• Towards Prague Quadrennial 2023

APDG National executive member and designer Jo Briscoe APDG is curating the Australian contribution to Prague Quadrennial in 2023 as part of her role as Senior Lecturer at VCA.  Here she talks about the upcoming projects and preparations for PQ23.

June 2023 brings with it the 15th edition of the Prague Quadrennial of Performance Design and Space (PQ) – the prestigious four-yearly festival of all things scenographic.  I sometimes describe it as ‘scenography Olympics’ to give a sense of not only the timeline but the international significance of this event.

PQ is the largest gathering in the world of scenographers – professionals, students and interested visitors. Initially it was primarily an exhibition of design materials – models, costume drawings, photographs – giving a vivid snapshot of the state of play in performance design with a truly international perspective. The original exhibition was in two parts – professional design and schools of design and around those exhibitions were presented a small offering of workshops and lectures. It has since developed into something much broader, and while still centred around the same two main competitive exhibitions, these are supplemented by a wide program of performances, talks, installations, technical labs, demonstrations, workshops and presentations.  In 2019 PQ was attended by 8,005 accredited professionals, students and active registrants from 106 countries, and viewed by over 70,000 visitors.

Each festival has a thematic focus and in 2023 PQ will be The Festival of the Rare.  The focus on specific location and uniqueness of place makes sense for a global festival, especially after the past few pandemic years where we all became acquainted with our places in new ways and have seen the world and our work through changed lenses.  PQ invites designers and practitioners to imagine our post-pandemic future, and to engage audiences in physical space, after so long spent virtually, where senses, physicality and materiality all play a part.

For the first time, Australia’s presence at PQ will be indigenous led, with First Nations designer Jacob Nash the creative lead for both Australia’s exhibitions in PQ23. Jacob is of course the much in demand Head of Design at Bangarra Dance Theatre and Creative Artist in Residence for Sydney Festival, in addition to his other acclaimed and highly-awarded work.  Jacob proposes to include the work of his long-term Bangarra collaborators Jennifer Irwin APDG and Steve Francis in the PQ exhibition, giving a complete sense of how both Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists engage with this unique approach to storytelling, celebrating the Country and cultures indigenous to this continent.

“As a First Nations Australian designer I am continually decolonising theatre spaces and creating performance spaces that culturally respond to the story being told. Having spent the last 12 years designing at Bangarra Dance Theatre, I have continually pushed the way that I tell stories onstage and how audiences view and participate in the narrative.

The concept for PQ23 is to curate several of my works from Bangarra to create an installation that talks to how I, as a first Nations designer, interpret Country and create landscapes for live performance. To do this I will bring together some of Bangarra’s most iconic design elements to create a space that will talk to the ancient stories held within First Nations culture in Australia and how they can exist in a contemporary form when not on Country.

While this space will not hold performance it will hold the memory of performance, Country and culture. Audiences will be able to walk within this sacred space, not as observers but as participants, exploring contemporary spaces where ancient and contemporary culture collide.” – Jacob Nash

Image: Bangarra Dance Theatre

Australia is home to the longest living cultural traditions in the world. Despite this fact, it is all too recent that most Australians are realising the important and entwined cultural and environmental learnings in First National knowledge.  We are thrilled to share this knowledge and unique approach to scenography with the world in 2023.  

This is also the first time both professional and student exhibitions from Australia will be conceived and realised through a single curatorial lens.  The Victorian College of the Arts (VCA) is leading the development of both exhibitions, and I have the privilege of curating both.  The student exhibition is envisaged as a response to the provocation of the professional exhibition of Jacob’s scenographic approach to his creative practice from the perspective of connection to Country and place.  Jacob will lead VCA students in a creative development in response to his design for the professional exhibition.  Students from other institutions have also been invited to participate.  It’s a genuinely exciting project that we hope will have a significant impact on participants and audiences.

Of course these exhibitions will not be the only contribution from Australians to PQ23. Formal announcements of the program are due any day now – keep an eye on  https://pq.cz/ for more information.  Following on from the deft and able leadership of Anna Tregloan over the past two editions, I am taking the curatorial reins for PQAU23. If you are participating, applying or attending PQ, please do get in touch (jbriscoe@unimelb.edu.au).  You can also reach us through our Facebook group PQAU2023.  

We are extremely grateful for the funding for the project development and realisation – the many sources include the Australia Council for the Arts, Create NSW, VCA Foundation, University of Melbourne and Julie and Michael Kantor.

The 15th Edition of PQ takes place June 8-18, 2023 across three main locations: the Prague Market, the National Gallery in the Trade Fair Palace and the Theatre Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague. More information on locations is HERE.

PQ19 Australian Student exhibition – Installation views.  Photo by Bo Johnson.

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