The peak body protecting and promoting the Australian visual arts sector

A Government of Artists

Image: Deep Soulful Sweats by Rebecca Jensen, Sarah Aiken, Natalie Abbott & Janine Proost, Next Wave Festival 2014. Image by Sarah Walker.

In this world, there are values, beliefs, experiences and dreams that are not discussed or validated in our dominant discourses. Artists are often charged with the role of stepping in to redress these imbalances, to demonstrate diverse realities and to communicate the personal, social, moral, political, environmental and economic conditions that shape us. Next Wave recognises that artists set the agenda for change. We are in the early stages of a collective dreaming that will shape Next Wave Festival 2020: A Government of Artists. We don’t yet know what this ‘government’ will look like or how it will operate, but we know it’s going to resonate deeply and broadly.

This is not a manifesto. It is an experiment, a proposition. It asks: what sort of government is possible if we centre ourselves in the politics of hospitality and multiplicity? What does it say and do? What does it achieve?

This is an attempt to locate the gaps in our current political rhetoric, and to demonstrate how diverse realities can be recognised through creative thinking.


The Ministry for Disrupted Histories

We are often told that it is our role to ‘disrupt history’. To create fissures that will open up new possibilities. But this approach continuously leaves us on the margins. What we need is a language that identifies difference as default. Difference as the status quo of co-existence. History is not disrupted by a protest, or by binary transgressions. History is disrupted when difference is disallowed. History is disrupted when a British boat lands on foreign shores, and again when that boat is reconstructed in the name of sovereignty and celebration. History is disrupted when an algorithm is tweaked and when a bomb drops on civilians in Aleppo. History is disrupted when global populations are blocked at the gates to freedom and when Pacific Islands are sacrificed for air-conditioned mega malls in Middle America. We are born at different times in different places throughout the course of our lives. History is a web of intersections – collisions and divergences – that never wrap themselves neatly around a whole. History has no hierarchy. 


The Ministry for Alternative Cartographies

Google maps rules, unaware of the cartographies it’s mapping itself over. Google maps organises us en mass for maximum efficiency. There is no option to take the route past the oldest trees. It cannot guide us unless we already know our destination. Google maps usurps our internal navigation systems to overlay a timed and tailored augmentation of space and place that preferences the locations of shops and restaurants over places of spiritual, sexual and communal memory and significance. Our bodies are defined by walls, fences and border check-points. We are denying ourselves a global cartography of togetherness. Products with a barcode have more agency than people without a passport. But if you zoom out far enough it becomes evident that you can’t draw a line in the ocean, the ocean won’t allow it. You can’t draw a line in the sky, because the sky is moving too fast. You can draw a line in the dirt but there are eons of earth below the surface that don’t recognise that line as anything more than a scratch. In changing our perspective we can see that there are cartographies to be remembered and re-mapped, to be discovered, acknowledged and embodied. 


The Ministry for Unregulated Beliefs

Science, philosophy, spirituality and embodied experience are all portals to understanding. Our worldviews overlap and contradict and co-exist and complicate: entwined like a multidimensional tapestry that weaves itself between us. The Yolngu people of north-eastern Arnhem Land use Barnumbirr (Venus) as a conduit for communicating with departed loved ones, whilst university-educated millennials read Tarot cards and organise their dating schedules around planetary cycles. Scientists create language to classify and diagnose anxiety and depression, whilst patients hide out in online forums: virtual safe spaces where they can collectively redefine their experiences of the world through a language of magic and psychic agency. My Yiayia tells me to step through her front door with my right foot first. She shows me how to bless my mum’s grave with incense. She likes the Queen because the Empire provided her passage to freedom after the war. These are embodied truths I can’t identify with, but that I also can’t deny.  Truth is not dead, it is multiple. 


The Ministry for Transcendent Identities

Our identities transcend ourselves. We are historical and we are future. We are fractured across time and space, performing our obligations, our traditional cultural roles, our prescribed duties, and inhabiting and enacting transgression and resistance in the same physical gestures: the hello, the embrace, the offering, the receiving, the SMS exchange, the FaceTime call, the signing out. Refugees find friends on Tinder and form a Sunday afternoon mixed soccer team. A poet performs at a 24-hour rave before heading to his nephew’s Bar Mitzvah. A First Nations woman visits her Ancestral Country for the first time, where she spends the weekend learning how to string shells before returning to the office on Monday. An Arab-Australian teen gets a tattoo to distract their parents from their queerness. We are moving in every direction, leaving traces – paths for our future selves to follow. This is a language that understands context, a language that acknowledges historical and contemporary injustices, but does not define people through the lens of privilege and oppression. This is a language that recognises identity as unfixed and culture as something to be shared. 


The Ministry for Infinite Economies

Our value systems are multiple and simultaneous. Value is exchanged in feedback loops that don’t cannibalise each other, but rather amplify and support each other. Mutual economies, economies of love, economies where ownership is not asserted, are in infinite circulation. An exchange is a conversation. It’s a group of friends learning from one and other. It’s cooking a meal for any version of family. It’s making and experiencing art. It’s smelling a flower, walking in the bush, swimming in the ocean, looking at the stars. These acts form micro economies that live and die in the very transfer of their value from giver to receiver, only to be regenerated again and again. Humans are not the only participants. The pleasure of excess exists in emotion and in language, where value is created and distributed through non-centric networks. The group chat, the shared calendar, the live-streamed party. Nobody is holding on.

Over the past 35 years, Next Wave has led the way as a platform for early career artists to experiment, to be ambitious and to take creative risks. It is is a space for artists to say what they want to say through new forms of artistic expression.

Our national call out to artists to form a government for the 2020 Festival is an opportunity to open our doors to artists even further: to invite artists to respond to the provocation, and to set the agenda. We are excited to work with artists, to support the creation of new and ambitious artistic work that speaks to the issues and ideas of our time.

This is a nation-wide convergence, an alternative framework, an experiment in togetherness that advocates for empathy, urgency and criticality.