At the most recent Biennale of Sydney, I took part in a walk through Sydney conceived of and led by artists Agatha Gothe-Snape and Brooke Stamp. The meeting place for the performance was “the speakers’ corner” in the Domain. 27 years in Sydney and I had never heard of the place before.
It turns out that the speakers’ corner is a site just outside the Art Gallery of NSW where, every Sunday afternoon, people stand on soapbox-like objects and talk about whatever concerns them. Sometimes they talk about Jesus, sometimes they talk about politics. Usually they are elderly white men talking to no one in particular. I was so curious about the place I did some research into the site, and it turns out that it used to be a vibrant place of discussion and debate. The ABC has footage of huge crowds of people, young and old, gathering to listen to the speakers.
These days the speakers’ corner is a shadow of its former self. What does that mean? Has democracy changed to become more inclusive/exclusive? Has the conversation moved to Twitter? What are the political benefits of having to physically interact with people? Is taking up public space still a relevant political strategy? Do protests and demonstrations still work?
A few old men in singlets, Moreton Bay fig trees, political dissonance and despondence, exciting choreography, desire lines in the grass.