Nicola Gunn, performance artist, Piece for Person and Ghetto Blaster

I’m fascinated by the complexities of human behaviour and this idea of empathetic understanding ..

Later this month, the Brisbane Powerhouse will be hosting WTF – a festival of contemporary performance art and theatre, challenging preconceived notions of what theatre should be and say. One of Australia’s most prominent creators of thought-provoking theatre is Nicola Gunn, who has created and performed in dozens of productions that combine text, choreography and visual art in order to convey messages and concepts. Nicola will be bringing her latest production Piece for Person and Ghetto Blaster to Brisbane for WTF – a production that dissects human behavior and moral and ethical aspects surrounding an incident on violence. Ahead of the commencement of the festival, we spoke to Nicola about the production and her creative process.

First of all, Id like to know what inspired you to pursue a career in performing arts?
I can’t pinpoint the exact moment where I decided I wanted to be an artist. It seems like a logical and natural progression from when I was a kid making shows at primary school, then at high school. I don’t think I can say I was ‘inspired’ to pursue a career in the arts. I just did it.

Can you remember the first show you saw that impacted you significantly?
It wasn’t one particular show, but an entire festival: the Adelaide Festival in 2000 curated by Robyn Archer. I saw works by Les Ballets C de la B, La Ribot, Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker, Mathilde Monnier, Romeo Castellucci and a young Dutch company called ’t Barre Land among others. I’d never felt such euphoria in the theatre before.

Youll be performing at WTF 2016 this month, what can you tell us about your show Piece for Person and Ghetto Blaster?
Basically it’s an accumulation of personal anecdotes, memories, observations and philosophical musings about peace and conflict, moral relativism and the function of art in a kind of self-interrogation about an ethical dilemma surrounding a man, a woman and a duck. It’s also got separate layers of text, movement and sound operating simultaneously to the point of exhaustion. 

The show is said to take a look at the moral and ethical hurdles involved in self-improvement – what drew you to wanting to examine this side of growth and human nature?
I was interested in this thing that happened to me, where I intervened in what I saw as an unnecessary act of violence. I was particularly interested in how I reacted in the situation, how my actions escalated the violence, and the fact that I found the confrontation – in a way – pleasurable. If I say, I am a good person, do I do good things? Not always, no. So I’m fascinated by the complexities of human behaviour and this idea of empathetic understanding.

For Piece for Person and Ghetto Blaster you have worked with composer Kelly Ryall and choreographer Jo Lloyd – how do their contributions enhance the production, overall?
They add other layers of ambiguity, smudging the meaning and inducing at times either an internal conflict or hypnotic state. 

What was your biggest challenge in putting the show together?
Combining the text, movement and sound because it’s important they exist on different planes, meaning they need to have their own dramaturgical narratives, tempos, energy, rhythms, so they can operate in juxtaposition to each other and coincide.

What do you hope audiences take away from the performance?
A more active experience of being in the theatre. I think that’s all I can hope to achieve: creating a space that allows and inspires the audience to think differently.

Id love to know more about your creative process! What is your approach to writing a new work? Where does the process start initially?
It usually starts with the last piece. I ask myself, what didn’t I realise in the last one that I want to examine further? Where didn’t I get to this time round? And either I start from there or I look at what my current concerns are or I ask myself, what do I want to see myself doing. The major themes of my work haven’t really changed: how we are in the world, how we are with each other, the function of art and notions of transformation.

In terms of creating innovative productions, how challenging is it to find new ways of creating thrilling, engaging and unique theatre?
It’s very hard. Best not to try.

What has been your career highlight to date?
Being commissioned to make a new work, which was this work, Piece for Person and Ghetto Blaster. It is truly energising to be asked to make something as opposed to the relentless grant writing and project pitching I spend most of my working life doing, and to know that it had a life beyond its premiere season.

What are some words of wisdom that you have received throughout your career?
I really don’t have a very good memory, so if I have received any, they will have to tell me again.

Finally, Id love to know what inspires you?
Thinking very deeply about small and insignificant things.

WTF 2016 kicks off on Thursday February 18 and runs until Saturday February 27. You can catch Piece for Person and Ghetto Blaster on February 25–27. Buy your tickets through the Brisbane Powerhouse website.


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