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In the Mail: A Lover's Discourse @ Liveworks

If we really think about it, there is beauty in the things we do every day, which is exactly what Liveworks has set about to remind us of. As Performance Space’s energetic celebration of new art and uplifting ideas, the festival will run from tomorrow, 11 November, to Sunday, 14 November and will feature experimental theatre, performance, live art, dance and installation. Indeed, there is something happening every hour within CarriageWorks’ foyer and beyond. To get into the creative spirit of things we took a close look at A Lover’s Discourse, a mere one of the many delicious items in the Liveworks program.

A Lover’s Discourse is a participatory art project that celebrates the thrill of receiving mail, connecting with strangers and simply feeling loved. Created by Malcolm Whittaker, a Sydney-based artist with a knack for live-art, writing and travel, the project began around Valentines Day with strangers sending hand written love letters back and forth between Sydney and Bristol.

A Lover’s Discourse concludes this Saturday when ten of the letter-writing strangers, aptly labeled by Malcolm as lovers, may finally get the chance to meet. Up until now, they have only communicated through letters and a few sneaky photos.
Saturday will see five of the 20 couples who participated log into chat roulette. “It’s basically a site that randomly hooks you up to a stranger somewhere else in the world,” explains Malcolm. “You can end the conversation at any time but you can never go back and find them again. Hopefully the lovers will meet one another and share in the moment, but whether or not this constitutes a meeting I don’t know.” Audiences can listen into their conversations while a brief Performance Lecture will set the mood.

Having grown up on a diet of sugar and romantic comedies, we can’t help but seriously hope Saturday culminates in a marriage proposal or declaration of true love – but Malcolm isn’t focusing on absolute outcomes. “I’m much more interested in opening up this space of exchange and possibility. If people actually meet their lovers then that’s great but I’m just hoping for interesting exchanges to be generated along the way.”

As for the inspiration behind the project, last year Malcolm spent three months overseas, where he convinced Bristol locals to hand over the names and addresses of potential lovers and encountered a few interesting emotions. “I got quite lonely and spent a lot of time writing home and I think A Lover’s Discourse was born out of that. It’s about craving some sort of intimacy and those fleeting relationships with strangers that make you desire something else. I think its probably human nature to crave something a little more intimate.”

So we have to ask – can letters really satisfy our desire for intimacy? “A hand written love letter represents something physical that is passing between two people in this technology-obsessed world. It’s quite a rare, fleeting thing,” muses Malcolm. “I don’t use love as a word that often but there is something about the construct of the love letter.”

But the project has had its pitfalls. “My hand writing is absolutely atrocious,” laughs Malcolm, sparing a thought for his literary lover over in Bristol. “I’m surprised she could even decipher these letters. I couldn’t even remember how to make out the address on the front of the envelope when I first sent one!”

A Lover’s Discourse “is about bridging the gap and keeping the world within your grasp and realising that this could affect someone you’ll never meet on the other side of the world. It’s this unknown space that I am interested in and the possibility it represents.” A Lover’s Discourse unfolds in CarriageWork’s Track 8 from 10pm on Saturday, 13 November. Tickets are available here.

words: Liz Schaffer


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