The inaugural exhibition at The University of Melbourne’s Science Gallery Melbourne, explores our relationship with the sometimes confronting topic of blood. My contribution is on the role of blood in culture, art and performance which appears at the end after the real expert Prof. Sharon Lewin.
An app that lets audience members experience Melbourne General Cemetery like never before? Victorian College of the Arts Lecturer in Theatre Robert Walton explains more.
By Robert Walton, Lecturer in Theatre at the Victorian College of the Arts
This weekend (20–21 May 2017) at the Melbourne General Cemetery, artist Jason Maling and I will test the latest edition of our transmedia app experience Vanitas.
Blurring documentary with fiction, Vanitas is a reflective thriller about life’s great mystery: death. Experienced through their own smartphone and decrypted through the secret language of flowers, each visitor will embark on a self-guided walk through Melbourne’s oldest modern cemetery. Alone.
Intrepid audience members will listen to the app as they wander towards a rendezvous at the centre of the cemetery. It’s a meditative experience that asks you to listen deeply and look closely at the world around you. In Vanitas, not everything is as it first appears.
A vanitas painting portrays collections of objects symbolic of the certainty of death. We were inspired by a painting from 1700 by Dutch artist Rachel Ruysch called Vase with Flowers(above). Ruysch’s floral vanitas depicts blooms just passing their best, on the cusp of wilting or being eaten by bugs. Her mysterious painting, like all vanitas pictures from that era, reminds us that all living things fade, and that our objects will outlive us and become the last traces of our daily lives.
In much of Australian culture, death remains taboo. For a variety of reasons, we are unable or unwilling to talk about it. In fact, we often go about our lives as if death is a fate that will not befall us personally. Australia also has the second highest uptake of smartphones in the world.
Hence, we have made a smartphone app as a vanitas for our own times. The interface itself is based on Ruysch’s painting with each flower representing an episode in the story. Like the flowers in the painting, you are drawn to some episodes first and then chance upon others along the way. The shift between guided and random order allows the audience to weave their own connections with the threads of narrative we present.
The story mixes documentary, autobiography and fiction and is told wholly through remixed audio fragments taken from interviews with a variety of experts on the themes of vanitas, flowers, life and death. We find out about the secret language of flowers, witness a cremation, and talk to botanists, historians and professionals from the death industry.
We are lucky to have Southern Melbourne Cemeteries Trust in our city; world leaders in forward thinking about the future of our cemeteries. Those we have worked with from the Trust’s team have been great collaborators and have helped us to understand how death practices have evolved over the last century and how they might develop into the future.
What is clear is that Melbourne General Cemetery in Parkville is a place of extraordinary national importance. It is a haunting museum and art gallery of lives past, like the shadow of the city itself.
And, with 300,000 people buried there, it’s certainly the biggest venue I have ever played. But the dead are what you’d call a captive audience. On the whole they are very well behaved bunch; they don’t give much back. They seem to be enjoying the show so far, yet we live in constant fear of a standing ovation.
The audience on the weekend can expect a meditative experience exploring themes of death and transience. Ticket holders can arrive any time between 10am and 4pm on their chosen day.
Audience members will be asked to come with a fully-charged smartphone (Apple or Android) with an Australian mobile number, email address, access to the internet (there is no WiFi in the cemetery) and headphones. Once booked, they will be sent an email with information on how to download the Vanitasapp before coming to the cemetery.
Vanitas was commissioned as part of In Your Hands – a new series of artworks and installations that invite audiences to create experiences mediated through hand-held technology – by Arts House through the Australia Council’s New Digital Theatre Initiative. Tickets are available from Arts House. Admission: $10
A great article comparing the experience of unsuccessful applicant Manda Flanary with advice from Head of Acting at NIDA Jeff Janisheski and myself.
Taking control of what happens next
Walton said that you don’t need a degree or an institution to be an artist, and the first way to take charge of what happens next in lieu of a rejection is to put energy into training and professional development. ‘Some of the greatest artists in history don’t have a degree,’ he said.
‘Everyone who auditions is already an artist, and because of the way our auditions are, they’ve already created a new performance work and a new interpretation of a monologue. What happens next is more important than they realise.
A festival-within-a-festival, FR!SK aims to help emerging artists get to grips with professional practice.
By Richard Watts
Published Tuesday 9 September 2014
Presented as part of the 2014 Melbourne Fringe Festival, and running over four days, FR!SK is a festival of new live art and performance works created by VCA Bachelor of Fine Arts (Theatre Practice) students.
Eight new works feature in the FR!SK program, exploring a range of themes – discrimination, gaming, our decaying digital-age relationship with privacy and personhood – and embracing a range of performance modes and styles. One common trait all the works share, however, is an interest in evolving the nature of theatre; adapting the ancient art form for the 21st century.
The Victorian College of the Arts has a long history of influential teaching in theatre yielding many professional actors, directors and other theatre artists, including the animateur, a highly motivated creator able to work across discipline boundaries and bring diverse practitioners together to generate all kinds of work, including new forms. Although the specific diploma course that nurtured this role will no longer exist at the end of this year, the principle strongly persists in VCA’s new degree offerings.
When I ask Robert Walton, Head of Undergraduate Studies in Theatre, what is distinctive about the school’s three-year undergraduate program, he pinpoints with clarity “a kinaesthetic approach to acting through the actor’s body drawing on various techniques,” “a focus on what is already strong in the VCA” and “looking to Melbourne as the inspiration for our course with its vital and exciting theatre community—acting, writing, devising and initiating projects and seeing them right through to production.”
Cheeky wee interview with Gareth Vile where we discuss live art, theatre, dance, Fish & Game, Australia and of course the HOT season at Tramway. Gareth mixed in some brilliant tracks that get the foot tapping and the eyebrow raised including Christina Vantzou, John Tavener, Leonardus You Got Me, and a personal fav Slideshow at Free University by Le Tigre – a classic.
Gareth Vile is the Theatre Editor of The List. He also hosts a show on Subcity Radio and is the author of Vile Arts.
The works in this season are representative of the distinctive and sophisticated dance and performance being made in Australia at the moment. These artists combine fresh, urgent ideas with rigorous technique to create experiences that will fascinate, absorb, delight your senses and entertain you.