Next Wave Festival 2012: The space between us wants to sing

Susan Gibb

Bone Library, Sarah-Jane Norman. Next Wave Festival 2012. Photo Pia Johnson. Photo 1.

Sarah-Jane Norman, Bone Library, (2012). Photo: Pia Johnson.


Next Wave is an ambitious festival. Like most small art organisations it thinks big while running on a lean hard-working team, the generosity of volunteers and the drive of artists who want to get their work out there. Since its inception in 1984, Next Wave has assumed an important place within Australia’s cultural landscape, providing a critical platform for emerging artists from across disciplines and Australia-wide to develop and present new work. For many artists it is their first opportunity for long-term supported development, with the Kickstart program providing an unprecedented two-year development period. Indeed the best thing about Next Wave is that it is not afraid to take risks. The 2012 festival was no exception through fresh programs, strategic initiatives and well over 30 works by artists under its new Artistic Director, Emily Sexton.

For this iteration of the festival the idea of context and participation formed key premises of the theme ‘The space between us wants to sing’. Unfolding in multiple locations around the Melbourne CBD and its outlying suburbs, the festival offered the audience a unique experience to enact the city’s tourism campaign (‘Play Melbourne’) as they traversed from one location to the next. Stops included Melbourne City Library, which hosted Sarah Jane Noman’s haunting Bone Library (2012), in which she furthered her engagement with Aboriginal history by engraving a dictionary of ‘extinct’ Indigenous Australian languages onto sheep and cattle bones. These bones were placed into the custodianship of willing attendees on the final day. At the Melbourne Museum, Zoe Meagher’s Goodbye, CSIRAC (2012) similarly considered how histories are remembered by offering an alternative audio tour through the museum that told the story of Australia’s first computer. A highlight of the Festival, Laura Delaney and Danae Valenza’s Hull (2012), similarly saw the artists collaborate with the Mission to Seafearers in Docklands, creating evocative site-specific installations that touchingly traced aspects of Melbourne’s maritime history.



Zoe-Meagher, Goodbye-CSIRAC, (2012). Photo: Sonia Mangiapane


Another success of this year’s Kickstart program was Team Mess’ BINGO Unit (2012), which transformed the Arts House Meat Market into a back-lot tour of a television crime drama. Punctuated by doughnuts, coffee, a cameo appearance from Australian acting legend John Wood and the opportunity for audience members to participate as extras, BINGO Unit was a no-holds-barred good time. As stated in its opening credit, ‘This is not a parody’, BINGO Unit was all the better for being honest and clear in its intentions; well-produced, live entertainment.


BINGO Unit, Team MESS, Next Wave Festival 2012. Photo Sarah Walker. 2012 9683

Team MESS, BINGO Unit, (2012). Photo: Sarah Walker.


One of the important strategies under the festival’s new direction was the continued support of previously affiliated artists, with George Egerton-Warburton providing one such example. Having overrun a suburban street with a flock of chickens in 2010, in Living with Living (2012) at Sutton Project Space, Egerton-Warburton presented a body of sculptural work and a video that was created from the perspective of a dairy farmer who had ‘at an earlier unidentified point in his life got “social” culture confused with “yoghurt” cultures.’1 The exhibition displayed both a refinement in concept and material resolve that clearly articulated the benefits of time and continuity for developing work, generating an enthusiasm for what may come from the artists that the festival follows through with in the years to come.

For the 2012 festival’s keynote program, Wake Up And Wait For The Sun To Rise, the provocation implied in it’s title supplied by American artist Harrell Fletcher, was firstly given to 100 young thinkers with the request for them to reply with five responses. These 500 responses were then subsequently given to five emerging artist collaborations—Tully Arnot and Charles Dennington, Claire Finneran and Hossein Ghaemi, Applespeil, Tape Projects and Lucky PDF—for them to use as the basis for developing new work at West Space. The convoluted framework of the project saw some good, young artists produce some of their least interesting work. I had the feeling that they were constrained by the pressures of the project’s construct, its timeframe, the emphasis on collaborative and participatory models and how this was all communicated to viewer. I left asking questions about the distinction between participating and performing. When does participation become a mere representation, a performance of the fact, rather than an engagement that maintains the agency of the artists and the audience alike?

A remedy to this above question and a welcome addition to the festival was the Breakfast Club. Staged at the Wheeler Centre each morning of the festival, the Breakfast Club provided a simple and effective platform for considering art in context and how it interacts with the wider world. Here people of all ages were invited to pull up a chair and to share stories, ideas and food with those they meet at their table. Daily provocations, informed by key ideas of the 2012 festival and stimulated by guest speakers, helped the conversation bubble along.


Fresh Produce, various, Next Wave Festival 2012. Photo Pia Johnson.030

Lara Thoms, The Wake, (2012). Photo: Pia Johnson


For the closing event, the self-described ‘art party’ Fresh Produce, was held at the iconic Queen Victoria Markets. The event brought together projects by artists who use food in their practice alongside DJs, video projections and general food stalls. A standout was Next Wave alumni Lara Thoms’ The Wake (2012), a considered project that uncovered the little known history of the site as Melbourne’s first cemetery. Offering a piece of white or black food for each body buried beneath, the delicacy and sensitivity of her project was lost to the din of the party, an issue that affected many of the other artists’ work on show. This was symptomatic of the overall ambition of the 2012 festival’s size and rhetoric, which was quite often overwhelming. Sometimes a party should just be a party. As the festival’s thematic suggests the spaces between things have a voice, and the maintenance of these distances provide the clarity required for these to be heard. It is important to remember that it is ok not to be everything all
at once.

Next Wave Festival was held at various sites around Melbourne,
May 19–May 27 2012.

Susan Gibb is curator at If I Can’t Dance, I Don’t Want To Be Part Of Your Revolution in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Originally from Sydney,...


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