Monday, August 29, 2011

That's a Rap!

When reviewing artwork of any kind, often the biggest dilemma is that you think of so much more after you have posted your article. It’s a bit like ordering off the menu, looking at what someone else has ordered and wishing you had made a different choice. But it’s too late to change your order.

Festivals such as Junction provide access to so much art in only a few days. For the general punter this is paradise; meandering from exhibitions to shows, to interactive experiences to the bar, back to a show... experiencing the excitement and diversity that is a festival.

When reviewing a festival, the experience is somewhat different and often we are left wishing we could see some shows twice. Firstly to let it wash over us and secondly to really focus on what makes the work a success, or not. There is of course enormous excitement at having so much art on tap, but also trepidation at the prospect of actually trying to review everything. It never happens. More time and space can give us capacity to reflect and consider a production. It enables you the luxury of exploring themes, the quality of the work and delve a little deeper.

There are however advantages to skimming as well. If we allow ourselves to be open and accepting right here, right now in whatever we are experiencing then we should feel justified in that first reaction; surely. Does it resonate with us, does it move us, do we feel something and does it stay with us? For me that’s often the litmus test of a good performance. I don’t have to like it, as long as I feel something and I am convinced that the performers, artists or musicians gave their all.

Over the last few days a team of 3 Tasmanian reviewers have been watching, hearing, feeling and experiencing what has been Junction Arts Festival in Launceston, Tasmania. And it has been a ball. Launceston is perfectly suited to a festival such as this, both geographically and culturally. The greatest sense I got from Junction was one of joyous, small morsels of beauty and a few curve balls to challenge a little and keep the locals on their toes. 
I am incredibly disappointed that I was unable to get to everything, but walking, and being able to literally walk to everything, allowed me the scope to observe others experiencing Junction.

Wednesday was a day of preparation, but throughout the CBD were hundreds of primary school children being led around the Art Trail by artists involved with Interweave Arts. Flags, murals, material and colour filled public walkways and spaces and added to a genuine sense of excitement in the city.  That evening at the Junc Room in Civic Square was a celebration and invitation to get stuck into the program and experience what was about to happen.

I must admit being a little worried when the Junction program came out just a week before the festival. But it didn’t seem to dampen the enthusiasm. I bumped into family who had travelled from the East Coast, there were numerable postings on Facebook from people travelling from all over the state and I saw people from Hobart who had driven up especially for the weekend.

With time now to finally reflect on what I saw, felt, heard and experienced, I think Junction has been overall a great success. There was richness in the programming that began with foundations that were set within the community. Last year one of my favourite things was when Interweave Arts, through its Streets Alive program, attempted the world record in synchronised dancing with an umbrella. I happened to walk onto the street as this was happening, was handed an umbrella by Kim Schneiders and like the other 100+ became part of a work of art. Immensely funny and beautiful, this type of art, that you happen upon, is what makes the magic of a festival.

Similarly this year it was the treasures hidden throughout the city that resonated. Storm troopers on the streets of Launceston, ping pong in the Brisbane Mall, writers awaiting inspiration hidden in cafés, a bus filled with voice and a lifesize inflatable whale in City Park (who doesn’t love an enormous inflatable animal?). And like Pandora’s Box, the Junc Room circus tent, providing the enchanting central hub and a smorgasbord of music, cabaret and performance.

Of course, this doesn’t mean it was all smooth sailing and perfection. Some of the ‘joke’ bands were a bit wearing after a while and would have benefited from shorter, sharp gigs intermingled with other performers. This was also the case with some performances, where once the joke was out, there wasn’t a lot more to offer. While I am unsure of audience numbers, a festival can only benefit from a little more lead in time. More promotion throughout the city and further afield may have assisted with numbers.

But these are minor in the grand scale of what happened last week. Junction Arts Festival was a success because of the program, the planning and the place-Launceston. This is particularly exciting for Northern Tasmania as it often does not benefit from some of the other major festivals and must be extremely rewarding for those who have pushed hard to see a greater arts and cultural focus in the region.

For the WriteResponse writers, we have thoroughly enjoyed our second gig with Junction and plan to be back next year, reviewing performance, visual arts and more. Can I please order back Elbow Room who put on There (great show), something inflatable, the Junc Room, Lazlo and definitely the Art Trail by Interweave Arts. But also, please continue to surprise me and have those treasures that I can just happen upon.

Thanks for having us. x

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