Verb. to move somewhere in large numbers.
On Saturday 1st October, SWARM:Collective Actions on Queen Street, saw five artists take over pockets of the street. Curated by Branch Nebula (Lee Wilson and Mirabelle Wouters) and commissioned as a part of Campbelltown Art Centres live art program, the event sought to enliven and activate the street with new works.
Usually when people congregate on Queen Street, the main thoroughfare of Campbelltown, someone calls the police. Mainly because it has been allowed to become an underused public space, so anything going on arouses suspicion. In the early days you could see a horse pulled cart as residents took to the street mall for their essential wares. As the township grew into a city, the mall was placed at the end of the main street and one way traffic continues to give way to pedestrians. No longer the commercial heart of the city, it was allowed to fall behind the times and a seeming delay in decision making on how to reinvigorate the city centre.
In line with the current trend of art walking tours, attendees were first guided to the Lithgow Arcade for Welcome to Country and smoking ceremony. Atop the usually bollarded stage to discourage skateboarders, Wiradjuri artist Amala Groom invited attendees to assist in the construction of her work, Survivor: Gunya. With ochre applied to their faces, visitors stepped forward to assist in constructing the shelter from branches and foliage before being guided up the road.
Informed by his experience growing up in Ingleburn and the forecasted growth for the area, Denis Beaubois created Legacy (Imagining a Future). Reaching out to members of the public, including yours truly, he asked participants to answer four questions. He captured experiences of living in Campbelltown today and visions for 100 and 10,000 years into the future. Answers were captured in a text-based time capsule, which was symbolically buried on the night. Beaubois then worked with C-A-C’s school holiday program and students from local primary schools to develop a clapping rhyme containing the coordinates of the burial site.
As we continued onto Dumaresq Street, home to the independent cinema and art supply store, Bhenji Ra was found tucked into a nook under the stairwell. ‘Slay Your Oppressor(s)’ was a part of an ongoing project looking at the visibility and safety of queer bodies in suburban and rural landscapes.
Back up the street, Matthew Prest’s The Queen Street Run may not qualify as art but it was certainly entertaining. Working with local business owners, he devised a fun run and obstacle course that navigated the fire escapes, alleyways and arcades of Queen Street. Set up with hype comparable to American sport commentators, each team captain spoke to their strategy and experience in local navigation before commencing the course. Prest’s work brought activity and noise to the otherwise quiet evening.
To cap off the night, attendees were walked to the far end of Queen Street adjacent to C-A-C. Here Salote Tawale looked at the performativity of communal acts. Mai Kana Lovo translates to Come Eat Lovo. A lovo is a Fijian earth oven where food is slow cooked by a group of people. The night culminated in food and conversation on the picnic blankets whilst the last of the obstacle course participants crossed the finish line.
My highlight for the evening lay in the spontaneous in-between moments encountered by coincidence. As my friend and I made our way back to the car, the performers from Welcome to Country 90 minutes ago made their way towards the Lovo. With the waft of eucalyptus leaves smoking behind them in the wind and their voices in harmony, this spontaneous moment marked the coming together of cultures in the suburbs.
Queen Street doesn’t need more ideas, it needs action. I am not convinced these collective actions were entirely effective or necessary for local audiences to witness.
This article was first published by State of the Arts Media on May 4, 2017.