PSi #21 Fluid States - Australia, Fluid States Melbourne Report #1 by Felipe Cervera, Australia Correspondent

Fluid States Melbourne Report #1

by Felipe Cervera

12 October 2015

PSi#21 Fluid States – Melbourne: Performing Mobilities

PDF available here

Performing Mobilities’ Assembly has come to an end. Four days of intense interactions that covered many of the angles through which we can approach, study and perform mobility. Walking, talking, dancing, thinking and speaking about mobility in many voices and sounds. Tensions, contestations, agreements, differences and intersectionalities that no doubt will keep the attendees’ thoughts busy for a time to come.

This is the third cluster of Fluid States that I cover. After a remote coverage of Panama and a visit to Delhi earlier in the year, Melbourne has been such a fantastic third stop in my yearlong adventure. Due to a saga of institutional and personal negotiations, what was once the plan to do an exchange semester at the University of Melbourne, slowly turned out to be a visiting scholar-correspondent –volunteer-residency combo at RMIT. And given the circumstances, it could not have been any better. Not only have I been very productive in my own work but I have also been able to help a very small team to organize something very big. Mick Douglas, Kate  Riggs and Amaara Raheem have welcomed me so warmly – We have formed a very special team. Working with Mick is a pleasure. He has the capacity of making rigor and discipline feel so relaxed and accessible. 

I have been here for almost a month and much has happened, so there is plenty that comes to my mind when I ask myself how to respond to such an intense experience. It comes to mind the first impression that I had when I looked at how thick the program ended up being: ‘This doesn’t look like a local conference at all’ – I thought. But then again, Australia is huge… so there you go, huge country, thick local program. I guess that there is much more that I want to say regarding the dimension of this cluster and the ways in which different research agendas have come together under the umbrella topic of ‘performing mobilities’ but I am not sure that I can offer that reflection yet. I will, however, offer three brief reflections about what I take away with me as I leave this cluster and move on to visit Manila in a couple of weeks.


For me the crucial point of the Assembly program happened during Friday 9th October, and especially in a round table on disability arts that happened on that day’s afternoon session. With great chairing by Eddie Paterson and generous contributions by Bree Hadley, Lachlan andrews, Yumi Yumimare and Janice Florence, I think that it was during that panel that I became fully engaged with thinking about the intersectionalities within the larger umbrella of mobility. Janice Florence is Artistic Director of Weave Movement Theatre, an inclusive dance theatre company. During one of her interventions there was a moment that struck me deep. She shared how often her works ellicit responses like Aw, that was moving! For me that bitter joke was the key into the conference and I am very appreciative of that because the reflection that it triggered has stayed with me throughout the assembly and will probably do so as I keep moving, as I go to Manila and then back home and continue to work on my dissertation. 

The meanings, politics, ethics, and aesthetics of being able or not being able to move… I leave with that framework at the back of my head.

Secondly, I think that the assembly dinner on that same Friday night can be appreciated as a momentous compression of the several lines of inquiry that were used to speak about mobility. Dinner was cooked by Tamil Feasts – a social enterprise launched to give opportunities to asylum seekers in Australia to make their way into society – and was served in a performance that had the tables moving around the space as one tried to negotiate one’s own way to grab a plate in the mist of everybody trying to do the same. There was also a table with Patrick Jones on top of it, performing some sort of botanic taxonomy of the plants that he cultivates. Jones is a collaborator of Artist as Family, a collective that works around the intersections of performance and eco-sustainability. Just moments before dinner he shared with us the adventures he and his family went through as they all embarked in a bicycle trip around Australia in which they ate exclusively what the land could offer them locally. Like Patrick, many of the participants in the Assembly had special dietary requirements. This is probably the academic gathering with the most vegetarians, vegans, locavores and whatnot that I have ever been to. So I think that the dinner was some sort of compilation of mobilities: the mobility of migrants, of scholars, social mobility, the mobility of food, performance addressing mobility, etc. And I guess that I am addressing this moment mainly because there was food involved. Being the food lover that I am, I was very excited to come to Australia because, well, I live in Singapore and almost all of the meat I consume there comes from here. I was looking forward to eat some good Australian season lamb… in Australia! But to my surprise I landed in a team that eats very little or almost none meat, so you know… whenever in Rome. I have therefore been positively inspired to eat less meat. Added to that, throughout the last few days the land, our relationship to it and the food that we bring out of it has had an important role in our proceedings.

The intersections of food, land, performance, and mobility – I also leave with new interest lingering in my thoughts. 

Lastly, as I mentioned before, I ended up being heavily involved in the organization of the Assembly. I am only beginning to digest this experience so I don’t want to rush into a quick reflection as I think that I have enough material to unpack. I will probably address this in a few weeks time in Manila, where Fluid States reconvenes next and in which I am also a visiting correspondent.

However the first possibility to think through it that springs to mind and that could offer a serious inquiry into performance practice is related to the mobility of volunteers and the mobility of help. This is a topic that was somehow present in many of the papers that were read during the Assembly, yet never fully fleshed out. The scope of volunteer mobility is broad, from maritime volunteers in the Greenpeace vessels, relief volunteers in zone of disaster, political volunteers in campaigns, religious missionaries all around the planet, scholarly volunteers in the organizing of conferences and university-based events, etc.  Each of these examples have their own particularities and intersections, so I wonder whether the different types of offering help across nations, regions and continents have something in store for our collective reflections during the last days and onwards in our future endeavors. And I also think that there might be something to be said about the relationship between performance scholarship and volunteering.  What happens when we, as scholars and artists, place ourselves in a position of volunteers?  Where can we look for the performance of transnational help? That is an honest question because I don’t know, and because with that question brewing in my mind I also leave.


Copyright –  Felipe Cervera  (2015) “Fluid States Melbourne Report #1”, PSi #21 Fluid States: Performances of UnKnowing LOG, ed. Marin Blazevic, Bree Hadley and Nina Gojic, Performance Studies international (PSi), 1 January 2015-31 December 2015, available


Tags: Identities Bodies Corporealities in Performance   Memory Testimony and Performance  Mobility Travel Transport and Performance   Performance Studies in the Pacific  

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