This article was first published for Artery on 7 August 2013
Interdisciplinary performance artist Ashley Dyer may only be 30 years old but he is very conscious of the difficulties of having a sustainable career. He doesn’t wants to find himself at the age of 50, despite having had a rewarding creative life, still struggling financially.
He’s consequently taking his Early Career Artist Creative Australia Fellowship supported by the Australia Council for the Arts rather seriously. Worth $60,000 over two years the financial support means some of the immediate day-to-day stress about money has been dispelled. But it’s also a chance to reflect on where his career is going and what steps to take next.
Dyer sees his Fellowship as a platform from which to bridge the gap from ‘emerging’ to ‘established’. His aim is to develop skills, networks and research new works, which will create ongoing opportunities. ‘My main focus for the two years is to try to set up myself for five.’
Dyer readily admits his practice is diverse and difficult to define, combining vocals, music, dance, video, live-performance and conceptual art. His training too has incorporated many different elements as he has explored his interests and developed his skills as needed.
‘I’ve always actively sort out the education and training that I wanted,’ says Dyer. ‘I’m a bit of a control freak…One of the things I always come back to is… if I’m going to be poor doing this…then I want to be able to choose what I’m doing.’
While he learnt the academic side of his practice at the University of Sydney he simultaneous sought out practical training, such as taking private dance classes with Martin del Amo. In the mid-00s he was part of the ensemble Urban Theatre Projects, which was a self-directed program of master classes working with established artists.
Dyer is also a mentor, workshop facilitator, producer and curator. He was a founding member of the Artist-Run-Initiative Quarterbred, has been involved with the PACT Centre for Emerging Artists and program managed the Erskineville Tiny Stadium Festival.
One of the dominant strands of his performance practice has been using abstract materials as his starting point. Phenomena like the sound of falling objects or the motion of smoke respectively formed the basis of his most recent major works, ‘And then something fell on my head’ (part of the Next Wave Festival in 2010) and Life Support, developed through the Dancehouse housemate program and presented at Dance Massive in 2012.
Over the course of his Fellowship Dyer will interrogate two new materials. In 2014, he will work with a team of collaborators in Melbourne on a body of work entitled Tremor, investigating the sound and associative movement of vibration. With Jordana Maisie (who he previously collaborated with on the outdoor installation Close Encounter ) he has a longer-term project developing what will probably be a series of installation works based on rainbows, or less poetically: refracted light.
Dyer is also using some of his Fellowship to further developing his proficiency with Arduino microcontrollers and their associated software. He sees exciting possibilities in how they might be incorporated into another interactive music work he hopes to develop next year.
Currently Dyer is in Poland, his first stop in a five-month research trip focussing on diverse singing techniques and traditions and possible collaborations. He has been taking part in a workshop with Studio Matejka at the Grotowski Institute and will be collaborate with fellow Australian James Brennan, who is currently working with Polish company Gardzienice . He will also travel to Sweden to perform with folk singer Ingrid Hedin Vahlberg, re-visit contacts in Belgium and France developed during his artist in residence time in 2010 and spend two weeks in New York in development with Maisie on their rainbow project.
Dyer has a lot mapped out in his head for his Creative Australia Fellowship but its unlikely to result in a culminating full stop, a performance work or a show that is the outcome of all he has developed. He hopes it will be more like a semicolon; ‘…something that leads on to a list of things.’