I’d like to begin by acknowledging the Traditional Owners of the land on which I experienced
Creation Lab, the people of the Wurundjeri, Boon Wurrung, Taungurung and Dja Dja Wurrung, of the Kulin nation and pay my respects to Elders past and present.
What an honour and a privilege it was to be invited to Yirramboi to take part in Creation Lab, a five day artist residency, working with twenty artists from across the world, indigenous artists from countries such Australia, Tonga, Taiwan, New Zealand and more, and four artists from Wales. This was an element of my Creative Wales Award from Arts Council Wales.
This Journey started a few years back when the Artistic Director Jacob Boehme of Yirramboi spent a month or so at NTW, visiting Summer Camp and spending time working on The Big Democracy Project.
This was my second visit to Australia and as with my first I found it an emotional experience, having to once again face the reality of Britain’s colonial past and present. During he traditional ‘Welcome to country’ (where an Indigenous Australians or Torres Strait Islander custodian or elder from the local region welcomes people to their land) which opened the festival we heard stories of how the land was colonised, how who people are fighting for their identity, how western or white organisations are holding on to traditional cultural and spiritual artefacts.
This weighed heavy on me, I felt a wave of ‘colonial guilt’, during the break I had to leave and go for a walk. On this walk I concluded to myself that by feeling guilty I was making myself a ‘victim’ and in no way was I a victim in the scenario. I decided that it would be my position during this week to listen, learn and respond but not to feel bad.
What was also interesting to me is how my position had changed, being Welsh in a First Nations/ Australian context. I know my position and my story in relation to Wales. I am from Butetown, Cardiff Docks, Tiger Bay, which has a particular story, a story which is intrinsically a part of me and my identity. But at Yirramboi I was representing Wales and Welshness. During the welcome to country representatives from visiting countries presented a gift and offered a song. My amazing Welsh colleagues decided to sing Calon Lan, the traditional Welsh song. I happily stood with them but I don't know the song. Im my junior school, Mount Stuart Primary, we where taught By The Rivers Of Babylon and taught about Anansi the Spider (African Folklore), Rama and Sita, Rosa Parks. My story of Wales and my history starts about 150 years ago and this became more evident throughout the week.
The Creation Lab was a real powerful and emotional experience, prefixed with a walk around Melbourne where local elder Aunty Caroline Briggs set the context for the group. Telling us the stories beneath the skyscrapers, about Melbourne market and the river. Stories of two young warriors, freedom fighters, who where hung and later buried under Melbourne Market, stories of the Yarra river and its cultural importance.
The creation lab attendees had five days to get to know each other, to collaborate, to create something (or not). Over the course of the lab stories where told, tears were shed, frustrations where felt and laughs were shared. Together as a group we went on a journey that felt like the beginning of something.
We created song, dance, video, monologue, installation. For me it was important not to over analyse what I was making, which was two different videos in collaboration with two different groups. I find in this short residency scenario I learn though doing. I am happy just to begin creating something, in this case video, I went for a walk in the city and shot anything that I thought was of interest and through that action I began to think about the land, the stories and the people and what I was making meant.
Unlike other artist residences that I’ve been involved, where often the aim is create connections between artists and germinate ideas, there was an additional layer. The aim of connections and ideas was still central to the week but there was a layer of colonialism, a layer of indignity that some of us had to work through.
For the first day this was a real struggle for me. Thinking about how white people, white culture had imposed or enforced itself on other cultures across the world, a lot of whom were represented within our group, when was it right for me, someone who visibly represents that white culture (although I’m not white) to hold the space. When we are gathered as a group was it right for me to impose my thoughts or ideas? I thought to myself that people would think ‘look at this white guy trying to take over’. At the same time I was thinking that I cant position myself as subservient to anyone. I am a father, a brother and a son and walk the earth the same way as everyone else and if a core value of mine is that everyone is equal, then I too am equal in this and another context.
Of course as the week went on and the group began to get to know each other, my worries turned out to be unfounded but speaking others in the group if was interesting that most had an initial internal struggle at the beginning of the week.
We created some real interested pieces and it felt these was a real spirit of generosity and energy building towards the sharing that we had at the end of the week.
Of course throughout the week I spoke often about NTW and NTW TEAM, about how the company works with communities, about my journey with the company. Interestingly I often heard from festival programmers ‘oh we've worked with the National Theatre and National Theatre Scotland but never with NTW’ so maybe there is an opportunity for NTW to explore.
I made friends, shared stories and learnt a lot during CreationLab. We have been invited back to build on the ideas that began to germinate during these first five days, which i am really looking forward to. There are so many other thoughts and issues that came up through the week, not least Wales and Welsh language in context of a ‘First Nations’ arts festival, but thats a whole other blog.
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