Scratching The Surface

29 August 2012 | 6:45 am | Oliver Coleman

"What we’re trying to do is to take people into our shared experience of what it was to make it and to be there and to give some sense of it."

Doku Rai, appearing at Arts House this week, is a rare production: an unlikely union of like-minded artists from wildly different backgrounds, who met by chance, and who with brute determination made their work under strange and difficult circumstances. Wright details the circumstances in which up to 20 artists and production crew were living and working together: “The show was rehearsed in an abandoned colonial hotel, on an island about two hours off the coast of Dili, in complete isolation and we were living together for 24 hours a day for two months.”

Wright played one of the leads in the 2009 film Balibo. “In 2008 we went over there to shoot that film and I became really close friends with the then chief military advisor to the president and he kept flying me back and forward and simultaneously I was developing this really close friendship with this young group of Timorese artists,” he says about how the collaboration came about. The friendships Wright formed were with a group of artists from independent art company Liurai Fo'er and East Timor's most renowned band Galaxy.

The impetus that Wright felt to collaborate with his new friends was strong. “What was significant for me was meeting a group of people there, who have a completely different set of experiences but had somehow come out the other side of it with the same references, the same sense of humour, the same interest in music.” Ultimately that's what they wanted their work to be about. “Our common humanity and a shared dream,” he says.

All too often, East Timor is understood through the narrow paradigms of politics, conflict and the developing world. Doku Rai aims to undercut those assumptions by focusing on the experiences, both real and otherwise, of the individuals involved. “What we're trying to do is to take people into our shared experience of what it was to make it and to be there and to give some sense of it,” he continues. “Whatever you think you know about Timor, you don't know a fucking thing. You don't know anything.”

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Even back when Black Lung exploded onto the Melbourne theatre scene in 2006 with their debut work Avast, shown above a bar on Smith St, it was difficult to describe their chaotic and sometimes brutal aesthetic. Wright says, “In the spirit of the way that we've always made work, and certainly in the way that these artists in Timor work, it's open to volcanic shifts from night to night.” Indeed, with more festival seasons to come in Australia and then hopefully around the world, he offers, “It's the kind of production you'd never stop working on. There's too many layers and too many possibilities and far too many stories to put into the one production. So we're always aware, with this production especially, the depth of this process, that you can only ever scratch the surface.”

Doku Rai (you, dead man, I don't believe you) runs from Wednesday 29 to Sunday 2 September, Arts House, Meat Market.