Ahead of our Asia TOPA party, Club Ate, we spoke to Justin Shoulder and Bhenji Ra about their art and their unique approach to celebrating contemporary voices of the queer Asia-Pacific diaspora.
What is Club Ate and how did it come about?
Club Ate began in 2014 as a performance party to raise funds for the Adolescent Health and Youth Development Centre in Tacloban, Philippines which was providing support to the community in Leyte post-Typhoon Yolanda. We programmed contemporary voices of the Filipina diaspora and its surrounding southeast Asian sisters: song, dance, experimental performance and we shared food cooked by our families. From this the event became a platform for artists of the diaspora to share and connect their artistic practices, forming new collaborations and diverse expressions of storytelling.
What can audiences expect to experience at Club Ate?
To be immersed in our floorless ocean of potentiality ~ a nurturing space for expression with a focus on deep craft, metamorphosing luscious bodies, sissy fam slaying through collective beast mode battles, sonic booms and wave-forms, resistance and embrace ~ pearls, satin and lace.
Tell us about some of your collaborators who will be performing on the night?
We have an all star family of artists bringing their craft to Club Ate. Composer CORIN, who scored our video work Ex Nilalang: From Creature ~ From Creation, will be playing a live set. Influenced by science fiction and video games, her sound is guttural, supersonic and a total vision of the future diaspora. Chunyin, a sound project by multidisciplinary artist Rainbow Chan, engages with notions of the authentic and the copy – looking at the six tones of Cantonese as the main motif remixing found samples from YouTube and her own compositions.
We have dancer and choreographer Angela Goh becoming uncanny bodies and opening telepathetic spaces. Caroline Garcia will shapeshift sliding into the gaps between cultures, experiences of tropical otherness and timeless cliches of exotic femininity. We will also be taking down our own community of dancers and artists, including Western Sydney based vogue house ‘Sle’, who will be collaborating with local Melbourne hip hop crew K-Star, and together they will bring ultimate femme-destruction. This and more – you gonna be ocean floored.
Given your practices are quite personal, how important to you both is it to explore these experiences?
Justin: A lot of our work, individually and as a collective, explores and dissects identity – politically it’s important for us to draw from our lived experience and not those of anyone else. Under white supremacy, centering the voices and expressions of people of colour resists this dominance.
Bhenji: My practice is often linked to my survival and how I negotiate my way through this world. It’s important for myself to create alternate realities to the one we are living in today as a means for becoming and reclamation. Reclaim the narrative and give way for multiplicity.
As artists, when you share your work what are some of the most rewarding or unexpected outcomes?
Justin: When people connect and relate to the stories I tell and reflect on these with me in conversation – it really drives me to keep going. I think cause my work is very sensorially overwhelming and often otherworldly, the responses are often quite dramatic. It often reaches an audiences' subconscious desires/fears, and there have been some really wild poetic writings, drawings and dreams that have been shared with me. Thinking about my work as an events maker – there is real magic in collective creativity that gives me hope in an expression that forms resistance to systems that oppress. When all these elements come together, it's really powerful.
Bhenji: Critical discourse is often rewarding for me among my peers and other queer people of colour working in the art world. There is nothing final about the work and I find discussing its criticism, flaws and further potential comforting as well as an extended collaboration of sorts. It’s important that the work is not final and is open for criticism, especially considering its position in the already fraught western framework. Besides that, the core of what satisfies me is presenting work in a community context and the very honest and visceral experiences/responses that occur in those spaces.
What have been some of the main influences on you as artists?
Justin: Histories of performance art in Sydney within queer nightclub spaces, my current Club Ate fam of beyond talented artists, international sissies of the diaspora, nature sublime – the ocean, birds, insects, biodiversity, ancient machinations and contemporary absurdity.
Bhenji: The women of my family, Filipino self-determination, iconic trans women of colour (everyone of them is iconic), my dance crew, post colonial remix, pre-Hispanic everything, dance as a tool to reclaim power, imitation, desire, resilience and sometimes love.
Club Ate is a free event on Thursday 2 March from 8pm – 12am