At the IETM meeting in Athens, twenty Australian arts professionals interacted with almost 500 of their European peers. We asked Phillip Adams, Artistic Director of Melbourne based dance company, Balletlab , to speak to two of his colleagues, Jade Lillie, CEO of Footscray Community Arts Centre and South Australia based theatre artist, Eugenia Fragos, about their experiences.
Phillip Adams: I’m back from Athens, steeped in discussions about cultural exchange and the demands on European producers and artists to make work during a time of economic recession. There is a responsibility to keep doing what we are doing, in fact we are more obliged than ever to contribute to society. What message struck you in Greece?
Jade Lillie: The stark reality of the economic crisis is impacting on the ways and types of work being produced, however there is still a strong energy to make new and revitalise existing work. I was deeply moved by the generosity of local artists, our hosts, who voluntarily delivered IETM and were consistently engaged in the dialogue about the crisis.
Eugenia Fragos: My impression is that Greece is the canary in the European coal-mine. I am of Greek background and have been following the crisis as it has been unfolding. IETM provided a concentrated structure within which to view what is happening in Greece, Europe and the rest of the world. IETM is unashamedly Eurocentric, but if Shakespeare and Ibsen sometimes have us by the short and curlies, the poor Greeks have the Ancient Greek Classics like a noose around their necks. We are lucky not to have such intense cultural baggage when we make work. In the face of such political upheaval, aesthetics become the least of the artists’ concerns. Trying to view the work simply by aesthetic standards misses the point when things are really bad.
PA: How do you see your organisation and the role of the independent artist in cultural exchange in coming years?
EF: As an artist of NESB, born and living in Australia, the question of cultural exchange has a certain irony to it.
JL: My work, and FCAC’s work internationally over the coming years will be about reciprocity and exchange with artists, companies and producers who are creatively and culturally relevant to the communities and artists in Melbourne’s west. We are working in Yogya next year where FCAC will be in residence for one month showcasing contemporary Australian culture through a range of genres and mediums. The artists we connect with will have an ongoing relationship with our artists. With 130 cultural groups and 150 languages spoken in Melbourne’s west, our context is both local and international.
PA: I noted presenters are seeking easier programming options particularly with the increase of artists working globally. Can you comment on this?
JL: We have an opportunity to think strategically and collaboratively about the ways that we co-produce, share ideas and participate in exchange. We are interested in co-producing work where there can be a multi-level and medium – long term relationship. If we are presenting a work, we want the artists to engage in our other programs at FCAC and for our communities and artists to receive the broader benefits of a global collaboration.
PA: We are learning to cultivate ways to research, produce and mobilise projects into and around global networks. Additionally alternative multi art form research and exhibition platforms are on the rise to connect artists to international partners. What creative alternative areas are you finding attractive ?
JL: We think about a range of ways to engage, including live streaming, online platforms, paste up exchanges, zines and other forms. My time in Athens was followed by 10 days in London to explore collaborations. I am excited about the works I saw and also the possibility of exchange with an arts centre in London. We are exploring the opportunity to exchange both work and producers, so that there is capacity built amongst the producers to tour these works in UK and Australia.
EF: Two young directors Anestis Azas and Prodomomos Tsinikoris who divide their time between Athens and Berlin presented some of their work; ‘Travelling by Train’ a play about the collapse of the Greek public railway using the sacked workers as the performers and another beautiful piece ‘Telemachus- Should I stay or should I go?’ an on-stage confrontation between two generations of Greek migrants in Germany. How do you document a crisis as an artist? Anestis was also part of a discussion group on Documentary Theatre with companies exploring this form in exciting multi-art-form ways.
PA: Who did you get to meet at IETM?
JL: I moderated a session called Generation Gaps which meant that I had time with the panel members from Greece, Italy and Netherlands. This provided me with a focus along with many follow up conversations about the notion of generation being about attitude as opposed to age. The other conversations I was engaged in were the talking and listening sessions about who ‘we’ as members want the IETM audiences to be in the next ten years, along with increased representation from Asia, Africa, Central and South America.
EF: One artist that I have begun a dialogue with is Eugenia Tzirtzilaki. She presented a fascinating snapshot of contemporary Greek reality in a very intimate performance in her own home.
PA: It’s great to make new friends, so thanks to the Australia Council and the attending artists and producers. Australian arts are making headway at IETM, and bringing it home to Melbourne in May 2014 at the Asian Satellite meeting is cause for celebration.