The Politics of Architecture
Presented in association with the Louis Laybourne Smith School of Architecture & Design
Delivered by Peter Sellars
5 October 2000
Peter Sellars is the Artistic Director for the 2002 Adelaide Festival of Arts. He is one of the leading theatre, opera and television directors in the world today. Sellars has a deep interest in the intersection between the political, social and design spheres and offered a thought provoking address.
Elizabeth Ho, Director of the Hawke Centre, welcomes the State Leader of the Opposition, Mr Mike Rann and other VIP guests; and notes an apology from Professor Denise Bradley, Vice Chancellor of the University of South Australia.
I would also like to welcome other senior members of the university. I would particularly like to welcome members of the Louis Laybourne Smith School of Architecture and Design and Councillors and officers of the City of Adelaide, representatives of the Adelaide Festival of Arts, representatives of the Capital City Project, of the North Terrace Redevelopment Project and Planning South Australia, members of the Royal Australian Institute of Architects and other professionals involved in planning and design. We are very pleased to have all of you here, even if you do not fit into any of those categories!
The format of the evening is that we will hear from Peter for approximately an hour. There will be a short question time of up to 15 minutes followed by a vote of thanks. Can I draw your attention to the Mind Space brochure which is sitting on your seats if you have not already picked it up. This lists a number of upcoming events which relate to this wonderful topic of politics, space, design, architecture and arts and as usual it is Adelaide putting the collaborative foot forward. A number of people are involved and we hope that members of this audience will become involved with it.
I would now like to issue an extremely warm welcome to Kaurna Elder, Josie Agius to perform a traditional welcome for us to Kaurna land. Thank you, Josie.
Josie Agius, Kaurna Elder
Ladies and gentlemen, on behalf of the Kaurna elders and the Kaurna people I would like to welcome you here tonight in this theatre to hear some very good speaking, I hear, and to know that we are on Kaurna land and I know that we all respect the land that we are on because it belongs to all of us and it is good to share with each other, I know. So let us work together as indigenous and non-indigenous people, walk together in peace and harmony. I would like to say thank you for inviting me here tonight to welcome Mr Sellars and other people and I have heard him, so you are in for a treat, I think. I would just like you to say thank you very much for the invitation and I hope you enjoy the night. Thank you.
Thank you, Josie. Now, Peter promised me that he plans to light a fuse tonight but we cannot let him start the fire without a rousing welcome and this is to be the very pleasurable duty of Professor Michael Rowen, Pro Vice Chancellor for Education, Arts and Social Sciences. Michael's portfolio is a very extensive one but for tonight most importantly it includes art, arts, design and architecture. Thank you, Michael.
Professor Michael Rowan
Pro Vice Chancellor, Education, Arts and Social Sciences, University of South Australia
Thank you, Liz. It is my pleasure to introduce to you Peter Sellars this evening. As we all know, Peter is the Festival Director of our next Adelaide Festival of Arts and we wait with eagerness, as I am sure you will appreciate, Peter, we always do, to see what this brings and how we can each of us work out how to gobble up as much of the experience that will be on offer as will be possible for us to do. We look forward to 2002 with great anticipation.
We know that you are one of the leading theatre, opera and television directors in the world having directed more than 100 productions, large and small, across America and throughout the world. You are a graduate of Harvard University. You have also studied in Japan, China - I must say I have been to China twice this year and I have totally fallen in love with it - and I have a renewed interest in architecture in this town having seen what extraordinary buildings the Chinese are building in their rapidly modernising cities and feeling so bored with my city when I get back. So I have got a match for your fuse as well as you if you have not got it running.
You also studied in India before becoming Artistic Director of the Boston Shakespeare Company and then at the age of 26 Director of the American National Theatre at the Kennedy Centre in Washington DC. Peter is a recipient of the McArthur Prize Fellowship and was recently awarded the Erasmus Prize at the Royal Dutch Palace for his contributions to European culture. In 1990 and 1993 Peter was the Artistic Director of the Los Angeles Festival, a large-scale, grass-roots, international, inter-cultural and inter-disciplinary civic experiment in mobilising the arts.
In an ABC TV interview in August 1999 Peter talked about cultural activism in the new century and put forward the view that the function of humanities was to build a safe and secure society based on an understanding among peoples and in reference to the Adelaide Festival he said, "We are going to use the Adelaide Festival as a point of focus in this country and that is going to attract the world's attention because the issues that need to be discussed here need to be discussed everywhere. I would like to think that in Australia and in this next generation we have an amazing opportunity to take a leadership role and to face the issues that are urgent all around the planet, to face them here with courage, invention, skill and the hard part, generosity. This is the moment where Australia moves into a leadership role, not following, because we have seen enough examples. We need new ones. Cultural life will be our laboratory. The research and development wing needs to be supported and let us build the next society."
In that vein of cultivating cultural development Peter has kindly agreed to be with us this evening to share his thoughts about the politics of architecture. As one role of universities is to foster and encourage intellectual thought and debate, The Hawke Centre, together with the Louis Laybourne Smith School of Architecture and Design at the University of South Australia, is delighted that Peter has agreed to give us his insights in this topic and that you, our magnificent audience this evening, are here to witness him, as Liz put it, light a fuse in the politics and architecture keg.
Peter brings to the topic of politics and architecture a well-travelled and experiential view of the relationship between art and life and more than this, a stated commitment to building those relationships through the Adelaide Festival of Arts. He also brings a willingness to be honest, refreshingly so, about what he sees around him in terms of art, architecture and design and how this relates to our public life. He has been quoted as saying, "When I came to Adelaide I was shocked because, you know, in downtown Adelaide there are just more ugly buildings than you can imagine. Many extraordinary architects are doing what is absolutely path-breaking here. The question is: where is this work in our public life?"
Peter's criticisms about architecture in Adelaide relate to, among other things, the need for Adelaide to retain a human scale, fitting with our enviable lifestyle, not to emulate necessarily larger cities which have made many mistakes but to chart our own way and to value the importance of our public space. This evening's topic will give Peter, I am sure, plenty of space to range over these and other things in the politics of architecture. Please join me in making him welcome.
Peter Sellars, Artistic Director of the 2002 Adelaide Festival of Arts
That was quite an introduction. My gosh, I am not used to so much substance coming beforehand. That is great. Do you mind if I just roam, free-range chicken tonight, just get a little space going here. Ladies and gentlemen, good evening. Thank you so much for coming. Tonight's topic of course was selected for us by The Advertiser and I am very, very grateful because it just has stirred up a hornet's nest which is terrific because in this city, I have to say, things must be done. It is pretty dire out there needless to say. The charm of the building that we are in, of course, was not lost on people coming up those stairs but the fact is right now I do believe a society that is able to build something that you actually want to be in, it is a function of vision, it is a function of what kind of world do we want to live in and now let us build it, let us construct it.
It is the ability to get from the vision and the imagination, to the blueprint, to the ground-breaking, to put it into practice. In other words, to live your life actually putting into practice the things you believe in, as opposed to saying: "I believe in a bunch of these things but actually, I go to work every day and do something else." Right now, the big task is for us as a society to put forward things we actually believe in, and follow them through. This question of embodying your beliefs rather than just talking about them, as you know is practised in many cultures in South-East Asia just near us; I am thinking of two primary art forms and they are related, dance and architecture.
Why? Because it is not just enough to talk about something, you have to inhabit it, you have to prove it with your body. So in South India you just do not recite the sacred scripture, you levitate. It is that idea of directly employing it as healing practice, as taking everything you believe in and you care about and using that to transform your life, the lives of the people around you. Architecture is a way of taking that process and making it civic, a real society, and of course one of the things that just knocked me out when I first got to Australia was how many extraordinary architects here in Australia are making Australian architecture.
It is not like American architecture, it is not like European architecture. It really is completely unique and they are all making private homes - for a handful of people who can afford it and have the interest, these beautiful sites, majestic, hidden away, ecologically intelligent; and then you turn around and look at this country's public works. This is the task now. Can we make public space for a public? Who is the public? What are we trying to say by democracy? Why are we so intent on constructing and sustaining a democracy? That is, I think, one of the biggest questions right now.
We have inherited from the British Isles a beautiful tendency towards an inside job, an aristocratic approach: the best people know the best people and that solves that and no further discussion is required. I think the task with public space is that democracy all over the world is in its infancy. Right now nobody is that good at practising it. Right now it is in a lot of trouble everywhere. In my country most people don't vote and if you saw the debate last night you will know why. There was absolutely no debate. All over the world people are waiting for leaders, people are waiting for someone who will stand up and use their voice to say something they actually believe in.
That is the task right now and right now people are waiting. It is a very, very intense situation because there is so much that needs to be done and needs to be said and so few people are willing to stand up in public and say it and do it. So what happens is we get public work that says nothing and does not do much more. This sense of absence, this sense of blankness, this sense that a movement in architecture which was modernism which is very, very complicated, the Bauhaus, Mies van der Rohe, all of this streamlined architecture at the beginning of the century, the twenties and thirties, I actually have a personal theory about. I think it was the first example in the century of ethnic cleansing.
That is to say people like Stravinsky and Kandinsky, whose names are not Smith, showed up in places like Paris and Berlin and said: oh, I am cosmopolitan, I did not come from a little Russian village, my culture was not formed in a shetl and I am going to act like I am from nowhere, and I am going to act like I do not know my parents, and I am going to create a culture which erases the Polish village I came from. I am going to create a culture which erases the Russian village I came from - which removes the ethnic roots, which says: oh, there is such a thing as international style, we can all just be international, as long as you have your Diners Club card you can go anywhere and do anything you want - with no larger sense that one place is different from another place.
They made modern art that could be the same in Paris and New York. They made an approach that was about: "okay, modernism does not belong anywhere, it just exists universally". Of course, it went together with marketing, the other great art form of the twentieth century, which means you can get the same toothpaste anywhere in the world today, which is really convenient if you use Colgate. At the same time what we are missing is something else. For example, in the old days of travel it used to be if you were going to China you would say to your friends: "okay, I am going to Shanghai, see you in 25 years", because a trip to China would take 25 years and it would change your life and you knew that and you would spend 25 years, probably 10 years going there, 5 years staying there, another 10 years coming back and see by the time you got back if any of your friends recognised you.
In Sufi parlance, travel is called cooking. You are raw and you travel in order to become cooked, this idea that you yourself will change in the process of travel, in the process of going somewhere. Now, we have the same ugly Hyatt in Shanghai that we have in Adelaide and it is owned by the same Singapore real estate company. Amazing. The idea is you do not have to change your life to go to Shanghai. You can be your same self in Shanghai and there is a Hyatt Hotel you can go to that will make sure you do not have to change who you are.
So this culture of some things the same everywhere and we just need the identical supermarket, the identical convention centre, the identical everything everywhere so you can go to whatever city and find all the same things you are looking at and looking for. Now, I would say that is a side of modernism that turned out not very well and in fact, just in terms of building procedures, it produced a lot of ugly buildings that by now we can genuinely say do not age gracefully. They really look bad as they live longer. The Bauhaus style apartment blocks turned out to be the model for urban housing projects, estate housing I think you call it here. What you do with poor people is you destroy blocks and blocks of flats and you build these gigantic, undifferentiated places where people live anonymously.
Now, in America we found out that those are centres of violence, suicide and genuine pain. All that streamlining certainly gave the developer a profit, but the society is going to be paying off this debt for generations. This question of what it means when you put up housing for people and you put public architecture in place that is cold, brutal, heartless, without cultural reference points, culturally blank. In other words, the centre of people's life is their television set because their environment itself is completely sterile and there is nothing you can look at apart from your TV set that would remind you that there is a world we live in that has values, because none of those values are available in your horrible front door, your horrible front window that does not work, the really bad kitchen.
In no place is there a statement of any other value than cheapness, cutting a corner, trying to get something for nothing and this whole question of what architecture represents of the great moments in history which is when people cared enough to build something that was more than functional. Yes, it is functional but you do not congratulate yourself with that, you do not say: "wow, function, we got it". Like Carnegie Hall is definitely functional but it is Carnegie Hall. It is a beautiful place to be, it is magical, it is exhilarating, it has class, it has style, it has presence, it has beauty, it has in the decoration the sense that somebody cares.
They did not have to spend all that money, they did not have to go to all that trouble. You know what? They did. They did that little extra bit that said: "you know what, somebody actually cared once and was doing more than the bare minimum". It is an amazing way to live a human life, is to aspire to more than the bare minimum and for a society to reach further than that, for a society to say: "actually we are here to create a generation of the most exciting, brilliant, spiritually illuminated human beings that have ever been on the planet and what we want for our kids is to grow up in a paradise. We want our kids to be surrounded with learning, with pleasure, with intelligence, with beauty, that is what we want for our kids and that is why we are not going to build some crappy school, we are going to build a school that is inspiring".
Now, I mentioned when I was talking in the Town Hall that when my country was coming out of the Depression in the thirties we had something called: The Works Progress Administration, the WPA. What was very impressive about that - I mean, I must say we have a little bit forgotten that. Our current approach to homelessness is to put people in gaol but in the thirties the idea was that these are not bad people just because they are poor. It is actually about deep belief in every human being and saying actually if you believe in people they are capable of amazing things and if you do not believe in them then you might as well just throw them out.
The task is to believe in people. The task is not to constantly set up cycles of dependency for people who you do not actually believe in. The task is to understand human beings are amazing and they need to be given the occasion. WPA took all these homeless and out-of-work people and rebuilt bridges, libraries, schools and post offices and to this day the backbone of America - I mean, it is my theory of why America was able to go in and be heroic in World War II - is actually because it had invested in itself, a country coming out of a depression in the previous decade. America had invested in itself and it said: actually we are going to take the poorest people in this country and put them to work; we are going to employ artists; we are going to employ historians; we are going to employ community organisers and we are going to make a period that is a renaissance, that is a resurgence of national strength.
That is when the United States emerged on to the national scene after one decade of investing in itself and investing in the worst neighbourhoods and the people who were at the lowest point. That heroism, that can-do America that went into World War II, that emerged out of World War II as a powerhouse, that is the task. That did not just happen because it was an accident or historical moment. That truly was because the decade before America invested deeply in itself and literally in its poorest. It was binding up the weak and broken-hearted. It was an actual gesture of belief in every person on the street.
I should show you some of those programs. It created the greatest theatre in American history. Orson Welles Mercury Theatre came out of the Works Progress Administration. They did a series of spectacular living newspapers, including one of my favourite shows called: Power, which is: who owns the power company and why and how come we all do not own it and how come electricity is not free? That is another topic. Anyway, interesting question because there is a lot of money moving and the question is how does that money move and who gets it and what is that money being used for and how is it being shared back into the society?
So this idea of mailing a letter is one of the big events of my day in Venice Beach where I live because the post office in Venice was part of the Works Progress Administration. You go into this adorable building that says: my God, I live in Venice, it is so cool, I love living here. You go in and there are these murals on the wall. First of all there is beautiful woodworking everywhere. None of this tacky formica but it is woodwork, beautiful woodwork, California redwood, interior of the post office. Then all around the post office are murals of the future of America, as imagined in 1932, that are just inspiring to this day.
So just mailing a letter as an average citizen my day is lifted, my thought is lifted, my imagination is opened, my sense of possibility is refreshed, my sense of purpose is renewed. I am energised by going to the post office and mailing a letter. The idea is that there is no moment of your day where your imagination should not be ignited, where you should not be invited to some new horizon and that is what we are talking about, about public architecture. We are talking about waiting for the bus; we are talking about crossing the street; we are talking about going to the park; we are talking about simple moments in your day which are either an energy drain, dull you out, make your mood worse, or are that moment of inspiration, refreshment, surprise, learning, insight, discovery.
Now, recovering from this period of architecture which has been so errored and I would say we are really coming from a very, very painful period where, I think the easiest way to say it, easiest way to look at it is, most architects for the last three generations have had no clue how to decorate a building. Just there are no details that are interesting enough. Decoration is in crisis because everything is being pure. So the simplest little pleasure of: I was here, you know, all we have, a lot of the 20th century is just the world's largest invitation to graffiti. All you want to do is just take this wall out of its misery and spray paint all over it, you know, because this wall is so uptight and you just want to say: "relax, it is fine". You just want to come out and do the place.
What does it means that a building has meaningful detail on it, well, for one thing is that the building breathes. The detail is what gives the building dimensionality and structure and lets there be space, aerates the building. There are not these big, solid slabs of surfaces but in fact it is what articulates the surface, invites you in, invites you out, lets breathing occur. All of this decorative surface is what lets the whole thing breathe and be alive and it is where buildings can come to life.
Now, again if you are on a certain type of budget or if you are impressed with sheer volume and sheer surface, then there is no decoration. But I think we are moving into a new period where what we will insist upon is like Gothic cathedrals, that every surface be articulated and be articulated beautifully and interestingly. Gothic cathedrals are these extraordinary records of the people who built them with the people who built them are all up and down the walls and you see them, the walls are alive with statuary and sculpture. Those buildings are speaking to you. They are records of everyone who lived there and you cannot mistake the cathedral in Chartres for the cathedral in Paris. They are really different and you can see from the cast of characters right on the front door.
You cannot miss it, that sense that this building is going to talk about who is here now, what they have been doing, what is on their minds, what they are going for, what their aspirations are, what their genuine struggle is. That is articulated in the surface of the building. Now, this sense that our buildings can speak for us is a really important thing because you cannot change the world until you can first stand up in public and articulate it. Coming from a country that created something called the: Declaration of Independence - if you want to be independent, hello, declare it first. There has to be that space for declaration, that space for public saying: this is where we want to go, this is what we mean, we are not there yet but we are going to declare it.
This architectural gesture of the public declaration which is laying out something you want to aspire to so you can move towards it. Again you are not there yet but it is about a vision. It is about where we are going, not where we already are, where we might go. Can we articulate that in public so that every day we can all look at it, comment on it, reflect on it, add to it, discuss it. Again these cathedrals are the works of generations. Lots of people have lots of input. There is lots to discuss. These buildings are the reflection of that discussion. So this sense, which I think is really important, that right now in our generation we are going to articulate architecture differently.
May I underscore one more key point which is this question of social justice. We are living in a period where anybody who has the most money is looked up to. Bill Gates is, I will say, definitely the greediest person on the planet but there are more interesting things going on and this is the time now, grass-roots level, where I think most of the world is wearying of this kind of gigantism, this sense that the only solution is big and bigger and bigger and joining larger and larger corporate entities. People are realising the quality of life in a giant corporate entity is not what they had imagined and, in fact, the quality of life you are looking for is in a community, is intimate, has pleasure, has shared experience and a whole series of other things.
So to me the reason I came to Adelaide and the reason I was so excited to be here, and actually still am excited to be here, is because I think South Australia is where the future not only of this country is going to be written, but where the future of the industrialised world is going to be written. To me I am really interested in being surrounded by the detritus of what did not work here in South Australia. That is spectacular. In case you thought it worked, take another look. The proof is staring at you in the face. Okay, South Australia becomes the key place where the alternatives are going to be developed and this is where the leadership is right now.
The idea that this is the first place in the industrialised world that will go green, that really is: the future is in olive groves and wineries, and IT and this whole idea that you do not have to damage the planet to live here and that South Australia will be the first place to demonstrate that and that people will in South Australia connect quality of life not just as a dopey brochure for a yuppy holiday package, but quality of life for social justice, quality of life as what it means to live well, to live in harmony and balance with the planet. Quality of life, which is what everybody everywhere on the planet is looking for, believe me, here you have the best chance to get there and develop the alternatives here first.
I am so impressed that already South Australia is the IT-wired state in Australia. South Australia is way ahead of the rest of the country in IT development and this leadership is really crucial. It is what is so exciting for the rural population here, as obviously isolation is one of the nightmares of living in this far-flung manner in rural South Australia. And I have to say no doubt one of the reasons I was brought to town was Adelaide is a long way from London. Everyone says: "why cannot we bring a little of London here, please, just once every 2 years?" What is so great is the internet. Everybody is connected, everybody is wired and people are talking, particularly youth now.
Youth are talking all over the planet and conversations are going between Adelaide and New Delhi. Conversations are going between Adelaide and Johannesburg, conversations are going between Adelaide and Los Angeles and New York and London. It is IT. The idea that this IT initiative is moving full blast in this state is so crucial and is very, very, very impressive. It means buildings can be intelligent. It means all kinds of parts of our lives can be newly intelligent. That is really, really crucial and at the same time to go with it the organic movement, this question of organic farming, obviously this question of the wineries, that is a future, that is an amazing future.
To articulate that future at this moment and to, at the same time, put historically what South Australia and Adelaide has stood for which is the sense of tolerance, this sense of open-mindedness, which now I think needs to be reflected in a series of civic projects. That is to say, as you know, tolerance and open-mindedness, like democracy, they are lovely but highly perishable. It is amazing how 5 minutes after remarking how tolerant we are and how this is the only city not founded by convicts, we are trying to pass a dry zone in this city. Tolerance, hello? Hello? Where are the convicts? These are really serious questions, these questions of tolerance, these questions of open-mindedness, of maintaining a civic culture of open-mindedness.
It must be maintained. It does not just stay by itself. Like democracy, well, like raising your kids, you have got to work at it every single day. It is not that Billy was fine when he was 10 so we do not have to worry about it. Billy is a teenager now, get ready. You have got to stay in there every day and what I am talking about, these monuments to tolerance is: could Adelaide, city of churches, city of freedom, city of tolerance, city of generosity, city of open-mindedness, please articulate these values in the public sphere so that they are there for all to observe, to be reminded of, so the bar is raised for everyone that walks in this town that this is what this city is standing for and is based on, that there are values in this city and these values are in our public places, our public architecture?
Now, I would just say for me one of my greatest pleasures is the Botanic Gardens here and when I think of public space that is so exciting because you go in there and it is non-stop surprise, fun, contrast, delirium, craziness, range of cultural reference, really inspiring place. What are the new cultural references? Well, it is very interesting. Can Adelaide articulate the reality of its Muslim culture? Can Adelaide articulate, you know, what does it mean that we have the first Chinese mayor in Australia of a major city? That is big deal. This is really extraordinary stuff. Can we have public images of this city moving forward, of this state moving forward, because frankly human beings are capable of amazing things unless they are depressed, demoralised and their energy has dissipated.
Why I love that it says, "The Festival State" on the licence plates here is: let us juice it, let us heat it up, let us get festive. Enough of hanging around looking all sad. Let us go there, put your foot on the gas pedal and go. Let us go into the future. Let us not run from the future, let us run into it, towards it, embrace it, go there 100 per cent. Now, most people are a little timid about that and they need the public encouragement of a tell wind, a ground swell, a movement, because that is what it is about right now. It is not about little individual people doing this and that. It is realising: hello, we are alive, a movement. This is a generation that is transforming the culture and the civilisation and it is happening here and it is happening now and we are articulating that in a series of public works.
Now, when I say public works, I really must emphasise the kind of process the Adelaide Festival - as most people in this room probably know, the 2002 Festival will be devoted to truth and reconciliation, ecological sustainability, rights of indigenous peoples, right to cultural diversity really. What do I mean by that? I just mean: does anyone have a right not to be American? You know, will all culture have to be this mass culture that is given to our kids every single day or can we have our own culture and our own cultures and live in ways that are unique to here? The reason I came from Los Angeles to Adelaide is Adelaide is unique and I was interested in it.
I am happy that Adelaide is not Los Angeles and everything that makes Adelaide more like Los Angeles makes me sad. Everything that makes Adelaide more like Adelaide makes me really interested and want to go back to Los Angeles and say: see what people can do. That is right now the task, not to let things go the way they have gone in the major American cities. Not to go in this direction of gigantism, in this coldness of public works, this coldness of public life, but instead towards the actual heat that was the foundation, Colonel Light's foundation and, if I could say, the indigenous meeting place that Adelaide always was. This special magical place between the hills and the sea where all of these really crucial lay lines are all intersecting and the deep, deep, deep power that is in this place in the world and that has been here for centuries and centuries and centuries must be respected, must be developed, must be understood, working with indigenous people here.
So much of what is beautiful in this part of the world has been covered with cement. What does it mean that this is actually the most fertile land right here, we are on it, but it is mostly covered with cement, the most fertile land in the state? Can we really renew Adelaide as a garden, really re-invigorate that idea of a garden, deepen that idea of a garden, the garden of paradise, you know, Ohler's [phonetic] Garden of Paradise, that place of rest and recovery for all? This question of repose, of respite, of pleasure, of peace, place for world peace, a place for reflection, a place for imagination, a place for the development of the spirit and the soul, a place for human beings to inhale and exhale.
Not a factory, not a place to be driven, not a pushing, loud place but a place of inner spaciousness where the greenery and the richness of what grows is the urban image. This we have to learn from our indigenous peoples here. So many of the Kaurna people have been so generous but it is really time to take that on board very, very, very seriously and look at what this place was before Colonel Light and then see the light and enlightenment of Light's vision which is very real, this magical vision, vision of that much greenery, that circle and the idea of Victoria Square as a very deep place.
We really have to move beyond Victoria Square as a political football and understand Victoria Square as a much deeper phenomenon which right now in its current state is so unsatisfactory for everyone. We love Rundle Street. Rundle Street is a very inspiring phenomenon if you have money. When I am talking about public space I am talking about space also for citizens who do not have money and I am talking about citizens who have money are not more important than citizens who do not have money because citizens are citizens. Every single human being is equally important in the eyes of God and everyone else and can we reflect that? Can we have beautiful public space for people with no money to sit down and not worry about it?
That is going to be really, really crucial in this next period. I think Adelaide in these next 200 years is actually going to truly begin to fulfil its promise that in 1838 was a glimmer. I think it is now time to, first of all, see the industrialised developments that did not work, see where Sydney, Melbourne and so on are going. There is no point in being the next Brisbane or Perth. There is a great, great, great, great point in being the next Adelaide. The Adelaide Festival, as I mentioned, is going to focus on these questions of reconciliation but again, as Nelson Mandela suggested, perhaps the word "truth" should come first, modestly.
How do we engage in truth-telling? How can we begin to open up our own history? Obviously Australian history is a pretty fraught field but also very mysterious. Let us open this up a lot more, please. It is way more interesting than it looks. Let us get a little more real. For me the cultural reality, you know, was the Chinese opera was here before Western opera. That is very cool. The reality of the history here is so much more interesting than the fantasy of the history. So it would be really interesting to explore some of that and we are working on that.
Also this question of the ecological future because obviously this is not just after-dinner conversation. This is a part of the world where the question of salination is so urgent. It is not like just an interesting thing to talk about. It is: hey, everyone, we have got to deal. So you have been placed by God in a leadership position on this question, which is fantastic. It means it is time to really make huge strides and to be seen making strides. Now, I mentioned that the Adelaide Festival when I first came here will not primarily be worked from abroad but instead will be commissioning Australian artists to work on the real issues here because I am tired of this notion that Australian is second best when, in fact, it is just great.
I am coming from elsewhere and I am really interested in what is here, and what I am seeing is really exciting. Talk about the dollar. "Undervalued" I think is the word and I think right now here we have to start valuing things and valuing the work of our artists and valuing the voice of this generation. I always remember the second night of the Los Angeles uprising and the city is in flames and helicopters are going all over the place. I was having dinner with a woman named Bernice Johnson-Reagon who would hate it if I said this but she was essentially the Music Director of the Civil Rights Movement.
That is to say, when you see all those clips of Martin Luther King marching through Selma and Albany and people are singing, that is Bernice leading the singing. Of course, all these reporters were coming up to Bernice that night and saying, "Bernice, Bernice, what do we do, what do we do?" You know, we do not have Martin Luther, we do not have Malcolm X, we do not have these leaders any more and Bernice very calmly looked up from her dinner and said, "If you are waiting for a leader you are not hearing the sound of your own voice." This is the time. This is the moment and what the next few years are is Adelaide moving into this new century not just slipping into it but really full blast.
We are trying to make the Festival a way to focus this sense of: this is the state with a future; this is the state that is moving into that future, engaging with that future. The reason we have picked architecture, film and food as primary focuses of the Festival is because those three art forms are under the most commercial pressure. That is to say, most people working in those forms imagine they are just service providers, and to be able to remind architects, film-makers and cooks that they are artists, invite them to act like artists and take the space that artists take and get the recognition, will be a pleasure.
To reduce some of the commercial pressure on those fields and again to invite people in those fields to work with greater sense of idealism, pleasure and imagination will be one of the main tasks and challenges of the Festival. Now, one of the ways the Festival is structured is I have hired eight Associate Directors and in turn we have a 20-person steering committee of artists from across the country and those artists are architects, film-makers, chefs, poets, a whole range of people who do not normally see each other every Friday night, and different combinations so the conversation really has to go deep.
The Festival itself is being programmed in working groups. Probably about 300 people will end up choosing what is in the next Adelaide Festival and developing it. So there is a group of artists from up and down the Murray River working on the Murray River questions. We have working groups around all of these questions because, of course, when you are confronted with these things you say, "Well, this is more than I can handle myself alone personally." What you want to do is get the most interesting folks you can to gather and all work on it together, create a space where the best ideas can begin to emerge.
Similarly as Adelaide and South Australia look forward to a series of visionary architecture projects, I would suggest it is not so much hiring the official genius to deliver the wacky building, although God knows we approve of that in a certain way, more importantly right now to me is the question of cultural engagement, is the question of beginning to value people's view and points of view about what gets built. Now, this is a little bit tender, I realise, but for me one of the problems we had in the last couple of decades is there has been a lot of art but not much culture.
What I mean is some balls get put up next to the bus stop and they are a work of art but they do not mean a whole lot to people taking the bus. They are just some balls over there. The question is, aside from putting your balls around, are there other ways in which you can make a contribution to public space? Is there a question of something that would mean something to people waiting at that bus stop? How much work can you go to actually take the trouble to meet people so that those lives are recorded, so that every human life here is recorded, is registered? Because, of course, one of the big crises around so much of multi-culturalism where certain people from certain backgrounds look around and everything reinforces their self-image - other people look around and there is nothing in the environment that reflects them back.
They look everywhere without seeing any place where their own life is reflected back to them and after a while if you cannot find a mirror in the world you do not exist. So this question of how many different kinds of mirrors can we create for how many different kinds of people, to say all of these people are here and with us, not just in the image of a handful of people but in the image of all the people taking the bus, in the image of all the people taking the tram.
I do not just mean asking people what they want because that, as politicians can tell you, does not necessarily get you that far because if people could have what they wanted - I think you probably know that the biggest hit sites on the internet are pornography and whatever - mostly, I think as you know from just being a human being, usually what you want is not a good idea.
I do not mean to just generalise but, just as a human being, chances are if you want something it is probably not a very good thing and we mostly need to be protected from most of the things that we want. Also if people could have imagined it they would have done it already. It would already exist, is my belief. I think most people have not yet been able to imagine it and the question is how you create the focus groups that give people permission to think outside the boundaries of their usual thinking? So again to a very simple example. Obviously if you are around a dinner table and somebody says something totally brilliant and amazing, the unbelievably stupid thing you are about to say you do not mention and you are just silent and you just chew on something for a little while, take another three bites, take a drink of water and then finally come back with your hugely revised thought.
So that is the kind of dinner party we need to invite everyone to, where there are just a few more exciting ideas on the table that are more stimulating than what most people get to see every day and that do wake people up and that do say: "wait a minute". Well, if you ask the question that way and then people's response is not the predictable thing that they walked in the room with, but they themselves are stimulated and that is the question right now, is not to leave everyone where you found them but to create a process that allows everyone to get past the first, second, third, fourth and fifth idea into the twelfth, thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth idea and in fact to realise that as human beings on the face of the earth all of our ideas get better when other people have engaged with them. That is a really very, very, very important thing to being alive.
I constantly tell my students because we over-value drastically this notion of self, when in fact who you are does not really exist. You are just everyone you ever met and if you want to be a little more interesting then meet some more interesting people, please. You would be amazed, because you only find those parts of yourself when you are with people who allow those parts of yourself to emerge that you have never met before, and it is always those life experiences that are so shocking, where you are in some horrible situation but actually you find out things about yourself you never knew.
It is those ways in which we put ourselves out for the experiences we did not expect. So how do you go about public planning along those lines? That is what is interesting, that is what is exciting. This question of throwing open the gates, having a genuine participation, having the energy of a genuine democracy, because believe me, once people are invited into the process they stay interested. Then you put something by that bus stop and people are proud of it, they bring their friends there, they drive by it and point it out and it tells their children what is going on.
You know one of the most important public works projects that we did in the Los Angeles Festival was around the Salvadorian community. It comes to mind since I was proposing chaos theory and crisis as an approach to public policy. In the 1990 Los Angeles Festival we invited 10 distinguished Latin American poets to come to Los Angeles because, as you know, in Latin America poets are more distinguished by far than heads of state and are really heroes for the people. So we had a committee and they read lots of books of poetry and then invited their 10 favourite Latin American poets.
All 10 of these distinguished people accepted and we announced this list of poets in the Los Angeles Times and we were feeling very proud. The next morning I walked into my office to find it occupied by 50 very angry Salvadorians. We had invited Davide Escobar Galindo, the right wing extremist whose signature is on the peace documents with the Reagan administration, who was Alfred Cristiani's closest personal friend, Mr Cristiani who personally supported and created the death squads. So the reason why there were all of these Salvadorians in Los Angeles was they were fleeing for their lives from indeed these people. So the idea that we had invited Mr Cristiani as a spokesman of Salvadorian culture was horrifying.
Now, my problem was I had never met any Salvadorian artists in Los Angeles. I met them that morning. We then had a really profound and extraordinary Salvadorian program and we would not have if we had not invited Mr Cristiani. We would just not have had a Salvadorian program but because we invited Mr Cristiani, suddenly we had an extraordinary encounter with Salvadorian artists and what they are doing in Los Angeles. So in the next Los Angeles Festival we invited one of these artists, Dagoberto Reyes, a sculptor, to create a sculpture.
His process in creating the sculpture was every two Friday nights a month at El Rescate, the Salvadorian refugee centre in the Pico Union area which is the most densely populated area in the United States. It is intense and it is where all of these people are living, trying to dodge the immigration authorities and it is a nightmare. They will not let their children out of the house because they are afraid they will be picked up so the children never go to school and, you know, on and on and on and on. Dagoberto Reyes had every two Friday nights an open exhibition where Salvadorians were invited to bring memorabilia, photographs, objects, things about their previous life, how they escaped, how they made it across the border and exhibit them.
This exhibit would stay up for the next 2 weeks but every Friday night you would have the people talk you through the exhibit and what these objects meant, the lives that were lost, the many lives that people have had, people who again you would not look at twice on the bus, and you do not realise that person three seats over on the bus escaped from a Salvadorian prison camp, had their entire family slaughtered, got over the Mexican border - God knows how - is missing her left breast because it was removed in a torture session, was a university student in El Salvador 17 years ago.
We are living with heroes right now here in Adelaide. You have not met them yet. How do we meet the people we need to meet to realise giants walk the earth and are among us, people of courage, beauty, vision? They are here. So they shared their stories for 6 months and Dagoberto Reyes made a large bas-relief sculpture called: Why we Emigrate. We installed it in McArthur Park where it was the first permanent marker of the Salvadorian community in the United States and all of the objects from the exhibits are buried underneath the sculpture in a time capsule to be dug up 100 years from now so their great-grandchildren will know why there are Salvadorians in North America.
That is the kind of public art we are talking about. It is the kind of public art that Australia felt deeply about at the end of the First World War and at the end of the Second World War. I would ask you now to update those memorials and ask us once again to ask what it is we care about and believe in most and then to choose a place in the middle of town and vision it, imagine it, build it. Thank you.
Well, that was a very stimulating hour but someone else is going to thank you very profoundly in a minute and that is Gini Lee, but before we do that we have got time for a few questions and we have got a couple of roving microphones. Over in the back.
Question from audience
My name is Joyce. Thank you for speaking and articulating what a lot of people in Adelaide who are living in pain want said because they are not being listened to. In particular I would like to ask you what we should do. Two-and-a-half weeks ago a building was knocked down in Victoria Square. It was an old building. For about a dozen years or so before a lot of people around Adelaide had got together to work with creativity and hope to be of some support to the Aboriginal people that meet there and who meet in other places in Adelaide and 2½ weeks ago we failed because on the Sunday morning of the Olympics opening weekend that building was knocked down.
We do not know what to do now. One of the things you have said was people can do great things if they are not depressed and demoralised. We have seen over the last 200 years our indigenous people get depressed and demoralised. We know there are lots of heroes here in Adelaide and we are glad you recognise that in the indigenous people, in the refugees that have come here, in all sorts of ordinary people that are living with courage at a time when homelessness is the worst it has ever been here in Adelaide in probably 200 years. What do we do because we are demoralised and discouraged? What do we do if when we get together in our neighbourhoods, in our concerned citizens groups, and somewhere, somehow a hidden agenda is still knocking buildings down like it did 2½ weeks ago?
Thank you very much. I have to say it does seem a little crazy to be stripping buildings of their historical registration in a city that has really crucial old buildings.
Question from audience
I am sorry, can I just explain that that was a small building and it was a toilet block and the significance of it is that the Aboriginal people who met on the square and did not have anywhere else to go, had to use those toilets. When that happened about 20 years ago in Hurtle Square, Hurtle Square lost all the people that used to meet there and rely on the toilets. That is one of the reasons why it is so significant.
No, I mean, the politics of toilets are very serious and obviously are used. Skid row in Los Angeles where again the same techniques were attempted to remove all the toilets, there are over 600 people sleeping there every night and in conditions that are fairly shocking. Everybody is in these - you see them lined up - furniture boxes. The fire department comes in at 5 am every morning with hoses and hoses them all down, so you have got to be out of your box by then and of course that destroyed that box so the search is on every day for the next box and so on and so on. It is a very intense thing.
Finally there are portable toilets which are not in downtown Los Angeles but we have had the same battle around the same lines in Los Angeles. Again I think one of the things that is pretty exciting right now is, if I could emphasise, this is a time to support youth, youth agendas, youth initiatives. Right now I really feel very deeply that everything that needs to be done in the world there are enough people to do it. It is a question of mobilisation of the people who need to do it and frankly our young people are being told that their only form of cultural expression is their choice of, as consumers, which brand of sneaker they wear and in fact the only way you can express yourself is as a consumer.
I think it is very, very important that our young people are allowed to be active, activist and are out there doing things, building things, helping out and doing what needs to be done and I think that is the most important training and I just cannot tell you today, I feel this whole session is under a special spell from Aunty Josie being here from her work with Port Youth is one of the most inspiring things. Right down there in the port, you know, Port Youth Theatre is out there taking young people and giving them things to do and the things that needed to be done and I think to me one of the most important lessons in life is to, as a young person, be told and taught to not just get a job because that is very demoralising and all you think is: I need to do something for me.
Instead to turn that around. Do not say, "Get a job", but say, "Look around you and see something on the planet that needs to be done". Now do that because right now it is looking at you and you are going to make another set of jobs, a whole new set of jobs is waiting. They need to be created now. It is not that there are not things that need to be done. There are things that need to be done and now we have to make those into jobs. So that is the movement now, I would say really personally, I feel very strongly. Most of my work is aimed directly at 17-year-olds and I really do feel right now it is about mobilising young people and encouraging young people to be participants in shaping the world they are growing up in rather than passive consumers.
So those kind of programs are crucial and I had a great morning, as you can tell, at Carclew House this morning and I am very wired because there is a lot to be done and there is a whole generation to do it and to me, I have said this in public in the past but I feel very strongly, South Australia is a terrible place to be a young person. It just is. It is just terrible to be young here and you see it from the suicide rates, the attrition rates in school, it is very, very, very serious and I think if we can make youth programs our priority and that means youth working with the elderly, youth working with the homeless, engage youth in problem solving because it is their world. Set them up for it, prepare them for it, have them develop the skills and the compassion, they have got everything else, and let us watch the transformation.
I think importantly that was a conversation more than a question and I think we have probably got time for just two more if we have any hands up. We have got some students here tonight too and I did not welcome them in the beginning.
I am going to come visit you guys next week because I meant to get over here to hang with the classes here. Next week I am going to come visit.
Question from audience
Peter, you know me. I am a musician so I am not qualified to talk about architecture but I have always been really fascinated by Hundertwasser who would go to a German city and convince them to make the most ugly building, maybe the incinerator building or something, he could turn it into a tourist attraction. I just see that as the most civilised thing that anyone could ever do but I do not understand how the hell you do that if you are not Hundertwasser and famous and sought out across the world. We have an abundance of ugly buildings and we cannot tear them down and they are going to be there and how actually do you create a culture that finds ways to renew that which is ugly?
Well, thank you. I mean, the Los Angeles examples are pretty interesting. I mean, Frank Gary took this derelict warehouse in the middle of downtown LA, two blocks from city hall and when the Museum of Contemporary Art had its new building built they relocated there and it was called the Temporary Contemporary. Of course, it has become one of the great museums in the world, these two warehouses that were a rehab in one weekend by Frank Gary, just because it needed a little care.
In the Adelaide Festival we are right now very, very, very, very, very, very seriously fund-raising to try and make some of these things happen. There is so much space right in downtown Adelaide that is waiting for somebody who just cares to do something beautiful. Hundertwasser could take any urban eyesore and of course it is a cafe now, of course people go there. Anything you want becomes attractive if you care about it and put in time. Again I try and draw the example, you know, since we are on the edge of the desert here my favourite desert community is Florence, Arizona which does not compare very favourably to Florence, Italy.
Florence, Arizona decided that their future was going to be in prisons and it is the prison capital of America and they have non-stop prisons, every kind: maximum security, super max, the whole range. They have holding centres for immigration, the entire town is a town of prisons. Florence, Italy took a different approach and if I may say, real estate values are higher. So the question is: hire a bunch of artists and create value because that is what artists do, they create value. We are surrounded by profit and no value and most of the profit-making operations have actually depleted value from the society. The question is when will the society decide it is time to create value and that is what we want to offer our kids.
Question from Audience
Thanks Peter for all that energy tonight and I guess I am listening to my own voice of leadership right now. One of the things that I have been thinking about in the last few weeks is how I can get involved in the process of creating a wave of determining the sort of airport that we want built because this is architecture but this also is the possibility that we have available for us to create something that reflects Adelaide and South Australia. I guess just thinking about it I probably need to have a sheet for all those people that want to be involved on that trip.
Wow, that is very exciting. Thank you. The airport is in a very exciting place right now, a very exciting moment, and I would encourage people to really get involved seriously. There are a couple of major projects that are under way here in South Australia that I would really encourage people to positively engage with because input is really needed. If you have ever been in any room where most of these projects get done, it is a bunch of over-worked people who are not evil, these are just the best ideas they have that day. If there was a better idea they would take it.
I think one of the key things is to try and constantly present a rich field of ideas, of opportunities, of alternatives and also to do it in such a way, if there is any way to do it, that it is not this versus that. To me we are in an age where it is not this or that. The obvious answer is both and that is where you need an artist because art is about bridging the contradiction. Art is about living in the contradiction. Art is about not being frightened of a contradiction but being able to have this side and that side represented and I think sometimes I am a little misunderstood in the Festival because I am constantly trying to take very hot political issues and work with them as an artist.
Of course, it is one of the biggest tasks is because an artist can work within a way that is not merely politicised. Most issues are not conservative and progressive. Most issues are humans and most human beings have human reasons why they feel certain things. If you had their life you would feel they way they feel. So it is not about they are wrong and you are right, but it is about figuring out how you can make a space that they can exist and you can exist, where the range is represented, where the contradiction is rich not just frustrating. Where the greatest art is the art that holds these oppositions in fantastic tension and interplay across centuries so that 500 years later you can still see people disagreed but it is all in that building and that building keeps those tensions alive every day and that is its magic and that is what makes it a living being and not a dead object.
The great buildings are living beings because the contradictions are keeping them alive every day and that is the mark of great artists. So my hope is that this airport is a vision and is a visionary enterprise and does become an emblem for a part of the world that is entering the future and not escaping from the past.
Question from audience
About young people getting involved in the arts. I am a desperately unemployed young person who would love to get involved in the arts. Where do I go tomorrow and say: here I am, how can I contribute, how can I help, give me work, without credentials?
Well, you know, one of the main things in life is start by getting credentials and the way you get credentials is, again, do some work. You want it now without credentials? Right. Speaking personally, when I was 10 years old I went and knocked on the door of a marionette theatre and said, "Hello, I would like to apprentice", and for the next 6 years I apprenticed and for the first 2 years I worked for free, for the third year I got paid $2 a weekend and then eventually got up to $4 and it was a very big deal. But what you do is you learn something by carrying somebody's luggage, by cleaning the toilet, by mopping the floor and meanwhile you are watching, you are taking it all in, you are taking the phone calls, you are taking out the garbage, you are doing everything that needs to be done, and meanwhile you are just watching and paying attention.
Usually you do that with somebody you admire, somebody who is doing something you would like to do or related to what you would like to do or something you see. When you see something going on you say, "Yes, I want to support that", and so you go and you support. You go knock on the door and say, "I want to support your work. Can I help? Do not pay me for the first year", or whatever. I think I mentioned to you maybe I mentioned in one of my previous talks, I actually feel a lot of arts work should not be paid. I like artists to be paid, do not get me wrong. On the other hand I think once artistic practice became a career the heart went out of a lot of it and actually it is something that we all did just because we knew it would make our lives better rather than that we would get any money for it.
It is actually a contribution you made rather than a career and so I do not ever advise anybody to go into the arts for a career. In other words, let us put it this way, a couple of years ago I was hanging out with the Dagar Brothers who are the leading Dhrupad singers in India. Dhrupad is the oldest, kind of the most ancient vocal art of India pre-Vedic. They do not use words because words are too imprecise. They always only sing with vowels and they have in their family - they are the leading family - they have the school which goes back 500 years.
So I asked them what they taught in their school. They said, "Cooking because you would never dream of accepting money for your art and what you learn to do is feed people and then practise your art on the side", and that is a really important thing just to have in mind always is to feed people and then to practise anything you can on the side. A lot of artists I think throughout history have had day jobs and that is a really, really important thing because it keeps you in solidarity with what is going on and with workers and what real working people are going through.
I think again in the last two generations when artists could have careers we ended up having a lot of art that was about art because most artists did not know about anything else. So I think it is a really interesting question right now, and again I do think artists should be paid. Do not get me wrong. I want to pay artists in the Adelaide Festival. Why we are raising money is so we can pay artists. The other reason we are raising money is to open access because the more money we can raise the more things can be for free and the more things can be in more places all over the state and so that is what it is about. Please come to the Festival. Start volunteering for us and we will hook you up with somebody who needs to meet you and who you need to meet.
Question from audience
That brings me to another point which is, I mean, you are talking about working in the arts but if we accept the argument that the arts is about expressing ideas and improving social justice, things like that. Expressing ideas in itself in a forum is great, but what about the actual on-the-floor, person-to-person art that both engages people who perhaps do not know a lot about the arts, things like that. Do you know what I mean?
I think again I just have to emphasise one thing that we do as artists that politicians cannot do, that doctors cannot do. It is about restoring and empowering the whole person. If an arts experience works correctly you leave empowered. You leave empowered to do anything you need to do in your life and that is a very specific thing. It is not that a bill was passed and now you are funded. It is that you yourself are empowered and again I must emphasise, please, we have all accepted this last 20 years, the tyranny of the budget, as if all of life is about money. It is not. Most of the most important things in your life are not related to money.
Please let us notice that, let us re-energise those parts of our lives that are not in the budget and actually that are really important and again are important to do anyway. When Martin Luther King decided to march in Selma there was not a budget. It is something that needed to happen and people did it because it was necessary. That is what I would like to see now and I am hoping the Adelaide Festival is not an entertainment option but it feels more like it is time to march.
End of four small conversations and I suspect the beginning of many, many more, but I would now like to ask Gini Lee who is head of our School of Architecture and Design to give thanks to Peter. Thank you.
Gini Lee, Head of School, Louis Laybourne Smith School of Architecture and Design, University of South Australia
Thank you everyone and thank you, Peter. How do we start to thank you? You have just started. We have got a couple of years here and I think that what is really fabulous about what you have talked to us about tonight is two things. First of all you are here and you actually do want to talk about architecture, that is pretty fabulous, and in a kind of an ongoing debate that is extremely inclusive and not just talking about whether we like the buildings or not, although that is how the notoriety started, I realise.
I think the other thing that you have been talking about tonight very much is what the invitation is for architecture and how our whole business of architecture and design is so much broader and that the importance is that we start to deal with our culture and with our society in ways that actually encourage us to make our own projects. I think it is the kind of attitude to making that you are talking about which is about involvement engagement and the ultimate artefact that comes out of it. It is going to be so fantastic, the next Festival, and we are rallying our cause with our students and we are looking forward to you to come to see us. So we would like to thank you very much for opening up all these kinds of ideas and we look forward to a kind of a friendship that is going to happen over the next couple of years too I think, so thanks very much.
I know many people have to move now but just a couple of things that I wanted to say. We are having our annual Hawke lecture which is our major event of the year on 8 November at the Adelaide Town Hall and our speaker will be Dr Mamphela Ramphele who is the Managing Director of the World Bank. She is speaking on human development and her background is really quite astounding. She has been a civil rights worker, partner to Steve Biko, she has been the first black woman ever to be appointed a Vice-Chancellor in South Africa and we think it is going to be an event, another ‘mind’ event. So please do book for that. There are some leaflets on the chairs, or give us a ring at the Hawke Centre and we will book you in. Thank you all very much for coming.