Looking back on Liveworks 2021

On View Panoramic Suite Sue Healey Photography Naoshi Hatori And Pippa Samaya 2
On View: Panoramic Suite, Photo by Naoshi Hatori and Pippa Samaya

As we emerge with tired eyes and full hearts from our first-ever digital Liveworks, I find myself still processing what just took place. When we initiated Liveworks as an annual Festival, I never would have imagined we’d one day present an all-digital edition. And yet looking back on our five days of online performances, gatherings, conversations and experiments I can feel the presence and engagement of our audiences and the brilliant exploratory energy of our artists just as strongly as in the other Festivals we’ve held. 

Performance always exists in the space between bodies and in particular in the unique configuration of artist, audience and space that rearranges itself with every different performance and every gathering that takes place. When we shift to the digital, these agents—bodies, artists, audiences, spaces—are all still there, they’re just operating under different conditions and via different media. As an experimental arts organisation Performance Space is always excited to support artists to explore new possibilities for this convergence of bodies and space. And while part of me feels like it will take a long time to process and digest what just happened at Liveworks, I’m also certain that we made some exciting new discoveries this year. 

Over the course of Liveworks 2021 we presented a series of conversations between brilliant First Nations artists and practitioners from Australia, the Pacific, Turtle Island and Aotearoa. This kind of convergence would never have been possible in-person at Liveworks—at least not with the kind of resources we’re used to working with! These conversations advanced Indigenous-led perspectives on—and solutions to—the complex web of issues we face as a planet in the early 21st Century. We presented extraordinary, anarchic works of scale and nascent performance experiments from all over the Asia Pacific, continuing an artistic dialogue that we have centred Liveworks on, even while Australia’s external and internal borders remained stubbornly closed. We continued to support artists to expand the boundaries of the form and we connected communities with each other in extraordinary new ways. And so much more!

Our shift to the digital in 2021 came out of necessity: Sydney was on the cusp of emerging from a 106-day lockdown and physical gathering was still only arriving at the threshold of being possible. Our 2020 Liveworks Festival – presented partly in-person at Carriageworks and partly online, and itself a response to the conditions of the time – lay the groundwork for our expanded approach to presenting an all-digital Liveworks this year. And just as the various digital technologies that have always been integrating into the fabric of our everyday life played a pivotal role in keeping us all connected through lockdowns, border closures, outbreaks and health emergencies over the past 2 years, we found new possibilities for how they might create spaces for art.

It has been said many times—and should be repeated and repeated—that digital performance is no substitute for the singular magic of physical bodies sharing physical space, the infinite potential for embodiment and transformation contained in those moments of liveness. But as the line between digital and physical spaces becomes more blurry in our artistic and our everyday lives, we feel inspired to continue exploring the different ways in which digital spaces can open up new possibilities for performance and deepen our connections with each other. We reflect on the different resonances that they bring, that we are still learning about. So I look forward to a hybrid future for Liveworks, one in which the boundaries of the physical and digital continue to dissolve, cross-pollinate and converge. Thank you for being part of this journey.

Jeff Khan

Artistic Director & CEO

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