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Testing Grounds

Testing Grounds

Critical Mass


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A crowding of crucial ideas at Brunswick Mechanics Institute, Siteworks and Blak Dot Gallery during Melbourne Fringe Festival 2018 and 2019. Critical Mass brings together artists, performers, musicians, dancers, writers and thinkers whose works seek to divert established pathways and political narratives. Critical Mass is a festival within a festival – a place for decentring, agitating, questioning and dissolving the boundaries of form.

At Testing Grounds there was a site-wide exhibition of installations, video, new media and performance, as well as facilitating a live collective action event, as a centrepiece of the program.

The program was curated by Arie Rain Glorie, Susannah Day, Naomi Velaphi, Kimba Thompson and Joseph Norster.

Poster design by Isabel Holloway.

Opening Night event

Words for Critical Mass 2018

The Critical Mass program is where expressive freedoms we deem critical and crucial, converge. As participants in what is celebrated as Melbourne’s festival of cultural democracy – Melbourne Fringe, Critical Mass aims to draw together works which empower the individual and the alternative but also explore how our ideas collectively can become more powerful.

Over four venues Brunswick Mechanics Institute, Site Works, Blakdot Gallery and Testing Grounds a newly formed community of artists work alongside one another.

How do we as artists collectively move – physically?

How do artists move people collectively – emotionally?

Together can artists evoke change through unity?

These artists brought together challenge the everyday via politics inherent in their practices and being. Across the fifty plus artists the themes are broad and far reaching but the intention is that we are stronger together on mass and have the ability to shift the pressures of those against us collectively. The critical threads explored include environment, identity politics, self-determination, unity, reclamation, reflection and community through visual and performative forms.

Poets and spoken word artists ask us to listen, take stock – these very individual and solitary works require us to listen to their language and its intent. Through generous acts of storytelling a group of artists reimagine histories, reflect on the current and create futures free of pain. Through a theatremaker the notion of self-determination through decolonisation is interrogated – is it truly possible? Feminist artists explore denial and restraint, create discomfort and comfort through the acts of access and inaccess. Blakdot gallery host a series of ‘art lock in’s’ cultivating an incubator of critical ideas from their community to take shape just in time for the Critical Mass Rally.

Connection and unity is celebrated and reclaimed through a selection of dance, movement and music works. Individual dancers think about bodies and authorship whilst a work of endurance over 24 hours dismantles isolation through liberating a group of people through movement. Experimental musicians look at the craft of how creating live music transforms space to enable connection and lyrical poets create a sonic exchange on black masculinity. Queer voices find their way through movement, dancehall music and an evening on the dancefloor. Later in the program the audience are encouraged to join us through a new take on karaoke as the ultimate band making noise as a unified voice.

Whilst we sing and dance, respite is also important. Some quieter works encourage us to meditate. A sensory theatre experience for those in the first year of life lets us reflect on time and perspective. Loneliness and isolation in amongst all the noise can leave us silent, despondent how do we find the right community – theatre-makers help us navigate this.

Written by Naomi Velaphi

Critical Mass Rally, collective action, 2018