‘Refuge 2021’, presented by Arts House

‘Refuge 2021’ ignites dialogue about climate emergency between artists, emergency experts and members of the local community. Together they share their individual perspectives, knowledge, experience and cultural traditions, to find ways that we can be more prepared when ‘crisis meets crisis.’

Latai Taumoepeau's, MASS MOVEMENT, in Refuge 2021, Melbourne
Latai Taumoepeau, MASS MOVEMENT, Refuge 2021. Photograph: Teresa Tan. Courtesy the artist and Arts House, Melbourne

Over the past six years Arts House, Melbourne’s centre for contemporary performance and interactive artforms has been working with the Red Cross, Emergency Management Victoria, the SES and the wider reaching community to activate innovative and meaningful responses to emergency situations, channelling them out to audiences in creative ways via the annual ‘Refuge’ program. In 2021 ‘Refuge’ takes a more urgent stance says Arts House Artistic Director, Emily Sexton.

“Our program is no longer something to imagine in the future. It’s here and we’re all dealing with it right now.” ‘Refuge 2021’ aims to shift perceptions “beyond hierarchy and bureaucracy,” Sexton says.

Throughout last year’s bushfires, the current pandemic and recent floods, it’s clear that government authorities, the emergency management sector and local community leaders must work closely together. Communities must be fully engaged and central to the planning and delivery of possible crisis solutions – Sexton.

Until 16 May, ‘Refuge 2021’ is showcasing 13 provocative new projects from a range of artists and their collaborators at venues including North Melbourne Town Hall, Flagstaff Gardens, Billabong Park, North Melbourne Community Centre as well as other offsite locations, and via digital portals online.

Highlights include the interactive PlayReactive game designed by Harry Lee Shang Lun, which draws audiences towards the moment when disasters collide. Combining the components of video and board game play, with public lectures, data visualisation, Indigenous land views, systems thinking and expert research, PlayReative invites players to build, destroy and reimagine a new city while coming face to face with experiences of catastrophe and survival. Click here to read Lun’s historic timeline of what has led to the current climate and to play the game (suitable for ages 16+).

Harry Lee Shang Lun's, Convergence, interactive game in Refuge 2021, Melbourne
Harry Lee Shang Lun, Convergence, Refuge 2021. Photograph: Anu Kumar. Courtesy the artist and Arts House, Melbourne

Artist, writer and member of this mob art collective, Neika Lehman, presents ‘I am here, You are there, I miss you’, a six-panel window commission positioned on the North Melbourne Town Hall. The work reflects on personal feelings shared between people in Melbourne, as well as what was felt, but not necessarily spoken about during the challenges of the past year.

Latai Taumoepeau’s ‘MASS MOVEMENT’ invites audiences to connect deeply with the experience of forced relocation via a series of audio-works, which take listeners on a poetic and participatory exploration across Melbourne waterways from Naarm to Birrarung. Then, ‘MASS MOVEMENT FOLAU: The Arrival’ motions a mass choreography of 100 bodies drawing on a flag semaphore and its use for emergency communication. Click here to participate in an orchestrated movement of drumming and percussive dance, at Flagstaff Gardens on May 16 at 3pm.

Developed in collaboration with Boonwurrung Elder N’arwee’t Carolyn Briggs and sound artist Theo McMahon, Cass Lynch’s audio and essay recording ‘Watershed’ dives into the rich history of Melbourne’s waterways and highlights the resilience of Country and the meaning of change. Find a quiet place and click here to listen, and to read Lynch’s telling of Birrarang-ga, the River Country, the largest wetland in Australia, which the artist reveals is today buried under the built landscape of North Melbourne.

Keg de Souza’s ‘Not a Drop to Drink’ installation and series of performative meals addresses issues of food and water shortages as preparation for climate crisis. The drought responsive menu has been developed in consultation with Indigenous Elders, farmers, water-policy lawyers and botanists, with meals designed by Mabu Mabu’s Nornie Beru. ‘Not a Drop to Drink’ kicks off inside a temporary architectural site accompanied by an immersive soundscape created by Madeleine Flynn and Tim Humphrey. Bookings are not required. More information is available here.

Keg de Souza's, Not a Drop to Drink, for Refuge 2021, Melbourne
Keg de Souza, Not a Drop to Drink, Refuge 2021. Photograph: Rafaela Pandolfini. Courtesy the artist and Arts House, Melbourne

Book Launch: Black Wattle is a print publication created by this mob arts collective, which is launching at Footscray Community Arts Centre on Wednesday 5 May at 6pm. Forty pages compile essays, poetry, photography, collages and illustrations by five key artists who reveal conversations they exchanged throughout lockdown, which reflect on waterways, backyard gardens, thinking locally and relationships to place. This is a free event, RSVP is essential click here.

The natural world should be at the forefront of our vision for a sustainable future, yet we continue to plunder it with our detritus ways. With the certainties of climate crisis biting at our heals ‘Refuge 2021’ calls attention to climate change, and the urgent need for more cohesive action in crisis management from all levels of the community.

Jump onboard and explore the full calendar of events in ‘Refuge 2021’ at artshouse.com.au