NiTRO + Creative Matters

Perspectives on creative arts in higher education

Practice: The Borders Project

LINDA LUKE

The BORDERS project was inspired by revitalising connections between practicing artists residing on either side of the Dhungala (Murray River). This was to address some of the disconnect between communities, as a result and impact of the 2020/ 21 Covid-19 lockdowns.

Borders is a cross-disciplinary arts project. It is an initiative by Arts Mildura, produced by Regenerative Communities, supported by the Regional Arts Fund Recovery Boost—Renewal Grant Program*. The project is a practice-led process using the provocation of the word ‘border’. This encouraged discussions about political human-centric borders, and questions such as:

Do rivers have borders? How do we experience borders of self? Where do we begin and end? Micro, shifting, ephemeral and transitional borders were all part of the investigation as well.

Underpinning this is the great Dhungala (Murray River) and the pertinent question of how, through art-making and performance, can we bring more awareness and responsibility to improve the health of this mighty river.

BORDERS is a three year project  which unfolds across four cross-border communities; Albury/Wodonga, Echuca/Moama, Swan Hill/ Speewa and the Mildura region. By April 2024, we will have completed seven three-day on-site laboratories along the Murray; a ten-day residency at GreenHouse National Artist Residency centre in Albury; twelve online artist-led practice zoom sessions; an informal public exhibition/ performance event in each location, and a concluding three-day exhibition, forum and performance event in Mildura (April 2024). 

The BORDERS team are – Creative producer Rhae Kendrigan; cultural advisor and Wergaia, Wamba Wamba and Nyeri Nyeri man, Mark Grist; practice-led facilitators Linda Luke and Peter Fraser; ecologist Craig Dunne; and project mentor Vic McEwan (Artistic Director, The Cad Factory).

I’m a choreographer, performer and researcher and I was invited to assist in conceiving of and co-facilitating – with long-time performance collaborator Peter Fraser – the practice-led labs for the project. Both Peter and my dance practice is grounded in Body Weather, a methodology originally developed by Japanese dancer and choreographer Min Tanaka.

Body Weather is not so interested in form, but rather, it is interested in ‘being’ and being ‘moved’ by the interconnections of the environment outside the ‘borders’ of who and what we think we are. 

Performer: Peter Fraser. Photographer: Martin Fox

Dr Peter Snow, who has written extensively on Body Weather explains:

‘Bodies are not to be seen as independent, singular, sealed off, coherent, stable, unchanging, and ordered; but rather as in process, open, multiple, changing, vulnerable, permeable, maybe dis-ordered, and perhaps even dis-organised. Bodies are vibrating, provisional, able to be manipulated, and subject to constant and ceaseless change.’

(Snow, P, 2003)

Over my twenty years practicing Body Weather, it has taught me to perceive our bodies as unique ecosystems that are shaped by the environments they reside in. Body Weather is first and foremost a training for dancers, however, my practical research also lies in facilitating processes with artists from other disciplines. The BORDERS project has attracted visual artists, curators, performers, singers and musicians who are interested in exploring the environment via a direct relational experience from within their bodies. 

The length and breadth of this project has prompted Peter and I to ask deeper questions in regards to our role as facilitators of the labs. For example, how to best facilitate a group of multi-disciplinary, multi-generational artists? What activities from the Body Weather’s vast compendium would serve such a group? How can we plan and yet remain responsive and open to changing tact along the way? Early on, we identified three main areas in which to construct the labs.


TUNING IN: A series of activities designed to heighten awareness of sensations, deepen sensitivity in the body, and shift the everyday way we perceive the world and ourselves. 

EMBODIED / BECOMING: a series of activities in the natural environment that encourage an experience of embodying non-human elements. 

CONSOLIDATING: Reflections, writing, discussions and (independent) art-making.

Group photo: blindfolds created by Borders artists Rhonda and David McTaggart. Photographer: Martin Fox.

This article is too short to delve into the many extraordinary discoveries that have unfolded during these laboratories, however, I will share one insight that generated a lot of discussion, in regards to the idea of leadership and responsibility. 

In many Body Weather activities, there is a ‘leader’ and a ‘follower’. For example, in one activity the ‘follower’ wraps the end of a long length of red cotton on their forefinger and closes their eyes. The ‘leader’ holds the opposite end of the cotton and gently guides them through space. The idea is to maintain tension in the cotton between the partners, and for the follower to only unfold the body from where it is being pulled (ie from the finger joint first, to the wrist, shoulder joint, spine, etc).  Both leading and following can be challenging. The leader needs to lead with clear directives and the follower needs to ‘give up’ (to some degree) their own agency and try to honestly follow what is given, in other words, to not interpret or add additional movement. People soon discover that this activity is not about a power relationship, but rather a symbiotic one. The leader cannot go ‘faster’ than the follower is able to follow truthfully. Both are responsible to pay deep attention to every tiny moment in order for the follower to experience the subtle unfolding of layers within their body. Effectively, the leader is there to serve the follower. It may sound simple in writing but the doing of this asks a great deal of trust from the participants, and judging from their feedback, this process engendered feelings of trust, intimacy, vulnerability, responsibility and connection. As a group, we wondered how this idea of leading and following could be used in listening to country more deeply?

The Borders Project has been rich, stimulating and challenging. Rich and stimulating because of the extraordinary and diverse range of artists who have been involved along the way. It is challenging in in regards to how to hold meaningful space for artists over a long period of time (three years) and distance (from Mildura to Albury and back again). I think this is a direct reflection of this enormous expansive country we call Australia. In November 2023, we head to Echuca/ Moama and then onto Swan Hill/ Speewa working with artists on creative responses to place from an embodied experience. In April 2024, we will invite all the artists who have joined the project to contribute to the final public event in Mildura which will culminate with performances, talks by artists and scientists, an exhibition and exceptional food and lively exchange.


Weblinkhttps://regenerativecommunities.com.au/borders/

References

Snow, Peter (2003), P4; Performance Making in Alice, About Performance: Body Weather in Central Australia, edition 5, University of Sydney.


Linda Luke is a lecturer for the Performance and Theatre discipline at the University of Wollongong. Linda has worked across multiple platforms in the performing arts for over 20 years: as a performer, choreographer and director. In her practice-led research, she aims to deepen sensitivity in our bodies and excavate the subtler undercurrents we experience in relation to self, each other and the external environment. Linda explores ideas around diminishing the ‘human-centric’ focus in dance-performance and instead explores how to foreground the rich diversity of non-human elements that exist in our environment. www.lindaluke.com.au

Main image credit: Artists (left, clockwise) Rhonda McTaggart, Linda Luke, Nicola Lambert, Peter Fraser, David McTaggart. Artwork (centre) by Maggie Ellis. By the tree (right): Peter Fraser. Photographer: Rhae Kendrigan.

*The Australian Government’s Regional Arts Fund is provided through Regional Arts Australia, administered in Victoria by Regional Arts Victoria.

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