New Review critic Vanessa Giron walks through the dreamscapes of Footscray during its inaugural arts festival
My partner and I are standing on Paisley Street, flipping a map round and round in our hands trying to figure out which way to go. It feels strange to be disoriented in your own home, but here we are, for One Night In Footscray: an arts festival that goes for one night…in Footscray. It’s fairly self-explanatory. The festival includes a series of light installations, performances, exhibitions, costumed people roaming the streets, and a million other variations on the typical things you see at an arts festival.
The idea is that to encourage people to walk the streets of Footscray and take in all the good community vibes. The weather hasn’t been forgiving though, and it’s put a damper on some events, mostly the much talked about Lele, Butterfly, a retelling of Antigone that explores Samoan culture.
But even so, people walked up and down Footscray, through rain, hail and sunshine.
While we were wandering around, trying to find where certain performances had been moved to (because map reading is for suckers) a person in a pig costume approached me, pointing at their cardboard sign for instructions:
POETRY OF POINTLESSNESS
1. Tell me your name
Look for @ofpointlessness on Twitter for your poem
I complied, and gave the pig my name for 280 characters of poetic goodness.
‘Vanessa and then we could meet up and I have to go back in touch soon as you may be used.’
Walking through Footscray felt different, especially in the Metro West building where people were voting early the day before the election. The air was electric – although looking back I’m not sure it was entirely the festival. In the foyer you could walk through the Negai (A Wish For Footscray) installation, which references the Japanese tradition of creating one thousand paper cranes in order to make a wish come true. There was the Everything In Motion sound-and-movement sculpture – a piece that moves on its own, creates its own music, and is not controlled by its maker.
Both pieces on the surface are abstract installation, but telling all the same of the political climate and of the people in the west now. Footscray, along with the western suburbs as a whole, have been at the centre of the biggest debate in Melbourne over the last couple of years – is it safe?
This is a loaded question. The west has one of the highest populations of the Sudanese community, and is overall an immigrant working class community. It’s also a metropolitan area that has grown exponentially in what feels like the blink of an eye. The gentrification is real and the increased nightlife and presence of new people in the west are part of the reason this question is being asked. The other part being good ol’ fashioned fear-mongering for votes. The festival itself is alive with people from these immigrant communities. In fact, it probably wouldn’t exist without them.
In the Nicholson Street Mall, the VU Music Agency Stage was set up for singers, dancers, DJs and a band. All the performers were young people of colour, as were their DJs and the photographers. When a homeless man went to the front to take the mic, the performers encouraged this man’s participation, instead of calling for him to be escorted out by security for disrupting the performance. There was no reluctance to be inclusive nor fear. It feels like a welcoming crowd, homey even.
Before the election, I found out I was voting Footscray district, and I had an identity crisis. For all my love of Footscray, I’m not actually from the suburb, nor do I live there. Even though I had the privilege of voting for a diverse area, my soul feels tethered to the St. Albans district. Saintside, baby, through and through.
These feelings of not knowing myself manifested in a dream I had the day before I voted, when I broke into the Victorian Electoral Commission. I was sneaking around the offices looking for the zoning maps, hoping to change them so I can vote in the place I call home. But when I found the maps, I remembered that I don’t call St Albans home, so I put them away and walked downstairs, handing my ballot card to the librarian at Footscray Library, who now seemed to work at the VEC as well as finding Ali Smith books I can’t track down on the shelves. I saw that the bartender from my local was also working for the VEC, and the old man from the kebab truck, and the man who works at the reception desk for Footscray Community Arts Centre. I voted and went home, knowing I voted for where I am, even if my spirit is still in St Albans.
I remember the dream when I run into my friends at different points throughout the night. One is dancing at the VU Music Agency stage, another at Pump Up The Jam. None of us talked about attending the festival, but it’s turned out to be an unwritten rule that if you’re local, you will be there to support the festival.
I run into another friend standing at the installation performance titled My Dream, and it’s just started to rain again. Artist Jen Tran is “The Dreameater At The Gates”, running through pages of stories recounting the “Dreampocalypse”. Behind a glass window at the 100 Story Building, she’s growling and barking at a dog. Later she tells stories about the dreams people have had. She transitions so well from scaring this furry little creature to performing these dreamscapes that it’s equal parts hilarious and terrifying. And then my friend taps me on the shoulder and says, “Hey! I thought I would see you around”.
When I turn towards her, I catch a glimpse of a man trying to find shelter from the rain, and his t-shirt from the local brewery reads “Footscray Strong”.
I finally look at my friend. “Yeah, I got a little bit lost before. But of course I’m here.”