Anja Rošker is a dramaturg from Slovenia. She frequently writes about art for theatre journals. Both a visitor and programmed performer at PA2020, Anja has written a reflection on the event which will be published on The Arcade site over the coming weeks.
In this first introducing chapter, Anja reflects on The Arcade as a site of community; taking into consideration the global spread of COVID-19, Anja retrospectively interprets the programme through the circumstances and shifts caused by the pandemic.
Between 26 February and 1 March 2020 the platform behind Te Papa Museum, New Zealand’s National Museum in Wellington, was brought to life with a programme of live art, music and performance — united under the name The Performance Arcade. The 10th edition of this annual event that attracts 60–90 thousand visitors every year was marked with unique circumstances, as the pandemic of Covid-19 spread around the world shortly after the festival. This review presents an interpretation of the PA2020 programme, examining the works through the circumstances caused by this global pandemic.
As every year, The Arcade’s diverse performance art pieces - presented just before this turning point in history - were divided into the Container Series, Music Series and Waterfront Series. Programmed artworks explored encounters between artists and audience; in the same way, this review establishes encounters between its writer and readers.
After New Zealand’s self-isolating lockdown period and current border closures, the creation of community space is extremely valuable. This review divides the events at The Performance Arcade 2020 into thematic chapters, the end of each chapter inviting a call for discussion. After reading this chapter, please share your own opinion via the comment box below.
Local and international artists whose work was exhibited as part of the Container Series explored the limits of containable art, looking for interaction with life beyond the container walls.
With his installation Wash, American artist Doug Beube created the wall of soaps with carved slurs, and called for the active resistance to wash away the hate speech.
German choreographer Katrina Elizabeth Bastian performed mechanical movements on a treadmill to test the limits of biopolitics in her work Zugzwang 2020.
Cycle of Swedish artist Anna Berndtson, rise of Australian tandem Mick Douglas and Denise Batchelor and Islands of Colombian artist Juliana Duràn each praised the water as an unmanageable force and the main source of life.
filter/free, the conceptual piece of New Zealand Taiwanese creator Louise Lin, explored relations between the performer, their thoughts and the audience.
Victory of Colombian artist Julia Orquera Bianco deconstructed the linearity of history through the reinterpretation of the famous Greek sculpture Winged Victory of Samothrace.
Julia Orquera Bianco, 'Victory' | Photo: Caio Bruno
Mask of New Zealand artist Nicholas Shackleton tested the boundaries between private and public through the use of an eclectic technological device.
American dance company The People Movers and interdisciplinary research group RAD Lab created a dancing cyborg Babyface who was desperately trying to escape out of the jail of robotic movements.
Through the collaboration of Canadian artistic duo 2boys.tv and urban curator Shauna Jannsen, the unique shoe installation boutiqueARCADE rewrote and refilmed the forgotten stories of urban and suburban areas.
New Zealand/USA artist Kate Walker created an event Disaster Karaoke which provided an interactive critical platform to sing songs from the last decade about political and social crises.
Philadelphian cabaret group The Bearded Ladies presented a series of cabaret events which criticized the shallowness of postmodern society through pop culture and queer aesthetics.
New Zealand artistic trio Abidah Saad, Lipika Sen and Prabhyjot Majithia created a “postcards workshop” NZ postcards to NZ to celebrate multiculturalism of the island country.
Participatory performance piece We Can Shift the World Together of Maori artist Mark Harvey encouraged spectators to use physical labour to move an empty shipping container and so “shift the world” through the common action.
The Waterfront series consisted of uncontainable performances which travelled around the urban area and merged with life at Wellington Waterfront.
New Zealand duo Josie Archer and Kosta Bogoievski in their dance installation Pedestrian Guiiiiiiidance challenged pedestrians to deal with obstacles on their way.
Josie Archer and Kosta Bogoievski, 'Pedestrian Guiiiiiiidance' | Photo: Caio Bruno
Parallel Places of New Zealand Australian tandem LudiCity (Sarah Burell and Andrew Simpson) guided participants through an interactive city walk and encouraged them to discover alternative visions of urban environment.
South Korean/US Sungjae Lee tested the limits of (physical) body in his “hair collecting” performance Temporal Chest Hair.
South Korean theatre company Elephants Laugh presented MULJIL2, a performance consisting of both containable and uncontainable performative parts and exploring the concepts and meeting points of isolation and integration.
Light and water projection Swimmers produced by Arcade Director Sam Trubridge and his champion freediver brother William Trubridge, launched the perfectly shaped body from the depths of sea and started to predict the birth of overman.
Events at The Performance Arcade were accompanied by diverse electronic, instrumental and vocal vibes with an outstanding selection of Wellington’s best musical talents. Headline acts included Panthalassa (a concert derived from the sounds of the Tasman Sea), and The Crossing - a one-off, multi-city concert streamed simultaneously in Wellington and Berlin, with performances by Samin Son, Hinemoana Baker, Daniel James, and Takumi Motokawa. Other confirmed acts included SOG, Ingrid and the Ministers, O & THE MO, Zoë Moon, Freezing Works, Vorn, Model Motel, Brazza, Neil Macleod, ZO, Dr Reknaw, Lola, Connor x Lotu, and Bad Hagrid.
Zoë Moon | Photo: Caio Bruno
Works at PA2020 made visible that which usually goes unseen, invoking a feeling of empathy and cooperation from the viewer. Transcending individuality, the performances produced a unique sense of community for the duration of the event. The Performance Arcade 2020 finished just before the global spread of Covid-19 locked us all into our own respective containers. The extreme circumstances of the lockdown period, caused by the unexpected attack of a respiratory disease, ironically reflects the modus operandi of postmodern times. Cynicism, relativism and the unlimited desire for success prevailing in today’s society built the population of narcissistic individuals who lost their sense of community. Postmodernity created a “containable” life as each individual became isolated with their own egoistic ambitions, and so metaphorically locked into their own containers.
Such a state of the world can be interpreted through one of the greatest works of the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche Thus Spoke Zarathustra. The philosophical novel written in the late 19th century acts mostly as a critique of Christian values. Zarathustra is a prophet who praises life instead of treating it as a “heavy burden” and hoping for salvation after death:“I would only believe in a God who knew how to dance,” spoke Zarathustra when he was admiring the lightness of the butterfly’s flight.
Zarathustra went up to mountains to isolate and have time to think about the new mankind of overmen: “Away from the market place and fame all greatness takes place; away from the market place and fame the inventors of new values have lived along.” The prophet of overman preached about “The Death of God” and summoned humanity to break the old tablets of values and write new ones.
Zarathustra is not a shepherd, he lures people away from the herd. He builds a community based on a companionship: “Companions the creative one seeks and not corpses, nor herds and believers. Fellow creators the creative one seeks, who will write new values on new tablets.” Zarathustra’s teaching is paradoxical: a new community of overmen based on companions is born from isolation. Can the isolation caused by Covid-19 break individualism and establish the bonds of companionship?
Container and Waterfront performances at PA2020 began an exploration into the structure of our society; in viewing these isolated artistic forms, the public were gradually invited to become the companion to the artists, as they wrote their own tablets of new values. The Performance Arcade 2020 created the community arcade behind Te Papa Museum. Most of the words of this review were written during the lockdown period in my own container. A room full of thoughts which are looking for the feedback of companions is like a cave of Zarathustra.
What do you think, my companion? I am calling all the readers to post comments on my writing. Share with me all your thoughts and ideas. How do you understand the artworks I write about? How do you understand my interpretation? How is all this related to Covid-19? Ask questions. Suggest the answers. With this review I am opening the platform for correspondence about art. Let’s discuss art works at The Performance Arcade 2020 from our containers. Let’s transcend the limits of our individuality and continue building the community arcade.