Cultural looting, the metaverse and more explored at Adhocracy 2022 – CityMag

Adhocracy, Vitalstatistix’s annual hothouse for audiences and multidisciplinary arts projects, offers a tantalizing program of work-in-progress showings, artist talks and workshops.

“I regard the theater as the greatest of all art forms,” Oscar Wilde once said, “the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being.”

This year’s lineup for Vitalstatistix’s Adhocracy amply demonstrates this, as well as the power of dance and visual art to similarly deliver.

The 2022 Adhocracy program also offers audiences an opportunity to see up close the process of making some of the works, including Death of a Bitcoin Server Repairman.

Mary Angley is one of the writers and performers behind the show. They are interested in producing theater that is both lowbrow and highbrow, serving up big philosophical ideas in a humorous and accessible package.

“I’ve wanted to do something with Death of a Salesman for a long time, because I like its socialist, anti-capitalist politics,” Mary says.“It was only when the Bitcoin crash and the rise of virtual reality came about that we got this idea to combine them and deconstruct the play in this way.”

The synopsis is very of the now.

Lead character Billy Lotion is trying to get rich by mining Bitcoin, but the price is crashing and a climate apocalypse is happening, so he’s having trouble holding it all together. Billy escapes his problems by jumping into virtual reality worlds where he tries to recreate Death of a Salesman with his AI girlfriend, Belle.

Death of a Bitcoin Server Repairman is a technology test case for Mary, who is working alongside Lucy Haas-Hennessey and long-time collaborators Caitlin Ellen Moore and Dan Thorpe for the show. The group is exploring what can be done in theater that can’t be done on film. “We’re really excited to start playing around with tech and VR headsets,” Mary says.

During Adhocracy, they’ll hold Q&A sessions on Bitcoin and VR to understand what aspects of these nascent technologies resonate with audiences. It’s important to Mary, though, to preserve “the ritual of having people in the space having that communal experience”.

“Right now, we’re making a lot of work about climate change, a lot of work that examines the gender binary, to get people thinking about those kinds of issues,” they say.

“But we also just want people to have a good time… We’re constantly trying to find ways to get people engaged with theater and with these big philosophical ideas.”

‘We Loot’. This picture: James Nguyen

Also appearing at Adhocracy is Melbourne-based James Nguyen and his Adelaide-based uncle Nguyen Cong Ai. In We Loot the duo invites audiences to consider the impact of cultural theft and explore the deeply felt experience of the destruction of one’s own cultural heritage.

“With a lot of migrants, we love to collect some of our own heritage,” James explains. “We go on auction sites, we buy different things, and we surround ourselves in our homes, because we have this sense of loss.”

The work came out of a Zoom call between him and Cong Ai. James recalls they were chatting when his uncle spotted a pot that James had purchased. “And he’s like, ‘Oh, that looks like a pot I dug up’,” James says.

The pot was from a time after the Vietnam War ended in 1975, when farming land was seized by the Communist government. “People were just living off rations on their own land,” James says.

To survive, his family, who lived in the mountains, traded for fish and salt with relatives living near the coast. What they traded were pots and other artefacts they dug up from the ancient gravesites, including those of their own relatives. These were sold on the black market for cash, making their way to Japanese, Hong Kong and Thai collectors and onto the European, Australian and New Zealand markets. Decades later, some of these objects are returning home.

“The irony is that our cultural objects went in very similar pathways to the boat people,” James says. “These objects also came to the same countries where the refugees ended up. Except they ended up in private collections and museum collections.

“Now, when you see Vietnamese ceramics and objects, a lot of them were actually collected during the 1970s – the same time that my uncle was stealing from the gravesites.

“So, we have a situation where things that got buried with your ancestor are also a form of insurance for your own safety and your own survival. But once we’ve managed to escape, once we’ve been exiled or displaced elsewhere, what happens if we take back our objects?

We Loot is thinking about how, as displaced people, we have these stories of heartbreaking cultural desecration… and how to still pay honor to our ancestors after the fact when we’re not on our own lands.”

There are many more work-in-progress shows to be seen as part of Adhocracy 2022. For more information, visit the website.

See the full program at the Adhocracy 2022 website.

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