There is very little that will keep me away from the end of year Artslab showcase. Very little. Even readying a stack of new monologues by 7-on playwrights could not stop me.

The declarations are these: I am a board member of Shopfront Contemporary Arts and Performance, I also have the great honour of sitting on the panel which meets the Artslab applicants to discuss their ideas. I attend the mid year showing, make myself available for coffee and chats with the artists and at the end of each year I write a little to reflect my experience of watching their work, thinking, practice develop.

This year, six artists under took the Artslab Residency – all from differing backgrounds and interests – all with a different emphasis, different interest and different artistic inquiry – all offered six months to discover and uncover the question lying at the heart of their work. And the showcase which resulted is “Slow Reveal: Six New Works in a Timely Fashion.”

Erica J Brennan – A Feat Incomplete

Arriving at Shopfront in December 2010 with a presentation of a story on a laptop – for which the speakers didn’t work. It was a presentation on the seven different types of story. I watched as Erica J Brennan held a faint speaker to her ear and paraphrased her story to us (the panel) a retelling of a story already constructed then broken. She was fascinating to watch. I was glad technology failed. her analogue self was stunning and arresting.
At the mid session presentation (just after I had witnessed her contribution to subtlenuance’s monologue showcase “Bareboards Bravehearts”) Brennan presented a segment of her work at shopfront – a woman with far reaching horns listening to an urn full of water… chatting to a cute and whimsical mushroom – frightened by the audience and confessing a love story yet to be realized.
The final installment (not truly a final installment as I know this work will continue to grow and develop) showed a parallel universe – A man (David Buckley) and the mythical horned story goddess (Erica Brennan) have a sense that the other might exist. What was a simple idea was now very complex – a new found sophistication in technical and physical performance. A woman listens to the water from an ancient urn – a man listens to his teapot. It’s wildly ambitious. There is a sweetness and a softness in Erica’s work. She listens to text as though the sound is more important than content. And sometimes it is. but there is still content there – it’s about story – about ancient rhythm and themes. It is lyrical and meditative. There is a poetry – visual and aural in her work – there is synergy and lightness and surprise. This particular chapter of the development either needed a lot more stage time – more content – or less (content and time) – it was presented in an awkward mid-stage – which I actually don’t mind at all – because I can see it’s growing. She’s still working on it. I like that. And I like that about Erica J Brennan – It shows a confidence and a conviction about there being a long gestation period to creating. Good. I’m glad.

Grant Moxom – The Space Has Been Left Intentionally Blank
Grant is a friend of mine. I declare that openly. I have known him since he was a pup of 19 and a testamonial from him is on this site. That doesn’t mean I automatically like his work – or understand his aesthetic. It merely means I have cooked him dinner and we’ve shared bus rides, car rides and seen shows together.
Grant’s application we did not discuss over pesto penne in my backyard before he walked into the room at Shopfront. He had told me a sketch of an idea once presented at UNSW – of seeing how permissive/ameniable audiences were in sharing things about themselves. The application he presented was a hope to develop and explore that idea. I sat in the room. i wore the headphones. I listened to Grants voice reveal some things about himself that I had not heard before. It was intimate and strange. And there was an aspect which was curt and prescriptive.
The development showing I wore headphones again – this time at the industry showing. I was a little out of sync and I didn’t understand some of the instructions. I think I messed it up a bit. But I delighted in the chaos and the intricate descriptions. I gave feedback about gestalt images.
The final showing was very sophisticated – he had refined the instructions, had plotted and planned a stage show for all of us to see and 7 people to participate in. There was a strange and sickening moment when the headphone-wearing audience members stripped him, then whacked him on the back and it appeared as though they may be given the instruction to beat him. This was very confronting – I’m not even sure if any one else saw or felt that moment. I did. It raised a whole swelling mass of questions for me about permission and art and compliance. Would they as active/instructed audiences beat Grant with the stick, if the head phones instructed? Even if he gave permission for them to? Would we as passive /voyeurs be OK with sitting there watching them beat him – knowing full well that they are under instructions, from the man himself, to do so? I was then confronted with the question of free will versus determinism – how much is determined before we even walk into the theatre? How much of our accepting or rejecting anything a performer has to say has to do with our prejudices – for example a prejudice against a man with a goatee and long hair for one audience member was repulsive – but to me – everyone knows I’m a sucker for a man who looks like Jesus. But how much does even THAT superficial prejudice effect our reading and viewing of a situation? Interesting. But the work didn’t go there – perhaps it didn’t need to for me to have this overflow of questions.

Lucy Watson – Slipping
Lucy Watson. I met her after seeing her in the Pact Ensemble end of year work. Her application was amazing, imaginative, brutal, funny, smart. I don’t remember much – but I remember her hacking with scissors at a foam body she had sculpted. She was funny, prepared, curious, brave, surprising and creative. I remember feeling delighted and envious of her future. And I like how friendly yet awkward she was in the interview with bits of foam caught in her hair.
At the showing there was something different going on. A piano. A moon. A window sill. A letter. A mask. A pinata of glitter. I remember there being a lot of paint and colour and words. But I couldn’t tell you the story. It was more of a montage of theatrical experiments.
The final showing was quite different, once again. Beams of light fan out from the steps in the back room of the theatre space. Before long, feet white and long step down. There is a suitcase. She speaks. She tumbles and gasps at the suitcase. balancing and tumbling. I find it hard to focus on whats being said. I find it difficult to watch the bruises on her legs as they grab at the case. I’m not sure of the story – but it feels like the sound of words is more important than the content. I take that as my cue. I listen to the words as a score – not as a communication of language. I watch her. She finishes. She walks up stairs. She is gone.

Bernice Ong – Requiem
Bernice showed the panel at her interview a series of images from her visual art installations. She has moved into performance art – or living installation art. There was a picture of her washing her hair in milk I think… and photographs of oceans projected in a room. A stunning portfolio of work and ideas. All presented in a tidy and quiet voice.
The mid year showing had us in a waiting room she had created. Free to watch her roam and chew on chips – a baggy panted vagrant. A screen flickered on the wall. It was scarey, weird and boring – and surprising. I really liked it. And it’s OK that I didn’t know why.
The final work was in black and white. A whole room arranged. Traverse staging. She sat. Brushing her teeth with milk. A stack of TV screens a video of a cockroach kicking its legs at the sky, spinning and racing about before dying. Mozart. A requiem for a king. The threat of playing a violin – it felt like many moments of anticipation and preparation. Very different. Less casual than the showing more purposeful – rigid. More performative than the other – and different – but not necessarily “better” or “worse” – just a different take on a similar question: What is it to wait? What is it to watch? What do we chose to watch? How are we involved and implicated?

Rachel Weiner – Homunculus
Arriving for her interview last year – I had already seen her dance work in a version of Woyzeck at Downstairs Belvoir. She seemed very organised and in fact, I don’t mind admitting I was in awe of her sprite and bright manner.
Her mid-term showing was very formal. beautiful. Classical. Controlled. I felt a disconnect with her work – as it seemed too proper – or a little bit cerebral – less instinctual. Less well, something that I as a non-dancer could relate to. You see, I’m not a dancer. I don’t know how to read dance. I don’t know how to dance – so I look for the dancer’s face to see how they feel or think. this is because I know nothing about dance. Rachel’s performance seemed a little, well, like anyone could have made/danced it. I wanted to see more of her. I told her that.
The final show had developed out of sight – like Rachel had discovered a new language of movement in space – three beams of light that illuminate the space as she runs across the stage. New shapes, new moments, a relationship with light (more than just being lit). I felt she offered us a portrait of the red shoes which was unique to her… which was as much about physical pain/fear as it was the fear of being vulnerable.

Rachel Roberts – Eater
A very quiet, shy artist with a huge intellect. Her presentation found us (panelists) sitting on a floor attempting to wrap a present and write in a card within two minutes. Birthdays are horrible. And parties especially. She’s right. I agree. She was going to look at guilt, obligation and celebration. Interesting. A part of the Applespiel collective (which was born out of Wollongong) Rachel has a fair amount of experience in the realm of devising and questioning the world.
The mid year showing was an extension of that idea – now in a fully realised party situation with a pinata, gifts, coloured popcorn, exclusion of some guests. She rose onto the table in a red dress as we, the audience peered through the window.
The end of year – absolutely nothing to do with that. Completely new work based on the myth of the minotaur, and this time working with Bodysnatchers co-founder Mark Rogers (also from Wollongong). The writing credit goes to them both. The work is grand in scale – epic, mythic. (As a side note -interestingly, at the time of seeing this I was working on a piece called Ariadne by Verity Laughton – yes something in the air in regards to the minotaur stories) Her beautiful, powerful body elegantly stands – disco lit or draped in a silky robe. I follow the story – but only just – poetry takes over and it’s more about the lilt and lift of her soft voice. A text which may be a riveting read – but which I suspect might be best read slowly and softly to oneself on a quiet Tuesday night. Beautiful if not just for the stage imagery.

‘So?’ I ask. ‘What then? What next for these young artists?’

Where does this leave the six artists? What have they made/learn/discovered about art/making/being an artist? What do they hope? What will they do? Where next?

Firstly, I’d say they are digesting the feedback – the praise, the questions, the criticism. Then perhaps the will abandon or shelve the work – or keep it flickering on the side – or voraciously plan for a fringe tour? The point for me is this:

All came into Artslab as artists.

What they were given was 6 months to discover what they like/want/need to make the work that they want to make. They had room to fail, room to grow (same thing, really) Room to push themselves, to invest in themselves. They might have made some grand creative relationships – they might discovered who or what they want to work or and with (or not) – and that is all wonderful.

I refuse to rank or identify the artist with the greatest talent – as all have huge potential – ALL have something unique to offer- and that is themselves.

My wish for all of them is that they rest, learn to pace themselves, appreciate their achievement, celebrate their inconsistencies and shortcomings, keep in contact with those that inspire them, remain invigorated by all the possibility and above all else remain insatiably curious.