Studio Visit with Julia Drouhin by Ainslie Macaulay

1.  This is our first snapshot of an Arts Lab artist in their studio and what better way to kick it off in nearby West Hobart! Julia Drouhin, it is a pleasure to be in one of your creative spaces. I say that, in light of the very nature that is public art- often temporal, changing, interactive and site specific, so I appreciate that you have many spaces for creative thought and experimentation. When you are working from this amazing converted wardrobe space, how do you usually occupy your time here?

I usually work at night when my family is asleep. My wardrobe/desk (designed by my mum-in-law Frieda Beukenkamp) is nearly soundproof and will keep the warmth during Tasmanian winter, surrounded by my curiosities cabinet. My favourite object is a Holmes stereoscope from the 1850's that view two women in a bath in 3D. Depending on the project, I start either by listening to my field recordings to make a new radio piece on my computer or read/reply to the ocean of emails, if I'm not procrastinating. I'm used to preparing my projects by distance but I want to spend some time on site to test things if I can, as the final result is often not what was expected, considering the unpredictable aspect of public space. After 4 months travelling with my family, I can finally digest the vast horizons we travelled through, now cosy in my wardrobe. This tiny office is great to focus on writing or composing music but not big enough to make objects. I also like to make collage or textile objects or just test new ideas. The ideas come usually during outdoor movement- it could be few words on a window, the colour or position of an object, or something that my kids say.

2. You have quite a few things on the go at the moment and since the 2016 Arts Lab, you’ve been involved in a number of collaborative projects in particular. Did the Arts Lab challenge your creative practice or ignite new considerations that have since led you to where you are now?

SITUATE Arts Lab 2016 provided me a precious time and space to get more confident about my practice, discover new methodologies and explore non-material ideas. Our intentions were questioned by the provocateurs who were caring but pushing us out of our comfort zone. They shared with us their skills and advice from their own experiences. Situations of immediate collaborations with other artists were created to test our limits and generate frictions between our various personalities and backgrounds. Having an opportunity to discuss with other art practitioners and produce projects together was also a unique chance to build long-term relationships, critical sessions and networks. I really enjoyed working with Tom Blake on our ‘Biggest pot plant in the world’ and I think we will work together again in the future. Since the Arts Lab, I work closely with Harriet Gillies on a project about evaporating women. I've always included collaborative process in my practice but SITUATE Arts Lab confirmed my desire to work with other artists. In May, fellow Tasmanian artist Pip Stafford and I launched Sisters Akousmatica at Long Play in Melbourne with a cassette and digital playlist launch with live performances. 

3. One of the SITUATE projects you pitched to our Partner Festivals is titled A.I.R. (Altitude Immersive Radio) which draws on elements of your Ph.D studies about the art of walking and radio performances. Both traditional forms of experiencing place and narrative, they make a perfect duo. What do you love about these components of A.I.R?

I encourage dialogue between performers and listeners to examine the potential fertility of embodiment in radiophonic projects. I realise that my practice is illustrating retrospectively my Ph.D. When I finished it in Paris in 2011, my projects were not yet totally dedicated to radiophonic walks. I feel that being away from what I knew and welcomed by the Tasmanian art community helped me to achieve my dreams. I love trying things I've never done before, getting lost in unknown landscapes, drawing subjective maps, dressing up, gathering groups of people who don't know each other. 

My project A.I.R. (Altitude Immersive Radio) is  one example of my project. It is a participatory performance in public space based on a radio broadcast made by young writers from Tasmania and South Africa featuring a script inspired by keywords seen in Bloemfontein’s streets ("Lost Lover"). The collaboration and exchange between writers from both countries will be materialized in a Radioactive printed book and launched during Vrystaat Arts Festival in July 2018 in Bloemfontein, South Africa, along with a slow walk through the city with community participants. They will wear conductive costumes made locally and will use wind-up radios with balloons as antennas to create a cloud of transmission, an agoradio, and a forest of voices in the radio wilderness.

4. Your Research and Development trip to South Africa in December last year provided an ideal platform for you to engage with local makers, writers and musicians, as well as with the University of the Free State and PIAD (Program for Innovation in Artform Development). How does the local community, in this case, Bloemfontein, influence the process and potential outcome of your project (A.I.R.)?

It was the first time I visited South Africa. When I arrived at the airport, I saw a random balloon released in the air with a message attached to it. I took it as a positive sign! I noticed a strong airwave theme in the public space there. "Air time", which means Internet credit and phone connection but not radio transmission. I would like to engage a dialogue through a new “air time” to be occupied by local voices. 

When I gave an artist talk for Sound Threads organised by PIAD and run a DIY FM transmitter workshop, I met local makers and thinkers, as well as the Vrystaat Festival team, who gave me advice on streets permits and local procedure. We did a photo-shoot while scoping adapted public spaces. When I was walking in the streets to get some fabrics, I met Selloane Khalane, an art journalist and Pontsho Disela, a costume designer, who I will work with on the A.I.R. project. Her brand Pontsho Accessories sells “regal African fabric print accessories made for the modern woman who adores herself”. She will make conductive costumes with local wax fabric, cords and conductive material for the walkers to extend their balloon antennas reception and interfere with each other and electromagnetic fields in the city. 

I met Maritsa Barlow, a freelance percussionist and poet Thuthukani Ndlovu (The Proactivist) with who I will collaborate to create content for my radio script.

I met a local radio station director. I tried my radio balloons in an helium shop but the inflatable sea mattress I wanted to use didn't work because the plastic was too heavy, so I used biodegradable latex round balloons instead. 

A.I.R. (Altitude Immersive Radio) would be a unique opportunity to work in a festival context with multiple partners and a broader audience to confront my previous experiences through new collaborations. In this segregated city where 11 official languages are spoken, my project could facilitate a cross-city engagement with citizens of different racial and language groups separated not only economically but also geographically, coming together to help develop social cohesion. There is a great opportunity to develop sound works that speak of the diversity of this city. In Bloemfontein there is no sound art or experimental music scene as understood through a Western perspective, but there is a very active and vibrant poetry, spoken-word, open-mic community who share and discuss social and politic issues. In a post-apartheid time, the racial tension is very palpable from all sides but I had fundamental debate with people from various cultural backgrounds to further understand the social friction that exists there. There is no social security, I saw kids like mine on the roadside trying to sell fresh fruits to cars at the speed bumps. This project could develop national and international collaborations and partnerships, and engage young people in the creation of a collective and public artwork. 

5. What does the rest of 2017 entail, leading up to Vrystaat Arts Festival in 2018?

I'm applying for grants and seeking partnerships to finance and develop this community project. As a culturally diverse language speaker, I am more and more interested in the analysis of local communication. This year, I will work with young writers of Tasmania and South Africa to develop a collaborative book with Thutukani Ndovlu. He runs a blog called "Radioactive" where he publishes independent poetry anthologies and digital books via call-out to young writers. He will co-produce a Radioactive book with me on the following theme: "Lost Lover". This was inspired by posters covering walls of streets in Bloemfontein with keywords such as “ Financial Problems”, “Man Power”, "Penis Enlargement", 'Abortion, Safe, Pain Free, Same time", “Pregnancy Problems”, printed with bright pink or blue letters of the same font. The radio walk broadcast will release chosen extracts of the Radioactive book with the balloons at the end of the walk during Vrystaat Arts Festival 2018. The printed Radioactive book will be presented during my first solo show at Penny Contemporary Gallery in Tasmania in 2018.

Interview & Images: Ainslie Macaulay.

Recently, Julia Drouhin and all that inspires her, was captured by Women of the Island. Watch here:

https://www.womenoftheisland.com/#/julia-drouhin/

 

 

 

A Chat with Vrystaat Director, Ricardo Peach by Ainslie Macaulay

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Since the last Vrystaat Kunstefees Arts Festival, so much has happened! Tell us about all that’s been happening in Bloemfontein in the lead up to the next festival in July.

The Vrystaat Arts Festival continues to forge creative connections with local, national
and international practitioners. This year we have collaborators, writers and co-producers from as far away as Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Iran, Italy, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Romania, the UK and the US. Interest globally in what we are doing is growing rapidly.

What is even more exciting for us is that for the first time we have artists from our near neighbours Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe as part of the festival and our inaugural Pan-African Creative Exchange (PACE) Teaser. This precursor will grow into a full PACE 2018 so thatthose visiting us can experience the enormous creative talents of our continent.

We are privileged to have several First Nations activists from around the world helping us to develop protocols for the festival linked to contemporary KhoiSan cultures. Some of this First Nation work will happen around the SITUATE Art in Festivals supported Giidanyba (Sky Beings) at Oliewenhuis National Art Museum by Tyrone Sheather, a Gumbaynggirr artist from the mid-north coast of New South Wales. This is incredibly exciting - as we are launching the 2017 festival for the first time with a First Nations ceremony.

SITUATE Art in Festivals’ artists such as Tyrone - and others like Cigdem Aydemir (Plastic Histories, 2014), Jess Olivieri (White Horse, 2015), Adele Varcoe (Onesie World, 2017) and Julia Drouhin (Radioactive Lost Lover Book, 2017 and A.I.R[Altitude Immersive Radio], 2018) are key to the success of our festival. They offer a new perspective on our region and their collaborations with local artists ensure a deep cultural exchange between our two countries.

In 2017 we launch South Africa’s first Arts and Health Programme in partnership with DADAA (Disability in the Arts, Disadvantage in the Arts) in Western Australia and the University
of the Free State. This will be a game changer for Community Arts and Cultural
Development (CACD) and health here and will impact significantly in our region over
the next few years.

Our new Vrystaat Literature Festival, in one year, has turned into one of the jewels for writers in South Africa. 2017 sees an expanded offering bringing incredibly vibrant creatives to our city from all corners of the world. More than 110 writers are participating in this year’s literary discussions.

Only in its second year, the vrynge has grown into an essential platform for artists from all levels of practice to explore their creative talent. From newcomers to professionals testing work in progress (both national and international), this is the place to be if you want a taste of the future. And we invite anyone to come to South Africa and participate in our vrynge - just shoot us an email.

Large scale public and site specific art through the Programme for Innovation in Artform Development (PIAD), Public Art Project (PAP) and Vrywees, is a major growth area - in part due to SITUATE Art in Festivals. Onesie World by Adele in partnership with local fashion designers and musicians will be a key project, where 1000 onesies will be given out to the public. No one should miss out wearing this once in a lifetime piece of history!

Environmental regeneration and ‘postnatural’ building forms part of another key festival project, Seven Stage Futures, with Dr Keith Armstrong, Qala Phelang Thala and local change agents. Several events will take place around Mangaung’s informal settlements exploring how we can help our region’s communities become not just sustainable, but regenerative.

We are thrilled that both Adele and Tyrone will be there in July. As you know, they are two of our wonderfully talented SITUATE Arts Lab artists. Their projects are very different but both have so much potential to engage the local community on a number of levels. What aspects are you particularly excited about with Adele’s Onesie World and Tyrone’s GIIDANYBA?

Giidanyba (Sky Beings) consists of seven figure-like sculptures, depicting nocturnal
spirits that impart knowledge and guidance to the Gumbaynggirr people. Tyrone explains: “In the Dreaming (Yuludarla), the Hero-Ancestors made and transformed the landscape with their special powers of creation and destruction. Simulating a Gumbaynggirr rite of passage, Giidanyba symbolises these Spiritual Ancestors, as they descend from the Muurrbay Bundani (tree of life) in the sky, to support people throughout their cultural journey and to guide them into the next stage of their lives.”

Giidanyba will be presented as part of the First Nations project through the PIAD, in partnership with the University of the Free State (with support from the Andrew W Mellon Foundation), SITUATEArt in Festivals, Salamanca Arts Centre and Oliewenhuis. There will be a ceremony with South African First Nation KhoiSan communities - which I think will be incredibly powerful. Contemporary art practices from two of the worlds oldest living cultures together in Bloemfontein. This to me is extraordinary - and I am very proud the PIAD and the festival can be part of this.

In Adele’s Onesie World,  a 1,000 onesies will be made by fashion students and manufacturers in Bloemfontein and festival goers will be invited to wear them for the duration of festivities. A team of local musicians will perform in a sewing machine orchestra as well as a dance group developing a Onesie dance.

This project, the 2017 signature project of the PIAD and festival, will surprise us all I think. It has the potential to bring people from very different backgrounds together in an informal, fun way, but with major, positive social outcomes. In a city still very much divided geographically according to race, opportunities like these, where people can meet across these boundaries, are rare and vital.

 SITUATE was honoured to support Adele’s Research and Development trip to Bloemfontein in February, which opened up a number of considerations and collaborative opportunities. This will be the first iteration of Onesie World. How do you think this time helped shape, or refine Adele’s project?

I think its essential for an artist to understand the environment in which their work functions. Particularly work that requires social engagement and community participation. Adele’s visit to Bloemfontein was importantfor the development of Onesie World because it helped her to see and ‘feel’ the sites in which the work will be ‘performed’. There is a kind of energetic experience that artists have when they experience a spaceI believe - often unconscious. Its this experience which helps them plan their work and can often mean the difference between a work that is ok vs a work that is brilliant.

Apart from Adele understanding the context of Bloemfontein, it was very valuable for local artists and makers to meet her and share with her their knowledge, as well as learning from her about her practice. This dual capacity development/mutual exchange is one of the richest experiences a research and development/residency period can offer. No amount of offshore planning can replace this hands on meet-and-greet and networking.

Unfortunately, some of us will be unable to cross the Indian Ocean for Vrystaat this year, although we will be following closely on social media. What are a few words you feel mirror this year’s program?

Buy a ticket and come visit us!! Its not that expensive and we have fabulous food, wine and warm fires for spark conversations and new friendships.  Then you can experience the incredible diversity of our program.

Although we are an Afrikaans language festival, which support and grows Afrikaans culture, due to the success of our Afrikaans productions, we are also able to support projects and productions in other languages - in particular English and Sesotho, but increasingly also Setswana, isiXhosa and Zulu.

This includes theatre, music, poetry, literature, visual arts, live art, dance and new, experimental work.

There is something for everyone - so just get yourselves here!
 

Interview: A. Macaulay. Image Credit: Adele Varcoe's R&D for 'Onesie World', photographed by Xany Jansen van Vuuren.

S I T U A T E Welcomes Emma Porteus as Executive Producer! by Ainslie Macaulay

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Emma Porteus, we are very excited and fortunate to have you on board as the new SITUATE Art in Festivals Executive Producer! Welcome! Tell us what has led you here.

Thank you!! I'm thrilled to be here! I am a dance maker by trade, and for the last six years I've been the Artistic Director of Stompin in Launceston.  I was a dancer with Stompin in my early years, and this experience inspired a passion for collaborative, site specific art making practice. I then went off to study dance and performance making at Rusden/Deakin in Melbourne.   I have always been really drawn to making art that engages with community, so after I finished my honours year, I moved back to Tasmania to work within the community I've known all my life. 

In the last 13 years I have worked for a variety of festivals and arts organisations, as an Artist, Producer, Director and Program Manager. From 2006 to 2009 I led the education arm of Tasdance and in 2010 I became Artistic Director of Stompin. In 2014 I was selected as one of four Tasmanian's to be mentored as a Creative Producer as part of the Producing Cultural Leaders Program, and in 2015 I received the Regional Arts Australia International Professional Development Fellowship.  When I look back at my career so far, I see two clear themes emerging:  I've either been focused on making my own art, or helping other people make their art.  Situate draws on all these skills; it is a dream role and I'm really excited to grow the National and International significance of this vital program.

 Among many other things, you've had some time in Finland with ANTI Festival. What did this entail?

ANTI in Finland was the first stop on on my two month European fellowship in 2015.  Internationally, ANTI is renowned as one of the world’s leading site-specific arts festivals and it was a vehicle to connect me with innovative practitioners from all over. I attended the festival as a visiting artist, which was a rare and beautiful luxury!  Because I didn't have the pressure of presenting work, I could fully engage with all ANTI had to offer. I was able to participate in an important and relevant international dialogue on community, artistic practice and cultural exchange.   ANTI is quite a small festival, comparatively, and one of the best things about this is all of the presenting Artists are there with you, as you experience the program.  This means you can have a dialogue with them, right after you have seen their work.  This led to some incredible lasting connections with artists from all over the world that I still maintain today.

What aspects of the SITUATE program appealed to you and how do you see it developing over the next couple of years?

I am deeply passionate about the power of site specific, non-traditional and experimental art practices to make real change. These new and innovative forms of art practice serve to immerse the viewer in the experience. The sort of work that Situate produces is vital in the current climate of austerity and safety, as it scaffolds talented emerging artists to take risks and dream big.  In doing this, these artists can create work that can make real change and activate audiences in new and exciting ways.  I'm really interested in growing the international footprint of the program, as well as looking at the possibility of of holding an Arts Lab every year as, opposed to every second year.  I also want to increase the amount of Situate project proposals that get fully realised by festivals.

SITUATE has recently taken on another Tasmanian-based Festival Partner in Queenstown's the Unconformity. What's your vision in terms of SITUATE working with communities and fostering creative partnerships in the lead up to a major festival such as the Unconformity?

 I love the idea of increasing the engagement of artists with communities, and communities with art.  Festivals like The Unconformity are a vital platform to allow this to happen, because of their commitment to the exploring the relationship that communities can have with the art making process. The Unconformity seeks to change community perceptions and characteristics through the transformative power of the arts, and this is an exciting brief for our Situate artists.

Some of the concept proposals that have come out of both SITUATE Arts Labs have challenged the more conventional notions of public art. How can artists, who are taking risks, be supported through their artistic process and the commissioning stage?

 The SITUATE program excels at encouraging and supporting artists to take risks.   We support the artist as they develop their concept, and we provoke and stimulate their thinking in new and exciting ways.  We then ‘match make’ them with right festival, who commissions a research and development stage, and then the final art work. Our mentors and provocateurs assist the artist through all stages of an artworks’ lifecycle, from concept to realisation.

Later this year, SITUATE Art in Festivals will ask for expressions of interest for our next 2018 Arts lab participants. What are some of the things you'll be looking for?

The participants are chosen by a National curatorium of established artists from diverse backgrounds and practices.  They are looking for early career artists with an interesting practice and a fresh voice.  They are also looking for people with a desire to collaborate and engage with audiences in new and innovative ways.

 

Interview & Photograph by A. Macaulay.