Melbourne is a hotbed for cultural events year round, so it takes something bold, something spectacular, maybe even something a little controversial, to grab the attention of the city.
The PROVOCARÉ Festival of the Arts is all of this and more. Now in its second year, the festival is set to take over the Chapel Street precinct from July 5 – 15 for eleven days of provocative, powerful entertainment, that’s sure to spark a few debates, and leave several mouths agape!
Festival Director and Executive Chairman of the Chapel Street Precinct Association, John Lotton, says “the diverse local community and it’s willingness to consider and accept other peoples various perspectives on what should be considered society’s norms” is what drove him to found the thought-provoking event in a location renowned for its cafes, bars, and retail businesses.
Headlining the festival is American photographer Spencer Tunick, whose large-scale nude installations are celebrated around the world.
It’s not just Tunick’s naked subjects, but how he frames them in an exploration of space and location that gives his work its tremendous impact. From covering 1200 Israelis in mud on the banks of the Dead Sea, to draping hundreds of people in fabric and spreading them across the Black Rock Desert, Tunick’s photos pulsate with life and beauty.
His PROVOCARÉ project, entitled Return of the Nude, will be shot in the rooftop carpark of Woolworths Prahran. Tunick says that while location scouting earlier this year, he was immediately drawn to the location, knowing that he could use it to tap into “the edgy engagement” that drives the event. The result, he says, will be a photo that both subjects and the region will treasure.
In what will be his first work in Melbourne since 2001, Return of the Nude will take the form of two installations across two days, with 500 eager subjects involved in each. Applications are open now, with 10,000 eager locals having already put their hands up to be part of the experience.
“Only a small, courageous percentage of people want to be nude”, Tunick says, when asked about the number of willing participants, “but word gets out there in such a big way”.
So why do people want to be involved in a Spencer Tunick shoot?
“They know the history of my work, they see what I’ve done, the context I do it in, and they feel comfortable. They’re looking for something new to do with their bodies in such interesting times. Something that’s in groups, but not communal.”
Lotton echoes the sentiment.
“Some of those who have been involved in one or more of his past works have provided some incredible insights into the impact that it has had – describing it as ‘tribal’ and ‘liberating’, and definitely ‘one for the bucket list’.”
When asked if there’s anything he wishes to pass on to potential subjects, he makes two points.
The first is that, while he’s known for shooting at sunrise, this work will take place at a warmer time of day. “I’m a human with empathy!”
The second relates to a memory from his 2001 shoot.
“I’d just finished shooting – I still had my camera in hand – and this woman finished dressing, then came over and gave me some cookies. It was very heartwarming.
I still like cookies”, he adds with a laugh.
Hailing from closer to home, Zebastian Hunter is the Performance Coordinator for the National Institute of Circus Arts, and director of Empty Bodies, which runs July 5 – 14.
Hunter was a performer for Cirque de Soleil when he had “a moment of reflection” that led him to shift his focus to directing. Commencing study at the National Institute of Dramatic Art, he reunited with esteemed playwright Stephen Sewell (the two had met previously when Hunter performed with the Flying Fruit Fly Circus), and the two quickly recognised the potential for collaboration.
Sewell was interested in the physicality of circus and performance, while Hunter was focused on exploring depth in character and story. The pair combined their efforts to craft Empty Bodies, a circus-drama fusion that studies the relationship between speech, clothing, and identity.
Considering the many fashion brands that have set up shop along Chapel Street, it’s an appropriate theme. Staggeringly, thousands of pieces of pre-loved clothing have been used to create the costumes by designer Stephanie Howe.
Empty Bodies is a showcase of skill and athleticism, but it is also profoundly moving. The story, Hunter explains, was constantly evolving as he and Sewell talked to the performers about how the themes had impacted their own lives. Touched and intrigued by the responses, they worked to find ways to incorporate them into the project.
The resulting intimacy of Empty Bodies often leaves attendees on the verge of tears.
“I had one woman come up to me after a performance, and say the show was a form of therapy, because it put on stage so many thoughts that were trapped in her head.”
Hunter acknowledges that he and Sewell were taking a risk when they came up with the concept for Empty Bodies, so he’s glad the show has found a home in PROVOCARÉ .
“PROVOCARÉ looks at how art, in many forms, takes risks. Empty Bodies does take risks in the way it provokes a response from the community…and brings a vibrancy to the area.”
If there’s one performer who represents everything that PROVOCARÉ stands for, it’s Reuben Kaye.
After dazzling the Edinburgh Festival (where his was named one of the top five performances), and winning Best Cabaret Performance at Adelaide Fringe, Kaye’s return to his home town is bound to be a highlight.
As witty as he is lavish, Kaye dominates the stage with an astounding showmanship he says developed in the womb. “Even from within the amniotic sac my mother was kept awake by the snap of one liners, choreography and the hum of a sewing machine as I worked up another costume.”
“It was a long 4 years I spent in there; why would you give up free rent in this housing market?”
Described as the love child of Liza Minnelli and Jim Carrey, Kaye’s fusion of “proto-punk” cabaret, comedy, and burlesque is bold and unique. It all started when his parents showed him two films – West Side Story and the Marx Brothers’ A Night at the Opera.
“I was doomed”, quips Kaye.
Years later, after slogging through a journey into London’s musical theatre scene, he realised “what I love is smashing things together to create something new yet referencing different art forms”.
“If I was a wanker I’d say it’s a mosaic in tribute to the narrative-based performative experience but f*ck that. It’s a good time!”
Reuben Kaye will be performing at Chapel Off Chapel from July 7 – 15. Book your tickets here.
That’s just a taste of what PROVOCARÉ‘s got in store for audiences. This year’s lineup is 20% larger than last’s, and with the likes of David Bromley’s unprecedented open air exhibition, Whatever You Dream, and the range of performers who’ll be calling Club PROVOCARÉ home throughout the festival, it’s easy to see the effort Lotton and team have put into making PROVOCARÉ a truly memorable experience for all.
PROVOCARÉ Festival of the Arts runs July 5 – 15.
For more info, and to book tickets, visit the official website.