Anthony Bastic, CEO and founder of AGB Events, tells Live design about his work as the design and curator of Parrtjima – A Festival in Light in Australia.
- Can you explain the design and curation process for Parrtjima to us?
Each year we choose a theme, the 2021 theme was FUTURE KULTCHA. This is based on the timeless mode of oral learning, the transmission of knowledge from one generation to the next that has taken place among indigenous peoples for eons.
The programming then focuses on intergenerational wisdom told through light, interactive workshops, art, music, films, performances, deep conversations and digital media.
The works presented are organized individually or through an expression of interest which is sent to more than 40 aboriginal art centers, including artists from the Arrernte, Luritja, Anmatyerre, Warlpiri and Pitjantjatjara nations. Following the selection of artworks aligned with installation concepts created by the creative team of AGB Events, the Parrtjima Festival Reference Group advises on the cultural relevance of the selected artists based on the history behind the installations. .
Under the artistic vision of AGB Events and Parrtjima curator Rhoda Roberts AO and with cultural guidance from PFRG, the chosen works of art are recreated in new mediums as large-scale illuminated installations, designed to inspire wonder, share knowledge and establish cultural respect.
- How did you work with the actors of the project?
Parrtjima’s program is presented in collaboration with the Parrtjima Festival Reference Group (PFRG), who are active members of the Lhere Artepe indigenous titleholder group and advise on the cultural relevance of the facilities.
We work closely with the Reference Group in all aspects of program development and they play an active role in hosting elements of the festival.
There are a lot of stakeholders with Parrtjima, local and state government, service providers and all of our festival attendees. Engaging with them all effectively and authentically is a year round proposition.
This year we:
- engaged 33 artists and 16 art centers.
- featured 75 artists and entertainers from the public program.
- secured 28 musical artists and DJs,
- 13 invited and scheduled speakers
- 34 workshop leaders and artists.
Engagement of 5 art centers in Central Australia in the public program (workshops) with artists traveling up to 469 km from isolated Aboriginal communities including Yuendumu, Ltyentye Apurte (Santa Teresa), Mutijulu and Titjikala.
- Tell us how you worked with technology and how it was used to reinvent spaces?
We use technology to bring out the stories and the purpose behind the culture. Technology now enables a variety of creative media that can be accessed and used in multiple ways, helping to engage a variety of audiences.
Our large light installations represent important elements of Indigenous culture. For example, our walkway installation, Landing Kultcha, prepares the visitor to experience the cultural richness of Parrtjima, as it unifies the space between male and female cultural traditions, represented by sculpted spears and digging sticks.
Stretching over an incredible 20 meters, this installation mixes light tubes of different lengths to symbolize the transition from spears to digging sticks, from masculine to feminine and from the natural world to art.
Landing Kultcha celebrates the technology of tools, weapons and tools as the life source of indigenous culture. Spears were an integral part of the toolbox used for hunting, fishing, fighting, retaliation and punishment, as well as for ceremonies and as merchandise for trade.
Digging sticks are hand-crafted wooden tools, often decorated with totem designs, that women used to dig to find edible ants like honey ants and reptiles. They were also used to plant and harvest roots and tubers such as yams. In female ceremonies, they are used as punching sticks.
National Nine News coverage of Parrtjima
- What were the main challenges in running a festival during Covid and what did you learn?
In fact, we have found that our training and experience has served us well in dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic. As event professionals, we must respond to all risks with agility and inventiveness and adapt to high intensity, stressful and urgent situations is part of our DNA.
The main challenge was really the ever-changing operating environment, we had to be really responsive and creative to make sure people and infrastructure could get to where they needed to be.
And also work with clients and stakeholders to navigate the decision-making process. We are really proud of our long term relationship with the Government of the Northern Territory (owners of Parrtjima) and the initiative they have shown in persisting with the event. The easiest thing would have been to just cancel the festival, but through mutual trust and respect we were able to navigate a safe new event setting that hosted 2 Parrtjima festivals during the pandemic.
- What can the rest of the world learn from a project like this?
The real little-known outcome of an event like Parrtjima is the platform and exposure the festival gives to Aboriginal art and artists from the central desert. Not only are we making art more attractive and accessible to new audiences, but we are also creating economic pathways for these wonderful artists.
Each year my highlight in Parrtjima is seeing the pride and joy on the faces of our artists when they see their works come to life. At AGB, we see ourselves as facilitators and it is a project where we are absolutely living up to our values.
Events have a huge impact on the social fabric of a community and valuation is just as important as quantifying economic investment.
6. What’s next for AGB events?
We have some really exciting projects coming up internationally. We are working on Expo 2021 in Dubai, we have organized an amazing digital exhibition called Rich and Rare Beauty who is touring Australia after a stint at the Smithsonian, and we have a few new projects in production right now!
Covid has given us the opportunity to reflect on what we do and explore other ways to use our digital storytelling expertise, not just at events. I’m really excited to be working more and more in the museum and gallery space, there are a million stories we would love to help share.
Images: Tourism NT
Video: NT Major Events Company and Australia in the United States