Meet Tina Stefanou a Greek-Australian artist, performer-composer, researcher and the art director for The Horror of the Avant-Garde(s). What can’t she do?
Our pre-show conversation with Tina delves into her daily routines, upcoming projects, artistic inspirations, and her insights on pushing the limits of convention.
What has your role been in developing The Horror of the Avant-Garde(s)?
During lockdown, gathered around the fire, I suggested that Joseph Franklin write a piano concerto for Marc Hannaford. This opened a Pandora's box, and ever since, I have been carefully orchestrating a sensory parade around his creative process. My role serves as the master of ceremonies, a shepherd, a conceptual wrangler, a story-telling jockey, if you will.
Describe your inspiration for the art direction of The Horror of the Avant-Garde(s)?
When I contemplated the idea of a concerto surpassing its conventional boundaries, I found myself delving into a more intricate realm. Instead of viewing it solely as a musical composition, I began envisioning an environment, a place where the musical notes are both hunter and prey. This intertwines with the desire to feel the notes in other sensory experiences such as light and taste. It was also an opportunity to think about the concerto as an invitation for community making, I wanted teenage voices to haunt the halls of the adult, to over-populate the space, medieval food to fill our mouths and light bodies to haunt notions of visibility.
Considering the present global situation, characterised by an unsettling atmosphere, I was struck by the profound realisation upon hearing Joseph's composition. It became unmistakably clear that the work at hand encapsulates a sonic narrative of monumental horror. The music scape reverberates with elements of shock, loss, ominous terror, and unyielding dissonance.
The allure of horror is captivating — evoking a compelling blend of unease and fascination. This fascination extends to those of us who reside in relatively secure environments, as we actively seek out the thrill of fear, whether portrayed through actors on a screen or jumping out of an airplane. The sensation of dread harks back to primal instincts, evoking a sense of being pursued or hunted. Yet, intriguingly, these roles can be reversed, with us as both the predator and the prey. This dynamic finds parallels in certain artistic spheres and markets, where unsettling hierarchical structures and class divisions can evoke a similar sense of terror. Moreover, horror's essence is intertwined with an affinity for exploring negative emotions: a human fascination that translates into success at the box office (within the realm of entertainment).
Other influences that are floating about: Greek and Balkan folklore, teenage hormones, the cold war, bullying, seals, the industrial revolution, light saturation, built in obsolescence, that high pitched tone you hear when something deadly serious happens, budget airline rituals, identity theft, agriculture and ghosting.
What are your favourite styles from our Summer collection and why?
I haven’t bought new clothes for ages! To have the opportunity to wear Alpha60 is a luxury, and those silk pieces feel so good on the body. The summer hat is also special.
Do you have any daily rituals?
Long, hot, salty baths. Gummies. Grandma chats. Kangaroo stare-offs.
What is the playlist for your life at the moment?
PJ Harvey’s new album I Inside The Old Year Dying. Marina Sattie's Yenna. On Diamond's yet-to-be-released tunes.
What does the future hold for you?
I was recently in Greece and an old women offered to read my coffee cup, we were ten days into a heatwave in Athens, the pavement was shimmering rays, the fires were looming close by, smoke was painting the sky apocalyptic and out font of a blue and white καφενείο, I thought "why not?!" She saw curvy lines, mountains, a husk, and a strong blob just left of the centre.
She said: Two kids, two homes, and a surplus of income.
But on a serious note, my feelings on this lie in a different realm. What lies ahead for me? I'm clasping the hands of my cherished friends and family as we navigate these uncertain times on multiple fronts. I find myself holding onto hooves, paws, claws, tendrils, and fins—there's an undeniable tenderness and urgency in this connection. Sustaining the privilege of shaping a life driven by my arts practice and research means embracing the diverse forms it will assume. I'm cradling the potential for new pedagogical approaches to creation and exchange.
I'm also carving out a space to immerse myself in the intricate process of establishing an arts residency and project space. Envisioning the future, this entails integrating food cultivation, constructing structures, nurturing the growth of working-class artists and communities, creating other forms of currency and tending to the well-being of animals and the land. In this coffee cup, I see an image of riding a donkey to the local store.
Speaking of envisioning the future, I recently embarked on my first international journey in eight years, only to be confronted with wildfires, floods, and labour strikes. This experience reinforces the urgency of re-evaluating how I lead my life, how I share my experiences and artistic practice, while also navigating the constraints of neoliberal capitalism and its impact on relationships. I'm aware that expressing such sentiments might appear trendy in this context, but they're rooted in genuine reflection.
Describe your art practice to us?
I have been singing and making music since I was six years old, through a series of big life moments, at the age of 29, I ended up at art school.
It is a slippery practice that moves between modalities with an interest in the performative power of vocality across species, social classes, disciplines, geographical locations, and cultural contexts. It’s an undisciplined but rigorous mangle involving film, performance, installation, tactile and sonic sculptures. It also involves a practice of voice making, from 4am solo improvisations in the middle of the city, to collective humming, to large-scale productions. The works usually involve collaborations with animals (particularly horses) and human-animal performers-makers from varying skillsets, including my family. My para-ethnographic research takes me to rural places, sea export trade routes, and robotic dairy farms, to explore the planetary commons and the ways in which art world(s) intersect with these forces and flows. The practice moves between long and slow engagements to quick bursts of spontaneous improvisation.
How was your Rural Utopia's residency in Carnamah?
Being invited by SPACED to participate in this residency program has been one of the most fulfilling experiences in my artistic journey. Immersing myself in Carnamah with the North Midlands Project and its community has proven to be incredibly enriching—an ungentrified oasis. Through this initiative, I've interacted with grain farmers, sheep, wool materials, shearers, and retired locals seeking affordable living spaces.
I've spent extended periods of up to 6 weeks in the town and I'm preparing to return there soon and host a Ball — the first in a century. I am hoping to bring together a gaggle of local performers, brass bands, poets, and costumes. While this event marks the conclusion of the project, my primary interest lies in the possibilities the residency and practice can unlock beyond artwork outcomes. I intend to maintain my involvement in the community by collaborating with the local school's art and music program, continuing to host workshops, and exploring the geopolitical connections to this place through grain, wool and artist exchange programs.
Like my work with the horses, these endeavours are long-term commitments centred around openings and returns. They reflect a refusal of the fleeting "fly in – fly out" approach, emphasising a sustained engagement.
What inspires your art practice?
Interactions. Animality. Philotimo.
What is the last book you read?
I flick through many at once like a game of chance or Russian roulette. This is what I am spinning right now, as they sit piled next me.
Sweet Spots by Mattie Sempert.
Co-emerging Economies: Radical Perspectives on Post-Anthropocentric Economies edited by
Olga Mink and Reon Brand.
On Being Human as Praxis by Sylvia Wynter.
Hungry Listening: Resonant Theory for Indigenous Sound Studies by Dylan Robison.
Wayward Lives Beautiful Experiments by Saidiya Hartman.
Palma Africana by Michael Taussig.
Whats next for Tina?
I have a new performance work happening at Stockroom Gallery in Kyneton with In-Kind Collective on the 2nd of September for the Collective Polyphony Festival.
Also, I am about to board a cargo ship to the Philippines with CBH Group to follow the grain from rural WA. I’ll be streaming a live pirate radio program through the second half of September.
I am showing my works from Carnamah and beyond as part of Rural Utopias at the Art Gallery of Western Australia in late November.
All details and links will be available on my website www.tinastefanou.com and Instagram @_the_longest_hum
Photography by Astrid Mulder