ON THE ISLAND: ART-MAKING IN EXTREMIS, EIGHT WEEKS STRAIGHT

Thoughts from the creators of DOKU RAI, compiled by Urszula Dawkins

At the time of writing, it’s opening night in Darwin for DOKU RAI (you, dead man, I don’t believe you) – an Australia/Timor-Leste collaboration between artists from Melbourne’s Black Lung Theatre and Timor-Leste’s Galaxy and Liurai Fo’er. Somehow, squeezed between a savagely intense two-month development on a remote Timorese island; transporting a couple of dozen people as well as props, equipment and instruments back to Australia; and pulling it all together for their final dress/tech run, four company members have stayed up later-than-usual to email me 15 pages of replies to my interview questions.

Loping trains of thought. Audacious declarations. Tall tales and sweeping gestures. I’m excited. The words that scroll down the page are by turns heartfelt and hyperbolic, impassioned or direct; as committed and intense as killing a pig, or choosing to live with sporadic electricity and scant water supply in order to make art.

I’m probably romanticising. Here are some of their thoughts:

1. A bunch of anarchic ‘bad boy’ artists from Melbourne (Black Lung) and Timor-Leste (Liurai Fo’er and Galaxy) meet one another and decide to work together

Gareth (performer/musician):

“The main drive behind making this work came from the individuals, and the great desire to work with this group of individuals – as opposed to some sort of cross-cultural exploration. Which has its place. The affinity we felt for each other, despite our differences, despite our varied pasts, was incredibly exciting.”

“We come from vastly different backgrounds but our aesthetics are so close… Our senses of humour, what makes us excited, what makes us angry.  The fury with which we make work, the need.  Our work being a reaction to what we feel strongly about in our lives.  The lack of preciousness about the product itself, and the fact that if we were stuck somewhere in isolation, with no money and no audience, we’d still feel a desperate need to make…things.”

“The word for ‘histories’ and ‘stories’ is the same in Tetum. Fiction and reality are more…blurred.”

“In 2010, Osme made a show, he collected rubbish from the mean streets of Dili, because he hated that rubbish.  It’s art from the rubbish; it’s still rubbish, but people can see something beautiful in it.  They go on long, beautiful rubbish collection walks at the beach. They made a sculpture, the intention was to clean the beach of that shit totally.  Stop throwing your damn litter.  But Osme knows best about it.  It was something he just did.  Every day.  Not just about the rubbish, but about the mentally ill, the crazed, the poor and the broken, to borrow some of the personalities of those people. Because to them, they might be crazy, but they’re not bad people.”

“We were seriously trapped on that island.  We shared our workspace with a pig, a chicken, a rooster, dogs, various children, various people from the village that would wander up. Random elements would drift in and drift out, we were all members of a bigger community.  That’s something we’ve tried to bring back: that despite the story, with its antagonists, and conflicts, and whatnots, it’s a goddamn family who are making it.”

2. They make music, share stories; their experiences are different but their aesthetic is strikingly similar. They set up the development in Timor. It’s a big unknown for everyone.

Etson (performer/musician):

“[Those of us from Lospalos, Timor] know each other for a very long time…and we really know each other and we trust that we will do something together. We have worked with each other a lot before doing music, play around, drink together, touring playing music together. We met the other [Australian] artists in Timor.”

“We share our ideas and everyone talks to each other and we create something new from our life that we never have before. It is a bit hard because sometime we think that the idea we share is not good enough for the other artists but we realise: if everyone has an idea to share it is easier.”

“Galaxy [the Timorese band] is from Lospalos and the founder is Osme…they came to me when I went to church and we played a bit of music together. […] And I said – what does it mean, Galaxy? And Osme said Galaxy – the word is from Indonesian and Ga is Gabungan (together), La is Laki (man), and Sial (you do too much work but it never goes well, you are unlucky). […] We played on the street and for the community and the neighbours – they thought we were not a good generation because sometime when we are together we get hungry and we go to steal bananas from beside the church and stolen dog. But at that moment the others think it is good because we go to parties and ceremony and they invite us to go there to make decoration – we cut the letters and paint on the wood and we play together and sometimes the big ceremony or event…we play for everybody like a parade.”

“You never think you will create a band but then it happens and Osme goes to Dili and he was involved in a theatre (Bibi Bulak) and they have a studio and a place and equipment…I never thought I would go to Dili and stay there, but I went there and I bought ink to tattoo and I’m broke. A guy paid me the ink if I tattooed him.”

“Making DOKU RAI was good but sometimes crazy for me, because it is the first time and I am a bit nervous and I have never worked like that. Morning till night time. We have a rest sometime but work and work and work. It is the first experience like this that I have had in my life. Who knows if I work again like this in my lifetime?”

3. Holed up in an abandoned colonial hotel on an island off Dili, they eat, sleep and work together. The phrase ‘doku rai’ refers to a cursing ritual. Over two months, things get intense.

Thomas (Henning) (performer/musician):

“Osme would wake at five and do something. Aaron Orzech would probably wake at six and say something pithy. Others would wake between six and nine…except for Meli and Wazza who’d be up somewhere near noon. Half-way through Tia Maria took to making popcorn, so we’d all probably eat popcorn and paun. One day she made something called crippy, which I enjoyed. She took note of the fact that I was enjoying it, informed me of the name several times then never made it again. It had peanuts and wood in it. Meanwhile water vomited from the kitchen onto the pig called Simon.”

“Most of those we are collaborating with from Timor have had their bulk of experience on stage playing music. I wanted to level up the playing field somewhat and land us all in that environment. I also wanted to meld histories, of all of us as individuals. To smash the social experiences of each of us together, so that any notion of a difference between the Timorese and Australian artists was obliterated. We would exist in a place indifferent to fiction and reality, in which personal histories and dreams would bleed together.”

“Liurai Fo’er has a strange impetus and something very complementary to the way we’ve made most of our sets: the development of a lot of Black Lung shows has involved duping someone with a van into driving around hard rubbish areas a week or more before opening night, sifting through the garbage and finding the prettiest crap. But, perhaps, there is a greater protest than the cheap attitude we had…there is also something about the lowly lord, the fool king to it… I [also] think it’s about giving pride, about giving a change in thinking to those who’ve forever felt that they, too, are disposable.”

“Chaos is the coexistence of order and disorder, the specific and the possible, the solid and the concept. In balance. […] I think that people who seek utter order make as great a mess of themselves as those who collapse into total disorder. The best thing to try and find is a harmonious balance between both.”

“One morning I walked out, bleary and hungover and irritable as was on occasion the case, and Osme said, hey let’s go for a walk. So before I’d washed (which I probably wouldn’t have done as we didn’t have any water at the time), we went down the 99 stairs to Luis the security guard’s place and watched him stab a pig through the heart. It was tied to a tree next to his other pigs. He had a really big one, the kind that could eat children. Each one had carved a circle around their tree, the length of their ropes. We carried it up the hill in a rice bag and dumped it on the breakfast table.

Other days I watched the horizon. It was better than a TV. You could read how bad the sea was and watch ocean liners move as slow as sloths across the horizon. Some days you could see Indonesia. Sometimes I would talk to rocks, rant at them like a microphone, tell them all my ugly, bitter grief then throw them toward the mountain. Othertimes I’d just talk to the mountain.”

4. A tropical paradise – with scorpions and malaria. A story from that place: no holds barred.

Alex (producer):

“We wanted to live together – to immerse ourselves in each other’s lives. To work with real stories and to be profoundly influenced by working within Timor.”

“We all have an intense desire to make and experience art that challenges both the intellect and the emotions. Always a search for the reality of the artifice and the artifice of reality.”

“We had to try and make an entire work without any of our set, costumes or musical equipment for the first month. We had to build an entire rehearsal space, set department, costume department, video editing suite. We had to negotiate with local craftsmen, the chefe de suko (chief of the village) and each other. We had to feed and house, at it’s peak, 22 artists, creatives and production staff from both Australia and Timor in a hotel that had never been used before. We conducted daylight terrorism (literally) to supply the town and ourselves with running water. Water was a big issue. And electricity. And scorpions. And guys cutting off their fingers chopping up a dog. We worked from dawn till the sky wheeled with early morning stars. And then a couple of times each day you would look up and see that stupid amazing view out over the village from our strange monastery on the hill. An azure sea. Coconut palms. Really, actually that paradise that people travel searching for. We painted, sang, got blinding drunk on local palm rocket-fuel, cooked with our local chefs, checked the water levels, refuelled the generator, tried to watch some of the World Cup from a rusted antenna tied high above our set. Oh and Wazza joined the church.”

“The show is a riot inside a Baptist church. It is a heartbreaking introduction to the real lives of the artists from Timor. It is a complete fable – a weave of the morality of faith, anger, loss, competitiveness, responsibility. It has music that makes you want to go absolutely nuts; film glorious in sumptuous detail and image poetry, actors that have pushed themselves far beyond anything before. We fucking love it.”

DOKU RAI (YOU, DEAD MAN, I DON’T BELIEVE YOU)
THE BLACK LUNG THEATRE, LIURAI FO’ER AND GALAXY

Arts House, Meat Market
Wed 29 Aug – Sun 2 Sep 2012

Post-show Q&A Thu 30 Aug

Bookings:
artshouse.com.au
(03) 9322 3713

Photo: Mim Catterns

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About Arts House

Arts House presents contemporary arts in programs encompassing performance, exhibitions, live art, residencies and other activities that nurture, support and stimulate cultural engagement. For more information, please visit artshouse.com.au.
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