Hurstville. Unsightly concrete high-rise apartment complexes rub up against glass-windowed office blocks. Traffic congested roads are lined with real estate postered shopfronts and loitering youths. A commercial business hub, culturally diverse in population, yet overwhelmingly characterised by non-place architecture. What was once a vibrant centre for community cultural life has long ago been planted over with a shopping mega-mall. There is nothing particularly romantic or captivating about these environs, yet over two nights in April, they were completely transformed. Pitched under Angelica Mesiti’s sleek choreography of performance and video, the centre of Hurstville became a dynamic theatre, a portrait of the city viewed through the lens of a Hollywood musical.
The Begin Again was the product of Mesiti’s collaboration with residents of the Hurstville local government area in a project aligned with the council’s strategic plan for community development and initiated in partnership with the Museum of Contemporary Art’s C3West project. Inspired in part by the Nuit Blanche of Paris,The Begin Again injected a kind of nostalgic glamour, performative memory and hidden beauty into the site. The series of four videos and one live performance wrapped their way along a small pathway from Memorial Square beside the railway station, through one of the many non-descript alleyways to the commercial and social hub of the Westfield shopping centre’s rooftop carpark. Here a crowd of art pilgrims and passers-by were lured toward the black-light flooded hot purple haze ofParking Lot Dragon, the spectacular live finale in this five part lunar art tour. A circle of hotted up cars growl and hiss, smoke machines exhale, jacked up fluorescence paints the air and tripped out stereos pump in anticipation. Parking Lot Dragon pays tribute to the less celebrated nocturnal rituals of car culture in Hurstville. It also gives a nod to tradition as the bass-heavy throbs of an RNB club remix give way to sharp bell-drum tones and the dramatic dance of a Chinese New Year Dragon.
Enthralling and highly cinematic, The Begin Again wove a sumptuous poetic narrative of place, the individual and the collective story of a community, drawing out hidden histories and meanings embedded in a seemingly prosaic location. The series of four video works leading up to the hourly rooftop performances paid tribute to the history and people of the area through displaced performances and hypnotic visuals. Indigenous heritage and the stories that flow unceasingly are memorialised through local tenor Vince Lemon’s rendition of the Show Boat ballad Old Man River. The introduction of the railway line that forged urban growth from the 1880s becomes children, dressed in historical costume, laying fluorescent white wooden tracks. The heart-warming community ritual of the local senior’s ballroom dance group performing toVienna Blood Waltz plays against an elegant light-speckled city skyline. The considerable heritage of the local Chinese community is echoed in a scarlet toned sequence of a traditional dancer. The project’s collaborators and performers, from senior dancers to barefoot children, were out in force to witness their work, giving impromptu live performances, enthusiastically wavering pointed fingers and proudly smiling. It is obvious that Mesiti’s relational engagement with her collaborators has been deeply affecting for the community, and it is within projects such as The Begin Againthat we see some of the greatest things that art in public spaces can do for society - to liberate the spectator to become an imaginative, creative agent and an active participant in the performance of living culture.