Artistic Director Seth Honner discusses decision making and the art of using…The Money

Melbourne Festival is getting to the stage where so many good things are happening and not much time is left. If you are in the Melbourne CBD though, you’ll be able to catch an amazing “thing” called The Money at unfamiliar artistic (if you want to call it that) surrounds of the Legislative Assembly in the Victorian Parliament.

This insightful piece is neither a play, or performance art, but more of a social experiment with possible artistic intentions. We spoke to Artistic Director Seth Honner and asked him to explain more.

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I’ve head lots from people who have seen The Money who’ve said it isn’t your typical theatrical night. They describe it in various ways. I would like to ask your thoughts however, on what what you define The Money is? What has it become over the time you’ve performed it on stage?

Well there isn’t a stage actually, but it’s interesting how people use language around it depending on the context that they bring to it. I don’t use the word ‘theatre’ in what we make at all too. I sometimes call it a ‘show game’, as opposed to a game show . We hold it in places where decision making (takes place) so there is never a stage at all.

There are two player types. You can be either a Benefactor or a Silent Witness, and if you’re a Benefactor you get to play and get a voice. You can become a player at anytime by buying your way in if you’re a Silent Witness. It’s a game structure but we hold that ever so slightly theatrically by two female hosts who hold it together.

I can totally see that in a festival people may wonder if this is theatre or not, but personally I’m not very interested that, because I’m less interested in its categorisation and more interested in what it does as a thing… whatever we want to call it.

I guess with any artwork, it’s about illuminating the human condition. For me, this work is about illuminating in ourselves how we behave around money. What our feelings are towards peoples principles, other people’s ideals, other people’s game playing, other people’s strategies. Those can be different show to show.

I overheard someone describe to someone else who happened to be at the show, and she screwed up her body and she said “Oh my God! It’s totally excruciating! You have to go. I need to go again.” Therein lies the marketing challenge…

Yeah, I could imagine marketing The Money could pose a challenge…

It’s also extraordinary, it can also be fun. People come off in the experience and go “What was that? What just happened to me?” They keep thinking about it for rather a long time. It gets under your skin and stays there.

It challenges all of our ideas about money and togetherness and democracy and unity and what we think about the world. All those things!

One thing I grew up with was that three taboos to not talk about were politics, money or religion. Do you feel that you are tackling taboos with The Money?

For someone like you I think yes, it would. I think it depends on your attitude. Your attitude and your cultural position you come to it from.

This week, extraordinarily, it will be in the Legislative Assembly of Parliament (of Victoria), which is amazing.

It is about putting in money right in the middle of the table, in the middle of the conversation that is going on about what holds a society together and the rules and regulations that holds us as a society together. For me it’s about going “Look at this. This is a thing.” Placing that in the spotlight.

Putting The Money in the Legislative Assembly of Parliament of Victoria must be a thrill in a way in it’s uniqueness of place. Why do you feel you needed to perform in spaces like this?

We performed in the UK Parliament. That is the best place to put this artwork in the world. There’s an extraordinary thing to have that as an artist to have that happen. For me that’s about putting the money on the table, with the public and having a discussion in the mother of all Parliaments is special in a way. The UK Parliament has a whole system of buildings where there’s hundreds of years of the democratic system has been played out in a piece of architecture.

So to put the provocation in that place is the ideal setting in a way. To be able to do it here in a Parliament as well similarly perfect for it too. We get to play this idea of spending a shared resource that – let’s face it, isn’t as big as we would like it to be – we get to play at as a game. It’s quite challenging as well. It’s a fascinating challenge though.

I find it fascinating in that you don’t know what’s going to be happening. But having those challenges there seems to be a layer as the night goes on. Do you have a free mind when this ‘thing’ happens to soften those challenges?

Not really, but when we did the first few shows of The Money we used to care about what people chose to do with the money. Then we learnt very quickly that this isn’t not what the show is. I guess the money is in the middle of the table, the show is called The Money and so many people ask us what the most interesting things we spend the money on. What is interesting about the experience is the process, not the outcome.

I guess like many things; the process is the fundamentally interesting bit.

Photo credit: Steve Tanner - Kaleider
Photo credit: Steve Tanner – Kaleider

What type of questions are you trying to provoke from Benefactors or Silent Witnesses? 

I’m not doing my job if I’m not provoking anything. I think the artist should ask questions, not answer them. I think this is a greater aim for most pieces of art out there. The type of questions should be up to them.

It can be really fun to ask questions, and fulfilling. I often make work where the audience is invited to be an intrinsic part of the experience. I avoid using the word participation because participatory art has a sense of being called up on stage when you really don’t want. That’s not the kind of work I make.

A lot of my work only is complete when the audience takes an active role of some kind in completing it.

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The Money is on Parliament of Victoria at Legislative Assembly Chamber until the October 23rd and is happening twice a day. For more information head here.

All performances are streamed live, and you can watch them all at The Money’s Facebook page too after the performance.

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