Talanoa: Shigeyuki Kihara

The Emerge festival is upon us again. Presented by Multicultural Arts Victoria, it is a showcase for those artists newly arrived on our shores, presenting their art practise and traditions, establishing a basis of understanding amongst the variety of communities that cohabit Melbourne. One of the highlights of the festival is the Talanoa: Walk the Talk VII performance and forum, which will be kicking off on the 20th of June. Conceived and mediated by Samoan performance artist Shigeyuki Kihara, this is the seventh instalment of her trans-Tasman project. “As a Pacific Island diaspora artist… I wondered: in an age of global migration that results in cosmopolitanism in many big cities, how can we actually live along side by side with people who are already there, who are making their homes where they are, amongst other people who are making new homes for themselves?” Thinking about ways to bridge this gap, Kihara thought of the ancient Samoan concept of Talanoa. “It alludes to a process of exchange of dialogue between two conflicting clans, coming together to establish a mutual ground based on love, respect and peace. I strongly believe there is not enough Talanoa in this world.”

To explore this process, Shigeyuki brings together seemingly disparate groups with different cultural backgrounds, and mediates a process of understanding and sharing, culminating in a collaborative performance of song and dance. “I think there’s all these government policies… and a lot of critics that talk about concepts of ‘cross cultural’, ‘transcultural’, etc. etc. But all those fancy rancy terms are always up on high, and never trickle down.”

Her first Talanoa was staged in Auckland, between Chinese Dragon dancers and a Scottish Highland Pipe band. This time for the Emerge Festival, Kihara has been working with the Dambai Dancing Sudan Group and Te Roro n Rikirake Kiribati Youth Group. “My project has been understood by those who I have worked with as a community icebreaker, it’s a great way to get to know one another… And funnily enough, most of the time when I bring these communities together, like for example when I brought the Kiribati, which is a very rural pacific island, and the South Sudanese community into this, and the Sudanese said things like, ‘you know I wouldn’t have guessed there is such a country called Kiribati,’ and there are other cases where some members of the Kiribati and the South Sudanese were literally neighbours, they’ve never spoken to each other until they were engaged in this exercise.”

At first the project seems like a massive undertaking, if anything because of the dance groups’ radically different backgrounds. “My father’s Japanese, and it’s my mother that’s Samoan, and people often say: ‘My that’s an interesting, odd mix.’ But what is the right mix? There’s this really static idea that culture does not evolve, that it does not engage. When I approach them… a lot of the communities that say yes are communities that want to engage, and are prepared to share where they come from.” This means anything from fusing rhythms together to preparing afternoon tea for each other with traditional foods. “I’m trying to provide opportunities for people to explore each other, because most of the time we think we have to travel abroad to understand where a community comes from, when they’re just literally next door.”

When the concept of Talanoa is introduced to these communities, is there an equivalent in their own culture? “I find that a lot of traditional ideas from the Pacific, which is where my background is, are universal. It’s just a matter of, how do we apply it in this environment. Because I’m working with grassroots communities, and it’s always intergenerational… it’s more of a forum for the older generation to pass on the core values of the community: self-confidence, social responsibility, community engagement… because in the mainstream we only dance when we go out and get drunk at a nightclub, but for some communities song and dance is what they do all the time.”

Kihara is a powerful and eloquent speaker for Talanoa, and that drive is infectious. “When you strip away the costumes and the ethnicity, the gender, essentially what they are trying to pass on… are core values about social responsibility, which has been really inspiring. I’m trying to go beyond the surface of, what they wear, beyond the kilt, beyond the grass skirts, beyond the drums. Why is it that these communities are so attracted to coming together through music.”

Beat Issue June 16th 2010

The Return

Two angry yobs board the last train to Fremantle. The small and ratty Trev, contrasting with the grandiose and muscular Steve, find the perfect foil to their boredom when Lisa, a young law student, boards the train, swinging wildly between charm and outright threatening behaviour towards her. When another two characters, the initially introverted ‘writer’ and Maureen, a put-upon housewife, enter the scene, the play heads towards an overly convoluted climax.

The original insular and potentially explosive concept of the play, that of the train carriage at night, is sound. Unfortunately this underlying idea of a concept-driven set piece is the rule, rather than the exception to the play, with each of the characters remaining just that: types, vessels driving a script based in the narcissistic sense of shame the author, Reg Cribb, has drawn from a real-life experience of his own on the trains of suburban Perth.

Apparently, again according to the writer’s notes, he witnessed two yobs, thugs, name them what you will, harass and threaten a young woman on a train in a carriage full of passengers who failed to intervene. The writer’s guilt from not helping this woman in the first instance, and in taking the story of her trauma and making a play out of it in the second, can be an understandable point of artistic conflict. The proceeding half conceived attempts to salve these feelings of guilt are not. The ‘writer’ character transforms from the mute observer, to the Machiavellian, middle class artist, to unbalanced vigilante in a manner of minutes towards the end of the play, derailing any meaningful study of the variety of reactions human beings have towards aggression, vulnerability and peril. None of the characters are allowed either a picture of incompleteness or an ambiguous moral subtext. Each are driven by idealised concepts of love, passion, or revenge, unless of course the character is female, in which case their oblique and patronising motivations seem to be that they… well, had nothing better to do.

The central concept that the writer wants to explore is that of a disaffected masculinity, a manhood no longer in need. That is why everyone is drunk and stoned and violent, why this incident happened, because of a disaffected manhood. It is how the character of Lisa became a “battle scarred victim” to quote Cribb. It’s not that I don’t buy the argument; it certainly has resonance from when it was brought up in the post World War Two era. Then the post Vietnam era. Then the post Buffy era. But this play would only warrant further argument if it wasn’t for the presence of that pesky ‘writer’ character. His character is superfluous and as incoherent as Steve’s movement between being a swearin’ bogan and then completely changing the modulations of his dialogue to talk about Verdi. It’s not that a thug is incapable of talking about Verdi, just that the writer has an obvious expectation that you’re only capable of talking about him if you do so in a grandiloquent fashion. In the end we’re left with male characters, their heads in their hands, wondering where it all went wrong. Meanwhile the female characters are put down as they are picked up, useful objects to help the story unfold or for the men to identify with. Maureen isn’t a woman with slowly dwindling choices, she is the older lady who reminds Trev and Steve of their mum. Lisa is a woman to be threatened and rescued in equal measure, her only agency is that of disappearing once she is of no more use to the story.

The makers of the play, therefore, are left with an ensemble of characters whose only sure shot is of the protracted scream of rage and despair. The set is striking and gives a lot of scope for theatrical and physical manipulation of the confined tableau, but in such a confined space the air isn’t given to the characters to create a rhythmic rise and fall of tension, with a tendency to fall back on a level of projection which isn’t really warranted in the confined space of the Old Council Chambers. Unfortunately the effect of the stagecraft was lost on a script that lacked any coherent resonance, a clumsy stab at gender politics that is incapable of disentangling itself from the author’s own wish fulfilment.

TaDaa Productions present

The Return

written by Reg Cribb
directed by Andrew Gray
featuring Katy Brinson, Brendan McCallum, James Taylor, Emily Thomas and Anthony Winnick

The Return is a journey about everyday people on the last metropolitan train to Fremantle.
It will bring laughter, fear, threat and deceit … these stories may offend – please try not to judge.

Preview: Wednesday, 2 May 2010 at 8.00pm
Season: 3 – 19 June 2010 (Tuesday – Saturday at 8.00pm)

Trades Hall – Old Council Chambers
corner of Lygon Street and Victoria Street, Carlton

$28 Adult
$20 Concession

Bookings > Bella Union:
03 9650 5699
Or online

Original Post: http://www.artshub.com.au/au/news-article/reviews/performing-arts/the-return-181453?sc=1

Simryn Gill: Gathering

Sifting through a pile of broken pottery and porcelain, you come across a used cigarette lighter. Looking up you only hear the sound of terracotta on china, the noise made by a six year old child also searching through the pile at the secret found objects: a toy truck, the pattern on a discarded cup, two of the few people game enough to crouch down on the cushions and spend a good twenty minutes sifting. Interaction, exploration, objects, photography, and the vague dissolve of boundary between inside and outside, these are all concepts that Sydney-based Malaysian artist Simryn Gill carries into her work, including Gathering, her exhibition currently showing at the Heide Museum of Modern Art. An expansion on a touring exhibition, I spoke to the show’s curator, Russell Storer, who is the head of Asian and Pacific Art at the Queensland Art Gallery. He curated Gill’s original show at Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art in late 2008, which has been touring ever since, now placed in the hands of the Heide’s senior curator Linda Markwell.

“Linda really drove the Melbourne show, but I was more involved in the initial realisation, working with her for several years before the first exhibition at MCA.  We first met through the Roslyn Oxley gallery in Sydney, we both had a kind of ‘first day’ there together, and found that we had a lot of shared interests… I feel that this show is a reflection of an ongoing conversation I’m having with her.”

So why the Heide? “Linda and Simryn worked together fifteen years ago, they have a long association, and the Heide is the perfect space for this show, with it’s indoor/outdoor feel. In some ways it reflects the histories of modernism in modern Asia.”

Asked about what the most important aspects of her work are, Russell had two objectives in mind: “First I wanted to look back over her more recent work over the past five or six years. She’s a very international, and internationally shown artist, and a lot of these works have not been seen previously in Australia. I also was interested in her more experimental and ephemeral pieces, looking at that aspect of her practise. She works in a very intimate and experimental way, with small pieces, pieces that she collects, putting them together in her house.  They may not go any further into her larger works, but they’re an important research aspect of her work.” 

Then there are her larger projects, like that of Throwback, for which Gill has collected natural materials, casting them to recreate the machinery of the Tata truck, which used to be seen all over Malaysia, now disappearing along with the economic booms in China and India, and the increase in demand for scrap metal.  “I’m attracted to her art because it’s about understanding the world around you,” Says Storer, “She has a very personal approach I guess, but not biographical. It’s about how to be in the world in a personal way, how the meaning of objects changes over time, what they say about the place they come from. I think she can tap into these things in a very real way: how we travel, how we make a home, her work addresses these in a very real, very open way. It’s not telling you how to think about one thing, not directing you towards how to look at an object.” 

I ask if this is where the ‘audience participation’ comes into play, the allowances to sift and rearrange a lot of her work. “A lot of art is about play and discovery and the involvement of simple activities. Her work is very layered and people experience it in different ways, with different histories towards an object.”

Gill is also an accomplished photographer, but doesn’t interact towards her photographic work in the usual way. “She’s been commissioned as a photographer but doesn’t see herself in that way. One of her great works was done during May 2006, when she took eight hundred snaps of her neighbourhood. These photographs are pinned to the wall, close together. It makes them very present, you can see the photographic paper, the grain, a record of the demise of photographic film.”

A large and varied exhibition, and in a gallery known for its natural surroundings. “They’ve created a lovely way of using the windows in the space. Often the windows are closed off, but for Simryn’s show they’ve left them open, that blurred line between the artificial world and the natural world.” And are there any new works we can look forward to? “There’s a book Simryn’s produced in the veggie garden at the Heide. She’s listened to conversations of people in the garden, and produced in an artists’ book. A beautiful response to that particular place.”


from Beat Magazine, June 2nd 2010