“We talk a lot about white guilt, and it is a real phenomenon. … That guilt is kind of like the wages of privilege. But I’m interested in reframing it through my work, not as guilt, but as shame. Which is a different thing. It is a profoundly different thing.”
– Sarah-Jane Norman

In the fourth episode of season three, we discuss the politically explosive work of Sarah Jane Norman, Aboriginal Australian, queer, non-binary, cross-disciplinary artist.

SJ’s whole body of work traverses performance, installation, sculpture, text, video, and sound; it is anchored in a multitude of physical disciplines, as well as the written language. SJ has presented their work at Venice International Performance Week, Spill Festival of Live Art, Fierce Festival, In Between Time, Edinburgh Festival, as well as Performance Space, Next Wave, the Australian Experimental Art Foundation, and Brisbane International Festival. A proud Indigenous Australian of both Wiradjuri and European heritage, SJ grew up in Sydney and regional NSW, but today divides their time between Australia and Berlin. Most recently, SJ Norman was one of the artists In Residence with Marina Abramovic in Sydney, and has presented their Unsettling Suite at Melbourne Festival, as part of Dancehouse’s Dance Territories program. Looking through their rich body of work, we discuss inheritance of history, continuing transgenerational trauma, and the value of dissecting the effects of the politics of colonization with the artist’s body today.

“It’s a huge amount of emotional labour that I have to do on a daily basis, not just as an artist, but as a person. But, you know, it’s the same kind of emotional labour that every person of colour or Indigenous person has to do, living in a white-dominated society. That is invisible labour. Part of my practice is to make it visible. And to make it clear, the imbalance that exists in the cultural expectations, that we’re the only ones who have to do it, and that we’re the only ones who have to carry and hold back history.”
– Sarah-Jane Norman

It is hard to speak about this episode, harder than most. Whilst we like to keep our conversations light, perhaps to demistify and disarm the inquiries we posit, it is hard to find a space of levity when we talk about the weight of history that we all carry, some more, some less. “I’m really interested in complicity,” says SJ, when describing the artistic labour she performs: “I’m really interested in blurring the line between guilt and complicity.” It is a conversation we are very proud of; but oh, how heavy the history can be.

Discussed in this episode:
is Marina Abramovic a racist?, the futility of guilt, shame as an embodied sensation, Unsettling Suite, fetishisation of oral languages, being fairer than a whitefella, the emotional labour of confronting our colonial past, when people lose it, political performance, the logocentric West, Andrew Bolt, the kids who parrot the biases that their culture teaches them, contemporary Australia, and how there is no context for racism except racism.

“Witchcraft, that’s how I do it.”
– Sarah-Jane Norman

Enjoy and stay tuned: we have more exciting and stimulating conversations to come.

Podcast bibliography:
Sarah Jane Norman Responds to Marina Abramovic, SBS, 25 August 2016
Performance artist Marina Abramovic calls Aboriginal Australians ‘dinosaurs’ in unpublished memoir, Sydney Morning Herald, 17 August 2016
Dance Territories at Melbourne Festival, 14-16 October 2016
Jessi Lewis: What The Water Gave Me, TAGG, 11 October 2016

For more information about Sarah Jane Norman and their work, check out their website.

This series of AUDIOSTAGE has been commissioned by DANCEHOUSE as part of the 2016 Keir Choreographic Award Public Program and was generously supported by the Keir Foundation.