• Buŋgul is a celebration of Dr Yunupiŋu's album "Djarimirri", created on Country with the Yunupiŋu family. It's one of many First Nations RISING events (RISING: Caitlin Miles)Source: RISING: Caitlin Miles
The twelve day RISING festival will see scores of First Nations artists presenting their practice and their culture in a multi-venue event designed to lift the city from last year's slump.
Kate L Munro

26 May 2021 - 12:41 PM  UPDATED 26 May 2021 - 12:42 PM

The inaugural RISING festival – a multi-disciplinary art and cultural extravaganza - is set to descend on Naarm (Melbourne) Wednesday, and is being billed as the biggest artistic event hosted in Naarm since the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

Internationally acclaimed and award-winning Naarm-based Gamilaroi artist Reko Rennie will premiere commissioned work "Initiation_OA", a 'large-scale three channel video work that speaks to the practice of initiation from an urban Aboriginal context.’

This deeply reflective and visually stunning multi-disciplinary work sees Rennie present modern-day men's initiation, returning to his place of birth in the west of Naarm, ‘making his mark, then leaving again.’

“I explore Men’s traditional initiation practices in an urban context, the notions of authenticity and initiation; the symbols of masculinity and breaking down those so-called notions of what a ‘real’ man should be,” Rennie told NITV.

“This work relates to my adolescent experiences of driving a car as a young teen and doing burnouts. I'm not actually recreating any traditional Men's initiations. I'm using the term Initiation as a metaphor about how and what I experienced as a young Aboriginal teen, was my sort of initiation within the urban setting,” he said.

This new work carries on from Rennie’s previous work ‘OA_RR’, that saw the artist driving a painted-up Rolls Royce, doing burnouts in the dust, and creating markings on his ancestral lands of the Gamilaroi of north-west NSW. This work was featured in the illustrious Venice Biennale in 2017.

The new work, Iniciation_OA will feature a 1973 Holden Monaro GTS Coupe painted pink metallic with black stripes.

“I was born in an urban environment where traditional notions of initiation into manhood were experienced in a completely different way to my ancestral home of the Gamilaroi people of North Western NSW.”

This latest work will include impressive cinematography, filmed on 4k cameras and using drones and cine lens, set in the urban environment of Rennie’s youth growing up in the inner-west of Footscray.

“… using the vehicle as a performance piece and creating a sequence of markings and motifs, I will feature the urban landscapes of the west, cruising past the Altona petrol refinery and the epic pipe works and smokestacks of the old Monsanto chemical site at Sunshine to drive to an open tarmac area where I will commence my mark making,” Rennie said.

“The practise of mark-making is referencing traditional sand engraving motifs of the Kamilaroi/Gamilaroi.”

A commissioned operatic original score by Yorta Yorta Opera singer and producer Deborah Cheetham in-conjunction with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra (MSO) will accompany Rennie’s work; a deep collaboration where Rennie has provided Cheetham with Gamilaraay language to create a score that honours his grandmother and matriarchal line.

“My grandmother was a soprano singer, and I wanted a dramatic, powerful and haunting soundtrack,” he said.

“I had heard Deborah Cheetham AO Perform before and imagined a beautiful, powerful and dramatic operatic score as a soundtrack to my three-channel video work.”

Initiation OA will take place under the moon’s light, yet above the city’s lights atop the Golden Square car park – ‘a concrete temple for big ideas’ and a ‘swirling vortex of art from Australia and abroad.’

“I've used a lot of symbology relating to where and when I grew up, to make a statement about this urban identity, masculinity, law and justice, and where and what home can be,” Rennie said.

Festival largest since COVID

RISING will play host to ‘750 Victorian-based artists,’ ‘thirty-six world premiere commissions’ and over 130 events and projects that will see the city ‘rise’ from the slumber of the past year.

‘Conceived and commissioned to become Asia-Pacific’s preeminent cultural festival, RISING will begin on the evening of May’s total lunar eclipse with the city and its surrounds becoming the canvas for a celebration of the night and an explosion of new cultural experiences on a scale not yet seen in Australia,’ said the event's media release. 

May 26 is also when our communities mark National Sorry day, a day that honours and acknowledges our people of the Stolen Generations.

While it seems RISING wasn't planned to coincide with this significant national day, the festival’s co-artistic director Hannah Fox has fittingly said that the “vision for RISING is centred on the idea that culture is a human right.”

“This means really embedding art, music and ceremony in public spaces and creating opportunities for participation,” she said.

Set on the intersecting lands of the Boonwurrung and Wurundjeri of the Kulin Nations, RISING presents an impressive cohort of Victorian-based First Nations artists, with a deep connection to Naarm.

It is these First Nations artists’ work that will set the conceptual tone for the festival, exploring the idea of connection to place, and the varying depths that can take.

Aboriginal ways of being and living emphasise that everything has an energy: this in our culture. In an urban context there is energy of a different nature yet the practices and protocols, when observed, can be just as vital.

“Since the very beginning a strong sense of place has been central to our plans for RISING. For us a clear identity through place is what distinguishes great festivals and the unique experiences they offer,” Co-Artistic Producer Gideon Obarzanek said.

Another striking highlight will be a celebration of Djarimirri (Child of the Rainbow), an album of the late Dr Gurrumul Yunupingu that was released after his passing. Yolngu song men and dancers will accompany Senior Yolngu Don Wininba Ganambarr, Nigel Jamieson and the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra in honouring and presenting the late singer/songwriter's album. This event is both sacred and vital and will be held at Hammer Hall, Arts Centre.

First Nations artists

Other First Nations artists and collaborators featured or engaged in the up-coming RISING festival also with compelling works are Uncle Herb Patten, Artist and Gumleaf player (Gunai-Kurnai, Yorta Yorta, Wiradjuri), Boonwurrung Elder N’arweet Dr Carolyn Briggs AM, Wurundjeri Elder Aunty Joy Murphy AO, Isobelle Morphy-Walsh (Taungurung), Justice Nelson (Jaara), Fay Stewart-Muir (Boonwurrung), Mandy Nicholson (Wurundjeri), Maree Clark (Muttti Mutti,Yorta Yorta, Boonwurrung,Wemba Wemba), Mitch Mahoney (Boonwurrung, Barkindji), Rachel Mazza (Yidinji, Meriam), Kee’Ahn (Kuku Yalunji, Jirrbal, Zenadth Kes), Kimberley Moulton (Yorta Yorta), Barkaa (Malyangapa, Barkinji), Lil Kootsie (Larrakia), Soju gang, Sevy and Beyang, Koobie Dee (Gamilaroi), DRMNGNOW (Yorta Yorta, DjaDja Wurrung, Ngurai Illum Wurrung), Deanne Gilson (Wadawurrung), Thomas Mark (Wotjobaluk, Gunaikurnai) Aunty Rochelle Patten (Dhudhuroa, Wemba Wemba, Yorta Yorta), Jarra Karalinar Steel (Boonwurrung, Wemba Wemba), Ray Thomas (Brabrawooloong Gunnai) and Aunty Zeta Thompson (Wurundjeri, Yorta Yorta).

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