Sun 10am – 1pm
Sun 2pm – 5pm
Wed 11am – 2pm
Wed 5pm – 7pm
Bookings opens 28 August.
VENUE: Customs House Sydney
Embracing the awkwardness of human conversation, this program offers a unique opportunity for intimate one-on-one conversations in experimental formats, tackling anxieties, debilitating habits and hard-to-talk-about subjects like mental health.
Awkward Conversations make no demands, have no expectations, and require no social skills whatsoever.
Our “AWKWARD CONVERSATIONALISTS” are each inspired by their own lived experiences. A mix of artists, performers and activists, they are committed to creating ways to connect, to flouting the rigid conventions of normal social communications and to respecting radical diversity.
We highly encourage people to book tickets to secure a spot with our Awkward Conversationalists. Places will be available on the day, but numbers are limited, so get in early! The Awkward Conversations Program is a safe space but would like to advise participants that conversations may contain diverse and potentially sensitive content.
WHO: Dawn-joy is autistic. She has hyper-sensory capacities. She notices things that others may not – sounds, lights, smells, textures – which are often harsh, jarring and painful to her. Join Dawn in her quest for refuge and calm, inside a ‘clement space’, designed for respite from an over-stimulating environment.
HOW: Dawn welcomes everyone to chat with her one-on-one: with words or without words, ask questions or offer ideas; make something together or just sit in silence. We can have a conversation that is comfortable for both of us.
WHO: Debra Keenahan (Festival Ambassador) is never nobody. She’s always looked at, she’s often stared at, she’s commented about, and sometimes laughed at. What she really wants is to be spoken with. Debra calls a dwarf a dwarf.
HOW: Let’s have a fiery chat eye-to-eye.
WHO: Greg is a cartoonist and story writer who likes to be respected. Throughout Greg’s life, listening, watching and writing stories has been a remedy for feelings of anxiety…except on the rare occasions when he suffers writer’s block and feels fresh out of ideas…then Greg feels anxious once again!
HOW: Friendly, humorous and charismatic. Choose your own adventure as Greg reads his comic aloud to you. (Greg is supported in one-on-one conversations by a representative of Studio A).
WHO: Sarah is a producer and curator with an experience of acute psychosis. She is devoted to making sense out of her own and other people’s experiences through new media storytelling.
HOW: This conversation explores the relationship between mania and colour, and challenges our assumptions around psychosis.
WHO: Amala is a Wiradjuri artist who engages with First Nations knowledge(s) and perspectives on the experience of anxiety.
HOW: One-to-one conversation over a warm footbath using native plants. Discuss the relationship between anxiety and the physical body as a finely tuned instrument of Biame (creator spirit) drawing on the healing properties of water, eucalyptus and sarsaparilla.
Katy B Plummer
WHO: Katy is a textile, video, and performance artist with an interest in personal revolutions and mythic internal narratives. Katy channels/processes her anxiety through compulsive making.
HOW: Keep your hands busy and your mind on-task with Katy. Hand-twist and wind strands of rope as you and Katy process your thinking by making.
WHO: Malcolm is interested in dispelling the anxiety of being ignorant by having open discussions that focus on what we do not know, and what we do not know that we do not know. He is an artist who proposes an equality of intelligence in all when it comes to our ignorance.
HOW: Confess the limitations of your knowledge and understanding in a safe space in which you can ask each other any questions on your mind, without necessarily looking for answers to them.
WHO: Artist, activist, and experimental conversationalist, Lois Weaver constructs alternative models for public conversation to make space for the things we wonder about.
HOW: Drop in for a ‘Porch Sitting’, where small, informal groups sit side-by-side with Lois on the steps of Customs House to ‘wonder’, observe, dream, or reflect upon the other Awkward Conversations you have had.
WHO: The anxiety of starting something new can be paralysing. Where do you begin? James is a visual and performance artist who is always confronting the first mark.
HOW: Start something new and overcome your mental block with James.
WHO: Bè Aadam (Festival Ambassador) who uses his own lived experience to inform his work in the mental health sector. He takes a strengths-based, inclusive approach to advocate for a model of care that places people at the fore of mental health programs and services.
HOW: Bè has experience in protracted and persistent psychological distress since childhood and has sought many treatment methods to manage his symptoms. As an Ambassador, Bè will listen, share his experiences and tap into the broader community to promote wellbeing in new and creative ways.
Mitch Jones AKA “Captain Ruin”
WHO: Mitch Jones (Festival Ambassador) is an escapologist and circus performer, as well as festival ambassador. He has spent time in a Turkish jail, is anxious about incarceration and pursues his desire to escape the confines of conventional life.
HOW: Talk to Mitch about practical techniques of escapism!
Alessandro Donagh-De Marchi
WHO: Alessandro Donagh-De Marchi (Festival Ambassador) has been an active advocate for mental health issues and awareness for several years after his own experiences with depression and anxiety. He believes that open discussion around difficult topics is vital to start conversations that can not only improve lives but also, in some cases, to save them.
HOW: The S-word – Alessandro offers calm, level headed conversations about suicide. Let’s just say the word and see where it goes.
This project has been assisted by the Australian government through the Department of Communication and the Arts’ Catalyst—Australian Arts and Culture Fund.
Dawn-Joy Leong (Singapore)
Dawn-joy Leong is an autistic artist and researcher, presenting autism as parallel embodiment. Sensory-cognitive idiosyncrasy is the nucleus of her research, and of her artistic practice, which explores immersive mind-body experiences via music, visual art, photography, narrative, poetry and performance. Lucy Like-a-Charm, a rescued former racing Greyhound, is Dawn’s creative muse and faithful companion. Together, they traverse multidimensional terrains of neurodiversity: flipping pages of imagination, dancing around pandiatonic-chromatic-polyrhythmic fires, celebrating symbiotic connectivity, and finding new ways to sense the world and Be. Dawn holds a PhD from UNSW and lives and works in Singapore.
Debra is one of The Big Anxiety ambassadors. As an artist, psychologist and academic, Debra’s work focusses upon the personal/social impacts of disability and her experience as a woman with achondroplasia (dwarfism). She uses 2D and 3D art methods to represent the manifestation of dignity in the disability aesthetic. Debra has exhibited in group and solo exhibitions and her work is held in a number of private collections. She lectures at Western Sydney University in Humanitarian and Development Studies, where her first PhD was in Psychology on the subject of Dehumanization. Debra is currently studying for her second PhD in Visual Arts at Art & Design UNSW, where her research focuses upon developing a Critical Disability Aesthetic through the representation of the female dwarf.
Greg Sindel is a passionate and prolific graphic novelist. An ardent researcher, Greg is an expert on cult comic and horror film classics and is constantly sourcing new material from which to derive inspiration. Greg has developed his storytelling craft since childhood , overcoming considerable learning difficulties to develop into a fluent wordsmith and illustrator. Greg launched his first graphic novel at Kinokuniya Books in 2012. In 2014 he completed a ten-minute animation based on his horror comics and in 2015 collaborated with Erth Visual and Physical Inc. to realise a puppet incarnation of one of his characters. He is mentored by artist, Leigh Rigozzi and has collaborated with arts organisations, Erth and Curiousworks. Greg participated in the 2013 Museum of Contemporary Art Zine Fair, and later in the year he presented at the MCA as part of the ‘Supported Studio: Possibilities and Potential’ forum. In 2015 Greg was an exhibiting artist at Sydney Contemporary.
Lois Weaver is an artist, activist and part time professor of Contemporary Performance at Queen Mary, University of London. She was co-founder of Spiderwoman Theater, WOW and Artistic Director of Gay Sweatshop in London. She has been a writer, director and performer with Peggy Shaw and Split Britches since 1980. Recent work includes: Miss America (2008); Lost Lounge (2009) and RUFF (2012). Split Britches’ collection of scripts, Split Britches Feminist Performance/Lesbian Practice, edited by Sue Ellen Case, won the 1997 Lambda Literary Award for Drama. In 2012, Split Britches was presented with the Edwin Booth Award by City University of New York in honor of their outstanding contribution to the New York City/American Theater and Performance Community. Lois was named a Senior Fellow by the Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics in 2014. She is a 2014 Guggenheim Fellow and a Wellcome Trust Engaging Science Fellow for 2016-18.
Sarah Ticho (UK)
Sarah is a British producer and curator with a background in anthropology, contemporary art, film, and technology. She has a lived experience of acute mania with psychotic symptoms. Following her episode in 2011, she has been exploring psychosis through the medium of virtual reality, experience visualisation, ritual and storytelling. She is passionate about the intersection of art and science, and how we can use emerging technologies as a tool to express ideas, create communities and understand the human condition.
Katy B Plummer
Katy B Plummer makes immersive video projects. Her practice is materially driven, with a focus on textiles and ladycrafts. She is interested in moments of personal revolution, in the phenomenology and poetic mythology of history and politics, and in fraught/failed/ambivalent femininity. She likes to slather a thick layer of bathetic slapstick over our efforts to transcend our animal selves. Katy has a BFA from COFA and an MFA from the School of Visual Arts in New York. She has received various awards and grants, and has exhibited in Australia and overseas. She lives and works in Sydney.
Malcolm Whittaker is a cis male from Sydney who works as an artist, writer, researcher and performer. He does this in solo pursuits, as a founding member of performance collective Team MESS and in collaborations with other artists and non-artists. His work is mostly made and executed through the engagement of participants and collaborators in the framing of play spaces that adopt social forms and rituals of popular culture and the everyday. His projects have taken the form of theatre and gallery situations, site-specific and public interventions, performance lectures, film shoots, phone calls, support groups, teeth brushing services, walks in the park, letters in the mail and the borrowing of books from the library.
Born in Vietnam in 1982, James Nguyen is a Sydney-based artist. After completing Honours at the National Art School and a Masters of Fine Arts at Sydney College of Arts (University of Sydney), James undertook a collaborative Fellowship in New York at UnionDocs (Centre for Experimental Documentary Arts) with the support of the Anne & Gordon Samstag Visual Arts Scholarship. James has exhibited in Australia and is currently a PhD candidate at UNSW Art & Design.
Bè works as a researcher, evaluator and advocate in a number of areas across the mental health sector. He collaborates with government agencies and NGOs to protect the rights and dignity of people, and to assist in enhancing service outcomes. Bè has experience in protracted and persistent psychological distress since childhood and has sought many treatment methods to manage his symptoms. As an Ambassador, Bè will listen, share his experiences and be part of an event that taps into the broader community to promote wellbeing in new and creative ways.
Mitch Jones is an independent artist, punk performance maker and professional unusualist from Melbourne. Also known as Captain Ruin, his anarchic blend of satire, circus and death defying sideshow stunts has been enjoyed on stages around the world, including as host of the Circus Big Top at Glastonbury Festival 2016, and as part of Circus Oz’ ‘Model Citizens’, 2017. Mitch has a long standing interest in social justice, and has channeled this into many of his projects through a focus on lived experiences of the justice system, mental health, and the role of the provocateur in social debate.
Alessandro Donagh-De Marchi
Alessandro Donagh-De Marchi has been advocating for mental health for several years by raising awareness around the issues that often accompany mental illnesses and attempting to reduce the stigma within the community associated with them. This has led him to be involved in numerous, diverse projects and initiatives organised through many different mental health organisations across a wide range of focuses. He is particularly passionate about tackling the impact of anxiety, having lived with anxiety and depression for most of his life. Through his experiences, he has understood the importance of open discussion to start difficult but vital conversations between those with anxiety and the people who may be able to support them.
Amala Groom is a Wiradjuri conceptual artist whose practice, as the performance of her cultural sovereignty, is informed and driven by First Nations epistemologies, ontologies and methodologies. Her work, a form of passionate activism, presents acute and incisive commentary on contemporary socio-political issues. Articulated across diverse media, Groom’s work often subverts and unsettles western iconographies in order to enunciate Aboriginal stories, experiences and histories, and to interrogate and undermine the legacy of colonialism. Not wishing to create reactionary works which tacitly allow contemporary political operatives serving the colonial ideology to set her artistic agenda, Groom seeks to create works which proactively and creatively unpack and undermine the Colonial Project, the on-going philosophy of colonialism that has imperialistically subjugated Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples since 1770.