Meanwhile, Back at the Octopod

29th September 2011

Over the long weekend I will be making the trip up to Newcastle NSW for the annual This is Not Art (TiNA) festival. There at the headwaters of the Hunter River, in the long shade cast by capesize coal carriers, a temporary autonomous zone, à la Hakim Bey, springs up for a few days every October. In empty buildings and camping grounds, above chemists and below universities, people come together to make and talk expansively. TiNA is not a place to debate “the book is dead”. No one prattles on about “the brand called you”, or how to monetise art through corporate identity. TiNA is a time to set aside the hackneyed, the commercial and even sometimes, the pragmatic. In a post-idea world—where information increasingly eclipses thinking, and distraction reins over contemplation—these few days in Newcastle represent a strategic deceleration. Here everyone is a kind of public intellectual, but no one strives for punditry. Nights of new noise meet days of strange theatre. Emerging academics skirmish on the borders of critical thought, while workshops showcase radical craft and DIY loop-pedals. Anything can be, and will be, hacked. The nighttime promises contact improvisation dancing, comedy, otherworldly music, and copious bottles of ginger beer. Somewhere in between all that we remember the thing called praxis. Action that is thoughtful, and thought that is active.

On the train heading north-east from Sydney I am often reminded of something the author and activist Rebecca Solnit once said; how “in a divided culture, being undivided and synthesizing and connecting across broad areas can be an act of resistance, just as being slow—as in doing things deliberately, walking or biking … or sitting around and swapping stories, not being dilatory or sluggish—in a sped-up culture is an act of resistance akin to the work slowdowns that were one form of factory strike.” When the festival is in full swing it can often seem like a frenzied, bewildering experience—but an ethos of slowness and synthesis is always there, in the undercurrents. No more so is this evident than in the kinds of conversations that go on around the official festival program; during the early hours, seated on the floor in a hallway, drawing chalk diagrams on the boards to prove a point. It is these open arguments that I most look forward to.

This year I am participating in two panel sessions for the Critical Animals arm of the festival:

2:00-3:30pm Friday Sept. 30. “Science, Sound and the Imagin(ed)ation”, with Ben Byrne, Carl Scrase, and Nick Keys; at the Royal Exchange.  

2:00-3:30pm Sunday Oct. 2. “Landscapes of Crisis”, with Sophie Lamond, Clancy Wilmot and Emma Fraser; at the Lockup. 

One panel discussion for the National Young Writers Festival:

5:30-6:45pm Friday Sept. 30 “A Lit Prize for the Laydeez”, with Jacinta Woodhead, Van Badham and Dion Kagan; at Customs House.

And I’m also doing a “creative health check” session, from 12:00-1:15 pm on Friday Sept. 30 at Staple Manor (for anyone who wants their patellar reflex tested, or advice on grant applications and the like). The full program is available online here, and the weather looks … well, let’s not talk about the weather. Bring your waterproof poncho, bring your unformed plans and your best versions of the future.