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An integrated & evolutionary vision

Keith Gallasch: Interview, Lisa Havilah

Nick Cave, Heard:Detroit 2015 Nick Cave, Heard:Detroit 2015
image courtesy the artist and James Prinz Photography
What would we do without Carriageworks? CEO Lisa Havilah and her staff continue to integrate an expanding range of contemporary art practices, international artists and artist development strategies into its programs both within and beyond the building into Western Sydney and with a large commitment to Indigenous artists. Havilah has ensured that we think of Carriageworks not as venue, but as an organically functioning contemporary arts centre with a history and a growing identity of its own and as integral to a local, national and, increasingly, international arts ecosystem through its support for the artistic well-being and innovations of its resident companies and partner organisations and commissioned artists.


I met with a spirited Havilah at Carriageworks where she guided me through her 2016 program which has more works, commissions and partners than ever, without losing either passion or direction. New partners include the Sydney Writers’ Festival to present talk programs; Sydney Symphony Orchestra for their 20th-21st century composers series; and City of Sydney for K-pop Party, The Great Strike (see below) and Art and About. As part of its arts and disability strategy Carriageworks is partnering Western Sydney’s Urban Theatre Projects to create a new work, Simple Infinity, with hearing impaired artists. In another arts and disability project resident dance company Force Majeure will work with Grafton-based Dance Integrated Australia in Off the Record.

With its principal resident company, Performance Space, Carriageworks will partner Day for Night for Mardi Gras, co-commission an exhibition of works by media artist Ross Manning after the success of last year’s Ken Thaiday show, and an exhibition of Indigenous art in the Liveworks Festival of Experimental Art. Other partners include Sydney Chamber Opera and Brisbane’s Room40.


For the Sydney Festival, Carriageworks will host the adventurous 2016 About An Hour program, which includes a new dance work by Melbourne choreographer Stephanie Lake, Belgium’s Rosas dance company, also in the festival, will perform at Carriageworks which presented the company’s first Sydney appearance in 2014. Later in the year, from France comes Tragédie, choreographed by Olivier Dubois for Ballet du Nord. Inspired by Nietzsche’s notion of the commonality and liberating transcendence dance can offer, it features 18 naked dancers “in a chorus of hypnotically repetitive movements backed by a pounding bass” (program). In May the second round of the Keir Choreographic Fellowship Award will premiere the works of finalists Sarah Aiken, James Batchelor Chloe Chignell, Ghenoa Gela, Martin Hansen, Alice Heyward, Rebecca Jensen and Paea Leach. Adding to the dance program, there’s also Off the Record, mentioned above, and NAISDA’s 40th anniversary production (see below).


Just as Sydney Chamber Opera has brought new audiences to Carriageworks hungry for alternatives to Opera Australia’s staid programming, so should the two Sydney Symphony Orchestra concerts of 20th and 21st century music, the first led by SSO chief conductor David Robertson (acclaimed for his support of new music in the US) attract not only those deprived of the new, but also newcomers to it. I’m hoping that after 2016 it will have more than the admirable Brett Dean to represent Australian composition.

The program also includes Sydney Chamber Opera’s Notes from the Underground and Brisbane’s Room40 presenting concerts by experimental musicians Fennesz and Michael Gira (of The Swans). Havilah tells me, “this year’s Room40 season [RT 127, p47] enjoyed a terrific response and director Lawrence English is great to work with.”

Francesco Clemente, Angels’ Tent 2013 (detail) Francesco Clemente, Angels’ Tent 2013 (detail)
courtesy the artist and Mary Boone Gallery, New York

The organisation’s international standing continues to grow with return visits of Ryoji Ikeda and Lemi Ponifasio (director of NZ’s internationally acclaimed MAU company). Havilah has commissioned a work by Ponifasio for 2017 titled Children of Gods. Involving 400 community members, the work addresses the plight of millions of children today by reflecting on the Children’s Crusade, the story of the expulsion of Muslim children from Jerusalem by Christians in 1212.

Commissioning Ponifasio has given Carriageworks important international leverage to co-produce work it could not itself afford. There are some 50 commissions in Havilah’s program, some starting, others in-progress and others being realised across 2016. One of the latter is Australian artist S Shakthidharan’s multimedia performance work COLONY centred on stories from Western Sydney but with a global perspective and developed by Carriageworks over three years.


Over the summer Carriageworks’ featured artist is Ghanian Eli Anatsui, making his first appearance in Australia with five decades of his remarkable assemblages on show. Another featured major artist is Italian Francesco Clemente who, following a visit to India, says Havilah, “made a beautiful series of hand-painted tents. We’ve taken the whole collection and will show it across the foyer from August to October.”

In June we’ll see Adelaide’s Hossein Valmanesh’s major media art installation, which uses four projection screens to create an Iranian bazaar ‘room’ [in which] “to contemplate movement, human interaction and the passing of time. [It’s] a metaphor for Iran, a country which has been subject to invasion, religious and cultural interaction for centuries” [2016 program]. This work has been realised with the support of Adelaide Film Festival, Carriageworks, Samstag Museum, the University of Western Australia and Sydney Film Festival. Havilah had just seen the work in Adelaide and was deeply impressed.

In October-November a greatly warranted and much anticipated major exhibition of Australian artist Ross Manning’s exquisitely beautiful light and sound sculptural works will be displayed in the Carriageworks foyer in partnership with Performance Space.

In another new relationship, two shows from Hobart’s MONA will be exhibited this year at Carriageworks. In French artist Mathieu Briand’s installation Spiral, “five turntables play samples on an endless loop. [The artist] invites you to intervene, creating sonic chaos that’s simultaneously cut to vinyl.” The second exhibition, titled Love, gathers works by the late Sydney light artist Kathy Cavaliere, curated by Daniel Mudie Cunningham.

In Heard•Syd, co-presented by City of Sydney’s Art & About, leading American artist Nick Cave’s 30 fantastical horses will come to life with live music and 60 local performers over two days in November around Sydney and at Carriageworks.

Indigenous art, development & aspiration

After two years in development, Carriageworks and Moogahlin Performing Arts will present writer-director Andrea James’ play Winyanboga Yurringa. Inspired by the groundbreaking 1981 TV series Women of the Sun, it focuses “on the lives of Aboriginal women and their connection to country.”

NAISDA will celebrate 40 years of training Indigenous dancers with a new work and an exhibition at Carriageworks. Naya Wa Yugali—We Dance “will feature oral histories, a new commission by Vicki Van Hout and the work of artists including Tracey Moffatt, Lee Chiswick, Elaine Kitchener and the late Michael Riley.”

On the developmental front is Solid Ground, a $2m three-year partnership between Carriageworks and Blacktown Arts Centre which has just commenced with the employment of two full-time Aboriginal staff. Havilah explains, “It’s about providing pathways for young Indigenous people into the arts and cultural industries under the national Indigenous Advancement Strategy. There’ll be 90 participants from Redfern and Waterloo to Blacktown in job training and bespoke tertiary programs. We hope not only to support the next generation of artists but also arts managers and leaders, so that we’re working on both fronts.” The program includes mentorships and the production of new Indigenous works.

Hossein Valamanesh, Char Soo 2014 Hossein Valamanesh, Char Soo 2014
© Hossein Valamanesh/Licensed by Viscopy. Image: M Reza Jahanpanah, courtesy the artist and GAGProjects, Greenaway Art Gallery, Adelaide
A venture that also advances Indigenous artists, their art and students is the full-time artist residency (with Tony Albert in 2016) with its permanent Park Road studio at Alexandria Park Community School in Sydney’s inner-east. The artist has contact with students each week and helps shape the school’s curriculum, which Havilah see as very important in an integrated program. A permanent studio is also one of the targets for the Solid Ground project.

An excitingly pragmatic new initiative will be Black Arts Market, with curator Hetti Perkins and artist Jonathan Jones bringing artworks by east coast regional Aboriginal artists to market for two days at Carriageworks.

In development

There’s also much in development: a new work by Back to Back Theatre; new plays from Yellamundie and Milk Crate Theatre; and The Great Strike, an exhibition about industrial action held at Carriageworks in 1917 that went national, propelling the consolidation of trade unions in Australia. Curated by Beatrice Gralton in association with local historians and five artists it will feature original materials, photographs and rare film footage in its recounting of employees at Eveleigh and Randwick Tram Sheds striking for six week in protest against new work regulations in World War I.

Lisa Havilah is a master of integration who with her staff, resident companies and many partners has embraced the contemporary arts organically and with a great sense of considered but always exciting evolution. She puts it simply: “It’s a matter of keeping your core values, not changing your path, learning from what you deliver and expanding on it.”

RealTime issue #130 Dec-Jan 2016 pg. 26

© Keith Gallasch; for permission to reproduce apply to [email protected]

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