Review: Proximity Festival 2015 (Program B)

Words by: Indi Ranson

I woke up the morning of Proximity feeling uneasy in my stomach. I initially wrote it off as a result of uni stress on the back of an all-nighter, but even after submitting the assignment, which was the culmination of a semester’s work, the feeling of malaise didn’t go away. In hindsight, it seems natural that I was anxious given the experience awaiting me at the Art Gallery of Western Australia.

The Proximity Festival is a curated series of interactive performance artworks that runs annually in Perth. The experience is testing and intimate, with interactions being shared between one artist and one audience member at a time. The dynamic of one-on-one associations is interpreted and developed into a series of multidisciplinary works that toy with themes of trust, control, and the notion of performance itself.

Upon arriving at the Art Gallery of Western Australia I was greeted with a wristband and my program and took my seat in the Day Spa, a pre-show relaxation zone and briefing area new to Proximity in 2015. Day Spa takes you through a guided meditation complete with tea and cucumber sandwiches, easing you into the start of the program.

The bells rang, and I waited (shoes off) outside Caroline Garcia’s Beings-Unlike-Us in AGWA’s atrium. Garcia’s work is a poignant blend of traditional Filipino and everyday consumer rituals. While I was initially scared that Caroline wanted me to dance with her, I ended up watching TV, eating Chicharrón (deep friend pork skin) despite being a vegetarian, and eventually felt comfortable enough to belt Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” through a karaoke machine. Only fifteen minutes into my Proximity Festival experience and I’d broken a number of personal boundaries for the sake of the experience.

For the next performance, which was optional, I swallowed my insecurities and took off my clothes, slipped into a robe, and lay face down on a massage table.Where Beings-Unlike-Us was an accepting invitation into someone’s home, After was a terrifying abduction into a cult.

Glimpses of a naked Phillip Adams through the mirrored floor paired with an ominous soundscape terrified me, testing my composure, trust in the artist, and sense of vulnerability as a young female. I felt scared, triggered, vulnerable yet somehow empowered all at once – which, I think, is what Proximity Festival is all about.

Still breathless from the previous work, I awkwardly open the door to Micronational and fumble to find an opening in the curtains, despite being instructed to knock. Tom Blake lets me in, sits me down in a therapists chair and asks me how I’m feeling.

“Okay. Pretty nervous. A little taken aback.” I laugh awkwardly.

He tells me that a lot of other people have said the same. Micronational links the the idea of having a personal safe place with the history of the Hutt River Province, an independent state located outside of Geraldton, WA. By the end of the work, I am standing on a podium, signing papers to my own micro-nation as the owner of a personalised digital space. Tom leaves me alone and I have a little cry at this point, emotionally overwhelmed by the contrast of vulnerability and empowerment I’d felt within the space of 30 minutes.

Meditations on Water by the indisputable queen of Perth music Mei Saraswati  was the final work in my program, which took me on a sensory journey back to Perth’s now demolished wetlands. Mei told me the story of the lake that the Art Gallery stands on, inviting me to create an aquatic soundscape using bowls of water. Meditations on Water commanded a level of focus and creativity I found difficult to exude at the end of an emotionally exhausting program. Despite this, I really enjoyed Mei’s work – I just wish I’d crafted my soundscape with more finesse.

Playing with the binaries of isolation and belonging, safety and vulnerability, acceptance and fear, Proximity Festival’s Program B was extremely emotionally testing. The unique form and careful curation of performances immerse you head-first into the stories being told; it is as confronting and uncomfortable as it is empowering.

While this year’s season has sadly drawn to a close, Proximity Festival 2015 was a unique experience that pushed boundaries, and I can’t wait to see what future programs have in store.