Speaking Across Culture: Vicki Van Hout on plenty serious TALK TALK

One could suggest that successive identity-based political movements have most indelibly left their impact on the production of art through the explosion of the myth of the individual artistic genius. Instead of the single artist working in a garret-like studio, or the auteur figure who directs from on high, political movements that have encouraged us to see social realities as the product of context and collaboration have also left their mark on notions of artistic practice.

For Indigenous dancer, choreographer and artist Vicki Van Hout it almost does not need saying that art is made in its relationship to communities, “you never make work in vacuum - you're always consulting people” however, Van Hout’s new work plenty serious TALK TALK questions this assumption from the perspective of a dancer trained in both Indigenous dance and the techniques of the Martha Graham School in New York.

I spoke to Van Hout in mid-August, while the work was still being developed. Taking a break from rehearsals, Van Hout was in the middle constructing the scaffold which serves as the supports for the work, which avoids traditional structures. “There are narratives but it's not a linear narrative,” hints Van Hout. “It's kind of short episodic pieces.”

Van Hout assures me, that in its melding of dance, theatre and contemporary performance, the work will be accessible to a broad audience. Reflecting this blending of forms, the subject matter of the piece engages with questions of authenticity in a contemporary artistic landscape where collaboration ensures a multiplicity of influences.

This performance, and the location of where Van Hout produces much of her work, is inextricable from the kinds of cross-cultural dialogue that occur through collaboration. Taking place at Riverside Theatres in Parramatta and staged by FORM Dance Projects, Van Hout has had an ongoing artistic relationship with Parramatta and Western Sydney.

“This is my area; this is where I generate work. I find it's very fertile ground out here and you're walking along the street and you sit in the mall in Parramatta and you see the world.”

Despite plenty serious TALK TALK being a solo show, it is this social context that Van Hout wants to place on stage, “Even if I'm on stage by myself, there's a whole community, or a whole process that happens before it reaches the stage. That's a given with any kind of work that you make.”

The nuances that surround the relationship between work developed within its community and the obligation that an artistic work has to the community that it is produced within, are what Van Hout seeks to explore. While Australians from all cultural backgrounds work within the framework of cultural arts and community development, Van Hout argues that there is a particular obligation placed upon Indigenous performers.

“In order for you to make a work in Australia, if you're going to get funding, you have to locate the community, the specific community that you're drawing from. That's mandatory, that's not mandatory for any other demographic except for the Indigenous demographic.”

On the one hand, Van Hout does not criticise these protocols, and notes that these requirements were developed to protect the works of Indigenous artists from remote communities as well as ensure that the religious and spiritual significance of works was protected.

On the other hand, Van Hout works in a contemporary practice where a fusion of styles is ubiquitous, and is the continuation of a drive to incorporate a multiplicity of influences that has been common throughout the history of artistic practice.

It is this dialogue and tension between two approaches, one that protects the origin of the work and another that highlights a meeting of styles, that animates plenty serious TALK TALK.

In an essay published in arts journal Real Time, Van Hout notes that her practice involves seeking permission from the relevant cultural community if using intellectual property such as stories or song cycles, however sees a tension within this requirement and her own embodiment of the training she received at the NAISDA Dance College.

As Van Hout describes to me, “I make it clear that I'm not trying to pass off somebody else's information as my own but at the same time … I was taught several indigenous dance styles from several communities and so sometimes I think to myself they will never mean the same thing in my body as they will mean in somebody else's body, but they're in my body and how do you censure the body? How do you tell the body you can't do that because that doesn't belong to you? Once it's in your body it does belong to you. So how do I have a conversation with somebody else about what I'm allowed to do with my body?”

Putting this conversation between body and mind on stage will be plenty serious TALK TALK.

plenty serious TALK TALK runs from August 30 to September 1 at Riverside Theatres in Parramatta. Book tickets at https://riversideparramatta.com.au/show/talktalk/