Foodways Melbourne Procession & Feast

A range of factors led to Melbourne, and to coming for a full six months, but the “inciting incident” was an invitation from the organizers of thePerformance Studies international conference (PSi22, “Performance Climates”) to curate an event for the opening night of the conference. We knew there would be some kind of budget, and we knew there would be a built-in audience of some of the most interesting folks from around the world and from Australia, so we jumped at the chance.

The other “given circumstances” we began with were that the opening of the conference would be Bruno Latour‘s keynote address on the Parkville campus of Uni Melbourne, and that the space booked for the opening reception/dinner/party was the Meat Market, a huge, romantic theatre space about a kilometer away in North Melbourne, the site of the city’s historic meat market.

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“Bump-in” at the Meat Market–pizza truck backing in, “Climate Chorus” visible rehearsing just inside.

So we were tasked with getting a few hundred guests across town in Melbourne’s winter weather to some kind of event appropriate to both our Foodways Melbourne project and the conference themes of Performance Climates.  We were intrigued by the possibilities, but from the moment we began people were warning us to expect likely rain, wind, and chill on the night.

We knew from the start that we wanted to engage with the walk from the campus to the Meat Market, rather than letting the conference pause after Latour and begin again at the party, with attendees left on their own to make the trip. So we set about figuring out how to take care of and entertain participants along the route, without slowing them down too much or making them stand around in the rain. Along with the conference organizers, we were also concerned with the need to help new visitors to Melbourne navigate the walk easily.

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Laurie Beth conducting traffic as the keynote lecture concludes.

Around 7:15, conferees left the lecture hall after Latour’s talk, and Laurie Beth and a team of volunteers greeted each participant and gave them a sash made of red-checked gingham.

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Each sash displayed a text from our Foodways research in Melbourne, something someone had said to us about Melbourne food culture over the course of the last 5 months (see previous post).

 

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Outside the building, participants were guided by more apron-clad volunteers, many of them holding large gingham flags, lining the whole route to the Meat Market.

As they passed through the arch under the Biosciences building, we served them hot miso soup from Eskies, poured into the Keepcups we had designed for the conference to give away to every participant.

We heard many reports that the soup was welcome and warming, as it was quite chilly and had begun to rain heavily just as the keynote talk ended.

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Brave volunteer and stalwart anti-imperialist Amara Raheem stands ready with Anzac biscuits.

A bit further on, two more volunteers handed out Anzac biscuits for further sustenance. We were interested in these cookies as “typically Australian”, but had also been wary of possible militaristic associations. The history of the biscuit is undeniably linked to a pointless loss of life at Gallipoli in 1915 (nonetheless a moment when many traditionalist Australians felt their country came into its own on the world stage), but we were also persuaded that the recipe had since become more generically and less politically “Australian.” (We’ve also heard that Anzac biscuits are popular in London coffee shops because of the strong New Zealand influence there).

At the corner of Grattan and Royal Parade, we had more than half a dozen hardy, sodden volunteers helping participants cross the wide busy streets with their short crossing lights. At the far corner the brand new cafe in the brand new cancer center served up sausages.

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A bit further on, participants could wash all this down with a taste of White Rabbit Dark Ale at Bev & Mick’s Turf Club Hotel.

As they entered the lobby of the Meat Market, a dozen performers greeted the line of walkers. This was the “Climate Chorus”, which we thought up ourselves, but which was organized, developed, and executed under the leadership of honors theatre students: Joey Lai & Jack Currie, who we’d worked with in several ways over the year. The chorus was inspired in part by the sound of the hawkers in the nearby Queen Victoria Market; it was also motivated in part by the desire of the conference organizers to explore “climate” as a broad theme, including global climate change, of course, but also social, political, artistic, and educational climates. Here’s some very rough video shot on the fly by Jojin Van Winkle; we weren’t trying to capture audio really, so it’s pretty harsh, but it gives an idea of the atmosphere at the entrance.

And here’s a prettier shot of the climate chorus warming up:

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The Climate Chorus included Sarah Adams, James Bolton, AliceCavanagh, Jack Currie, Brioney Farrell, David Harris, JosephJ Lai, Andrea Noemi Mendez, Tim Phillips, Zachary Pidd, & Bella Vadiveloo.

This liminal entrance space delivered participants to Michael and a volunteer team inside the space proper. Each attendee was guided along a velvet rope line to a small stage, where the glamorous Robert Walton and Kaylene Tan introduced each one by name and read the “Foodways” from their sashes.

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At the opposite end of the stage, Peter Stevens (seen here in action next to his son-in-law, conference organizer Eddie Paterson) greeted everyone graciously yet again, helped them to a free drink from the Arts House bar staff, and directed them toward the food options.

We put a lot of effort (and delicious research time) into curating food for this event, with the aim of reflecting some of the diversity of Melbourne’s food culture. The effect was inspired in part by the “night markets” around town, especially at Queen Vic, where multiple food stalls serve up food and drink in a smoky, bustling atmosphere.

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The effect was dramatically heightened by the efforts of Tony MacDonald and his crew, who threw dramatic lighting onto the gingham table cloths, the vendors, and the original sculptural animal heads that look down from the Meat Market’s pillars.

Foods on the Walk included:

At the Meat Market:

Rather than programming a discreet entertainment portion of the evening, we wanted to fill the event with ambient and intermittent performativity. Key to this was Dan Rizk, who performs as DJ MzRizk and who responded perfectly (and with a reliable can-do cool) to the prompt to play an all-Australian mix that could come in and out to support first the introductions of everyone, and then the “Toasts” and “Climate Reports” that we interspersed throughout the evening. Michael, Dan, and the fantastic sound/light tech Taran intermittently broke into the party vibe to introduce our toasters and reporters:

The “Toasts” were moments of celebration:

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For his opening toast, Richard Frankland read a piece inspired by Gil Scott-Heron’s “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” in which he insisted that the revolution IS being televised every day.

Angharad Wynne-Jones toasted the lives and struggles of artists, Marin Blazevic offered the first of what would be several call-backs from this conference to the Fluid States events that had been held around the world in the previous year, Maaike Bleeker toasted the organization’s Future Advisory Board, and Eddie Paterson toasted the conference he so carefully curated.

The “Climate Reports” were short performative pieces touching on different interpretations of climate from different continents:

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David Karoly, an actual and very eminent climate scientist, reported on the actual atmospheric climate, but also in a way issued a toast and a call to action.

 

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Sarah Bay-Cheng offered a sarcastic report on the political climate in the United States, asserting that things are just fine there.

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Camila Marambio, right, and Sarita Gálvez reported in a mournful wail from South America.

Rachel Swain and Dalisa Pigram  (of Cut the Sky) reported from an imaginary future Australia, while Jazmin Llana brought virtually an entire dance/theatre troup to the stage to report from the Philippines.

This was more than enough material to fill the evening, and the crowd had started to thin when we brought out the final treat of the evening, lamingtons from Ministry of Cakes (another iconic Australian food.) Everyone was pretty full by this point, but lamingtons keep well and we enjoyed them at coffee breaks for the next couple of days.

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Lamingtons on parade.

We had a blast that night, and felt like we’d helped bring our project and the conference agenda together in a compelling and fun way. To be sure, everyone got rained on, and a few people were grumpy, but we thoroughly enjoyed welcoming, guiding, and nourishing this crowd and these ideas.

Finally, a massive thank you to all whose volunteer efforts made the evening fun, functional, and safe. A partial list of those we haven’t already mentioned here: Adele Varcoe, Ali Mikulyak,  Alice Lewis,  Amaara Raheem,  Amelia  Burke,   BJ Torio,  Brooke Rayner,  Chris Babinskas,  Danielle  McCarthy,  Erli Guan,  George Akl,  Harley Hefford,  Helen Bullard,  Josh Abrams,  Juliana Keller,  Kat Lieder,  Katherine Mezur,  Liam Smith,  Louisa King,  Mich Harrington,  Rajni Shah, Ruby Johnson,  Sarah Berry, Tania Splawa-Neyman.

One thought on “Foodways Melbourne Procession & Feast

  1. Pingback: Foodways Melbourne Wrap-Up | Spatula & Barcode

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