Suburban Therapy with the OK Collective will be at the opening of Neometro’s New Urban Village at Jewell Station hub this Saturday and Sunday from 12-3pm. We asked Oliver Cloke and Kathy Heyward a few questions about their fantastic project.
Tell us about how OK Collective and Suburban Therapy came about?
The OK Collective began as we started working and living together after we met at the VCA in 2009. We have very different ideas about art and very different interests and practices that we are constantly mashing together to create projects that keep us both intrigued and that encourage intrigue in others as well. There is definitiely a focus on play and the value of art and artists that underpins what we come up with.
Suburban Therapy was an idea conjured as a response to the 2015 MoreArt call out. The Theme was ‘Participation: Real or Imagined’ and really stirred in us ideas about the ways in which people in Moreland interact – traditionally and in contemporary forms. We wanted to instil a sense of nostalgia for those over-the-fence chats and gossip sessions as well as try to capture the ‘old school’ manner of discussing suburban burdens whilst sitting at the laminex with a cup of tea in hand. Perhaps if we lift our heads and just talk to people we could unburden ourselves from some post-millenial woe and feel more connected to our communities.
What role does public art play in the vibrancy of local communities?
Public art projects and pieces could easily be a fabric into which community spirit and pride is woven and bound. We tried to focus on this with our role in the MoreArt program – enlisting artists who either live and/or work in the area, and making their presence more visible we hoped to intertwine the value of the voices of residents and visitors with the value of our talented and hard working artists.
Suburban Therapy is a highly interactive, unpredictable instance of live art, how have you found it has been received? What have been the most interesting outcomes from the sessions?
Unpredictable is right! The artists themselves may actually have gained more from the experiences than the participants. We have had SO much great feedback – artists developing the direction of their own art practice based on their experiences, talk of deeply moving conversations that put our artists in touch with some of the highs and lows of living in the area, participants who were just so very grateful for the time to talk and be heard and also so grateful for the ease of being involved in an art project. We had dogs get therapy, road workers who were intrigued and had their world opened a little, people who sought us out either to talk about something or be able to spend time with certain artists and an amazing, prolonged session with an Upwey line train safety officer who was just overawed by his time with one of our artists and tucked his drawing into his bullet proff vest as he went off to the train.
The OK Collective predominatly operates in the heavily built up Moreland area, do you see inner city living and positive mental health as compatible?
Because Suburban Therapy was borne from the MoreArt call out, we did spend 2 months working in Moreland and was interesting to note how open and ready people were for this kind of engagement. We aren’t just talking about ‘new’ Moreland residents; there is a tremendous influx of ‘gentrified’ residents in the area who may be more aware of the notion of mindfulness, there are also many who feel perhaps a little cut off and solitary regardless of living in such a dense community. This is exactly why positive mental health should be a focus – but perhaps we do need to work a little harder, together, to make these seemingly disparate ideals more compatible.
The perception of inner city living is often one of chaos and noise. How do you think can we maintain our wellbeing in high density environments?
Sometimes we feel more alone when there is a lot happening and a lot of people around – we do actually need to try harder to be aware of each other and take that time to just talk, have a simple chat, say hello and keep walking if that’s all you feel like – whatever lifts the spirit just enough to keep going. Doesn’t it seem odd that we all live so close together yet we don’t always interact? Having those small moments might just dig us out of the chaos a little. A lot of the time people might feel it is ‘easier’ for them to stay disconnected from the others who live in their buildings, perhaps it’s too much hassle and we don’t have time to be friendly to that many people (don’t forget that great Seinfeld episode where Kramer puts the photos up in the foyer ^_^), but it seems like we need to try harder now than ever as the pace of life just gets faster and faster – feeling connected to our communities can ground us.
Melbourne is the world’s most liveable city, yet levels of anxiety and depression remain significant, what can our city to do support positive mental health? What can we do to enhance our individual wellbeing around our inner city lives?
Individually we could most definitely be more patient. Look at the people who stopped at Suburban Therapy in 2015 – there are no accounts of people walking away after their session, no matter how long or short it was, looking deflated, unhappy, lost, defeated. They took the time to sit down, have a chat with a stranger who was taking their time to listen and talk and make something beautiful from the conversation. The 5, 10, 15 minutes or hour even, taken to stop and talk and listen and think and connect, would have invariably slowed down their day and lessened the importance of any negative interactions to follow. When we are in a hurry, thoughts on one thing only, head down – we lose our patience and we lose our focus on what is actually good about that day, that life, that moment, that person, that interaction, whatever!
What can our city do? Keep putting support behind the arts – visual, music, theatre, arts in schools, etc. Art provides opportunities for everyone to be a better ‘self’, whether we realise it or not.
What are your plans for the OK Collective in the future?
We are pretty busy for now with planning underway for a one-off one-day event happening in the city at Queensbridge Square, Southbank on Saturday October 15! PIC Fair is an event that brings 15+ artists who specialise in Performance, Interaction, and Collaboration together in one space – a kind of fete of interactive art practices! This is a family friendly, all ages, all interests kind of deal that will give you another great opportunity to get to know what kinds of art are happening around you, that you can be directly involved in. Suburban Therapy will be there as it will also be again at this year’s MoreArt Festival starting late October!
Other than that we will keep working on ideas and projects that bring together artists and communities and everyday folks in order to make art more accessible, fun and valuable.
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