumbaynggirr culture alongside Tasmanian Aboriginal culture?
I definitely wouldn’t have felt comfortable without that ceremony at the start. It was necessary to gain respect of the locals and be welcomed into that space, so that we weren’t just outsiders plopping something down and taking over. So it was more of a sharing. And it was also about giving those little kids from the local Aboriginal community an opportunity to be in front of people and share their culture. The audience was maybe not the typical demographic for something like this, which was a good thing too. At the end the kids were saying, ‘Oh, thank you for that,’ and I was like, ‘Oh, no, thank you. If it wasn’t for you I couldn’t actually do this.’
How has the work been informed by the new site for WOMADelaide in March?
There’s been a change in shape of the layout of the Beings. It’s going to be more of a circular, hole space where they’re all within a distinct area. I think that goes back to the idea of turning it into a cultural immersion experience so that it’s not so much that journey where you have to go along and find each one behind a tree or along the way, they’re all there waiting for you.
And what about discussions for Vrystaat Kunstefees in South Africa in July? There’s a very clear lawned area that slopes. Will that create more of that sense of a journey again?
Yes. For WOMADelaide it’s more of a space where you come and be surrounded by Giidanyba. There will be a greater control over the sound direction in that format.
Tell us about the challenges of creating a work like this for a festival context.
Having an artwork with so many components, it’s just knowing how to control all of them at once is probably the biggest challenge, making sure that everything is working in sync so that you’re getting the best outcome. There were some challenges with the electronics but that was to do with the fact that they were being manufactured in China. If we’d had someone on site that could have worked on that electronic component then it wouldn’t have been such a big deal. But we got it in the end anyway.
What was the response to the project in Dark MOFO like?
Well, firstly, a lot of key figures in the Gumbaynggirr community helped in making the thing in the first place and there was that support from the start. But for them to actually see it finished and see it as a tangible thing, it’s been something to celebrate. It’s sort of brought the community together, in a small way. People that worked on the project talked to other people that maybe I wouldn’t have spoken to before. That way it’s made connections that I wouldn’t have made personally.
I remember during Dark Mofo a little boy came over when I was putting the batteries out. He had made his mum bring him to the Botanic Gardens every day and every night that the work was up. He was super excited to meet me and he asked his mum if he could have one of the Beings in the backyard so that he could always see it. There was another lady who said that it has made her son start asking questions about Aboriginal culture. For me, those were highlights.
How did being part of SITUATE Art in Festivals inform the development of the work? You came to the Lab with your very clear goal of creating a work that was of meaningful to your heritage, is that right?
I think it was in two parts. Within the lab itself there was that time to actually get into your own thoughts but also to have other artists around. To have them look at it and provide feedback, that was a good first step, as well as feedback from festival directors and things like that.
But also then there was the support after the lab to get things moving. The support that SITUATE provided made it possible for the work to actually happen. I don’t think Dark Mofo would have taken on a first time artist, especially with an artwork like that. It would have been a stretch for someone that wasn’t supported in a way that SITUATE was supporting me.
It’s an ambitious work, and that’s what SITUATE is here to do, to support early career artists to think big. How important was the Dreaming Award and the support through the Australia Council’s experimental arts grant to the development of the work? And what about mentoring?
The Dreaming Award was a big step in helping to secure everything and it also increased publicity. I was able to make contact with people that I’m still now in contact with to develop other works. So it opened doors but also it helped in getting myself known to Australia Council as an artist, as well as for me getting to know other artists. I think the Dreaming Award and SITUATE both probably helped with Dark Mofo’s confidence in the project and in me.
The practical support from SITUATE – from Ed Horne and Rosemary Miller – and Carli Leimbach at the start – it’s been a whole sort of a professional development in itself, the experience of creating the work and then showing it and then getting to step back and rework, or rethink it and fix the parts that didn’t work the first time. Having two professional people like Rosemary and Ed there along the way, to be able to bounce ideas off or be able to make things happen, has been a big help.