Every June long weekend I wrap myself up in several extra layers and make my way to the Waterside Worker’s Hall in Port Adelaide for Adhocracy, Vitalstatistix’s annual hothouse that brings together artists from around the country for a weekend of creative development.
The weekend features both works that have been through several prior developments and others that are starting to test out ideas for the first time. Similarly, the multi- and cross- disciplinary approach sees artistic collaborators who have been working together for years alongside artists who are working together for the first time on the floor. What all the projects share is a desire to invite audiences into the development process: over the three days that the hall’s doors are open, most artists present three vastly different explorations of their projects. It’s an intense cycle of experimenting and showing, keeping the ideas that stick and rapidly moving on from those that don’t.
As an audience member, spending time with the artists gives you a survey of what Australian artists are thinking about in their work today. This year, the theme that seemed to be running through the work was the notions of truth in art: how can you use art to tell a true story? And how can you manipulate the truth to make art?
Jarrod Duffy is Not Dead was perhaps the work that most overtly played with this idea. From Applespiel, the work tells the story of the ninth member of the company who, one day, disappeared. The first half is an intelligent and humorous homage to that most contemporary form of storytelling – the podcast – and the second half is, well, who knows? Those who went three times to the showing would have seen three different endings, and I doubt any of us are exactly clear on how much is true, and how much is embellished.
Crawl Me Blood, from Halcyon Macleod and Willoh S. Weiland with local collaborators, explored how best to tell stories of women in Barbados, weaving them together with Jean Rhys’ Wide Sargasso Sea. We walked around Hart’s Mill with transistor radios propped on our shoulders, listening to stories from across the world: a sense of warmth seeping in through the cold Port winter.
New Wave / No Wave saw Brigid Noone and Jude Adams confront how to use an exhibition to reinsert Adelaide into the history of Australian feminist art: a record they feel has been lost.
At this early stage, Future Turf looks to build on the ideas in previous Australian dance works like Tanja Liedtke’s construct and Torque Show’s Malmö. Instead of home building and ownership, it shifts the narrative downwards, asking what are homes when you rent? With new ideas shown every day, this work could end up anywhere – and that’s the joy of seeing it now.
If Kelly Doley’s Alternative Futures Working Group is about how Australians imagine their future will look, it is also about what our imaginations of tomorrow let us see about ourselves today.
These ideas of art telling true stories existed before the weekend, of course, but Adhocracy threw them into sharp relief. Other connecting themes revealed themselves, too. Awkward Sex Scenes and Versions of Truth both made references to Fame – Awkward Sex Scenes through one of the artists discussing watching the film with her mother when she was a child and Versions of Truth making visual and textual references to the film through their scripted performance. Was this a reference point they were both interested in before the weekend, or did one team inspire the other? I don’t know; I only know that I love how Adhocracy forces me to see and question these connections.
Beyond the collective themes that emerge from the weekend, what embeds itself through the event is a sense of community collaboration. Adhocracy is an event that relies absolutely on the generosity of everyone who walks through the doors.
There is the generosity of artists from around Australia who are willing to show their experiments to an audience: no matter how they shape up at the end of a day’s work. There is the audience who are prepared to spend time with these experiments: squeezed on wooden staircases, or walking around winter streets. This year, there were many new mothers participating as artists, their children in the hall, or with fathers, or grandparents: a community to support these women as artists.
This generosity perhaps was never more present this year than in Louise, who on the Monday sat on stage, gripping the hand of Emma Beech.
Beech makes performance based on conversation. She wants to know who the people who populate our world are, and what we can make of the world when we know a little bit more about how others see it. Five years ago, after a performance in Melbourne, a stranger approached Beech in a coffee shop in Yarraville, asking if she could sit with her.
That stranger was Louise. They talked, made nebulous plans to see theatre together, and then never spoke again. This year, Beech was clearing out her phone contacts and decided to call ‘Louise at the corner store.’
Louise, a non-artist, was asked if she would fly to Adelaide for Adhocracy. She was asked if she would collaborate with Beech, a woman she barely knew, on an artistic project. And she said yes.
At their showing , Beech passed on stories Louise had shared with her. It’s the roughest sketch of an idea: a conversation that may be developed, or may be left to that weekend down at the Port. But even if all we are left with is this, the demonstration of generosity that Adhocracy can inspire is astounding.
After Beech told stories, and Louise answered questions, the time for their session was coming to a close. There were more people to listen to, more projects to explore. ‘Do we say this is the end?’ Beech asked. ‘I think so. Louise: you’re a bloody legend.’