Make Queensland Love Art Again: Opening Statement Transcript

An extended version of an opening statement given at the Pitch Drop panel 'Make Queensland Love Art Again', February 13.

 

Tonight we’re here to chat on the topic of ‘Making Queensland Love Art Again’. Let me get straight into it by framing the night before we all collectively send the panel on their merry way as they endeavour to solve the Queensland arts industry’s problems in just under two hours.

So. There are a few things that need to be framed before we begin, starting with, and extending outwards from in a prolonged ramble, the obvious question: do Queenslanders love art already—and if so, how much?

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Jonathan O'Brien
On Travel & Memory

1.

I was on the train yesterday. I haven’t been on the train much in the month since I got back from travelling through Europe, but my bike’s been in the shop, and I’ve got places to be I guess. Plus: I get to read on the train. I was reading Briohny Doyle’s new novel, The Island Will Sink, and there’s a lot in there about memory, and about how we archive everything—outsource our memories to corporate technologies, in a way—and the book’s main conceit is that its protagonist Max can’t remember anything unless he’s looking at these futuristic recordings. And so I have this moment, reading the book—and it’s 5pm, golden hour, and I’m at Indooroopilly station—when I can’t remember a fucking thing from my Europe trip.

And the moment hangs.

And I can’t remember a thing.

And I freeze, because all these thoughts I’ve been having about, you know, being different, and about having maybe grown or changed a little over the time I spent travelling—all those thoughts felt devalued by this single moment where I couldn’t find a connection to any specific imagery or notions from a whole two months of my life. I felt sick. I started scrolling back through photos.

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Jonathan O'Brien
Anywhere Festival 2016: Backyard Double Bill

In terms of Anywhere Festival 2016, Backyard Double Bill is probably one of the more dramatically ambitious shows I’ve seen. For starters, it’s actually two shows, bound by a short intermission, and it’s a strange sort of pseudo-surreal pseudo-immersive theatre that doesn’t come by too often. The Backyard Collective, directed by Kristen Maloney and under two different writers (Tremayne Gordon and Maloney herself), deliver The Picnic and Saying Goodbye to Ally over ninety minutes of jam-packed and thematically-heavy theatre. The former show, in its second iteration, is unquestionably the stronger of the two parts, while Goodbye to Ally feels a bit scattered and starts in one place—a place with strong thematic ties to the first work—before ending up somewhere entirely different, obstructing the work from ever feeling entirely cohesive.

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Jonathan O'Brien
Anywhere Festival 2016: Awful/Big Adventure

Awful/Big Adventure is not only the best show I’ve seen featured in Anywhere Festival in three years of attendance, but it also manages to be a show that simultaneously fits into and transcends the festival, and its ambition and execution proves that the Suicide Ensemble are not just one-hit-wonders—they are something else entirely. 

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Jonathan O'Brien
Anywhere Festival 2016: Giggleback Kidz! The Reunion Tour

So let me just be forthright: Giggleback Kidz! The Reunion Tour is stupid dumb fun from start to finish and I really wanna emphasise that as a good thing. This isn’t a deep show, or a show with huge intentions, or strong characters, or anything really—it’s just fun. And that seems to be all the team behind the show wanted to create, because Giggleback Kidz! doesn’t ever stray far from its key cause of being fun. Sure, it plays on all the tropes that ‘reunion’ shows tend towards, like sexual drama, or dashed dreams, or the entitlement brought on by childhood stardom—but it’s not really concerned with those things beyond using them as a way to drive the plot for the play’s fifty-minute runtime. 

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Jonathan O'Brien
Anywhere Festival 2016: Dormant

What Dormant leaves us with is a series of impressions—straight from writer/director Lily Daud’s mind—that are exactly representative of an issue encountered early-on in so many creative careers: having so much to say that you bundle everything together and make the mistake of saying it all at once.

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Jonathan O'Brien
Anywhere Festival 2016: Habitus of Concrete Flesh

Habitus of Concrete Flesh is not only a site-specific Butoh show, but is also an immersive Butoh show with a name like Habitus of Concrete Flesh. In terms of how Theatre of Thunder went about presenting this as a whole, the performance comes across as pretty inaccessible—which for an Anywhere Festival show is exciting in ways that something like a restaging of Shakespeare could never be. 

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Jonathan O'Brien
Anywhere Festival 2016: Love Letters to Fuckbois and Other Woes of Wayward Women

I’m going to begin this review with the bold declaration that Love Letters to Fuckbois is an exact distillation of what Anywhere Festival should be. In form, it’s simple—two women (Lia Stark, Melina Wightman) stand up and speak with awkward confidence into microphones. They introduce faux drinking games to the crowd, laugh at once together and at each other, and encourage the audience to laugh with them. 

The show is simple in content, too: Wightman & Stark pull out random letters from a jar, each addressed to a fuckboi from their past, and through this lens proceed to give us a delightful sample of their romantic and sexual histories. 

They do this for half an hour. 

It’s awesome. 

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Jonathan O'Brien
Anywhere Festival 2016: Argo presents: FLOW

Argo’s latest show, Flow, feels like the kinda show that characters in a stylish New York drama like ‘Girls’ might have attended. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It just means the work is gorgeous, high production-value, and safe. And those are all okay things for a work to be. Because by being those things, what Argo managed to do was bring together the most diverse audience I’ve ever seen in one place in this town, and then let them mingle and shift comfortably together. The success of Flow is a testament, more than anything, to the universal language of live instrumental music, and the gorgeousness of the Spring Hill Reservoirs.

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Jonathan O'Brien
Anywhere Festival 2016: The Moon Men

The Moon Men, as a text, is the strongest it’s ever been. But as a performance, and as a full experience, it is not. Where the text is polished, more nuanced, and clearer in terms of its structure and intent, the delivery of this text is harder to follow, and clumsier—and a lot of this comes down to the space the team chose for their performance. The Greaser carpark is grungy. It’s graffitied, concreted, and tucked away. It’s essentially perfect for The Moon Men’s aesthetic—the space feels like an extension of the marketing and that’s a great thing. But the space, in a functional sense, completely drowns out so much of the effect the show might have had. In fact, what this production proves more clearly than anything is that Anywhere Festival’s old ‘Theatre. Anywhere.’ slogan clearly has a few stipulations attached to it. 

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Jonathan O'Brien
(2016==Yeezy/Theatre&Agenda/Free Art)

I got up at 5am to watch the MSG stream of The Life of Pablo/YZYSZN3 back in February. I watched Kanye come down waving to the cheering hordes of people who surrounded the giant tarps in the centre of the stadium. I watched as Ye and his crew bounced to the new record in front of his fabled laptop, celebrating whatever whack shit they’d created together. I saw Jay Z sitting up the back, frowning and nodding.

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Jonathan O'Brien