Good evening and thank you for coming to Arts House, my name is Emily Sexton and I’m Arts House’s Artistic Director. I’d like to acknowledge we are gathered on the lands of the Kulin Nations; that these lands were never ceded, and pay my deep respects to Aunty Annette, to Kulin Nations Elders and to other Kooris joining us, and to all Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and First Nations people joining us today. Thank you for your generosity, wisdom, patience and for all the ways in which you help me to learn and to listen deeply to this country.
Tonight we start something quite special, and I think this is quite important.
Six months ago at Arts House’s program launch we spelt out the changes we wanted to make here, and the ways in which we as a contemporary arts centre might be a beacon for changes in the broader cultural sphere. We spoke about making space for new people, and how it would mean that we the privileged will have roles that change. We spoke about empowering First Nations artists and producers to decision-making positions, placing them at the core of our work. We spoke about supporting artists who have all the craft, all the experience, all the knowledge – to now work at scale. We spoke about new and shared curatorial models. And a few other things besides – it was a long to do list.
Working on these goals is an everyday practice for the team here at Arts House. In Future Assembly, we open that process and share it with you, our community. More than that, we position some of the most revered Australian artists and thinkers as the leaders of that change. For me, it is important that the creation of our future culture is expressed in terms that best suit the thinker. Future Assembly is shot through with that belief: this is portraiture, sign-making, sewing, stories, dance as progressive action. This is a belief that the creative act is itself a life changing and future shaping way to remake our world.
I’m so proud of the line-up of this program. I’m that proud that I’m going to do something I have never done before, which is to read out every single one of the artists involved. Usually that might be tedious, but this program is about visibility and in this instance I am going to ask you to take the time to sit in the glory of all these incredible people in the same place, at the same time. Our fifty people of this Future Assembly are:
Artist, curator, producer, DJ, leader Hannah Brontë
Actor, director, theatre maker, activist, leader Candy Bowers
Community leader, choreographer and director Emily Johnson with over 25 quilting helpers and scribes
Gunditjmara and Gunnai elder Aunty Marlene Scerri
Indigenous educator, curator, filmmaker, artist, oral historian, researcher, writer Genevieve Grieves
Community leader and artist Vicki Couzens
Making the Margins, a creative research collective led by poet and academic Quinn Eades, photographer Jamie James and producer Son Vivienne
Artist, photographer and producer Jody Haines
Hip Hop artist and DJ Jesswar
Community leader, choreographer, dancer, DJ, Jamaica Moana
Community icon and potent MC Kween G
DJ, designer, model, curator Soju Gang
DJ, producer and curator Kōtare
VFLW Player and AFLW Multicultural Development Officer for Female Talent and Promotion, Akec Makur Chuot
Much-loved Australian author and lawyer, Alice Pung
VIC SES Volunteer Controller, Faye Bendrups
Writer and Performer, Jess Knight
Artist and Lyrical Poet, Lay the Mystic
Dancer, Performer, Working Mum, Life Coach, Lil’ Mama (Emma Edwardes)
Performer, Director, Maude Davey
Midwife, Koori Health Worker, Performer, Pilepileta (Sheree Stewart)
Musician, Architecture Academic and Megahertz champion, Simona Castricum
From 3CR’s Hip Sista Hop, DJ Abyss
Tonight we open three exhibitions: Jody Haines’ #IAMWOMAN, Hannah Brontë’s WHY2K and Making the Margins’ QUEERDOM. Taken together, these beautiful shows do an enormous amount of labour to bring to the fore people, communities, languages and questions that society and history can, and have, silenced. For the graciousness and thought and care and inclusive spirit in which they do that work, may I offer our sincere thanks.
On Friday night, Candy Bowers’ Work It – New Manifestos sees people from a range of industries reflect on the nature of this labour, what will keep us going and how else it could operate. In the fourth edition of Hannah Brontë’s Fempress we launch the good ship MOTHERLODE, driven by six female-identifying artists whose political and personal power deploy simultaneously in an ecstatic and glorious gold shake-down. The power of all that is then slowly, gently unpacked through the leadership of Emily Johnson and her council of Gen Grieves, Vicki Couzens and Aunty Marlene in Umyuangivgkaq.
The next four days will not become a series of actions or a policy, it will go much further than that – it will do what good art does, which is to touch the corners of our hearts and souls in ways that are indescribable yet urgent, mysterious but clear and ephemeral yet lasting. Stick with us and let’s see where we go.
Image: Umyuangvigkaq courtesy Emily Johnson / Catalyst