Exercise, dance, and art making is what awaits you at ‘Life (And Death) In The Abstract’

June Butterworth, Creativity Village program, Abel Tasman Village, 2019. Photo by Sam Holt.

June Butterworth, Creativity Village program, Abel Tasman Village, 2019. Photo by Sam Holt.

Frail and dementia affected residents at Abel Tasman Village are reanimated with a little artistic practise with Life (And Death) In The Abstract. We spoke to Information and Cultural Exchange’s (ICE) Executive Director, Anne Loxley, and Producer of Special Projects, Victoria Harbutt, about their unique collaboration ahead of the 22nd Biennale of Sydney.

Can you tell us about Life (And Death) In The Abstract?

Victoria: It’s the third project that Information & Cultural Exchange and Abel Tasman Village, a not–for–profit aged care facility in Chester Hill, have undertaken. For Life (And Death) In The Abstract we are inviting Biennale audiences to participate in an artistic – clinical collaboration, which uses socially engaged art practices to investigate and challenge many of the complexities, assumptions, and fears constraining the lives of people in care.

In 2018 art performance duo, The Motel Sisters lived in the village for a month, costumed every day in drag finery, coaxing frail and dementia affected residents, and the staff into art and craft making and friendship experiences – visiting, long form chatting.

Create NSW’s 18/19 Western Sydney Strategic Partnerships grant enabled us to take on a year-long research, engagement, and training project involving residents, staff, volunteers, clinicians, artists, dancers and screen-creatives. Both projects reanimated personalities, resurrected confidence, built community, improved staff capacity, and clinicians recorded positive data regarding pain, continence, and sleep and behaviour management. Consequently, we have built a practical model for artistic and clinical collaboration and compelling argument for policy changes and new forms of government, sector, and philanthropic investment. This work is difficult to finish up.

What was your inspiration?

Victoria: Life (And Death) In the Abstract was inspired by the art that remains, standing in for the Abel Tasman Village humans, no longer with us.

What is the significance of Life (And Death) In The Abstract being selected for this year’s Biennale, the first under the direction of Brook Andrew?

Anne: Brook Andrew’s Biennale is framed as taking perspective from the edge, not from the mainstream, or the centre. This project fits very neatly into this perspective – it’s a really exciting inclusion within this vision as the location of the Abel Tasman Village in Western Sydney, and also the residents, frail individuals and people with dementia, are too often marginalised by society. And instead, what we have in Life (And Death) In The Abstract is this rich offering of artistic practitioners sharing their work collaboratively with people heading toward the end of their lives. And with diminished minds, they’re being offered something so rich, and in doing so, their individuality is honoured and valued as it should be – this doesn’t happen enough. This is another project in Brook Andrew’s suite of amazing ventures that has potential to make the world a better place.

What can the visitors expect?

Victoria: Apart from gaining further understanding of our project, abstraction and socially engaged art in general, guests might be drawn into consideration of their own lives and the lives and futures of loved ones. We’ll teeter on the edge of existence and oblivion together and pour all that we are, and give what we’ve got, to art, craft, dance, and good company.

Who should attend Life (And Death) In The Abstract?

Victoria: It’s recommended for everyone.

Life (And Death) In The Abstract

Exercise, dance, and make art with frail and dementia-affected residents of Abel Tasman Village as part of Life (And Death) In The Abstract for the 22nd Biennale of Sydney. Led by artists Naomi Oliver, Liam Benson and Victoria Harbutt, DJ Black President, and Care Manager, Sophia Markwell. The program contemplates and honours existence and oblivion (your own).

Image: June Butterworth, Creativity Village program, Abel Tasman Village, 2019. Photo by Sam Holt.