A dynamic look at the work of 10 emerging artists, Let’s Take Over 2021 at Darebin Arts leaves an enlivening sense of possibility, says Monique Grbec
Let’s Take Over 2021 is guided tour of 10 artworks created by emerging artists aged between 15-25. From a stage in the courtyard of the Northcote Town Hall, Amarachi Okorom welcomes us like a council official. Supported with song, spoken word and newsreel audio, the event explores themes of power, colonisation, climate anxiety, mental health and gender. Acknowledging that 2020 with its Covid-19 lockdowns was “not the year I thought it would be”, Okorom spraypaints fireworks that explode onto the stage backdrop which, along with audio eruptions, launches us toward a colourful and dynamic dreamscape where our future is driven by sustainability, acceptance and equality.
The audience is divided into groups. The tour guide of the blue group wears a blue and yellow blouse and a wide slash of electric blue and cream eyeshadow. She leads us to the Mayor’s room, with its portrait of the mayor, its leather and carved wooden throne, and a series of dark wood panels with the names of former mayors printed in gold. The names begin from 1883 but we don’t see a non-anglo name until the 1970s: “Schultz” and then, finally, a “Papadopoulos”.
Jääm: Decentering English by Rhoda Makur inhabits the room with non-English words hanging across the room like bunting. The atmosphere is festive and three televisions broadcast different non-English people talking directly to camera. There’s no captions but their conversational manner suggests information and friendship.
Upstairs we congregate in the hall for Not for Service. A door opens and Elijah Eastley greets us wearing a white face mask with a huge red texta smile. “If you can’t attend this appointment the next available appointment is… 2023.” Inside the room is the Happy Smile Healthcare reception area where we use our phones to access a questionnaire about our own mental health. While each question includes the statement that Happy Smile Healthcare is “committed to making you better”, not one person in the blue group passed the psychological assessment; so no one would be able to access the service.
Pure and Utter by Michaela Mulenga uses video interviews to pose the question “What makes me happy?” The Victorian-era room is perfumed to uplift and the floor is bright with primary color spotlights and lanterns. Banana lounges, confetti, a gigantic disco ball, tinsel curtains and a postcard stand provide the setting for the blue group to bond. As with the group before us, there is chatter and loud laughter.
The Great Hall features the criss crossing of white laundry hung out to dry. Guy Ritani plays classical music on a grand piano. Wearing a grey top hat and tails, with a large white blindfold, light shimmers from the green blue of a peacock feather that dances from his top hat.
Following the rules set out before entry, we walk to a large tub of water and collect a metal bucket, wooden tongs and an item made of crisp, white cotton. The music stops for the short, sharp “ding” of a bell. We load our cotton item into the tub and use the tongs to push it in and pull it out of the water. We are washing the fabric but, because it is already crisp, clean perfection, my mind wanders to the performance of cotton and light in the water: how the tongs lift and carry, swish and plunge; the large floating air pockets and the escape of small bunches of bubbles. The pressure and pleasure of the manual labour become part of the music, like a dance.
As muscles speak of manual labour, a recorded commentary drifts through the music. Something about “who pays” and “seats at the table.” But the rhythm of repetition in the washing dance is mesmerising and there’s no time to get distracted. This isn’t such a hard life, surely having a seat at the table would be harder than this?
The bell dings. A crescendo of voices all around us: “Get out! Get Out! GET OUT!!!” I’m woken from my stupor. Maybe a seat at the table is just what is needed!
Inside a tall perspex box with foam peanut packaging covering the base stands a life sized, mustached moving doll. Red lipstick is smeared onto their lips and across their face. This life-sized doll exposes the red raw experience of gender dysphoria. As the doll strips to black-taped nipples and crotch, their muscles ripple with body-building poses and they toy with a black tasseled military beret and thigh high stockings. “Angel” is tattooed across the dancer’s taut stomach, and my eye is caught by another saying “Born this Way” beside a blood-spewing unicorn.
At the entrance of Seasonal by Lauren Rosenberg we are given a small yellow envelope with paper coins that we can spend on fruit and vegetables. Will we spend more for local produce? We’re also invited to peel carrots and write a fact about food on a sticky note.
This is how I Live by Lulu Fitz puts us in the dark, holding a tea light candle and walking in single file to a room with a park bench lit by a diffused vintage street lamp. The floor beneath is littered with a dense layer of dead leaves and is dotted with dozens of other tea light candles. There is a sense of vigil.
A lone woman sits on the bench. She wears white headphones, top and trainers. Is the woman a ghost? She speaks of her fears of bats and possums and the loss of places where feelings of freedom are negated by vulnerability. Standing, her shadow looms large for a spoken word monologue of gender politics and victim blaming. We know the messages well, but the delivery is fresh and well timed. An observation about “people who don’t protect” is paired with a reaffirmation of the fears of bats and possums. Here, the scene takes on the essence of safe, leafy suburbs where residents rage over the trespass of wildlife. As we place our tea light candle onto the rustling leaves, we are left to ponder that the fury of these people could surely be better used to eradicate misogyny and protect the vulnerable.
Casper Plum’s See It With Me is also in a dark room. High on the walls are three large screens with an airplane safety instruction to buckle up. In flight, individuals recount holiday experiences. They talk of blissful connections with the natural world and rationalise changes in their relationships.
Our Blue guide leads us outside to the rear of the Town Hall. Bush Foods – a collaboration between Dalabon artist Kenita Bush and Trawlwoolway artist Edwina Green – is a series of posters pasted to the red brick wall of the Town Hall. The colourful images have photographs of hands positioned to gather bush foods against topographical map style graphics. Within the hands are words to read aloud: Awurdapan (freshwater crocodile), Moiy (green plum), Juukbi (black plum), jalawoo (barramundi) and malabangu (fresh water mud mussel).
Meeting back at the courtyard stage for a farewell from Okorom makes for a satisfying full circle closure. Let’s Take Over 2021 is monumental. While not every artwork invites physical participation, each of them is mentally and emotionally engaging and leaves a powerful sense of possibility. It suggests that if we look back at the disappointments of 2020 – and our histories in general – with focus, passion and purpose, we too can be instruments of change.
Let’s Take Over 2021, performed by Amarachi Okorom, Anna Charalambous, Casper Plum, Elijah Eastley, Guy Ritani, Kenita Bush, Edwina Green, Lauren Rosenberg, Lulu Fitz, Michaela Mulenga and Rhoda Makur. Presented by Darebin City Council, Northcote Town Hall. Presented by Darebin City Council, Northcote Town Hall, on February 20.