“We try to pose ourselves impossible questions.”
– Emma Valente

In the episode four of season four, on queer performance, Jana and Beth are joined by the extraordinary Emma Valente of the performance collective The Rabble. Self-described as “an on-going conversation between its Artistic Directors Kate Davis and Emma Valente about aesthetic, space, gender, theatre and representation”, since 2006 The Rabble have created a small, but distinguished body of work. Their eleven performance pieces to date always put the female experience at its centre: sometimes through excavations of our iconographic unconscious, sometimes by shredding to bits canonical texts such as The Picture of Dorian Gray or Story of O.

Today we talk about feminism, iconography, and queering our visual heritage.

“Yes, I think [the canon] is male-dominated, without even getting into the content, and what gaze it sits through. The repetition of the male voice over and over again through history, and then legitimising it, is undoubted.”
– Emma Valente

The Rabble are, without any exaggeration, one of the most important contemporary performance outfits in Australia. Their work has been a study of all sorts of feminine outside of the narrow confines of the Australian norm, becoming more radical in parallel with the increasingly uncompromising tone of Australian feminism. In 2012, a mere fortnight after Julia Gillard’s by-now famous Parliament speech against Tony Abbott’s misogyny, Alison Croggon saw The Rabble’s Orlando and wrote:

“It’s not that a work like this makes everything better; it manifestly can’t. It’s not that it teaches you anything that you don’t know; it doesn’t. It’s that it is something. An uninhibited howl of laughter. A scream of grief. A forthright act of unshamed beauty. Female desire in all its violence, perversity and monotony, its repetitive assault on the self, its redemption, its dolour, its breath-taking, liberating lust for life. Orlando is, most of all, a work of theatre: a performance that explodes, with the white-hot fission of its full meaning, into the present moment.”

Listen to Emma as she gives a huge shout-out to the feminist queer art of our times, from post and Zoe Coombs-Marr to Zoey Dawson and Rachel Perks.

Discussed in this episode:
queer as advertisement or queer as a political project, our visual commonplaces, violence against women as always true and inevitable, Rihanna and Rosie Batty, masculine and feminine ways of making art, having an ensemble, cages and liberation, Alison Croggon, the ‘fuck it’ moment in making art, the rise of the Melbourne indie scene, rolling pins, how pornography can be so, so boring, having a coffee with anyone who asks, Story of O, the importance of context in staging a provocative work, and how backing an artist means giving them three shots.

“There’s so many boundaries. If you look at the kind of work that is on the big stages, from what was happening five years ago, it’s pretty similar. There has been slight shifts in acceptance of form, perhaps, and slight shifts in ideas of who can be at the centre of the work, what is interesting content, and there’s been many many things contributing to that shift, but I think it has been slight. When the funding crisis happened, with Brandis, there was a shrinking of courage to try new things. And I think that people of colour, and women, and queer work, got pushed out to the edges again. They’re being incorporated back in, but still treated as Other.”
– Emma Valente

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

Podcast bibliography:
Polly Borland: Smudge series
Louise Bourgeois: Structures of Existence: The Cells
Alison Croggon: Melbourne Festival: Orlando, Theatre Notes, October 2012
Julia Gillard’s misogyny speech, October 10, 2012
Sarah Lucas: Self Portraits and More Sex
Cindy Sherman: The Complete Untitled Film Stills
Gertrude Stein: Sacred Emily
Anne Thompson: Ambiguities of gender, RealTime 117
A conversation with Emma Valente and Meg Wilson, Vitalstatistix, 22 April 2016

To see more of the work by The Rabble, check out their website.

Photo of Emma at work by David Paterson.