July/August Feature Artists: 110%

Aggressively optimistic,  110% is at your service. Consisting of three members – Kieran Bryant, Beth Dillon and Lachlan Herd – the interdisciplinary collective creates performative, sculptural and installation artworks that respond to the triumphs and challenges of being a 21st century artist. In anticipation of their upcoming work Holiday Feelings, which will be presented at the Underbelly Arts Festival (1-2 August 2015) on Cockatoo Island, we chatted about self-actualisation, international postage, and costume-making.

Vanessa Low: You have worked together as a collective since 2013. How did your collaborative relationship come about?

Kieran Bryant: I guess it started with our friendship. We were all working together at Arc [UNSW Art & Design] and we became friends. Then we decided to go away to Fowler’s Gap on a residency together and while we were there we started toying with the idea of working collaboratively. We kind of happened upon the Underbelly Festival application and decided to apply together. We put together a video to support the application which was really hilarious, and that was the first work we ever did as a group. And that was the beginning of –

Beth Dillon: Something beautiful.

V: Several of 110% projects focus on self-actualisation and self-improvement, such as the project conducted for Underbelly Arts in 2013 which included large banners with positive affirmations such as “ACT REFLECT PERFECT” and “PRACTISE SUCCESSFUL PRACTICE.” Why is positivity and improvement such an important focus?

B: We’re responding to the pressure of doing works that engage with public spaces and audiences, with funding structures and institutional frameworks, and how they favour a positive approach –

Lachlan Herd: and the pressure of instigating social change –

B: And how do you justify making artwork? A lot of the time artistic practice is justified as helping society, so we asked ourselves how does this shape the way you see yourself as an artist and your relationship with the audience? Then we thought about this issue on a larger scale – how does positive thinking as a whole affect the way people interact with the world? So for the Underbelly Arts work we became these aggressively optimistic cheerleaders on Cockatoo Island and were extremely positive, but positive without thinking about anyone else. We would just march through the festival crowds and project pure exuberance to the point of ignoring everyone else’s needs in the space. So I guess it was a tongue-in-cheek look at how positive thinking can change the way you interact with people; a kind of dogmatic approach; “you will be happy!” No space for failure, no space for negativity. And is this perspective helpful?

K: We looked at a lot of rallies and military processions. Our outfits were quasi- utilitarian.

B: We were looking at positive trajectories in our choreography. Never backwards, only forward!

K: Or never to the side.

L: Only direct right-angles.

Left and right: 110% (photo credit: George Popov)

V: The role of the artist in the 21st century is also a theme of many of your collaborations. Can you describe some characteristics of this changing role and what are some challenges?

L: At the moment we are looking at the artist as a service-staff figure. Especially in the context of these public festivals and events as an opportunity to provide a service to the community.

B: We are thinking about artistic labour within a festival like Underbelly Arts, what do audiences expect of an artist in this situation? Because there is an element of fun that is assumed. At the moment, we are looking at art as a holiday, where people are looking to come and have a good time and also feel culturally engaged. We are also interested in the idea of artistic professionalism at the moment, because it is a big focus in any art school education. What role will you play in society and how is a ‘professional’ artist different from someone doing watercolours in their shed in the South Coast? How do you engage with society in a professional way?

K: How do you reach this certain standard and maintain this standard?

B: Such as codes of conduct, or when is an artist no longer an amateur? Especially if you’re doing conceptual or ephemeral works that don’t necessarily get sold; how do you then define yourself as a professional?

V : You all have independently incorporated performance into your practices, but how does this differ and/or feed into your collaborative practices?

L: Well, we all bring something to the game.

K: Our own unique flavour to the pot.

B: We’re like a wonderful performance stew.

L: It’s hard to pinpoint the stuff that’s separately contributed though.

B: Because we started off as friends, it’s always been a very informal, collaborative process.

K: It’s very organic.

B: We all work in similar ways with our body and the landscape in our individual practices.

L: Kieran and I both work with endurance and physical limitations in our performances.

K: There are definitely similarities but also slight differences between us. I would say that Beth’s work contains more humour than mine.

B: We also all work in costume as well. And because we all have an interest in bodily gestures and physicality – and this idea of an action repeated over and over – I think that our work intersects well and that comes out in our collaborative practice.

Left – right: Best In Show; View From the Other Side; Ok, Cool, Great (Photo credits: Beth Dillon)

V : Your recent show at Archive Space, Positive Returns, reflected on long- distance collaboration and put on display various motivational care packages that you had sent each other. What kinds of challenges did you face whilst trying to communicate long-distance and what were the most successful kinds of affirmation?

K: The biggest challenge, I found, was time difference.

B: And postage!

K: Like not addressing things properly and getting it sent back to me!

B: Germany has a really rigid postage system. When Kieran’s package arrived [from Australia], it was sent to the customs office because they suspected it was something very valuable that I was trying to sneak in without paying tax. So then I had to go to the customs office and they were going to charge me €20 to open it. And then they opened it and laughed and said, “this isn’t worth anything! You can have it for free.”

L: When I sent something from Spain, the guy at the post office stole it. He was looking at the package for ages and asked “what’s inside this; is there a phone in here?” and he looked at it for a while, then he looked at me, and then he put it on the desk next to him… and it never made it to Beth.

V: And what were the most successful kinds of affirmation?

B: I think that the best part of it, for me, was thinking about Kieran and Lachlan and having this ongoing idea of care and care-giving in a thoughtful gift, which made me feel a lot closer to them despite the time difference and the 18 months that we were physically separated.

K: The project spanned 6-7 months, from the beginning to exhibition. So it was nice to have that connection that was ongoing. I remember just getting emotional a lot when I received the packages from Lachlan and Beth.

L: It’s an interesting process thinking “what would make this person feel good at this point in time?” and trying to produce an artwork around that. It’s mutually rewarding.

B: Especially because we put the limitation on ourselves that the object had to be posted, so it had to be a physical object. And because none of us had a lot of money, it had to be something that would be quite cheap and light and would not be stolen by someone because of its material value.

V: Your projects have recently incorporated aspects of the service-industry, such as At Your Service (2015) and the upcoming Holiday Feelings (1-2 August, 2015). What strikes you about the role of the artist as service- provider?

B: The whole service theme came out of our focus on audience interaction and how this relationship changes over time when you are repeating a performance action over and over during festival presentation.

L: You’d be surprised at how it varies between each one.

V: In the lead-up to the Underbelly Arts Festival, you are recently undertaking a residency at Brand X Studios. Can you describe what you’ve been up to in the studio?

K: We’re trying to make as much of the physical objects that will be part of the work that will be installed on the island. Lachlan’s been constructing a lot of room-dividers.

L: A lot of wood-work.

K: Also a lot of costume-making, which Beth and I have been doing.

B: We’ve got our team uniforms and also the volunteer uniforms as well. Kieran’s been doing fittings so that we get the right look.

V: What will the costumes look like?

B: They’re a mix of leisure and active-wear, but also sort of receptionist/airline steward outfits.

K: It’s meant to have a slight neo-classical vibe.

B: Think… “sporty-Caesar.”

[Beth shows a sash from a costume]

B: The performance is also exploring hierarchies of service as well. We’re interested in this relationship between service provider and client as a parallel to the artist/audience dynamic. We’ve been looking at leisure satisfaction theories and certain behaviours such as reclining, observation, refreshment. We want people to feel welcome and free to interact with the space but also that we are facilitating this experience as hosts.

V: So it’s meant to be quite relaxing but also self-aware.

K+B+L: Yeah.

Image 3
Eyes on the Smize (photo credit: Beth Dillon)

V: Can you describe your upcoming work Holiday Feeling, especially the concepts of ‘the Oasis’ and the guided tours?

L: ‘The Oasis’ is a space where people experience a leisurely time.

K: Like a holiday away from the festival within the festival.

L: An area of respite. But then the tour is taking people into the festival, offering an elevated VIP treatment. So they can still have a leisurely experience whilst being taken through the festival in style.

K: It allows them to see the festival from a different perspective.

B: Like a hosted experience. “We will take you to see the wonders of Underbelly and you will get to feel very special and important.”

V: Will people have to sign-up to those tours?

L: We have this golden-ticket system, which will be randomly selected by the people at the gates.

B: We have another tour as well. It’s called ‘The Remote Experience’ which will be a slideshow presentation of the festival which people can enjoy without having to physically interact with the festival.

V: You’re really giving people exactly what they want, which is to feel cultured without having to put in the effort. So you’re giving them what they want but making them feel self-reflective about it.

Text and photos by Vanessa Low.

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110% | Kieran Bryant | Beth Dillon | Lachlan Herd

Underbelly Arts Festival
1-2 August 2015
Cockatoo Island
Buy tickets here