Magazine article New Internationalist

Robyn Archer: One of Australia's Cultural Whirlwinds

Magazine article New Internationalist

Robyn Archer: One of Australia's Cultural Whirlwinds

Article excerpt

When Robyn Archer was appointed Director of the Adelaide Arts Festival one commentator remarked sarcastically that Australia was about to be dealt a mess of 'Marxist Agit-Prop'. Not quite. Oh, the political themes were there all fight, but the 1998 Adelaide Festival was much more than that. In fact, it was generally heralded as a sublime artistic achievement. Archer's programme tapped into what she perceived as the 'big questions' at the close of the twentieth century. The search for meaning was everywhere -- from a radical interpretation of the Old Testament by an Israeli theatre company to a Southeast Asian dance company inspired by Herman Hesse's novel Siddhartha.

Dressed in a black turtleneck with spiky red hair, Robyn Archer is a multi-talented renaissance figure: a feminist singer-songwriter, an actor, a theatre director, a cultural activist and a political animal -- though with a proudly nonparty line.

'I'm more of a dangerous individualist,' she quips. 'I never believed that a political position was death to an artist's career, although there has always been advice around to that effect. I decided early on never to hide my politics or my sexuality.'

Today she is deeply disturbed by the steam-roller effect of a market-driven global culture. This globalization process, she warns, is wearing down the rough edges of art and creating a kind of bland uniformity. In a blatant call to arms Archer stresses that 'artists have a duty to open up the cracks and to live and create from within them'.

'The arts still remain a place where you can indulge in ethical debates and finer feelings. Even if you feel there is no longer any scope in the world for being an ethical person, the arts can be truly cathartic. That's because the best art will put you in a deeply questioning space where you just have to dismiss the rubbish that surrounds you and get down to the basics, the bottom line of humanity.'

This belief draws from her conviction that important artists are also philosophers. And there are not many spaces left in a baldly commercial world where you can take a philosophical approach. 'Most education is just a training ground for a career,' she sighs remorsefully. Archer supported her early artistic career as a teacher. 'There's not a lot of space to put yourself on the "other side" and test out what you really feel. In that sense arts is a realm of philosophy. People who don't use the arts like this are probably not artists. They're commercial entertainers, but they are not philosophers.'

Archer is a strong believer in public funding of the arts. And she supports her views with an authority you imagine would leave many bureaucrats quaking. …

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