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Artist Spotlight: Aaron Kirby

April 14, 2016

Meet Aaron Kirby, Canberra based poet and one of the artists who participated in a residency in Namadgi National Park that went a little off plan.

We caught up with Aaron to find out more:

Photo: Adam Thomas

Photo: Adam Thomas

Hi Aaron! Tell us a little about yourself and your practice.

I’ve been performing poetry in Canberra since 2011. I’m interested in making works that highlight the follies of my world and examine received wisdom, particularly of the loud or powerful. I am interested in social organisation: how people work and live together. I am interested in the future, and how our current practices might translate into future circumstance. I am interested in the idea of human-as-animal. We are crafty, rapacious apes that change everything we touch. We think we are very wise. And I am interested in how we negotiate our relationship with (the rest of) the natural world.


What was your experience in Namadgi? How did the landscape inspire you?

We didn’t really experience Namadgi. Namadgi was occupied by the crack soldiers of the National Parks and Wildlife Burns Unit. We laid siege to it from just over the border in Kosciuszko National Park. I was struck with how weak and vulnerable I was. While indigenous people have occupied the region for many thousands of years, I needed my civilisation’s specialised equipment and foodstuffs to survive. Without these, over three days, there would have been a very real risk of death for me.

I was also struck with how my civilisation encroaches upon even the most inhospitable of lands. The region’s wilderness was permeated with the tentacles of the Holocene, in the form of aqueducts, power lines, weather stations, concrete culverts, huts, dams and yours truly.

The third thing that occurred to me was how we talk about belonging, authenticity or autochthony. The region is full of invaders; horses, rabbits, foxes, weeds, birds, yours truly again. All interlopers, our presence the result of the sweeping changes my civilisation has caused. What is to be done with us? Where, if not the Snowy Mountains, does the Brumby belong?


Artists have a long history of engagement with the natural environment. How does this theme feature in your own practice?

As I’ve said, I’m interested in the human-as-animal, and this leads me to think about how this particularly greedy animal fits in to the rest of its ecosystem. Of course, all ecosystems are dynamic and everything is constantly in flux anyway, but humankind accelerates the speed of change far in advance of anything seen since the last major asteroid impact. I see myself through this prism, a strange ape who has, against the odds, been born into the late 20th century and is faced with a plethora of complex customs and technologies that my animal brain is only just capable of understanding. A couple of years ago I started writing with Ellie Malbon, who has a background in the natural sciences. We are both interested in the (natural) world and its future and we have a pretty natural groove of working together. We produced a long-form work called Eucapocalypse Now for Crack Theatre Festival which was also performed at You Are Here last year.


As part of the residency, you collaborated with fellow residents Eleanor Malbon and Cissi Tsang, can you tell us a little bit about the creative processes you went through, both individually, and collaboratively?

We mucked about a bit and had some conversations about what we were thinking about (see above!); did a little light writing and hiked a some. Tried to get some dirt under our fingernails. Cut a lot of firewood.


Have you ever participated in a residency program before? How can residencies help artists to develop their practice?

No, this is my first. The benefits of residencies should be obvious for artists. For the rest of society, it gets the artists out of the way for a while.


What was the best thing about your time in Namadgi?

There was the distinct possibility that someone might die, as there always is when one wanders too far from the bosom of civilisation, or dwells in small groups, or exerts oneself physically, or eats, or allows time to pass.


And what did you find challenging?

It wasn’t challenging! It was a lovely three days in the company of a friend and an almost-stranger.


Do you think this experience will influence your practice more generally? Have you had any creative breakthroughs or ideas not related to the particular project you were working on?

Too early to tell!


Without giving too much away, can you tell us a little about your creative findings as a result of the residency? What can audiences expect?

I wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise. But expect some poetry and some music about the wilderness, about outsiders, about the chill hand of frost, about place and country, about humans and control.


What do you hope audiences will take away from your presentation?

A slightly deeper soul.


What events are you looking forward to seeing at You Are Here?

4 Eyes 4 Minutes. Gonna look at some eyeballs.