PERFORMING MOBILITIES > a project of the Performing Mobilities Network >
the Australian program of PSi#21 > Fluid States: Performances of Unknowing > the Performance Studies international globally distributed performance research project taking place in a sequence of 15 different locations over 2015 > >

> > > CURATOR > Mick Douglas > > > COMPANION CURATORS > David Cross > Paul Gazzola > Bianca Hester > James Oliver > Paul Rae > Laurene Vaughan > Meredith Rogers > Fiona Wilkie >

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Following the 2015 events of Performing Mobilities, Curator Mick Douglas gathered the Companion Curators in mid 2016 for a discussion to reflect on the project.

I: Dramaturgy

Mick Douglas (MD): The project of Performing Mobilities emerged over a number of years through dialogue. It commenced through my conversations with you Fiona, and then gathered shape and momentum through the discussions of this group[1]. Having performed the mobility, as it were, let’s revisit the three-part dramaturgical structure that gave rise to the project: the seven-week programme of TRACES expositions of journey-based projects held in two university galleries at either end of the central Melbourne city; the one-week programme of PASSAGES of mobile performances departing from the galleries; and the four-day ASSEMBLY that brought the whole Performing Mobilities activity into a state of culminating intensity, with people offering and experiencing performances, events, interventions and scholarly presentations. What were the virtues and limitations of this curatorial dramaturgy? Did it enable engaging with and thinking about performance and mobility together in particular ways?

Fiona Wilkie (FW): The different patterns offered ways for people to move in and out of experiences, spending lengthy moments of engagement over multiple weeks, or for a quick intense period. I came in by plane for an intense week and then left, so my experience seemed to roughly match the people who also came for the Assembly, whilst many others dropped in and out of the gallery expositions and performances over a longer period. These patterns enacted relationships between movement and stillness and so on. The Assembly tried to gather and allow space for multiple ways of thinking mobility and performance together. There was a strand around disability, immobility and interdependence; another strand around indigeneity, belonging, place and movement; there were strands around walking arts, migration, refugees; around global commerce, shipping and cargo, and so on. There was something really useful about accommodating all of these things, but we couldn’t possibly do justice to the political and the social and the cultural aspects of every one of them. There are hierarchies inadvertently produced by the structure.

MD: In that dramaturgy, the Assembly of people and activities provided the most intense experiential element of Performing Mobilities, and I notice it has made the strongest impression on our conversations reflecting on the whole project to date. I hope the catalogue publication will offer engagement in the Traces and Passages programmes that offered slower, less intense forms of encounter. Yes there are weaknesses and strengths produced through the structures embedded. And that raises for me how the program had a lesser degree of Indigenous involvement and contributions that came to fruition than was hoped for, because of various people’s circumstances. I feel the responsibility for that, and disappointment with it.

Bianca Hester (BH): When holding open a space for multiple strands, as soon as you bring greater attention to one of those strands, you have to really rework at a structural level. The whole curatorium would’ve had to be restructured with Indigenous involvement influencing the way the whole project unfolds. And likewise for any of those strands.

MD: Yes, by privileging the networked breadth of the program, the emphasis became the weave of intersecting examples of mobility and performance. I’m interested in how mobility projects gather momentum, conduct movement, and create moments of intensity.

Laurene Vaughan (LV): I felt there was a sense of revealing different arrangements of proximities through this movement. The long process of development towards the gallery works and the performances over the seven weeks made the Assembly so rich. Early on in the process, Mick engaged the curatorium group in the experience of walking salt from Flinders St Station to Docklands and unexpectedly travelling on the river – it shifted us from talking about what it could be to an embodied experiential moment about how this might be.

David Cross (DC): Yes, our terms of engagement started with praxis. I was performing my own mobility from the very first moment. We weren’t thinking about how we would structure it, we were actually engaging in doing it. I think the profundity in that is the way in which once you’ve cast the die, it’s really going to determine what you do.

LV: The work was embodied; it wasn’t an event that was purely conceptual. If you wanted to be part of it …

Meredith Rogers (MR): You had to move!

DC: The dramaturgy had two factors in train. It’s us sitting round a table, plotting a praxis and how a gallery show sits in relation to temporary performances, in relation to a gathering, in relation to a publication. Then there is the reality of confirming a gallery space, who can join in, what the budget is, and how this is going to come together. There was a lovely oscillation between the purity of ideas generated on criteria of artistic and intellectual capital, that was then mediated with pragmatic realities. For me, it is that balance between a fluid set of ideas, and paying homage to gallery practice, to temporary performance practice, to site-based practice, and to our reflections on that, and at the same time, knowing that we had finite energies, finite money and a lot of stuff out of our hands. To me, that risk is still one of the most beautiful things about what emerged through Performing Mobilities, partly because of planning and partly because of luck.

MD: Does actively working with contingency play a role?

MR: It is also to do with the participants, and I think because there was an appetite to engage.

DC: Yes, the quality of artists and performers and thinkers was excellent. But there’s also something about careful orchestration. Sure, there was space for the happenstance, but the care of thinking through the different modes within the Assembly, for example, enabled that beauty to happen.

MD: Is that something particular about the intersection between performance and mobility?

MR: Yes, because once you’re talking about mobility you’re talking about movement between, so that you’re then always in a state of enquiry and discovery and between-ness.

LV: The idea of embracing fear to see what would happen is very important – a certain bravery, which is consistent with both performance and mobility. There has to be a certain ambition about where you want to go. And I think there was a certain bravery of knowing that some things could completely go wrong, but if they did, they would be what they would be.

II: Curatorium structure

MD: Let’s talk about our roles. I sought out to create a network of relations between people involved in Performing Mobilities. At the core was the interweaving of the multiple roles that many of us have played: as being part of this organising group of this multi-layered project; of undertaking the role that I proposed to you as ‘companion curator’ to participating projects; of inviting you to undertake and propose your own project as an artist, and a performance, scholarly presentation or artist’s talk that would be reviewed for selection by this group along with other invited proposals. How did you experience taking up multiple roles? Was this enabling or inhibiting? Are their virtues to this approach?

BH: Well, I loved it! It deepened relationships within my own network. It’s always productive to engage with people through different registers. And I think it brings a greater sense of responsibility to those of us on the curatorium, to each other personally and intellectually.

MD: Many of us were already experienced in working in, as you put it, ‘multiple registers’, in roles as organisers, initiators, curators, academics, activists, and as artists undertaking project works. However often those roles are not overlaid in the same frame; they’re often kept separate.

BH: Which establishes a hierarchy. So for example, I felt that I was able to be really honest working with Australian Performance Exchange. I could bring a criticality to the discussion because, like them, I was also an artist (as a member of Open Spatial Workshop) participating in the Traces programme and could talk with empathy to the process, allowing me a greater criticality, and an honesty to bring to bear in the discussions.

DC: It’s incredibly audacious to think that we can play those roles simultaneously. We tested the nature of how those roles can be blurred, how they can be set in a register next to one another. But I think we found a limit. I found that the different headspaces of being a curator, a writer, a panel chair, and of being an artist were extraordinary difficult to find an accord with – particularly as it became more intense around the Assembly.

MR: I thought that the companion curatorship was really quite difficult at times, but it was a learning role for both participants and became an expansive process.

FW: We were inventing what we might mean by ‘companion curator’ all the way through. Inevitably, like any set of relationships, some will have worked better than others, and some worked just differently. It was left open, so that it could be the relationship it needed to be.

LV: I felt that I had the role of host. There was this dimension of care. It wasn’t necessarily something I had to have, but I felt aware of wanting to help hold the space of the event.

BH: Mick, being the OSW companion curator, set an example for how I might improvise my being in a companion curator role to others, or do it differently. I love this working in response with, against, and through something. That was productive because, in a way, that becomes a ‘companion’ curator, not in terms of the curator to artist relation, but in terms of curator to curator, slipstreaming, the same as the artist slipstreaming with the artist.

DC: It was an exercise in a radically interrogating praxis.

FW: Rather than simply gathering a set of proposals and putting them into a program, which is what generally happens, we attempted to set up space for conversations to happen.

MD: I think you’re making a distinction between a predetermined directorial approach of commission and selection, and an emergent process of discretion and inclusion. The structure that we were exploring tried to create relations between the participating people and projects, trying to allow the relations between them to emerge over time. I trusted that the emergent process would enable the artists’ project interests, and our curatorial shaping of the overall project, to be responsive to one another.

FW: I think we set off the possibility for conversations to start beforehand, to circulate around the events, to continue afterwards, but that means we can’t capture everything that came under the umbrella of this thing we set in motion.

MD: There was an effort to have creative practice work and scholarly reflection in the same conversation.

FW: It’s a cliché that often at scholarly events, the most interesting and useful stuff for your ongoing work is the stuff that happens in the coffee break, but there are different languages that people coming from one or other of those groups are used to working in, and it can take a while for those to settle with each other.

DC: How does one sustain an ambitious multi-voiced project with the ambition that we put on the table over a period of time? How might have we thought through the notion of intensities? How can you establish a really rich and vibrant and celebratory sense of praxis in an organisational structure like ours over an 18-month period?

MD: I was very conscious of cultivating conditions where there’s an interweave between social actors – particularly the multiplicities of being artists, curators, writers, academics – to actually explore the multi-layeredness of what it is to cultivate exchange, and what it is to move together. I felt it was necessary to mobilise a grouping, to mobilise connections between individuals who cared, because to me that was part of what was going to generate ways to reveal something about our contemporary condition, and the different forces of mobility that we experience.

DC: Could the means of doing so been improved?

MD: It could have been more time efficient. We can territorialise responsibilities, such that an autonomy of action can take place within those territories. But whilst that gains something in terms of time efficiency, it also can have the consequences of reducing attention and capacity for working the threads of relation between entities.

III: Transdisciplinarity

BH: Artistic work is assembled through a whole range of methodologies, some more scholarly, some more experiential, so for me, artistic research is already a convergence of research enquiries, and the same potentially goes for scholarly output, right? To bring them together foregrounds and embraces the truth of research in a way – the multi-modal, multi-registered way that research happens – that takes different formats and can achieve different outputs. It’s very true to form in my own experience of producing work, where artwork is, like interrogating the archives, writing, collaboration, site research, field work, critical, dialogical process, studio production. So it already contains multiple registers. As workers, we are thinkers and writers and presenters and artists and friends: many possible relations go into the mix of making work.

LV: Similarly, I think there was an equity of literacies in the programme bringing richness – a literacy of performance, of image, of text, the literacy of discussion, and of silence. Holding these with the same emphasis in a space allowed for each to speak, and allowed people to enter and leave as they could.

MR: Yes, a capacity to take in and embrace other forms that you might not ordinarily.

MD: I wanted us to reflexively explore this kind of multivalent and networked milieu of contemporary cultural production that we exist within, so that the movement patterns of people, practices and ideas could be attended to in the ways in which they fold back into the larger emergent project.

FW: I particularly enjoyed that, through the structures that we set up and the spaces to break out of those structures, we were enacting the ubiquity of the themes that we were arguing. I do think there was a fundamental premise that Performing Mobilities isn’t a niche topic within performance studies, but is actually something we need to tease out, because these are conditions that we find ourselves working, living and operating within. Mobilities can become about so much that it becomes nothing – a vague, empty concept. So for me, that was the value of having very specific foci, asking what do we mean by that in this instance, and in this instance? People come with very particular examples, either through a piece of creative work that they’ve produced, or a piece of writing or whatever, and these examples gave important moments to get down to the detail of what does mobility mean in particular instances.

BH: It’s important to offer a critique of the endless mobility that we all find ourselves in, and the kind of post-Fordist labour that we do as artists in terms of an endless readiness and mobility across registers, across disciplines, as that’s what neo-liberalism demands of us, constant fluidity, right?

FW: Yes. And it can’t be expected that we carry on in a kind of business model, where our labour is moved unproblematically from place to place, as if there’s no other ties or anything that would connect it to places, particular places at particular times. Seeing Paul Gazzola and his partner coming along to events with their babies was a good reminder of ties to people and places.

BH: Maybe that’s one way for the future. In a workshop I did in New Zealand, when we went down to the Marae, there are mattresses and people laid down on them, and they’re still participating now. This space of accommodating the body, accommodating children, accommodating nursing mothers – it is really important that there are multiple spaces, sites and opportunities for gathering in a range of different ways, and for incorporating other knowledges and Indigenous practices.

IV: Fluid States – Performing Mobilities

MD: What are your reflections on the interrelation between our Performing Mobilities regional activities project and the global PSi project ‘Fluid States: performances of unknowing’?

FW: It was a kind of micro/macro model. We were doing on a smaller scale what Fluid States seemed to be doing on a larger scale. We didn’t have to artificially have the conversation about what a Fluid States model of research and thinking and gathering might be, because we were enacting this on a local regional level. For me at the moment everything is about mobility. However, the invitation that Fluid States set up for participants seemed to presuppose a particular kind of staying at local levels of mobility, which isn’t actually how many people operate in their working lives, in their scholarly lives, in their artistic lives and so on.

DC: I think we use this constant logic of delay. We never allowed people to settle on an ideology, a kind of framework, a kind of system, if you like, that enabled them to put it in a box and then to be able to take a step out and say ‘it was this’. I think because the project has this extraordinary elasticity, and a commitment to a pan-disciplinary engagement in the process that people felt incredibly compelled, because it didn’t fall into an easy typology of being a project of a certain kind.

MD: Does this delay reveal something of the value of performativity as a mode of knowledge construction?

MR: It is true there’s something unique about the performative gesture, in terms of a way of thinking about how we are, and where we are, and what we are, that takes us beyond. The gesture of performance is a way of knowing, or not knowing, as the case may be.

DC: It’s where liveness in praxis exists. I do think that, to some degree, Performing Mobilities is the triumph of a new kind of academic worker that is fully cognisant and embracing of praxis. The fact that so many people in this group are academics is something we haven’t really talked about. This was a strongly academic-driven set of people who put this in train and, to some extent, we were trying to voice our dissatisfaction with the academia that we live in, the conservative constrictions and the silos, etcetera. Performing Mobilities gave us a genuine sense of joy to engage with a richness of ideas and practice that was not stultified by neo-liberal forces.

MD: I’m often conscious of averting the territorialising impulse of an organisational form to claim a mandate over a project. This project needed to be built upon our mobile relations and to start to build a field of work, rather than reproducing the interests of organisational forms.

DC: And in that sense, there are kernels of a new model for how pan-institutional education might operate.

Paul Rae, James Oliver and Paul Gazzola

were unable to join this last curatorium group discussion.

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> presenting partners RMIT Gallery and Margaret Lawrence Gallery VCA
> The Victorian Government through Creative Victoria
> RMIT University > Design Research Institute > Industrial Design Program
> University of Melbourne > Faculty of VCA & MCM > Melbourne Social Equity Institute
> Pflab > performative creative practice research lab