Wednesday, April 24, 2013

13 Rooms: An insiders perspective with Paea Leach

Jo enamoured with the impossibility and tranquility of
Xu Zhen's In Just a Blink of an Eye

Lilly and I were lucky to immerse ourselves in 13 Rooms -  Kaldor Public Arts Projects together this weekend. After our BIG kid Twyla's experience I was excited to fly in on Friday to witness several of my friends working as performers or 'interpreters' in the exhibition. Paea Leach is a long time dance collaborator and friend and she soon ushered us in through the stage door to join the crowds of all ages. (We were also thrilled to meet John Kaldor who was a generous presence across all the hours we were there on each day).


One of the most talked about rooms features Marina Abramovic 'Luminosity' where the work features a single woman lit up naked on the wall. It is a work of trancendence and endurance and quite simple beauty that also bought to the fore the question of artwork that might be inappropriate for children within a space that so clearly invited them in (we were delighted to see cups of coloured pencils on all the tables in the cafe, and children actively responding to their surrounds, participating in the experience in age appropriate ways).The rooms featuring nudity were clearly signed and a guide gave a gentle reminder before you entered. Despite this, during the times we were in the room, a number of children walked in and not one of them disrupted the viewing of the works in a negative way. All watched openly and easily. Our favourite moment was when a young girl of about 3 responded immediately by lifting her t-shirt  - it was a split second response no-one could've predicted, and the performer, Paea Leach handled it with the beautiful acknowledgement of a conspiratorial slight smile. We asked Paea for her responses to this work and of her experience of kids in the mix: 

In Luminosity you are interpreting a work by Marina Abramovic in which you sit on a bicycle seat affixed to the wall of a small room, naked and still. As a dancer who is moving constantly, how does being still for half an hour at a time compare?
To stay so still or calm, seated as I am on the bike seat 'suspended' on the wall, I need to be maintaining a constant awareness of micro shifts, or small dances if you will. In some sense you ARE moving all the time. I can get really focused on monitoring the minutiae of my body and the different body systems at play that are helping me stay there, while I work to maintain a constant and steady gaze and to engage with the audience (an important aspect of the work is that we seek to connect with the audience via directly establishing and holding eye contact for an amount of time we feel is right).


How do you feel about performing naked and were you happy to be viewed by children? 
My feelings about myself being naked in performance shift daily. Some days I feel quite empowered performing naked, as often I think not everyone is able (or willing) to do such a thing. On others I feel very watched, judged, desired, rejected and self judgmental.  In Luminosity I can see the audience quite clearly and sometimes the energy of the people watching can affect how I feel about myself. In my logical brain I think we are all bodies and we all have a body. It is a basic and beautiful idea. In Luminosity the nakedness is important for the image and so the work, it empowers me as a performer and woman and at some point the nudity does not matter. I have spent time watching others and performing it myself (watching others watch me) and I think the crux of the interest in this work is about connection. So after a few minutes all you tend to focus on is the face of the performer. The space can in these moments of connecting becoming empathic, sad, charged. As we are both seeing and seen. 

A lot of children come in and I feel that I try and send them a gentle gaze if they want to look at me. A lot do not want to look. Babies seem intrigued, by the light I am guess, and other children have varied responses. Mostly they are a bit confronted by it, or simply fail to see why it is interesting, and fairly quickly want to leave. A lot have made connections between what they are seeing and their own mothers. As I was doing Luminosity just ten minutes ago I watched a mother and daughter watching together. I thought that it is a privilege to be a child who has a parent that is able to bring them to such things. hopefully these parents are part of a stream of parents who are encouraging the next generation of children to learn in new ways...or to think and feel outside the square so to speak, from the beginning of their lives. 
I do not find the children distracting in the space at all, if anything it is adults who have the most wild responses.  

How would you describe the 'dance' of the work?
The dance of the work is on the inside of my body. It is between myself and the people I make lovely and lengthy connections with. It is what is happening between my body and yours - and the energy transferred. This is absolutely what dance is about for me. It is in the choreography of the bodies I see moving, relocating, sitting, rearranging before me.  People are a mixture of arrested, intrigued, needy, impatient, confronted, alarmed, discomfited, and happy. Many men find it hard to look at me when I am looking at them. Older women seem somewhat delighted and respectful, women my age are a little unsure....but once we establish a connection they seem to enter the contract and feel satisfied and a bit heart warmed. Some people come back. It is intriguing to watch everyone working out how they feel about it. And of course I can see them and I watch body language, and people relax, endure the silence, allow the space to open out.  It is an incredible experience. 
I think the silence of it invites people to land in their own bodies and for a brief moment, consider the weight of themselves. 
An insiders view of the space of 13 rooms before the crowds. Image by Paea Leach
Post Script: A counterpoint to the ease of inviting children into the space was thoughtfully articulated by another of the Luminosity interpreter/performers Nalina Wait- an artist and mother who felt it was not suitable for children "not because of the nudity, but because of the very strong issues and feelings it raises. It is a mature work about suffering, loneliness and the strength to overcome this. It's about having lived and having had harsh life experiences. It takes a certain amount of maturity to process and understand it in an art context and I don't think children have that capacity yet. Usually they are brought in by well-intentioned parents who want to open their children to art, but who haven't really taken in the work yet themselves. Children are very sensitive and open and usually want to leave the room before their parents. It is a very strong work and I don't think there is any benefit to exposing them to that just yet - there's plenty of time to soak up the pain of life later.... Everything else in 13 rooms is wonderful for children!"

Our experience with 4yr old Twyla was easy and delighted. On walking through the exhibition it would've been more provocative to say "you cannot go in this room". Luminosity evoked in her a sense of wonder "This is amazing mummy, is she glued to the wall? This is very cool I think it's magic. How does she balance? Her arms are definitely not glued on".

The decision to view the work with a child is certainly not a fixed conversation, with the experience and appropriateness different for everyone.

Did you take your child to 13 Rooms? Would you take your child into Luminosity? 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Artist and Child: 13 Rooms


We embarked on an adventure today to explore Kaldor Public Arts Projects 13 Rooms with the second youngest member of the BIG team, who is 4 years old. There are in fact 12 purpose built rooms in Pier 2/3, each with a door, where live performers interpret some of the worlds best known performance artists conceptual work. It is like a labyrinth of unexpected surprise with each room containing  a unique experience. Almost like a choose your own adventure story we journeyed through the rooms at Twyla's pace following her interest and engaging for as long or as little time as she liked.

There were tribes of children enjoying the spaces today all of whom were welcomed into the experience by the performers and gallery staff, and in turn participated with interest, enthusiasm and respect. There was an overwhelming sense of shared experience and a true disruption of hierarchy in that children and adults genuinely shared the performance spaces side by side, interacting and contributing to the nature of the work together. 
Twyla's impromptu response to Xu Zhen's In Just a Blink of an Eye
Simon Fujiwara Future/Perfect 2012
"He looks like he is in a clam shell or a space ship. he is asking lots of questions but I don't think he really wants me to answer them." Twyla, age 4
Allora and Calzadilla Revolving Door, 2011
"They are concentrating so hard. I love this room because every time I come in I almost get squashed! You have to make the same rhythm with your feet to get out of the way." Twyla, age 4. 
BIG Ideas

1. Spend some time before you enter the wharf talking to children about ways of interacting and responding to the spaces so that they can have a positive experience. If possible see the exhibit independently before you take children so you have an idea of what you are walking into and can immerse yourself at your own pace (though don't tell them too much as the biggest thrill was the element of surprise as to what might be behind the next door!) Depending on their age you could remind them to talk in soft voices, enter and exit rooms quietly, and watch for a while when entering rooms so they get a sense of how they can interact and engage.


2. In Swap 2011 by Roman Ondak a performer facilitates an improvised process of negotiating the swapping of personal objects offered by audience members. Talk to children beforehand to see if they would like to take something to exchange. We spent more than 45 minutes in this room and Twyla was thrilled to swap a small brooch for an eco shopping bag. Another little girl swapped a pencil and an impromptu story about a gnome for some easter eggs.

3. Make sure you ask for the responsive children's program on entering the wharf.  There are coloured pencils on the table in the cafe so bring some paper so you can draw your responses to your favourite rooms together, or write down as many words as you can to describe your experience.


On leaving Marina Abramovic Luminosity Twyla experiments to see how long she can hold her arms up in the air. "This is amazing mummy, is she glued to the wall? This is very cool I think it's magic. How does she balance? Her arms are definitely not glued on. Her balancing is amazing!"
 Laura Lima Man=Flesh/Woman=Flesh-FLAT, 1997
"I think that man might get bumped. How did that man get in there? I think he feels scared in there because it's dark. I love lying on the floor to peek in at him."



Monday, April 15, 2013

Artist and Child: A Gallery Experience

We currently have close friends performing in Kaldor Public Art Projects 13 Rooms, a 'living sculpture' exhibition showing at Walsh Bay in Sydney. The nature of some of the work being shown has raised questions about whether certain aspects are appropriate for children. We are interested in provoking a dialogue about the relevance of contemporary artwork in public contexts to the life and experience of a child. What is the impact of children being exposed to work that is not designed specifically for young eyes? As the creators of BIG Kids Magazine we are interested in inviting children into public art spaces in age appropriate ways where their views are valued and they are supported to participate and contribute to cultural conversations.

As artists, gallery and theatre spaces are like home to us and as such our children are growing up with these environments as part of their everyday lives.  We believe in the importance of inviting ALL children into contemporary arts spaces from a young age. Lucky for us in Australia most of the major galleries have wonderful arts programs geared towards children and families that help kids engage and respond to work that is usually curated for an adult audience.

BIG is very much interested in inviting children into the process and rigorous practice of art making and exposing them to original work and live performance. Theatre and gallery spaces can provoke different ways of seeing, provide opportunities to develop personal perspectives and unique points of view, as well as open doors to new kinds of conversations between kids and grown ups. While galleries tend to invite a particular kind of attention, engagement and behaviour that some might find stifling or difficult, there are many ways to support even very young children to have positive and deeply impacting experiences. Early exposure to complex, creative and diverse environments offers children an opportunity to begin a lifelong relationship with creative thinking and the arts. With support galleries can become fertile and inspiring environments for children where they can develop expressive language and confidence in their own unique opinions.

Galleries are public spaces.  However, so often we have found talking to friends that they feel they are 'not for them' that the art gallery is an exclusive place for 'people in the know'. Major galleries can feel overwhelming, but by considering simple parameters and realistic expectations the experience is often  shared, rich and memorable. We advocate to empower grown-ups to help their kids understand the culture of the environment and what is expected of them in real and practical ways through our ongoing sharing of BIG ideas.

Tomorrow we will post a response to the experience of viewing 13 Rooms with a 4 year old. We will definitely be going for a babycino beforehand to talk about ways of navigating the adventure together!

Twyla, age 4, responding to a work at White Rabbit Gallery, Sydney

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Artist and Child: Post-it paintings

All over the world office workers are communicating creatively across city streets with images created out of post-it notes. Our littlest BIG team member Nadia, age 3,  is creating her very own cutting edge work exhibiting now on fridges, walls and windows.

From Post-it war inter-enterprises France. 

BIG IDEA:
Pick up a packet of coloured sticky notes from the supermarket and make a masterpiece like the post-it painters! Simply put out a sheet of paper and let your child follow their interest.

Post-it study in pink, Nadia, age 3.

Monday, April 1, 2013

House of Dreaming. A review by Ava, age 10


Ava with FringeWorld faves Frisky and Mannish
My mum takes me to lots of PIAF and Fringe World shows. We counted that we went to more than 20 different shows this year! After HOUSE OF DREAMING I went home to my mum and said it was the best show I had ever been to. I was telling her everything about it for an hour and a half...

By Ava Hart, as dictated to her mum Paula Hart:

Inside the ABC studio there’s a whole house... When you look at it it’s like a normal house but it’s got a little twist – there are three doors, a giant bush and a bench. You go inside in threes and before you go into the house you are given a cape each and a bunny hat, a crown or a wizard’s hat. We were also given a little figurine each that matched our hats.

We walked into the house, each through our own door. We sat down at our own little table with a big mirror. We had been told we had to put the figurines on a white dot to turn the lights on. On the tables were postcards, pictures and a telephone. We looked at all the postcards. One said, “don’t forget to bring the parrot,” but we had no idea what that meant.   We chatted to each other and wondered what we were supposed to do. Then the phones started ringing.  

We each picked up our phone and our mirror showed a face. We could hear these faces talking through the phone, but each of us had our own conversation. They told us the house was magical and gave us each instructions. Now we knew to head to the next room.


The House of Dreaming,  by Arena Theatre Company directed by Chris Kohn. Presented at the Perth International Arts Festival 2013 at the ABC Perth Studios.

We were three kids and we were the audience, but we felt like we were in the show. Each room felt different, but we all remembered our instructions to put our figurines on the dot to make the room work. In some rooms there were people acting. When they were acting they were telling us a story about who used to live in the house and what happened to the house. No one had lived there for hundreds of years they said. Sometimes we heard voices or saw projections. The rooms looked like real rooms and everything you could touch was like in a real room. Some rooms were so small all three of us could hardly fit in and sometimes to get to the next room we had to crawl or push through a secret tunnel. I am tall so some things felt tiny when I had to crawl through. At the beginning we were told to take our time and really look at stuff. There was so much stuff to look at that we felt like we had to rush, but we knew we didn’t because we had lots of time to explore.

The way they told the story was incredibly interesting. You didn’t just have to sit and watch the show and see what everything did. It was more exciting to touch everything and be a part of the story. I like that you did it with three people and it was exciting to talk to each other to understand the story. Everyone understood a different side of the story.

The props were really amazing in such a small space. It was exciting to see the film projected on the walls. We liked speaking to real people who were acting because they understood what we were thinking. It was really cool how they used the technology for the figurines, a TV, the telephones and stuff that popped open. It was also amazing how real everything seemed. It was funny when we started speaking to the projections on the wall because they seemed so real. At one point me and my friends were laughing so much because it felt so real. In one dark, black room it smelt disgusting like smoke and fog and yucky stuff. In one room we had to write down our dreams.

It was REALLY good to go without a parent. Parents would tell you how to do it, but it was really good to explore on our own!

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