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Feeling the Pinch: Below the line but up for a good time – RISING on a budget


In the days before you were born, RISING was called Melbourne Festival. A sedate affair, Melbourne Festival was where the dowagers and their corporate captains of industry husbands would celebrate themselves, at exclusive invitation only opening night soirees to the ballet and the theatre. There, the high-net-worth individuals might partake in the schmooze and compare the latest in fashions and off-shore tax exempt investment opportunities. The Benefactor Patron class might also take the opportunity to introduce their children to the offspring of other families from the ruling elite, taking note of how each are doing and looking, over intermission champagne and canapes. Conversing in the gentle hushed tones of privilege, topics ranged from regional politics and property to private school preferences and holiday destinations. The latest cultural amusements imported from far off shores played a backdrop to this frippery. 

RISING is Melbourne Festival with a funky new rebrand and a hint of the so-popular-the crowds-were-dangerous projection spectacle White Night. Punters loved roaming the streets looking at pretty lights all night but a menacing potential for chaos developed in the wee hours before daybreak. So White Night was canned. Rising is an 11-day opportunity for you to speed date the hell out of some music, food, art and culture. It’s a ‘festival you do in a city that does it Best.’

The festival is co-directed by Gideon Obarzanek whose star rose when former Premier Jeff Kennett decided Melbourne needed a contemporary dance company to rival Sydney’s. Chunky Move was thus anointed with an enviable architecturally-designed forever home next to ACCA and a funding stream the envy of all. With partner Lucy Guerin Inc., Gideon and Lucy are the contemporary dance answer to Hollywood power couple Keith Urban and Nicole Kidman. Rarely is a pirouette performed in this town without their say so. The rise and rise of contemporary dance as the performance art that’s trending continues unchallenged. Fellow co-director Hannah Fox’s star aligns with the stupendous Hobart event Dark Mofo. RISING takes many of its cues from Mofo, borrowing some of its sex and death formula of goth darkness and sponsored drinks.

With a brand overlay that veers toward parochial superiority, RISING claims to be: ‘a major cultural event for the Asia Pacific Region, centred on the idea that culture is not just an amusement or entertainment for the few, but is an essential service for all’! Lol. There is so much to do all at once I needed a lie down before it launched. Sure, there’s stuff to do for free but for we fiscally challenged, most of the good shit sits comfortably behind the paywall. Whiling away the hours doom scrolling all the fun I might have had, if only I could afford tickets, became its own pleasure.

What is Disposable Income?

The designer RISING website displays an organisational preoccupation with money that some viewers might consider triggering. There’s PAY-AS-YOU-WISH PRICING, written up to be funny but not. Self-conscious declarations like: ‘Capitalism is a resilient fog. Please choose a price that aligns best with your financial situation’ pays lip service to the social contract. ‘High Roller-$32 For the cashed-up arts lovers; Working Class Hero- $25 For those that live like common people; Feeling the Pinch- $18 Below the line but up for a good time.’

Then there were ‘FREE FRIDAY’S: Living on a shoestring? City of Melbourne are offering free Friday Tickets (until allocation exhaust) because art is supposed to be for everyone. Limit 2 per customer. Please note: The Free Friday allocation is now exhausted.’ You snooze you lose.

I got a special mail from RISING, a feeble attempt at building all important Brand Equity (a sense of fairness and justice within a brands organisation. Few brands manage real equity so any who can manage it are superior):

‘We’re inviting you to apply for a RISING art Pass. The Art Pass is a thank you and an invitation to all the incredible people who make Melbourne the creative city that it is, from artists and writers to producers and set builders. It’s free to apply [lol], and entitles recipients to the following on-ground discounts at RISING:

$2 off beer, wine or heaps normal at Night Trade and the Rink Bars.

2 for $35 tickets to Euphoria

15% off tickets to the rink

10% off Rising Merch (scarves, Bubble ‘n’ swirl Moon Tote, Rising scarf etc)

I might be famously fiscally challenged, but there’s some things money can’t buy. Like friends. Some people can’t even be bought yet. I know a wealth of people and they put me on their lists and sent me their secret codes and I whiled away the hours booking and confirming all the free tickets I could hustle. Because guess what RISING who doesn’t know who un Magazine is and who wouldn’t issue me a media pass to review the hell out of them? Artists like to have their work written about.

Kimberley Moulton, a Yorta Yorta woman, curated an exquisite exhibition of First Nations artists in Shadow Spirit. Installed in the spooky space above Flinders Street Station, this is the hit show of the festival. Shadow Spirit delivers what so few group exhibitions manage: an immersive and transformative set of works that audiences will be thinking of long after their visit. Senior song woman Mrs Mulkun Wirrlanda (1942-2021) voices the song lines of Yolŋu country for the Mulka Project in the unforgettably powerful Rarrirarri (2023). Animations glow onto a central monolithic ant hill, unfurling and exploding with life in a transcendent work of brilliance that sends shivers right through you. Wiradjuri artist Karla Dickens composes formidable ecological works, assemblages of select, discarded objects on upturned gnarled tree roots unearthed in the devastating Lismore Floods. Sitting atop institutional trolleys on wheels, Deeply Rooted (2023) delves into the relationships between imperial colonialism, corporatisation, extractive industry and environmental catastrophe. Wemba Wemba / Gunditjmara artist Paola Balla directs a film telling of Mok Mok Murrup Yakuwa (2023). Mok Mok is a powerful spiritual matriarch who is both protector and guide. The film is projected onto metres of hand-bush-dyed silk, hung on a custom-made structure reminiscent of bush tents and mission houses. The exhibition design of Shadow Spirit is exemplary, as is the strength of each and every work. If there is one thing you see from RISING, this should be it, and the exhibition continues until July 30 before touring. If only all art shows were this good.  

At some stage in life the fear of missing out all but evaporates. And finally, you understand: your party is wherever you are. You can only be at one party at a time so best make the most of it. The other thing you realise is that rich people parties aren’t even any good. Culture is consumption, making out with consumerism and then forgetting it ever happened. The subversive potential of culture is thwarted at the checkout and that’s why it should all be free.  

Born in Brisbane 1967, Natalie Thomas is a Melbourne based artist and writer whose seamless blend of contemporary art and activism, has both outraged and delighted the conservative arts establishment.  

Experienced in the art of collaboration, she was one of nat&ali from 1999 to 2005, employing riot grrrl strategies to critique and parody the mores of popular culture and the ingrained hierarchical structures of the arts scene. As a member of Melbourne collective DAMP, Nat participated in the 6th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art (APT6) 2010 at the Queensland Art Gallery and Gallery of Modern Art.  

Developing a successful solo career, Thomas was included in The National 2: Australian Art Now at Carriageworks in 2019 with Postcards from the Edge, a work that invited significant audience participation and generated an alternate life through social media. 

Her popular blog, nattysolo (‘one woman, one camera, no film’) focuses on the social side of contemporary art; a widely followed and ongoing endurance performance project that fuses gossip, innuendo and scathing cultural criticism in the form of a social archive.  


Nat Thomas’s work has been shown widely at institutions including the National Gallery of Victoria, the Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Gertrude Contemporary Melbourne, Canberra Contemporary Art Space and the Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane.  

un Projects’ Editor-in-Residence Program is supported by the City of Yarra, Creative Victoria and City of Melbourne
Commissioned by Diego Ramírez