We all want to create a sustainable world, right? To see the pace of climate change arrested and ensure the planet survives – don’t we? In the arts, international projects like Tipping Point are changing the way we think about sustainable arts practices. Arts House adds to the mix this month with Going Nowhere: three days of experimentation, iteration and conversation exploring some of the biggest challenges we face as artists, including the huge environmental cost of air travel. But could we really do it without anyone getting on a plane?
Arts House Creative Producer and Tipping Point Australia Director, Angharad Wynne-Jones acknowledges the rather “awkward moment” that tends to arise at arts/sustainability events – after the conversations about getting better at making sets, running venues and encouraging audiences to travel by bike and train.
“The sticking point in terms of reducing our carbon footprint has always been international travel,” Wynne-Jones says, “because that’s a kind of pay-off for artists: it’s the excitement and it’s the thrill and it’s the status and it’s how artists reward themselves [in an industry where most artists are underpaid or underemployed]. It’s the thrill of saying you’ve just come back from Yogyakarta or Berlin or wherever – it’s a really hard one to let go of.”
Wynne-Jones felt that coming up with solutions needed to involve artists themselves. “If we could imagine what international exchange might be like without getting on a plane,” she reasoned, “then that would be a great thing to have in the mix of future thinking about arts practice.” But while a growing number of European arts organisations now rely on rail rather than air travel, she says, for Australian artists, cutting out flying – even domestically – is a big ask.
“So I felt that it was the impossible question – but that because artists are brilliant and curious and unafraid, that we could have some fun in thinking about it.”
For audiences too, says Wynne-Jones, watching work that comes “from somewhere else” is also “addictive, compelling and wonderful”. So how will Going Nowhere – in the form of a Friday night party, a symposium-style Saturday and a more communally-based Sunday – set the scene for a post-climate-change world where both artists and audiences can continue to have amazing and enriching experiences?
Think it, talk it, do it – Saturday
At the core of Going Nowhere are an arts sustainability workshop, a series of ‘Ideas Lab’ presentations, and a public forum – all designed to fuel ideas and exchanges. Looking at the challenges of touring, the Responsible Mobility workshop, led by Live Performance Australia’s Suzanne Daley, will combine case studies, discussion and practical exercises to help develop their green touring policies or checklists.
“LPA have had support from Queensland’s Department of Environment and Resource Management to do a whole series of case studies,” says Wynne-Jones, “looking at arts and sustainability from differently scaled organisations. They are really leading the sector currently in terms of pooling together their learning and sharing.”
The Ideas Lab, though, is where Going Nowhere ups the ante. How can work be created whose essence lies in not touring? Wynne-Jones approached four Australian artists and invited them to choose an international colleague to develop an idea.
“For instance, Dan Koop is working with Andy Fields (Bristol, UK)…they’re looking at pathways and modes of transport around the city. Both Bristol and Melbourne have metro-bikes and a kind of ‘city loop’ – so they’ve identified that they could create a work that could connect and work both geographically and on the loop and with the bicycles.”
Koop and Fields, Sarah Rodigari and Joshua Sofaer (UK), One Step At A Time Like This and Helen Cole (UK), and Willoh S Weiland and Fritz Hauser (Switzerland), will all present their project concepts at Going Nowhere, setting off discussion about the issues and possibilities of creating such works. One of the challenges, says Wynne-Jones, lies in intellectual property: how do you create a work that collaborating artists can comfortably co-own and that may be staged by either one independently? Another is artists’ understandable desire to travel with the work, in order to see that it’s properly set up and that it happens “in the right way”. Realising this, for Wynne-Jones, was a kind of ‘wake-up’ moment.
“Of course artists are invested in their work, and so we actually needed to start these projects from nothing, from the idea that this work will be shared, you might never travel with this work, it might be out in the world without you. It’s about conceiving the work in way that’s resilient to it being delivered by your colleague on the other side of the world – or even that it’s resilient enough to be liberated as a kind of open source…”.
Friday – party night
Going Nowhere shares space at Arts House, Meat Market, with Madeleine Flynn and Tim Humphrey’s wondrous installation, Gauge. The thematic connection is clear – Gauge’s artistic Wunderkammer is essentially concerned with weather, water and scale. But Wynne-Jones also cites the nesting of works, one within the other (Friday’s opening party will situate Gauge, a Pecha Kucha event, films, a performance, food, drinks and a DJ all together in a single space) as something that may itself be more sustainable, in the spirit of overlapping ‘mosaic’ land uses. “The commodification of art has really instilled a desire for separateness and clarity, and sometimes that’s necessary; but I think here’s an opportunity to find the blend and the permeability between works, and the compatibility of work.
Sunday – food day
Forage and Feed is the theme for Sunday’s two events – the more eclectic of which involves a three-hour walking tour in search of edible plants. Wynne-Jones suggests, “there’s no better way of absorbing what local might mean, I think, than eating it. Often exotic foods are what we first connect with or respond to, so I was interested in really thinking about and experiencing the local flora in a really tangible, edible way.”
Why would we want to go nowhere, when we could go somewhere? For Wynne-Jones, the answer is partly about “revering and giving approbation to what we do have and where we are, and getting better at that.”
“We’ll be doing it again in two years and that will give us time to make sure that the ideas actually become experiences for audiences. […] My fantasy is that there’ll be a whole heap of venues across the world that for three days in November every couple of years, all putting on work by artists that aren’t there. And that we’ll be saying, ‘we can connect in this way’ and it is important and it is something to commit to.”
In other words, it’s about creating really exciting, sustainable work that we all want to stay home for.
Arts House, Meat Market & The Warehouse
23–25 November 2012
(03) 9322 3713