A beau­ti­ful chaos

The Monthly (Australia) - - THE NATION REVIEWED - JAYE KRANZ

In­side Mel­bourne’s Art­ful Dodgers Stu­dios (ADS) the Mega­phone Lunch is un­der­way. About 40 of the stu­dio’s par­tic­i­pants have turned up for the monthly mu­si­cal event – and the free lunch. Pro­ceed­ings be­gin with a hand­ful of mu­si­cians per­form­ing “fresh sounds” from the stage – a truck-load­ing bay – to the crowd as­sem­bled in the laneway be­low. The MC keeps the spirit in­clu­sive: “Yo! If any­one is lis­ten­ing in a fac­tory or an of­fice nearby, come down here!” Fo­cus soon shifts to the buf­fet (In­done­sianstyle bar­be­cue chicken, gado gado, fried tofu), and then the long din­ing ta­bles are cleared and re­stored to their usual pur­pose: art mak­ing.

“If you’re go­ing to come here, you have to make art,” ex­plains the stu­dios’ co-or­di­na­tor, Mar­i­anna Codog­notto, whose of­fice dou­bles as a cor­ri­dor. Staff track through ev­ery few min­utes. Codog­notto’s pens stand in a faded

Three Bean Mix tin. Her desk mug prof­fers the gen­eral di­ag­no­sis: “We’re all los­ing our shit.”

The ADS is an art and mu­sic space for dis­ad­van­taged and at-risk youth, a block down­hill from Colling­wood’s cafe and fash­ion strip. A pro­gram of the Je­suit So­cial Ser­vices, it has had to re­duce its open-stu­dio days from five to three. The fund­ing sit­u­a­tion is ver­tig­i­nous, but as the ADS rounds its 20th year, the place re­mains lively and, as one at­tendee de­scribes, “of­ten crowded, which I like”. On a reg­u­lar drop-in day, par­tic­i­pants po­si­tion them­selves around the var­i­ous spa­ces, bent over projects.

In the mu­sic stu­dio, Jal­mar, a 20-year-old rap­per wear­ing a red beanie and with mu­sic notes tat­tooed be­hind his ear, is mix­ing his song ‘Son­der’ with Jesse Sul­li­van, the in-house en­gi­neer. Jal­mar isn’t sure the word “son­der” ex­ists, “but I saw it on­line and it said it meant the re­al­i­sa­tion that ev­ery per­son has just as vivid and com­plex a life as yours”.

Jal­mar, whose back­ground is Chilean, raps over a beat with Latin stylings. “But it al­ways just made Mum ag­gra­vate / and it showed how the gov’ment can eas­ily take / and break fams up like a piece a cake / for a piece a cake / that’s what we live for / I even see my mum throw a knife at the door.” He wants to add voices ar­gu­ing in Span­ish around the two-minute mark.

“What, YouTube Span­ish peo­ple ar­gu­ing?” Sul­li­van asks. He sug­gests it might be dif­fi­cult to source, un­less they grab some­thing from a Pe­dro Almod­ó­var film. “It’s not Chilean, but there’s some in­tense stuff go­ing on.”

They scrap the idea and move on to Jal­mar’s next re­quest: a siren un­der the verse in which po­lice evict him and his fam­ily from their home. They au­di­tion sirens. “That’ll do,” Jal­mar says. “Though ’round my area it’s more like the woop-woop.” He per­forms a man­ual po­lice “chirp” siren.

In the vo­cal booth next door, a flute les­son is wind­ing up. Msar, an Iraqi refugee – “there was not time to learn this stuff over there” – emerges with his teacher Daniel, who says he’d seen an ad for a vol­un­teer flute teacher, “so I came in”.

ADS par­tic­i­pants range in age from 15 to 28 and face a host of chal­lenges, in­clud­ing men­tal-health is­sues, sub­stance abuse, home­less­ness, un­der­em­ploy­ment, in­ter­gen­er­a­tional trauma and fam­ily vi­o­lence. “But you’re more than your di­ag­no­sis,” says Codog­notto. “We all have a lot of lay­ers.” The ADS takes a de­lib­er­ately in­for­mal ap­proach to al­low those lay­ers to un­fold. The re­sult is a place that is some­times chaotic, but, as Codog­notto ex­plains, “it’s a beau­ti­ful chaos”.

Out in the main space, a group of young peo­ple from a nearby re­hab clinic file through on a tour. When they’ve done the rounds, For­est, an ADS worker, in­vites them to make jew­ellery. She presents two trays of lob­ster clasps, spring rings, hooks and eyes, pen­dants, peg bails and beads. “Some­one turned up with a boot­load of this stuff one day,” she says. “Rum­mage around.”

Sit­ting at a com­puter sta­tion, Riak – 26 years old, gold-tone watch, cam­ou­flage hoodie and braids – tog­gles be­tween video clips by Snoop Dogg, 50 Cent and 2Pac while edit­ing his own clip for a rap song he tracked here. Riak and his brother ar­rived in Aus­tralia from south­ern Su­dan 13 years ago. He’d like to re­turn some day to play mu­sic and see his mother. “Some­times I need my mum, you know? But I’m not go­ing like that. Every­body got guns. Maybe think­ing I’m a Dinka or a Nuer or some shit like that. They’ll blow your head up for a mis­un­der­stand­ing, you know?”

Mean­while, Jal­mar has changed into white train­ers and an out­sized parka for a photo shoot to pro­mote his new sin­gle. Work­ing the cam­era is Au­gus­tine, a bud­ding pho­tographer whose pre­ferred sub­ject is “peo­ple do­ing things”. Kate, an ADS worker, gives green-screen pro tips from the side, while Jal­mar poses with a boom box. Kate sug­gests he put it on his shoul­der. Jal­mar tries. “Nah, it looks like a toaster.”

At the ta­bles, Jenny, who has been com­ing here ev­ery drop-in day since she dis­cov­ered the stu­dio, is turn­ing her hands to an enig­matic bulge of papier-mâché. “This is Buck­beak,” she re­veals, “the myth­i­cal crea­ture from Harry Pot­ter. I’m go­ing to Wizard­fest later.” Jenny plans to both wear and ride Buck­beak. While past­ing pri­mary feath­ers she in­vites Regina, who is busy draw­ing a manga-in­spired fig­ure in a suit of stars, to come along to the Pot­ter-themed event.

Regina, 21, lives in the nearby hous­ing-com­mis­sion flats. The ADS is the first place she’s found where “I can just be me and not be afraid of peo­ple telling me I’m weird,” she says. “I had some rough times in school be­ing bul­lied. A lot. It made it re­ally dif­fi­cult for me to open up and show peo­ple who I am.” She tells one of the work­ers that she’s al­ways wanted to go to a party with friends. Wizard­fest will be her first.

But Regina has noth­ing Pot­ter-es­que to wear. There’s an up­swell of ac­tiv­ity. One of the work­ers for­ages for fab­ric and re­turns with two-way gold stretch ly­cra, a mis­cel­lany of reds, a mask, span­gles. The sewing ma­chine drones. They’ve de­cided, col­lec­tively, that Regina should go as Dum­ble­dore’s phoenix, Fawkes. In two hours, Regina has bur­nished wings, a lav­ish crest, red plumage. Trans­formed, she un­furls her wings for a photo with Jenny and Buck­beak, who are now joined, lit­er­ally, at the hip.

They leave in a chaos of feath­ers: the hip­pogriff and the phoenix.

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