Jane Corn­well

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Profile - The Money

Seth Honnor isn’t silly. He knows that his pro­duc­tion stu­dio Kalei­der won’t change the world. That no matter how ar­rest­ing and pow­er­ful its projects — a gi­ant trans­par­ent piggy bank, net­worked park benches called Lis­ten­ing Trees, a slip­pery piece of per­for­mance art based around a pot of money — the dom­i­nant nar­ra­tives in our so­ci­ety will re­main dom­i­nant.

In col­lab­o­ra­tion with cre­atives from the worlds of art, tech­nol­ogy, sci­ence and academe, the artis­tic di­rec­tor sim­ply wants to break our flow, tug our sleeves, get us dou­ble-tak­ing. To be­stow “in­ter­rup­tive gifts” that chal­lenge par­a­digms, tell counter-sto­ries and carve a space for re­flec­tion on how the fu­ture could be.

“Our work avoids theatres and au­di­to­ri­ums where au­di­ences have cho­sen to go,” says Honnor, 41, sit­ting in the open-plan of­fices of Kalei­der, lo­cated down a side street in the town of Exeter in Devon in Eng­land’s south­west. It’s a town known for its univer­sity and gothic cathe­dral, and as the home of the Met Of­fice, Britain’s na­tional weather ser­vice. (Oh, and for be­ing the birth­place of Cold­play.)

“We make fun, in­ter­est­ing art that en­gages peo­ple in pub­lic spa­ces and fo­cuses on some of the world’s big­gest chal­lenges,” con­tin­ues the ami­able fa­ther-of-three, who grew up off-the­grid in the wilds of Devon’s south Dart­moor. “Things like cli­mate change, the refugee cri­sis and the dis­tri­bu­tion of scarce re­sources.”

Kalei­der’s sig­na­ture piece, a script­less gameshow hy­brid ti­tled The Money, pre­miered at the Guild­hall in Exeter in 2013, the year af­ter Kalei­der was founded, and has gone on to tour Britain and play cities in China, the US, Italy and Aus­tralia, where it was a high­light of last year’s Mel­bourne Fes­ti­val. With no two shows ever the same, next week The Money re­turns to Aus­tralia un­der the aegis of An­ti­dote, a new fes­ti­val of ideas hosted by the Syd­ney Opera House.

Funny, ur­gent, po­etic and far­ci­cal, The Money is bal­anced on an au­da­ciously sim­ple premise: within 90 min­utes a play­ing au­di­ence of “bene­fac­tors” who’ve each given up a min­i­mum of $20 must unan­i­mously de­cide how to spend the wad of dosh in front of them. The re­main­ing au­di­ence mem­bers, the “silent wit­nesses” who have paid $49 each, can buy in at any time by ring­ing a big brass hand bell, chang­ing the ac­tion un­til the last few sec­onds.

Sounds easy, right? “Some­one told me The Money is a bit like watch­ing Shake­speare.” Honnor grins. “It’s real peo­ple play­ing a game yet char­ac­ters rise and fall, lead­ers come and go, and sud­denly a silent wit­ness might leave the space to find a cash ma­chine so that they can come back and have a voice.”

If no de­ci­sion is made, the money rolls over to the next ses­sion. But af­ter over­see­ing more than 80 pro­duc­tions, mostly as a silent wit­ness, Honnor pre­dicts that a rollover will never hap­pen. For no matter how un­even the com­mon ground, or how ex­tra­or­di­nary the in­di­vid­ual play­ers (“We’ve had peo­ple move the money to one side so they can re­ally get to the nub of things”), par­tic­i­pants are de­ter­mined to spend what’s in front of them.

Plant­ing trees. Throw­ing a party. Di­vid­ing it into £1 coins and dis­tribut­ing it among vil­lagers in Africa.

The Money isn’t ac­tu­ally about the money, of course. The hu­man in­ter­ac­tion is the key. How does power shift? What do par­tic­i­pants want to achieve in life? What re­spon­si­bil­ity do the wealthy have to­wards the poor? The piece, then, is a mi­cro­cosm of our flawed so­ci­ety, where al­tru­ism vies with self-in­ter­est and the dom­i­nant nar­ra­tive blinds us to al­ter­na­tives.

By stag­ing the work in pres­ti­gious civic de­ci­sion-mak­ing spa­ces in­clud­ing town halls in Mel­bourne, the City Cham­bers in Ed­in­burgh and the Bri­tish Houses of Par­lia­ment (where strict rules against prof­i­teer­ing meant us­ing Mo­nop­oly money), Kalei­der points au­di­ences to­wards the big­ger pic­ture. Once the show is fin­ished there’s a half-hour slot where par­tic­i­pants and silent wit­nesses get to chat about the is­sues and de­ci­sion be­fore they’re “dropped off” into the real world. Ap­plause is not en­cour­aged. “Peo­ple wake up in the morn­ing and it’s usu­ally the first thing they think about.”

And while the Syd­ney Opera House isn’t strictly a civic space, Honnor feels that the build­ing’s land­mark sta­tus grants it the req­ui­site grav­i­tas. “Plus, An­ti­dote is a fes­ti­val of ideas, and ideas are what The Money is about,” he says.

Kalei­der has re­cently turned The Money into a trip­tych; com­mis­sioned by the Euro­pean net­work In Situ, forth­com­ing pub­lic art in­stal­la­tion Pig is a large, trans­par­ent piggy bank con­tain­ing a dig­i­tal sign spell­ing out its pur­pose as a com­mu­nity fund and invit­ing passers-by to con­trib­ute, then later spend the money — if they can col­lec­tively agree on how to spend it.

“They can put in money or they can put in empty crisp pack­ets,” shrugs Honnor, who will pre­miere the work at a Bri­tish arts fes­ti­val next year. “They can wee into it. Break into it. Let them de­cide. This se­ries is about giv­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity back to the peo­ple. Hope­fully they’ll at least go home and think about it.”

The trip­tych’s fi­nal in­stal­ment is a crowd­funded project in which com­mu­nity do­na­tions of cash and coins will be frozen in­side a block of ice that is then left in a pub­lic space to melt. Those who have con­trib­uted will be sent a web ad­dress so they can watch the work crack and dissolve, the ice hav­ing an au­thor­ship, draw­ing an out­line around what’s in­side it.

Metaphors abound in the of­fices of Kalei­der, which em­ploys four full-time staff and is a touch­stone for 42 res­i­dent artists. A selec­tion of ceramic bowls with in­di­vid­ual ro­botic arms is part of Bel­lHouse, an in­stal­la­tion com­mis­sioned by the Met Of­fice that cap­tures the emo­tions in recorded speeches about cli­mate change and plays them back as sound.

A wooden bench with a large gramo­phon­estyle ear trum­pet is taken from Lis­ten­ing Tree, a co-pro­duc­tion with res­i­dent com­pany Mer­cu­rial Wrestler that uses dig­i­tal sen­sors to link sit­ters to some­one on an­other bench in the same park, or in an­other coun­try, so you can talk and lis­ten through the horns. Mer­cu­rial Wrestler is work­ing with Kalei­der on Buoyed, a dig­i­tal in­stal­la­tion in­volv­ing a for­est of glass buoys play­ing recorded sto­ries and sea shanties when trig­gered by sen­sors, as part of Exeter Univer­sity’s re­search on fish­er­men and fish­er­women (“fish­ers”).

Many of the res­i­dents have their Po­laroid photos and quirky bits of bi­o­graph­i­cal in­for­ma­tion pinned on to a no­tice­board by Kalei­der’s front door. There are sculp­tors, film­mak­ers and graf­fiti artists; dancers, mu­si­cians and fem­i­nist fes­ti­val or­gan­is­ers. There’s a tech­nol­o­gist at the Met Of­fice, a woman who works with bees and an­other who spe­cialises in pa­per flow­ers, and an ac­tress whose en­tire per­for­mance piece is played out on a phone call.

“The Money tends to get the pub­lic­ity but all of our projects are ex­tra­or­di­nary live ex­pe­ri­ences that use the col­lec­tive imag­i­na­tion to turn and face what needs to be faced,” says Honnor. “We think of them as se­ri­ous play.”



is part of An­ti­dote at the Syd­ney Opera House. The fes­ti­val be­gins to­day.

Kalei­der’s artis­tic di­rec­tor Seth Honnor

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.