REVIEW: Festival of Live Art, F.O.L.A (Auckland Pride)

Review by Erin O'Flaherty

[Oasis in a Storm]

I, like many others, was excited about F.O.L.A’s initial line-up – promising an enticing array of local and international experimental artists, and a diversity of modes and mediums. It looked to be a festival that would blur and push the boundaries between art forms, genres and styles, that would not end once you stepped outside the theatre but would stretch into the whole venue, reminding us that art cannot be confined to four walls but that it is constantly around us, interacting with the personal and political. It was gutting for the majority of the festival to be cancelled, due to Basement’s power outage caused by Cyclone Gabrielle.

This was the third time F.O.L.A suffered from disruptions, with the previous two times seeing the festival cancelled all together due to Covid. The forces of nature continue to be relentless, an ever-evolving wave of small apocalypses, and the arts are not the only industry to suffer as a result. We have seen countless postponements and cancellations, and it’s surely been a disheartening time for many – not to mention, a surreal and scary time for some. Which is why it was so great to be at the Basement on F.O.L.A’s final and only night on Saturday 18th February 2023. It was buzzing with bodies and music and visuals, courtesy of the festival garden. It was a place to explore, to commune. Unfortunately, I did not make it to Once More, With Feeling or Into the Well: Sounds from the Deep, but did manage to catch the rest of the night.

Sadboi was electrifying, exciting, tantalising. It embodied the contradictions of our modern society, feeling both beautifully connected (so much about the body and the senses) and disconnected through irony and a no-fucks attitude (so much about technology and apathy at the end of the world). The space was set up so that the audience stood or sat on the floor, creating a truly communal experience. Performer Palos Malactos held the audience, awe-struck, in every moment. It created such a hype afterwards that I’m sure those of us lucky enough to bear witness will be inspired for months to come.

Samuel Te Kani’s Keynote, Surviving the Necropolis, is a beautifully hyper-stimulating set of videos and accompanying text. Text on text on sound on visuals, words mixing together to create new meaning. A sense of the chaotic and rebellious and revolutionary. Te Kani invites us to think about the body as an energetic force of reactivity and of agency, as a political entity and a “locus of power”. He encourages us to consider the current climate of representation and “retroactive righteousness” in mainstream media – how we must not forget the constant push to make us consumers above all else – and wards us away from easy answers to systemic problems. It is written juicily and hungrily.

I have no doubt F.O.L.A would have been a wonderfully curated festival that would have elevated the expectations for art in Tāmaki Makaurau. As it stands, even such a small sampling did fulfil the promise of boundary pushing. We got a delicious taste of F.O.L.A – a feeling of fun and boundless creativity, a disruption and a unification, profane and sublime.

This review is part of the Auckland Pride Review Project – a collaborative project between four local publications (The Pantograph PunchBad Apple GayRat World and Theatre Scenes) to provide more critical discourse around queer theatre and performance work. We will be reviewing a range of shows throughout the month of Pride – so keep a look out and go support our local queer performers!

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