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16 October 2017

A (successful) Blind Date in Berlin

Julia Kadel and Julian Day earlier this month in Berlin Image: Julia Kadel and Julian Day earlier this month in Berlin  

You will make all kinds of mistakes; but as long as you are generous and true, and also fierce, you cannot hurt the world or even seriously distress her ….
She has lived and thrived only by repeated subjugations.

(Winston Churchill)

Our true heroes in Australia are not anti-heroes and they're not non-heroes.
They're failures that we turn into heroes.
(Peter Sculthorpe)

All of us fail at some point. Being an artist only seems to increase the odds. Deadlines sneak up on you, opportunities dissipate, collaborations go awry. If making art is at least partly about learning how to process life, what might art teach us about failing?

Dogs who fail at being dogs (Youtube)

How To Fail (Together) is a new performative essay on this theme, involving compositions, stage actions, lectures, games, images and video. It brings together two very different artists: Julia Kadel, a pianist and composer based in Berlin, and Julian Day, an artist and composer based in New York and Sydney. The cross-continental collaboration was risky, being effectively a blind date - the pair met for the first time, in Berlin, only a fortnight ago. Yet, in this short space of time, they have created almost two hours of material, so they are already succeeding at something.

In addition to contemplating both failure and the nature of collaboration, the project also re-evaluates the concert ritual, breaking down such expectations as where the audience sits, who choreographs the performers and how the music evolves. So far the pair has presented the first of three experimental concerts in Berlin (10 October, 20 October and 26 October) and, whilst together, will also record a set of audio and video works.

How To Fail (Together) is part of the AMPlify framework of artist development programs by the Australian Music Centre. It was made possible through a partnership between the AMC and the APRA AMCOS SongHubs program.

Julian on Julia (among other things)

Describe Julia in three words

Vital, creative, optimistic

What were you expecting before you met?

I had no idea. The lead-up was quite intense, as we are both very busy with our individual projects. It was really challenging to work out how to create work whilst on separate continents yet somehow things sparked and the ideas began to flow. When we finally met in Julia's Neukolln apartment we already felt like old friends.

Julian Day and Julia Kadel performing live in Berlin in October.
© Jana Tost

Good table manners?


What were your first impressions?

An incredibly engaged person who is always grounded in the moment.

What do you talk about when you meet?

A million different things - Berlin history, economics, music, bicycle riding, relationships, game shows, theories on learning, failure.

How would you describe Julia's practice?

She's mostly involved in the jazz scene, as a pianist and composer, but has her own style that seems to transcend the genre. She's also studied psychology, which gives her thoughtful perspectives on the role of the listener, and has a very open attitude to art and creativity, making her a delight to collaborate with.

What is the other person's most endearing habit?

So much energy

What is the other person's most annoying habit?

So much energy!

What has been your biggest failure? Did you turn it around, and if so how?

I failed a year of my composition degree. Worse than that, I internalised my teachers' criticisms which led me to just about give up making art and music for some years. Two things saved me. Firstly, I took time off to re-evaluate my practice and became deeply involved in performance and installation art, which still informs my work today. Secondly, after a miserably long fallow period I decided that ultimately I needed to make art in order to make my life feel worthwhile, and I did so more courageously than I might have done before. What did I have left to lose?

Are there any artists or artworks that have inspired this project?

We listened a lot to Tom Johnson's Failing (A Very Difficult Piece For Solo String Bass) in which a double bassist must play an increasingly complicated composition whilst reciting a text that not only makes the task harder but offers wry commentary on the process. Succeeding at the piece means failing and vice versa. Very meta. We also looked at works by Michael Landy, such as 'Art Bin' which invites you to dispose of failed artworks, and ruminations by art critic Jerry Saltz and composer Peter Sculthorpe.

What does failure mean to you?

Failure to me is giving up on a goal for short-sighted reasons, such as other people telling you something can't or shouldn't be done.

Has this experience, so far, been a success or failure?

A great success! At failing. Thus far.

Marks out of 10

A solid 11

Julia on Julian (among other things)

Describe Julian in three words

Sympathetic, creative, curious, funny.

What were you expecting before you met?

I expected to learn new ways to think about music and art in more theoretical, abstract ways. Through the last months we only had Skype chats and phone talks to prepare our collaboration, brainstorming and drafting sketches. After I had watched Julian's videos I expected to get to know a great personality, having enriching talks during working with him.

Good table manners?


What were your first impressions?

What a kind person!

What do you talk about when you meet?

We are mostly talking about our collaboration, trying to get further and further within our talks. What can it mean to fail, in how many senses can we bring this topic to the stage? How have other artists dealt with this theme?

How would you describe Julian's practice?

Julian is a conceptually thinking artist and composer, his work includes the connection of social interactions and musical, performative happenings. Therefore he collects thoughts from everywhere, creating new thoughts through analytically structured thinking.

What is the other person's most endearing habit?

Julian is a very good listener, even during hard, long and confusing talks. And he doesn't like sugar!

What is the other person's most annoying habit?

I don't know.

What has been your biggest failure? Did you turn it around, and if so how?

I once missed a wedding at which I was supposed to play the piano. I was so ashamed, I thought it was one day later. I couldn't do anything to turn that failure around. I could only say sorry and try to never make that mistake again.

Are there any artists or artworks that have inspired this project?

I think I am always trying to catch the 'imperfect' moment or aspect of a musical or artistic work. This could be a very personal, intimate moment that a musician shares subconsciously with the audience, which makes me connect to their work in a deeper way. Or a detail in their biography, a failure that leads to an artwork. For instance, Michael Landy in his piece Break Down destroys all of his belongings but fails to own nothing, becoming even more successful as an artist. So making art about failing can already be a success.

What does failure mean to you?

A constant motivation to move on and improve; a chance to reflect on myself and my work; a chance to remember how small and simple I am. If I look into my past experiences, it was often the things at which I failed or that did not work out that led me to new, better experiences. Do we maybe learn more from failure than success? Now, after working at failing for almost two weeks, I realise that my thinking changes somehow by naming 'failure' a dozen times a day. Simply speaking that word so often and so regularly, putting it into the focus of our work, changes the rules of creating something 'without failures'. It's interesting what happens to your evaluation system, if you start with failure.

Has this experience, so far, been a success or failure?

This experience has been a total success.

Marks out of 10

Minimum 10.

AMC resources

Julian Day - AMC profile

AMPlify (Art Music Plus) artist development programs - AMC Online

AMPlify Germany

Further links

Julia Kadel - homepage (www.juliakadel.com)

Julian Day - homepage (www.julianday.com)


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