Jude Anderson – Punctum

Posted on September 28, 2009 by

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lala interviewed Jude Anderson, the Artistic Director of Punctum, a live art organisation based in Castlemaine in regional Victoria, who have connections to Melbourne and the rest of the world.

HI Jude, thanks for spending a bit of time with lala,

What is it that brought you back to Australia after spending so much time in France?

Well the first reason is really love. My partner had an offer of an exciting project here which we considered pretty carefully because to be quite honest I wasn’t in a hurry to change what I was doing in France. In fact the very day Gilles left France to begin the project here I had the opening of a new work there. It takes a long time to negotiate work and producers and funding etc in France so I had this work in train way ahead of making the decision to come back to Australia. So this work ‘Shroud’ was immediately selected for a pretty interesting Euro festival. That happens so rarely – you know someone walking up straight after seeing a work and saying “I want that for this” – and I had to say thanks but you’re too late. I think it was pretty good to finish with a work title like ‘Shroud’. However I still sneak back from time to time to work in the Company where I was an associate artistic director. I have the luxury of walking through the door and they immediately set me to work. It’s great.

And the second reason is that personally I work better if I’m a little scared – doing stuff where I’m “double daring” myself. It means I work doubly hard trying to ensure that it’s rigorous. It might be a flop because perhaps the audience won’t “get it” or it’s too one thing or not enough of another but the learning and evolution in understanding along the way is exhilarating. Australia scared me because my brother who at the time was strongly connected with arts here said to me “if you come back to Australia you’ll die”. I’m not dead yet but I’m still scared and I doubt a lot.

I remember that you said to me once that you couldn’t understand the division that exists in people’s heads about where we live and work – that this derogatory term that had been created with the word ‘regional’ is damaging, what are the benefits of living outside of Melbourne in Castlemaine? I know for a lot of companies in Europe living out of the major centres is necesary as rent is expensive in the cities.

Well I feel really lucky to be based in Castlemaine because there are many very clever and extraordinary people living here and clever people make others smarter even just by conversation osmosis in the queue at the fruit shop. We’re also surrounded by great food and wine. For me that’s important too. It’s not just a rent issue. Nor was anywhere in Europe really. The rent’s one thing but as well you work really closely with people so that sometimes it feels like I’m working with the whole town in order to get a project or program working. There are few distractions and everyone’s pretty humble. And you get a lot done quickly and suppliers and constructors become friends. There’s no faffing in traffic and really importantly civic engagement is really accessible. The democratic process at the Council meeting’s here is really something to behold. I really enjoy how you can live place in a deep way like this. So I have a pretty strong civic engagement, as I did in France. And this has a profound effect on how I work.

Speaking of rent and space, the ICU (A space underneath the Punctum offices) has become an important part of Punctum’s work – how important is it to have a space to be in, work in and show others work in?

Because the ICU is a basement space, I quite literally worked underground illegally for 4 years. Having space is not the issue – it’s what it is about a space that makes it a great space to work in and invite people into. The ICU and where it’s based has that quality. After we undertook the work on it to create a public entry, bring in fresh air and put other basic infrastructure into it, someone described it as New York Dada in the country – that’s it’s party side. For me and everyone else who has worked in there it’s like a gentle cone of concentration that you settle into. You lose track of time and emerge having worked hard. A space like that is a gift so I gift it to others when I or other Punctum artists aren’t using it. We have a long term partnership with Workspace Australia, a small business incubator and our landlord. Without them on board the ICU would not exist and I’d probably be working in a completely different way.

I was lucky enough to be on the curatorial committee for the first Punctum Seedpod, can you explain a little your thinking behind this? It is great i think it is the only funding source in the country that has the words ‘live art’ in the description.

What people too often forget is artists’ amazing capacity to do so much with so little, with a desire to share it with so many. Having been in the country for 3 years I had a pretty strong sense of what was and wasn’t being supported. The work I was doing was considered marginal. Where I was living and working was considered marginal. So I thought great I’ll begin this really marginal low budget activity with people who love marginal and can do great stuff with a marginal amount of funds. I already had with me a really wonderful group of artists with Punctum with vast and various experience in the margins both nationally and internationally. Thanks to Arts Victoria’s Local Partnerships initiative with the City of Greater Bendigo and our long relationship with the Performing Arts Centre where they had the patience and courage to support our work that had absolutely no place in their Victorian boom time proscenium arch theatre, we received some funding to manage a sponsorship program which we run with complete autonomy. Beyond the space and financial backing, I felt it was really important to provide geek, nerd, production management, and marketing advice/assistance. So I invented the SeedPod program for contemporary performance, and live arts just seemed a natural part of that and was a way of connecting installation artists, multi media artists, textile artists, performance artists… to the whole idea of questioning around audience. Live art is in there because I’ve always had an interest in what Bourriaud describes as relational aesthetics which many would describe as a wankish theory or term. However at its most basic it just means that any audience who comes along to a work has a critical presence and their presence is considered central to the shape of the work. Ranciere would say it’s providing for an emancipated collective or community of story tellers and translators. Not everyone wants to tell a story but a work of art is constantly translated and translation is a poetic act. When audience members grasp the poetry in their presence they live a heightened experience. Live art leaves a lot of space for translators. I love that. It’s also fraught with a huge number of unresolved issues which is fantastic for investigation. It’s not so much a hybrid art form as a new questioning of the relationship between the act, the audience and the performative space. It’s a scary area for a lot of people. It’s not one that’s having an impact on world art investment nor achieves a bumper financial bottom line. It’s this chunky, visceral, poetic activity in the margins. A bit EEEEEooooo. Perfect for Punctum to support. The curatorial committee which I call the Peer Squad means that the selection process is democratic, there’s great lively discussion around each Seedpod application and I can get back to artists with useful feedback on their proposition from those around the table. In general there’s about 10 of us. I love the time with the Peer Squad. It’s a great arena for dense discussion, fits of fury and hilarity.

How do you see the live arts in Australia -coming from a European context do you see that this idea is taking form here, or are we building something different?

Live art is that Anglo Saxon 1980’s term used to describe the flow on from performance art out of galleries and the flow out of theatre into new performative spaces. But Cabaret Voltaire had it all happening in Zurich years and years ago, as did the Bauhaus in Germany and Blue Mountain College in the USA, and Fluxus and Happenings. It’s not new, just a new name and one that neatly packages something that many critics like to hurl a screaming cat at because they’d like to tear it to shreds for disturbing audience and performer boundaries. Though I along with other artists I know once created a live art project that was described by the French press as ‘well being art’. That was a little weird. There are thousands of examples where performance art has crossed over to the stage and where the stage has crossed into streets and galleries. It’s just happened for longer in Europe and is linked to ‘movements’. Europe’s been pretty big on manifestos, the pronouncement of which is a bit of live art in itself. If every Australian live art artist stood up in a Council meeting and argued the necessity for a minimum 1% budgetary contribution to arts development and invited voters along as public that’s what I call live art for well being. If a critic hisses at it it’s democratic if others clap it’s democratic. I’ve done it for a few years now and it makes me and other artists feel really good. There’s much in Australia’s multi cultural mix, our indigenous culture and culture of settlers that is already live art but wrapped in a different nomenclature. Comparatively speaking Australia is caught up in an adolescent quest for identity rather than just being. Perhaps for artists Australia’s problem is one of a low critical mass and also that artists have rarely been celebrated for risking their lives for social/political/philosophical change or acts of collective resistance. Everything is judged on the hero/heroin (or X factor) scale here because that makes it easier for us to say “yes we’re all a bit like that person, aren’t we great”. I’d prefer to think like many in and beyond Australia that we’re simply capable of great acts of humanity/humility which is very romantic so my advance apologies to every ontological thinker reading this.

You have a strong sound component in Punctum through its members and the connection you have with liquid architecture every year, is sound important to you personally?

Sound is texture and dimension. Without it there’s no such thing as silence. It can crystallize emotion like nothing else. It’s pure, voluptuous, chaotic and evocative. It’s a critical dimension to every work I investigate.

What is the future for Punctum and the ICU?

The future is open to new works – a big collection of which begins with an ‘unveiling’ in Feb 2010 in Melbourne called In Habit and including over 20 artists, other works emanating from international exchange and residency here in central Victoria and other regional international centres via the incubator and various international, metro and regional partners, perhaps a partnership with Aphids running a studio here for young, emerging and indigenous artists with a symposium for Seedpod artists called Seedpod plus, also a work for voice, prepared guitar and prepared car, Undue Noise, Drome, Undue Voice…a holiday perhaps?

Thankyou to Jude, Castlemaine is about 2 hours on the train from Melbourne and the place is jumping with live art – check their website and get on the mailing list – it is worth it.

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Posted in: Interviews