Monique Grbec reports on Chamber Made’s Hi-Viz Practice Exchange, a day of connection for women and non-binary artists
The Newport Substation was built in 1915 to supply electricity to the railways. Last month, long after it was salvaged from dereliction and re-born into an arts space, The Substation hosted the expanded edition of Chamber Made’s Hi-Viz Practice Exchange. It’s a day of presentations, practice interrogations, networking and art dates for women and non-binary artists that work across performance, sound and music.
Sixty-plus creatives buzzing… Inside this historic building, we are outside the pressure of making work. Gathered with open minds and open hearts, we are ready to connect.
Tamara Saulwick, Chamber Made’s artistic director, takes the stage to welcome us and introduce the program. Funded by a Helen Macpherson Smith Trust grant, this year’s program responds to feedback from the 2018 inaugural event. With collaboration and interdisciplinary practice at its heart, it is a program for artists to explore the intersections of performance, sound and music; a program where we can listen to industry leaders dissect and interrogate their work practices; and a program where we will have opportunity to talk about our art practice and the work we create. The overall aim of the program is to create more work and opportunity.
Sixty-plus creatives are electrified. Uniting in the corridor of space between stage seating and table seating, the invitation is to explore false binaries. Laughter, surprise, camaraderie, and falsetto glee animate everyone as they scuttle, shuffle, hesitate, lurch, and speed across the space. Where does your allegiance lie?
Sixty plus fully charged artists move to large round tables with butchers paper and textas. We are reminded to sit with people we don’t know – this day is about meeting new people, creating new networks and hopefully experiencing the jumpstart of something new. Our task is to share:
Three words essential to your practice now
Two to three sentences describing a work you recall with satisfaction and why?
Sparks fly. My group of five take turns answering the questions. Explanations are music that rises with enthusiasm. This is a place where the passion of our private happiness is public understanding: sound installation, performance, working with babies and parents, innovation, purpose and creation. Here, a Mozart opera is dissected, stripped back and revealed as the cesspool of gendered violence that scars the genre. Here, there’s breath and poetics where wind matters and surfaces oscillate; there’s a 10am to 11pm breath and song site responsive immersion that climaxes with four women jumping into Wellington Harbour.
Here, in a circle of peers, like petals fluttering with the business of bees, questions of air: what’s in it, how it moves and connects – does it speak, and how can we reimagine it? – are inhaled like perfume. This current/currency of ideas promises the sweet tonic of honey.
Collaborative Processes. Cat Hope, award-winning experimental musician, superstar of Australian music, explained the rationale and process for her first opera Speechless: An Operatic Response to Human Rights Abuses in Twenty First Century Australia. According to Hope, this wordless noise opera is intended to develop empathy that empowers us to keep protesting, because protesting does make a difference.
Hope’s fascination with the physiological effects of low frequency sounds and their literal responses sets the foundation for selecting a 30-piece multi-instrumental orchestra, a team of dynamically different vocal soloists including heavy metalist Judith Dodsworth and experimental throat singing specialist Sage Pbbbt, and a 30-strong community choir combining local refugee, Indigenous and disabled singers. Each of these collaborating bodies are accorded open blocks in the score to improvise and offer their own wordless reflections. This is because, as Hope reminds us, the struggle of refugees in Australia is not her story to tell.
Where words fail, information comes from images. Stick drawings by children living in immigration detention seed the visual palate of Hope’s Speechless. Sourced from The Forgotten Children: National Inquiry into Children report, she focuses on commonalities such as prison bars and colours. On stage, the prison bars become bars of light, and the colours become both Hope’s bespoke musical notation and the large backdrop fabrics that represent flags. Disconnected from the structural set, these pieces of fabric signify escape until, finally, they become costumes worn by the soloist refugees. Here, as bags or dresses, they signify arrival.
Always the experimentalist, Hope ensured her notations for Speechless can be restructured. Perhaps, like the refugees themselves, she hopes that another incarnation can travel across borders of thought, place and sound to arrive in a place where people speak the tongues of harmony and freedom.
Pleasantly, as Hope unraveled her process from conception to performance, a process that included over 70 collaborators, The Substation became part of the presentation. The traditional red velvet stage curtain behind her took on the life of an artistic flag: not the flat backdrop of solo creation but a textured depth where many people unite to make one rich and textured narrative.
Working From Found Sound, sound artist Thembi Soddell created a video journal of their collaboration with writer and cross-disciplinary artist Onyx B Carmine during their Chamber Made Orange House by the Sea Residency 2019. With intergenerational and ancestral trauma as a key theme in Soddell’s work, they presented an unedited soundscape recording of the Bellarine Peninsula coast overlapped with poetic meditations and a series of images taken from the Bellarine Peninsula coast during the residency.
The meeting of familiar beachy sounds, images and light create a meditative flow that breathes life into Soddell’s words and offers a mirror into our own life. Their memories and experiences become my memories and experience – I am here, and I hear, see and feel my stories through their stories and their silences.
“Does turning away from trauma perpetuate trauma?” In this shared experience, where the sound and visual of water lapping through sand sweeps away the day’s scars, Soddell’s window is a showcase that reflects back to us. The turning of time is soothing; we are mother and mother is us. Even the aerial imagery of dry, cracked clay exposes the simple truth that water is life.
The work is nourishing in the way of taking time at the beach on a warm summer’s day. “Everything is happening right now, in this moment.” And in the moment, the lapping water speaks the language of healing. And, in the rules for living, healing will perpetuate healing.
Rosyln Oades, award-winning artist, dramaturge, collaborator and theatre and non-fiction maker, is best known for her audio-driven performance work. For more than a decade, after a 2001 London Actors Centre workshop with UK director Mark Wing-Davey, Oades immersed herself into developing a series of critically acclaimed headphone-verbatim theatre productions. These were immense creations that evolved over two year periods with many interviews and recordings. Oades collected a series of engaging stories that captured the lived experience of people at times in their life where they were under the pressure of significant social expectations.
Following intense rehearsal periods where the actors’ performances were stripped of their natural inclination to interpret a character, the headphone-wearing actors copied Oades’ recordings verbatim and revealed the vocal fingerprints of the subjects. Riveting stuff!
“…immediate, sweaty and full of life and emotion…”
“…inadvertent poetry abounds…”
After critical acclaim for I am your man, which followed a young boxer through his preparations for a world-title fight, Oades produced Hello, Goodbye and Happy Birthday. Here, she paired 18th and 80th birthday parties to explore the bookends of life, the threshold of adulthood – “hello world here I come” – to nursing home and aged care dependency – “goodbye, I’ve had a life lived well”.
“…infused with a terrific sense of life rarely felt in a theatre…”
Although Oades’ verbatim practice evolved an when she experimented with mismatching fidelity and the critical acclaim continued, she stands before us with bowed head. Her voice curls as she expresses a sense of shame that a dark heaviness had begun infecting her passion for the work.
A low frequency hmmm purred through the room. I heard a breathy: “Yes, that’s what I feel”. Given the overall intimacy of the presentation so far, I think we may have all leant forward in a show of support – in the way of showing we were listening and that we cared.
What happens when your creative dreams come true? Oades highlights the importance of collaboration with her sound designer and, once again standing head high, her darkness disappeared into the bright enthusiasm she has for her latest work.
She is exploring temporary communities in the here and right now. Still interested in truth, class, human existence and how the brain works, and keeping within the non-fiction documentary framework, Oades is creating interactive, place-based, time specific projects. Their magnificence is fricken’ awesome!
From Asialink Arts, director Dr. Pippa Dickson and Dr Fayen d’Evie, manager Research and Development, discussed how art is the most useful cross-cultural language between Asia and Australia. The focus of Asialink Arts grants is true cultural exchange.
They showed a video of a recent sound performance artist’s Hong Kong residency as a case study, which offered an intimate glimpse of the Asialink Arts residency. The interview showed productiveness and inventiveness, inspiration from local culture, politics, and landscapes, success in connecting with local artists, venues, and arts organisation bodies, and opportunities for future developments. The message was that the experience was accessible and rewarding on many levels.
Of all the women and non-binary artists present, only one woman was able to put her hand up to say that she had received an Asialink Arts grant. Given the talent in the room, and the fact that Dickson is new to her directorial role, there is hope that the next Chamber Made’s Hi-Viz Practice Exchange sees many hands raised.
Madeleine Flynn (with husband and collaborator, Tim Humphrey) is the recipient of three Asialink grants. As audio conceptual artists they create intimate situations for listening, using the tangible and intangible. Human touch, historic trajectories, mechanical movements and architectural structures are example of conductors. The outcomes are grand, diverse, multidisciplinary, and award winning.
Flynn presented two templates of interactive experiential projects which travelled to destinations as diverse as Prague and Japan yet became site, country, language and culturally specific. Pivot is “a field of semi-intelligent see-saws” that create spoken situation patterns for the children and adults who ride and take to them. Using a scripting program with voice-to-text protocol, techno-feminist Flynn ensures that in each country the “speaker” is a woman.
Five Short Blasts is another successful template. Translated from maritime safety regulations such as “I am unsure of your intentions” (or in Flynn-speak: “What the fuck are you doing?”) this “encounter with a city on the water for a flotilla of boats” goes down-river to navigate the intersection of industry, community and recreation.
Moving into the hyper-personal space of human touch, Flynn also presented Imagined Touch, a collaboration with Deafblind musician Michelle Stevens. This project merges modern and traditional thinking to articulate how to control the uncontrollable and make sense of the nonsensical. In this place, the power of creative minds collaborating enriches not just the lives of individuals but the landscape of the arts, and by extension the lives of community and country.
What a day. What an immense privilege to connect with so many passionate and talented women and non-binary trailblazers. As promised, there were opportunities to meet other artists working in crossover spaces of performance, theatre, sound and music. There was a form to fill that shared contact details and areas of expertise in which we were looking to collaborate. There was surely electricity in the room even after we all departed.
On reflection, there’s one attribute that unites and defines us as artists, regardless of our disciplines: our innate drive to move forward and articulate the submerged. Whether our preoccupation is to understand how we as individuals fit in the world, or how energies and structures affect solo and group experience, with each presentation and group chat the sense of shared language grew. On this day of clear visions and crafting, the possibility of claiming new territory proved to be a reality.