Fermenting: Listen


With some participatory works – the good ones, that is – it feels rude as a reviewer to spoil the experience for future participants with an overly descriptive examination of a performance. Too much itemisation robs future audiences of the opportunity for natural feeling.

Fermenting: Listen, presented for Asia TOPA in combination with the Castlemaine State Festival, deserves more than an itemised list of spoilers or the intellectualised revenge of interpretation. It is rare in our contemporary, individualised, commercialised society to access genuine feeling with strangers. It is even rarer to do so in the form of art, despite art makers’ best intentions (and marketing).

Drawing its inspiration from the centuries-old practice of preserving food, creator Chun-Liang Liu combines the physical senses of sight, sound, smell and touch, using memory and loss as vivid, sensorial complements.

The “story” grows in layers, both physical and metaphorical, and the audience welcomed the performance’s progressive invitations to attune themselves to the experience and the moment. Staged in the Castlemaine Botanical Gardens, the intimate audience participated in acts that were equal parts ritual,  practical and deeply human.

This festival has been dramatically set against the unfolding drama of COVID-19, a contrast that has not always favourably depicted Australian’s feeling towards Asia and Asians, or the robustness of Australian health literacy. Set against that background, Fermenting: Listen, with all its (incredibly gentle, consensual and nuanced) closeness, tactility and impermanence served as a poignant memento mori: our trillions of bacteria may be keeping us company right now, but eventually the divide between what is us and what is them will dissolve. Many participants remained after the performance, both to debrief and to express gratitude for the generosity of the performance.

This performance, like fermentation itself, seemed to be the outcome of time. Time for a creative enquiry and research. Time for a work to be developed. Time with participants and space. Unlike some of the works in the Asia TOPA festival, this work felt unrushed in its presentation and purposeful in execution, exquisitely congruent in the outcome and the intent.

Creator, Chun-Liang Liu
Performer, Chun-Liang Liu
Sound and music design, Chun-Liang Liu
Technical Director, Ya-Chuan Chou
Sound Engineer, Wen, Cheng-Han
Dramaturg Glyn Roberts, Ching-Ju Chang (WIP in Taipei Arts Festival), Leisa Shelton (WIP in Castlemaine State Festival)

Special Thanks To: National Arts and Culture Foundation, Long Distance Collective, Monica Chen, Alicia You, Juby Chiu. all the participants in the Work-In-Progress.


Author: Eleanor Jackson

Eleanor Jackson is a Filipino Australian poet, performer, arts producer and community radio broadcaster. Eleanor Jackson is a former Editor in Chief and Poetry Editor of Peril and currently Chair of the Board.

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