Amrita Hepi

I was born on the day of mastery, according to the secret language of birthdays. My interpretation of this is that I spread across dance, choreography and art in a concentrated manner. I have been called a magpie from an early age.

A common saying in my household as I was growing up was, “What are you going to make it mean?” As a ten-year-old this was an incredibly frustrating turn of phrase. Thinking back however it allowed for a reckoning with autonomy between my siblings, parents and myself. It’s usually the beginning question I’ll take into things. It’s also a nice saying to hold in your hand after a long day.

Practice is a hard word to use to authenticate anything, and so, it’s good for art to grapple with. I’m practising the art of telling you the dilemmas I am dealing with that are assigned with and without consciousness.

My work is characterised by hybridity. It began with a fascination with the idea of duality but I soon realised that either end of a dual existence is held to an essentialism that can be unbearable, that the middle ground is sometimes unattainable and so it blooms into hybridity.

Dance I have found is ideal for this hybridity, as it allows for an instant autonomy over making. Its tools are repetition, confusion and the crafting of a type of enigma that didn’t have to exist, yet could come to being through the mechanics of handling duality. There have been a lot of people that I have looked to over the years who have crafted things in such a manner, in particular Vicki Van Hout, Marrugeku and recently Ligia Lewis.

Someone asked if I danced every day. They were surprised that I didn’t. I thought at one point that this was necessary to being a dancer. There are dancers that do practise the physical act of “doing dancing” every day. There are definitely days and periods where I am dancing a lot. There always seems to be something that is leading to dance: doing my dishes, an application, or sweet talking on the phone. Or thinking of it in some way, staring at a wall, at dust accumulating, sending an email, or finishing a paragraph in a book. I’m magpieing my life in a direction to something mundane and otherwise.

My first job was as an assistant to my ballet teacher for “baby ballet” to help her with three-year-olds. She did not give me the job because I was a good dancer (I started late) but maybe she could sense that pocket money in my house didn’t exist, so having $11.50 a week as an eleven-year-old was a love supreme. Although the job did show me the value of teaching and developing a style of learning and doing.

I don’t believe that the practice of dancing stops when you stop – the labour, the lingering of it, these things are inseparable. I heard someone say that work is where your focus goes, where the attention is doled out. My attention spreads this out and delegates bit by bit into the acts that form the dance – an apparition in the desert, in the practice of the day.

Dancing by yourself is never as much fun as it is with others. Dancing by myself I’m haunted (a Casper-type haunt) by dances, and teachers and techniques past, or of the video I watched five seconds ago on Instagram. I’m never lonely I suppose, but it’s always better to have bad company and dance with another, or if possibly a few, than alone.

I once thought if I had finches or a bird in the studio I’d make a much better solo dancer. I like the feeling of being watched by birds, watching birds, imbuing an object or subject, an imagined audience sometimes effective for disaster or a concentrated gesture.

A friend today said they’d be happy to be left out of identity politics and instead they just want to be in the canon, so that people can discuss them when they’re dead. What if identity politics is the canon? They said they were fine when they were “away.” The idea of being “away” is something that has been recurring in my participatory work. It’s difficult to articulate or describe “here” point blank, without having a “there” to compare it with.

This idea stayed with me, thinking of the feeling of being “away” as always seeking. In the religious register, Blaise Pascal’s famous phrase is often used, “Console yourself, you would not seek me if you had not already found me.”

This article was originally published in Artist Profile, Issue 49, 2019

20 February – 24 April 2022
Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts, Perth, presented with Perth Festival 

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