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Based on the idea that one human being in the audience is more than enough to make a full house, Proximity Festival is an annual event in Perth showcasing one-on-one, intimate performances from local and international artists. I sat down with co-curators Sarah Rowbottam and Kelli McCluskey to chat about changes to the boundary-pushing project in its fifth year, and the thinking behind this contemporary first.

Q. What are the future plans for Proximity Festival 2016? Sarah Rowbottam: We’re looking to shift to a biannual model, as an artist-run initiative of this scale it is quite exhausting. Kelli McCluskey: The festival has always begun with a two-week mentorship lab prior to the performance season, which was quite productive but very stressful. We’re considering separating the lab from the outcome, so there’s more consideration given to mentoring those artists.

Some of the artists will want to work siteresponsively, so it’s been a huge learning curve for us to understand how that particular institution works. Also, we have quite a unique model of spatial occupation so it’s not like these places would have had something similar to us before. We can adapt to any space and that’s what keeps it fresh and exciting for us. It could happen in a pub, or a carpark, or a beach; it doesn’t have to be an arts institution. However the moment you step out into a BP service station, for example, it’s loaded with a whole new set of ideas. There is an instant impact on what you present there, and what the work is about. Q. Do you ever have repeated types of artworks, and how do you go about shaping them differently?

Sarah: We’ve moved from the quick and dirty live art experience we presented in 2012 to a more conceptually rigorous process. In four years the program has become massive, and we’ve started to ask “what worked and what didn’t? What should we keep?” That can be one of the most difficult things to do when you’ve been locked into one system of working. To step away and say “we don’t have to do that anymore”. That’s the beauty of being an artist run initiative as well. You are answerable to yourselves, the artists, the city. Q. For each institution you’ve entered – from the Fremantle Arts Centre, to the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts and then the Art Gallery of Western Australia – how do you deal with shaping the festival to its architectural space, conditions and reputation? Kelli: It’s a very different beast each time.


Kelli: We’ve had artists that have done the festival multiple times, but they always come back with very different ideas from a new conceptual basis. It’s not a case of

doing the work once, then trying to redo it the next year. Someone like [Perth theatre-maker] Ian Sinclair once had two works in Proximity, but both were completely different. Then he came back last year and facilitated the Day Spa. This was a place to relax and treat yourself before or after Proximity performances; a space to be, rather than do. It was an alternative way for Ian to engage again. Sarah: All the works come from existing ideas. Kelli and I find the intention of the work and how to make it an experience for an audience, rather than directing it like a play or choreographed show. That’s why I think a lot of the works are pretty diverse in their outcomes and experiences. Q. In reading the Proximity model, I recognised that you have a large emphasis on taking care of the artists; making sure they evolve as well as showcasing them. Kelli: Working one-on-one is very specific, so the mentorship component is super

Emily Parsons-Lord (2014), Different Kinds of Air A Plants Diary


Profile for UWA Student Guild

Pelican 2016 (87) Edition 4  

Pelican 2016 (87) Edition 4