2970Degrees – The Boiling Point: Friday
Now that the 2.5 days of explosive thought and action that was 2970Degrees – The Boiling Point has ended, I can breathe and process my thoughts into somewhat of an adequate reflection of what occurred. The Beyond the Horizon report by Bernard Salt – released earlier this year – called for a MONA effect on the Gold Coast: a catalyst for transforming our city through art and culture. 2970Degrees seeded the start of this transformation. Organised by the Gold Coast City Council, it was a festival of innovation, creativity and entrepreneurial thinking to catapult us into the future.
The tides of change are appearing on the Gold Coast. A teenager by city years, the Gold Coast is beginning to mature with the City’s creatives at the coalface. Meeting at the Boiling Point were creative inquirers from multidisciplinary backgrounds eager to investigate the cultural narrative of the 21st century, one linking artists with scientists, activists, space-and-place makers and sports fanatics. Against this background, we piloted the direction of the City’s cultural future.
Kicking off the seminar was the opening reception at the Abedian School of Architecture at Bond University. The school’s mix of modern architecture and walls lined with artworks by Aboriginal artist Sally Gabori, presented a visual metaphor for the ambitious aspirations of 2970Degrees and the City of Gold Coast: the past is present and the future is now. With a rich melting point of multicultural influences and the presence and history of the Yugambeh people dating back over 40,000 years, we must acknowledge our heritage and drive forward with a unique self-expression.
According to Mayor Tom Tate and the organiser and ‘alchemist’, David Pledger, director of pioneering interdisciplinary arts company not yet it’s difficult (NYID), the Gold Coast is the chimera for artistic transformation. With the 2018 Commonwealth Games looming, 2970Degrees looks to the City’s cultural ecology leading up to the games and to its wider art and cultural strategy. Underway for more than a year, the roll out of the City’s Culture Strategy 2023 has included increased arts funding, elevating Indigenous culture, development of contemporary music and public art plans and new approaches to professional development and funding models.
For Pledger, it is ‘hard to pin down exactly what is happening here,’ it is unpredictable and the ‘start of an absolute cracker of a story’. Although the Gold Coast’s cultural life is often maligned in comparison to the offerings of larger and more established cities nation-wide, Pledger repeated what many of us know to be true: the seeds of possibility have been sown. Due to the absence of an artistic infrastructure, the City’s burgeoning cultural life is being driven by artists and cultural workers themselves, leading to a compelling spectrum of cultural experience and opportunity. The Gold Coast feels like a ‘city of momentum,’ he said. If we are interrogating the future and what it looks like, we must look to the relationship between man and machine.
To that end it made perfect sense to open with a keynote address from Stelarc, one of Australia’s most accomplished artists. Known for his spine-tingling, awe-inspiring and ouch-inducing performance art (including surgically constructing and embedding an extra ear on his forearm), Stelarc has worked since the 1960s to extend the capabilities of the human body and explore the space where art and technology meet. For the artist, We now live in an age of circulating, fractal and phantom flesh. Meat, metal and code mesh into unexpected hybrid systems. The monstrous is no longer the alien other. With gene mapping, body hacking, gender reassignment, neural implants and prosthetic augmentation, what a body is and how a body operates has become problematic.
His address, Alternate Anatomies: Zombies, Cyborgs and Chimeras explored this nexus through a visual tour of his life’s work investigating what it means to be human: body hacking, robotic enhancement and virtual reality. He presented us with a brave new world where the body is obsolete and we have reached a level of existence where it becomes the site for physical and technical experiments in order to discover its limitations. ‘We need to rethink what a body is and how it operates’, he said. In an information age where technology defines us, the body is biologically inadequate. Stelarc chooses to enhance it with robotic architectures such as his Extended Arm, surgical structures such as his extra ear and machine induced bodily manipulations such as his body suspension and muscle stimulation performances. For the artist, ‘the body is not as a site for the psyche but simply a host for sculpture’, re-wiring, re-locating and extending the flesh. Stelarc cries for us to interrogate the biological status quo and impresses upon us to generate contestable possibilities.
TechTonicArt, a one-off exhibition at Bond University, followed Stelarc’s opening address and featured his work Extended Arm. Incorporating presentations by Cake Industries, Mick Soiza and Steve Guttormsen and sounds by Ben Ely, the exhibition further provoked thoughts about machine-based technology and the future in the present.
This was only the beginning.
2970Degrees – The Boiling Point: Saturday
Saturday at the Boiling Point was categorised by collisions. With broad and engaging presentations from Dr Daniel Glaser and Alex Kelly, the atmosphere seared with discovery, tension, provocation and stimulation as the worlds of art, science and activism collided.
Equally participants and change-makers; the delegates took part in a carefully designed experiment that included the schedule itself. Each day consisted of a morning and an afternoon session, followed by responses from local creative and cultural kingpins and capped off by round-table discussions. In this way we could gradually distill the essence of the big-picture ideas, filter it through a local context and find ways for our own self-expression.
Interspersing these engaging debates were live performances and audience engagement pieces by Tristan Meecham, The Farm and PVI collective, three internationally recognised performers and live arts companies. Presenting durational performances and guerilla tactics to the delegates, they brought ‘liveness’ to the program. In their own take on interdisciplinary practice and thought, they reminded us of what it means to be human and alive.
First up was Dr Daniel Glaser – a neuroscientist who has worked to promote public engagement with science. Inaugural Director of Science Gallery London, a new space where art and science collide, Dr Glaser believes they have a mutual foundation and share a common fundamental purpose: to help us better understand what it means to be human.
In his address, Albert Einstein and Charlie Chaplin walk into a bar, Dr Glaser argues for social structures in which cross-disciplinary interrogation can open up new languages for making and thinking. He works collaboratively on a range of science experiments to create new ways of thinking and seeing. He said,
Science cannot succeed in a cultural vacuum. Take brain science as an example. It has made great advances and staked its claim to lots of new territory (love, humour, aesthetics, intelligence) but none of the important questions can be answered by science alone. Without an appreciation of culture we can’t understand anything interesting that the brain does because our brains develop (and to some extent evolved) in culture.
One potent example was his work investigating dancer’s brains. In collaboration with Julie Grèzes, Patrick Haggard, Beatriz Calvo and Dick Passingham he looked at action observation by movement experts, or how what you can do affects how you see. According to discoveries in brain imaging, we constantly ‘act out’ and imitate whatever activity we’re observing. To test this, the group engaged the services of choreographer and dancer, Tom Sapsford to dance a sequence of ballet and capoeira steps. When shown to the test subjects, who included ballet and capoeira dancers alongside non-expert controls, the functional imaging of motor experience demonstrated that what you can do influences action observation.
Such creative collisions are social as well as technical and require a meeting point. We experience the world in different ways and through cross-disciplinary merging in safe spaces we can come up with unsafe ideas. We must strive for spaces that remove inter-disciplinary boundaries to allow non-experts to speak and drive collaborations in which multiple voices can be heard. Once successful, such collaboration has the potential to contest reality and open up unexpected interactions. Experimental collaborations further help to loosen the stranglehold of truth in temples of art/ places of high art. Ending with this message Dr Glaser impressed upon us our power to shape the agenda and, by extension the Gold Coast cultural ecology.
After a lunchtime performance by Tristan Meecham, we once again returned to the round tables in anticipation of the next presentation by Alex Kelly, a filmmaker, producer and activist who works in impact strategy and cultural organising.
Throughout her presentation, Radically re-imagining the world as our climate changes, Kelly inspired us to see that ‘art can be powerful and create a vision of somewhere to run to’. Exploring the critical role of artists in imagining the future, she argued for ‘the need for new narratives to respond to crisis, to see climate change as an opportunity and a gift to create a more just world.’ Without a radical re-imagining of our world to respond to the crises of climate change and inequality, our capability to make the urgent shifts required is questionable. It is up to creatives and culture makers from all disciplines to form innovative ideas that assist us to see how we can remake our world.
With reference to Homi K Bhabha’s Nation and Narration, ‘Nations, like narratives, lose their origins in the myths of time and only fully realise their horizons in the mind’s eye’, we began. Demonstrated by her work with the acclaimed Australian arts and social change company Big hART Inc as creative producer of the Ngapartji Ngapartji project, art gives the ability to think and drive change by bringing stories to life, in a way that is infinitely more powerful than a policy paper. In this case, the language preservation project and resultant documentary, Nothing Rhymes with Ngapartji ran concurrently with the push for a national indigenous language policy.
Kelly spent the better half of last year as Impact Producer for This Changes Everything, a book, film and activist project exploring why the changes we need to avert climate change provide the best opportunities to build the more equitable, stable and healthy societies that we want and need. Working to put the book and film at the service of movements, she is using art as a means to create conversation about how to reframe climate change. In this case, her work is helping to reframe the climate crisis from a green issue to an economic issue and realising that some people don’t want to participate in action because of their interest in maintaining the economic status quo.
With comments about the inadequacy of the constant growth economic model and governmental and industrial resistance to change, you can imagine that the atmosphere was heavy with tension. However, Kelly left us with a feeling of hope that by responding to this unjust world we can address the historic injustices that have cleaved it. In a final call to arms, she asked us to take up the challenge of responding differently to the world, to ask different questions and to ultimately re-wire the way we think and talk about climate change. Like Dr Glaser’s, her words drew heavy parallels with the vision for a culturally transformed Gold Coast.
And so ended Saturday at the Boiling Point.
2970Degrees – The Boiling Point: Sunday
Sunday was once again characterised by collisions and divergence as we digested, pondered and pontificated about visions of our world and its future. Following a similar format to Saturday, our schedule consisted of two presentations followed by responses and roundtable discussions. We were once again entertained by live performances from Tristan Meecham and The Farm before ending the seminar with an open forum with Robyn Archer AO.
The first presentation was challenging, bone chilling and fairly out of place for a Sunday morning. In place of a sleep-in or leisurely brunch, Liam Young immersed us in an unreal –yet disturbingly realistic – exaggerated reality. Young is an Australian trained architect who operates in the spaces between design, fiction and futures. He is founder of the think tank Tomorrows Thoughts Today and co runs the ‘Unknown Fields Division’. He also cofounded the research studio Unknown Fields, an award winning nomadic workshop that travels on annual expeditions to the ends of the earth to investigate emerging trends and uncover the signals of possible futures.
Young’s work explores the present and its potential for strange and extraordinary futures. By constructing counter-narratives, Young and his team investigate alternative worlds to understand our own in new ways. In his presentation, City Everywhere: Kim Kardashian and the dark side of the screen Young wove a story of City Everywhere, an imaginary town with a basis in our present and an indication of our potential future. We were joined by a fictional Kim Kardashian, ‘the future that no-one wanted, Kim is the future already here’, he said.
Young said that he planned to, ’take the audience on a storytelling walking tour through the flickering screen and beyond the fog of the cloud, to explore the distant landscapes, factories and infrastructures that our contemporary digital gadgets set in motion’.
He did just that. With a rapid delivery combining film, animation and live sound mixing to great affect, we went on a journey through City Everywhere, ‘an imaginary town of near future technologies stitched together from fragments of real places, extreme mega cities and speculative design fictions,’ he said.
In City Everywhere we are presented with a catastrophic utopian vision of ‘progress’, a troubled future where virtual reality takes precedence over the physical present. In City Everywhere, children play hide and seek from the omnipresent technological eye and hack the city so their play cannot be seen. In City Everywhere, life as we know it has taken a disturbing turn.
Using storytelling, Young helped to convey ideas and instigate thinking that many people don’t address in their day-to-day lives. While we were presented with a catastrophic vision, we were ultimately shown that the story is ours to write. ‘The future is not something that just washes over us like water; it is something we can all play a part in actively shaping and defining,’ he said.
After a lunchtime performance from The Farm, we once again met at the round tables to discuss connections between art and sport with Alex Monteith. Monteith is a visual artist making projects in coastal and extreme geographies including Big Wave surfing. As a former Irish national women’s surf-champion and some-time environmental activist, her works often explore the political dimensions of culture engaged in turmoil over land ownership, history and occupation. Her work traverses political movements, contemporary sports, culture and social activities and often takes place in large-scale or extreme geographies. Her surfing-related projects connect museum spaces directly to local geography through participatory performance projects.
To be honest, I did not anticipate Monteith’s presentation, Accelerated bodies; bikes, boards, choppers and planes as much as I had for the others. I thought that the idea of drawing connections between art and sport was a more superficial subject to explore; however I was greatly surprised by her enormously thoughtful and deeply theorised work.
Video projects such as 2.5 Kilometre Mono Action for a Mirage showed her capacity for vividly capturing movement and offering new ways of thinking about the accelerated athletic body. Monteith renegotiates the beach landscape and questions our experience of particular objects within it. Lulled into the meditative qualities of the hazy coastal view, we are transfixed by the approaching mirage and affronted (yet entertained) by the seemingly out-of-place Moto-X rider pulling a continuous wheelie over 2.5 kilometres of coast line north of Muriwai in Aotearoa New Zealand.
Monteith also uses performance art to explore issues in relationship to contemporary cultural activities that are radically sensitive to geography. Oen example is Surface Movements Mt Maunganui, a participatory performance event in which surf lessons were offered free to the public. Between the technique session on land and the surfing lesson in the sea, all of the participants and surf instructors performed a circle of remembrance and held a one-minute silence at the water’s edge for the Rena Disaster on the Astrolabe Reef in 2011. From these works I realised the power of personal art relating to who and where you are but pointing to broader issues.
After two days of rigorous thought and action, it was time to shut down the Boiling Point with an open forum steered by Robyn Archer AO. For Archer, the ‘dance’ of artists shaping culture and community is well served with the acronym PRANCE:
Artists draw on the unknown and negotiate new spaces, necessitating elements of risk-taking and flexibility. We must acknowledge the growing pains but our efforts will be rewarded.
Dr Glaser’s expertise was called upon to reflect the shaping of culture around the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games and provide advice for the Gold Coast on the eve of the 2018 Games. He impressed upon us the necessity for the City to remain itself in the face of sponsorship visions and pressures, to acknowledge doubt and self-criticism yet move forward with self-knowledge. It is incumbent upon us, as cultural entrepreneurs, to ensure that the cultural acceleration leading up to the Games reflects a more robust, diverse and innovative vision of the City, without resting on the sun, surf, sand and meter maid images of its teenage years. In this sense, Dr Glasser implores us to incorporate a feminist agenda, to ensure that the vision of the Games is not pervaded with images of perfection that contribute to unhealthy corporeal attitudes.
2970Degrees – The Boiling Point provoked heated thought and action. With this knowledge we, the Gold Coast cultural entrepreneurs, have the power to affect change and shape our cultural ecology. It is in our hands to build a sustainable culture and community that reflects the next stage in the City’s growth and imparts pride in its citizens. If you have any thoughts about what direction this will take, or comments about the seminar please share them below.
NB: images of the even can be found on the Gold Coast Arts and Culture Facebook page.
Written by Ashleigh Wadman