New Kids On The Block: Next Wave Festival
Watching Orlando (1992), directed by Sally Potter, on Netflix. Quentin Crisp playing Queen Elizabeth I, all done up in her Sunday best, says to Tilda Swinton, playing the young man Orlando: ‘Come. Your handsome leg. For you and for your heirs Orlando, a house. But on one condition. Do not fade. Do not wither. Do not grow old.’
Which got me thinking about Next Wave Festival. How artists pass through the event as a right of passage. It’s a coming of age celebration of all that is possible in youth. Like schoolies. Or Debutante Balls. Before they ran out of style. Not though, that Next Wave is going out of style, Next Wave is about future styles.
Later in the movie, Orlando is checking herself out in a mirror, having magically transitioned into a woman overnight. She wonders, at her new reflection with a bemused detachment: ‘Same person, no difference at all. Just a different sex.’
And there it is. Virginia Woolf has put the idea out there, she’s voiced what she wants. For herself and for us too: that there is no difference at all between the sexes, except different tackle. Wouldn’t that be bloody terrific. Virginia Woolfe brainstormed up an epic tale to help us imagine an equal life for everyone. And that idea is as fresh today as the day Virginia wrote it. Great art ages very well.
Later, Orlando is about to lose her estate, because back then, women had no right to property. She’s advised, by her band of male advisors, to get married ASAP and produce a male heir, thereby securing her own future. The idea doesn’t sit well with Orlando. So she takes a timeout, and rolls about in the long, lush grass, looking like a Vivienne Westwood ad. And she says: ‘Nature, nature, I am your Bride. Take me.’ At which point, young Billy Zane (who’s been riding by) falls off a horse at her feet. He’s from The New World, he’s young, he has perfectly sculpted eyebrows, they have hot sex. He wants her to pursue her liberty, and move with him to America. His sales pitch to her is:
‘You know how good it is to travel, like a free spirit, unfettered by position or possession.’ And there I was again, daydreaming about Next Wave Festival. Daydreaming about youth and art trips and the wonder you feel when you first start making art. How resilient youth is, open and porous, like a sponge. Some artists take a while to warm up, others burst out of the gates so strong. Now we’re poised to lose a generation of our best and brightest creative talents to foreign shores, because of lousy politicians and lousy thinking. And we’ll all be left here, cold and bored.
Next Wave presents a 3-week festival program every 2 years, where the new guns get to shoot their loads off in and around Melbourne. There’s always plenty to see, hanging with a crew too young to feel a hangover. The impact of Next Wave Festival as a feeder into a complex nationwide arts ecology (whadda whadda), has been on an upward build for some time. The first step up the ladder for artists, producers, writers, all the creative souls and perhaps the most fun step too. Steeped as it is in optimism and in audacity. Which trait is the more valuable to a creative spirit, you may wonder? Optimism is so seductive, enveloping all in its wide-eyed belief that anything is possible, if you just put your mind to it (and put the bong down at least until brunch). Audacity though, can take artists to places normal people couldn’t think up if you paid them. Which is why business is so enamored of artists, cause some of us can think outside our box.
That whole Steve Jobs drops acid, then changes the design of world, trip. Cool huh? Steve’s actions weren’t so audacious, many people, within their youth, experiment with the odd mind altering substance. What was audacious, was when Steve, buoyed by the confidence of extreme success, declared dropping acid to be of major significance within his startling global influence. And he shared this with a conservative mainstream media contingent, hoping to offer up answers to a readership hungry to replicate said success. That was audacious. That was art. Steve was like: ‘yeah man, we dropped these excellent micro dots and we all went pretty quiet, we were up in our own trips, in our own heads, ya know? But then, when we were coming down, we shared this apple, and that apple was the key and the answer to everything. We cut it up and shared the pieces round. It was like totally awesome.’
The current federal government of Australia clearly doesn’t want youth thinking outside boxes, so they chose to defund Next Wave, (along with a host of other arts organisations), the fun spoiler announcement made half way through the program. Proof, if you needed any, that bureaucracy has very bad manners. Creative youth and potential, clearly seen as threats to the old school ties who prefer to stagnate in the past, up in a box at the Ballet, sipping on Champagne, talking it up with old school friends. Deciding which public utility to systemically wear out, then privatise next:
“We’ll do Australia Post and the CSIRO next, ah did you see that pirouette, it was splendid, the symmetry, the precision of those young girls! Simply splendid. Oh don’t look down, I’ve a soft chubby, I’ve not spotted one of those in my crotch for some time!’ A short pause, then, back to business. ‘Then let’s do more toll roads, and, (quizzically) is all public transport private yet? I’ve lost track of where we’re up to. Get it, track, Boom Boom.”
“Oh you are such a card, yes, yes, we’ve privatized transport to be sure. We’re already on to education and health now, we’ve got to move quick before the proletariat can organise. You know, I’m so glad all we private school lads got into politics together. What a lark! Like the Rowing 8s at school!”
Anyways, back at Next Wave (despite the dire funding news), participants and audiences rallied, hoovering up quality culture from a catalogue of possibilities,and partying like Prince hadn’t OD-ed on a man made opiate 100 times the strength of morphine. That a qualified doctor prescribed him…
Colin Hunter Jnr, a Wurundjeri elder of the Kulin Nation, performed the festival’s Welcome to Country, at the Northcote Town Hall. Colin is a descendant of William Barack, a man very much still making news. A significant artwork made by William Barack, ‘Ceremony’ 1897, was sold at auction to a private collector in early June, despite considerable funds having been raised through a community crowd funding campaign. Why the artwork wasn’t purchased by either the NGV or the NGA, to be preserved, and exhibited publicly, beggars belief. Djon Mundine said:
“It’s just weird that some national institution didn’t take this on and buy the work, it should be in a national institution. Other countries collect their own stories and considering it’s of the Yarra, the images talk about a place just outside of Melbourne, it’s amazing. Art like this doesn’t come by every day.
“I would have liked to have shown this to my children,” said Wurundjeri Elder Annette Xiberras.
“I never really knew how we painted ourselves for ceremony. That painting there showed you how we painted ourselves, it showed you the clothes we wore, it showed possum skin drums. How many people knew our women played possum skin drums? It was so important the stories there. It’s just another little bit of my culture, another little bit of my people that someone has taken from me.”
Meanwhile, across town, architects Ashton Raggat McDougall (ARM) have used William Barack’s portrait to adorn the side of a luxury high rise building in Melbourne’s CBD, the integrity of this design questioned by Christine Hansen in The Conversation:
The problem I have is not with the idea that Barak should have a place in the consciousness of the city, but with the overt association between the 530 luxury apartments that are the Portrait building’s actual purpose, and the lifelong dedication of William Barak and the entire Kulin nation to the struggle over land.
To place high-end CBD real estate and an image of the most famous of 19th-century land rights activists in the same frame is a cruel juxtaposition if ever there was one. This unconsidered conjunction exposes our blindness not just to history but to its contemporary consequences in institutionalised racism and unequal power relations.
I’m pretty sure the answer to the simple question “who owns the building?” is not “the local land council”.
Next Wave’s program was dense with the voices of indigenous artists and women, it’s focus on a process of learning, replacing the more rigid idea of development, that has a full stop attached to its end. Next Wave Festival presented Indigenous language workshops within its program. They were so oversubscribed, they’d booked out before many of us had pulled our fingers out to confirm booking. Run in partnership with the Victorian Aboriginal Corporation for Languages, participants learned everyday Wolwurrung and Boonwurrung language, that form part of the Eastern Kulin Nation of southcentral Victoria.
Next Wave Festival is our first introduction to artists we’re going to hear plenty more from in the future. It’s our introduction to what’s waiting for us round the next corner, the gung-ho talent, ready to jump out and scream BOO. Names like Hannah Bronte (Yaegel/QLD), who presented Still I Rise at Black Dot Gallery and an awesome night out, FEMPRE$$. This was where Hannah and a group of her friends, entertained the shit out of people smart enough to have chosen to attend. It was the best night out I’ve had in too long. Women, placed front and centre within a hip-hop context, hip hop not so renowned for its progressive or inclusive gender politics. So there’s plenty of room to move there. And move we did, Busty Beatz (aka Hot Brown Honey), gave it the Black Power clenched fist stance, fem-ceeing the living be-jesus out of the stage. Busty invited a host of guest stars up, then an open mic segment demonstrated that improvised ad libbing can go well, and not so well. Which is what makes it exciting, and as entertaining as all get out. In artspeak they call it: multiple outcomes, ha ha.
SEZZO played us great music, and she knew every word too, and when the moment was just right, she’d share with us (her humble audience) a master class in twerkin’. Every time SEZZO twerked, the dance floor stepped it up a notch, until, in a moment of gay abandon, quite a few people’s blouses simultaneously fell off their bodies, exposing the ample, nurturing capacity of youth. FEMPRE$$ at Howler was evidence aplenty that a night sweating it up on a dance floor, with old and new friends, has revolutionary potential. Blowing out the cobwebs and getting stagnate creative juices flowing. Despite the chilly breeze outside. FEMPRE$$ didn’t address patriarchal constructs, a male gaze, it danced right over the top of them, laughing all the while.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vCadcBR95oU Salt n Pepper, Push it 4.26 secs.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JWsRz3TJDEY Neneh Cherry Buffalo Stance 4.20 secs.
Nat Randall (NSW) (Team MESS, Hissy Fit), presented The Second Woman at ACMI, a 24 hour endurance performance which had her acting alongside 100 different men, the last being her own dear Papa, who had flown down especially to surprise her. Blessed are these supportive families of we artists. Based on one scene from John Cassavetes’ cult film Opening Night, Randall was Gena Rowlands’ character, an ageing actress having difficulty coming to terms with the ravages of time. Denial makes great theatre. And drama. Denial creates excellent drama too. So Nat Randall acts in a play, based on a movie, about a play. Now that’s deconstructed.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JcpawBDp5Ak (4.46 mins) John Cassavettes 1977 film Opening Night, trailer.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=reLnQXeugBE (4.11 mins) Gena Rowlands ‘I accept my age, I just won’t tell you my age.’
Nat Randall started performing the one scene over and over again, at 12 noon on the Friday, and went all through the night till 12 noon on the Saturday. I’d let my life momentarily get in the way of my art attendance, and turned up mid morning on the Saturday, by which time a queue had formed outside, because the action was so good no one was leaving. So many of us didn’t see Nat and her band of male participants perform. We kind of watched through the glass doors. The response though, was that it was an incredibly poignant experience, many saying it was the best thing they’ve ever seen. Ever. So I won’t be missing this when it’s restaged. That would be bloody stupid.
As someone who’s Next Wave Artist days are safely behind them, the burden of expectation disappearing into the review mirror of my life (just like they had for Gena Rowlands in Opening Night), I thought I’d like to share some of what I’ve learned, with this Next Wave in Australian art:
It’s never too early to start lying about your age. That’s the best advice I could come up with. Don’t be 27, when you can say you’re 21. The lines between fiction and reality are constantly being challenged by the creative industries. Invest now, and artists, you can reap the rewards at the back end, with more years in the exciting emergent phase of your artistic careers. Why be a former promising artist who has failed to reach their potential, when you can remain a bright young thing who might just pull something out of nowhere, for a while longer yet. The more time you can sort of qualify as a wonder kid, the better.
I first lied about my age to get into Primavera at the MCA. The cut-off, for that show of bright, shiny, new burgeoning talent was 35. I was 36ish, and there was no chance in hell I was going to disqualify myself with the truth. So sure of my stance, I didn’t even waste time feeling guilty. See, I hadn’t started art school till I was 30 so, by my reckoning, I was being unfairly discriminated against. The institution wasn’t acknowledging I was bringing a bit more to the table by starting late. I’d already done some shit I shouldn’t have, so I had stuff to make art about. Things like what my daughter refers to as ‘Mother’s tramp stamp’. Look, it was the 90’s and I wanted to do something that would last forever, a great big ugly ass tattoo seemed like a good idea. At the time.
I’m not going to harp on about the Ozco Kickstarter initiative, or Pica’s Hatched, or ACCA’s New, or the MCA’s Primavera, or Chunky Move’s Next Move. How, when combined, it can seem (at least for a wee while) that there’s more going on here than there actually is. I’m not going to talk about the perversities of a society that allocates you ‘agency’ but once, when you are the fresh faced young newbie who, nobody has told that sometimes you need to ask to get paid as an artist. We’re not going to talk about the sneaking suspicion that the Creative Industries rhetoric dooms new generations of artists to failure, investing in young talent for a bit, but ultimately sending resources to the top, leaving those trying to get there, to starve.
I’m not going to mention the It Boys I’ve seen emerge. They come, they conquer, they go. I’ve met so many It Boys, I can identify them in a crowded room before we’ve been properly introduced: Indiscriminate charm, mildly talented, good with their hands, earnest, considerate, old fashioned manners, non threatening body language. Sometimes sort of hot. Occasionally, as thick as two short planks. Loves the sound of his own voice, has been raised to believe all his opinions count. Don’t like to be challenged, not used to it. It Boys carve and cast, they paint, they model, they draw, they edit.
Popular content for It Boy Art reads like a Boy’s Own Annual from 1982: Block Buster science fiction movie franchises – Star Wars; Planet of the Apes; Star Trek; Mad Max. Think weekend past times of pubescent men/boy’s (once they’ve finished the chores their Mummies make them do first) – Skate boards; Surfing; BMX Bikes; Motorbikes; Cars/Crashing Cars/Car wrecks; Trains; Trucks; Hoodies; Trainers; Grafitti; Computers; Football; Nicknames; Bands; Baseball Caps; Beards; Fishing; hanging out with mates.
Gender politics is the elephant left safely in the cupboard, door firmly shut. Occasionally an It Boy will include women, perhaps focusing on the graceful movement of a pole dancer working her pole. Her choreography in slow motion, so we don’t miss the video’s poetics/jiggly bits. It Boys often like to twiddle knobs. It all reads like a teenage boy’s wet dream, but has been elevated to the status of ‘high art’. The street, invited into the gallery, because galleries like to pretend they’re inclusive. Egalitarian. And they are too, if you’re an It Boy. It Boys get presented with the keys to the castle.
It Boys work extra diligently, seducing every person in every room they enter. We all fall in love with the It Boy. Men, women, dog’s, toddlers. Curators can be overheard swooning, excitedly, post coital pant breathing, ‘oh, (insert current It Boys name here), I love them.’ The It Boy doesn’t have to talk himself up, he’s surrounded by a cohort of eager fans doing it for him. Enablers, enabling the It Boys to be as great as we all need him to be. It Boys gain so much success, so rapidly, some women mimic It Boys. The King Pins gave this tactic a red hot nudge.
The Australian art scene is as congested as Punt Road on a wet Friday afternoon before a long weekend. There’s no room to move, the lanes are all at a standstill, and you’ll make more progress on a bike than in your convertible. Ignore anyone who starts spruiking the ‘Hopey Changey Stuff’. That might suit your desire to be as happy as the young people in the ads, but we’re well past that point.
And when everyone in the arts starts talking about funding this, and money that, remember, it could be worse. We could be working in Australian publishing. Australian publishing is so successful it’s not even dependent on government funding to exist and they’re still messing with it. Here’s my new man crush, Richard Flanagan, talking about culture and money:
We are not a subsidised industry. The fossil fuel industry gets $18bn of subsidies. A single South Australian submarine worker gets $17.9m. And writers? The total direct subsidy for all Australian writers is just $2.4m. That’s it. And that’s all. What I say next, I say with heavy heart and only after the deepest thought, because I don’t believe any party. I speak now only for myself. Fuck them. This is a government that has no respect for us and no respect for what we do. This is a government that despises books and views with hostility the civilisation they represent. Perhaps it hopes in a growing silence that it might prosper. Certainly, it cares only about one thing: power. And only on those terms will it listen.
For that reason, if you care at all about books don’t vote Liberal at this election. If you care at all about what books mean, don’t vote Liberal. If you value how books can enrich lives, don’t vote Liberal. If you think Australian books matter to an Australian society, don’t vote Liberal. Because this is the party of philistines who punish the creators, destroy all that has been created and create nothing but destruction. They should stand condemned for what they have done. To the minister I say, if you have a shred of dignity, resign. His shame, and prime minister Turnbull’s shame should be public, well known and long, long, long lived. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/may/19/be-under-no-illusion-malcolm-turnbull-wants-to-destroy-australian-literature-election-richard-flanagan
You know, if I were a wealthy dude, say a Developer who’s made many loaves of bread, building ugly buildings and selling them off to baby boomers for their needy kids and, if I had an interest in the arts, with a hankering to explore philanthropic gestures, I can think of no better way to make a splash, than to invest in young talent through an excellent platform like Next Wave Festival. Because young people still throw the best parties, despite an inheritance that’s looking, more and more, like one big god awful mess. Invest young. Invest now. Let’s play the Long Game.
PS: Here’s the next-Next Generation. She breaks the rules, defies all authority using Punk strategies, but never forgets to request payment for her creative output. Watch your back newbies…