Art is political. Inescapably so at moments when compassion, empathy and community feel so at odds with our Prime Minister’s words and actions.
Hillscene Live is a new event, bringing to the stage (and the various corners of the Burrinja Arts Centre) the essence of arts zine, Hillscene. The magazine provides a forum for community, cultural and environmental discussion and celebration and yet, the live event feels more defiant. As facilitator Gareth Hart said, “in the light of recent political events, these events are the future of arts and community.”
Well the future is here and it is DIY. It hands out popcorn in brown paper bags. It is diverse and unexpected, spanning many mediums and demographics. It is intimate with an emphasis on compassion, environmental responsibility and the power of the individual to bring joy, comfort and act in a sustainable way. These qualities are not offered up in conjuncture with our national government’s support but in spite of its abandonment and wilful disregard.
This all makes it sound as if the night was angry and full of mutinous mutterings and at times it was but, for the most part, Hillscene Live felt like a celebration; a beautiful reminder that ‘community arts’ does not mean ‘less than professional.’ Rather, it is art for and by the community.
But I want to talk about the work of one artist in particular. Neil Triffett. Neil is a cabaret artist and I had seen his act before when I was working as a sound tech for S+S Cabaret last year. His act revolves around the quandary of being a homosexual Liberal voter. Beyond the issue of the Liberal’s dismissal of homosexual rights, it also raises the dilemma of how to be a moderate, right-wing voter who still believes that we as a nation have responsibilities to care for the planet and its most vulnerable inhabitance. Oh and it is funny. Very funny. It is satire, full of innuendo, dick jokes and jaunty ukulele ballads.
But the thing that surprised me most about the act was the audience’s response. As always in an arts festival, both Friday night’s audience and the S+S audience were largely (or entirely) left wing. Last year the audience expressed this by cheerfully booing and groaning away but last week the response was almost dead silence. It was as if fifty people had decided as one that Tony Abbott humour was “too soon”. Despite most of the material being written before the release of the Liberal’s shock budget, it felt raw and new. “We don’t laugh about this yet,” the audience seemed to say. “We grieve.”
Thank you to Steve Duckham for being navigator, to the people sitting next to us for giving me popcorn when Steve accidentally gave ours away and to Dave Lamb for proof-reading. Thank you as always to the artists who performed and created for our enjoyment and the health of our souls.