Wednesday, November 27, 2013

EcoCentrix and Namatjira

This year's Origins Festival is refusing to go away.  Although the intense period of Festival activity ended on November 3rd, there was a further week of the EcoCentrix exhibition at Bargehouse, and from tonight to Friday, Namatjira plays at the Purcell Room.

EcoCentrix was a very exciting partnership for us: the chance to help present an exhibition curated by Helen Gilbert and her team on the Indigeneity Project, who have been researching indigenous performance and its place in the contemporary world for as long as we have been running the festival.  There were many overlaps in material, of course - work by Marrugeku, Fiona Foley, Rosanna Raymond and Victoria Hunt was in the exhibition as well as the Festival, and Rita Leistner's images from The Edward Curtis Project related to the themes she and Marie Clements had explored at the Origins workshop in 2011 (itself based on the play and images shown in Vancouver the year before…  journeys, journeys…).  But perhaps even more important than this was the way in which EcoCentrix was able to expand the range of what was on show - allowing audiences to look at indigenous performance in relation to its space, land and culture, and to think about the key issue of sustainability in new and surprising ways.

One of the many things which indigenous cultures are really good at, indeed one of the things which seems to me to define their particular place in the contemporary cultural ecology, is making new things out of old things.  That can be on a really basic level - a bit of packaging becomes a puppet, a discarded pot morphs into a ceremonial drum.  But it can also be on a much more complex level of high culture, where ancient ideas can be adapted and re-contextualised to operate in relation to modernity, losing none of their power in the process.  Indeed, what emerged most strongly in EcoCentrix was the way in which this process leads to a gain in power - the way an idea or image embedded in time and cultural continuity is renewed and regenerated by its being related to modernity.  It doesn't feel obsolete at all, but relevant and immediate.

Namatjira is also about this idea.  A great Aboriginal artist, Albert Namatjira was regarded as fit to sit alongside white Australians (and was the first indigenous person to become a citizen of his own country) because he painted in a style which could be recognised and understood by Europeans.  But that does not undermine the indigenous sensibility in what he did.  If you see his work at the Royal Academy, it leaps out from the European imagery around it, demonstrating a completely distinct approach to landscape, colour and the spiritual life and energy of country.  He stood in a continuum of ancient culture - but made it of the moment when he lived, intersecting with the wider world, utterly new and unique.  I suppose that's the essence of creativity.

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