UPSTAIRS RECAP I

Photographs by Felipe Neves

For 12 days, 12 Australian artists lived at Kaldor Public Art Projects during an intense Artist Residency Program curated by Sophie O'Brien and Emma Pike. They were challenged to step out of their comfort zones to re-think, re-analyze, and re-feel their way through their normal creative processes, in order to find new perspectives and artistic expressions. 

Inside the huge industrial warehouse hosting the project, as Marina Abramovic's long durational exercises took place downstairs, upstairs all 12 artists in residence performed and presented public lectures on their work. They discussed contemporary views on a wide range of subjects, such as politics, intimacy, gender, neuroscience, identity, psychology, vulnerability and failure. The diverse backgrounds these artists brought to the residency program allowed for a meaningful exchange of ideas, interests, and their respective works in progress.

George Khut

I am George Khut. I live in Sydney, but was born in South Australia and lived in Tasmania for 12 years. When I came to Sydney, I took a new direction in my work: exploring biofeedback technologies and working with body-focused interactive art.

The work that I am doing now is a development of something I first did two years ago with another composer. We explored alpha brain waves to mix sounds, making a kind of sound environment that you could move through with the changes in alpha wave activity. 

I am very interested in alpha brain waves because of this connection to contemplative, meditative ways of paying attention. When you close your eyes and your mental activity is not distracted with this or that thing, when it is just an open field of awareness, then the alpha rhythm jumps up in the brain and we can record it with technology. We use that dynamics to mix the sound and give the audience the awareness of their own brain waves.

Here, people have the goal of calming down their minds. We start with brain wave noise and music: the audience makes the noise go away by making the noise in their own minds go away. When they actually are calm, a series of other sounds unfolds, the “shy” sounds of the brain. These only come out when you are very quiet. From this place of silence, we ask people to share their experience through a drawing or testimonial.

Now, I want to explore how we can take that further. In Western cultures we think of ourselves and our bodies in a very individualistic way, separate from other people and from the place we live in. That is why we can mess it up so easily, because it is not part of us.

There are some beautiful projects on this matter, like We Are Planetary, for example. They have been producing documentaries about the experience of astronauts seeing planet Earth from space and the shift in perspective it causes. Seeing the Earth in that deeply emotional and physical way transforms their relationship with the planet.

The experience of living on Earth is extremely limited: we feel the Earth is flat, that it doesn't move. We look at the sky and at the ocean and it feels like they go on forever. I want to explore ways for us to re-imagine our connection to the planet, using technology to experience Earth and space in a more sensorial, physical, tangible way.

As an artist, I work critically and creatively with technology to say: our technology does shape our world and our realities, it is a cultural practice. We have to take critical leadership on how technology is transforming our lives in order to help people understand this relationship, and to find new ways of using tech to shape their realities more critically. I think the job of art is really to remediate these connections so we can live more beautifully, more ethically.

Frances Barrett

I am Frances Barrett and I am based in Sydney. My work often stands on live performances in front of audiences. This usually take the form of endurance performances or sonic experimentation.

My practice is about queer feminism and queer theory, but also about finding my own understanding on how to leave that out. I try for my work not to be didactic: it shouldn't be prescriptive on the type of feminism or politics that you as an audience should have. Instead, I am provoking you into thinking. I am raising questions rather than trying to have an answer.

I did a lot of exercises here. One of them is a draft of performance that I am working on for a sound festival, a really conceptual approach about what sound is and can be. The question that was asked of me was: what does a feminist methodology sound like? I started to think that a feminist methodology is not about producing sound, but really about what it means to listen. So I would like to create a work around the process of listening. I did a performance here where the curator of this residency program had to care for me. She had to attend to my needs, listen, and watch my body intuitively: I could not talk to her.

The term curator comes from a Latin term which means “to care for” or “to attend to.” What does it mean for a curator to really care for an artist? And what is the process of listening to someone? There is this feminist term, careful listening. It means to listen holistically, to think about body language and emotions…an embodied form of listening.

I got blindfolded and had earmuffs on so I could not hear. We came up with some rules of engagement: I could not gesture or direct her in any way. Instead, she had to anticipate what my needs were throughout the twelve hours. [Curator] Emma Pike came, woke me up at 7am, and put the blindfold and the noise canceling earmuffs on me. One of the rules was that I could not leave her presence, I always had to be touching her. We just negotiated through that the whole day.


Natalie Abbott

I am Natalie Abbott. I grew up in Sydney, but moved to Melbourne eleven years ago to study dance at The Victoria College of the Arts. My background is in dance and choreography. I am interested in vulnerability within performance and putting myself in situations where I feel uncomfortable. 

My interest is in the breaking point: that moment where I am so physically exhausted that I lose the sense of performing the thing. And then I am just doing it. At that point, I feel like vulnerability is present, and that is what I am searching for.

I had some ideas when I came into this residency, but have been a bit judgemental about them. Then I decided to try everything, even my silliest ideas, and I learned a lot from doing that: from sharing the situations of me being very vulnerable with people and seeing how to negotiate that socially, in a public context.

IIt has been really cool to be in the space Downstairs [where the long durational exercises were taking place] everyday, doing all these mindful exercises, or even just witnessing the public there, so slowed down. I thought I was there for one hour yesterday, but it was actually three hours. It was so nice to just lose it, not having to be anywhere: just to slow down and notice what I am interested in.

I want to learn to fly. I am interested in the impossibility of that…or maybe it is possible, I do not know. I tried that today for the first time. And I also like situations with the public when there is negotiation between us. So part of my learning to fly was to carry a big crash mattress, which is really awkward, up and down the stairs by myself, seeing if anybody in the audience would help me.

Of course it would take me a really long time to do it on my own, and people have been asking if I need help. It's such a nice situation when I am sharing this practice of just carrying a mat up the stairs for no real reason, and people think it is for a purpose. They are helping me, and then we get to the top and they ask “where is it going?” I am like: “back down to the bottom again.” And they are like “what??” This negotiation has been pretty interesting.

It's all about the idea of building this small community for one moment, just to get the mat on the stairs, and people are great to do it. And then we get that “oh, we did it!” feeling. They are strangers, I have not met them before. It has been nice to discover that strong feeling of doing things together, it is so important to people. It has been my epiphany.


Marina Abramovic: In Residence took place @ Kaldor Public Art Projects, Pier 2/3, Sydney - Australia from June 24 to July, 05, 2015.