Live Art @ Melbourne Fringe Festival 2009

Posted on September 1, 2009 by


It is interesting to see that the Melbourne Fringe Festival, a Festival that Creative Producer Emily Sexton is calling an ‘Open Access’ Festival has delivered a new live art category. I was intrigued that a large and uncurated festival had such a thing.


As the Festival launched this morning I was interested to hear what were the reasons behind this – here is an interview with Emily taken before the launch;

lala: Hi there, I know you are about to launch the Melbourne Fringe Festival program and you are beyond busy so its nice that you could do this for lala. I am interested in this years program and the live art feel that has permeated the Fringe, can you tell us a bit about the Fringe events that you have partnered with or have championed for 2009?

ES: It’s an interesting question from a number of perspectives.  Introducing a live art category into the Festival this year has raised a number of questions in my head about the process of categorisation itself; at what point it occurs, what value it has for artists and what value it has for our artforms.  Obviously it’s partly a marketing decision (“where will my audience look for my work in the Festival Guide?”); but it is also a decision that affects future professional development opportunities, because artists are selected for awards based on the category they choose to be part of.  I recently attended a talk by China Mielville, who falls within a genre of fiction called “New Weird” (it’s a great term).  He’s a Marxist who writes part science fiction – part fantasy – part dystopia – etc.  He noted that the human brain is a machine, and it’s in its nature to loosely categorise.  He suggested that as literature evolves and borrows from many different traditions, there have been a number of people who have sought to categorise literature not according to genre, but rather as “good” or “bad” – likewise we could think of live art (because it is here that some of the most interesting cross-artform discoveries are made) as just “good live art” – “or bad live art.”  He disagreed with this statement; that to categorise hierarchically is a mistake, and the expectation of audiences to wade through the thousands of works deemed ‘good’ is also unreasonable.  I really like this approach.

So – for the benefit of audiences, for the benefit of the shape of the Festival, for the benefit of the artists in our Live Art category – I called it, and our Live Art category was born.  What is challenging is that of course, the ideas and concepts that drive live art as a practice have circulated and existed for many years in Australia, driven by a number of vital institutions – particularly Performance Space, but also PVI Collective and the Judith Wright Centre as well.  Real Time as a publication has been very important too.  So whilst this is a new category of art within my 2009 Festival – and we are one of the first major Festivals to showcase work in this way – the artform itself is by no means new.

It’s important to note however that for the majority of people encountering my Festival, it is new.  And perhaps the live art practice in Australia has emerged to point where in 2009, we can confidently categorise works as such.

There’s six works in this year’s Festival that I would classify as live art.  Not surprisingly, they differ widely, coming from dance, visual art, theatre and sound backgrounds.

We are co-producing a major public performance intervention in TAKE OFF YOUR SKIN (TOYS), with WELL and Full Tilt at the Arts Centre.  Inspired by Yasuko Kurono, the work will see 100 clones of Yasuko quietly and beautifully infiltrate the streets of Melbourne, culminating in a mass clone explosion on St Kilda Rd.  It’s a very interesting work.  Then there’s Willoh S Weiland’s The Mapping Room; eight different artists and arts collectives will be mapping the Festival and its participants from intriguing perspectives, producing an evolving installation throughout the Festival.  The Betty Booke are back again (is that a song? It should be.) – which makes me very happy.  Their work en route promises to be yet another sophisticated iteration from this collective of very intelligent practitioners; it’s a series of audio tours throughout Melbourne’s cafes and laneways that act as an aural soundscape and intervention into any casual city scene you may encounter.  24003 is a mobile performance venue produced by Dan Koop, Thomas Henning of the Black Lung, and two designers/landscape architects.  They’ve created a durational performance that includes the evolution of a built space – it’s happening alongside our opening and closing night events, and should be quite extraordinary.  Then there’s Letters to Isaac, a poly-platformed text-based work in which audience members sign up to receive a short letter each day of the Festival, via a range of technological mediums, culminating in a secret live performance event on the Festival’s last weekend.  Lastly, I’m really looking forward to hosting the Sydney-based quartet Tiger Two Times at our Fringe Hub, and their work Nature League in North Melbourne, an installative green-house that you’ll have to see to believe!

lala: Do you think it is difficult to pin down what live art is? and are you aware of the context it sits in or is it more aligned to work you are interested in?

ES: Personally, the writings of Joshua Sofaer have been very useful for me in pinning down this area of art-making.  I guess it is difficult to pin down to a degree because ultimately it’s a mistake to consider it an artform; as I’ve said above, live art works are made by dancers, by theatre-makers, by animateurs, by visual artists, by sound artists… for this reason it’s more useful to think of the works collectively as those that are interested in ‘liveness.’

I am acutely aware of the context of this work; and it’s aligned to what I personally am interested in!  Increasingly so.  I have been hugely stimulated this year in collaborating with the live arts collective GAMESHOW (with Clair Korobacz, Olivia Crang, Tristan Meecham and your fine self, Marty Coutts).  I am very keen to create work with people that is thoroughly researched and rigorously informed, but also is more interested in structures, constraints and conceptual drivers than in achieving a specific outcome.   I am also very bored by Acting, particularly my own Acting.  So it’s nice to perform but with only arguments, rules and structures in mind – rather than “character.” I find the process liberating and very intellectually engaging.  It also flows nicely from training I did with the SITI Company in late 2007.

lala: I know you made a work called Lulu vs Jack the Ripper which was a durational performance installation that asked different things of the audience/performer transaction – is this the type of work you would be making now if you didn’t have a massive festival to run?

Possibly, yes. Lulu vs Jack the Ripper was a dance, text, sculptural and video installation staged by Kumquat Theatre as part of the 2007 Melbourne Fringe Festival.  We had over 20 performers, male and female, each dressed as modern iterations of Louise Brooks, or Lulu.  It was fascinating to stage what was very experimental work in the context of the Fringe Festival, as we drew over 700 audience members over six shows – exposing many of them to a type of art they had not known before.

Massive Festival is correct; 314 shows in 2009.  Yikes!

lala: How do you see live art developing in Melbourne and what is the future for programming/curating it for a Festival like Fringe?

ES: We are currently developing a major live arts project as part of our 2010 Festival, that will focus on the future of the artform in Australia, and quite deliberately expose discussions about the artform’s evolution into the wider public sphere.  It should be a lot of fun, and as is ideal for a Festival context, gather a number of key practitioners into Melbourne to look across and witness each other’s work.

And that’s all I will say about that at this point!

Regarding live art’s future within this Festival: I’d say that the beauty of an open-access Festival is the immediate representation and response to current artistic trends.  My approach to this Festival’s shape and direction is underpinned by the philosophy that a healthy independent arts ecology requires a combination of freedom and provocation.  Independent artists, operating and creating freely without the constraint of a theme or the wait to be curated, should determine, lead and shape contemporary culture.  It should not be bureaucrats, administrators, venue managers nor any other kind of gatekeeper that collectively decide what’s vital for audiences to hear or see.  At the same time, artists also need provocation: to be introduced to new concepts, exposed to artists and practices they may not have encountered previously.  The arts sector more broadly requires a similar approach; although that provocation can come in the form of celebrations or highlights of certain artforms  – which is what we will do with our live arts initiative in 2010.  I think that open-access Festivals like Fringe are absolutely essential to the ongoing vitality of our arts community and artistic output – I think they go hand-in-hand with what makes Melbourne a great artistic city.   So open-access Festivals are one of the best opportunities then to see what shapes, trends and forms our contemporary practice currently takes; as is the case in 2009 with our live art category.

lala: Thanks so much and good luck with the launch on September 1.

ES: No worries Martyn, thanks for facilitating this discussion, it’s very important!  If anyone on the lala list has thoughts on any of the above, I’d love to hear from you.  I can be contacted via

Melbourne Fringe Festival launched today and runs from 23rd September – 11th October 2009.

Posted in: Interviews