PIAF Blog

Ruth Little: Home is where the art is

Thursday 18 February 2016

A performance is declarative of our shared humanity, yet it offers the uniqueness of our particular cultures.   Anthropologist Victor Turner

I've been blog-walking. Now that the heat's died down a little, I want to think, write, observe on my feet, let the city in and mull on Festival events in their living context. When you're walking and writing, you have to watch for traffic, dog shit and air conditioning units. You have to slow down at the edge of things.

One of the 12 principles of permaculture design states that the edge of any living system is where the most interesting events take place; that it's often the most valuable, diverse and productive part of the system. Physicists and complexity theorists agree – the most interesting things in the universe happen on edges. Estuaries, for example, with their cycles of exchange between freshwater and saltwater ecologies, are among the most rapidly changing and complex environments on earth, along with littoral spaces between land and sea.

Perth: estuarine, littoral, desert-adjoining, is often described as a city on the edge. It's a between-place itself made up of thresholds: between sea, river and land, sand and stone, coastal plain and limestone escarpment, long horizon and sky, between cultures and ways of knowing, indigenous peoples, tenacious settlers and perplexed new arrivals, between mineral abundance and water shortage, local and global economic conditions. Betwixt and between: it's not that Perth is neither one thing nor another, but that it is many things simultaneously, some of them in harsh juxtaposition, others in rich fusion and still more in constant flux.

An arts festival taps into this 'edginess', creating new thresholds while drawing our attention to existing ones. This Festival, it seems to me as I walk among crows with green-glass eyes, is much more than a succession of imaginative events; it's also an assemblage of people – both artists and their audiences – a confluence of thoughts and actions given time and space to unfold and flow into (influence) one another. Let's call it a estuary of ideas – a diverse, fluent, desirable and fragile environment defined by perpetual flux, by its fresh and salty encounters.

 

Nigel Jamieson and 500 artists: Home

From the overwhelming warmth, integrity and passion of the Festival's giant opening event, Home – a coming together of 500 artists in Langley Park to create a new songline for the city – to the intimacy and curiosity of public conversation with Festival artists, I've been blessed by opportunities to step across levels of scale, cultural borders and disciplinary boundaries and to dwell on the edges of things: languages, ways of moving, stories of home and place which concentrate universal human experience in their specific, salty detail and distinctive forms.

Thoreau spoke of the value of 'extravagant sauntering' – it's a craft that needs to be learned and practised, I think, and Perth International Arts Festival offers daily lessons in it. I've walked across the blazing city from encounter to encounter, travelled across time horizons with William Kentridge in Refuse the Hour and with Noongar elder Richard Walley in Home, down reverberating South African platinum mines in dialogue with composer Philip Miller, flounced over the heavily-defended border between classical and contemporary dance with Dada Masilo, and, in the company of leading Indian kathak dancer and choreographer Aditi Mangaldas, have crossed over from gravity to grace. Maybe the experience of art is itself a kind of homecoming, and in going out to meet it, we’re hoping too to meet and locate ourselves, to feel at home in the universe.  'We shall not cease from exploration,' said TS Eliot, 'and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.'

Becoming visible: Aditi Mangaldas, Within