It all started in a drain in Alexandria. Behind Bunnings runs a small creek for stormwater run-off and in 2016 that was where the first Desire Lines was held. Taking the form of a walking tour, Desire Lines brings performance art to spaces where it might not normally exist and for its fourth instalment takes over PACT Centre for Emerging Artists on Saturday February 24. While this might seem like a conventional venue for a performance, Desire Lines’s two interns, Sebastian Henry-Jones and Maeve Parker will still be upending our assumptions about where performance can occur and what shape it might take.
Henry-Jones reflected on the nature of the performances that constitute Desire Lines. “It's an expanded definition of performance art, or what performance is. So there's a comedian and Emily [Parsons-Lord] is doing a chemistry class kind of thing,”
“Kind of,” adds Parker, “like explosions.”
This unsettled definition of performance and art also extends to the way that audiences are encouraged to engage with the artists. Rather than a set-list of times when the performances occur, audiences may be exposed to different performances at different times, and those will not be the same at the two ticketed times on Saturday evening.
For Parker, this is about resisting a hierarchical presentation of the artists who are part of Desire Lines.
“I like that idea of you don't know what you're getting yourself into. I want to put all the artists on the same page, the same level and not [have audiences] say 'I want to be here to see that.' It's just roll the dice and see what you get.”
In putting the program for this version of Desire Lines together, Parker and Henry-Jones reached beyond their close networks of collaborators to extend the scope of performances while at the same time letting the artists inhabit the spaces within PACT in their own ways, rather than being proscribed to a location as had been the case in past performances.
Previous Desire Lines performances had often engaged with forgotten or overlooked urban landscapes and vistas that opened up from these locations.
As Henry-Jones noted, the first Desire Lines was inspired by the simple thought, “'wouldn't it be great if we could just walk heaps of people through here and there was art.”
This was enabled by the close relationship that Henry-Jones and Parker had developed while living in a share house together.
“I was living with Seb at the time,” said Parker, “and I was like 'I want to do an art walk thing' and Seb's like 'I'm a curator' and I was like 'oh this is perfect.'”
Such moments of serendipity have also occurred not only during the development of Desire Lines but also during the performances.
“We had this punk band playing in [Henson] park,” recollected Parker, referring to the second Desire Lines. “But they'd unplugged all their instruments and it's so silly and they know it's silly and absurd and then this guy opens his door and looks out and he's just like 'oh my god fucking art kids' so loudly, and they got it on camera as well.”
This creative tension between where art and performance could and should occur reflects the impulses of creatives such as Parker and Henry-Jones to experiment with new spaces in post-lockout laws Sydney.
Al Joel, a frequent Desire Lines collaborator and participant in this weekend’s version, noted how tenuous it is to stage a performance in Sydney.
“I think the timeline of Desire Lines has paralleled and is part of a zeitgeist in Sydney where it's become unaffordable and inaccessible to rely on institutions or established venues, perform and hold events and parties.”
For Henry-Jones the response to this has been to create a moveable event, not tied to any institution.
“Because the event is so mobile, it can happen anywhere. Because you see a lot of spaces in the last few years have had to close because they can't pay the rent or space is so hard to come by.”
So if you have not been able to make this weekend’s Desire Lines keep a look out for further events in the future aimed at an ever wider audience.
“I hope in the future to have a really broad audience,” said Parker. “I'm getting my mum to invite all her work friends, trying to get it so it's not just people in their mid-twenties.”
As this iteration of Desire Lines has inhabited a new space, so will further programs continue to shift and develop.
“We're going real punk next,” predicted Parker. “We're going to just hand-write a flyer and hand it out at Central station.”
“Probably more disorganised,” added Henry-Jones.
“And somewhere really spectacular, is my plan,” said Parker.