Preview

One of the most intriguing highlights of the Next Wave Festival 2018 is actually not, strictly speaking, an artwork by one of the more than 40 creators selected to participate in the showcase of experimental art. Instead, Ritual, the biennial Melbourne festival’s ‘keynote project,’ is a special initiative conceived of by Next Wave director Georgie Meagher with creative director Erica McCalman.

In this project, each day (as the sun sets in the early evening) an invited artist will respond to the idea of ‘ritual’ in their own way to create an inclusive activity for all attendees, from tea ceremonies to hair braiding to meditation. “We were trying to make sense of the layers of the festival themes and motifs as projects were being developed, and noticed that sunsets were becoming influential in a number of projects, including those by Shireen Taweel, Adam Ridgeway and Josh Muir,” explains Meagher.

“We also noticed oppositional forces coming up through the projects, and that made us want to try and find an energetic counterpoint to that division,” Meagher says.

Here she is alluding to a number of performances and exhibitions that incorporate activism or advocacy, or explore themes of social justice, the situation of minorities, and climate change.

For example, Exhale is a multi-disciplinary performance piece by Sydney collective Black Birds designed, according to the Festival guide, to “dissect the female Black and Brown experience in Australia.” Estrogenesis, by Melbourne’s Embittered Swish group, is a playful but sobering interrogation of transgender realities. Salt is a one-woman show from Selina Thompson that deals with colonialism, collective grief and healing. The cross-medium exhibition Bloodlines, by Sancintya Mohini Simpson, is a confronting reflection on women taken from India to South Africa as indentured labour in the late 1800s. And that’s to name just four.

In this project, each day (as the sun sets in the early evening) an invited artist will respond to the idea of ‘ritual’ in their own way to create an inclusive activity for all attendees, from tea ceremonies to hair braiding to meditation. “We were trying to make sense of the layers of the festival themes and motifs as projects were being developed, and noticed that sunsets were becoming influential in a number of projects, including those by Shireen Taweel, Adam Ridgeway and Josh Muir,” explains Meagher.

“We also noticed oppositional forces coming up through the projects, and that made us want to try and find an energetic counterpoint to that division,” Meagher says. Here she is alluding to a number of performances and exhibitions that incorporate activism or advocacy, or explore themes of social justice, the situation of minorities, and climate change.

For example, Exhale is a multi-disciplinary performance piece by Sydney collective Black Birds designed, according to the Festival guide, to “dissect the female Black and Brown experience in Australia.” Estrogenesis, by Melbourne’s Embittered Swish group, is a playful but sobering interrogation of transgender realities. Salt is a one-woman show from Selina Thompson that deals with colonialism, collective grief and healing. The cross-medium exhibition Bloodlines, by Sancintya Mohini Simpson, is a confronting reflection on women taken from India to South Africa as indentured labour in the late 1800s. And that’s to name just four.

“We have a duty to listen to a range of artistic voices and support projects that feel urgent,” says Meagher, “and that often means that they engage with politics. But I think it would be trouble if Next Wave was cornered into box-ticking social issues, and the reality is that there are loads of important issues that don’t get airtime in our festival. Our job is to support artists above pushing any particular social agenda.”

That said, Meagher and her team couldn’t help but be effected by geo-political events as they began programming this 34th edition of Next Wave (Meagher’s second as director), given the degree to which the world has changed since the last festival in 2016.

“We were programming a couple of weeks after Trump got elected and the moment felt quite charged and politically urgent. There was a shift from 2016, which took a more speculative approach, to something more akin to crisis management this time around.”

And it is a desire to mitigate this dread and apprehension that led to the innovation that is Ritual.

“I hope Ritual might become a daily pilgrimage and meeting point for artists and audiences that flows into performances and parties late into the night,” says Meagher. “I’ve experienced similar rhythmic patterns in programming at international festivals where the evening begins and swarms of artists and punters form; going off in different directions, returning together in different formations over different nights.

By the end of the festival there are all these familiar faces that began as strangers but feel oddly close because you’ve gone through all these experiences together.”

Next Wave Festival 2018
Various locations
3 May – 20 May

Barnaby Smith