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PIAF Connect

Five Minutes with Zoe Atkinson

Wednesday 27 January 2016

  • Interview

What is your involvement in Home?

I'm the designer. I've also hugely enjoyed working with Nigel (Jamieson, director of Home) and the rest of the team on piecing together the narrative and working out how the story is told through the event's various languages, my own being visual.

What has been your inspiration for Home?

The story of this place and its people. The earliest seed of inspiration I turned to – besides the river and the light – was my dad's old copy of George Seddon's Sense of Place. My dad was an environmental scientist and Mum was a social historian, so I was probably inspired by this story in utero. 

What does your creative space look like?

I'm a bit of a troglodyte so I have old-fashioned drawing boards, lots of brushes and chalks and drawing things, and loads and loads of books. I also love objects of meaning, so I have way too many little trinkety things which have great personal importance to me but probably make no sense to anyone else. The best thing about my studio is that it looks out into the branches of our huge old marri tree, and every now and again, a boobook owl sits beside my window and hoots in the wee hours of the morning. I quite like working very late at night and I have a feeling of the world being right when this owl hoots.

How have you found working with the creative team? 

I love them, actually. (The production week might change my mind). I've worked with Nigel once before on a big opera, which was an entirely new art form for me at the time. He has a deadpan delivery, which I love, and a massive heart which he pours into his work – it makes you want to pour your own in, too. I'm working with media artist, Sohan Ariel Hayes, for the first time and am almost criminally inspired by the collaboration. There's an ease and an honesty among the team, which is conducive to learning; it's such a joy to learn new things in middle age.

Can you explain some of the ideas behind the storyboard?

The storyboard has a couple of functions. At times, it gives a context to the music or the performance taking place on the stage – it's a simple, thematic framing device. At other times, it picks up the story and tells it visually, so it's carrying a narrative. The story it tells is the same one that the music and performers are telling – the story of our people and place. There are loads of visually rich moments – the interactive map of the Noongar lands, which we've worked on with Aboriginal performer, musician and writer, Richard Walley; the early settlement, for which we've made great use of some of the most exquisite colonial art and hilarious early satire; the story of migration to and from Western Australia; the longing for a home – there are such beautiful family albums tracing journeys. We've used a lot of different techniques to pull together our visual feed, from terribly old-fashioned, handmade shadow puppets to very sophisticated, moving digital imagery, and hand-drawn, frame-by-frame animation (which takes all night to achieve, I can confidently reveal) and, of course, some drone footage. Nothing else could capture the vast space and light of our sky, and the sense of moving through, it in a dream, to the present moment.

What does ‘home’ mean to you?

Interpreted as a noun: home is family. My husband's family are Czech and we met there, while I was studying. So I feel I have a home in Perth – a quality of light, a big expanse of river and the sound of birds, and also in the Czech Republic, which is about architecture, the smell of cooking and wearing slippers indoors. You have to feel comfortable with the proximity of other people in Europe, so I don't know if I could grow old there. I'm in love with space. Big cities quickly exhaust me.

What do you and the creative team hope to achieve with Home?

I think that the Festival does a great job of bringing amazing events from around the world to Perth. The scale of these seems to have become bigger and bigger over the years, and I guess it wouldn't be possible to get bigger than The Giants. I think it's really timely to turn that gaze inward and raise a question about who we are.

What can audiences expect from Home?

I hope they'll recognise their own story in it and wonder at that.