Next Wave: Thinking about space

by Jane

This isn’t a movement, it’s a moment.

The rough writing plan for the week: take in the ideas presented in Next Wave’s Breakfast Club, and view that day’s work through that lens. Day one spoke about international occupy movements. What does it mean when people come together and claim physical spaces?

At post-breakfast brunch, festival resident and fellow Adelaidian Ianto Ware and I discussed the perspective he can, or perhaps is expected to, bring to the festival. To me it seemed obvious: his work is all about spaces. Renew Adelaide, I said, is about looking at the way we treat spaces and asking if there is a way we can do it differently, or do it better. Rather than looking at an empty commercial property and thinking this can only be filled with a commercial entity, it takes the idea that the use of space for small cultural enterprises is better for the community, and for the building, than it sitting empty. Similarity, many of the artists in Next Wave are placing their work in unexpected places or unexpected situations and, whether intentional or not, this brings with it questions on the inherent use of space.

Over the past few months I’ve found myself interested in architecture criticism. Not from any great interest in architecture, but in the concept of a criticism of a (typically) large, functional, and at least somewhat public space. The world I write about is so transient, so intangible, that the idea of writing about the opposite captures me. Put a show in the Adelaide Festival Centre most people won’t know. Build the Adelaide Festival Centre and it’s going to be noticed.

We perceive buildings as having set roles or set capacities. An office building is for offices; a shop is for selling things; a basement is for storage. These prescribed notions give an order to our lives. By another notion, we perceive places as placing on us a specific set or rules or circumstances. We know how to behave on a tram or in a crowd or in a theatre, because it’s always to be the same set of rules.

So what happens when we break these rules? At Breakfast Club, Next Wave artist Liesel Zink, choreographer of fifteen, spoke about how her dance work in Flagstaff Train Station has subtly started to influence the behavior of the commuters traveling through the station every day during peak hour. While she says you can’t notice the work unless you are an audience member listening to the music on headphones, through rehearsal of the work in the public space the artists have been engaging with pedestrians who don’t normally interact with the artistic process. At first, she said, people shut off, but now they are starting to get used to it, and a more congenital atmosphere runs through the space. The rules of interaction have subtlety shifted. But if it is this gentle shift, she wondered, can it be sustained?

Breaking the rules of space in another way is dance work In Pursuit of Repetition (Fame and Squalor) by Alison Currie and Kel Mocilink under Federation Square. This basement space – almost empty, concrete walls, metal railings and fences, and exposed piping – seems to be just a hull in the building; a thoroughfare from one space to another. It’s certainly not a space intended for performing, let alone living, as Currie and Mocilink are doing through the festival.

And yet, as an audience member, I was struck at how we all continued to obey the rules of performance space. We were quiet; we sat where we were told to sit; we stood and walked where we were supposed to stand. And while, in some ways, it’s nice that these behaviours so intrinsically linked to professional performance space exist in a space outside of these traditional boundaries, in other ways I felt off ease with treating a non-performance space in this way. As Currie and Mocilink had a private conversation, I felt that I perhaps would like to have a private conversation. Instead, we stood, silent. Even the concept of a “fame” vs “squalor” ticket at first seems weird; and then we remember the idea of “Premium” and “D Reserve” at the ballet.

It’s an interesting concept, then. When you change the purpose of the space, of course you change the space. But do we just change it to having the same rules of other existing spaces? Can we create new spaces with new rules in old places? How much is art influenced by the space it occupies – how is work in a gallery different to street art different to in your lounge room. Is it different? Can theatre be a response to a space without being in that space? Can theatre be in a space without responding to that space?

When people in the occupy movement claim a public space as their public space, is this changing the space – or is it using it exactly as it should be used? When art is placed in a public space, is this changing the space, is this changing the art – and is it changing it in exactly the way it should be changed?