Melbourne based artist, Lz Dunn has been a source of much intrigue in the lead up to Liveworks. Not only is her performative experience the only offsite event for this years festival, taking place at a mystery location in Sydney’s inner west, she also can be quite illusive. This only serves to make her practice all the more fascinating as she works across performance, movement, sound and video. This diversity is often situated in tandem with other collaborators, places and participatory processes to think about ecologies, nature, queerness and ways we live. As such, we could resist asking her a few questions for our next Liveworks artist feature.
Can you tell us about your first really memorable performative experience?
I have a really early memory from when I was maybe four. And it’s more a memory of performativity than performance. I was at home with some friends who were around my age – one a little older and cooler, one a little younger and cuter. And we were with a babysitter, who was probably 17 and who I thought was totally incredible. I really wanted her attention. So I had this idea; I went and changed in to my brother’s old togs (which is Queensland for swimmers). They were orange with blue seagulls on them. I knew I was a bit too old to be wearing them and I remember being aware that I was supposed to have my chest covered. I put them on anyway and when I came running back out they all looked at me a bit confused about why I’d put togs on for no reason. And I knew that I’d gotten it wrong. It’s a small moment but it’s the first time I remember employing a definite strategy to be seen in a specific way–really deliberately shifting how someone would notice me.
Do you have a favourite performance work?
No I really don’t. I love different works for so many different reasons. Actually the other week I went to see a friend’s sixteen year old performing in For the One’s Who Walk Away, which was a St Martin’s Youth Theatre production. It was 60 children and young people performing in maybe 12 installations across a repurposed school site. And I loved it so much. It was directed by Nadja Kostich and the performers were totally captivating. In one room there was a solo child, maybe around 10, and they were delivering this intense monologue for a handful of adults at a time who were free to rove around the whole building. They managed that whole performative relationship by themselves – when to start, who to interact with, how to hold a really intimate and informal space with total focus. I found it so exciting to experience. It felt very potent in its entirety. I guess with young people especially the audience is particularly invested because we might feel protective and really want it to all work for them. But sometimes, like in that instance, you understand that they have it already and they’re the ones holding us. I think I’m really attracted to performance experiences like this, that draw people together around a shared investment in a shared moment. Where the process of creating the experience simultaneously creates a really willing audience energy around the event itself. A really rigorous devising process towards a specific performance offering, that’s also an expression of the community that embodies it. You can see the artwork itself and something of its ecological niche.
Much of your recent work has taken place outside of traditional performance or gallery spaces. What drew you towards making this more publicly oriented, even site-specific work?
I like the processes of framing and floating that go with making work in outdoor spaces that are shared by lots of different inhabitants and histories. I like feeling my body in relation with these other processes co-occurring. I find it really challenging and also a relief to have so many aspects of a work out of my control. It means staying open to possibilities and finding ways for the frames we set up to be flexible and porous. To be specific but determined to accommodate whatever else might enter.
I think I’m always curious about what it means for my body to be somewhere. Or anywhere. What does it mean for any particular body to be in any particular place? And then what might it mean for multiple particular bodies to share time in a particular place. I’m really interested in the interior/exterior experience of being (in and of) a body and being in relation to other bodies.
And I’m interested in being outside–day to day I’d prefer to spend my time out instead of in.
You seem to relish the opportunity to collaborate with others when creating new work. What is it about this collaborative process that you find so attractive?
I’ve been told I’m a real slow burn. I can really sit on an idea for ages. Like everyone has moved on and I’m still walking in circles holding a speaker on my chest and deciding if it feels good. So partly, working with other people’s processes at play saves me from my own indecision or getting unnecessarily attached to something. You can’t fix on one way of thinking or doing and ideas get to morph through several brains and bodies. That’s also why collaboration can be really uncomfortable and confronting but I enjoy that too. Everyone has quite specific ways of accessing concepts and examining ideas. Aeon’s been especially great like that. For example, I’ve learned a lot from Shian about choreographic modes for testing ideas in bodies. It’s been really fascinating to see how he processes questions by inviting bodies into particular movements and embodied tasks. I wouldn’t have known how to do that on my own.
Aeon, which you will be presenting for Liveworks, suggests interesting links between bird and queer ecology. Could you elaborate on these connections for us?
Well they started as just two ideas that I was interested in concurrently and the connection between them was me. I had made another project about birds which focused on migration. Flocking’s another behavioural phenomenon that humans have been really mystified by for a long time. And birds in general we seem to be awed or repulsed by (rats with wings). Bird flocks can be an example of some kind of momentary physicalised, collective consensus to navigate for the survival of each individual and in turn the whole group.
I’m really interested in birds as a way to think about our capacity beyond humanness. Birds are the species we encounter more than any other. We cohabit so many places but I think lots of people tend not to notice them, or don’t give them much consideration. Once you do pay attention they open up another whole dimension of places. You can start to look for how they experience that place with you. What their lives are alongside ours. What experiences we can share and what we can never really know about another’s experience.
Queer ecology is one area of thinking that has evolved recently in response to our current situation as a human species concerned about our own survival. It questions the dominant heterosexist agendas that have driven many popular environmental and scientific perspectives–what is deemed ‘natural’ and therefore valuable to study, to protect, to advocate.
What’s next for Lz Dunn? Is there something we can look forward to after Liveworks?
I’m in a pretty big transitional period at the moment. Over the last 12 months I’ve become a parent and day to day I’m at home with a very amazing young person. I’m interested in how my practice is shifting with parenthood. We’re planning on moving to the country next year just north of Melbourne so I’m excited about that too. I know that I tend to respond to the environment that I’m living in (I started imagining Aeon in Royal Park which is our local park now) so it’ll be fun to see what comes up. Of course there are ideas rolling around in my head but I’m just letting them hover around for a while to see where they land. I don’t really know what’s next. It’s good.