In a week’s time, the Rhubarb Festival is going to come out, guns blazing, on its 37th mission to bewitch, bewilder, and bemuse. Artists will emerge from the bunkers of feverish creativity, trancelike as they present their otherworldly imaginings. Over the next ten days, you will ponder the dark proximity of your neighbor as much as the ulcerated travails of a vengeful space pirate. Rhubarb asks not whether you are ready, but rather, ‘What are you waiting for?’
Most of us get by without thinking too much about how uncertain others are, uncertain and unpredictable, no matter how long we’ve been around them. It can be scary to linger on that, which is why I think we strive so hard to (pre)figure people out, to get a handle on the situation before it’s even unfolded. At Rhubarb, though, all bets are off. The artists invite you to face this fear, to look, to turn, and to keep turning. You are unmoored, yes, but your newly awakened curiosity keeps you buoyed. “This is what you are missing,” these artists intimate, “what you do not see, when you are too afraid to be caught off guard.” I admire Rhubarb for how it pushes artists and audience members alike to take fantastic flights, to defy the gravity of ease and familiarity, if only for a few ecstatic seconds. But there is grace, too, in the earthbound fall, back to the spaces we share—amicably, awkwardly, contestably—with each other.
The theme for this year’s gallery night, ‘Take Your Space,’ has got me thinking about how it captures the festival as a whole. I think for instance of the “scandal” of the minimalist art object when the movement broke out in the 1960s. These three-dimensional objects resting on the floor get in the way of the viewer, almost confronting them. The spectator’s detached, contemplative circuit through the gallery is suddenly interrupted—now they must read the environment, navigate their way around objects that refuse, defiantly perhaps, to budge.
The artists at this year’s festival are similarly scandalous. They hold their ground in a society that tells them their labour, their bodily autonomy, their historical and lived experiences, are precarious at best. Against this, they dare speak stories and paint dreamworlds few of us could ever conceive, fewer still would ever take seriously. Space here is not the square footage of the Chamber or the Cabaret. It is that non-Euclidean, vibrant material that collapses space and time. It enfolds past and future, actual and virtual, mood, emotion, memory. Space becomes place, a place where one chooses to stay or return.
I hope the 37th Rhubarb Festival becomes your place, one where you stay and can’t help but return to night after rambunctious night.