To journey through another’s life is a repeating theme at this year’s Adelaide Festival. The range of artistic expression encasing this idea teaches us that to take an empathetic journey should be one of our highest goals; not least because it makes us better people, but because it opens our eyes, makes us more compassionate and gives us perspective.
Returning to the festival this year are celebrated contemporary artists, Gideon Obarzanek and Brian Lipson. Two Jews Walk into a Theatre... oscillates between generations, analysing father-son relationships, zeitgeist and honour. "We are very aware that the relationships we have with our fathers is something we can share with the audience," says Lipson. "Of course, not everyone’s experience will be the same, but people can relate to it, particularly men of course."
Two Jews Walk into a Theatre... begins with Obarzanek and Lipson, seated in the audience, playing their own fathers who discuss their sons’ upcoming performance. "The relationship starts off chummy. But they soon realise they don’t actually agree on very much… [so] the space becomes very uncomfortable," says Obarzanek. "This dramatic tension stems from their Jewish identity – Brian’s father doesn’t want people to know he’s Jewish… and my father’s response was quite the opposite," says Obarzanek. "But the heart of the work, or the centre of the piece I don’t think is about being Jewish. It’s about the relationship of children to their parents and how that passes through the generations." Lipson adds, "there’s a very potent moment when you are halfway between your father and yourself and [you realise] it’s all in there, it’s all in me."
Obarzanek and Lipson both attest to the understanding forged within them when playing their own fathers. "We both became more sympathetic toward our fathers," says Lipson. "[My father] went to a British public school which would’ve been inherently anti-Semitic, as would’ve the army, so he had to develop a protective coat… to guard against that… I’ve never had to do that you see."
At the Samstag Museum of Art, the Adelaide//International series reminds us of our national journey. The series features exhibitions by Brook Andrew, Eugenia Lim, Lisa Reihana and Ming Wong. It deals with the migratory, colonial and international stories that have come to define Australia. "In matters of Australian history there is no end to dispute – nor it seems any consensus in sight – when considering our colonial history," says Curator Gillian Brown. "Very thoughtfully, and in quite marvellous ways visually… each artist reveals positions, meditations and imaginative original thinking on the postcolonial world of their own experience…
"The 2019 Adelaide//International is about the love and recovery of Indigenous culture, and challenges questionable assumptions and the uncritically received histories of Empire. It is also about difference, marginality and displacement, and the search for personal identity amidst the suffocating flow of dominant culture."
The exhibitions use moving image as a means to engage viewers. It's a journey offering insight into the experience of receiving nations through the sweep of 18th and 19th century colonisation. Lim’s piece The Ambassador, "renders us outsiders," says Brown, thus challenging any notion of cultural superiority within us. In essence, the series is dealing with the Australian-Asian narrative. It forces us, the audience, to acknowledge our national story from the perspective of others, which can be uncomfortable.
Adelaide Festival’s visual arts installation Another Life: Human Flows/Unknown Odysseys, by curators Hercules Papaioannou and Penelope Petsini, takes us on another path. This showcases photojournalism tracking the journeys of refugees from Africa and the Middle East to the Mediterranean.
"The decision for this exhibition was taken under adverse conditions: we had no budget at all, the Syrian refugee crisis in the first half of 2016 was at its most dramatic peak," says Papaioannou. "While Greece has been receiving refugees and migrants from Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan and African states for quite some years, what made this crisis unique, and the photographs depicted this, was that a whole society was collapsing."
The nature of photojournalism exhibitions is that they offer the public a glimpse through a unique window in time. "The photographs may be amateur in quality, but they are an authentic testimony of people that went through all this," says Papaioannou. "Greek photojournalists participating in this exhibition… were in an advantageous position: they could speak the language, communicate with the locals, knew the geographic space, and felt strongly for the case, as practically in almost every Greek family there is refugee blood," says Papaioannou.
"The Odysseys of these people will largely remain unknown. Overall, though, if one reads through the exhibition narrative as a total, I think a story comes to the surface...
"And this is a story of the many."
Two Jews Walk Into a Theatre, Odeon Theatre, times vary, 6–10 Mar, $30 ADELAIDE//INTERNATIONAL, Anne & Gordon Samstag Museum of Art, 28 Feb–17 Mar, FREE