An interview with Proximity Festival artist Rachael Dease

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Perth-based artist Rachael Dease has many vocations, which frequently overlap: she's a composer, sound designer, singer, musician, theatre maker, visual artist and often works with installation and film. With the advent of the (now biennial) Proximity Festival in 2017, Dease is turning her attention to the creation of intimate one-on-one art.

This is what the imminent festival's website chooses to reveal about Dease's performance, entitled 'This Little Light of Mine':

An intimate meditation exploring the algorithm of time lived, and time yet to come. Sink into a hypnotic ritual where old regrets are dismissed and new desires are illuminated. Can we really live every day like it’s our last? And even if we can, what does it mean to do so?

Lyndon Blue: The description of your Proximity performance on the festival website is fairly enigmatic (I suspect deliberately). Without giving too much away can you elaborate on the kind of space you're working with, the "closeness" to audience members, and how you're approaching the theme of "time lived / time yet to come"?

Rachael Dease: Yep, it's supposed to be vague.  For such a short performance there's a danger of revealing too much.  There was lots of editing trying to pick just the right description for the program.

My space is one of Perth's hidden little secrets, of which we have many. It's very reminiscent of my childhood in its natural state.  My personal proximity is set, but how close the audience perceives that closeness would be up to the individual.

The approach to the theme has been to keep it simple.  Its harder to do than I expected, I hope it's been achieved.  Mostly I work with a very specific type of audience in mind, but for Proximity I very specifically made a work for a general public audience, so it needed to be accessible and easily interpreted across cultures and generations. I think it's a better work because of it, but I guess we'll see!

I also thought about what I could achieve with this festival that I couldn't with any other format, and jumped on that opportunity.

LB: Absolutely, that last point really intrigues me. My engagement with your work has mostly been in music concert settings, where space and audience/performer dynamics are certainly relevant but not necessarily chief concerns. Proximity is quite a unique set up and I think it's bound to expand any artist's practice, do you feel it's sparked new interests for you? Has planning work for a broader demographic caused you to surprise yourself in terms of content and themes, or is it more a question of how you frame and articulate things? 

RD: Proximity has certainly been one of my most challenging experiences so far.  I'm generally guarded, even when I'm working with a team, much of my creativity happens behind closed doors, and it's something I've fiercely guarded.  Bringing down those walls was actually really tough, and the workshop preios last year was like a boot camp both mentally and emotionally.  It was worth it though, I've become a better artist for the experience. I've learnt a lot about the audience experience, which is serendipitous to the work I 've been creating this year as a whole.

Creating a work for a wider audience actually didn't end up being much different to what I'd have created for a niche one, now I think about it.  Open-mindedness and sensitivity with this subject is imperative so what I've learnt through Proximity has been put to use in a very practical and direct manner.

I write a lot using a polyphony of code, or data, or techniques.   This is a relatively naked work for me. It's scary, but it should be. I've got to be at least as brave as the audience, right?

LB: As an audience member that attitude would certainly give me confidence... If I'm participating in an artwork I like to feel like all parties are putting themselves out there, a kind of communal challenge and reward, as opposed to any weird power dynamic.  

On a separate note I'm intrigued about recent projects and how they've informed your ongoing practice. Earlier this year you were conducting a residency in the Arctic Circle, can you describe what that was like?

RD: It's been hard to sum up that experience.  I came back home and started back to back projects since, so I scratching together any time I can find to take my mind back there, work through data and images I collected before it turns into a fantastic dream.  My awareness has shifted, hopefully for the better, for the broader.  Making work for "me" from that adventure is less of a priority now.  I'm sure there will be personal works that come out of it, but when and how, what form that might take, I'm unclear still.  

I captured sounds and images that I didn't think I'd see or hear in my lifetime. I was braver and stronger than I thought I was. My confidence in my capabilities has risen, and that's always a good thing, if humility is kept in check.

I had some trouble getting "clean" sounds up there, even at the end of the earth, far away from people and industry.  This really opened my eyes to aquatic sound pollution, and it's effect on marine wildlife, many of which rely on sound for navigation, hunting and finding a mate.  It's rarely talked about, if ever, and this is something I'd like to learn more about.

LB:  I never would have thought sound pollution would be an issue that far out - nor does sound really factor into my standard conception of how we impact upon wild ecologies... that's quite an insight. 

Bringing it back to Proximity, I wanted to ask if there are particular artists / performances you're especially excited for or feel an affinity with. And similarly, if there's any "close encounter" type artworks that have had a profound effect on you in the past?

RD: There have been genuine moments working with every single artist in Proximity this year that has made me excited to see their work.  To be honest, I haven't experienced a lot of one-on-one work!  I've been looking at the every day moments where people are forced to stop, to think (or not), and how I can create work to punctuate the moments, to make them hyper real.

Proximity festival runs from Sept 26 to Oct 7.

For more info visit


Lyndon Blue