INTERVIEW: Tyrone Robinson for Proximity Festival

September 21, 2017
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Interview by Holly Ferguson 

From September 26 to October 7, Perth’s Cathedral Square will transform into a land of boundless creativity. Proximity Festival is a unique event, exclusive to Perth, constructed solely of one on one intimate performances with accompanying workshops, exploring a latitude of topics and issues. This year Proximity is taking over several buildings and outdoor areas and audiences will have a choice of three programs, each with three unique and vastly different performances (audiences can also select to see all three programs).

I spoke with Perth artist Tyrone Robinson, who’s performing in program C, to find out more about his piece, Consent:

[I also spoke with Mike Bianco on his performance at Proximity, The Trees of St. George Square. Click here to read.]

Tell me how you became involved in Proximity Festival this year?

So, I applied to be a part of Proximity Festival when they were at the West Australian Art Gallery and my application was unsuccessful, but I was informed that I had just missed out. Sarah Rowbottan, [co-founder & co-curator of Proximity] said to me on a few occasions that they would be keen to work with me in the future. So, with the 2017 Proximity Festival, Sarah got in contact with me and asked if I would be interested in submitting a work for them.

And that work is Consent?


What can you tell me about that?

It’s an intimate and interactive experience for an audience member with me as a passive performer. It explores the territory of people’s capacity for empathy when confronted with their own power over another life. So, the audience has quite a lot of control over me in a way that kind of puts me in a very vulnerable position. The work intends to invoke a sense of empathy and intimate connection with another life that you know very little about but share quite an intense experience with only for it to then be jeopardised.

How do you view the dynamic of you as the performer and the audience member?

Working in dance predominantly, and choreography, it’s always an interesting thing working with an art form that relies on an abstract concept of communication such as movement. It’s a very vulnerable position to put myself in, in the sense that there’s interaction with me in a vulnerable state of being naked and bound, and the only way I can respond or communicate is through movement and they [audience member] have all accessibility to every form of communication that they know. So, I think that there’s automatically a power the audience has a soon as they walk in and see that bound image combined with the fact I don’t respond in a common language and I take on this role as quite a passive animalistic being.

So how did you go about devising this piece?

This piece is kind of connected to another piece of work that I was developing a few years ago called ‘For Your God’, which is still in its development stage and it hasn’t quite reached a point of production yet. But it was exploring the existence of animals within religious practices. The sacrifice element of it and this idea of putting a whole lot of meaning on an animal that barely knows its own existence yet seems to serve this greater purpose within man’s image of himself, his religion and his life.

What are you looking for the audience to feel and take away from this piece?

Being vegan myself for about a year and a half now, it came from (I feel like it’s the way most people are becoming vegan) watching a documentary about the dairy industry and feeling surprised that I was 24 years old and had not ever considered the way that milk was made, produced and sold and the exploitation of these animals. That was the moment that I really became aware and woken up to this concept that to partake in this, is quite a selfish act. I’m hoping that the audience will walk away with this idea of having experienced an intimate connection with a life, in which I am quite abstract. I try to blur the lines between animal and human through movement and visuals to hopefully create a sense of empathy over all life. And also, to be able to see something in a vulnerable position and feel like you’re not able to do anything or question if you wanted to do anything to save that life. I’m interested in causing guilt, blame, empathy. I feel like all of those kinds of strong emotional states can cause someone to consider their actions within something they may feel like they’re conflicted to.

What processes will you go through to prepare yourself to perform in such a vulnerable way?

I’ve done nude performances before and having accessibility to speech and non-passive movement is already vulnerable in itself. So, in preparing for this work I don’t think there’s any way to prepare. I mean I can warn myself of all the possibilities that it can go, which is what Sarah and Kelly have done in proximity workshops; devising tactics of ways to get around incorporative audience members and what could be the worst thing to happen. But I think what’s exciting in the vulnerability of the work is that anything could happen with one person in the room with me. As far as preparing it’s all of the little things, like how things read, how things are contextualised, as far as aesthetic how do I make the most impactful first image and how do I get the most emotional response from somebody simply by existing, being or standing or doing very minimal stuff. So, it’s a process of playing, exploring, changing minor things that in all effect the overall image.

So, there’s yourself and the audience member. Who or what are the other stakeholders in the performance, who could potentially impact on what you’re doing?

I have an assistant who is integral to the last part of the work because I play quite a passive role they’re responsible for my demise at the end of it. The audience doesn’t get to really interact with them or see them very clearly at all. But, what I’ve had to consider with the work is if somebody had such an emotional response that they’d try stop the final demise happening and they try and stop the inevitable. But I’ve worked it out that the audience gets removed no matter what so there’s an end regardless on if you have established an emotional connection or if you feel the urge to help, but you can’t and you’re left feeling vulnerable yourself as an audience member. I’m not sure if that answers your question though?

It does! I was asking because I understand that other performers are performing outdoors so there’s the potential for other people, like pedestrians, to come in and potentially interrupt work. I was wondering if there are other elements, in your piece, that could divert the work from its original intent or the ‘script’.

The audience gets lead through a system of instructions, in which they adorn my body in powders and spices and oils and stuff like that, in order for them to create a sacred image or something that is sacred to them. So, that final demise is a bit more intense or a little more personal. But essentially, they’re separated in this room with me that I’ve tried make feel as isolated as possible so you do get that sense of being one on one. So, the only thing that could potentially be an interruption to the work is the audience’s response to the work and whether they chose to go along with it or be a disobedient audience member, which I think is interesting in itself.

So, you said they put spices and powders over you, do you take that all off between performances? Is that an easy process?

That’s some of the stuff that we’re trouble shooting at the moment. Some of the things like turmeric and blue dye will be hard to remove. I think the utopian dream of a perfect work would be that I could remove everything before each work. But I’m also painted completely white to blur the lines between human and animal a bit more and create an image that is less recognisable. Also, because I’m a Person of Colour, to then bound a black man reads too much into a different direction. It may be a bit harder to remove turmeric off white but it might also be an interesting direction for the work, for audience members to come in and see what others have done to this image and if you chose to be part of it or go against it. I think that might influence the work in a slightly different way but in no means a bad way.

Can you tell me a bit about the setting in which you’re performing?

We’re in Burt Hall, in the lower part. It’s a renovated basement area that has these very bright white fluorescent lights. So, I’m hanging up plastic to create a space that’s a cross between something that’s quite recognisable as a place of worship, being that the building is connected to the Cathedral, but it also resembles a more sterile environment like an abattoir. Blurring those lines between the two areas of animal sacrifice in religion but also more commonly agriculture.

How many performances are you doing throughout the festival?   

We are doing nine performances a day for ten days. So, roughly around 90 performances.

Wow! How are you going to have the endurance to go through that?

We’ll find out when I get there I guess. It’s interesting. It’s something I’ve always wanted to do as far as durational performances. One of the other performers in the festival Nat Randall has done a lot of durational works. I went and saw one of her works which was a 24-hour work. It’s kind of something I’ve been interested in as far as dance goes, of trying to create durational work. Trying to push the body a bit more, to see how far I can push my own body, before I as a choreographer start to ask other people to do it. So, it will be an interesting test seeing how far I can push my body; in order to explore what I need to change in my own artistic practise, what I need to do in order to look after my body to make sure I can sustain the performances. Essentially the show must go on.

What’s the gap time between each performance?

We have five minutes in-between. So, we do one performance five-minute change over, another one and another five-minutes then the third performance and then we have a ten-minute break. So, it’s done in slots of three shows with five minute breaks and then a ten-minute break in-between those slots. So, there’s not even enough time to breath, which will be interesting. It will also kind of play into the vulnerability of my character, especially if I’m being pushed to my limits already before the work has even started. It will be kind of a method way of me getting into character.

Do you have any plans for where this work may go in the future?

I suppose my understanding of one on one performances nationally or internationally is non-existent. I often speak to people who say Proximity is the only festival in the world that they’ve heard of that does this (entirely one on one performances), but I know that they [proximity] kind of got their ideas from other festivals internationally. So, it would be interesting to find other festivals and platforms that work in a similar context and being able to take it somewhere else and share and have more opportunities to perform one on one which I think is a nice intimate experience.


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