Conversations 1

Frances Barrett

Frances Barrett, Conversations (26 June 2015), 2015, chalk on board. Image courtesy of the artist.

Frances Barrett, Conversations (26 June 2015), 2015, chalk on board. Image courtesy of the artist.


Between June 22nd and July 5th I lived in Pier 2/3 as part of the Australian Artist’s Residency Program that accompanied Marina Abramovic in Residence, a major project organised by Kaldor Public Art Projects. This project was split across two levels of the historical warehouse on Sydney Harbour. On the top level of the Pier, I was one of the 12 Australian artists who undertook an artistic residency and slept in purpose-built pods. On the bottom level, the formidable matriarch of Performance Art, Marina Abramovic, walked in slow motion and counted rice. Audiences would move through either space, silently downstairs and full of questions upstairs.


The residency formed one part of Kaldor’s public program and it’s aim was to situate Australian practitioners within the scope of this international artist’s project, provide audiences with an opportunity to see the creative process in action, and support Australian artists through an intensive residency period to develop new work.


Every afternoon Marina would further her slow-walk by coming up to our level of the Pier to talk with us. We would sit on benches around a large square table and Marina would lead conversations about preparing the body for performance, documentation, and the role of the artist. A nimbus of audience would stand behind us, listening in on what she had to say.


Marina kept wanting to know what we were going to be doing in the space, when we would get off our laptops and start to be more physical, more dynamic, more ‘disturbing’. Complications between process, visibility, and outcome emerged through these conversations, where there was a triangulation of expectations between the organization, residency artists, and lead artist.


Across the residency I was developing a new work, titled Curator, which involves working with a Curator in a shared 24-hour performance of care. I was developing this work to be presented as part of Liquid Architecture’s program called What Would a Feminist Methodology Sound Like? at West Space in Melbourne.


Usually my process is laptop-centric, with little physicality involved until the actual execution of the performance. However, after these conversations I began to ask myself: How can I shift my process in this instance to accommodate an audience? Should I be precious with my ideas and not expose them to the world too early? Do performance artists rehearse?


As a means to resolve these questions and challenge my process, I did two things: I performed a 12-hour ‘draft’ of Curator with the (very generous) Residency Co-Curator, Emma Pike; and I developed a series of text-based works called Conversations where I lifted my notations of all the public and private conversations I participated in across the residency and began chalking these up on large blackboards that had been installed in the space. These diagrams are a stark and murky cartography of the residency and became a way that I processed the experience of the 14 days. In turn, the Conversations series are both a performative act of ‘process’ for an audience and active documentation of the residency, they reflect a body in action, ideas in motion.


However the question remains; how does an institution or organisation resolve itself with presenting an artist’s process? After this experience, I think what is important is to develop a platform that is based on conversation. It is not necessarily through performing bodies in a space, but instead initiating active platforms that operate as a feedback mechanism, that offer specific and channelled points of access for an audience to participate in those conversations, that is not afraid of silence or debate, that is premised on a processs of genuine care and careful listening, and that actively pursues polyvocality.

Frances Barrett is Runway’s guest blogger for #28 Movement. 

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