election action

The Australian Federal elections is upon us. And as a permanent resident, I am not eligible to vote. And fair enough. And because Singapore doesn’t allow for dual citizenship, and the personal stakes of giving up my red passport is too high, I don’t reckon I will be voting in Australia for a long, long time, if never at all. But the reality is I have been building a life here, and what happens politically does very much affect me.

The cuts to arts funding; changes to Medicare; keeping negative gearing…are policies that affect me quite directly. I work in the arts. I want affordable healthcare. I want affordable housing…

Then there are the policies on asylum seekers and refugees, funding cuts to CSIRO and education, tax-cuts to large corporations, subsidising the fossil fuel industry…these I can’t and don’t philosophically and ideologically align with.

And in the absence of voting to make a stand, I have been wondering what action means for me, and what actions I can actually take.

As an artist, in my own personal practice, I have been investigating models to work within and without. David Pledger’s writings resonate with me, and his most recent article articulates the trajectory I am on. It isn’t just the liberal government’s cuts to the arts that is problematic – the entire what we call “arts industry” is a problem – as he rightly asks, “How can there be an arts industry when the primary producer, the artist, has no guaranteed income, and in the majority, lives below the poverty line?”

If we are to talk about the arts in terms of production and industry, then in fact the organisations/managers/presenters etc. – they exist to service the work we make – bridging works to audiences, bridging artists with partners, fostering relationships! And not for artists to be exploited by the “opportunities” these other entities create!

You know, thank goodness for David Pledger writing so eloquently, because I have been sitting on the word “intervention” lately – and he describes just perfectly.

“Belgian political theorist, Chantal Mouffe says it best:

“What is needed in the current situation is a widening of the field of artistic intervention, with artists working in a multiplicity of social spaces outside traditional institutions in order to oppose the program of the total social mobilization of capitalism.” [1]

Artists need to intervene in non-arts environments. We need to see our artistic practice as a dramaturgical tool for civil society. Let’s be bold. We need to develop not only an artistic dramaturgy and a cultural dramaturgy but a progressive, social dramaturgy. We need to operate cross-sectorally and think transversally. We can no longer enjoy the luxury of being the antagonist. We need to drive the narrative, be a protagonist.”

And we are! We can be! We are the protagonist!

I can’t say I’ve contributed much yet at all, but I’m gotten myself in the loop with ArtsFront and staying abreast of the advocacy plans to see if there’s any perspective/feedback/suggestions I can offer. And I’m scheduled to work with Benjamin Forster and Clare Cooper amongst others on the Australian Charter for the Arts.

And of course, by consciously choosing to engage with my practice very, very differently. It’s early days yet, so it’s hard to write about it – but have a cuppa with me, and I’ll tell you more.

My actions are small in the scheme of things. It won’t determine who gets in power come July. It won’t guarantee a reverse in the funding cuts across sectors and industries this year. It won’t provide a stable home for a refugee in limbo.

But like the performance works that I have made – to invite you to look at the world a little differently. My vision is not simply for a change in government for the next term, but for ideological and systemic changes to the way we function within this world.

It’s a tough one. It’s a tough world, but let’s keep being inspired.

We are after all, the protagonist.

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