Ahead of our ‘Feminism in the Arts‘ event, co-hosted with Ainslie and Gorman Arts Centres, we’re featuring profiles with our speakers! First up, meet Deb Cleland, an acrobat, aerial dancer and academic.
Tell us a bit about yourself and the type of art you make.
I am an acrobat/aerial dancer/academic, with all the compromise and circuitous life paths that those slashes imply. I originally got into aerials at a major crisis point in my life, where nothing in my head was making sense at all, so I made a very instinctive decision to return to my body and trust it to find a way out. Partly because of this, I like to make work that is able to translate in an embodied way the intellectual ideas that I find scary, stimulating and challenging. Sometimes I think by exploring concepts physically, or by voicing them through story, you can happen upon truths and new pathways that would otherwise be inaccessible. Aerials and acrobatics has always cost me (way) more than it’s made, so I keep my day job as a research assistant at the ANU. I am also at the tail (tale?) end of a never-ending thesis about fishing, games, learning and conservation. Academic work is really lonely most of the time – think sitting by yourself in front of a computer – so I really like to make art that is collaborative and social.
When did you first identify as a feminist?
A really seminal event for me was going to a Reclaim the Night rally with my best friend and her parents in about mid-late high school. Her parent was speaking about working at the Rape Crisis Centre and the incredible (figurative) somersaults she had to perform to keep client confidentiality in a court case. This eventually included being arrested and spending some time in prison. I remember turning up to this political event, in a very vacuous teenage girl manner, after going shopping for hours in a mall somewhere nearby. Both the speech and the rally itself shook me out of the clouds in a way – it took a long time until I could put all the lessons in their place, but I got there eventually.
What’s the key way you think feminism can improve or add to your work?
Ha! Honestly? Rage. Thinking about the inequalities and injustices that exist in the world makes me so mad. And when I am mad I find my voice, I find my reason. I find rage immensely clarifying. Otherwise I have a tendency to muddle around in an uncertain haze. After you’ve found the rage, and the white hot, incandescent core of your message, you can find the funny, the cheeky or the other rough textures in your story. Feminism prompts you to constantly ask whose voices are being projected in your work, and whose aren’t, and what structures need to be shaken for other things to be heard. It’s like a light that, once turned on, illuminates a whole world that incites rage. And with it so many possibilities for art!
Who is a feminist artist you admire?
When I think of feminist artists, I immediately think of writers – probably because I’ve been reading a lot longer than I have been making art. Charlotte Wood, Jamaica Kincaid and Ursula le Guin come to mind. In my field of physical theatre, Ruby Rowat is a phenomenal circus artist who brings together incredible strength and grace with razor sharp gender politics.
You can hear more from Deb at our upcoming event, ‘Feminism in the arts’, at 7pm Thursday 10 November, Gorman Arts Centre Main Hall. More details are on Facebook.
Image: Emi Romero