In Conversation with Rebekah Stuart

OTOMYS: How does performance work for film relate to your visual work?  


Rebekah Stuart: Our dance films are often a spontaneous response to our environment, or a connection we are cultivating with another artist. The navigation of movement through sand and water, viscerally and physically relate to my visual artwork in that all creations involve a proximity and sensitivity to feeling the landscape much like an animal. 



OTOMYS: Last year you were immersed in the colour and culture of the Northern Territory. This is a far cry from your previous life in Melbourne, another sense of beauty completely. Can you describe the experience?


Rebekah Stuart: I was living in Alice Springs, home to the Arrernte people in a community of approx. 25 000 people, so experienced the cultural richness, diversity, beauty, and intensity as well as a heightened understanding of the complexities that face the cultural environment. I found the people in Alice Springs to be friendly and open hearted. The aboriginal people I knew and met held a wisdoms and truths that astounded me.


The bold earthy colours, strong long lit days and endless stillness in the air are striking and energetically powerful. I am seeking to comprehend the depth of the aboriginal spiritual presence (both past and present) dwelling within the landscape.


With a short drive out of town I could walk through Simpsons Gap, The Claypans Wetlands, Emily and Jessie Gaps and Honeymoon Gap - all astonishingly beautiful. During the Spring and after big rainfall the purple, pink and yellow desert flowers sprawl beneath cliffs that are eight hundred million years old! 


A new pathway built under the direction of aboriginal elders between Jessie and Emily Gap (See pic labelled below), has recently opened, so walkers have space to dream and wander through the landscape. This time was altogether a wonderful contrast to life in Melbourne!



OTOMYS: Your latest dreamscape - A Prelude Land - has a luminescent glow of dusty earth pigment. How did this change of place impact you artistically?


Rebekah Stuart: I was deeply inspired by the rich colours and the aboriginal spiritual presence in the landscape. The most curious aspect for me in witnessing, immersing myself in and recording the landscape was how to integrate my inspiration with the awe for aboriginal culture and their historical reverence for land with the challenges that arise through cultural misconceptions. I was very fortunate to meander through the landscape surrounding Alice Springs with a deep awareness that I was a fortunate visitor to this spiritual land.


I realise as an artist I have a right to observe and to be inspired, however creating landscape compositions is a challenging process; there is so much about the landscape, including its peoples and cultural misunderstandings from non-aboriginal people, which I am still contemplating.



OTOMYS: What were some of your highlight moments in the Northern Territory?


Rebekah Stuart: I spent plenty of time outdoors with nature, camping, bush walking, and photographing the landscape which enabled me to create visual art in a more reflective and sensitive way. 


A favourite short walk up Spencer Hill allowed for glorious far reaching views. 


I worked for a few months with the downsized version of The Desert Song Festival which involved filming, liaising with schools and choirs, working with young teenagers on a dance project which incorporated my five rhythms of dance practice, theatre, and song. I enjoy living with aboriginal people, learning from them about their art and culture. 



OTOMYS: 'Dust’ is a mesmerising film featuring you and vocal artist, Kemy Ogendi in the NT. Can you give us an insight into the expression you worked on for this performance?


Rebekah Stuart: Kemy Ogendi first performed at our Courthouse pre–Festival Lounge, where we were scouting new talent for The Desert Song Festival. The crowd was so blown away by Kemi's voice and presence that my father, Morris Stuart who runs the festival, and I decided to invite her to perform in the festival. Kemy and I connected immediately, and my my creative colleague Mischa offered to make a video clip for her after the festival. Kemi was delighted. Mischa and I remembered a beautiful high red sandy hill we had passed on a weekend trip to a place called Ooramina. We felt it would be perfect for the ascension feeling of a relationship and the descending feeling of letting go. On site we experimented with some simple ideas to paint the picture of Kemy's simple but poignant lyrics and after 5-6 takes of the concept we were happy with the authenticity and simplicity of the execution. The main idea was for me to feel a bit like a swaying ghost on her shoulder, holding on, then letting go, a metaphor for both the singer and the other.


Watch Dust by Kemy Ogendi online here.



OTOMYS: You’re now back in Melbourne, with a refreshed look at home and place - what does this bring to your vision for 2022?


Rebekah Stuart: This year I hope to create a series of visual artworks and dance performances inspired by my experiences living in Alice Springs. I would like to create a visual conversation between this last year and my upcoming time now in Aireys Inlet, on the south coast of Victoria. A sleep / death series will integrate with this work as a metaphor for rest and recovery in our unprecedented times. 


The Baroque period has always fascinated me and may find a place in my new work. The Baroque cadre were initially viewed as bizarre and later the religious paintings of the church were commissioned to evoke passion, emotion, and spiritual reflection for the common man. Imperfection, confusion, disorder and beauty with the gloomy and mysterious, were also seen in Baroque works where the drama often had 'dramatic illumination' from Chiaroscuro technique of light-dark contrasts. So much of my observation and felt experience in Alice Springs was this combination of rich emotion and spiritual connection, imperfection, and confusion as well as the rich beauty of light and dark of life. 


Religious frescoes were created for a purpose in the Baroque period within elevated and sacred spaces, also recalling the feelings I've mentioned having amidst the gorges over the years, a rich Baroque experience! I would like to explore the illuminating reality of our times and the dark recesses of living through a pandemic and all the shades that exist in between this.


The Northern Territory was illuminating, living amongst unresolved complex cultural issues, the rich aboriginal culture and powerful saturated light and colour. Now in Melbourne, I am curious to see how the ever changing weather patterns, varied moody skies and time with the Melbourne community plays out in my new work.








April 19, 2022