Joey Ruigrok van der Werven talks with Perth creatives!

Posted by Morgan Leek, April 20th, 2011

Words: Tom Cramond Images: Sarah Rowbottam

Last Wednesday, the 13th of April saw a talk by Joey Ruigrok van der Werven a Dutch born, Sydney based artist specialising in large scale site specific works and theatre production. Held at The Bakery in Northbridge the presentation allowed over 80 Perth creatives to experience Joey’s unique blend of creative drive and technical skill giving him an opportunity to fully explore the creation of a new genre of theatre within Australia.

The night began with a discussion of ‘site specific, performance based visual arts’, or as Joey calls it ‘theatre of the unlikely’. Joey provided the audience with a number of examples of this ‘renegade theatre’ from the art forms anarchistic roots, to the modern day mainstream embrace into popular culture. From Joey’s own work with Holland’s Dogtreop Theatre Company through to the work of European based performance organisations such as  La Fura dels Baus, Romeo Castellucci and Vis-à-vis the audience was treated to a whirlwind tour of some incredible art pieces from across the globe.

Set Design by Joey Ruigrok van der Werven for Gravity Feed’s Monstrous Body

From the outset Joey preached the importance of staging performance based art away from traditional areas of production. Instead, he believes it is an artists responsibility to engage with the general public in locations not commonly associated with any type of art form. The work should work seamlessly with it’s surroundings, and be designed to exploit the natural or man made infrastructure currently occupying the space. Everything from the middle of a salt lake to the side of oil refinery plant should be fair game to artists.

The performances must as well seek to break through traditional notions of practicality and the expected. Joey detailed the work of subversive artists across Europe using everything from hundreds of kilo’s of chicken feathers fired from air cannons, to giant walls of collapsing microwaves, ‘smell cannons’ and entire performances staged in the back of a converted WWII bomber planes. At it’s core the renegade artist should seek to delight all the senses, with wild and ambitious performance pieces, transforming landscapes and creating powerful experiences for all those present.

It is this spirit of rebellion and creation that has transfixed audiences across the globe for decades and a type of performance that Joey believes has largely not been staged in Australia…

Image courtesy of Joey Ruigrok van der Werven

Following a short break, Joey continued his talk by discussing the current state of site specific spectacle work in Australia. Despite the increasing popularity of such work within our borders it is readily apparent that much of this work is being conceived and executed overseas with the performers only touring for short bursts at a time. As Joey argues there has not been a artistic climate conducive to such productions, nor has there been organisational support for such endeavors. He would go on to suggest that with most arts funding in Australia today, the emphasis is placed heavily on pre-planned performances leaving little room for experimentation in the more extreme ideas of performance and production.

It was against this background that Joey wrapped up his talk with a series of ideas about how best to cultivate such artistic endeavors in Australia. Albeit a difficult propositions, Joey believes that such an art form can flourish in Australia and that we already have the talent to do so. From an opening of urban spaces to artists to allow for more advanced productions, right through to re-envisioning of government and private funding practices Joey implored us as creatives to be ambitious in our ideas and fearless in our creations!

Image courtesy of Joey Ruigrok van der Werven

For the past 6 years Joey has been working with a variety of theatre and performing artists within Australia on a variety of site specific performances and installations. One piece that I found particularly captivating Dream Masons a performance piece run for the opening of the 2007 Ten Days On The Island festival in Tasmania.

Joey and his team transformed the side of the Salamanca Arts Centre building with a series of massive water pipes, projectors, giant screens and cabling to create a giant ship like vessel. It was then filled to the brim with performers, a band (or two?), acrobats and at one stage a giant wall created with the help of lots of overhead projectors and some very careful planning. The spectacle attracted over 14,000 people over 4 nights setting a standard for accessible site specific performance rarely seen in Australia.

My descriptions can hardly do this work justice, check out the video and images below:

Dream Masons, Salamanca Arts Centre. Images courtesy of Joey Ruigrok van der Werven

Dream Masons (youtube)

From all of us at Performing Lines WA we would like to extend a huge thank you to Joey for presenting such an engaging and inspiring work. We would also like to thank all of those who attended the talk and hope you remain as energised as we do!

Written by Tom Cramond, Arts Management Intern, Performing Lines WA