ArtsLab Shopfront's artists in residence

And so this is Christmas, and what have you done?

Christmas is over.
But let me speak.

PRE-ARTSLAB TREMORS

I can’t believe an entire year has gone since I received news of getting into the ArtsLab program. Submitting application after application, writing proposal after proposal… ah, such is the life of many artists, just waiting for the day to be given another opportunity… to do something different, potentially momentous!

So there was I in Singapore, enjoying my much anticipated summer break, bearing the humidity and claustrophobic four walls of my family’s apartment, feeling… well, pretty restless for those uneventful few weeks of a vacation… and then, suddenly receiving news of a (half) offer to be in ArtsLab. The coming year was going to be BIG. EXCITING. And DREADED.

I asked myself if doing my performance studies prac-based honours at the same time as the residency program which would effectively diminish any possible socializing and rest on my Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings was something that I was prepared to do. The short answer was: no. The long answer was: But if not now, then never. Never again, being able to be in an artist residency while in Sydney. You see, it was going to be my last year in the country. I’m on a student visa. Pretty scary thought to think that I could see the end of this variation of a bubble so so clearly. I asked a lot of people. I wasn’t feeling sane enough to give myself good advice. My honours supervisor Clare said it would probably not be the university’s stand, but she said she thinks it would be great and might provide a much needed perspective and experience. My friends had a variety of advice. Most of it was along the lines of: You would be crazy to do it, but also crazy not to. Well, there. I might as well.

So I did respond to Saskia’s email and said I would. There and then, I knew the year was going to be different.

PHASE ONE: SOLO PROJECT – TOWARDS WORK-IN-PROGRESS SHOWING

I can confidently say that I was blown away by the amount of support and resources we were given from the very first day. There were six of us, and six very different people. It was interesting making first conversations, getting to know each other. The process was slow, but comfortable, and I guess we mostly got to where we needed to be – Bouncing ideas off each other, considering different view points, being frustrated at our differences, being angry sometimes at the lack of progress and sometimes at the lack of a common vision. But it was all in the game plan. Such is ArtsLab. It didn’t promise to be the easiest, most glorifying experience. Man, ArtsLab at certain stages, was tough to stomach. But good and bad things come in waves, and you learn. You have to. And then, hopefully, you move on with less of a frown on your face.

Through this time I must say I was really impressed at everyone’s determination to create. We all moved at different speeds and at a different tempo, and for the most part, I was making work through a series of experiments with a focus on building an experience of a space. Some sequences added up. Some stood alone. But finally, when work-in-progress showing drew near, my instinct was that all I wanted to do was to physically limit and build myself an environment, introduce the possible but unexpected, embrace the lack of a traditional storyline, and most importantly, get the audience to be aware, to wonder, to be a part of, to give them control, but then also to have them realise their own indecision at making a choice, or wondering ‘what the heck am I doing here’.

I used the shop space for the WIP showing, and built timber fames and stretched fabric over so that a video of an ocean could be projected from the rear. I set up the fold out wooden seats that came in fours, so that the space looked like a waiting room. I had a television mounted on the wall, and recorded commercials to play on loop. I dressed as a homeless person (which was not to everyone’s liking), and hung around the building at the start of the session. Then strolled into my setup when my work began. I ate and drank, and sat, and waited. The audience looked, giggled, looked away, looked bored, looked uncomfortable. Then the screen switched and scenes of the ocean appeared and I stripped to swimwear and did an awkward movement piece (which I sure wished I worked more at). Then I ran off.

PHASE TWO: MACHINE ATLAS

I will never forget Machine Atlas. What an experience. The incredible satisfaction of working in an ensemble and be given the chance to define our own roles, and provided assistance to other members, is hard to describe. Everyone was lovely and enthusiastic, and often in rehearsals would produce some gem of an idea that might totally change the course of the show. That is what I loved. The artists, young and old, established and emerging, were all well-integrated in this non-hierarchical system of rehearsals and production. There were moments of uncertainty but I think at the every end, we all found our footing, and I felt most comforted by my own creations only on the day of the show. Getting real audiences, real children, and generally just real people responding to whatever we dished out to them. I was an ibis in this show. I think kind of like being in costume.

To describe this experience a little more thoroughly, those few weeks really tested my physical and mental limits. Well of course all productions are always exhausting, but would you believe it… Machine Atlas fell smack right before my honours production – to be more specific, immediately after the last Machine Atlas show, I had my dress rehearsal at UNSW the very next day! The slightly impractical person in me had decided that building a huge set was a fantastic idea for my honours show and thus Machine Atlas’ final week of production was so dangerously intertwined with what I might refer to as the most important reason for my being at university at that moment in time. Gosh, I’m glad I survived those two weeks. It wouldn’t have been possible without the endless support from both Shopfront staff and ArtsLabbers and my supervisor. Would I do that again? I really don’t know the answer.

PHASE THREE: (BACK TO) SOLO PROJECT – TOWARDS FINAL SEASON

Phase Three. There is too much to talk about, too many thoughts to run through, so I better not start rambling too much. In short, I kinda loved it. Too many ups and downs, and too many of just letting it be. I have learned, that when you can’t do anything, the worse you can do is start worrying, and conversely, the best you can do is to continue believing. So I’m glad that while producing sessions required some sacrificing of our own time in our busy schedule, it churned out something useful, and playing with image and video editing for promotional graphics and trailer was cool for me and I liked it because I do it so often with no real reason anyway.

There was some kind of an implicit agreement for everyone to have their final show in the theatre, and I was kind of half-hearted in putting my hand up for it. I guess I got so used to the intimacy and control of a room, opening the temporal existence of my set to scrutiny, and reverting to the conventional placement of audience and performer, was just not cool with my vision. I sought to built a cage in the shop, and sought to take away the usual expectation for audiences’ comfort through overcrowding the room, but of course there were Official Health and Safety Issues to consider, and just a general need with the program (I gathered) for the evening to be enjoyable. Another time then. I still stuck on to the cage idea, but in my constructing, found the idea of frames to be more suggestive and appropriate for my surrealist landscape. Many adaptations were needed, as my initial design obstructed the building’s fire exit, and could be a risky venture. My lino/vinyl checkered floor coverings were kindly loaned by Io Myers studio, but unfortunately I couldn’t trim them to size. Oh well, all the better for the surrealist vibe I suppose.

So finally, I had my performance. I called it Requiem. Initially, I had cockroaches as a main theme, and using cockroaches was a way for me to combat my fears. I wanted real cockroaches, but had trouble handling them. So folded paper cockroaches. Then, I started thinking about fears. And death. And culture. And perhaps the death of culture. At university, I had earlier wrote my thesis on transitional places, and the orienting reflex we have as we navigate new places. In short, I was likening our orientating in an unfamiliar performance space, to the attempt at understanding foreign environments. I guess, what then happened with my dealing with cockroaches (unseen, small, feared, dark places…) and a black/white colour theme, and numerous stacked televisions indicative of the media, and my solitary high cultured white-faced persona, uncovered a desire to explore symbolically the death of culture, its rebirth, its cycle, its non-clarity. In titling it Requiem, my performance can perhaps be considered some kind of death mass. I doubt that most people got that. But it doesn’t bother me. I think the reading of symbols take time to read and take time to produce effectively, and although I can agree that it is a two-way thing, my sense is also that what ever an audience member walked away with, it’s a reflection on them, and they should allow themselves to find it equally valid. Another way of putting it, is that their experience is then a reflection of our ‘conversation’ that evening. Misunderstanding, opinions, conclusions, confusion.. I guess it was bound to happen.

POST-ARTSLAB REFLECTION

Ah reflections. Twas good those days.

The way ArtsLab was run as a residency really blew me away.

I think I touched on it at various sections before and any attempts to sum the ArtsLab experience up now wouldn’t really do it.

If anyone is thinking of doing it… don’t think! Apply!!!

Thanks to everyone who helped to facilitate the program and all the staff members who were all so supportive!

And yes, to future ArtsLabbers, what a wonderful year is in-the-waiting for you!

 

Here’s a poem (I like poems):

Breath in, breathe out
Take things in your stride.
No use in fretting,
You have all got something,
You just need to pour it out,
Alright?

XO
Bernice

Comments are closed.