Brumbies: An intuitive exhibit

'Brumbies', a new multi-disciplinary art project opens at Umbrella Studio on 20 March IMAGE: Michael Smith by Robert Crispe, Michael Smith and Jack Ziesing

When dancer and choreographer Jack Ziesing was confronted by the stark contrast between his life and that of others, the seed for a new Arts project took root.

“I had returned to Australia after having spent some pretty lavish time away,” said Jack. “I hadn’t been keeping up to date on the news or what was happening in the world and the first thing I saw when I got off the plane in Sydney was a news story about the Santa Fe High School shooting. I was confronted by the notion that that is a reality that many people live in everyday and I don’t. I’m grateful for my reality, but that experience of getting off the plane, spurred on a greater sense of responsibility to make better use of my time to start or contribute to conversations around privilege.”

Jack reached out to fellow dancer/choreographer Michael Smith and filmmaker Robert Crispe about collaborating on a body of work that starts to unpack these ideas; and Brumbies, a new multi-disciplinary project, began to emerge.

“I had wanted to make something with Michael and Rob for a long time,” Jack said.

“I have nothing but adoration for both of them, what they do and how they do it. They inspire me. When I approached them about making something that addresses these issues, they both expressed that they, in their own ways, had similar feelings or experiences.”

“We’re a very privileged group of people and felt it important to use it for something that sparked some kind of conversation about that privilege and its responsibilities. The aim was simply to pose questions about that privilege, our own and collective histories, purpose and art. We didn’t know what we were going to achieve let alone if we have achieved anything. But we do think these conversations are important and being that art is our first language, this is how we are currently contributing to those conversations.”

IMAGES: Robert Crispe, Michael Smith and Jack Ziesing

Jack, Michael and Robert spent some time in Bermagui, NSW; with Robert intuitively filming Jack and Michael’s choreographed and improvised dance and movement pieces.

“I’ve been coming to Bermagui for a long time,” said Jack.

“My grandfather, up until recently, owned a house there that family often visited. It’s a truly beautiful place and one that I always felt connected to. That being said, I have a strong colonial family history and Bermagui lies in the Yuin nation. I have no indigenous heritage and no traditional historical connection to that land. But it does feel like some kind of home and it seemed important to explore that notion of strange belonging. We relate that feeling to the title Brumbies, colonial creatures from elsewhere that through historical events predating them have shaped some kind of home for themselves on this land.”

While Jack and Michael choreographed some ‘safety net’ pieces before their trip to Bermagui, the majority of the resulting work was directly influenced and informed by the landscape in the moment.

“We would have a loose plan of what we were going to do when we got there but most of what was captured was improvised and inspired by that environment,” said Jack.

“To me, the things that spontaneously happened because of how we responded to those environments are the most fascinating. And I don’t mean that just with what Michael and I did: Rob has incredibly unique intuition when he is filming. His work is beautifully intimate, never invasive and he is equally if not more integral to the improvisation process.
Robert said the project has given him the opportunity to challenge his cinematic skills in a new way.

“I wanted to work with world class performers to collaborate on answering questions around identity and purpose when living in a world full of crises,” Robert said.

“As a filmmaker, [my responses to the environment] are all about the composition – how much information do I want to give a frame in respect to the performance?

“I work off instinct; I let the conversations we would have in the morning sit in my creative subconscious and I would move the camera and frame up to react to the environment in a way that just felt natural to the project.

“We never went into this project with expectation, or with the weight of delivering anything specific, not having that pressure and allowing us the space to experiment was integral to the project and the things we created.”

Jack Ziesing in ‘Brumbies’ IMAGE: Robert Crispe, Michael Smith and Jack Ziesing

The first images captured for Brumbies will be set to soundscapes created by sound designer Anna Whittaker and exhibited at Umbrella Studio contemporary art. For Jack, Michael and Robert, having work shown in a gallery rather than a traditional performance venue or on-screen device, is a strange experience, but one that supports their goal of sparking broader conversations.

“For me it provides us with another layer of credibility,” said Robert. “To exhibit within the gallery context opens up a further discussion about the themes and ideas we were exploring.”

“I’m not sure we ever thought that this early stage stuff would be shown as we will present it at Umbrella Gallery,” Jack added.

“From a performer’s perspective, it’s like showing your rehearsal for opening night. That said, I think the rawness and spontaneity is also what makes it interesting.”

Jack, Robert and Michael anticipate Brumbies will be an ongoing project, that adds more artists, stories and voices to the conversation over time.


Umbrella Studio contemporary art has made Brumbies available for digital viewing following the galleries closure to the public during the current COVID-19 Outbreak.

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