Un­der­belly Arts Lab & Fes­ti­val

Lo­cal arts with guts and glam­our

Time Out (Sydney) - - INSIDE - By Dee Jef­fer­son

IMAG­INE THE BI­EN­NALE of Syd­ney crossed with Laneway Fes­ti­val and you’ll be­gin to un­der­stand Un­der­belly Arts Fes­ti­val – es­sen­tially, it’s a two-day mu­si­cal fes­ti­val ex­cept that the line-up fea­tures art in­stal­la­tions, per­for­mance and in­ter­ac­tive works.

The sixth edition of Un­der­belly Arts, cu­rated by in­com­ing fes­ti­val di­rec­tor (and Un­der­belly Arts alumna) Roslyn Helper, fea­tures 21 brand new works that have been com­mis­sioned and funded, and will be site-spe­cific. There will be a new per­for­mance work by mu­si­cian Marcus Whale (Col­lar­bones) with in­stal­la­tion and per­for­mance artist Eu­gene Choi, fea­tur­ing a 30-piece choir; there will be an in­ter­ac­tive in­flat­able work cre­ated by Am­rita Hepi, Honey Long and Prue Stent; there will be a six-hour queer, con­tem­po­rary remix of tra­di­tional Pek­ing Opera by dancer­chore­og­ra­pher Shian Law; and there will be an in­ter­ac­tive ‘Net­flix-style’ show, by the­atremaker and film­maker Lau­rence Rosier-Staines. It’s this kind of am­bi­tious pro­gram­ming that has es­tab­lished Un­der­belly Arts – over ten years and five edi­tions – as a sort of ‘alt-Bi­en­nale’ for Syd­ney: smaller, more lo­cal, but con­sis­tently fa­cil­i­tat­ing artists with large vi­sions, and pre­sent­ing art as an im­mer­sive and in­ter­ac­tive ex­pe­ri­ence.

But the thing that truly sets Un­der­belly Arts apart from its peers (such as This Is Not Art, Next Wave and Syd­ney Fringe – or in­deed, the Bi­en­nale of Syd­ney) is its ‘pub­lic lab’ com­po­nent. In the two weeks lead­ing up to the fes­ti­val, ticket hold­ers are able to drop in and see the artists cre­at­ing their works, ask ques­tions, be guinea pigs in the ex­per­i­ment, or watch re­hearsals. Whereas the move to Cock­a­too Is­land for the 2011-2015 it­er­a­tions saw a re­duc­tion in pub­lic ac­cess and in­volve­ment in the Lab (get­ting to the Is­land mid-week is, ah, hard), in 2017 the fes­ti­val re­turns to the in­ner city – the Na­tional Art School cam­pus, off Tay­lor Square – and is hop­ing to get au­di­ences far more in­volved in the Lab stage of de­vel­op­ment. In fact, you can only take part in the Lab if you have bought a ticket to the fes­ti­val week­end. “We’re re­ally try­ing to build a community vibe that we couldn’t on Cock­a­too Is­land,” says Helper. “That sin­gle ticket is like an ‘all ac­cess’ pass that means you can

come when­ever you want and be part of Un­der­belly Arts.” Kick­ing off on Septem­ber 25, Un­der­belly Arts Lab will run guided tours on Tues­day, Wed­nes­day and Thurs­day evenings at 6pm, over the two weeks prior to the fes­ti­val (Septem­ber 25-Oc­to­ber 5). Each tour will be fol­lowed by a Late at the Lab event: a talk, per­for­mance or in­ter­ac­tive re­sponse to the art, run by a dif­fer­ent or­gan­i­sa­tion each night.

No tour will be the same, with dif­fer­ent art­works on view (five to ten works) each night. In other words, you can come ev­ery night and end up see­ing a greater spec­trum of works. “It’s in­cred­i­bly rare for au­di­ences to be given the chance to meet artists and have a be­hindthe-scenes look at ex­per­i­men­tal and con­tem­po­rary art prac­tices,” says Helper. “For us, the point of do­ing the Lab is break­ing down bar­ri­ers of ac­cess, and say­ing to au­di­ences: ‘Yes, you can be in­volved in this; this art is for you.’”

The in­ter­ac­tion with an au­di­ence is also ben­e­fi­cial for artists – as Helper knows from her par­tic­i­pa­tion in past Un­der­belly Arts fes­ti­vals. “A lot of the work that I do as an artist in­volves au­di­ence in­ter­ac­tion in some way, so I find the Lab very use­ful – to have au­di­ences come through and pick holes in my work, for ex­am­ple, so that I can go back and re­work it and make it stronger.” Helper notes that many of the works in this year’s Un­der­belly Arts line-up are in­ter­ac­tive per­for­mances, or in­volve an el­e­ment of au­di­ence par­tic­i­pa­tion. “I think artists are in­creas­ingly try­ing to find a way to have an im­me­di­ate re­sponse and con­nec­tion with au­di­ences – and in­sert­ing your­self into your work is a way to do that.”

Am­rita Hepi

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