in June 2013 I was lucky enough to be selected to be a “provocateur” (how’s that for a job title?) in the Situate: Art in Festivals Lab, hosted by the Salamanca Arts Centre in Hobart.
Situate is a unique development program that connects visual artists with festivals across Australia – and even one event in South Africa – supporting the development of a site-specific work to engage festival audiences, facilitated by 10 leading national and international artists and curators (provocateurs). As a provocateur I provided feedback to artists and challenged their thinking around audience participation and engagement.
Festivals are moments away from every day life, when people are open to new ideas and experiences. You don’t have to go as far as constructing a city on a desert playa for that escape: most often, festivals come to us in the cities where we work and live, offering a new slant on the streets we know.
Festivals can also be places of extreme sensory overload, entertainment and stimulation, confusion and anticipation. It’s a tricky set of circumstances for an artist to work within – can you whisper, or do you have to shout to be heard above the din? Can you expect reflection or demand attention from an over-stimulated audience? Will the audience tune out if you tackle difficult issues or require an emotional connection?
While we experimented inside the sandstone walls of the Arts Centre, outside, Dark Mofo (MONA’s incredible winter spectacle of a festival) experimented with the form of a mid-Winter festival, offering a spectacular Bacchanal complete with dancing lasers, fire-throwing barbarian rockers, mind-bending smoke-filled chambers and Ryoji Ikeda’s luminous, reverential stairway to heaven, daring to part the skies every night. This eccentric, adventurous backdrop was the perfect incubator for this process: a place where anything was possible, and where audiences asked to be surprised, to see their city transformed, and new myths and legends formed.
The Situate team asked me to reflect on the experience in a blog post – you can read the whole thing on their website, and meet the artists and provocateurs participating in the program.