Arts and Culture in 2020

Leviathan, image by Damien Bredberg

Perth Festival 2020

The richness of Western Australian stories shines through in Perth Festival’s upcoming 2020 program, presented as a glorious summer celebration of people and place.

Led by Perth-raised, UWA alumnus Iain Grandage in his first year as Artistic Director and supported by a curatorial team of Perth-based artistic associates, the programming for this summer’s festival features more than 250 events across theatre, music, dance, opera, film, visual arts and literature and ideas.

When Uniview spoke with Iain about what to expect from the 2020 festival line-up, his enthusiasm about this deliberate connection to people and place was palpable.

“Perth Festival 2020 will be a huge euphoric celebration of Perth, Western Australia – it’s my home town and I love it,” Iain said. “The program has an intentionally strong connection with place and a thread of celebrating local stories.”

“Of course, the bedrock of this place is Indigenous culture, which is why the first week of the festival is dedicated to First Nations performances.”

Under Iain’s direction emerges a sequence of four annual programs intended to capture an ever-expanding orbit of stories from the local to the global. The 2020 festival theme of Karla – a Noongar term meaning fire, and by extension country and home – will transform over the next three years into Bilya (river), Wardan (sea) and finally Djinda (the cosmos, the stars) with an idea of spreading ever outwards.

“We begin this year with the centrepoint, Karla – like the hearth of our home – a campfire for sharing stories and inviting belonging,” he said.

“From here we progress ever outwards – travelling along the river in 2021, then the ocean in 2022 and finally upwards into the cosmos in 2023 – extending our reach both geographically and philosophically.”

One flick through the vast program, and the strong local flavour is immediately evident. Most notable is the retelling of two of Western Australia’s most successful theatre works – the first Indigenous musical Bran Nue Dae and the stage adaptation of Cloudstreet

In a significant first, the festival begins with a week-long celebration of Indigenous culture, including the landmark adaptation of Macbeth by writer-director Kylie Bracknell (Kaarljilba Kaardn) into the all-Noongar language performance Hecate.

Iain explains why taking this step was important to him personally. “It seemed timely now – while lots of stories are being shared around the 250th anniversary of Captain Cook – to acknowledge the strength and breadth of Indigenous culture that existed when he landed, and the hideous concept that was ‘Terra Nullius’,” he said.

“In addition, I have been lucky enough over the past few decades to be introduced to, and experience, the thriving Australian Indigenous culture which we have today and I really wanted to bring these experiences to new audiences.”

As Perth Festival founder, the University will once again proudly welcome festival audiences and artists on to its grounds, with the return of three much-loved elements of previous years: the Chamber Music Weekend, Lotterywest Films at the Somerville and the Literature and Ideas Program.

Lovingly curated by Iain himself, the series of events for the Chamber Music weekend (14 to 16 February) reframe Western fine music with Indigenous songlines of country through collaborations between internationally renowned classical ensembles and some of Australia’s finest Indigenous musicians. 

“I am thrilled to be bringing classical music back to the fore with the Chamber Music weekend. I trained in fine music at UWA and it feels natural to be bringing it back and having the chance to celebrate classical music, especially with the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth,” he said.

We will celebrate the beautiful cathedral acoustics of Winthrop Hall with hour-long concerts inside, accompanied by talks and presentations outside in the beautiful surrounds.

The centrepiece of the weekend is Quartet & Country, four concerts which see the Australian String Quartet perform all six of Beethoven’s effervescent Op. 18 quartets matched with works from Australian Indigenous composers. In Ancient Voices, didgeridoo master William Barton unites with a massed choir consisting of UK vocal consort The Gesualdo Six and local choirs The Giovanni Consort and Voyces, to perform Thomas Tallis’ 40-part motet Spem in Alium and which includes a new commission based on Beethoven’s ‘Ode to Joy’ from local composer Cara Fesjian.

The bold program for the Literature and Ideas weekend (21 to 23 February) tackles four themes: Land, Money, Power and Sex. Compiled by Perth-based Zulu woman Sisonke Msimang, the full program will be unveiled on 16 January 2020.

“Sisonke is a compelling storyteller and novelist in her own right and has curated an excellent program opening up conversations on these universal concepts – some of the most pressing issues of our time,” Iain said.

The Lotterywest Films series, already under way at UWA Somerville, brings to Perth the best in cinema globally.

“Our film curator Tom Vincent has brought together a selection of national and international films of the highest calibre, which I think have wide and broad-ranging appeal,” Iain said.

“We’re consistently looking to improve the quality of the program, and also the audience experience. I think some of the changes we’ve made this year to seating, food vendors and programming should make for a wonderful summer night experience.”

Beyond UWA grounds, Iain draws particular attention to festival commissions Leviathan and Tao of Glass. These are two of 14 new commissions – works funded by Perth Festival which enable local artists to perform side-by-side with national and international companies.

“Commissioning works which create opportunities for our local performers to share the stage with artists of international standing was key – not only for the audience, but also for the ongoing effect of this exposure for our artists. It’s extremely important to the continued growth of our local artistic community,” Iain said.

Leviathan is a world premiere in which 36 artists, including six local circus performers, six dancers and six children, create an epic theatrical performance about the power of many in the face of an individual who tweets too much.

“Also unmissable is Tao of Glass, a beautifully executed piece that’s philosophically rich in content, which has master storyteller Phelim McDermott collaborating with composer Philip Glass and an ensemble of musicians and puppeteers for a part-concert, part-performance theatrical odyssey.”

One thing is sure, with plenty of choice among the extensive program, deciding which shows become part of your summer events calendar will require some serious reflection time.

Lawrence Wilson celebrates 30 years

An exciting series of exhibitions for 2020 have been programmed to mark the 30th anniversary of the opening of the Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery, and highlight the unique possibilities for university art galleries.

The first purpose-built university art museum in Australia, Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery (LWAG) was designed by Western Australian architect Gus Ferguson and officially opened its doors in July 1990. In addition to dedicated exhibition space, LWAG has museum-quality storage facilities that house three major UWA collections, including the UWA Art Collection, the Berndt Museum of Anthropology Collection, and the Cruthers Collection of Women’s Art.

Season One 2020 commences with the following two exhibitions:

The Long Kiss Goodbye

Artists: Sarah Contos, Penny Coss, Iain Dean, Brent Harris, Clare Peake, Michele Elliott
8 February to 9 May

Presented as part of the 2020 Perth Festival, The Long Kiss Goodbye is an evocative exhibition featuring artists from around the nation, each with a unique connection to Western Australia. Curator Gemma Weston provides her insights into the exhibition.

 “The Long Kiss Goodbye takes a major work of the same name by Sarah Contos as its starting point, a cinema-screen sized quilted piece that incorporates fragments from nearly a decade’s worth of studio practice,” Gemma said.

“Originally from Perth, Sarah won the inaugural Ramsay Prize at the Art Gallery of South Australia in 2017 with The Long Kiss Goodbye – but she’s never exhibited here. The exhibition draws from the major themes of this work – love and loss, the use of found images to express personal stories, the transformation of tiny fragments into epic gestures – and each artist I’ve selected also has a special relationship to Western Australia, similar to Sarah.

Lawrence Wilson Art Gallery has such a strong history of supporting Western Australian artists and I wanted to present an exhibition for the Festival that honoured that commitment, while also presenting an expended view of ‘Western Australian art’ connected to a national conversation.

Boomerang – A National Symbol

8 February to 27 June

Australia as a nation is recognised around the world by symbols of Aboriginal culture. In this exploratory exhibition, the Berndt Museum of Anthropology is addressing the idea of the boomerang – beyond a symbol of ‘Australia’ – to highlight the multiplicity of uses and meanings. This exhibition encourages the audience to consider the place of the boomerang in Australian society and asks the audience – ‘How much do you know about boomerangs?’