The This is Not Art (TiNA) Festival is, despite what the name would suggest, almost definitely about art. Well, the misunderstood, the non-mainstream, and the emerging arts, anyway.
TiNA, a five day emerging arts festival held in Newcastle every year, is a showcase of a smorgasbord of creative pursuits. Comprised of a number of smaller festivals – Crack Theatre Festival (theatre arts), Critical Animals (creative research), Electrofringe (electronic arts), Sound Summit (independent music), and the National Young Writers’ Festival (as the name suggests, writing) – TiNA operates buffet style. Audiences can travel from panel to workshop, from gallery to performance, partaking of tidbits from any of the smaller festivals. Best of all, almost every show throughout TiNA is free. This festival is for Struggling Artists, after all.
TiNA is spread out throughout Newcastle, utilizing many of the abandoned buildings in the city. They range between big and creaking, or small and cozy. They are dimly lit by fairy lights (for poetry readings) or neon-bright (for improv theatre performances). The ceilings are decorated with chandeliers made from kitchen utensils, or festooned with strips of vintage fabric in place of traditional streamers. The rooms and performance spaces help make Newcastle one big art gallery.
Throughout the festival I attended mostly panels and workshops organized by the National Young Writers’ Festival branch, though I also attended many of the outrageous performances put on by the Crack Theatre Festival. The great thing about TiNA is that anyone with even a vague inclination towards the arts should be able to find something that will engage them.
The highlights of Friday included Women of Letters, a reading celebrating the art of letter writing. The reading was co-curated by Michaela McGuire and Marieke Hardy, and featured a number of writers reading out letters they had written to “the photo they wished had never been taken.” To the audience’s delight, a montage of clips from her youthful acting career accompanied Melbourne writer Marieke Hardy’s letter reading. The audience was encouraged to participate, and were given pre-stamped postcards to write to anyone they wanted. (My housemate should be receiving her letter any day, now.)
Friday evening saw a performance of Good Clean Fun (which while certainly fun, wasn’t necessarily good nor clean in the morally pure sense of the word), by performing troupe The Caravan of Doom. The show saw a series of short skits about celebrity culture, followed by feats of athleticism and daring. Bodies were contorted and lifted to dizzying heights over terrifyingly hard wooden floorboards. One gentleman managed to stand on a carton of eggs – and the audience member who questioned whether the eggs were real, was forced to smash two against his forehead. (They were real.) The show finished with the performers competing to see which of them could french kiss the greatest number of audience members (yours truly was one such, ahem, victim), before encouraging a room-wide dance-off to the Pixies’ Where Is My Mind?.
Saturday was off to a slightly more demoralizing start, with a panel titled Speak To My Agent, which basically consisted of a discussion about how difficult it is to get published. The speakers came from a number of fields – Ryan Paine (ex-editor of Voiceworks), Caro Cooper (editor for Text Publishing and writer for Frankie), Steph Bowe (young published author), Stuart Glover (academic and Founding Director of Brisbane Writers Festival) and Louise Thurtell (publisher from Allen and Unwin) – and all brought an interesting perspective, backed by a lot of experience.
Saturday night saw the National Young Writer’s Festival hosting an American Gothic themed ball, and the pundits and punters alike dressed in costume and danced to thematically-appropriate music. Sunday morning was spent browsing the zine fair component of TiNA. Zines are small, cut-and-paste photocopied magazines, made by creative types about their favoruite things. Zine fairs provide an opportunity for makers to swap and buy each other wares, and share their little packages of creative goodness with the broader community. Among the smaller zines were also tables selling some of Australia’s independent literary journals, such as Kill Your Darlings, The Lifted Brow, Eve’s Harvest and Voiceworks.
A number of exciting events fought for supremacy on Sunday night. These included a spelling bee, during which one contestant was defeated during the first round for misspelling ‘possess’ (a deceptively simple word); and a Year Twelve Party, a social event organised by the Crack Theatre team, which blended the lines between audience and performer, set to a great soundtrack of uber-pop classics.
One of the most prevalent themes of the festival – demonstrated by speakers on panels, and by the people thronging the streets – was the idea of doing what you love; whether it is writing or singing stripping off your kit in confronting theatre skits, or critically analyzing the people getting their kit off. The people who participate in TiNA are passionate about they do. They may live in a state of perpetual poverty, they may never achieve fame or fortune, and they may have to bear the jibes that come with being a ‘misunderstood artist’ for the rest of their career. But that’s the point.
TiNA is not about art. Or at least, it’s not entirely about art. TiNA is about (and it seems a shame to close a piece about the alternative and emerging arts with such a clichéd line, but sometimes clichés say it all) a way of life.
For more information on This Is Not Art (TiNA), visit: http://thisisnotart.org/
For more information on the National Youth Writers’ Festival (NYWF), visit: http://www.youngwritersfestival.org/