I first came across the work of Canadian performance company Mammalian Diving Reflex in 2010, when I walked into a Launceston hair salon to have my hair cut by an eleven-year-old boy. I was at Haircuts By Children, a work that sees primary-school aged children taught how to cut hair, and then gives them control over a salon for the day. They take bookings, sweep hair off the floor, and cut, colour, and even shave hair for a weekend. It’s slightly terrifying and mightily exhilarating. I’ve been excited by and following the company’s work ever since, and on Saturday I had the chance to see their work again.
With the Come Out Festival, Mammalian Diving Reflex has been working with students from Blair Athol North B-7 School on a tour of the shops in Kilburn for These are the People in Your Neighbourhood.
On arriving, we were each handed a small magazine sharing the title of the show, with articles and pictures about the people and places we were going to visit, all written by and drawn by the students. Along Prospect Road, we visited eight businesses, where each shop owner was interviewed by some of the kids and the floor was opened up to questions. There was fantastic generosity and good will from all of the people we visited: all excited to be sharing their lives with this community of students and the rest of the group that had come along for the journey. We were repeatedly invited to come back to the businesses, to say hello, to say “I saw you on These are the People in Your Neighbourhood.”
The children all approached the presentation of the work with agency. Mammalian Diving Reflex created the artistic and physical frameworks for the performance to exist, but the performance itself feels to belong entirely to the children. While some may have looked to the ground while presenting, while some spoke softly even with a microphone, the show resolutely belonged to the children.