INTERVIEW: Finn O’Branagain | Spooks & Spectres and blackmarket

Brook Andrew, Possessed V, 2015 (detail). Gelatin silver fibre gloss print 127 x 158 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Tolarno Galleries, Melbourne

Writer/storyteller/performer Finn O’Branagain will be taking audiences on a spooky tour of PICA’s exhibition Dead Ringer with her performance event in a roving half-hour performance called Spooks & Spectres: Tales from Parallel Worlds, inspired by the images and symbols contained in the artworks.

“I’ll be drawing upon images that appear in the artwork and telling stories that seem to me to be related in some way. In some cases I’ll be drawing from stories that are apparent in the artwork themselves, and other ones will be stories that I’ve found that I think belong. I’ll be working with the themes of twins and doppelgangers, but, I’m not sure how much I should give away…but there are certainly stories about good and evil twins, uncanny resemblances, and that unsettling feeling that is present in a lot of the different artworks.”

O’Branagain has culled stories from all around the world for her guests at Spooks & Spectres, much as she and storytelling partner Scott Sandwich did for their show at The Blue Room earlier this year, The EpicFor example, she’ll be telling a version of the story of the Ear of Dionysius to accompany Angelica Mesiti‘s video installation In the Ear of the Tyrant, but says, “some of the stories are ancient Greek, some of them are personal stories. Some of them come from my home town in Darwin. I’ve tried to gently match, like a good wine, the stories with the artwork.”

About the preparation process for this performance, O’Branagain says, “There’s been quite a bit of research. My process is that I look at the exhibition and I write down themes or images that jump out to me and draw comparisons to the bank of stories that I know. Then I’ll go back home and do research on the stories that I know and also look for other stories that I don’t know, that might fit even better. And then I’ll write them, I’ll do a kind or retelling of them in my own words, and then I’ll rehearse it so that it looks as good as it sounds.”

She finds these stories both online and in books but says, “As instant and useful as the internet is, there’s something special about opening up my trove of folk tales and mythology that I have in my home library. I can’t stop myself buying books. It’s my chief vice.”

O’Branagain tells me the audience will be ‘deeply involved’ but not in a scary way. “We’ll walk around the artworks, stopping at ones that I’ve particularly been drawn to or have drawn from.” The tone will be “slightly unsettling; spooky but not scary. It’s not inappropriate for children, but maybe not of interest for children.”

O’Branagain is also development with an even bigger event for next year. She works for pvi collective, who will be presenting their immersive street theatre work blackmarket at PIAF 2016.

“We’re polishing it all up; we’ve added some new services. There’s a whole new element to it that hasn’t been in the previous iteration of it at Performance Space in Sydney.

“It’s quite involved for the audience: they have to bring five items to trade that they think would be of use after the Global Financial Collapse. I describe it as what you would take if you were going camping for a really long time, or if you were going to a shelter. Things like condoms, tampons, medical swabs, medicines, things like that that would be of great value after the collapse. They can use those items to trade with the performers to upskill themselves, to trade for the skills and knowledge that will help them survive after there is no more money and no more jobs.”

Pvi have put a call out for performers to take part in blackmarket. “We’re looking for 10 performers who have a keen spirit of adventure, who are rough and ready for anything and have some fun ideas about what might be useful and imperative during such a time. It’s happening through PICA, so potential performers are able to go online and find out all the requirements and the dates. It’s a paid role, so they can find out and register their interest through the PICA website. And if they have any questions, they’re welcome to give us a call at pvi collective.”

Previously it had a season at Performance Space in Sydney in King’s Cross, which, O’Branagain says, “already lends itself to a seedy underbelly, rough trade tone. This time in Perth it’ll be in Subiaco in amongst the abandoned markets and on the streets around there, less of a creepy tone, but still really exciting. There’s 40 audience members per show, but it’s already sold out. It sold out within just a few days of the program launch, which is amazing. It’s really great that Perth is so keen to see pvi’s work since we’re based here.”

Pvi’s been busy abroad, but not so much in Perth. “This year we showed at Prague Quadrennial, the Malmo Festival, the Vordingborg Waves Festival in Denmark and over in the Gold Coast, so we’re so excited to show our hometown what we’re doing. Hopefully we’ll get another opportunity to show it. It’s a really fun work that invites the audience to stretch their imagination and their capacity.”

The choice of setting the performance in the City of Subiaco has been a good one for the collective. “The City of Subiaco is one of our partners, they’ve been helping us out. We’ll have an exhibition showing the items that people have brought to trade at the show. We’re really lucky to have a good partnership with the City of Subiaco to help make it happen, because as you can imagine, there’s quite a bit of logistics to sort out with having people running around the streets looking like they’re doing shady deals and things. You’ve got to have the city on board.”

O’Branagain’s free performance this Friday, 11th of December at PICA runs at 6pm and 8pm, although the 8pm show is now full, according to the PICA event page. RSVP here to get into the 6pm session.