Hello from Lockdown 4.0,
Each time this happens we grow a littler wiser.
It’s not easy – there are growing pains, and lessons hard learnt.
For us as a community in Naarm (Melbourne), the keys of the city had finally been handed over and artists from all disciplines were primed to launch one of the country’s biggest arts festivals of the year. A festival designed to remind of us of our light in the darkness of winter has never been more significant and needed than in these times when the city has been hungry to celebrate after a year of inaction and isolation. Our hearts go out to the artists, administrators, producers, technicians and creatives who dreamed up, planned and launched the inaugural RISING festival, only to have it locked down after opening night.
The loss is not just about the quantitative measures that are so often used to record the work of an artist (economic loss- hours of labour and ticket sales). But as artists, we know that it is also about the qualitative measures that are harder to track through data but are deeply felt through the body and the effects that has on a community. Where does the adrenalin go from an artist’s body – that electricity that courses through you when you’re working in a concentrated timeframe with your collaborators, absorbing all around you like a sponge, feeding everything into your work – when the process is cut dramatically short and we are thrust back into lockdown? The role of an artist is not just to create the work, but to welcome community in to be witness to it, to share in it, to close one circle and trust that another circle is opening with the communities’ response. To be witnessed is to allow the witnesser to be an active creator of the work who then carry the work beyond the experience, breathing new life into it each time it is reflected on, spoken about and felt.
Where does all this energy go when the circle doesn’t have the opportunity to close and new circles to begin? How are we supporting and caring for the artists and arts workers who have gone from being in an electric state of being to being back in lockdown? How are we supporting each other – each one of us a member of this community here in Naarm, where we have been cut off from new ideas, moments of beauty, awe and hope?
As artists, we are masters of the body – we remind people that we are more than talking heads, more than the cerebral pragmatism and information overload that we are inextricably tied up with in the Western 21st century world. Artists remind us that the body is an intelligence and it needs to be cared for and listened to.
At a time of a global pandemic that still rages across the world that has forced us yet again back into the reality of quarantining and isolation and forced distance, we are reminded of the importance of human connection and touch as part of the human existence. But also that care is part of the human experience and if called upon as a city we will do it.
Holding both of these things to be true, at WEYA we’ve made the decision to work with artists, participants and our communities in a bespoke manner this year – to pause many of our programs rather than pivot, to make room for the growth and massive transformation that occurs when we work together in the same physical space. The young people we work with are bodies that are literally still growing –and are in need of that physical space together to learn, communicate, heal and grow. In one of our partner schools we have had students who often don’t attend their English class arriving early to our WEYA in-syllabus sessions this year, eager to be physically present with our brilliant staff of artists. We transitioned to zoom in Week 1 of Lockdown to check in on these students and the feedback was unanimous – they wanted to wait to be back in the room together. After a year of pivoting to online delivery and maintaining community in the ways we could in 2020, our community is now wanting more than ever to be in the same space.
Our heart goes out to all involved in RISING, and other works throughout this lockdown and previous lockdowns who have been dislodged. Our heart goes out to our communities in the western suburbs who we work with who have been and remain disproportionately affected by these lockdowns for institutionalized structural reasons.
While we understand the economic and practical losses are huge whenever we re-enter this ‘freeze’ or ‘pause’ state, we also want to find new ways to articulate what we at WEYA are experts in – the less quantitative and more qualitive measures that art making contributes to our communities and that is stored in the body. As bodies we need other bodies in space with us, we thrive in live real time in-person experiences where all the faculties and intelligences within the body can be acknowledged, seen, felt, expressed, transmuted and turned into an artful work of beauty that lives on.
We hope that you are all being very gentle with yourselves during this 2 week lockdown and are holding space for the grief and loss of what could have been.
Tariro and Penny