Angkot Alien is a quixotic oddity of a work that felt somewhat like a sweet and sour aperitif that you were unexpectedly handed in the midst of the Next Wave festival.
The work is the creation of Rafaela McDonald, a Victorian-based visual artist who creates wearable and performance pieces, and Natasha Gabriella Tontey, a graphic and fashion designer and art director based in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Using the Indonesian Angkot van as a vehicle, Angkot Alien is an immersive, interactive experience that sets out to explore relationships between cultures, the mediums of exchange and connection in these spaces, and the manifestations of transnational labour that are carried within them.
Hollering at us through the recesses of an urban carpark live with pedestrian comings and goings, a modest six or seven participants are beckoned with the yells and the banging fists of ‘Driver’ (McDonald) and ‘Kenek’ (Tontey) before being casually ushered into a van of gaudy technicolour graffiti-skinned strobe-lit proportions decked out with plush toys and brick-a-brack garb. Once seated safely inside, Driver and Kenek distractedly shuffle their reflective ponchos about the passengers embarking on a series of important tasks that include the likes of: Do you have some change for the ride? Would you like a Tim Tam? Shall we sing some Karaoke? And let’s not forget, would you like to sit next to us as we engross ourselves in eating messy takeaway? The effect of all of this is a simultaneous feeling of absurdity coupled with a strange intimacy and trust that can only come from such warmly executed incursions on personal space. Normally, sharing food, singing and ‘travelling’ are activities only done with the closest of family, but in Angkot Alien, as in many modes of local transport in Asia, there is little separation between stranger and sibling when it comes to such practical interactions.
A fluorescent video art work featuring cut out heads of our hosts and disproportioned bodies swimming in bright colours and lines is played to us inside, which creates a sense of the surreal and the bizarre. We are in no time, in no space, in no place, we are told.
For many Australians, the hustle-bustle-move-it-or-lose-it-hold-my-baby/chicken mode of transport in some South-east Asian areas is familiar terrain. But perhaps due to its familiarity these interactions are not often examined for what they really represent. Angkot Alien attempts to carve out a space where we can experience this interaction juxtaposed against the otherwise gentle and predictable Western city landscape to notice what it is that really connects us between the two places. In many cases, this is about commerce; what we expect and what we are given; what exists in these landscapes just to satisfy the Western hunger for the exotic; and the integration of commerce and relationships in how we exchange cultural information in spaces of service. Such ideas are also interspersed with positively strange and surreal moments, not in the least of which includes a slow motion strobe-lit walk-dance down the carpark tunnels by our hosts.
Immersive works such as these are challenging to execute and are still in an experimental phase as far as mainstream performance is considered. Given the challenge ahead of artists in charting this unknown terrain, McDonald and Tontey are doing important work in exploring the spaces in between audience and performer, performance and experience, object and environment. Angkot Alien is a raw, strangely heart-warming and pleasant surprise of a work that Next Wave should be hugely proud of.