Tag Archives: Melbourne International Arts Festival

Melbourne International Arts Festival

Art involves a risk, a risk for the artist that they might fail and a risk for the audience that they might not enjoy it. Sports, strippers and stuntmen are risk free entertainment for the audience; you will generally get what you expect. Art involves an investment by the audience that might not return value for their time, money and emotional investment. Not that the risks posed by art are that great, a waste of time, money and thought. I have been bored far more often than shocked and rarely hurt (use ear protection when going to live bands or night clubs).

A critic should take more risks in what they see than ordinary members of the public. A critic should be an explorer of new territory, as well as, being aware of the established areas. I have not been taking many risks recently going to events at the Melbourne International Arts Festival as they have been programmed by festival directors and praised by other critics. Arts festivals attempt, with their selection and discount ticket packages, to ameliorate the risk of sampling new work. In this respect I feel a bit negligent in my selection of items to report in this blog. I excuse myself as I am still recovering from all the secretarial work for the Melbourne Stencil Festival.

Seeing a production of Chunky Moves has become a safe bet for me, after the last three of their productions (Glow, Two Faced Bastard, and Mortal Engine) that I have seen. I know that they will take risks in new and daring dance productions. I know that they consistently produce excellent performances and I never know what to expect from a Chunky Moves performance except that it would high-energy contemporary dance. Certainly their production Black Marrow lived up to expectations in that it defied my expectations all the way through. Just when I expected not to see a face for the whole performance, a man in a three-piece suit emerges from the mass of bodies and starts to talk to the audience. I laughed, I cried, it was grotesque – it was life in all its swampy blackness. The sound, lighting and other stage effects combined brilliantly with the dance. The Merlyn Theatre at the CUB Malthouse, is well equipped for these effects and is an excellent venue for Chunky Moves.

I had less of an idea what to expect of Ray Lee’s Sirens at the Meatmarket even though by the time I saw the second last performance there had been a few published reviews. It was clear from the festival program that this did not fit into a conventional artistic format of a play, concert or exhibition. It was worth the risk its of ambiguity and minimalism as there was a lot of beauty in it. Sirens is low-tech, drone installation and performance. It required a meditative mind, a person capable of keeping silent and listening to nuances in sound to appreciate. The machines, tripods with a rotating arm with a speaker and LED light on either ends are turned on and tuned. A single oscillator provides the sound to each pair of speakers. Then a motor turns the arm creating a Doppler effect as the speakers swing around. The shadows projected onto the walls of the Meatmarket of Ray Lee on a ladder turning one of the taller tripods as other arms rotated around was surprisingly beautiful. In the darkness at the end of the spinning LED lights are another beautiful image. All of this made me keep on moving around the installation to see and hear it from a different angle.


Melbourne Festival City

Melbourne has many arts and culture festivals: arts, film, music, food, comedy, fashion, stencils, flowers and gardens… They range from the “international” to the “underground” or “fringe.” There are so many arts and culture festivals in Melbourne that many overlap on the calendar. Currently the Melbourne International Jazz Festival and the Melbourne International Comedy Festival are both on.

Do all of these festivals add depth to Melbourne’s culture? Do they attract a wider audience and so build a larger audience base for art, music, comedy etc.? Or, are they rather a thinner, superficial, marketing exercise? The festivals pretend to curate and promote an aspect of culture while actually reducing it to a spectacle.

The arts festival is spectacle that can be marketed and managed rather than an organic culture. That the Melbourne International Arts Festival (MIAF) is dominated by marketing was clear to anyone who filled in the MIAF online survey; the questions were all about classifying the audience for the advertisers. There were questions about cars and travel rather than anything about the artistic content of MIAF. Sponsors and advertisers are important to fund a festival but the position should not be reversed; festivals should not become types marketing and publicity.

Part of the problem is that festivals have staff. The festival organisers try to prove that they are doing a good job at running a festival by running a bigger festival. The festival organizers try to attract more sponsorship, organize bigger festivals with more venues, more events and less and less definition of the festival. Many of the festivals lack of any curatorial supervision; whoever applies will be included.

Every year I get emails from artists complaining about the Melbourne Fringe Festival. The “Melbourne Fringe Festival” sounds very exciting, cool and interesting; the word ‘fringe’ is a good selling point. However the Fringe Festival is a criticism free zone, it is all-good, it is all promotion for the festival.

At least many of the Comedy Festival shows will be reviewed on the Groggy Squirrel; the Groggy Squirrel reviews live comedy in Australia. I went to one performance that was part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival but I’m unlike to go to another. Janeane Garofalo bored me with her observational comedy that relied on reactionary television shows that I’ve never watched.

Melbourne’s festivals are just a marketing vehicle, another promotional expense for the participants, another advertising and sponsorship vehicle, and another festival package for the consumer. It is not as if you would notice these arts festivals walking down Melbourne’s street, not like the festivals of Xmas or Easter. Well, you might have noticed the Comedy Festival if you were walking past the Melbourne Town Hall last night with a stilt-walking Cthulhu but if you were on the other side of Swanston Walk you might have only seen the regular buskers. The existence of these arts festivals is an exercise in marketing rather than an organic result of the culture. They are a distraction from the creative process, not an enhancement.


A Thirst for Change

 

Aerosol Arabic, Thirst for Change, Sparks Lane, Melbourne

Aerosol Arabic, Thirst for Change, Sparks Lane, Melbourne

“A Thirst for Change” by Mohammed Ali aka Aerosol Arabic is a legal 2 story high piece at the dead-end of Sparks Lane. It is part of the Melbourne International Art Festival and was sponsored by the British Council Australia. Aerosol Arabic is a British artist from Birmingham who merges graffiti and Islamic art. 

The piece is divided into two sections; the upper section is dominated by the words “A Thirst for Change”. Behind these words are motifs from graffiti art and Islamic geometric patterns. Underneath this slogan is generic scene city at night by a river framed by a dripping wet blue cloud. The scene is captioned with “Do not waste water even before a flowing river” – the Prophet Mohammed. Melbourne should take this message to heart.

Melbourne is currently in very low on water. There are water restrictions and people are trying to save water where they can. However, as Australian politics is restricted by a paranoid mob mentality that cannot understand water purification, Melbourne does not have water recycling.

Street art often strives to be propaganda, to deliver a message, to speak to the people in the street. Aerosol Arabic’s piece “A Thirst for change” has echoes of the slogan “change” in Obama’s US presidential campaign. There is nothing wrong with Aerosol Arabic’s propaganda message; Melbourne does need to conserve water. And there is a need to raise awareness of Islam as a religion that cares about the environment.

If this is such a good and timely message why hasn’t the Victorian government embraced this beautiful piece? The piece is hidden away from the public. Sparks Lane is rarely used by anyone apart from delivery drivers. Street artists rarely venture this far up Flinders St. and there only a couple of stencil works in the lane. There is controversy about this piece because street art, even legal street art, is politically charged in Melbourne. Unfortunately small-minded philistines who can’t see the big picture dominate Australian politics. 


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