Festival Of Live Art

10 March 2016 | 12:01 pm | Marty Shlansky

"One of the most common challenges of the FOLA works at Arts House is finding a place for yourself in the piece."

The Festival Of Live Art's program on the Town Hall Ticket is an expansive experience that pushes the conventional limits of the arts.

Situated in North Melbourne Town Hall, the range of the works on offer is vast. Some pieces take place virtually; others are in rooms throughout the Town Hall. Some even involve travelling beyond the bounds of Town Hall itself, so if you're inclined to experience everything, follow the FOLA website's advice and bring comfortable shoes.

The format is fairly unique. Most of the works can be accessed at any point throughout the night, some start in sessions you sign up for, and each week of the festival there will be two works that show only once each night on the main stage. We found ourselves in waves of angst at the prospect of trying to fit everything in, like an artistic smorgasbord — and that's kind of fulfilling. The foyer buzzes in anticipation of each main stage work, trickling off afterwards as people make their own paths, seeing works and grabbing food. This easygoing quality flew in the face of expectations, and the waves of comings and goings are charmingly endearing.

There's also a lot of dynamism in the intensities of the programmed works. Some are quite strongly sensational, others work away at the emotions with a steady and smooth quality. Many are transient experiences (especially the durational works, for those playing along at home); you can step into them, get a sense of them, and stay or go as you please. Given the potential for some content to be heavy for the viewer (content advice is present and well signed), it's a relief to be able to step out without disrupting anyone's experience.

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Yumi Umiumare's PopUp Tearoom Series stands out as a place of relaxation, while Paul Gazzola's interest in the intersection of artistic and economic activities is borne out as the FOLA Gift Shop By OSCA. Fragment 31's Scribe blurs performance and documentation to catch and release the experiences of members of the public; if you are keen to explore your experience in a liminal space between, yet within the festival, highly recommended.

Defining liveness and what distinguishes live art is obviously on the minds of the curators and creators behind the program. It's easy to dismiss such methods from afar as 'pretentious' or even 'wanky'. However, the reality is that art that doesn't simply sit behind the glass with a label underneath it is inherently pushing the envelope. Unlike the theatre, what you see at FOLA does not dwell on a stage while you sit apart from it. One of the most common challenges of the FOLA works at Arts House is finding a place for yourself in the piece.

Whether these works are portents of the future of the arts or simply temporal islands, they are worth investigating. Where the gallery is alienating and the auditorium strips individuality, live art is an engagement. Distance dissipates and both you and the artists are left bare.