Would you climb into the back of a truck and hug a stranger for 15 minutes? This intense participatory work, Rest Area by Sydney-based artist SJ Norman, is part of Liveworks Festival of Experimental Art, a 10-day program of live works that don’t fit into traditional descriptions of performance or visual art. Some, like Rest Area, are incredibly intimate. Others move across disciplines, or work with longer timeframes.
Norman’s Rest Area is a disarmingly simple and powerful work, says Jeff Khan, the artistic director of Liveworks 2018. “It invites people to respond in whatever way they choose to,” he says. “I did it earlier this year and found it to be really challenging…But for a colleague of mine, it was a light experience. It was a rejuvenating hug for her.”
Xhe, a dance work choreographed by Singaporean Daniel Kok, runs for five hours. Audiences can come and go, but are invited to stay for a minimum 90 minutes. The work is about gender fluidity (the word “xhe” is an invented pronoun) but it moves beyond that to explore other kinds of fluidity and, as Khan puts it, our “constant transformation of self”.
Strange and visually striking places, like the first anatomical theatre in Germany and a pit fire in Turkmenistan, are used to represent his internal states.
Khan says the Liveworks program evolved organically, but one idea he kept returning to was about “bodies at the edge.” He points to Indonesian dancer Rianto, who practices between genders but is also interested in trans states between life and death. Angela Goh, from Sydney, also pushes at boundaries in her performance and text work about fem-bots, Uncanny Valley Girl.
In Fempre$$: Wishwitch, Brisbane-based artist Hannah Brontë imagines a matriarchal future, while change is explored in a different way in the festival’s keynote lecture by Ong Keng Sen. Khan is excited to be bringing out the Singaporean artist, curator and festival director known for using art to challenge culture.
Another thread running through this year’s Liveworks is intergenerational dialogue. One work considers the legacy of the now defunct magazine Realtime. Elsewhere, the collective Applespiel looks back at the subversive video game Escape from Woomera, and the epic Day for Night party includes William Yang and Radha La Bia.
Other performers this year include Melbourne’s Nicola Gunn, with a piece about working with children, as well as Sydney-based performance company Branch Nebula, Japanese sound artist Asuna, Taiwanese choreographer Su Wen-Chi, and Sydney-based collaborative group 110%, which includes artists Kieran Bryant, Beth Dillon and Lachlan Herd. Many of the performers will also give workshops and talks during the festival.