Art on the Edge
By Richard Watts ArtsHub | Wednesday, January 06, 2010
A collaboration between the Sydney Festival, the Cambelltown Arts Centre in the south-western suburbs, and Gallery 4A in the heart of Chinatown, in the CBD, Edge of Elsewhere is a new exhibition presenting works developed in partnership with, and responding to, Sydney’s culturally diverse communities by artists from across Asia and the Pacific.
To be presented in 2010, 2011 and 2012, the exhibition and its associated projects – which this year include a 200 page publication and a series of public programs – has three co-curators: Thomas J. Berghuis, lecturer in Asian Art at the Department of Art History and Film Studies, University of Sydney; Aaron Seeto, Director of Gallery 4A (established by the Asian Australian Artists Association Inc. in 1997) and Lisa Havilah, Director of Campbelltown Arts Centre.
Havilah (who was previously the Assistant Director of Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre and Liverpool Regional Museum (1998-2004) and the inaugural Co-Director of Wollongong’s Project Contemporary Art Space (1995-1998)) says the works presented in Edge of Elsewhere explore the contemporary suburban context in which so many Australians live their lives.
“When you look at the sheer population breakdown, most of the population of Australia lives in the suburbs; and if you break that down to New South Wales, a third of the state’s population lives in Western Sydney; and one in ten people in the country live in Western Sydney,” she explains.
Socially and culturally it’s an area that’s subject to constant change.
“New communities are coming in and interacting with more established communities. And shifts and change are an important contemporary idea that we try and engage with here [at Campbelltown Arts Centre] and I think there are a lot of contemporary artists internationally who are working with that same idea.”
Several such artists, including China’s Wang Jianwei, Australia’s Brook Andrew, Aoteora/New Zealand’s Lisa Reihana, and Indonesia’s Arahmaiani, have been invited to take part in the inaugural phase of Edge of Elsewhere.
“This is a three year project, and because this is the first year of the project, we’re really looking at artists who have experience and are interested in working with particular communities in Western Sydney. Artists that work collaboratively, and who are open to communities influencing the development of their work,” Havilah says.
Shigeyuki Kihara is one such artist.
A Samoan-born multimedia and performance artist currently based between Auckland, New Zealand and Sydney, Australia, Kihara’s work is based on investigative research relating to the indigenous cultures of the Pacific – and more specifically to Samoan culture, history and spirituality, and how its principles can be applied to her urban environments.
For Edge of Elsewhere, Kihara will be presenting the fifth event in a series of ambitious performances called Talanoa: Walk the Talk.
“The word talanoa in Samoan culture is used to describe a process of dialogue between two conflicting clans, where they come together in dialogue in order to find mutual ground based on love, respect, peace and harmony. So it’s a process of dialogue in working towards the same place. And I think in this world today there is not enough talanoa between culture, between gender, between sexuality, between religion, between countries, and between various geographical regions,” Kihara tells Arts Hub.
“So I [sought] to stage talanoa as a possible microcosm to see… how do various religious and ethnic communities come together and have a dialogue and find mutual ground, and how can dialogue be manifested through performance and through art?”
Talanoa: Walk the Talk V will feature collaborations between two performance groups, one of Chinese heritage, the other from the Cook Islands.
“These are performance groups that perform within the parameters of their own communities … but I think this is the first time they’ve stepped outside of their own community and actually engaged with a performance group from another culture,” Kihara says.
“There’s so many festivals around Australia that invite various different ethnic and religious minorities to perform together … however what I find is that true intercultural dialogue doesn’t really happen. They perform their piece and we perform our piece and that’s it. And yet the whole idea of putting these multi-cultural, multi-religious festivals together is that various communities can understand and exchange ideas with each other. My performances literally do that. They make communities talk together about their philosophies, their ideas and their history.”
One of the most exciting aspects of Edge of Elsewhere is that it reflects the Sydney Festival’s growing engagement with the entirety of Sydney; a situation that has come about largely because of the Festival’s new Director, Lindy Hume.
“Lindy has a great vision for including all of Sydney in the Festival, including Western Sydney, which is really exciting,” says Lisa Havilah.
“She has a real understanding of Sydney as a broader place, which hasn’t happened in the past. This is the first time that Campbelltown as a place and South-West Sydney have been involved in the Festival, so it’s great for the profile of the city, and it’s great for people outside of the city to understand that Campbelltown is part of the cultural life of broader Sydney.”
Shigeyuki Kihara is equally enthused about the direction the Sydney Festival is headed.
“I think it’s great that the Sydney Festival is starting to understand the cultural and religious and racial matrix of Sydney and embracing that; but not only embracing it, but utilizing it and activating it,” she says.
“For me, I personally believe that a festival should be accessible to everybody and not just the mainstream, middle class families; because if you do that then you’re excluding a whole other social and cultural demographic which makes up the city. And it’s also wonderful that visual artists such as myself are able to engage directly with the community in staging projects like this.”