[This is a copy of an article written for Aphra Magazine and published on November 15, 2014. Aphra Magazine unfortunately closed at the end of 2016 and all links to existing articles were deleted, so I have decided to reproduce these articles word for word on my blog.]
‘Experimenta presents: Leisa Shelton’
“My whole path has been a series of co-incidences, synergistic encounters and an innate ability to be open and responsive to these opportunities. I am also not afraid of change.”
With these words, Leisa Shelton, an artist, curator, performance maker and researcher, sums up an astonishingly varied career. She has held the position of Head of New Work and Performance at the Victorian College of the Arts at Melbourne University from 1998-2003, training students in physical performance and experimenting with new forms of writing, performance methodologies and processes. She was then Head of Performance Creation and Animateuring, in which a performance is improvised and written collaboratively by a group, also at the VCA, from 2008 to 2012. Leisa has also taught at Monash, Deakin and Sydney Universities, as well as Sydney acting institute NIDA.
Arguably, one of Leisa’s greatest achievements is the creation of Fragment31 in 2008, a performance collective “focused on interdisciplinary practice, performance training and sustainability within arts practice”, where various artists are invited to take part in work ranging from textual investigations and community dialogues to installations and public gallery works, as well as the ongoing development of an innovate integrated training/rehearsal process. The name Fragment31 is drawn from the most famous poem of Ancient Greek poet Sappho of Lesbos. On the website for the collective, it is written that the subject of the poem “takes her bodily self apart, breaks herself into pieces, dismembers her parts, anatomises herself and then puts herself back together”, a passionate and meticulous process reflected in the work of Leisa and the artists of Fragment31.
Leisa has also travelled and performed internationally; she has been a resident artist at DasArts in Amsterdam in 2005, Taipei National University of the Arts in 2012, and a member of staff at the International Research Centre for Asian Theatre in Singapore. She has acted as a member of the Meryl Tankard Company, touring both nationally and internationally, and been the director and collaborator on productions with Malthouse Theatre, the Sydney Theatre Company and Belvoir Street Theatre, winning the inaugural Rex Cramphorn Memorial Prize for directors.
When asked about her most memorable moment as an artist, Leisa recalled touring Europe with the Meryl Tankard Company and performing in a festival in Italy dedicated to the work of German dancer, teacher and choreographer Pina Bausch. Leisa remembers that Pina “was invited to give a talk on her ‘philosophies, ideas and vision for the future of dance’ to a room packed with people who had lined up for hours, as well as hundreds more standing outside the building watching on screens. She entered, smiled, nodded, and then said that she really had nothing to say, it was all in her work – and that was that. We all just sat together; she continued to smile and then walked out.”
Currently, Leisa is focused on several projects; the Curatorship and Development of new frames for the presentation of Performance and Sustainability within Arts and Performance, for which she has travelled to London, Taiwan, New York, Chicago and Los Angeles to meet with artists and producers to organise future collaborations. She has also been asked to curate and present a body of Australian work as co-curator of the Venice Performance Week in December of this year.
Finally, Leisa has been commissioned for the 6th Experimenta Biennial of Media Art exhibition, with the theme of Recharge, when opens on November 28 at the RMIT Gallery in Melbourne. Leisa will be presenting her in-progress major work Mapping our Media Art, which will invite visitors to remember significant encounters they have had with media art, as part of an attempt to map the invaluable history of live art and performance in Australia. Leisa says she was inspired by “how little history of Australian work currently exists, how many great works reside only in our collective memory and how little opportunity there is for us as a community of artists, audiences and cultural citizens to honour the work that has changed and marked us as a culture”. Her wish is to “create the artefact of this work so that its ‘life’ could be resonant beyond the live moment of its original form – that is the aim with Mapping … It is in so many ways – the dream project”.