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A Sustainability Q&A with Emma Fishwick

A graduate of the dance program at WAAPA, Emma Fishwick is a multi-artform artist based in Perth and we sat down with her to talk sustainability, art and career.

Emma recently created and choreographed microLandscapes which was presented by Performing Lines WA in conjunction with Next Wave Festival 2016, and recently received a nomination for a Green Room Award. microLandscapes was a 360 degree immersive performance experience involving video and sound by visual artist Kynan Tan and live performance by Ella-Rose Trew (Co3) and Niharika Senapati (Chunky Move). Emma is also currently working on her Masters by Research at WAAPA investigating choreographies of landscape.

What do you understand sustainability to be?

My immediate thought when asked about sustainability goes directly to environmental sustainability and associated practices that help heal, defend and lessen the human footprint on the natural world. As for a straight up definition, I view the term to pertain to the act of maintaining or keeping at a particular level. Indeed, in an artistic practice, I believe one is constantly employing some level of sustainability whether conceptually, physically or logistically.

Is sustainability an issue that informs your performance making? How So?

On a conceptual level, sustainability doesn’t heavily dictate the content I make, however, it does inform the way in which I try to engage with my overall career and indeed life on a day-to-day basis. I find the following is a small list of the things that most artists try to continually manage in order to maintain a sustainable arts practice.

Sustainability of artistic curiosity
Sustainability of audience engagement
Sustainability of community
Sustainability of career
Sustainability of longevity
Sustainability of productivity
Sustainability of the new
Sustainability of diversity
Sustainability of creative mental health
Sustainability of empathy
Sustainability of energy
Sustainability of physicality
Sustainability of the left hamstring
Sustainability of income

If you include sustainability themes in your work, do you think they have any effect in changing people’s attitudes, understanding’s or behaviour?

I guess on a subconscious level and in a very round-about way, my work often addresses themes of sustainability. My work presently is heavily focused on notions of landscape, both the physical and the theoretical notions of landscape as a ‘way of seeing’. As I devise choreographic works that are predominantly non-linear, I focus on forming energetic terrains that stir up a myriad of visual and visceral associations for the viewer. And so, my main goal with forming such landscapes, is to encourage empathy, through observation and experience. I think empathy plays a big role in driving people to address their attitudes and potential change their behaviour. Whilst potentially an idealistic outlook, I hope that through my works, people will consciously or subconsciously shift in the way that they view their world and thus move differently through it.

What about your personal life? Do you do anything special day-to-day? (Use public transport instead of a single occupant car, for example; never charter private jets, etc.)

I must admit that in the last six months since having my first car, I have not used public transport, which is shameful. However, I guess having 27 years of public transport and carpooling/hitching rides is a rather good effort and I am returning all the favours of those people that carted me round. BUT I am aware that I need to curb this habit. Other small things include, when working from home I only use lights when I absolutely need to, using only electronic ticketing where possible, using a keep cup for the daily coffee, calico bags for groceries, buying second hand clothing and only when needed. Whilst not huge gestures of sustainable behaviour, they are small actions that help.

On a similar note, I find that my personal life and artistic practice are intrinsically linked (as it is for most artists I presume) and as such I look to my personal life to act as a tool for sustaining my arts practice. Meaning when empathy, energy, curiosity is low, often a day of binging on pop culture, coffee dates on my front porch or having a crafternoon, is enough to take me out of my art headspace and reset the engines.

Where do you see yourself in twenty years? What do you think society will look like then?

Ah the dreaded future projection question. I’m rather sure I had to answer this question during my time at WAAPA and it still remains a daunting task, a decade later. I think it’s quite simple for me actually. I wish to just be doing what I am now, just more frequently in the act of making, thinking and moving with a bit more stability. A wise member of the Perth dance scene said to me recently that “the most successful artists are the ones that last the longest, it’s a war of attrition really”. I took this as, just keep the conversation going and don’t look to the end game as it’s a long way away, I think that’s a good summary of my future might look like. If the present day global status is anything to go by the future requires people to keep conversing for empathy and pushing for sustainability. At the moment, I think being an artist is the best way for me to do that. As for what society is going to look like, well, I hope it is a society that has accepted its limits and woken up to changes that need to implemented, socially, environmentally and politically and has begun to act.


Header image of microLandscapes 2016, Next Wave Festival.

Dancer: Ella-Rose Trew

Image: Tanya Voltchanskaya