Dispatch Review respectfully acknowledges the Whadjuk people as the traditional owners and custodians of the lands upon which we live, work and enjoy. We pay deep respect to Elders past and present. Always was, always will be Aboriginal land.

Reviews:

  1. Light Event by Sam Beard
  2. Rejoinder: Archival / Activism by Max Vickery
  3. Access and Denial in The Purple Shall Govern by Jess van Heerden
  4. 4Spells by Sam Beard
  5. Abstract art, DMT capitalism and the ugliness of David Attwood’s paintings
    by Darren Jorgensen
  6. Unearthing new epistemologies of extraction by Samuel Beilby
  7. Seek Wisdom by Max Vickery
  8. Something for Everyone by Sam Beard
  9. Violent Sludge by Aimee Dodds
  10. State of Abstraction by Francis Russell
  11. Double Histories: Special Issue, with texts by Ian McLean, Terry Smith, and Darren Jorgensen & Sam Beard
  12. Six Missing Shows by Sam Beard
  13. What We Memorialise by Max Vickery
  14. At the End of the Land by Amelia Birch
  15. The beautiful is useful by Sam Beard
  16. ām / ammā / mā maram by Zali Morgan
  17. Making Ground, Breaking Ground by Maraya Takoniatis
  18. Art as Asset by Sam Beard
  19. Cactus Malpractice by Aimee Dodds
  20. Sweet sweet pea by Sam Beard
  21. COBRA by Francis Russell
  22. PICA Barn by Sam Beard 
  23. Gallery Hotel Metro by Aimee Dodds
  24. A Stroll Through the Sacred, Profane, and Bizarre by Samuel Beilby
  25. Filling in the Gaps at Spacingout by Maraya Takoniatis
  26. Disneyland Cosmoplitanism by Sam Beard
  27. Discovering Revenue by Anonymous
  28. Uncomfortable Borrowing by Jess van Heerden
  29. It’s Not That Strange by Stirling Kain
  30. Hatched Dispatched by Sam Beard & Aimee Dodds
  31. Fuck the Class System by Jess van Heerden, Jacinta Posik, Darren Jorgensen, et al.
  32. Wild About Nothing by Sam Beard
  33. Paranoiac, Peripatetic: Pet Projects by Aimee Dodds
  34. An Odd Moment for Women’s Art by Maraya Takoniatis
  35. Transmutations by Sam Beard
  36. The Post-Vandal by Sam Beard
  37. Art Thugs and Humbugs by Max Vickery
  38. Disneyland, Paris, Ardross and the artworld by Darren Jorgensen
  39. Bizarrely, A Biennale by Aimee Dodds
  40. Venus in Tullamarine by Sam Beard
  41. Weird Rituals by Sam Beard
  42. Random Cube by Francis Russell
  43. Yeah, Nah, Rockpool by Aimee Dodds
  44. Towards a Blind Horizon by Kieron Broadhurst
  45. Being Realistic by Sam Beard



It’s Not That Strange

Strange Festival presents itself as a festival of alternative art, platforming events that celebrate ‘the misfits and misunderstood’; a festival that ‘invites you to experience things you would normally shy away from’, and encourages exploration of ‘forgotten places’. At its best, Strange Festival is quite the opposite: an appropriation of popular art distilled into consumable, scrollable moments, pivoting between expansive, brightly coloured installations, and dramatic Instagram documentation of intense art events.
        Such inspiration was evident at Strange Festival’s artist launch event on 15 June. Descending into the abandoned Reject Shop at Carillion City, one was met with vibrantly-coloured swirling projections of Strange Festival’s signature monster face, a small gin bar, and a DJ favouring 80s tunes; a perfectly inoffensive offering. Venturing into the heart of the arcade, I stumbled upon Slow Rainbow, pegged as an ‘ethereal, calm lounge’ where guests were invited to remove their shoes and were handed a pair of headphones with various music channels. I am personally a fan of Stellar Beams and was glad to see him jamming away on his decks. All the same, I’ve seen him perform in far more artistically interesting contexts, including the technologically-dazzling Signals Sound Lab which celebrates now-defunct broadcasting equipment. The context – which included a larger-than-life plastic statue of a buxom barmaid, complete with pasties – was a disservice to Stellar Beams’ performance. The juxtaposition between the DJ music and board games was not particularly interesting nor obscure, and the activities were neither artistic nor expressive in themselves: begging the question how anyone (and artists of all people) could consider this collection of weekend activities enjoyably obscure.
        The consistently on-brand marketing of Strange Festival suggests the producers have a strong curatorial vision—one which, unfortunately, was not realised in the actual programme. Polybius was ‘an abandoned retro arcade… amidst a jungle of overgrown greenery’. The Festival’s website goes on to outline the enormous commercial success of the artist JESWRI in eastern-states art galleries. With the 80s-themed Palace Arcade bustling mere streets away, a reading of Polybius as non-conformist is generous. The closing event Cor Novis was a forty-five minute performance of fire-dancing by the enviably-athletic and skilled ‘Dangerous Delights’ troupe. Whilst entertaining, an effigial burn to conclude a festival is well-worn at the Museum of Old and New Art’s Dark Mofo, and has a decades-long precedent in our own state at Blazing Swan; heck, even Dardanup’s Bull and Barrel Festival has long been staging an annual effigy burning. Cor Novis was modest by contrast.
         It's worth indulging in a comparison between Dark Mofo and Strange Festival as Australian winter festivals with actively alternative missions. Standout works at Dark Mofo 2023 included Martu artist Curtis Taylor’s Boong and Ngarnda. The former embodies the ‘racially violent landscape’ experienced by Taylor and Aboriginal folks under the thumb of modern Australian white supremacy; a staggering, shame-inducing slap back to white audiences. Ngarnda is more sombre, forlorn, and equally distressing; a video work of the artist being drenched in blood. Both are in equal parts hard to stay with, and hard to leave. Silent Symphony by United Visual Artists was, for me, unparalleled. An orchestra of aloof metal appendages dip and spin, the row of pile-ons and arms made visible through the thick fog only by flashing white and red lights; an elegant arrest into the underworld by industry and technology. These works are successful because they are well-considered (artistically and curatorially), precise, and sensitive. There’s not much in the way of a formal curatorial statement from Dark Mofo, and few descriptions of works on their social media. Their single touchstone might be described as bold, with the program and artists driving the theme (at least publicly), rather than the other way around. Glaringly obvious here is that Dark Mofo has far more resources than Strange Festival, and I’m certainly not expecting a similar production from a $75,000 government grant. However, considering Strange Festival is only in its second year, and assembled by emerging producers1, the programme is vast, with forty-nine works (excluding the film programme). By comparison, Dark Mofo has seventy-two works in its tenth year. Perhaps resources could be dedicated to fewer works to raise production value and ultimately showcase more considered pieces.
        The underdeveloped creative decisions were perhaps best embodied at Leon Ewing’s performance In Totality at the below-ground Carillion venue. In what was intended to be a dramatic showcase, ‘inspired by the exigency of total solar eclipse’, the two cardboard and sharpie signs on either side of the stage reading ‘toilel [sic]’ were rather distracting. I’m not sure if this was a genuine attempt at humour or a last-minute rush job in a highly visible portion of the room. Described as ‘a negative space punctuated only by precision sound and lighting’, this premise was made impossible by flashing rainbow strip lighting that was affixed to a larger than life metal cat sculpture at the back of the room (I hope you’ll forgive me for neglecting to note the artist’s name and artwork title; it is unlisted on Strange Festival’s website). The sculpture doubles as a mini golf activity, in which guests are invited to putt a golf ball into a cup where the cat’s genitals would be. Frustratingly un-strange and hardly interesting (as a visit to nearby Holy Moley will testify), the presence of the sculpture invaded Ewing’s performance at all times—neither being permitted the space each required. A quick test before the opening would have (should have) quickly made apparent that neither enhanced the other, nor the Festival’s theme.
        To speak on Strange Festival’s commitment to access for artists: not only do they offer an open callout to artists for inclusion in the festival programme, but a formal arts education is not required of artists. I find this ideology admirable. The gatekeeping that artists are sometimes up against from some arts bureaucrats and institutions is debilitating and exclusionary. The low-risk appetite of some conservative organisations, and their inexplicably controlling bureaucrats, transform interesting works into dull, derivative bastards. By trying to overcome this problem, however, Strange Festival have created a different problem. The managers of Strange Festival appear to have neglected consulting with arts workers familiar or skilled in working with such projects. In their effort to keep their project ideologically alternative, they have inadvertently (but avoidably) also rejected more considered and thoughtful programming and curation. The resulting uninspired festival is exactly what they were trying to escape. What began, I’m sure, as a very well-intentioned alternative arts festival has been, to my mind, delivered poorly—the works, and their curation, ill-considered.
        There’s a lot of experimental art happening in Perth, all the time. My favourites include the launch of the experimental music album Land’s Air at Church of the Resurrection, earlier in 2023. Skylar Sansome’s performance of ‘Silver Streetcar for Orchestra’, composed by Alvin Lucier, created a stream of glittering notes with only a triangle. Resonant frequencies rung through the space, made more sparkling by the church’s physical architecture. Only a few weeks ago, if you were to venture to Old Customs House in West Fremantle, and up three flights of a fire escape, you would have found Ellen Broadhurst and Tom Roger’s Remind Me, Crucial Nightly—a twenty-four hour running, curated cycle of video content and Y2K cultural moments (also available to stream at home). If we accept that Perth has consistent pockets of art that might be considered alternative or strange, it begs the question why they are not included in this festival. Do these artists not want to be involved? Or are the producers more concerned with foregrounding Instagrammable moments? Reflecting on the offerings included in the 2023 Strange Festival programme, and my interactions with numerous local artists, it seems both are true. I hope the producers delve deeper into the strange that exists in Perth and further afield for their 2024 programme.

Strange Festival ran 16-25 June, 2023.

[1] There is limited information about the Festival’s producers online. In response to a question on their Instagram about who runs the Festival, Strange Festival said they were ‘created by Alice Street Events, who is run by a two person team.’ A google search of Alice Street Events shows an Instagram page as the top suggestion: the bio says ‘Professional management of branded merchandise sales at festivals, events and concerts. From printing to sales we’ve got you’.


Strange Festival, 16 – 25 Jun, 2023, various venues, Perth.



Image credits:
1. JESWRI, Polybius, 2023, courtesy Strange Festival website.
2. Lima Brightlove, Dothlife and Stellar Beams, Slow Rainbow, 2023, courtesy Strange Festival website.
3. United Visual Artists, Silent Symphony, 2023, courtesy United Visual Artists website.