24 October 2009

Final MIAF 2009 thoughts

MIAF 2009
A Reflection. Nah, it's a rant.

 It's the last Saturday evening of the 2009 Melbourne International Arts Festival and I'm willingly sitting at home at my computer in my trackie daks. Something just isn't right.

This afternoon I saw my last MIAF event, Peter Greenaway's Leonardo's Last Supper, and I liked it.

I don't know what anyone else thought about it though. In fact, I’m not too sure what anyone else (apart from a couple of my friends) thought about this festival, because we're not talking about it. And by ‘we’, I mean Melbourne’s artists, art fanciers and festival junkies (those of us in the age, income, interest and education bracket known as the ‘festival demographic). This year I'm not hearing the opinions and thoughts of all these other like-minded souls. Or drinking with them.

Brett Sheehy holds the artistic reins of the festival for this year and the next. Having hung out (and worked) at arts festivals for many years, I try not to compare Artistic Directors. Each have their own vision and bring us bloody amazing stuff*.

Brett, for letting me see Peeping Tom's Le Salon, thank you, thank you, thank you –  but where's our festival gone? Why aren't we talking? Why isn't this program inspiring us to create? Why doesn’t this festival feel like ours?

Don't get me wrong, the shows I’ve seen has been terrific, but I haven't taken a single risk, I haven't seen anything that has made me re-think how I feel about theatre and I haven't seen anything that I've hated.

Over the four years that Kristy Edmunds created the program, each year had all of these element, with programs that gave us perfected masterpieces and brand new work, and still left room for creativity, which means giving artists the freedom to experiment and perhaps make mistakes.  Her programs gave me a new perspective about why we 'consume' and make art. I found arts forms I had never seen, I discovered artists who changed how I think and I even began to understand and love contemporary dance!

And, more importantly, I’ve seen how these programs have influenced the art created in Melbourne, and not just the local work created for the festival. Forced Entertainment’s Bloody Mess tentacles are still tickling our independent artists and I'm always glimpsing a Lone Twin shadow.

But tonight I'm not line dancing with strangers in silence outside of the Malthouse, I’m not wondering how many pink drinks until I’m brave enough to talk to someone like Robert Wilson without gushing like a school girl, I’m not wishing that I hadn’t left my program on a table after I’d written review notes that included ‘utter wank’, and ‘who the fuck let these people on a stage’ (I now only write notes in a note book) and I’m not taking a risk and seeing someone I had never heard of. I’m at home and there might even be a good movie on the telly.

If this were last year, I would have left The Last Supper and headed to the Artists Lounge, where I would have ordered a soy latte and a small sultana scroll as I chatted to the barista about the show and they told me what they thought about it. I would have found a quiet corner and typed up a rave about Greenaway and what a pretentious wanker he is and how I love him for being a pretentious wanker and mentioned that no matter what crap he makes, The Cook, The Thief, His Wife and Her Lover is so wonderful that nothing else matters. While doing so, I might have discussed with someone I knew and someone I hadn't met before the nature of contemporary Christianity and our how we do or don't value visual art. Then I would have sat outside in the sun, ordered a fizzy pink grapefruit juice while Simon changed my mind and gave me another Festival cocktail, before going to the box office and buying a ticket for whatever show I somehow hadn't seen yet. Seen the art. Then gone back to the lounge, met friends, ordered food, made new friends and despaired that this wonderful event is over for another year.

Seeing the art is such a small part of the experience. Just seeing a show is like sex without the compliments and a cocktail beforehand or a cuddle, a chat and a late night pizza after. I'm not saying that this year's art is like paying a prostitute, but it's feeling like a commodity again. It's something people pay for because it's 'quality'; it's 'Art'. It’s not something that includes those outside of the ‘demographic’, it’s not making us think too hard and it's not giving us the space or the content to make us talk.

*So why couldn't the Adelaide Festival board have trusted Peter Sellars? I know it's been years and it's forgotten – but this may be my only chance to rant.

AND, in case Media Watch are watching, I was one of the lucky folk to work for the 2005 festival. It was a great job, but also the job that made me realise that I didn't want to be an arts manager anymore; that a knack with budgets, a frightening knowledge of risk and an ability to write a tight contract may be worthwhile and admirable skills but they weren't what I was about and were turning me into an uninteresting and miserable person. So now I sit in classes with people half my age and am learning how to write. (I still do bits of the other stuff, but it's no longer what I am.)

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