Review: What we can learn from small-town arts festival Cementa17

April 28th 2017

Kandos, a small town three and a half hours north-west of Sydney, was originally established for the production of cement.

A sludgy, supple substance at first, then rigid and remarkably dense when dry, cement formed the foundation upon which the community was able to prosper. With the closure of the cement factory in 1999, in recent years it has been another, even stronger substance which solidifies the town’s future – Art.

For Cementa17, over sixty local and established artists exhibited or performed in diverse locations around town. Alex Gawronski sent vibrations through a corrugated iron carport to interrogate the way we think of the weather. Teena McCarthy’s installation inside the local church explored questions of post-colonial identity. Super Critical Mass re-purposed the community hall as the site of a hair-tingling choral performance, while Pagoda Parkour engaged the talents of youth from Western Sydney to choreograph a beautiful movement piece specific to the natural features of the landscape.

The festival isn’t only a means of stimulating the local economy. Nor does it simply afford art-lovers from urban areas an enjoyable weekend away. At Kandos, the art seeps into collective gaps in knowledge and hardens, binding a range of discourses and people along a common thread of long-term cultural revision and evolution. Within this understanding, art leaves the museum and comes to be understood as embedded cultural practice.

Unique to Cementa17 was its engagement with the land upon which it occurred. This included not only the circulation of knowledge regarding sustainability, but also ways of thinking of the land from Aboriginal perspectives. It is not surprising that these two concerns intersected in many of the projects undertaken over the four days. This dedicated engagement with the particularities of place ensured that Cementa17 could not have happened anywhere else but in Kandos.

Words: Sebastian Henry-Jones

 

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