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ArtsLab: Behind Closed Doors

ArtsLab: Behind Closed Doors
Creative director: Natalie Rose
107 Projects, Redfern
February 26 – March 1, 2020

ArtsLab: Behind Closed Doors is the youth-led Shopfront Arts Co-op’s annual emerging artists’ festival, featuring a program of five works exploring the theme of personal and intimate experience. Each of these diverse works – theatre performance, video artwork and art installation – is the outcome of a six-month residency at Shopfront in which young artists, selected from many applicants, are given the opportunity to work with an industrial mentor.

Bill Chau’s installation, Plastic Slippers, which explores his experience of growing up within an Australian-Chinese milieu, rewards attentive looking. A glorious profusion of significant objects combining delicately dangling chopsticks, a plethora of utensils and objects connected with food, gaudily coloured slippers evoking a rhythmic slapping sound, and childhood memorabilia completely envelop in a house-shaped red frame. The impression is both of maternal care and enclosure, disparity and fusion, chaos and connotation.

By contrast, the video presentation Amplifier created and performed by Brendan McDonellan aka Tall Jan requires attentive listening not only to the accompanying audio but also to both our own inner voice and to societal response to gender variance. In particular, we are prompted to question popular attitudes of inclusion which generalise and thereby overlook the lived experience of individuals.

The two theatre pieces, Stalls (devised and performed by Lana Filies, Olivia Harris, Lily Hensby and Carla Severino) and Stripped (written and performed by Luke Standish), take us into unusual territory. The first questions the way in which women are made to feel self-conscious about the bodily functions of discharging waste, whether matter or gas. Amid some lively repartee and personal revelation, it can be seen that “holding on” is not the personal choice women think it is, but a behaviour induced by an oppressive image of femininity.

Stripped, part testimony and part performance, while giving insight into the agony and ecstasy of this career choice, does not successfully meld the personal and the theatrical. It is, however, a courageous attempt to open up a conversation on this less charted area of human experience.

By contrast, Little Jokes in Times of War, written and engagingly performed by Charlotte Salusinszky, takes a familiar and painful subject, and makes it her own private revelation. She hears the heart-stopping stories of her Hungarian grandmother’s narrow escape from death during the horrors of anti-Jewish persecution in the inter-war years and her courageous stand against a Russian official ensuring her young family’s escape and eventual settlement in Australia. Here her life was not happy and Salusinszky mourns the grandmother she longs to know.

Leavening the sadness of her grandmother’s story is Salusinszky’s desire to identify with her Hungarian heritage.  She wants to be Hungarian, and her quest leads her to learn boot-slapping, an important ingredient of Hungarian folk dance, which at well-timed intervals lends her performance amusement and vigour. Altogether her monologue is beautifully timed emotionally, and her performance has warmth, an appealing vulnerability and a personal conviction that makes her story and that of our immigrant past memorable.

Congratulations to Shopfront for their continuing effort to give an opportunity to young artists to learn from industrial mentors – in turn David Capra, Bhenji Ra, Lally Katz, Deb Pollard and David Williams – and to take their work from idea to stage.


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